Surf’s Up: Lazy Linking Post

Even though I’m working even more part-time than usual this term, I’m finding it hard to make time for blogging or for much reading. Part of the problem is that I’m not teaching, and my non-teaching work (I’m chairing my college’s academic governance committee) is hard to organize. A course schedule disciplines the teacher as much as the students: we have deadlines too. My governance work mostly doesn’t; it’s harder to prioritize (sometimes it seems like everything needed to be done yesterday), and it’s done much more in isolation. I’m looking forward to being back in the classroom next term.

Anyway, since what I’m doing when I’m not effectively structuring my work time is often surfing the web, here are some links I’ve enjoyed.

On reading:

From The New Yorker‘s “Book Bench,” a post inspired by Patricia Meyer Spacks’ On Rereading. This led to some interesting discussion about rereading on the children’s literature list-serv I belong to, both because children tend to reread, and because many adult readers like to revisit childhood favorites. One person commented that the “rereader” members of her family were the more emotional and anxious ones, and in fact many people think of rereading as “comfort reads.” Lots of romance readers have keeper shelves, but I find I reread less now than I used to, partly because all the book blogs I’ve discovered mean that I find way more new books I want to try.

I miss list-servs, by the way. There are a couple I’ve been a member of forever, but they are way less lively than they used to be. Blogs and Twitter just don’t enable the same kind of conversation.

In today’s Globe and Mail Russell Smith has a column on the upside of literary gatekeepers.

There is a societal value to snarky snobs. . . [W]e look to them with interest even if we’re not going to slavishly follow their proclamations. . . . And of course no snarky snobs think of themselves as gatekeepers, they never think that they are trying to prevent the appreciation of any kind of art; they think quite the opposite, that they are opening up a world of knowledge to those who have not been given it. They think of themselves as generous sharers of expertise. . . . No, you don’t need special training to read novels, but you might want to hear about what the specially trained end up appreciating.

I usually find Smith annoying, and this column was no exception. True, I’m a snarky snob, and I’m interested in what they have to say. But what’s missing from his view is any sense that popular lit needs–and has–its own snarky snobs, and that “generous sharers of expertise” do not need special training of the McGill education type. I value the snarky snobs of the romance world (you Mean Girls know who you are) because I do want gatekeepers to help me find the best in the genre. Smith and his ilk are not willing or able to play that role. His vision of the snarky-gatekeeping function is way too narrow.

Jessica has a lovely collection of quotations from Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Why Write?” at Read React Review. Like Merrian, I was struck by the claim that “reading is a pact of generosity between the author and the reader,” and wondered how the more direct communication–rather than communication mediated through the book–between author and reader enabled by the internet affects our ability to be generous to each other. There are certainly plenty of incidences in which both readers and writers fail to live up to such a pact. But the recent discussion of “inclusion” at Dear Author, though it has some of the stuff you expect when topics of race, disability, and difference come up, also has some really interesting comments on the reasons to be generous about representations of otherness.

Reviews worth checking out:

Danielle at the wonderful Romantic Armchair Traveller has an epic reflection on Twilight. It’s neither snarky nor snobby, but pulls no punches. I’m tempted to say it’s a far more thoughtful response than the book deserves, except that any phenomenon as big as Twilight deserves consideration.

I also loved Rohan’s review of Jeffrey Eugenides’ Marriage Plot for Open Letters Monthly. Like Rohan, I have a lot in common with the novel’s heroine, Madeleine (80s college student; Victorianist; lover of narrative and somewhat dubious about literary theory, though I did my PhD at a “theory” school). But I suspect I’d find the novel glib for all the reasons she did. I’m still not sure whether I want to read it (and since my husband bought an e-book, I’ll have to wrestle his iPad from him or get another copy), but Rohan’s review did make me want to get back to my Middlemarch reading.

Madeleine’s thesis advisor suggests that in our age the marriage plot is dead, but it struck me that there’s one place where it’s still very much alive: genre romance. The marriage plot of much genre romance, though, is different from that of the nineteenth-century novel. As Rohan says,

The marriage plots in Austen, Eliot and James are formal structures, scaffolds on which the authors build complex social as well as personal analyses. The process of courtship in them is impeded, not just by accidents of plot or weaknesses of character, but by obstacles of principle—by mismatched values, or by social or economic inequalities.

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of genre romances where “obstacles of principle” in the Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet (or Margaret Hale and John Thornton) sense keep the lovers apart. Suggestions?

For a laugh

Further to my previous post on analogy fails, “Why Science Fiction Writers Are Like Porn Stars” at io9 (thanks to Victoria Janssen and Merrian for tweeting this one).

Jessica’s latest is a philosophical reflection on the problem of insta-wood in romance. She’s not getting much argument. Put those boners away, heroes!

Jessica’s NaBloPoMo goal of a daily post in November inspired me to create my own NaJoWriMo (journal-writing month) goal. I used to keep a journal pretty regularly, but I’ve almost entirely given it up in recent years. So I’m aiming to write every day in November. This goal will probably be abandonded when I promptly find that I’m just bemoaning the same old character flaws I was harping on 20 years ago. Who needs the reminder that change is hard? I’m aiming to post more regularly, too, even if I can’t work up any Deep Thoughts. Maybe some more comparisons of genre writers with porn stars will come along to inspire me.

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3 Responses to Surf’s Up: Lazy Linking Post

  1. “Jessica’s NaBloPoMo goal of a daily post in November inspired me to create my own NaJoWriMo (journal-writing month) goal.”

    It was only the third day and I was reduced to talking about penises! Imagine what it’s going to be like around Thanksgiving. No wait, don’t.

    Seriously, one of the reasons I’m forcing myself to (try) to do it is to let go of the creeping perfectionism that sets in about my blogging. For ex, I could easily have written a decent review of the unexpurgated Oscar Wilde right after I read it, or a summary of our class discussion about censorship and Huck Finn the day we had it. But I kept tinkering with the posts and so I didn’t finish either of them. I have to force myself to remember that the blog is supposed to be fun, not work. Making myself to get something up there — and seeing that the world doesn’t end if it’s a short, silly, or not well thought out post — is one way to do it.

    I love the Sartre reading (in parts). It is very much like a precursor to reader response, except that with Sartre, there is an entire ontology behind it. All of his comments about the necessity of readers mirror his theory about the way consciousness create objects in general, so it’s a great example of a philosophical literary theory.

    As far as obstacles of principle, how about Laura Kinsale’s Flowers From the Storm, where the heroine’s Quakerism keeps her from yielding to the hero’s love?

    Happy weekend!

  2. I miss list-servs, by the way. There are a couple I’ve been a member of forever, but they are way less lively than they used to be.

    Ditto on this.

  3. Danielle says:

    Thank you very much for the gracious words and the link to my Twilight post. I am still smiling, warmed. And it is indeed the phenomenon that motivated me to try to give the book a careful reading. As usual, I got carried away!

    Regarding ‘rereading as “comfort reads”’, it is less true of my habits now than it used to be. Wider access to less expensive books, a stretchier budget, and suggestions from book bloggers has largely reduced my once religious rereading of almost every book I liked to those I feel have more to say than I was able to take in the first time around. I don’t seem to be able to part with any of them, though, keepers or not. In a way, they are the only diary of my life that I have kept.

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