I think I am doomed at the moment. Just as I was beginning to feel the stirrings of a recovery from the latest ME relapse, so I go and strain the muscles in my lower back! I’m not even quite sure how I did it. Oh and, like Mirkwood, I am resigning from the 9rules network now that they are making it compulsory to join in member discussions. I don’t have the energy to get round my entire blogroll at present, so I can hardly commit to more involvement. Even if I were fully fit, I cannot help but feel that once something has been made compulsory all the fun goes out of it. So, feeling slightly out of sorts, I’m going to do two memes from Charlotte’s blog, as I think memes are calming to the soul.
A Reading Meme
How many books do you own?
A great many and, at the same time, not enough. Putting an actual number on it sounds like a good way to incur the legislating incredulity of one’s spouse.
Last book you bought?
Just before I fell ill I have to confess I succumbed to an amazon-fest. The parcel that came contained the following: Adam Phillips, Side Effects; Siri Hustvedt, A Plea for Eros; Janet Todd, Death and the Maidens: Fanny Wollstonecraft and the Shelley Circle; Mavis Gallant, Paris Stories; Claire Tomalin, Several Strangers (a book of literary essays). And very lovely they looked in a pile, I can assure you. Since then I’ve been very good.
Last book someone bought you?
Ummm, that would be a while back and I can’t remember. However, the last book I was sent was a review copy of Romance and Readership in Twentieth-Century France: Love Stories by the excellent academic critic, Diana Holmes. I’m looking forward to it.
Last book read?
Party of the Century: The Fabulous Story of Truman Capote and His Black and White Ball by Deborah Davis. This was a frothy little confection of a book, lightweight and yet intriguing. I’ll post on it soon.
Five books that mean a lot to me
Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory
When I first arrived in Cambridge as an undergraduate I had a severe crisis of confidence over my abilities as a literary critic. The atmosphere of the place and the way literature was taught undermined me completely. It seemed like understanding a book was simply a knack you either possessed or you didn’t. Well, over the summer vacation I read this book and found a way back to the light. Literary criticism is not a knack; it’s a structured process that can be easily undertaken by anyone with a bit of practice, and theory helped me to understand this. I will forever be grateful to Eagleton.
The Harry Potter books
I shouldn’t really pick a series, I know, but with the exception of the last volume, I read all these out loud to my son, and we had just the most wonderful time together with them. Books bond, yes they do, and I felt that through them I could pass my own passion for reading onto my child, who up until then had been far more engaged by screen culture.
Albert Camus, The Outsider
I’ve spoken about this book elsewhere, and often, on this blog. It was my 17-year-old epiphany, the revelation of what a work of literature could do, the wealth of implications it could hold, the fascination of studying it and teasing its meanings out. I’m not tired of it yet.
Colette – Chéri and Le fin de Chéri, Marguerite Duras – The Lover and Le Ravissement de Lol. V. Stein
I know, I’m cheating again citing all four, but these were the books on which I wrote my Mphil dissertation. Probably the most enjoyable 15,000 words I’ve ever put together and it won me three year’s funding for a PhD. My whole life would have been different without them.
Julian Barnes – Flaubert’s Parrot
Just because I love it so. It’s one of my all-time favourite books and it shows how literary studies can be entertaining and amusing and full of creativity.
Five Writing Strengths Meme
This is every bit as hard as everyone says it is.
When I’m boring myself, I stop. If I’m finding myself dull then heaven alone knows what an audience would think. Years ago I made the decision to only talk about ‘the good bits’ in literature and I’ve always stuck to it. If I don’t feel enthused or passionate or irresistibly intrigued by something, I leave it alone.
I can’t stop analyzing. The urge to excavate is a primordial drive, I find. There’s the surface of things, and I’m sure it’s very pretty, but my interest is all in the layers and layers that lie underneath and that inevitably contain surprising, paradoxical and disturbing material. Just pass me the scalpel and give me some elbow room.
I’m a form freak. A neat structure is a thing of beauty. You’ll not recognize this one so much from my blogging, where I give myself permission to ramble, but generally when I’m writing I do like to arrange my ideas with logic and precision. I am fond of telling the students that when you have your structure in place, the piece pretty much writes itself, and it’s true.
I do like the quirky and the humorous. Somewhere in my head, Julie Andrews is forever singing ‘A spoonful of sugar’ (and isn’t that a scary thought?). The more difficult an idea or concept is, the more I think it needs to be leavened with metaphor, similes, anecdotal material or other little examples. Give a reader a picture hook and they will understand far quicker than if they are required to plough through a paragraph of dense prose.
I think of the reader at all times. When I want to explain something, I think long and hard about what the reader really needs to know, and whether he or she will already be in possession of this information. I think about the reader’s stamina, and patience for the new, and boredom threshold. I think I probably make a lot of mistakes and miscalculations, but it’s something I am constantly bearing in mind.