· I hardly ever do bullet points – you know concision is not my greatest suit, and they seem to have made the formatting go crazy. But I’m really tired in a brain-dead sort of way. It’s been a busy and demanding couple of weeks and whilst I have things to say, they are mostly incoherent.
· For instance, I saw a blog post (and can’t even remember where) about what prompts readers to buy books. The blogger wrote that the less she knew the better. A few lines of appealing premise or a strong recommendation were more powerful than a detailed account of a novel. She put this down to a divining instinct for passion, but I would put it down to the romance of the imagination. It’s like relationships – the more you know about a person, the more reasons you have not to become involved with them. These days what makes me buy a book is a combination of the storyline and the style of writing; I’ve come to recognize the kinds I like and a quick read of a paragraph or so in the store is generally revealing. I also have stretches where I like to take a punt on an author I’ve never heard of before, particularly when recommended by a friend, virtual or real. And I like to read some of the prize winning books, but rarely at the time when the prize is awarded.
· I keep meaning to tell you that I met Gabriel Josipovici, finally, at a party a couple of weeks ago. I hardly ever go to parties, but it was thrown by a friend in the English department who I like very much and who has long wanted to engineer a meeting between us. So I made a special effort. Gabriel was completely charming, as you may imagine, and managed to add substantially to my tbr list in the half hour or so we spent chatting, as well as telling me all kinds of wonderful literary stories. He was so clearly someone who has devoted his life to writing and teaching. My husband asked me what he was like afterwards, and the best I could say was that he was like the condensed spirit of literature.
· I was sent a copy of Mary Beard’s book It’s A Don’s Life, one of the first true crossover blog books. It’s a selection of posts from her long-running blog, which is regularly featured in The Times newspaper. Interestingly, someone made the decision to include (selected, I think) comments. They sound to me like the questions you have to field at academic conferences – all concerned with intellectual one-upmanship, often tangential, always revealing more about the questioner’s prejudices than the content of the speech. I felt very glad to have such a wonderful audience here at the Reading Room, who never, ever let their egos get in the way of a discussion. It’s a hard book to write about, not least because I didn’t love it when I would have liked to. I’m thinking a lot about the differences between reading on screen and on the page, the particularities of the genre of blogging and what makes a good compilation book.
· I’m also struggling with another review book, and a real disappointment as it sounded fantastic in principle. It’s called The Invisible City by Emili Rosales and is one of those split narratives that intertwine past and present. The main character is an architect who stumbled as a child across the remnants of a lost city. One day he is sent, out of the blue, information about the city that leads him on a quest to discover what happened to it. The other strand of narrative is the contents of the manuscript that tell the story of the city’s creation. I am finding the narrative very hard to follow, and don’t know whether it’s the fault of the translation, or a kind of generic difficulty for me with Spanish texts. I have had trouble with all the Spanish writers I’ve ever read; I find their work tends towards incoherence and is always a little overblown. Latin America, I have no problem. But Spain, and the lacunae and skips and hops in the story have me all confused.
· A little while back, I gave my first literary supervision in about five years. I felt extremely nervous and realized I had fallen completely out of practice. I simply couldn’t remember the vocabulary; the way I used to ask questions or the way I used to explain things and express myself. You’d think all these years of blogging about books might have kept me in touch with book-speak. But academic discourse is such a particular thing. It alarms me how quickly I forget; other people seem able to spread themselves over all kinds of different competencies, but I’m only able to do the one thing I am currently practicing doing.
· I’m about to embark on a long, momentous campaign to update and improve teaching practices across the board in my college. Educationally, there is absolutely nothing to dislike, but this is going to be a long, hard battle of diplomacy. Telling teachers we could be teaching better is always taken as a personal insult, even though it is by no means intended that way. I’ve been meeting with the development director, who is the man who might be able to get hold of some cash to ease the proposals through. A colleague had told me he was tall, dark and handsome and I said ‘great!’ not believing a word of it. But guess what – he is most certainly those things. And yesterday he was wearing a lovely black velvet jacket. As I said goodbye to him and we shook hands just outside his doorway, I was startled to suddenly see my own dear husband crossing the courtyard, on his way to a different meeting. I would have believed it was a hallucination, but no, it really was him. Later on, I told him all about the handsome development director, and then his unexpected appearance and he said to me, ‘That money I paid the white witch all those years ago was well worth it.’