Just Stuff

1. I was going to write a blog post about a conversation I had with my son and Mister Litlove about why men don’t read as much as women. But the conversation actually took place almost a fortnight ago now and I can’t recall much about it. My son protested that reading was an individual decision and that there must be men who read as much as I did. Mister Litlove said he felt it was about different inclinations when it came to relaxing activities, whether people preferred to be passive or active, and/or, interactive, whether they needed to be sociable or not. Mister Litlove also said he wouldn’t read so much if he weren’t surrounded by so many books, and my son said that it was the stories in video games that were the reason he enjoyed playing them. But both would rather watch television or surf the net in their downtime. I remember saying something like, oh dear oh dear, the bloggers are not going to like that it’s too biological, all about men preferring activities that are visual and don’t require emotional intelligence. And they both shrugged with that exact same blank expression that indicated they did not feel responsible for the reactions of unknown others. It’s astonishing to me that I once wrote a PhD on the constructionist view of gender identity whilst marrying and producing alpha males.

2. I’ve had the nicest run of induction sessions with the new first-year students that I have had in doing this job so far (it’s my third year). The students were all lively and ready to contribute and we had a lot of fun with the activities I’d set them. I think I’m getting better at group activities as well – I never had to do them before and at first they were a mystery. It takes me such a long time to learn and adapt. I had a year to find out what to do, a year to experiment and finally a year where things start to come clear. I’m also teaching French literature again, just to one student who for various reasons particularly wanted to work with me. He wants to do all unusual and obscure French writers, so I’m looking forward to that.

3. I’m particularly interested in this group of people, who are exploring the possibilities inherent in literature as a way for people to connect better with their lives; reading stories as a sort of immediate and easy therapy, in other words. There’s a big new nursing home that has recently been built in town, and I have to look at it as I stop at some traffic lights on my way into work. Every time I go past, I see all these very elderly people in their armchairs at the picture windows and wonder whether they want anyone to read to them, or swap library books for them. Then a friend sent me a link to this article in which one of the things discussed is reading to Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers – apparently connecting with a poem or a story they have loved in the past can do them the world of good. I’d very much like to do this, and at the same time, I’m scared. I’m not very good with physical suffering, and I’m not sure how well my porous nature would manage in such close proximity to death. So I keep thinking about it, and wanting to do it and then deciding to wait a little longer. I might feel braver when the spring rolls round again. I’m sure I’ll get there in the end.

4. Knowing I had a busy week ahead, I decided to pick up a really easy book to read, a chick-litty sort of book, which I thought would be relaxing. Instead, I’m finding it predictable and not very impressive to read. Is it just me or is chick-lit becoming anodyne again? For a while back there it was edgy and funny and sharp. This novel, by Lauren Weisberger of The Devil Wears Prada fame, has nothing new to say and no interesting way of saying the old things. I imagine that her name and connection to a successful film were the prime reasons why this book was accepted, which is why I dread the prospect of publishers submitting primarily to economic forces in their decision- making. This book should have been binned and some other new, exciting talent put in its place.

5. Mister Litlove begins his fine woodworking course tomorrow after a real struggle with the university’s administration department that seemed even more disorganized and chaotic than your average university admin department. We have our fingers crossed that the course, after all this, turns out to be okay. If you have a spare moment tomorrow, send him some good vibes, will you? I firmly believe that when bloggers unite the power of their minds, just about anything is possible.


18 thoughts on “Just Stuff

  1. Since you said your son prefers video games to reading I’ve been thinking about how there’s a huge market of video games that are complex stories with a narrative to follow now and how that might be attractive to people who for whatever reason aren’t comfortable sitting and reading, or feel it as a passive activity. There is a community of girl gamers who play these kind of games, but what I find fascinating is that girl who play games like these are considered the exceptions. Girls are suppoused to like what I guess you might call level up games (I know there’s a proper term for these, but I can’t remember what they’re called) like Mario. Interesting that when it comes to books girls are suppoused to be the ones who like stories, but transpose stories to video games and playing games with a story becomes perceived as an odd thing for girls to do (although I expect there are lots of other factors like the more graphic violence that makes people think of these kind of games as boys games).

    And I know what you mean about chicklit right now. I’ve gone off it a little bit, but I heard some really good things about a book called Feminista by Erica Kennedy which is suppoused to be quite deliciously angry chicklit and maybe a bit of a satire on the genre at the same time.

  2. I am sending good energy to Mister L’s course. Our house is less gender traditional, with h the most omnivorous reader I’ve met, however, admittedly, with a greater bent for non-fiction. On the other hand, he’s read Soul Mountain, which I haven’t yet, and liked it a lot.

  3. Good God! How did it get to be your THIRD year doing this job already?! I’m too flabbergasted to comment on anything else (although if I weren’t flabbergasted, I’d comment that I never read The Devil Wears Prada, but I enjoyed the movie immensely. I hope that doesn’t make me male. I’d also comment that your #3 made me think that you might be interested in a book I found a number of years ago called Plato not Prozac and that I’m like you, in that I love the idea of reading to the elderly, but not so much the reality of it).

  4. I got a genuine surge of excitement for Mister LL when I got to point 5 – I was actually wondering only a few weeks ago what happened with his woodworking aspirations, and I’m delighted they’re getting a proper airing. How wonderful. I can’t wait for the updates. And reading point 1, all I could think was, ‘Wow, what a parallel universe.’ Llew = alpha male = exactly the same as the boys in your house. Yep, I have the same aversion to gender generalities, but boy, sometimes they’re pretty damn tempting bows to draw.

    And you are so right about chick lit.

    Thrilled with these enthusiastic newbies, too – all very positive things in the House of Litlove!

  5. Men generally find non-fiction a lot more interesting than women. And as such, they will read non-fiction books, which, in my experience, tend to be a lot longer and thus they will say they tend to read fewer books than women whilst the actual number of words read may be similar.

    Of the last 10-12 books I’ve read, at least 8 have been non-fiction – mainly history and philosopy. I generally find novels to be very formulaic, especially modern ones.

    As to your comment about reading to the elderly at a local nursing home: if the opportunity presents itself, you should take it. Don’t worry about your porous nature: I’ve known people (absolutely) at death’s door who are much more vibrantly alive than people you meet on a daily basis.

  6. When I was growing up, my parents both read a lot, but my father reads less, I don’t know, acquisitively than my mother. My mother acquires books and wants to read them over and over, and Daddy’s less likely to do that. If there any books he’s passionately attached to, I don’t know about them. Whereas my mother and my sisters and I are greedy little book hoarders.

  7. Good luck to Mr. Litlove!

    Re videogames: Some of the new rpg video games are quite remarkable. While my hubby prefers non-fiction (excepting Heinlein or Crichton it would seem) he still will chill out playing Starcraft 2 then finish off the night reading. I only got lost in one rpg and that was WoW [World of Warcraft]. Awesome graphics, good story and reminiscent of the old King’s Quest games I loved as a kid but waaaaaaaaaaaaaay better.

    Chicklit is something I’ve never really been into. I’ll do romance (it’s my drug of choice when I want “fun” reading), but have very seldom read straight up chicklit. Unfortunately, as an industry profit is a necessary consideration to make; I just wish more people cared enough about it to put their purchasing dollars there. Then we wind up in that conversation of what “good” is, etc… Still, I would love to read more than one out of five newly published books (this includes literary – I gave up on purchasing new romance) that read like it had been edited.

  8. So glad to hear the term is off to a good start. I think reading to people in the nursing home is a brilliant idea. I don’t think you have to worry about it. I’ve done volunteer work at nursing homes before and the residents were always thrilled no matter what the activity from playing bingo to wheelchair square dancing. They were happy and I’d always leave happy. I am sure they would be delighted to have someone read to them.

  9. Jodie – that is so true. And then I know lots of women who play World of Warcraft (is that a level up game? I should know, really I should, but I am easily confused). For a while my son played online a lot with someone called ‘Coffee’ and it took me ages to find out that it was a girl – and they were all engaged on Dead or Alive, is it, the zombie game? But on the whole it does seem to be men and boys playing them. I am at least relieved that video games really are doing interesting things with storytelling now – and that that’s the part my son likes as opposed to all the violence (and there IS plenty of that). I’m relieved if it’s not just me finding the chick-lit a disappointment – I will be looking out for the novel you mention (Hester Brown set a high standard!)

    Bluestocking – well it had a good patch for a while. There were some very funny authors like Anna Maxted, and people interested in issues of motherhood like Allison Pearson. And some good writers like Victoria Clayton (at least in the early days). Like crime fiction, people can do great things with a formula. But I guess if they are not doing great things, the formula is all you get.

    Lilian – thank you for the energy! And delighted to know you have a keen reader in your husband. I do not know how I ended up in such a traditionally gendered situation!

    Leon – that’s so kind of you. Thank you!

    Emily – I know! What did I do with the time? I really enjoyed the Prada Devil movie, hence I thought I’d try the book. Boo shame, but I guess you can’t win them all. And thank you for that very intriguing recommendation – I will be looking out for that now!

    Doctordi – how nice of you to remember Mister Litlove’s course – that’s so endearing! He came back happy after a good first start, so clearly the vibes worked. I do wish my experience of gender weren’t so skewed by the boys, but they are SO straight up masculine (well, once my son’s favourite colour was no longer pink, something he grew out of about the age of 7). And yes we are okay, more or less, except my son got locked out of the house today for an hour and was NOT happy. Long story, but just to show that life as usual continues here.

    Jon – your final comment really made me laugh – thank you for that, and for the encouragement! I think you are quite right that non-fiction is the greater draw for men, on the whole. Mister Litlove certainly reads far more non-fiction books than fiction, and I find I read more slowly and sparingly when it’s non-fiction as there is so much more to take in and digest. So that probably would even us up a bit. But I do also remember one of the main editors at CUP who I knew through college connections and he was a huge novel reader – he out-read me notably (and not many people do that). I wonder what history and philosophy books you have been reading – anything good?

    Jenny – oh I so am a greedy little book hoarder too. I feel just the same. But then my dad (and yes, two parents who both read a lot for me, too) pretends to cry when my mother threatens to cull his book collection. So he will have to be an honorary girl for that one. 🙂 He surely wouldn’t mind; it’s a great side to be on.

    Kimberley – big WoW household here as my son has been very keen (not that he plays at the moment – he needs the new expansion to make it interesting again). And interesting you also have a keen non-fiction reader in your husband. I will and do read just about anything (apart from horror and westerns) and I think that all genres have good authors and, well, not quite so good authors – although I say this not wanting to get into that conversation about the definition of ‘good’! And a while back chicklit was very funny, very witty, which gave it an occasional edge over straight romance for me. But I can’t say that I have encountered any good examples of this lately. But oh do I ever agree with you about editing! What happens? It is a great idea to cut extraneous and irrelevant scenes. Really.

    Stefanie – oh I am so glad to hear you say that! I just need a little push, I think. I would hope that if I get to be old and decrepit someone would come and read to me, and so it seemed like a nice idea to help out that way if I could.

  10. Who are the unusual and obscure French authors?

    My father reads a lot, mostly to escape his stressful job, so he reads through mysteries and spy novels and thrillers and seafaring novels like… disposable paper towels. Which of course is fine. My mother also reads a lot, for the enjoyment of the prose, so she reads classics and lit-fiction, and tries to convince my father to read that, too, and he rolls his eyes and tells her not to try to improve him at his age. 🙂

  11. Jenny – LOL! Love that story about your parents – how delightful! The authors we’ll be looking at include Michel Leiris (L’age d’homme) and Louis Aragon (Le Con d’Irene, Le paysan de Paris) and the very well-known Camus, but his later works and philosophy, La Chute and L’homme revolte (with accents in the right places). We might need one more author but haven’t decided who that should be – suggestions welcome!

  12. I’m glad things have started off well with the academic year! It’s nice to get enough experience and practice to feel comfortable doing a job like that. How satisfying to see it all working well and the students responding nicely!

  13. LL – Speaking of novels, I am currently really enjoying the latest Terry Pratchett. It’s light relief after the Philosopy books – they were introductory textbooks as I’m studying philosophy in the New Year with the OU.

    The history book I’m working on at the minute is this: http://www.amazon.co.uk/After-Ice-Global-Human-History/dp/0753813920/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1285841269&sr=1-1 . It’s another introductory text as I’m studying archaelogy in a couple of weeks.

    Dilettante, moi?

  14. To say that I read a lot and possess a very large book collection is something of an understatement! Mr F on the other hand reads a maximum of two books a year when we are away on holiday – since there has been no holiday for us this year for a variety of reasons, he hasn’t read anything more than the newspapers! We have four children, two boys and two girls and while the girls read and will always have a book ‘on the go’, the boys read very infrequently and only if something really catches their attention: junior son aged 19 is currently reading George Pelecanos after I pointed out that he was one of the writers of The Wire!
    All of them had bedtime stories and were encouraged to read to the same degree so all I can assume is that there is a point at which some other factor kicks in to influence them!

    As for Lauren Weisberger – I loved The Devil Wears Prada but have found the three follow-up books very disappointing! Chick lit is not normally my ‘thing’ (if the cover is pink and pastel I tend to avoid it) however I have recently enjoyed books by Louise Candlish, Emily Barr and Jane Green, all of whom have been labelled chick lit.

  15. Jon – I have never read Terry Pratchett, although just recently I acquired the book he co-authored with Neil Gaiman, and must give it a go. Studying archaelogy and philosophy sounds just fab to me – surely they must have some kind of intriguing crossover point? Or maybe not. But dilettante-ism sounds great to me – bring it on!

    Liz – I am so relieved that it is not just me who read endlessly to her child during his early years only to have him renounce books as soon as he hit adolescence! Boy do I hear you on Pelecanos. That is exactly the sort of lure I would use on my son. And yup, my husband certainly reads most when he is on holiday but would forego it without difficulty the rest of the year. And glad also to hear you had a similar experience with Weisberger. I have read and loved Emily Barr (that was Plan B, but I also have The Sisterhood to read) and Louise Candlish I have seen around and been interested in. I will certainly give her a try now. The chick-lit label is dangerously pervasive and often not very accurate.

  16. I’m not at all surprised that a student would request you to work with on French Lit–you’re university system sounds so different from ours here. How funny to read that article on the Get Into Reading group after your most recent post and the future of stories. People are always going to have problems like these and stories like the ones they’re reading are always going to be necessary–hopefully it won’t all become shallow and superficial. And you’ll have to share a photo of Mr Litlove’s first finished project–I love working with my hands so think what he’s doing is very cool.

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