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Articles by Rohan Maitzen

“The Precious Ordinary”: Kent Haruf, Benediction

May 2, 2016
“The Precious Ordinary”: Kent Haruf, Benediction

A friend of mine highly recommended Kent Haruf’s Plainsong, but when I looked for it at the bookstore they didn’t have it, so instead I brought home his more recent novel Benediction. It seems to me to have been a happy enough substitution: Plainsong may yet turn out to be better, but I thought Benediction was very good. Benediction is […]

Occasional Fiction

May 1, 2016
Occasional Fiction

As a collection of stories about the complexities of marriage, Reader, I Married Him is good, sometimes even excellent. But how is it as a provocation to rethink Jane Eyre?

Middlemarch for Book Clubs: Now Available as an E-Book!

April 30, 2016
Middlemarch for Book Clubs: Now Available as an E-Book!

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve completed one of my first summer projects: turning the materials for my Middlemarch for Book Clubs website into an e-book, to give people the option of using it offline, or just navigating it more conveniently on their tablets, phones, or e-readers. I wanted to do this partly to achieve this […]

“As Though From a Distance”: Rereading Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn

April 28, 2016
“As Though From a Distance”: Rereading Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn

When I posted about Brooklyn here before, I admitted that I might just have been reading it at the wrong time to appreciate it. I found the style so flatly precise it was almost plodding; I thought Eilis herself was so distanced, from herself and from us, that she seemed ultimately insubstantial. “I was expecting something […]

Is Jane Austen a “Romance Novelist”?

April 20, 2016
Is Jane Austen a “Romance Novelist”?

I feel as if I should begin with a disclaimer: this post is just a preliminary attempt to sort something out for myself that I am sure has been discussed a lot already! I know it’s not a new question, but it is a new one for me to be thinking carefully about — and that’s […]

“The Old High Art of Fiction”: Colm Tóibín, The Master

April 17, 2016
“The Old High Art of Fiction”: Colm Tóibín, The Master

Once it became more solid, the emerging story and all its ramifications and possibilities lifted him out of the gloom of his failure. He grew determined that he would become more hardworking now. He took up his pen again — the pen of all his unforgettable efforts and sacred struggles. It was now, he believed, […]

This Week In My Classes: No More Classes!

April 14, 2016
This Week In My Classes: No More Classes!

Classes ended last Wednesday, and I held my first final exam at 8:30 the following Saturday morning. That seemed hasty to me! Students have a lot going on at the end of term, and two days isn’t much time for them finish other assignments, regroup, and rest up a bit. On the bright side (for […]

What We’re (Really) Talking About When We Talk About “Time to Read”

April 10, 2016
What We’re (Really) Talking About When We Talk About “Time to Read”

Recently I went out for a very pleasant lunch with a group of local Victorianists. One of the topics of discussion was retirement, and particularly how demoralizing it has been for people we know who have given literally decades of their lives to their universities only to be urged to consider retirement before they themselves feel […]

“Infant, it’s madness!” Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades

April 6, 2016
“Infant, it’s madness!” Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades

‘Monseigneur, I do not think that I can live without you. I must have you to take care of me, and to love me, and to scold me when I am maladroite.’ I had met the Duke of Avon and the irrepressible Léonie, the hero and heroine of These Old Shades, before, in Devil’s Cub — but there they […]

Dubious Comfort: Barbara Pym, Quartet in Autumn

April 3, 2016
Dubious Comfort: Barbara Pym, Quartet in Autumn

There was something to be said for tea and a comfortable chat about crematoria. Early in Quartet in Autumn, Letty — one of the novel’s quartet of main characters — reflects on her past as an “unashamed reader of novels”: “she had come to realize,” we’re told, “that the position of an unmarried, unattached, ageing woman […]

Answer in Paradox

April 1, 2016
Answer in Paradox

An intimate new biography gives us a Charlotte Brontë for our times – and raises questions about the entanglement of life and art.

From the Archives: The Quiet One

April 1, 2016
From the Archives: The Quiet One

Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is usually overshadowed by her sisters’ masterpieces, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, but this gripping novel, a startling exposé of Victorian patriarchy, deserves a turn in the spotlight.

Responding to Srigley, Over and Over and Over

March 30, 2016
Responding to Srigley, Over and Over and Over

I have been very glad to see eloquent and well-informed responses to Ron Srigley’s screed “Pass, Fail” in The Walrus (which largely reiterates his screed in the Los Angeles Review of Books). I was disappointed in both venues, frankly: it seems to me to show poor editorial judgment to publish rants of this kind without checking their […]

On This Day I Complete My 49th Year

March 28, 2016
On This Day I Complete My 49th Year

It sounds more poetic when Byron says it! Also, of course, he was only 36 — and I think that was the last poem he wrote, whereas I certainly hope this is not my last post! There’s nothing particularly poetic about turning 49, in any case. It’s not a landmark age, and I’m not doing […]

This Week In My Classes: Hard Times – for these times

March 23, 2016
This Week In My Classes: Hard Times – for these times

Dear reader! It rests with you and me, whether, in our two fields of action, similar things shall be or not. Let them be! We shall sit with lighter bosoms on the hearth, to see the ashes of our fires turn gray and cold. Dickens’s subtitle for his 1854 novel Hard Times was “for these times.” […]

Weekend Miscellany: Reading and Watching

March 20, 2016
Weekend Miscellany: Reading and Watching

It’s a busy time at work, with papers and midterms piling up a bit, so it’s still a bit quiet over here at Novel Readings. I have been doing some extra-curricular reading, but the serious stuff has been for reviews, which I don’t usually anticipate with commentary here. I’ve been filling in the interstices with […]

Weekend Miscellany: Reading and Watching

March 20, 2016
Weekend Miscellany: Reading and Watching

It’s a busy time at work, with papers and midterms piling up a bit, so it’s still a bit quiet over here at Novel Readings. I have been doing some extra-curricular reading, but the serious stuff has been for reviews, which I don’t usually anticipate with commentary here. I’ve been filling in the interstices with […]

What Price Genius? Helen DeWitt, The Last Samurai

March 15, 2016
What Price Genius? Helen DeWitt, The Last Samurai

Great news: New Directions is putting out a new edition of Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai, which is without a doubt one of the best, most surprising, and most moving novels I’ve read in the last decade or more. I’m excited to reread it when it appears in all its finery. In the meantime, here’s what […]

This Week In My Classes: Teaching as Therapy

March 9, 2016
This Week In My Classes: Teaching as Therapy

Not for them — for me! I have actually noticed this often over my teaching career, but it has been particularly evident to me this week, when I have been feeling quite frustrated, angry, and disheartened by things that need to stay off this blog (at least for now): teaching is good for my mental […]

“There Was More To It”: Elmore Leonard, Valdez Is Coming

March 6, 2016
“There Was More To It”: Elmore Leonard, Valdez Is Coming

He would say to Tanner, ‘You see how it is? The woman doesn’t have a man, so she needs money. You have money, but you don’t have a woman. All right, you pay for the man and you get your woman.’ It seemed simple because in the beginning it was simple, with the Lipan woman […]

This Week In My Classes: Catching Up

March 4, 2016
This Week In My Classes: Catching Up

When it’s quiet over here at Novel Readings, that’s generally a sign that I’m busy elsewhere, and that is more or less what’s been up this week. After I got back from Louisville, I had some catching up to do, especially with midterms that needed to get graded so we could all move on to […]

On Having and Earning Critical Authority

February 25, 2016
On Having and Earning Critical Authority

I don’t want to leave the impression that frustration with the rigidity of academic practices is all I took away from my Louisville conference experience. There was definitely value for me in the work I put into my own paper, as well as in hearing and discussing the papers my co-panelists presented. So I thought I’d follow […]

On Having and Earning Critical Authority

February 25, 2016
On Having and Earning Critical Authority

I don’t want to leave the impression that frustration with the rigidity of academic practices is all I took away from my Louisville conference experience. There was definitely value for me in the work I put into my own paper, as well as in hearing and discussing the papers my co-panelists presented. So I thought I’d follow […]

The Conference Convention

February 23, 2016
The Conference Convention

I’m back from Louisville, where Dan Green, David Winters, and I presented a panel of papers on criticism in the internet age at the 44th annual Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900. The panel itself was something of an anticlimax (more on that in a bit), but it was a genuine pleasure to meet […]

“The Whole Tragedy of Her Life”: Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth

February 13, 2016
“The Whole Tragedy of Her Life”: Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth

In the long moment before the curtain fell, he had time to feel the whole tragedy of her life. It was as though her beauty, thus detached from all that cheapened and vulgarized it, had held out suppliant hands to him from the world in which he and she had once met for a moment, […]

This Week In My Classes: Team Brontë!

February 12, 2016
This Week In My Classes: Team Brontë!

I got a bit snippy with the tweeters from Oxford World’s Classics a couple of days ago. Poor things: they were just doing their job, spreading some news about great books and trying to get people to click through and read it. How could they know that I was already feeling grumpy, for reasons quite beyond […]

“Many wise and true sermons”: Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

February 8, 2016
“Many wise and true sermons”: Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Amy stood a minute, turning the leaves in her hand, reading on each some sweet rebuke for all heart-burnings and uncharitableness of spirit. Many wise and true sermons are preached us every day by unconscious ministers in street, school, office, or home; even a fair-table may become a pulpit, if it can offer the good […]

“That Silent Creature”: Elizabeth Jane Howard, The Beautiful Visit

February 4, 2016
“That Silent Creature”: Elizabeth Jane Howard, The Beautiful Visit

Like a lot of other early – to mid- 20th-century women’s fiction I’ve read (Elizabeth Taylor’s A Game of Hide and Seek comes to mind, or Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond, or most of Winifred Holtby’s novels, or Margaret Kennedy’s) Elizabeth Jane Howard’s The Beautiful Visit was a disorienting reading experience: I finished it feeling I did not have the […]

“That Silent Creature”: Elizabeth Jane Howard, The Beautiful Visit

February 4, 2016
“That Silent Creature”: Elizabeth Jane Howard, The Beautiful Visit

Like a lot of other early – to mid- 20th-century women’s fiction I’ve read (Elizabeth Taylor’s A Game of Hide and Seek comes to mind, or Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond, or most of Winifred Holtby’s novels, or Margaret Kennedy’s) Elizabeth Jane Howard’s The Beautiful Visit was a disorienting reading experience: I finished it feeling I did not have the […]

This (Short) Week In My Classes: Canons and Catastrophes

February 3, 2016
This (Short) Week In My  Classes: Canons and Catastrophes

Thanks to Dalhousie benefactor George Munro, we have Friday off, which means that I’ve already wrapped up my teaching week. Hooray! Because although we are in the midst of some great books in both classes, I am feeling both tired and distracted, and an extra day or two to get my brain caught up with […]

Watching Testament of Youth

January 31, 2016
Watching Testament of Youth

Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth made a great impression on me when I finally read it several years ago. My interest in it led me to read more by and about Brittain, as well as more by and about her close friend Winifred Holtby, and then to research and eventually offer a seminar on a cluster […]

This Week In My Classes: Vanity Fair

January 29, 2016
This Week In My Classes: Vanity Fair

Teaching Vanity Fair is always a morally significant experience: it prompts so much reflection on what really matters, both in the world you actually live in, and in the world you wish you lived in. One of the earliest essays I wrote for Open Letters Monthly was on this aspect of Vanity Fair — on the way that it […]

“A Question of Vision”: Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies

January 25, 2016
“A Question of Vision”: Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies

He offered not only his whole laughing self . . . but also the torch he carried before him in the dark, his understanding, dazzling, instant, that there was goodness at her core. With the gift came the bitter seed of regret, the unbridgeable gap between the Mathilde she was and the Mathilde he had […]

“A Question of Vision”: Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies

January 25, 2016
“A Question of Vision”: Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies

He offered not only his whole laughing self . . . but also the torch he carried before him in the dark, his understanding, dazzling, instant, that there was goodness at her core. With the gift came the bitter seed of regret, the unbridgeable gap between the Mathilde she was and the Mathilde he had […]

“I am not paying for talk”: Charles Portis, True Grit

January 21, 2016
“I am not paying for talk”: Charles Portis, True Grit

I said, “I have left off crying, and giggling as well. Now make up your mind. I don’t care anything for all this talk. You told me what your price for the job was and I have come up with it. Here is the money. I aim to get Tom Chaney and if you are […]

This Week In My Classes: Back to Busy-ness

January 20, 2016
This Week In My Classes: Back to Busy-ness

It always takes a couple of weeks for a term to rev up and really get going: we have to get through a certain amount of reading, for example, before much writing can be done and thus for much marking to be needed. We are passing that point now, though, and this week I have […]

This Week In My Classes: The Pride and Prejudice Paradox

January 13, 2016
This Week In My Classes: The Pride and Prejudice Paradox

I don’t teach it very often anymore: it’s too popular. This is my version, I guess, of Yogi Berra’s line “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” Pride and Prejudice is the only work I ever teach (in any genre) that has routinely been read already, often multiple times, by many of the students in […]

This Week In My Classes: Orientation

January 9, 2016
This Week In My Classes: Orientation

The new term is underway, as you might guess from the sudden dearth of new blog posts. After all this time I am much better at the start-up logistics; what gets harder is adjusting to the sudden dramatic increase in demands on my energy. I was exhausted after every class meeting this week! But as […]

“Not Simple Enough”: Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

January 3, 2016
“Not Simple Enough”: Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

“You seem to have so many scruples, so many reasons, so many ties. When I discovered, ten years ago, that my husband’s dearest wish was to make me miserable — of late he has simply let me alone — ah, it was a wonderful simplification! My poor Isabel, you’re not simple enough.” I had barely finished […]

Happy New Year! and New Books! and New OLM!

January 2, 2016
Happy New Year! and New Books! and New OLM!

2016 is getting off to a good start in my corner of the world. For one thing, I have a lovely array of new books, thanks to the kind people who basically ran my entire Chapters wish list. Isn’t that an enticing stack? My problem now is that I can’t decide where to start: rereading Mr. […]

Our Editions, Ourselves

January 1, 2016
Our Editions, Ourselves

How many copies of Middlemarch does one person need? When the edition is as lovely as this, there’s always room for one more.

Novel Readings 2015

December 30, 2015
Novel Readings 2015

It’s time again to look back over my year in books and blogging. It was a good reading year overall, I think, with a number of real stand-outs and hardly any duds. Interestingly, it doesn’t look as if my sabbatical led to a great deal more reading than usual — for which I blame our mind-numbing, […]

“Life is Never Absent”: May Sarton, Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing

December 27, 2015
“Life is Never Absent”: May Sarton, Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing

In her 1974 introduction to Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing, Carolyn Heilbrun comments on how little “organized acclamation” or “academic attention” May Sarton has received. I was curious to see if that had changed in the intervening decades, so I did a quick subject search on the MLA Bibliography and turned up 108 results since […]

Henry James and “le mot juste”

December 26, 2015
Henry James and “le mot juste”

I feel I owe Henry James a bit of an apology. In my previous post on The Portrait of a Lady I complained that his sentences were irritating. Yet, as several people commented at the time, they really aren’t, or, not much, not in Portrait. (Of course, it’s also possible that, as Dorian predicted, I have become […]

Loyalty and Cutting Your Losses

December 23, 2015
Loyalty and Cutting Your Losses

Alex at Thinking in Fragments has an interesting post up about how to decide whether to carry on with a series if you aren’t that impressed with its first installment — and asking for examples of writers whose books got better as they went on. She cites the Peter Wimsey novels, for instance: if Whose Body? had […]

This Week In My Classes: End of Term Reflections

December 20, 2015
This Week In My Classes: End of Term Reflections

I’m always relieved at the end of the term, because the last phase is always quite stressful. But I’m also always aware that it’s really only the end of a term — another one immediately looms, and another, and another! Every limit is, indeed, a beginning as well as an ending, and so this in-between time inevitably […]

Dogs and Cats

December 16, 2015
Dogs and Cats

I’m back! It has been quite a week, and I still have work to do to finish up the term, but I can see my way through it now — and really, it hasn’t been that bad compared to terms when I’ve had more or bigger classes and no teaching assistants. Still, it feels good to have […]

“The Sorrow of the Dead”: Maurizio de Giovanni, I Will Have Vengeance

December 9, 2015
“The Sorrow of the Dead”: Maurizio de Giovanni, I Will Have Vengeance

I see it. I feel it, the sorrow of the dead who remain attached to a life they no longer have. I know it; I hear the sound of the blood draining away. The mind that deserts them, the brain clinging by the fingernails to the last shred of life as it runs out. Love, […]

From the Novel Readings Archives: Santa Clause is People!

December 9, 2015
From the Novel Readings Archives: Santa Clause is People!

The lull is over: papers are in, exams are incoming, and for the next little while I’ll have my head down taking care of business. Last week, while I waited for the work to arrive, I got in some Christmas shopping, including wrapping and shipping some things to my family out west as well as […]

This Week In My Reading: Scale and Significance

December 3, 2015
This Week In My Reading: Scale and Significance

In a way, this post is also about “this week in my classes,” as it is prompted by the serendipitous convergence of my current reading around questions we’ve been discussing since we started working on Carol Shields’ Unless in my section of Intro to Lit. In our first session on the novel, I give some introductory remarks about Shields — […]

A New Open Letters Monthly Is Up! Again!

December 1, 2015
A New Open Letters Monthly Is Up! Again!

A monthly schedule really is relentless, isn’t it? And yet somehow, every month, we pull it off and present to the world another brand spanking new issue. As usual, I hope you’ll be tempted to go browse and read in it directly, but here are a couple of teasers: Once again we wrap up the […]

The One Who Gets Wounded

December 1, 2015
The One Who Gets Wounded

Adam Johnson’s stories cast us adrift in moral, emotional, even existential uncertainties; the only reassurance they offer lies in the excellence of the fiction itself.

This Week In My Classes: Letting Go

November 27, 2015
This Week In My Classes: Letting Go

We are rapidly nearing the end of term, which means a lot of time and thought on all sides is going into final assignments. In my Intro to Lit class, I’m particularly conscious of this phase of the course as a time in which I pull back and see if the scaffolding I have tried […]

Spenser and Susan and Not Minding

November 24, 2015
Spenser and Susan and Not Minding

It has continued to be a busy and fairly miscellaneous period at work — meaning both at my “day job” (since when was being a teacher of any kind ever a job that got done during the day?) and at Open Letters. After a particularly good couple of days, though, I’m feeling on top of things. […]

Happy Birthday, Marian Evans!

November 22, 2015
Happy Birthday, Marian Evans!

The woman we now refer to almost exclusively as ‘George Eliot’ was born on this day in 1819. Imagine the bicentennial celebrations we’ll be having in a few years! I hope so, anyway. Remember all the hoopla for the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice? Surely the author of Middlemarch deserves at least as much fanfare — even […]

Henry James Writes Irritating Sentences

November 17, 2015
Henry James Writes Irritating Sentences

We interrupt our regular programming (specifically, a pending but dispensable installment of ‘This Week In My Classes,’ featuring more moping about how badly Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own always seems to go over with my first-year students, plus some rueful ruminations on my own inability to shut up and let the students in my graduate seminar […]

#Sigh: Another Miscellaneous Week

November 15, 2015
#Sigh: Another Miscellaneous Week

Has it really been a week since my last post? I wish I had more to show for it, but it has not been that kind of week. For one thing, I came down with a cold — not a bad one, but bad enough to sap my energy, disrupt my sleep, and generally make […]

Amis and Spenser and Scandal, Oh My!

November 9, 2015
Amis and Spenser and Scandal, Oh My!

It seems like too long since I wrote a detailed, thoughtful book post. Sadly, that’s not about to change! My activities for the past week or so have just been too miscellaneous, including my reading. I can’t really blame Joseph Anton, as I mostly turn to that late in the evening when I might otherwise be watching […]

Listening to Joseph Anton

November 4, 2015
Listening to Joseph Anton

I’ve been continuing my audio book experiment, with mixed success. People were right to caution me to sample a lot, because a narrator you don’t like can really turn you off even a book you’re otherwise quite interested in. Finding books that I can follow easily enough by ear is also not as straightforward as […]

Open Letters Monthly, November 2015

November 2, 2015
Open Letters Monthly, November 2015

Didn’t we only just do this? And yet here we are again, at the beginning of a new month with a brand new issue of Open Letters Monthly up and ready for your enlightenment and enjoyment! A few highlights: Greg Waldmann reads Exceptional, by Dick and Liz Cheney, and finds it exceptionally (though unsurprisingly) bad. Steve Donoghue […]

Pen and Tell Her

November 1, 2015
Pen and Tell Her

Elizabeth Gilbert wants you to be creative, without fear. Whatever brings you to life, whether it’s learning a dance, writing a song, or drawing on the wall, just do it! But what if you want to review her book?

This Week In My Classes: Being Beginners

October 28, 2015
This Week In My Classes: Being Beginners

My previous post on struggling to appreciate Persepolis (like the one not long before it on reading Maus badly) exemplifies one difference between the writing I do here and most of the writing I do elsewhere (especially but not exclusively writing for academic publications). Here I’m allowed — or perhaps I should say, here I’m not afraid — to […]

Reading Persepolis: Comically Inept?

October 25, 2015
Reading Persepolis: Comically Inept?

Me, not Persepolis, of course. Because Persepolis is highly acclaimed (from the cover blurbs: “brilliant and unusual,” “superb,” “a mighty achievement,” “a dazzlingly singular achievement”) and widely considered an outstanding example of its kind. So the truth must be that if I read Maus badly, I read Persepolis very badly — despite having dutifully read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics in […]

This Week In My Classes: Everything Else!

October 22, 2015
This Week In My Classes: Everything Else!

When it’s this quiet around here, that can only mean one thing: I am very busy elsewhere! The main reason I haven’t written up any new reading is that I’ve been working on a review for the next issue of Open Letters. Despite my best efforts, I’m still quite a slow and painstaking writer when I […]

This Week In My Classes: Strangeness and Subtlety

October 16, 2015
This Week In My Classes: Strangeness and Subtlety

Because of the Thanksgiving holiday on Monday, my graduate seminar didn’t meet this week. If only Eliot had written her novels in a different order, we could have used that extra time for reading through Middlemarch — always the book for which I like to allow the most weeks because it demands and rewards such luxurious […]

Reading Maus Badly

October 12, 2015
Reading Maus Badly

In the comments to my last post, Bill said he hoped that my choice for a comic book or graphic novel for a course on “pulp fiction” would not be “some terribly respectable ‘graphic novel’ along the lines of Maus, Fun Home, or Persepolis” — not that there’s anything wrong with these on their own terms, […]

This Week In My Classes: Looking Ahead Already!

October 11, 2015
This Week In My Classes: Looking Ahead Already!

We’ve barely settled into a routine in this term’s classes but the call already went out for us to propose offerings for next year. This request seems to get earlier all the time, and often it’s an unwelcome distraction in the hubbub of the fall term. It’s also frustrating to have to make these decisions before […]

This Week In My Classes: Looking Ahead Already!

October 11, 2015
This Week In My Classes: Looking Ahead Already!

We’ve barely settled into a routine in this term’s classes but the call already went out for us to propose offerings for next year. This request seems to get earlier all the time, and often it’s an unwelcome distraction in the hubbub of the fall term. It’s also frustrating to have to make these decisions before […]

“Endurance”: Anita Brookner, Strangers

October 6, 2015
“Endurance”: Anita Brookner, Strangers

That was one of the dubious endowments of ageing, a conviction that one’s desires had not been met, that there was in fact no reward, and that the way ahead was simply one of endurance. Anita Brookner’s Strangers is a quietly ruthless dissection of the discomforts and disquietude of growing old alone. Its protagonist, Paul Sturgis, is […]

George Eliot and “Fine Old Christmas”

October 5, 2015
George Eliot and “Fine Old Christmas”

I don’t usually think about George Eliot and Christmas together, and when I do, it’s usually by way of Silas Marner, which is a lovely secular version of the Christmas story (among other things). Rereading The Mill on the Floss for my class this week, though, I was struck by this little passage, which somehow had never […]

Open Letters for October!

October 3, 2015
Open Letters for October!

The October issue of Open Letters Monthly is up, and the editors are enjoying the brief interval fondly (or sometimes grudgingly — I’m looking at you, Steve Donoghue!) known as the “Basking Period,” in which we sit back and admire the results of our hard work — and, of course, the hard work of our excellent contributors. […]

“The Pick of the Bunch”: Margaret Campbell Barnes, My Lady of Cleves

September 30, 2015
“The Pick of the Bunch”: Margaret Campbell Barnes, My Lady of Cleves

Anne sought in the folds of her skirt for the gold-handled scissors hanging from her belt. Deftly she snipped off the fattest grape of all and popped it into his watering mouth. He savored it greedily and, after a furtive glance across the room, squeezed her hand with the obscene slyness of an old man […]

This Week In My Classes: Reading Against the Grain

September 29, 2015
This Week In My Classes: Reading Against the Grain

I have really enjoyed rereading Adam Bede for my graduate seminar over the past two weeks. Though I know the novel reasonably well, I have never spent the kind of dedicated time on it that I have on Middlemarch or The Mill on the Floss  — or, for that matter, on Romola. I’ve never even assigned it in an […]

“They had Nicholas”: Dorothy Dunnett, The Spring of the Ram

September 26, 2015
“They had Nicholas”: Dorothy Dunnett, The Spring of the Ram

The truth was, Tobie supposed, that some of them wanted more than a leader, so that disappointment came hard. Toys; toys for the pillow. It was true; they were wrong. A team was one thing; a family was bound by something quite different. What they had was, indeed, enough to be thankful for. Whatever it […]

This Week In My Classes: Reading, Writing, and Just a Little Ranting

September 21, 2015
This Week In My Classes: Reading, Writing, and Just a Little Ranting

We are into our second full week of classes now. I think things are mostly going smoothly, but that’s as much thanks to habit and experience as anything I’ve done particularly effectively in the past week or so. It’s not that anything is going badly — at least, not as far as I can tell. I just […]

Finished with Ferrante. Probably Forever.

September 17, 2015
Finished with Ferrante. Probably Forever.

I actually hadn’t intended to read The Story of the Lost Child. By the time I finished Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, I felt that three long volumes of minutiae (however intense) and interpersonal angst (especially between two characters who never seemed either particularly plausible or particularly interesting) was plenty. It’s not that I didn’t think […]

“We Are At Peace”: Mollie Panter-Downes, One Fine Day

September 16, 2015
“We Are At Peace”: Mollie Panter-Downes, One Fine Day

Mollie Panter-Downes’s One Fine Day was a good book to read at the start of term: it’s both short and exquisite. Reading it reminded me why I do what I do, why reading is both my work and my play, my vocation and my indulgence. I luxuriated in the language, which is just self-conscious enough to […]

“We Are At Peace”: Mollie Panter-Downes, One Fine Day

September 16, 2015
“We Are At Peace”: Mollie Panter-Downes, One Fine Day

Mollie Panter-Downes’s One Fine Day was a good book to read at the start of term: it’s both short and exquisite. Reading it reminded me why I do what I do, why reading is both my work and my play, my vocation and my indulgence. I luxuriated in the language, which is just self-conscious enough to […]

The Estranging Sea: Emily White, Lonely

September 12, 2015
The Estranging Sea: Emily White, Lonely

“The main thing I did with this book,” Emily White says on her website, “was break the taboo against talking about loneliness.” I felt the weight of that taboo as I debated whether to blog about having read her book. It seems obvious that I wouldn’t have looked it up if I weren’t lonely myself, […]

The Estranging Sea: Emily White, Lonely

September 12, 2015
The Estranging Sea: Emily White, Lonely

“The main thing I did with this book,” Emily White says on her website, “was break the taboo against talking about loneliness.” I felt the weight of that taboo as I debated whether to blog about having read her book. It seems obvious that I wouldn’t have looked it up if I weren’t lonely myself, […]

This Week In My Classes: Back to School Edition

September 10, 2015
This Week In My Classes: Back to School Edition

I haven’t been in the classroom since December 2, 2014, so I guess it’s no wonder I’m experiencing more than my usual start-of-term jitters as well as a general sense of disorientation! It’s not as if I haven’t been thinking about teaching a lot since then, especially in the last several weeks, but I can tell […]

“Definitely something”: Simone St. James, An Inquiry into Love and Death

September 7, 2015
“Definitely something”: Simone St. James, An Inquiry into Love and Death

I wouldn’t probably have given Simone St. James a try if it weren’t for Miss Bates‘s recommendation on Twitter. I don’t really do ghost stories — my inner skeptic interferes with my enjoyment. The last truly supernatural story I can remember reading is Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, which for me was just OK, with some […]

“Definitely something”: Simone St. James, An Inquiry into Love and Death

September 7, 2015
“Definitely something”: Simone St. James, An Inquiry into Love and Death

I wouldn’t probably have given Simone St. James a try if it weren’t for Miss Bates‘s recommendation on Twitter. I don’t really do ghost stories — my inner skeptic interferes with my enjoyment. The last truly supernatural story I can remember reading is Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, which for me was just OK, with some […]

I’m Listening! My Tentative Steps Towards Audio Books

September 5, 2015
I’m Listening! My Tentative Steps Towards Audio Books

I seem to know a lot of people who read (listen to) audio books. They often report what they’ve been listening to, and in addition to my interest in the books they discuss, I’m always interested too in their comments on the narrators — who make a big difference, of course, to the overall experience, adding […]

Another New Month, Another New Open Letters!

September 3, 2015
Another New Month, Another New Open Letters!

We did it again! A rich new issue of Open Letters Monthly is up, with something in it for every interest and taste. This month’s seems particularly good to me, and I don’t say that just because it includes four pieces for which I was the lead editor. A few highlights: Victoria Olsen reports from the Romance Writers […]

A Taste of Nova Scotia

August 31, 2015
A Taste of Nova Scotia

My lovely mother has been visiting us, and today we went exploring a bit. I don’t like highway driving (or really any driving, though of course I do what I have to), so I was happy to find an article about fun things to do around Halifax without a car. One suggestion was taking the […]

“A Real Book”: Barbara Comyns, Our Spoons Came from Woolworths

August 29, 2015
“A Real Book”: Barbara Comyns, Our Spoons Came from Woolworths

This book does not seem to be growing very large although I have got to Chapter Nine. I think this is partly because there isn’t any conversation. I could just fill pages like this: ‘I am sure it is true,’ said Phyllida. ‘I cannot agree with you,’ answered Norman. ‘Oh, but I know I am […]

Appearing Elsewhere: “Middlemarch and the ‘Cry From Soul to Soul’”

August 26, 2015
Appearing Elsewhere: “Middlemarch and the ‘Cry From Soul to Soul’”

An essay I worked on during my sabbatical on faith and fellowship in Middlemarch has just been published in Berfrois. The general themes will not surprise any regular visitors to Novel Readings (or readers of my other essays on George Eliot, particularly my essay on Silas Marner in the Los Angeles Review of Books). In fact, the germ of this essay was a […]

“Up to the wall”: Carol Shields, The Stone Diaries

August 24, 2015
“Up to the wall”: Carol Shields, The Stone Diaries

I don’t really understand why I didn’t like The Stone Diaries this time. Did I reread it at the wrong moment for me, somehow? I admired lots of pieces of it as I was reading, but my overall experience of it was that it was too miscellaneous: that it incorporated too many elements that ended up feeling […]

This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

August 21, 2015
This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

It’s that time of year again for academics around here: the fall term is closing in, and that means it’s time to finalize the syllabi for our classes. For me, this is a process that generates equal parts enthusiasm and irritation. I enjoy the optimism of course planning: it’s fun to anticipate the intellectual sparks that can […]

This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

August 21, 2015
This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

It’s that time of year again for academics around here: the fall term is closing in, and that means it’s time to finalize the syllabi for our classes. For me, this is a process that generates equal parts enthusiasm and irritation. I enjoy the optimism of course planning: it’s fun to anticipate the intellectual sparks that can […]

This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

August 21, 2015
This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

It’s that time of year again for academics around here: the fall term is closing in, and that means it’s time to finalize the syllabi for our classes. For me, this is a process that generates equal parts enthusiasm and irritation. I enjoy the optimism of course planning: it’s fun to anticipate the intellectual sparks that can […]

This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

August 21, 2015
This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

It’s that time of year again for academics around here: the fall term is closing in, and that means it’s time to finalize the syllabi for our classes. For me, this is a process that generates equal parts enthusiasm and irritation. I enjoy the optimism of course planning: it’s fun to anticipate the intellectual sparks that can […]

This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

August 21, 2015
This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

It’s that time of year again for academics around here: the fall term is closing in, and that means it’s time to finalize the syllabi for our classes. For me, this is a process that generates equal parts enthusiasm and irritation. I enjoy the optimism of course planning: it’s fun to anticipate the intellectual sparks that can […]

This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

August 21, 2015
This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

It’s that time of year again for academics around here: the fall term is closing in, and that means it’s time to finalize the syllabi for our classes. For me, this is a process that generates equal parts enthusiasm and irritation. I enjoy the optimism of course planning: it’s fun to anticipate the intellectual sparks that can […]

This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

August 21, 2015
This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

It’s that time of year again for academics around here: the fall term is closing in, and that means it’s time to finalize the syllabi for our classes. For me, this is a process that generates equal parts enthusiasm and irritation. I enjoy the optimism of course planning: it’s fun to anticipate the intellectual sparks that can […]

This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

August 21, 2015
This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

It’s that time of year again for academics around here: the fall term is closing in, and that means it’s time to finalize the syllabi for our classes. For me, this is a process that generates equal parts enthusiasm and irritation. I enjoy the optimism of course planning: it’s fun to anticipate the intellectual sparks that can […]

This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

August 21, 2015
This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

It’s that time of year again for academics around here: the fall term is closing in, and that means it’s time to finalize the syllabi for our classes. For me, this is a process that generates equal parts enthusiasm and irritation. I enjoy the optimism of course planning: it’s fun to anticipate the intellectual sparks that can […]

This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

August 21, 2015
This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

It’s that time of year again for academics around here: the fall term is closing in, and that means it’s time to finalize the syllabi for our classes. For me, this is a process that generates equal parts enthusiasm and irritation. I enjoy the optimism of course planning: it’s fun to anticipate the intellectual sparks that can […]

This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

August 21, 2015
This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

It’s that time of year again for academics around here: the fall term is closing in, and that means it’s time to finalize the syllabi for our classes. For me, this is a process that generates equal parts enthusiasm and irritation. I enjoy the optimism of course planning: it’s fun to anticipate the intellectual sparks that can […]

This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

August 21, 2015
This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

It’s that time of year again for academics around here: the fall term is closing in, and that means it’s time to finalize the syllabi for our classes. For me, this is a process that generates equal parts enthusiasm and irritation. I enjoy the optimism of course planning: it’s fun to anticipate the intellectual sparks that can […]

This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

August 21, 2015
This Week in Class Prep: Syllabus Season

It’s that time of year again for academics around here: the fall term is closing in, and that means it’s time to finalize the syllabi for our classes. For me, this is a process that generates equal parts enthusiasm and irritation. I enjoy the optimism of course planning: it’s fun to anticipate the intellectual sparks that can […]

“Links with the Past”: Arnaldur Indriðason, Silence of the Grave

August 18, 2015
“Links with the Past”: Arnaldur Indriðason, Silence of the Grave

He no longer heard any tales, and they became lost to him. All his people were gone, forgotten and buried in deserted rural areas. He, in turn, drifted through a city that he had no business being in. Knew that he was not the urban type. Could not really tell what he was. But he […]

Recent Reading: Romance, Reykjavik, and Relatives

August 16, 2015
Recent Reading: Romance, Reykjavik, and Relatives

In among my other recent chores and challenges I’ve read a few things chosen primarily for their likely distraction value. I don’t have a whole post’s worth of comments on any of them but I thought I’d round them up here, just to sort out my impressions of them. First, two romance novels: Julie James’s Suddenly […]

Coloring Books … for Adults? Sure, Why Not.

August 14, 2015
Coloring Books … for Adults? Sure, Why Not.

I’ve watched the recent craze for “adult” coloring books with a mixture of amusement and nostalgia. While some people are celebrating the idea as both creative and consoling, others find it one more sign of the infantilization of our culture. For me, it brings back a lot of memories of family camping trips: coloring books and markers were necessary camping […]

Not a Very Good Week

August 13, 2015
Not a Very Good Week

I’m in a slump — a writing slump, mostly, but (and relatedly) also an emotional slump. I will come out of it, I’m sure, but so far I haven’t figured out exactly how. Some of it is my usual summertime blues, which have been exacerbated this year by how grey and rainy it has been […]

“Sailing Into the Darkness”: John Bayley, Elegy for Iris

August 9, 2015
“Sailing Into the Darkness”: John Bayley, Elegy for Iris

Twice, Iris has said to Peter Conradi that she now feels that she is “sailing into the darkness.” It was when he asked her, gently, about her writing. Such a phrase might be said to indicate the sort of inner knowledge that I had in mind. It seems to convey a terrible lucidity about what […]

“But which?” Jo Walton, My Real Children

August 7, 2015
“But which?” Jo Walton, My Real Children

Which were her real children? Poor Doug and dear Helen and brilliant George and troubled Cathy? Or sensible Flora and wonderful Jinny and talented Philip? Was Sammy or Rhodri her favorite grandchild? Only one set of them could possibly be real, but which? She loved them all, and there was no real difference in the […]

“An Act of Reconstruction”: Carol Shields, Swann

August 4, 2015
“An Act of Reconstruction”: Carol Shields, Swann

The faces of the actors have been subtly transformed. They are seen joined in a ceremonial act of reconstruction, perhaps even an act of creation. There need be no suggestion that any of them will become less selfish in the future, less cranky, less consumed with thoughts of tenure and academic glory, but each of […]

“A Place Like This”: Steve Burrows, A Siege of Bitterns

August 2, 2015
“A Place Like This”: Steve Burrows, A Siege of Bitterns

“It’s this area, you see, the birds and the people, we’re all intertwined, caught up in one another’s history. We could never let it perish, a place like this.” Despite my wariness of new (or just new-to-me) mysteries, I took a chance on Steve Burrows’ A Siege of Bitterns because when I peered at it in […]

This Week in ‘Not My Sabbatical Any More’

July 30, 2015
This Week in ‘Not My Sabbatical Any More’

My sabbatical actually ended officially on June 30. I marked the transition with my week’s vacation in Vancouver, and returned to Halifax ready to get back to “regular” work. It’s summer, of course, which means I’m still not teaching, but there’s definitely been a shift in my attitude, attention, and priorities. For one thing, the fall term […]

Mistakes Were Made: Louise Penny, Bury Your Dead

July 28, 2015
Mistakes Were Made: Louise Penny, Bury Your Dead

I so want to love Louise Penny’s mysteries! She is one of the biggest names in Canadian crime fiction, which means (among other things) she has long been in my sights as a contender for my mystery class. And she has a lot of fervent admirers, including many of my friends. Also, of course, it’s […]

Family Drama: Balancing Act and Parenthood

July 26, 2015
Family Drama: Balancing Act and Parenthood

Both my reading and my TV viewing this week have been all about the intricacies of family life. Joanna Trollope’s Balancing Act is a classic “slice of life novel” — classic Joanna Trollope, anyway. I haven’t liked Trollope’s recent novels as much as her older ones (A Village Affair, for instance), and Balancing Act didn’t break that pattern: […]

“A Book of All My Secrets”: The M Word, ed. Kerry Clare

July 22, 2015
“A Book of All My Secrets”: The M Word, ed. Kerry Clare

I got to a poem about us, about how quickly our children become themselves, and as I blithely read the poem over the air, my five-year-old daughter suddenly, breathlessly, began to sob. She was inconsolable. When my husband could finally calm her down enough to speak, she blurted out, “Mommy wrote a book of all […]

“A Book of All My Secrets”: The M Word, ed. Kerry Clare

July 22, 2015
“A Book of All My Secrets”: The M Word, ed. Kerry Clare

I got to a poem about us, about how quickly our children become themselves, and as I blithely read the poem over the air, my five-year-old daughter suddenly, breathlessly, began to sob. She was inconsolable. When my husband could finally calm her down enough to speak, she blurted out, “Mommy wrote a book of all […]

“Intimate and Uncharted Territories”: Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, Butterflies in November

July 18, 2015
“Intimate and Uncharted Territories”: Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, Butterflies in November

I’m not taking much with me. The main thing is to hold onto as little of the old clutter as possible. It’s not that I’m fleeing anything, just exploring my most intimate and uncharted territories in a quest for fresh feelings in a new prefabricated summer cottage planted on the edge of a muddy ravine […]

A Tether In Time: Penelope Lively, Dancing Fish and Ammonites

July 16, 2015
A Tether In Time: Penelope Lively, Dancing Fish and Ammonites

Memory and anticipation. What has happened, and what might happen. The mind needs its tether in time, it must know where it is — in the perpetual slide of the present, with the ballast of what has been and the hazard of what is to come. I mostly enjoyed Penelope Lively’s Dancing Fish and Ammonites — […]

Housekeeping Hiatus

July 15, 2015
Housekeeping Hiatus

We’re doing a bit of behind-the-scenes stuff with our server at Open Letters so I won’t be putting up any new posts until it’s all settled (probably just in a couple of days). That should give me time to finish Penelope Lively’s Dancing Fish and Ammonites at least!

“Shaped Into Stories”: Carol Shields, Small Ceremonies

July 11, 2015
“Shaped Into Stories”: Carol Shields, Small Ceremonies

It’s the arrangement of events which makes the stories. It’s throwing away, compressing, underlining. Hindsight can give structure to anything, but you have to be able to see it. Breathing, waking and sleeping: our lives are steamed and shaped into stories. Knowing that is what keeps me from going insane, and though I don’t like […]

Back Again — With Books!

July 9, 2015
Back Again — With Books!

Why is book shopping part of any vacation I take? It’s not as if we don’t have bookstores in Halifax. I think it’s something to do with the feeling of freedom from constraints that holidays bring. If I’m not responsible for work, regular meals, or housecleaning, surely I can be irresponsible in other ways too! […]

Briefly: Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

July 4, 2015
Briefly: Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

  It seems a bit perverse to write a short post about a book as long as The Goldfinch. But even if I weren’t still on vacation, I don’t think I would want to write a long one, because despite the book’s length I find I have little to say about it — or maybe that’s […]

On Vacation!

July 1, 2015
On Vacation!

I am in Vancouver enjoying some relaxing and sociable time with family and friends. As seems to be traditional, I have arrived in the middle of a heat wave! Happily, my parents have a lovely shady garden where we can shelter from the sun.    In the meantime, the July issue of Open Letters is […]

The Truth of a Thing

July 1, 2015
The Truth of a Thing

Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life emphasized the contingency of any single story. In contrast, her new novel focuses on one life lived to the full. But for better or for worse, Atkinson can’t resist the lure of metafiction…

“Ragged, Inglorious, and Apparently Purposeless”: Iris Murdoch, Under the Net

June 27, 2015
“Ragged, Inglorious, and Apparently Purposeless”: Iris Murdoch, Under the Net

Like a fish which swims calmly in deep water, I felt all about me the secure supporting pressure of my own life. Ragged, inglorious, and apparently purposeless, but my own. In the very last chapter of Under the Net, I finally arrived at a passage that was the kind of writing I’d expected from Iris Murdoch: […]

“Could Anything Matter More?” Atul Gawande, Being Mortal

June 23, 2015
“Could Anything Matter More?” Atul Gawande, Being Mortal

It is much harder to measure how much more worth people find in being alive than how many fewer drugs they depend on or how much longer they can live. But could anything matter more? I decided to read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal for what he would probably consider the best reason of all: because I […]

“That Hellish Day”: Howard Norman, What Is Left the Daughter

June 21, 2015
“That Hellish Day”: Howard Norman, What Is Left the Daughter

“The day Hans Mohring came to make amends, that day was hell on earth. Two, three, four months earlier? I couldn’t have found a day like that on the map. And now that hellish day’s my permanent address.” When people write “think”-pieces excoriating Twitter, I always end up puzzled: clearly their Twitter is very different from my […]

This Week In My Sabbatical: Winding Down and Waiting

June 18, 2015
This Week In My Sabbatical: Winding Down and Waiting

  My sabbatical ends officially on June 30. I leave on June 29 for a week’s vacation in Vancouver, so that will mark the transition nicely. I already feel a shift, though, not just in how I’m using my time but in my attitude: the big push I was making to get new writing done has […]

Meeting The Penderwicks and Thinking of Old Friends

June 15, 2015
Meeting The Penderwicks and Thinking of Old Friends

On the warm recommendation of two of my favorite readers, Sarah and Dorian, I read The Penderwicks this weekend. It’s charming! And, as the cover blurbs suggest, it’s a bit of a throwback, a children’s book of a gentler kind that seems (and is packaged, at least in the edition I read) to have come from […]

To Teach or Not to Teach: The Case of Case Histories

June 13, 2015
To Teach or Not to Teach: The Case of Case Histories

As promised, I have reread Kate Atkinson’s first Jackson Brodie novel, Case Histories, and I’m reporting back. My motive in rereading it was partly just to refresh my experience of it, as I remembered having thought it was very good. It is! But I was also rereading it to see if I thought it would work […]

From the Archives: Pondering the ‘Utilitarian’ Humanities

June 11, 2015
From the Archives: Pondering the ‘Utilitarian’ Humanities

I’ve been thinking about this old post a lot lately because it’s hard to escape the discouraging conclusion that — despite having plenty of data on our side — humanists aren’t doing well convincing people that a humanities major is a perfectly practical choice. (I’m glad people are doing research on why better evidence against […]

Weekend Miscellany: Atkinson, Chase, Wallander

June 7, 2015
Weekend Miscellany: Atkinson, Chase, Wallander

I haven’t been a very diligent blogger lately! Well, I did write up another ‘This Week In My Sabbatical’ post on Thursday, but it was so dull I deleted it without posting. The gist of it was that I have been writing more stuff (quite a bit of it, which is good, at least), and […]

“The Light of the World”: Nicola Griffith, Hild

May 31, 2015
“The Light of the World”: Nicola Griffith, Hild

I found Hild shelved in the Fantasy and Science Fiction section at Bookmark, which means I almost didn’t realize they had it in stock, as I don’t usually browse that section. (I was poking around in case they had John Crowley’s Little, Big, which Tom had got me interested in.) I can see why the staff had […]

“The Light of the World”: Nicola Griffith, Hild

May 31, 2015
“The Light of the World”: Nicola Griffith, Hild

I found Hild shelved in the Fantasy and Science Fiction section at Bookmark, which means I almost didn’t realize they had it in stock, as I don’t usually browse that section. (I was poking around in case they had John Crowley’s Little, Big, which Tom had got me interested in.) I can see why the staff had […]

This Week In My Sabbatical: Bits and Pieces

May 26, 2015
This Week In My Sabbatical: Bits and Pieces

The most important bits and pieces at issue this week, sabbatical-wise, are those I’ve been breaking off from the large chunk of writing I worked on through January, February, and March. At 18,000+ words it was unwieldy for any purpose, including a potential book chapter, and it was always going to need pruning, but the […]

Between Two Worlds: Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

May 20, 2015
Between Two Worlds: Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

I surprised myself when I picked Station Eleven to read next — and in fact there’s a pretty close possible world in which I don’t read it because it has two big knocks against it: it’s post-apocalyptic fiction, which is not a genre I’m usually drawn to, and it’s a recent book by a hip young writer […]

Weekend Miscellany: Reading, Writing, Renos, and Buffy

May 17, 2015
Weekend Miscellany: Reading, Writing, Renos, and Buffy

Why does it seem as if my days are more miscellaneous than usual lately? I suppose one cause is the relative lack of routine that comes with being on sabbatical. This week was also another busy one in the kitchen make-over that we began in April: we finally got the countertop installed on Monday, which meant that […]

“He had survived”: Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken

May 9, 2015
“He had survived”: Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken

I finished Unbroken last night in a good long stretch of reading — it’s a testament to the inherent drama of the story and the pace, if not necessarily the style, of its telling that I wasn’t tempted away from it by the myriad distractions that are always lurking. And this is in spite of knowing more or […]

The Past Couple of Weeks In My Sabbatical: Various!

May 8, 2015
The Past Couple of Weeks In My Sabbatical: Various!

How’s that for a vague title for a blog post? But it is accurate, really: for the past couple of weeks my attention and energy have been focused on a range of different things. I  haven’t felt inspired to write a sabbatical update for a while precisely because my activities seemed so miscellaneous, and not that […]

The Past Couple of Weeks In My Sabbatical: Various!

May 8, 2015
The Past Couple of Weeks In My Sabbatical: Various!

How’s that for a vague title for a blog post? But it is accurate, really: for the past couple of weeks my attention and energy have been focused on a range of different things. I  haven’t felt inspired to write a sabbatical update for a while precisely because my activities seemed so miscellaneous, and not that […]

“A Burden of Mortification”: Thomas Keneally, Shame and the Captives

May 2, 2015
“A Burden of Mortification”: Thomas Keneally, Shame and the Captives

Anyone who’s ever graded essays has probably struggled to balance execution and aspiration in their evaluations. For me, a paper that’s ambitious and original but doesn’t quite succeed often ends up with the same grade as one that’s better written or argued but takes a safer or more conventional approach: the interest and challenge of the task […]

Second Glance: Fatal Beauty

May 1, 2015
Second Glance: Fatal Beauty

Nothing shakes up the literary establishment like women writers — or women readers — who won’t stay quietly in their place.

“Something Worth Reading”: Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North

April 28, 2015
“Something Worth Reading”: Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North

His tone, he felt, was at once too obvious and too personal; somehow it brought to his mind the questions he had failed to resolve all his life. His head was full of so many things, and somehow he had failed to realise any of them on the page. So many things, so many names, […]

Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation

April 25, 2015
Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation

Many of the fragments that make up Dept. of Speculation read like perfect, self-contained microfictions: When we first saw the apartment, we were excited that it had a yard but disappointed that the yard was filled by a large jungle gym that we didn’t need. Later, when we signed the lease, we were happy about […]

“Some Pattern That I Could Not Unravel”: Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond

April 19, 2015
“Some Pattern That I Could Not Unravel”: Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond

Then, between sleeping and waking, there rose before me a vision of Trebizond: not Trebizond as I had seen it, but the Trebizond of the world’s dreams, of my own dreams, shining towers and domes shimmering on a far horizon, yet close at hand, luminously enspelled in the most fantastic unreality, yet the only reality, […]

“History is True”: Penelope Lively, Moon Tiger

April 12, 2015
“History is True”: Penelope Lively, Moon Tiger

“When the times are out of joint it is brought uncomfortably home to you that history is true and that unfortunately you are a part of it. One has this tendency to think oneself immune.” I have often mentioned Moon Tiger as one of my favorite novels, but I haven’t read it through for at least […]

This Week in My Sabbatical: Out of Sync

April 10, 2015
This Week in My Sabbatical: Out of Sync

Today is the last day of classes in Dal’s winter term. Usually, that would mean I am feeling elated, relieved, deflated — and a bit panicked at the looming prospect of grading final papers and exams. But because I’m on sabbatical, it’s just another day, which brings on its own feelings, including some disorientation. The […]

Comrades or Hooligans? Doris Lessing, The Good Terrorist

April 5, 2015
Comrades or Hooligans? Doris Lessing, The Good Terrorist

There was nothing there about their exploit! Not a word. They were furious. At last Faye found a little paragraph in the Guardian that said some hooligans had blown up the corner of a street in West Rowan Road, Bilstead. “Hooligans,” said Jocelin, cold and deadly and punishing, her eyes glinting. And she did not say […]

“A bourgeois tragedy”: Honoré de Balzac, Eugénie Grandet

March 31, 2015
“A bourgeois tragedy”: Honoré de Balzac, Eugénie Grandet

Using the hashtag #IHaveNeverRead, Penguin UK recently urged people on Twitter to “confess” their “shocking literary shortcomings” — an exercise in weirdly inverted snobbery that inevitably recalls David Lodge’s game ‘Humiliation‘. I’m actually less and less humiliated by the vast array of titles (classic or otherwise) that I haven’t read: there are just so many books, […]

“A Medley of Allusions”: Penelope Lively, Oleander, Jacaranda

March 29, 2015
“A Medley of Allusions”: Penelope Lively, Oleander, Jacaranda

Penelope Lively’s Oleander, Jacaranda: A Childhood Perceived turned out to be an apt book to be reading on my birthday, which is a day that inevitably recalls memories of its earlier childhood iterations. Lively’s book is a memoir, but it’s a markedly impressionist one, composed of anecdotes and recollections held together with a light stitching of […]

This Week In My Sabbatical: Writing and Brooding

March 27, 2015
This Week In My Sabbatical: Writing and Brooding

It has been kind of a stuttering week for me. My “Meeting With Your Writing” session on Monday helped me work up some positive energy about the next part of the George Eliot project I want to work on — this was good, as I had been getting kind of fed up with the other […]

Weekend Reading: Julie Schumacher, Tana French

March 22, 2015
Weekend Reading: Julie Schumacher, Tana French

As the latest in a seemingly relentless series of winter storms bore down on us last week, I plucked The Forsyte Saga off my shelf (where it has been ripening for a couple of years now): it seemed like the perfect time had come for something so long and (I hoped) absorbing. Bad call, as it turns out, […]

“A Solitary Woman on the Threshold of Winter”: Miral al-Tahawy, Brooklyn Heights

March 18, 2015
“A Solitary Woman on the Threshold of Winter”: Miral al-Tahawy, Brooklyn Heights

The notebook meanwhile remained innocent of writing. She sketched one self-portrait after another in charcoal on the white pages, images of a woman with hollow cheeks and a long nose and curly black hair, hands clasped to her withered breast — a solitary woman on the threshold of winter. That description is not actually of […]

This Week In My Sabbatical: More of the Same

March 16, 2015
This Week In My Sabbatical: More of the Same

Sadly, that includes more winter: not only did we get another storm yesterday that dumped another foot or so of snow (it was hard to tell exactly, because it was very windy and so there were lots of big drifts), but apparently there’s yet another one looming. Whatever. It’s the kids’ March break; I’m not teaching; we […]

“Meaning”: Ian McEwan, The Children Act

March 11, 2015
“Meaning”: Ian McEwan, The Children Act

She thought her responsibilities ended at the courtroom walls. But how could they? He came to find her, wanting what everyone wanted, and what only free-thinking people, not the supernatural, could give. Meaning. I love reading Ian McEwan’s prose. It’s so satisfyingly meticulous, every word the right one, every one placed just so. It’s not […]

“They’ve got that word in them”: Nero Wolfe, A Right to Die

March 9, 2015
“They’ve got that word in them”: Nero Wolfe, A Right to Die

A while ago word got out that I hadn’t read any of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries. It didn’t take long for a certain thoughtful someone to make sure I had a good selection to choose from — and now I have read 1.5 of them! Why the .5,you ask? Because I started (dutiful as always) with the […]

“I Have Married England”: Dorothy L. Sayers, Busman’s Honeymoon,” Part II

March 4, 2015
“I Have Married England”: Dorothy L. Sayers, Busman’s Honeymoon,” Part II

Now for the things I don’t love about Busman’s Honeymoon. [If you missed it, Part I, “Love with Honour,” explains the things I do love.] Some of these I’ve always noticed, some stood out particularly on this reread; some are small irritations, and some make me uneasy that, in spite of them, I still love the book. In […]

“Love with Honour”: Dorothy L. Sayers, Busman’s Honeymoon (Part I)

March 2, 2015
“Love with Honour”: Dorothy L. Sayers, Busman’s Honeymoon (Part I)

I’ve written at length about my love for Gaudy Night, but I have never really tried to sort out my views on its sequel, Busman’s Honeymoon. As I have owned and loved Busman’s Honeymoon as long as I have Gaudy Night (I have them in matching editions, inscribed to me on my 13th birthday), I thought it would be […]

Shallow Sargasso Sea

March 1, 2015
Shallow Sargasso Sea

Can you improve on a classic? A new novel retells George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda — but much more is lost than gained in the attempt.

Ausma Zehanat Khan, The Unquiet Dead

February 28, 2015
Ausma Zehanat Khan, The Unquiet Dead

I have really mixed feelings about Ausma Zehanat Khan’s debut mystery The Unquiet Dead. For starters, I think it’s built around a good concept, one with a lot of potential for drama and moral seriousness. The contemporary crime turns out to be rooted in the evil and cruelty of the Bosnian War, particularly the massacre at Srebrenica; there’s a […]

This Week In My Sabbatical: Reading, Writing, Winter

February 25, 2015
This Week In My Sabbatical: Reading, Writing, Winter

The winter of our discontent continues: with sidewalks already impassable across most of the city and side roads treacherous tracks of rutted ice, there’s yet another storm bearing down on us that promises the same cycle of snow followed by rain (and thus flooding) followed by a deep freeze. Usually rain is helpful as it […]

“Encircled by Invisible Emotion”: Damon Galgut, Arctic Summer

February 21, 2015
“Encircled by Invisible Emotion”: Damon Galgut, Arctic Summer

This kind of companionship had far more value to Morgan than their few, fumbling physical encounters. Sex could be forgotten, or made into something that it wasn’t, but feelings were much harder to erase. There had been moments, from their time in Alexandria, when they had simply sat together talking quietly, or smoking cigarettes in […]

Clear Conscience, Brave Heart, Can’t Lose! Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters

February 14, 2015
Clear Conscience, Brave Heart, Can’t Lose! Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters

A good friend of mine has been making a long, difficult recovery from not one but two concussions. You hear about these injuries all the time — or you do, at least, in a country as hockey-obsessed as Canada — but (perhaps because hockey players are rashly determined to get back on the ice a.s.a.p.?) […]

Jennifer Weiner, In Her Shoes: On Adapting ‘Good’ vs. ‘Great’ Novels

February 8, 2015
Jennifer Weiner, In Her Shoes: On Adapting ‘Good’ vs. ‘Great’ Novels

What with all the winter around here, and everyone being cooped up and kind of off their routines, I’ve been finding it hard to concentrate on much serious reading, so a couple of days ago I plucked Jennifer Weiner’s In Her Shoes off the shelf for a reread. My copy has the movie tie-in cover, so […]

February Reading: Open Letters Monthly and Vera Brittain

February 6, 2015
February Reading: Open Letters Monthly and Vera Brittain

I’ve been so overwhelmed by winter (last night’s storm was another big one, but at least the 6 inches of fresh snow was of the light, powdery variety rather than the ice-encrusted kind!) that I almost forgot to give a shout-out to the new issue of Open Letters Monthly, which went up almost a week ago. […]

This Week in My Sabbatical: Winter Reflections

February 5, 2015
This Week in My Sabbatical: Winter Reflections

The thing about being on sabbatical during the winter term is that no matter what else changes, it’s still winter! And boy, have we had a reminder of that this week, with three storms already in the past seven days and another one apparently barreling up towards us tonight. It’s no secret around here that I […]

“The Air a Library”: Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

February 1, 2015
“The Air a Library”: Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

Marie-Laure imagines the electromagnetic waves travelling into and out of Michel’s machine, bending around them, just as Etienne used to describe, except now a thousand times more crisscross the air than when he lived — maybe a million times more. . . . And is it so hard to believe that souls might also travel […]

Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love Is the Saddest Comic Novel I’ve Ever Read

January 27, 2015
Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love Is the Saddest Comic Novel I’ve Ever Read

When I wrote about E. F. Benson’s very funny but also rather nasty Mapp and Lucia, I speculated that one reason I didn’t love it is that “I like my social comedy served up with a hint of conscience, or even of pathos.” “Give me Nancy Mitford any day,” wrote Min in the comments — and that […]

Some Afterthoughts on Academic Blogging

January 26, 2015
Some Afterthoughts on Academic Blogging

Some follow-up comments on academic blogging, prompted by comments on my previous post here and on Twitter. My main take-away at this point is that there are a number of further refinements that matter to any attempt at generalizing. Here are the ones I’ve been thinking about the most so far: 1. Disciplinarity makes a difference. […]

The Case for “Intelligent, Bloggy Bookchat By Scholars”: How’s It Looking?

January 24, 2015
The Case for “Intelligent, Bloggy Bookchat By Scholars”: How’s It Looking?

On Thursday I participated in a Twitter Q&A with the members of Karen Bourrier‘s University of Calgary graduate seminar on Victorian women writers. The students had been assigned my JVC essay on academic blogging (anticipated in my 2011 BAVS presentation, which you can see the Prezi for here, if you aren’t one of those people […]

This Week In My Sabbatical: Reading and Writing

January 20, 2015
This Week In My Sabbatical: Reading and Writing

This is actually the third week of my winter term sabbatical — which is why you haven’t seen any recent posts in my series on ‘This Week In My Classes‘! Classroom time is hands-down my favorite part of my job, and yet I look forward to and cherish this teaching-free time. Paradoxical? Not really, because […]

A Secret I Am Unworthy to Share? W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil

January 18, 2015
A Secret I Am Unworthy to Share? W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil

‘Take care the nuns don’t start converting you,’ said Waddington, with his malicious little smile. ‘They’re much too busy. Nor do they care. They’re wonderful and so kind; and yet — I hardly know how to explain it — there is a wall between them and me. I don’t know what it is. It is […]

“Definitely Floating”: Barbara Comyns, The Vet’s Daughter

January 14, 2015
“Definitely Floating”: Barbara Comyns, The Vet’s Daughter

And then in the night it happened again and I was floating, definitely floating. The moonlight was streaming whitely through the window, and I could see the curtains gently flapping in the night wind. I’d left my bed, and except for a sheet, the clothes lay scattered on the floor. I gently floated about the […]

“What Are These Pages?”: Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman

January 10, 2015
“What Are These Pages?”: Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman

I really enjoyed reading Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman. How could I not, being who I am? The novel is custom-made for its inevitable audience (readers!): not only is it about an avid reader but one of its central themes is the transporting exhilaration of reading itself. Its voice is wry and ironic,  acerbic and occasionally even […]

“Janet’s Repentance”: Revisiting a Scene of Clerical Life

January 7, 2015
“Janet’s Repentance”: Revisiting a Scene of Clerical Life

I’m not sure when I last read George Eliot’s first published fiction, Scenes of Clerical Life. It might have been as much as 15 or 20 years ago that I read any of the stories right through, though I have certainly dipped into “Amos Barton” once or twice when thinking or writing about her realism and […]

“Steps to Literature”: Hilary Mantel, Giving Up the Ghost

January 2, 2015
“Steps to Literature”: Hilary Mantel, Giving Up the Ghost

Sometimes, at dawn or at dusk, I pick out from the gloom — I think I do — a certain figure, traversing those rutted fields in a hushed and pearly light, picking a way among the treacherous rivulets and the concealed ditches. It is a figure shrouded in a cloak, bearing certain bulky objects wrapped […]

Novel Readings 2014

December 31, 2014
Novel Readings 2014

I didn’t realize what a good reading year 2014 was until I started going back through my blog posts. I think the slump I fell into in the late fall unfairly cast its shadow back over the rest of the year! Book of the Year: The high point of my reading in 2014 would have to […]

2014: My Year in Writing

December 29, 2014
2014: My Year in Writing

There’s still time to get a bit more reading done in 2014, but as with last year, I don’t expect to finish any more writing projects before January, so I thought I’d do another year-end round-up of my essays and reviews. It’s not as long a list as last year — how did I manage to […]

“A life entirely through objects”: Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes

December 26, 2014
“A life entirely through objects”: Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes

It is not just things that carry stories with them. Stories are a kind of thing, too. Stories and objects share something, a patina. I thought I had this clear, two years before I started, but I am no longer sure how this works. Perhaps patina is a process of rubbing back so that the […]

Facing the Sunshine: E. M. Forster, A Room with a View

December 22, 2014
Facing the Sunshine: E. M. Forster, A Room with a View

We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won’t do harm — yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are […]

Last Week In My Classes: Exams and What’s Next

December 21, 2014
Last Week In My Classes: Exams and What’s Next

The final exams for my classes were last Friday and Saturday, both at 8:30 a.m., both in Dalplex, our main athletics facility, which is converted during the exam period into, well, this: Looks depressing, doesn’t it? And it is, but it is also efficient: a cadre of assistant invigilators patrols the aisles, helping to bring […]

Jo Walton, Ha’Penny: My Two Cents’ Worth

December 13, 2014
Jo Walton, Ha’Penny: My Two Cents’ Worth

I didn’t love Jo Walton’s Farthing: in my brief review at GoodReads I admired the ingenuity of the premise and the “nice economy” of Walton’s development of her alternative history, but I thought the mystery itself wasn’t very interesting, and that it lined up too neatly with the predictions you would readily make about a crime […]

“It feels ours”: E. M. Forster, Howards End

December 8, 2014
“It feels ours”: E. M. Forster, Howards End

I know of things they can’t know of, and so do you. We know that there’s poetry. We know that there’s death. They can only take them on hearsay. We know this is our house, because it feels ours. Oh, they may take the title-deeds and the doorkeys, but for one night we are at home. […]

Open Letters Monthly and Other December Reading

December 2, 2014
Open Letters Monthly and Other December Reading

It’s up: another new issue, and this one is as wide-ranging but also as deep as any we’ve published in a while. A small sampling: Sam Sacks on James Wood and the Fall of Man: But Wood’s story works brilliantly if it is taken as just that, a story—if it is read conditionally and gleaned […]

“Too Tarsome”: E. F. Benson, Mapp and Lucia

November 30, 2014
“Too Tarsome”: E. F. Benson, Mapp and Lucia

I almost didn’t finish reading Mapp and Lucia. I’m glad now that I did, not because I take any uncompromising stand on whether one should or should not finish every book one starts, but because if I’d put it aside at the point I’d reached as of yesterday, I would never have known that the heroines get […]

This Week In My Classes: Counting Down

November 25, 2014
This Week In My Classes: Counting Down

Actual classroom hours left this term: 6 Essays still to grade this week: 17 In-class tests incoming: 42 Reading Responses incoming: 84 Reading Journals incoming: 60-ish Final essays and exams looming: 130 Reference letters in the queue: 24 Early morning hours that will be spent in Dalplex in the limbo of exam invigilation: 7 Weeks until I’m […]

That Which We Call A Blog By Any Other Name …

November 18, 2014
That Which We Call A Blog By Any Other Name …

… would be the same thing it always was, which is also the point about the rose in the original line, of course. Names are (more or less) arbitrary labels, sure, no problem. But they have connotations as well as denotations, effects and associations as well as literal referents.  And lately I’ve been wondering: how […]

This Week In My Classes: What Makes a “Teachable” Novel?

November 14, 2014
This Week In My Classes: What Makes a “Teachable” Novel?

This week I decided to call my own bluff. I spend a lot of time fretting about which books I assign in my Mystery and Detective Fiction course — because once you get past the few absolute “must haves” (something by Poe, some Sherlock Holmes, The Moonstone, something to represent the Golden Age, one of the […]

“After all, war is war”: All Quiet on the Western Front

November 10, 2014
“After all, war is war”: All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front is as bleak and compelling a version of the “lost generation” narrative of World War I as I’ve read. In fact, Paul Bäumer, the novel’s narrator, comments explicitly, repeatedly, and bitterly on the chasm between the generation fighting in the trenches and the older generation far away from the front […]

This Week In My Classes: Falling Back

November 5, 2014
This Week In My Classes: Falling Back

We set our clocks back an hour on the weekend. Whle I concede that it’ss nice to have it lighter in the morning, I never feel that makes up for how dark it gets in the afternoon, which tends to be my low energy time anyway. In any case, this plus our first flurries of the season makes […]

“What is Given, What Is Taken Away”: Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland

November 3, 2014
“What is Given, What Is Taken Away”: Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland

Udayan is beside him. They are walking together in Tollygunge, across the lowland, over the hyacinth leaves. They carry a putting iron, some golf balls in their hands. In Ireland, too, the ground is drenched, uneven. He takes it in a final time, knowing he will never visit this place again. He walks toward another […]

Current Reading: Karlinsky, Stout, Lahiri, with Bonus Sonnets

November 1, 2014
Current Reading: Karlinsky, Stout, Lahiri, with Bonus Sonnets

It would be nice to be able to call this post “Recent Reading,” as that would indicate I’d actually finished some (non-work related) books since The End of the Affair. However! I’m going to count it as a victory that in spite of work and other distractions, I am at least making my way through all of […]

“Ordinary corrupt human love”: Graham Greene, The End of the Affair

October 26, 2014
“Ordinary corrupt human love”: Graham Greene, The End of the Affair

I’m tired and I don’t want any more pain. I want Maurice. I want ordinary corrupt human love. Dear God, you know I want to want Your pain, but I don’t want it now. Take it away for a while and give it me another time. My local book club met Tuesday night to discuss […]

This Week In My Classes – An Update: Middlemarch Unplugged

October 22, 2014
This Week In My Classes – An Update: Middlemarch Unplugged

I’m sure you have all been wondering whether I have managed to get my control-freak tendencies under control for this week’s classes on Middlemarch. Well, the week isn’t over yet, but so far the answer is both not really (Monday) and more or less (today). I had all kinds of good intentions on Monday, but […]

This Week In My Classes: Micromanaging Middlemarch

October 19, 2014
This Week In My Classes: Micromanaging Middlemarch

Maybe there should be a question mark in the title of this post. I hope there should be! But I’m not sure, and that makes me just a little anxious. It is always hard to find a good balance between showing students what’s interesting and important in the novel we’re studying and letting them explore and […]

Write It Different: Christopher Beha, What Happened to Sophie Wilder

October 14, 2014
Write It Different: Christopher Beha, What Happened to Sophie Wilder

“I wish things could be different.” She leaned over the bed to kiss me. “Then write it different.” I read What Happened to Sophie Wilder in honor of D. G. Myers, who championed it with his usual hard-headed enthusiasm. “Like Charlie, I was immediately smitten,” Myers said of Sophie Wilder herself in his 2012 Commentary review, and […]

“Bored by Fear”: Sarah Waters, The Paying Guests

October 7, 2014
“Bored by Fear”: Sarah Waters, The Paying Guests

Once, she never would have thought it possible for a person to be bored by fear. She recalled all the various terrors that had seized and shaken her since the thing had begun: the black panics, the dreads and uncertainties, the physical cavings-in. There hadn’t been a dull moment. But she was almost bored now, she […]

This Week In My Classes: Lots of Reading

October 6, 2014
This Week In My Classes: Lots of Reading

It’s not so much that we are doing a lot of reading this week in particular, but that cumulatively by now, in both classes, we have done a lot of reading. I like this middle phase of term: the logistical confusion of the first couple of weeks is behind us, the frameworks for our class discussions […]

“Passion, plus craft”: Donald E. Westlake, The Getaway Car

September 30, 2014
“Passion, plus craft”: Donald E. Westlake, The Getaway Car

I’m glad I didn’t take Levi Stahl’s advice. If I had, I would have walked away from The Getaway Car, which is “the first book by Donald E. Westlake [I’ve] ever held in [my] hands.” Not that it seems like bad advice to get my hands on some of Westlake’s actual novels — indeed, reading The […]

“Passion, plus craft”: Donald E. Westlake, The Getaway Car

September 30, 2014
“Passion, plus craft”: Donald E. Westlake, The Getaway Car

I’m glad I didn’t take Levi Stahl’s advice. If I had, I would have walked away from The Getaway Car, which is “the first book by Donald E. Westlake [I’ve] ever held in [my] hands.” Not that it seems like bad advice to get my hands on some of Westlake’s actual novels — indeed, reading The […]

Not At All Commonplace: Goodbye to D. G. Myers

September 27, 2014
Not At All Commonplace: Goodbye to D. G. Myers

I was deeply saddened this morning to learn of D. G. Myers’s death. I have been reading  A Commonplace Blog since I started blogging myself; I can still remember how pleased I was when I noticed that Novel Readings had made its way onto his blog roll. We have also both been on Twitter for a long […]

This Week in My Classes: Low Stakes, High Rewards

September 26, 2014
This Week in My Classes: Low Stakes, High Rewards

Over the last week or so we’ve done our first small assignments in both classes: an in-class writing response in Mystery & Detective Fiction, paper proposals and then a “mini-midterm” in 19th-Century Fiction. Also, since the start of term students in the 19th-Century Fiction class have been keeping reading journals. These assignments have all been developed […]

On Being Neither Fish Nor Fowl

September 25, 2014
On Being Neither Fish Nor Fowl

My blogging has been a bit sluggish lately. Partly that’s because my life has been a bit busy, what with the start of term and all. But it’s also because I’ve been a bit broody and taking refuge in easy distractions, like rewatching the early seasons of The Good Wife, instead of in my usual levels of extracurricular […]

This Week in My Classes: Fun with First-Person Narrators

September 17, 2014
This Week in My Classes: Fun with First-Person Narrators

We’re well into the term now, and thus well into our first readings, which means that in Mystery and Detective Fiction we’re about half way through The Moonstone, while in 19th-Century Fiction we have just wrapped up our class discussions of Villette. Both novels are virtuosic displays of their authors’ skill at voices. Both Collins and Brontë create characters who […]

“The Leap of Life”: D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover

September 12, 2014
“The Leap of Life”: D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Connie went to the wood directly after lunch. It was really a lovely day, the first dandelions making suns, the first daisies so white. The hazel thicket was a lace-work of half-open leaves and the last dusty perpendicular of the catkins. Yellow celandines now were in crowds, flat open, pressed back in urgency, and the […]

This Week in My Classes: Setting the Tone

September 10, 2014
This Week in My Classes: Setting the Tone

Welcome back to another season of “This Week in My Classes“! This will be the 8th year for this series. Sometimes I wish I’d given it a snappier title, but “This Week in My Classes” does have the advantage of being perfectly to the point. In case anyone forgets — or never knew — why […]

Summer 2014: A Reading and Writing Retrospective

September 7, 2014
Summer 2014: A Reading and Writing Retrospective

We may have been basking in some gorgeous summer-like weather lately, but classes have begun and that means we are well and truly into fall. It had been very quiet around campus — though I find the hush kind of dreary sometimes, I’d gotten used to it, and I’ve been feeling kind of cranky at the […]

Open Letters Monthly, September 2014 Edition

September 4, 2014
Open Letters Monthly, September 2014 Edition

Another new month, another new issue of Open Letters Monthly! As always, I hope you’ll check it out; I think almost anyone could find something of interest in it! Among my favorites this month are Laura Tanenbaum’s review of Julie Hayden’s The Lists of the Past, and Erin Wunker and Hannah McGregor’s essay on Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda. […]

“The Melody in the Heart of the Universe”: Rose Tremain, Music & Silence

September 2, 2014
“The Melody in the Heart of the Universe”: Rose Tremain, Music & Silence

I have heard the melody in the heart of the universe and then lost it. Like Restoration, Rose Tremain’s Music & Silence confounds clichéd expectations about historical fiction. In its own way it has an epic sweep, but there’s nothing of the heroic saga about it. It’s drama under a blanket, a story of kings and queens and […]

Peer Review: Elena Ferrante’s Hunger, Rebellion, and Rage

September 1, 2014
Peer Review: Elena Ferrante’s Hunger, Rebellion, and Rage

The critical consensus around reclusive Italian novelist Elena Ferrante is enough to make you suspect collusion – but to what end? and at what cost? Rohan Maitzen reviews the reviewers.

Next Week in My Classes: Beginning My 20th Year

August 31, 2014
Next Week in My Classes: Beginning My 20th Year

I started teaching at Dalhousie in 1995-96, which means that 2014-15 will be my twentieth academic year at the university. What with maternity leaves and sabbaticals, that doesn’t mean 40 consecutive terms (though for many years I did also do summer teaching), but that’s still a long time to be in one place doing the […]

Sue Grafton: W is for Wasted [Time]

August 24, 2014
Sue Grafton: W is for Wasted [Time]

It’s actually a bit harsh to imply that reading W is for Wasted is a waste of time. Grafton is too good at her craft for that: the story is multifaceted and the elements unravel and then knit up together in a satisfying enough way. But it’s such a plodding book overall. First, Grafton seems to believe […]

Reading, Writing, Watching: Villette, Ferrante, Downton Abbey

August 20, 2014
Reading, Writing, Watching: Villette, Ferrante, Downton Abbey

You wouldn’t know it from the lull here at Novel Readings, but it has been a busy few days. (Actually, you should know it from the lull, which is always a sign that things are busy elsewhere!) I haven’t made much progress yet with the book I chose to follow A Morbid Taste for Bones, which […]

“Aim at making everybody happy”: Ellis Peters, A Morbid Taste for Bones

August 15, 2014
“Aim at making everybody happy”: Ellis Peters, A Morbid Taste for Bones

“Aim, he thought, at making everybody happy, and if that’s within reach, why stir up any kind of unpleasantness?” Thanks to the generosity of a retired colleague who is pruning her book collection, I recently came into possession of not one, not two, but all twenty-one of Ellis Peters’s Brother Cadfael mysteries. This series has long […]

Hero as Kitten: Georgette Heyer, Friday’s Child

August 10, 2014
Hero as Kitten: Georgette Heyer, Friday’s Child

Early in my Heyer adventures I was advised to stay away from the ingénue heroines. I’ve read about a dozen of Heyer’s novels now, and by and large I have followed that wise advice, seeking out and greatly appreciating the more mature, sensible, or knowing heroines of Venetia, Frederica, Devil’s Cub, or Black Sheep, for instance. Friday’s Child, however, […]

Zoë Ferraris, Finding Nouf

August 8, 2014
Zoë Ferraris, Finding Nouf

Finding Nouf was one of my choices at Hager Books on my recent trip to Vancouver. I didn’t have any specific recollection of having heard about it before, but it turns out that a couple of people I know (well, know virtually, anyway) reviewed it when it was newly out, so perhaps that’s why the title […]

This Week: A Little Class Prep Goes a Long Way

August 7, 2014
This Week: A Little Class Prep Goes a Long Way

It’s always hard settling back into ongoing projects after a vacation, isn’t it? Although I’ve been back in my office regular hours every day this week, my progress on my writing has been halting, despite the haunting awareness that summer is ending soon and with it the luxury of relatively uninterrupted time to do it. […]

“Each of us narrates our lives as it suits us”: Elena Ferrante, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

August 4, 2014
“Each of us narrates our lives as it suits us”: Elena Ferrante, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

I finished reading Elena Ferrante’s Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay this weekend. I actually took it with me to Vancouver and had started reading it on the flight out — a bit to my own surprise, since I’d brought another book I thought would make better airplane reading (Elizabeth Renzetti’s Based on a True Story) only […]

August in Open Letters Monthly — and an Interview

August 3, 2014
August in Open Letters Monthly — and an Interview

Once again it’s a new month and so we’ve got our new issue up. One neat new thing is the graphic “slider” at the top of the site, which showcases a range of pieces from the magazine (and which will also include new blog posts and highlights from Open Letters Weekly). We think this adds a bit of dynamism to […]

Vancouver Vacation: Sun, Fun, and Family

August 1, 2014
Vancouver Vacation: Sun, Fun, and Family

I’m back from another trip to Vancouver, this one organized mostly around the festivities for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. It was glorious weather the entire week, which was an especially good thing for the big party — a great event featuring family, old friends, lots of food and wine, and four musical performances from […]

“Is it genuine?”: Dorothy Dunnett, Niccolò Rising

July 23, 2014
“Is it genuine?”: Dorothy Dunnett, Niccolò Rising

Inspired by my excitement about King Hereafter, I have finally started reading Dorothy Dunnett’s other big series, The House of Niccolò. I’ve actually owned Niccolò Rising for many years, and I’d started it a few times before, but it is another story with a slow burn and I’d never made it past Chapter 2. If I […]

Elizabeth George, Just One Evil Act

July 21, 2014
Elizabeth George, Just One Evil Act

The last time I wrote about Elizabeth George here, after reading 2008′s Careless in Red, I said that “I turned to these latest instalments [in her series] motivated far less by curiosity about the latest corpse than by the desire to know how things are going” with her main characters: Thomas Lynley, Barbara Havers, Simon and Deborah […]

House of Cards Update: The UK Version

July 19, 2014
House of Cards Update: The UK Version

After my previous post about the American House of Cards, a large number of people online and off told me how much better they had liked the British version, so we went ahead and watched it, and now I’m trying to decide if I too preferred it to its US counterpart. I certainly didn’t think the […]

Steps in the Dark: Miriam Toews, All My Puny Sorrows

July 14, 2014
Steps in the Dark: Miriam Toews, All My Puny Sorrows

we had to go back and retrace our steps in the dark which I suppose is the meaning of life. Miriam Toews’s conspicuously autobiographical novel All My Puny Sorrows is the story of two sisters, Elfrieda and Yolandi — from a Mennonite community, like Toews, and with a father who, like Toews’s, committed suicide. Elfrieda, like Toews’s sister, […]

“On some book my name will be written”: Dorothy Dunnett, King Hereafter

July 10, 2014
“On some book my name will be written”: Dorothy Dunnett, King Hereafter

“What kings may follow me I do not know, and I do not care. When my day is ended, it is ended. But . . . on some book my name will be written.” — Thorfinn “All hail, Macbeth, that shall be King hereafter!” – Shakespeare, Macbeth I.iii.50 The first 250-300 pages of King Hereafter are pretty […]

Recent Watching: House of Cynicism Cards

July 9, 2014
Recent Watching: House of Cynicism Cards

I’m not in any position to evaluate how accurately American politics is depicted in Netflix’s remake of House of Cards, but if people even think that Congress and the White House are run solely on greed, ambition, and ruthless back-stabbing, as the show suggests, no wonder voter turnout is so low. The series is one of the most […]

Catching Up: Storm Warnings and Summer Reading

July 6, 2014
Catching Up: Storm Warnings and Summer Reading

Hurricane Arthur passed over us yesterday. Happily, he was “only” a post-tropical storm when he got this far north, but he still packed a wallop. Our particular neighborhood in Halifax doesn’t seem to have been very hard hit. There are some branches down, including some pretty big ones, and we were without power for a […]

Open Letters Monthly July 2014!

July 2, 2014
Open Letters Monthly July 2014!

We did it again! And though I think this almost every month, this issue is a particularly good one. As has become traditional for our July issue, we all pitched in for a summer reading feature: this time we each recommend a book or two that’s hot hot hot! (My romance-reading friends will appreciate that […]

Beethoven in the Soul

July 1, 2014
Beethoven in the Soul

Over time, the books of our youth make way for titles better suited to the grown-up readers we have become. But not all of them: YA or not, some books — such as K. M. Peyton’s Pennington trilogy — deserve a lasting place on our shelves.

“Absence of Sense”: Elena Ferrante, The Days of Abandonment

June 26, 2014
“Absence of Sense”: Elena Ferrante, The Days of Abandonment

Remember when I said I couldn’t think of a book that I actively hated, that I truly regretted having read? Guess what: I found one! I did finish reading it, partly because I wanted to be sure it didn’t pull some kind of switch on me at the end and surprise me into liking it better, […]

The Silver Spoons and the Joy of a Loving Letter

June 25, 2014
The Silver Spoons and the Joy of a Loving Letter

Here, as promised, is the story of Stewart and Joan and their silver spoons. Each Christmas the lot at the condominium get together for a huge dinner, catered, at the swanky social suite on the main floor. Each brings his own plate and cutlery. Stewart donned his neat green jacket and red tie and off […]

“Baking has assumed a sinister character in my life”: Remembering My Grandmother the Writer

June 24, 2014
“Baking has assumed a sinister character in my life”: Remembering My Grandmother the Writer

My grandmother Louise Spratley was a real force in my young life: one particularly memorable thing she was responsible for was arranging for me to go backstage at the Vancouver Opera to meet Joan Sutherland. She died in 1993; I’m reminded of her often, not least because as I get older I look more and more like […]

“Haunted still by doubt”: Daphne du Maurier, My Cousin Rachel

June 20, 2014
“Haunted still by doubt”: Daphne du Maurier, My Cousin Rachel

No one will ever guess the burden of blame I carry on my shoulders; nor will they know that every day, haunted still by doubt, I ask myself a question which I cannot answer. Was Rachel innocent or guilty? Maybe I shall learn that, too, in purgatory. My Cousin Rachel is more understated than Jamaica Inn […]

Back from Boston Bearing More Books!

June 17, 2014
Back from Boston Bearing More Books!

I’m back again from another trip to Boston, where I went for another of our more-or-less-biannual Open Letters Monthly editorial summits. Along with the pleasure of seeing my colleagues face to face comes the treat of visiting some of Boston’s many excellent bookstores. I brought back a more modest stack than last time (or the time before that): it’s dimly […]

On Vacation!

June 13, 2014
On Vacation!

“She wrote. She wrote. She wrote.” Virginia Woolf, Orlando

June 11, 2014
“She wrote. She wrote. She wrote.” Virginia Woolf, Orlando

Orlando had so ordered it that she was in an extremely happy position; she need neither fight her age, nor submit to it; she was of it, yet remained herself. Now, therefore, she could write, and write she did. She wrote. She wrote. She wrote. Part way into my book club’s discussion of Orlando, one of […]

#1book140 Q & A: Stephen Burt and I Talk Middlemarch

June 10, 2014
#1book140 Q & A: Stephen Burt and I Talk Middlemarch

Thanks to the folks at #1book140 for including me in their 2-month Middlemarch read-along, for setting up a Q&A with me and Stephen Burt, and then for preparing this Storify of it! We both really enjoyed going back and forth about this great novel, as I hope you can tell. I am capable of going on at much […]

“A Kind of Investigation Into a Life”: Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose

June 8, 2014
“A Kind of Investigation Into a Life”: Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose

Near the end of Angle of Repose its narrator, retired historian Lyman Ward, is talking with his ex-wife about the book he’s been working on. (Actually, it turns out that he dreamed that he was talking to his ex-wife, but the whole episode, including this conversation, is so unremarkably plausible as a continuation of the story he’s […]

June Updates: a New Open Letters Monthly and a Fun Q&A!

June 3, 2014
June Updates: a New Open Letters Monthly and a Fun Q&A!

First of all, the June issue of Open Letters Monthly is up! I won’t itemize all of its contents, because I hope you’ll come over and have a look for yourself. But I will mention that it is the first issue in a while to include something by every editor. We’re pretty proud about that. My own […]

Title Menu: 8 More George Eliot Novels

June 1, 2014
Title Menu: 8 More George Eliot Novels

Middlemarch is all the rage now – as it should be! But what if you’ve already read not just George Eliot’s masterpiece but all of her novels? Do not despair: these eight books will bring you close to her in spirit.

Liking and Disliking: Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin

May 31, 2014
Liking and Disliking: Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin

Lately I can’t seem to stop quoting Henry James’s remark that “nothing, of course, will ever take the place of the good old fashion of ‘liking’ a work of art or not liking it: the more improved criticism will not abolish that primitive, that ultimate, test.” However much we try as readers and critics to […]

A ‘Dark Love Letter to Iceland’: Hannah Kent, Burial Rites

May 26, 2014
A ‘Dark Love Letter to Iceland’: Hannah Kent, Burial Rites

I’ve gotten pretty cynical about book blurbs, but when I see a cover adorned with high praise from not one but two of the smartest readers I know, how can I resist the temptation to read it for myself? (In fact, it’s probably because I’d seen Steve and Sam’s reviews in the fall that the title […]

“This extraordinary colloquy”: Sylvia Townsend Warner, Summer Will Show

May 24, 2014
“This extraordinary colloquy”: Sylvia Townsend Warner, Summer Will Show

I picked up Summer Will Show on my trip to Boston a couple of years ago. It caught my eye then because not long before we had run a good essay on Sylvia Townsend Warner in Open Letters. I’ve read most of the books from that trip but until now, not Summer Will Show. I think I put it off because […]

Where Blogging Leads: A Bit More About How Things Add Up

May 22, 2014
Where Blogging Leads: A Bit More About How Things Add Up

When I read this post by Eric Grollman at Conditionally Accepted a little while back, it got me thinking about the various opportunities that have arisen for me since I started blogging in 2007. Whether these “extracurricular activities” (Grollman’s term — though he too puts it in scare-quotes) count in some strict professional way is not really […]

Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

May 19, 2014
Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

I’ve been wanting to read The Faraway Nearby for myself ever since I helped edit the fine review of it that Victoria Olsen wrote for Open Letters. In her review, she describes it as “an experiment in digressive form” and also as a “book constructed as a spiral” — what could that really mean, I wondered when […]

Shhh! It’s (Still) A Library!

May 18, 2014
Shhh! It’s (Still) A Library!

One of my favorite souvenirs from my trip to Oxford a few years ago is a pair of coasters from the Bodleian Library that say “silence please.” I love these because they speak for me: so often I crave silence so that I can concentrate on my book. Reading, for me — at least serious […]

“And neither was content”: George Gissing, The Odd Women

May 13, 2014
“And neither was content”: George Gissing, The Odd Women

I suggested Gissing’s The Odd Women to my book club as our follow-up to The Murderess: though the two novels are drastically dissimilar in style and setting, they are fairly near chronologically and, more to the point for my book club, extremely close in the problem they address: the hazards of being a “redundant” woman in a […]

Summer Plans: Adding Things Up

May 8, 2014
Summer Plans: Adding Things Up

Finally, the winter term is well and truly concluded (our annual May Marks Meeting was yesterday). As my last few posts show, I wallowed in aimless reading for a while after classes ended (aimless in the sense of “not in service of anything else,” not pointless or useless: it was certainly a very interesting run of […]

“Glassy Malignity”: Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty

April 29, 2014
“Glassy Malignity”: Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty

The Line of Beauty joins an illustrious line of novels I’ve read that I admire but am unable to like. It makes me feel better about saying this that I’ve recently been reminded of Henry James’s admission, in “The Art of Fiction,” that “nothing … will ever take the place of the good old fashion […]

Broken Heart of Darkness: Hilary Mantel, A Change of Climate

April 23, 2014
Broken Heart of Darkness: Hilary Mantel, A Change of Climate

A Change of Climate is an odd book. I didn’t love it, perhaps because I didn’t know quite what to make of it. It reminded me a lot of Joanna Trollope’s earlier novels — the “aga saga” ones, like A Village Affair, or Marrying the Mistress. It has a small cast of intertwined characters, all more or less eccentric, all […]

Amateur Hour: Alan Rusbridger, Play It Again

April 20, 2014
Amateur Hour: Alan Rusbridger, Play It Again

I first learned about Play It Again, Alan Rusbridger’s account of his quest to learn Chopin’s great Ballade No.1, from Robert Winter’s recent review in the New York Review of Books. It’s a convincingly positive review, which is why it sent me out to get the book, but as I worked through Play It Again I found myself thinking that Winter […]

“The truth that’s fixed in the heart”: Mark Helprin, In Sunlight and In Shadow

April 15, 2014
“The truth that’s fixed in the heart”: Mark Helprin, In Sunlight and In Shadow

The only thing that’s really true, that lasts, and makes life worthwhile is the truth that’s fixed in the heart. That’s what we live and die for. It comes in epiphanies, and it comes in love, and don’t ever let frightened people turn you away from it. In Sunlight and In Shadow is surely one of […]

A tangled net of links: Vikram Chandra, Sacred Games

April 11, 2014
A tangled net of links: Vikram Chandra, Sacred Games

Every action flew down the tangled net of links, reverberating and amplifying itself and disappearing only to reappear again. . . . There was no escaping the reactions to your actions, and no respite from the responsibility. That’s how it happened. That was life. Everything and everybody is connected, somehow, somewhere: this is the structuring […]

This Week in My Classes: Not with a bang but a whimper

April 9, 2014
This Week in My Classes: Not with a bang but a whimper

Classes wrapped up for the term on Monday. Usually I feel deflated, if also a bit relieved, after my last class meetings. For all that the ongoing pressure to be ready and keep on top of everything can be wearing, the energy I get from actually being in the classroom more than makes up for it. Last […]

This Week In My Classes: Endings and Beginnings

April 4, 2014
This Week In My Classes: Endings and Beginnings

We aren’t quite done with classes here, at least not those of us on a MWF schedule – my last meetings are Monday. It’s hard to believe we are so close to finishing, though, mostly because today is the first day there’s any hint of spring at all, and usually I strongly associate the last […]

Open Letters Monthly: April 2014!

April 2, 2014
Open Letters Monthly: April 2014!

Does anyone who reads Novel Readings still need to be reminded to check out the new issue of Open Letters Monthly every month? Surely not! Love me, love my friends, right? But just in case, here’s the regular notice that we did it again: a new issue is live. This seems like a particularly rich month. There’s […]

“The bare outline of a useful story”: Ian McEwan, Sweet Tooth

March 29, 2014
“The bare outline of a useful story”: Ian McEwan, Sweet Tooth

If Sweet Tooth were not by Ian McEwan (author, as is stressed on the cover of my edition, of Atonement — one of my very favorite recent [that is, post-2000] novels) would I have been disappointed in it? How unfair, in a way, that the burden of great expectations should interfere with my appreciation of this well-crafted, […]

This Week In My Classes: Canons and Complications

March 26, 2014
This Week In My Classes: Canons and Complications

My classes aren’t meeting at all today, thanks to the “weather bomb” we are currently enjoying. It is uncanny how many storms have come through on Wednesdays this winter! And it’s an unpleasant surprise to get a big one this late in the term. The bright side seems to be that it’s supposed to warm […]

“Torn by the claws of reality”: Alexandros Papadiamantis, The Murderess

March 22, 2014
“Torn by the claws of reality”: Alexandros Papadiamantis, The Murderess

My book group’s last read was Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic. We like to follow some thread from one book to the next; we got to Mary Stewart from Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn  by way of romantic suspense, and decided to make Greek islands our next connection. The obvious choice would have been Zorba the Greek (and I wouldn’t […]

Recent Reading Round-Up: Mysteries, Romances, and Feminists

March 17, 2014
Recent Reading Round-Up: Mysteries, Romances, and Feminists

It isn’t that I haven’t done any reading since I posted on Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name; it’s just that none of the reading has felt really notable, or else it has been reading for work and thus not something I necessarily have more to say about here. I’m actually looking forward to getting […]

This Week In My Classes: Writing and Talking

March 12, 2014
This Week In My Classes: Writing and Talking

“‘It’s the season when the s–t hits the fan,” I observed to the students in my Intro class on Monday. And that’s the truth for all of us: from this point on in the semester, if we want to stay in control it’s all about setting priorities, managing time, and getting things done. For this […]

“For Myself Only”: Elena Ferrante, The Story of a New Name

March 8, 2014
“For Myself Only”: Elena Ferrante, The Story of a New Name

I’m glad I kept going with Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan trilogy. I wasn’t bowled over by My Brilliant Friend: I described myself as interested but not emotionally gripped. To some extent, I felt the same about The Story of a New Name, but now I’m more interested: having spent this much more time with the characters, I’ve caught the […]

The First Ever Novel Readings Book Giveaway!

March 6, 2014
The First Ever Novel Readings Book Giveaway!

When I put up my last post, I realized that it was #899 – making this my 900th post at Novel Readings. That seemed like a milestone that ought to be recognized with something a bit out of the ordinary! But what? As I was musing about options, I remembered that not long ago I had […]

This Week In My Classes: Marching Along

March 4, 2014
This Week In My Classes: Marching Along

February break is only a memory now: even this short distance into March, it feels as if we’re hurtling towards the end of term. I usually find this an invigorating time in my classes, as all the ‘getting to know you’ stuff is over, we’ve developed some routines and, ideally, some rapport in the classroom, […]

Open Letters Monthly, March 2014

March 3, 2014
Open Letters Monthly, March 2014

The March issue is up! Please come on over and take a look. And while you’re there, wish us a happy birthday: now we are seven! In internet years, I think that’s about eighty, but all in all we’re still feeling pretty spry. We didn’t do a special birthday issue this time, but for our […]

Philip Gourevitch, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families

February 24, 2014
Philip Gourevitch, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I had been reading an excerpt from Gourevitch’s book with my Intro class (his first chapter is included in our reader). I was particularly struck by his comments about the awkwardness but also, in his view, the necessity of “looking closely into Rwanda’s stories.” His argument is […]

February Break(down) Posticle

February 21, 2014
February Break(down) Posticle

It’s odd how it sometimes seems I need to break the ice on my own blog — but as I’m sure other bloggers can attest, leave a blog alone for long enough (which in my experience needn’t even be very long) and it starts to loom imposingly and inhospitably across the horizon of one’s other […]

“A Continuous Game of Exchanges and Reversals”: Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend

February 12, 2014
“A Continuous Game of Exchanges and Reversals”: Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend

Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, the first in her trilogy of ‘Neapolitan novels,’ tells of the childhood and adolescence of two friends, Elena and Lila, living in a rough edge of Naples in the 1950s. This is not the familiar Brit. Lit. Italy of balmy escapism or emotional liberation. “I feel no nostalgia for our childhood,” Elena […]

The Enchanted Island: Mary Stewart, This Rough Magic

February 8, 2014
The Enchanted Island: Mary Stewart, This Rough Magic

It was very interesting reading This Rough Magic so soon after Jamaica Inn. My book club likes to follow a thread from one book to the next; we picked Stewart as another good example of vintage romantic suspense, and settled on This Rough Magic because it’s one of her most popular titles. We did better than we knew: This Rough Magic turns […]

“All the birds in the world should be dead”: Sonali Deraniyagala, Wave

February 4, 2014
“All the birds in the world should be dead”: Sonali Deraniyagala, Wave

Wave is at once an easy and a very difficult book to read. It moves at first as relentlessly as the tsunami that sweeps away Sonali Deraniyagala’s family – her husband Steve, her two sons, Vik and Malli, and her parents. “I thought nothing of it at first,” she says, in the flat monotone that […]

Open Letters Monthly: The February 2014 Issue!

February 3, 2014
Open Letters Monthly: The February 2014 Issue!

It’s up! Go read it! In case you need more detailed encouragement, here are some highlights: One of my favourite contributors, Joanna Scutts, is back with a wonderful piece on Joe Sacco’s The Great War, which is a remarkable-sounding panoramic drawing of the first day of the Battle of the Somme inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry: […]

Lost in Eliot

February 1, 2014
Lost in Eliot

The books we reread say a lot about who we are or who we hope to be. They also shape us, as Rebecca Mead discovers in exploring her own long relationship with George Eliot’s Middlemarch.

This Week in My Classes: Great Fiction

January 29, 2014
This Week in My Classes: Great Fiction

That’s the long and the short of it! Or, I should say, between my two classes we’re reading both long and short examples of it. What a treat. Last week the university closed (because BLIZZARD!) just before my Introduction to Prose and Fiction class was supposed to meet to talk about Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an […]

Weekend Watching: Foyle’s War

January 26, 2014
Weekend Watching: Foyle’s War

It has been very quiet around here, I know. It’s a combination of re-adjusting to the start of term and having been hard at work on my review of Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch for the next issue of Open Letters Monthly, which has taken up the couple of hours each day when I have both […]

Weekend Miscellany: Good Reading and Common Pursuits

January 19, 2014
Weekend Miscellany: Good Reading and Common Pursuits

Alex in Leeds has started on a new relationship with Peter Wimsey. We all know where this leads – to Gaudy Night, which means punting fantasies and a new appreciation for academic robes of the same size. It has actually been years since I’ve read any of the early Wimsey novels, because I like him so […]

This Week In My Classes: Settling In, Stocking Up, Asking Questions

January 17, 2014
This Week In My Classes: Settling In, Stocking Up, Asking Questions

Is it possible that we’ve already finished two full weeks of classes? Well, that time just flew by! I think one reason it seems as if the term is still only just beginning is that today is also the last day of the add-drop period, which is the bane of my teaching life ever single term. […]

“Defying Man and Storm”: Daphne du Maurier, Jamaica Inn

January 14, 2014
“Defying Man and Storm”: Daphne du Maurier, Jamaica Inn

I’m no connoisseur of romantic suspense, but it’s hard to imagine it being done better than Jamaica Inn. Really, this book has it all: a grim, windswept, yet beautiful landscape; a grim, brooding, yet charismatic villain; a grim, twisted, yet convincing plot; Jamaica Inn itself, “a house that reeked of evil . . . a solitary […]

“For the sake of the right”: Wilkie Collins, No Name

January 12, 2014
“For the sake of the right”: Wilkie Collins, No Name

The first book I thought of when I read Ana’s announcement of Long-Awaited Reads Month was Wilkie Collins’s No Name, which has been sitting on my shelf at work for several years. I acquired it in a fit of professional diligence: I include examples of Victorian sensation fiction regularly in my 19th-century fiction classes and I have […]

This Winter Term: Some Small Good Things

January 8, 2014
This Winter Term: Some Small Good Things

I may have been in Nova Scotia almost 20 years, but it’s no secret that I have not adapted well to east coast winters. I complain about them a lot! It’s not even so much the cold and damp I hate as the stress of driving in snow and ice. If I could hibernate, or […]

“What was justice?”: Josephine Tey, Miss Pym Disposes

January 5, 2014
“What was justice?”: Josephine Tey, Miss Pym Disposes

Before the madness of the new term quite overwhelms me, I wanted to put up a few words about Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes, which I finished a couple of days ago. I ended up enjoying Miss Pym Disposes a lot. Not as much as Brat Farrar (so far, still my favourite Tey that’s not The Daughter of Time), […]

Next Week In My Classes: Who, Me? Intimidating?

January 3, 2014
Next Week In My Classes: Who, Me? Intimidating?

Teaching evaluations (or “Student Ratings of Instruction” as we apparently call them these days) are a notoriously … imperfect … guide for future conduct. Probably because we all spent many, many years being graded, professors nonetheless read them obsessively compulsively carefully and fret about freak out pay special attention to the most negative ones, because at […]

Novel Readings 2013

December 31, 2013
Novel Readings 2013

2013 has had fewer thrills for me than 2012, which was an especially exhilarating reading year. To be fair, though, it’s hard to follow up a year that included The Once and Future King, Bring Up the Bodies, Anna Karenina, and Madame Bovary, along with The Paper Garden – which still resonates with me as a particularly special book. 2013 […]

Stepping into the Bog: Josephine Tey, The Franchise Affair

December 27, 2013
Stepping into the Bog: Josephine Tey, The Franchise Affair

Tey’s Detective-Inspector Alan Grant has only a bit part in The Franchise Affair, but his response to the case gets at the heart of what’s at stake in this intriguing novel. It’s not a ‘whodunit’ so much as a study in character and community, and the most threatening aspect of the specific crime is its challenge […]

2013: My Year in Writing

December 25, 2013
2013: My Year in Writing

I still expect to get some reading done before the end of the calendar year (especially Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, which I have resolutely started over), but except for another blog post or two I have no great writing ambitions, so I thought I’d start my annual year-end wrap-up with a look back at […]

“The sword in the hand of humanity”: Writings of Rebecca West 1911-1917

December 21, 2013
“The sword in the hand of humanity”: Writings of Rebecca West 1911-1917

“Boldness is Rebecca West’s strength,” Jane Marcus says in  her edited collection The Young Rebecca: Writings of Rebecca West 1911-1917; “She polished the weapons of invective and denunciation into the tools of a fine art.” That combination of boldness and artfulness makes West irresistibly quotable: people who hang out with me on Twitter may have noticed […]

Holiday Traditions

December 18, 2013
Holiday Traditions

On Sunday, while the snow and sleet and freezing rain made a mess of things outside, we stayed cheerful inside as we carried on one of our favorite holiday traditions: decorating our Christmas tree while listening to Michael Bawtree‘s recording of A Christmas Carol. There aren’t a lot of activities, holiday-related or otherwise, that all four […]

Weekend Miscellany: Bests and Worsts and Turgenev and Middlemarch and More!

December 14, 2013
Weekend Miscellany: Bests and Worsts and Turgenev and Middlemarch and More!

As usual, the bloggers I follow have been putting up all kinds of good posts recently. Here’s a sampling! At stevereads, the annual Best and Worst of the year extravaganza is in full flood. Lists already offered including Best History, Best Romance, Best Biography, Best Collected Letters, Best Reprints, Best Debut Fiction … and there’s […]

“He was my shadow, or I was his”: Daphne du Maurier, The Scapegoat

December 11, 2013
“He was my shadow, or I was his”: Daphne du Maurier, The Scapegoat

The Scapegoat is the third novel I’ve read recently with a plot that turns on stolen identities. It’s really interesting how differently they deal with the dangerous temptation to be someone else. In each case, the usurper is at least somewhat sympathetic because what he wants is so simple and recognizable: belonging, acceptance, communion. But […]

This Week in My Classes: Term Limits and New Ideas

December 6, 2013
This Week in My Classes: Term Limits and New Ideas

This was the last week of fall term classes for us, which means concluding remarks and exam review and conferences about term papers — and then, beginning Monday, an influx of papers and exams to be marked, final grades to be calculated, and everything to be filed away and tidied up. I have an exam […]

“That promise will not be kept”: Rebecca West, This Real Night

December 3, 2013
“That promise will not be kept”: Rebecca West, This Real Night

Every time we left our pianos the age gave us such assurances that there was to be a new and final establishment of pleasure upon earth. True that when we were at our pianos we knew that this was not true. There is something in the great music that we played which told us that […]

Open Letters Monthly: The December Issue (With Bonus Crochet)

December 1, 2013
Open Letters Monthly: The December Issue (With Bonus Crochet)

Once again we mark the beginning of a new month with a bright shiny new issue of Open Letters! And once again it shows off the range of readers and writers involved with the site. We lead off this time with our annual Year in Reading feature (Part I, Part II). My contribution won’t surprise any […]

Bridget of Sighs

December 1, 2013
Bridget of Sighs

The new Bridget Jones novel will make you laugh and cry — but it might also make you fret, as it continues the series’ ongoing celebration of incompetence. Is blue soup really the best we can hope for, or the most we should strive for?

This Week: I’m Still Reading, In Spite of It All!

November 26, 2013
This Week: I’m Still Reading, In Spite of It All!

It’s a crazy week, with midterms and proposals and assignments piling up on top of the routine business of class meetings — which isn’t entirely routine at the end of term because I always prepare practice exams and review handouts and everything needs to be printed and copied and sorted and ready on time and […]

This Week In My Classes: Pressing On

November 21, 2013
This Week In My Classes: Pressing On

Every year my rate of posting (never particularly frequent or steady anyway) falls off at this time of year thanks to the rising pressure of other reading and writing — much of it kind of mind-numbing (midterms, for instance) and thus sloth-inducing when it’s done. That’s about where I am this week, with two sets […]

Weekend Miscellany: Huffing and Puffing and Toasting 19th-Century Novels

November 17, 2013
Weekend Miscellany: Huffing and Puffing and Toasting 19th-Century Novels

Anyone who has been to an academic conference is familiar with the “question” from an audience member the entire subtext of which is “You didn’t present the paper I would have written on this topic.” (Some of us may even have asked such a question — in which cases I’m sure we were all 100% justified, […]

“In the courts of heaven”: Rebecca West, The Fountain Overflows

November 14, 2013
“In the courts of heaven”: Rebecca West, The Fountain Overflows

Pejorative generalizations about the ‘traditional novel,’ like debates over the ‘death of the novel,’ often seem to me unduly preoccupied with form, as if broadening the range of human possibilities expressed through fiction isn’t also an innovation or revision. The Fountain Overflows is a good reminder that  just because a novel is linear, has characters, and tells […]

“It is only War in the abstract that is beautiful”: Letters from a Lost Generation:

November 11, 2013
“It is only War in the abstract that is beautiful”: Letters from a Lost Generation:

In remembrance, from the Novel Readings archive. This volume is subtitled “The First World War Letters of Vera Brittain and Four Friends: Roland Leighton, Edward Brittain, Victor Richardson, Geoffrey Thurlow.” The editors, Alan Bishop and Mark Bostridge, explain in their ‘Note to the Text’ that they have abridged the letters, sometimes significantly, in order to “lay […]

Josephine Tey, Brat Farrar: ‘Who are you?’ ‘Retribution.’

November 9, 2013
Josephine Tey, Brat Farrar: ‘Who are you?’ ‘Retribution.’

I’ve been rereading The Daughter of Time for decades, so it’s odd that until now I had never read another novel by Josephine Tey. Mind you, in some respects The Daughter of Time is sui generis. And indeed all Brat Farrar has in common with it is Tey’s refreshing prose and keen eye for character. If I were writing one […]

This Week In My Classes: Moving Right Along!

November 7, 2013
This Week In My Classes: Moving Right Along!

We seem to have passed that tipping point past which we hurtle towards the end of term. I feel as if it was only just the weekend, and tomorrow it will be Friday again! Happily, it will also be the Friday before a long weekend, which will give us all time to catch up, or rest […]

Uncritical: Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins

November 6, 2013
Uncritical: Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins

I have little to say about Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins. I enjoyed it very much — but it didn’t provoke me to critical thought. A symptom: not once, while reading it, did I reach for a pencil to jot down a note or a page number, which I almost always do — partly because I anticipate […]

Weekend Miscellany: Ethical Criticism, Long-Awaited Reads, Literary Lines, and #AcWriMo

November 3, 2013
Weekend Miscellany: Ethical Criticism, Long-Awaited Reads, Literary Lines, and #AcWriMo

It’s the third dark, rainy day in a row, just the kind of weather to inspire gloom and brooding! Even David Copperfield isn’t entirely working its magic, not only because I don’t feel as if my class sessions on it have been going very well (in response to which I opted to not even try to elicit […]