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Articles by Rohan Maitzen

“Things I Could Not Say”: Elizabeth Strout, My Name Is Lucy Barton

November 30th, 2016
“Things I  Could Not Say”: Elizabeth Strout, My Name Is Lucy Barton

Later, after my first book was published, I went to a doctor who is the most gracious woman I have ever met. I wrote down on a piece of paper what the student said about the person from New Hampshire named Janie Templeton. I wrote down things that had happened in my childhood home. I […]

“No Such Thing As Air”: Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You

November 26th, 2016
“No Such Thing As Air”: Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You

All her life she had heard her mother’s heart drumming one beat: doctor, doctor, doctor. She wanted this so much, Lydia knew, that she no longer needed to say it. It was always there. Lydia could not imagine another future, another life. It was like trying to imagine a world where the sun went around the […]

This Week In My Classes: Appeasing Fascists

November 23rd, 2016
This Week In My Classes: Appeasing Fascists

You never know what twists of fate will bring new relevance to the readings you’ve assigned. Teaching A Room of One’s Own soon after the David Gilmour fiasco, for instance, made Woolf’s arguments about women’s writing (“everywhere and much more subtly the difference of value persists”) seem unhappily current; teaching Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress just […]

Policy and Prejudice: My Promotion Postmortem

November 20th, 2016
Policy and Prejudice: My Promotion Postmortem

After well over a year, my application for promotion to Professor finally concluded last week, with the disappointing news that my appeal of President Florizone’s negative decision was unsuccessful.* I am well aware that compared to the precarity of so many others working in academia, my troubles don’t amount to a hill of beans. But they […]

This Week In My Classes: Revisiting Chartres Cathedral

November 16th, 2016
This Week In My Classes: Revisiting Chartres Cathedral

From the Novel Readings Archives: Since I started this blog almost ten years ago, one of its most important roles for me has been as a place for me to reflect on my teaching, which is the part of my professional life I value the most and that takes up, usually, the majority of my […]

“Which War?” Andrea Levy, Small Island

November 12th, 2016
“Which War?” Andrea Levy, Small Island

I could no longer see her but I called out to Queenie as an MP, his baton thrusting hard into my chest, his face pressing close to mine, hot breath breaching my cheek delivered the words ‘Get away from her, nigger.’ Only now did I experience the searing pain of this fight — and not […]

An American Story: Jane Smiley, Some Luck

November 8th, 2016
An American Story: Jane Smiley, Some Luck

My book club met last night to discuss Jane Smiley’s Some Luck. We didn’t choose it with this in mind, but it ended up feeling like a good choice to talk about the night before the American election, because it is pretty clearly meant not so much as a story about a particular American family as […]

This Week In My Classes: No Classes!

November 6th, 2016
This Week In My Classes: No Classes!

This week will be our first ever week-long fall break, one of several adjustments to the academic schedule that have come into effect this year. I’m against it in principle, because no matter how long the break, more and more students (in my experience) leave early for it and come back late, which, along with […]

“If You Can Get It”: David Lodge, Nice Work

October 30th, 2016
“If You Can Get It”: David Lodge, Nice Work

“Maybe the universities are inefficient, in some ways. Maybe we do waste a lot of time arguing on committees because nobody has absolute power. But that’s preferable to a system in which everybody is afraid of the person on the next rung of the ladder above them, where everybody is out for themselves, and fiddling […]

This Week In My Classes: Mercy and Tenderness in “Lizzie Leigh”

October 28th, 2016
This Week In My Classes: Mercy and Tenderness in “Lizzie Leigh”

Our reading for today in The Victorian ‘Woman Question’ was Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1850 short story “Lizzie Leigh.” We’re reading it at the end of a cluster of other works that deal with ‘fallen women,’ including Aurora Leigh, Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “Jenny,” Augusta Webster’s “A Castaway,” and Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” (which, we agreed, is certainly about women and sexual […]

The Price We Pay: Brian McCrea, Addison and Steele Are Dead

October 26th, 2016
The Price We Pay: Brian McCrea, Addison and Steele Are Dead

From the Novel Readings Archives: I still find myself thinking a lot about the questions raised by Brian McCrea’s book Addison and Steele Are Dead, which I wrote about during my first year of blogging. Apparently I’m in something of a minority, or presumably I’d be able to find the actual cover image online somewhere! But rereading […]

Last Week In My Classes: Where’d They Go?

October 23rd, 2016
Last Week In My Classes: Where’d They Go?

I’ve been feeling a bit downcast since Friday, because attendance absolutely plummeted in the tutorials for my Close Reading class and I can’t stop worrying about why — and wondering what to do about it. My particular cause for concern is that last week, as you might recall, we started working on Middlemarch. I brought all […]

“There Is No Why”: Ian McGuire, The North Water

October 20th, 2016
“There Is No Why”: Ian McGuire, The North Water

“If you can’t save him, then why are you here?” she asks. “What are you for?” “I’m here by accident. It doesn’t mean anything.” “Everyone died except for you. Why did you live?” “There is no why,” he says. I always follow the proceedings of the (Wo)Man Booker Shadow Panel with interest, partly just because […]

This Week In My Classes: In the Thick of It All

October 18th, 2016
This Week In My Classes: In the Thick of It All

First of all, where did this past week even go? It feels like just yesterday I was writing my previous post, in a flush of enthusiasm about Aurora Leigh, and now we’ve wrapped up our time with it in The Victorian ‘Woman Question.’ After Wednesday’s student presentation, we’ll be moving on, first to a pair of poems about ‘fallen women’ (Dante […]

This Week In My Classes: The Radicalism of Aurora Leigh

October 11th, 2016
This Week In My Classes: The Radicalism of Aurora Leigh

In my seminar on the Victorian ‘Woman Question,’ we started work last week on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s 1856 verse-novel Aurora Leigh. It’s usually kind of hard going for the students: although it does have many characteristic features of a Victorian marriage plot novel, it also includes (among quite a bit of more miscellaneous material) long meditations […]

This Week In My Classes: A Rogues’ Gallery of Style

October 5th, 2016
This Week In My Classes: A Rogues’ Gallery of Style

Over the past few weeks in Close Reading we have been working on disentangling specific elements of poetry and fiction in order to improve the precision of our analysis. So we’ve focused, for instance, on tone and diction, on figurative language, on imagery, on symbolism, on rhythm, on point of view, on narrative voice, on characterization, […]

Learning to Read (Romance)

October 3rd, 2016
Learning to Read (Romance)

The other day while idly browsing the ever-changing array of titles on ‘special’ at Kobo, I happened across Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm for only $1.99. Not long ago, the same thing happened with Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels. What serendipity — two of my favorite romances! The alacrity with which I snapped up both titles (hooray […]

Nomad: Phonse Jessome, Disposable Souls

October 1st, 2016
Nomad: Phonse Jessome, Disposable Souls

Phonse Jessome’s grim, violent crime novel Disposable Souls is set in the city where I live, and in a city I’ve never seen. Reading it was a constant reminder of the point Ian Rankin has often made about his Edinburgh-set novels: they show a side of Edinburgh that tourists never see — and neither do most residents, even though […]

Infinitesimal Jest

October 1st, 2016
Infinitesimal Jest

Ian McEwan’s latest novel has an ingenious premise–but does it deliver on its promise? Rohan Maitzen reviews Nutshell.

Slaying the Dragon: First Thoughts on Five Seasons of Angel

September 27th, 2016
Slaying the Dragon: First Thoughts on Five Seasons of Angel

“Well, personally I kind of want to slay the dragon.” – Angel (S5 E22, “Not Fade Away”) I recently finished my first complete run-through of Angel. I can tell that, as has already been the case with Buffy, re-watching will complicate my response to particulars as well as to the show overall. It’s interesting to me, though, […]

Fear of Failing

September 26th, 2016
Fear of Failing

Earlier this year there was a lot of buzz when a Princeton professor published a “CV of Failures.” I know: “Princeton professor” and “failure” hardly seem to belong in the same sentence. But that was pretty much exactly why Johannes Haushofer decided to make his record of rejection public. “Most of what I try fails,” […]

“Bother the Incubus!” Angela Thirkell, High Rising

September 25th, 2016
“Bother the Incubus!” Angela Thirkell, High Rising

High Rising is the first of Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire novels. I read the second, Wild Strawberries, a few years ago — that I barely remember it and also apparently didn’t write about it hints at what to me is both the appeal and the limitation of Thirkell (so far, since this is a pretty small sample): […]

This Week In My Classes: Poetry and Prose

September 17th, 2016
This Week In My Classes: Poetry and Prose

That was a busy week! Not only was it the first full week of term, with both classes and committee meetings, but I was involved in a Ph.D. comprehensive exam, which is something we usually do when classes aren’t in session. Obviously it’s the student who has the biggest job, but the committee has to read […]

Academic Enclaves

September 14th, 2016
Academic Enclaves

I was reminded yesterday that SSHRC has awarded a large sum to help start up a Canadian version of The Conversation. I have followed links to the other national iterations of this site before and thought it seemed like a good idea. “Academic rigor, journalistic flair”: what’s not to like? Well, actually, I don’t altogether like […]

“Writing At This Level”: Black Lamb and Grey Falcon III

September 11th, 2016
“Writing At This Level”: Black Lamb and Grey Falcon III

I started reading Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon four years ago. I’m still reading it – or, more accurately, I am reading it again. I didn’t stop reading it then because it was no good or I wasn’t interested. On the contrary, I was fascinated and endlessly impressed. But the very thing that so […]

This Week In My Classes: Back At It Again

September 9th, 2016
This Week In My Classes: Back At It Again

I was struggling over what to write about in this post, which begins the 10th season of my blogging regularly about my teaching. What angle, what big idea, what topic, should I focus on? What do I have to say that’s new? I couldn’t seem to think of anything. And then I remembered that when I started […]

Summer Reading

September 5th, 2016
Summer Reading

I decided to ease out of the summer with some light reading on this long weekend — first Honest Doubt, and then two Spensers, Early Autumn (one of the best of the series just for defining Spenser’s code, which is roughly “autonomy with honor”) and Hundred-Dollar Baby (notable for being a rare case in which Spenser’s knight-errantry fails […]

Given to Murder: Amanda Cross, Honest Doubt

September 3rd, 2016
Given to Murder: Amanda Cross, Honest Doubt

“I know you said most professors aren’t given to murder, but are English departments more given to murder than most?” “Not as far as I know,” Kate said. Over the years I have read all of the Kate Fansler mysteries by Amanda Cross (who was really Columbia English professor and renowned feminist critic Carolyn Heilbrun). Honest […]

The Last Throes of Summer

September 2nd, 2016
The Last Throes of Summer

September is here, which means that even though technically it’s still summer, it feels like fall. From now on, every nice day is to be cherished and even the sunniest Sunday will be under the shadow of Monday’s impending classes — though not quite yet, because my first class meetings of the new term aren’t until Wednesday. […]

Read, Write, Love

September 1st, 2016
Read, Write, Love

When Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri abandons English for Italian, she learns as much about herself as about her new language.

Next Week In My Classes: Back to School!

August 31st, 2016
Next Week In My Classes: Back to School!

It happens so gradually at first: there’s a slight chill in the evening air, the sky is a little darker on my morning run, the leaves look just a little less green. Then a faint hum begins on campus: more people are in their offices, the sidewalks are a bit more crowded, signs of arrivals […]

“Life”: Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

August 27th, 2016
“Life”: Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Only one entry supplied an adequate definition, and she circled it with red ink, and referred to it nightly. Life: a constellation of vital phenomena–organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation. Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is such a good book — it is so beautiful, so terrible, so moving, so well-designed — that it feels ungenerous […]

“Master of His Own Destiny”: Alaa Al Aswany, The Automobile Club of Egypt

August 21st, 2016
“Master of His Own Destiny”: Alaa Al Aswany, The Automobile Club of Egypt

A great leap forward was made by the American Henry Ford, who started mass-producing cars. His strategy was to reduce the profit margin but increase the volume of production and sales. This was based on a simple conviction — that the employees of his own factory should be able to afford an automobile. And so […]

The Myth and Mystery of Scholarly “Value”

August 19th, 2016
The Myth and Mystery of Scholarly “Value”

I mentioned in my last post that I had recently read a new academic book that I ultimately decided not to review, partly because I didn’t want to scapegoat the author for my alienation from the genre it belongs to. I’m still not going to name it (and that’s my own book pictured at left, […]

Recent Reading Roundup

August 14th, 2016
Recent Reading Roundup

It has been a while since I’ve posted, and also a while since I posted a reading roundup! The two things are related: because I haven’t been posting often, it might seem as if I haven’t been reading much, but I have — it’s just that much of my recent reading has been for reviews, […]

“Glad to Be Alive”: May Sarton, At Seventy: A Journal

August 6th, 2016
“Glad to Be Alive”: May Sarton, At Seventy: A Journal

Such a peaceful, windless morning here for my seventieth birthday–the sea is pale blue, and although the field is still brown, it is dotted with daffodils at last. It has seemed an endless winter. But now at night the peepers are in full fettle, peeping away. And I was awakened by the cardinal, who is […]

Time Passes

August 1st, 2016
Time Passes

I’m reading To the Lighthouse for the first time. I know, I know. I also know that I should love it, because it is beautiful and moving and brilliant and original — and I sort of do, so far, except when I don’t. I am not a particularly good reader of Woolf’s fiction: it was only […]

“The End of a Long Song”: Ian Rankin, Even Dogs in the Wild

July 30th, 2016
“The End of a Long Song”: Ian Rankin, Even Dogs in the Wild

“But you’re making progress, showing the youngsters a thing or two.” “It feels like the end of a long song, though — men like Cafferty and Joe Stark . . . and me too, come to that . . . we’re on our last legs. Our way of doing things seems . . . I […]

“What I Am Is What I Do”: Robert B. Parker, Promised Land

July 23rd, 2016
“What I Am Is What I Do”: Robert B. Parker, Promised Land

“The kind of man I am is not a suitable topic, you know. It’s not what one talks about.” “Why?” “Because it’s not.” “The code? A man doesn’t succumb to self-analysis? It’s weak? It’s womanish?” “It’s pointless. What I am is what I do. Finding the right words for it is no improvement. It isn’t […]

“All of a Doo-Dah”: Dorothy L. Sayers, Have His Carcase

July 19th, 2016
“All of a Doo-Dah”: Dorothy L. Sayers, Have His Carcase

“Well, really, don’t you know.” Wimsey screwed his monocle more firmly into his eye. “Really, old fellow, you make me feel all of a doo-dah, what?” Do you have books you reach for when you’re feeling low, books you just know will cheer you up? For me, Have His Carcase is a sure thing when I need […]

“A Mighty Theme”: Moby-Dick Is About Whales

July 16th, 2016
“A Mighty Theme”: Moby-Dick Is About Whales

Such, and so magnifying, is the virtue of a large and liberal theme! To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever bet written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it. We all probably know the Woody Allen joke about speed-reading War and […]

From the Archives: T. H. White, The Once and Future King

July 13th, 2016
From the Archives: T. H. White, The Once and Future King

It comes back to the geese, in the end. I hoped it would, because of all the marvellous episodes in Wart’s education (the tyrannical pike, the totalitarian ants, the philosophical badger), his time with the geese is the most sublime. It’s beautifully written, for one thing, detailed and evocative, freely fanciful: The sun, as it […]

“Talking in the Dark”: Kent Haruf, Our Souls at Night

July 9th, 2016
“Talking in the Dark”: Kent Haruf, Our Souls at Night

Our Souls at Night is the last of Kent Haruf’s Holt novels — he died not long before its publication. It seems fitting then, I suppose, that it is a bit bleaker than the other two I’ve read, a bit less optimistic about sustaining the kind of quiet humanity that it too holds out as our […]

“The Perfect Gift”: Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

July 7th, 2016
“The Perfect Gift”: Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

As a doctor, I had had some sense of what patients with life-changing illnesses faced–and it was exactly these moments I had wanted to explore with them. Shouldn’t terminal illness, then, be the perfect gift to that young man who had wanted to understand death? What better way to understand it than to live it? […]

Innovation and the Eye of the Beholder

July 5th, 2016
Innovation and the Eye of the Beholder

On university campuses we hear a lot about innovation these days, from hype about the latest ed-tech fad to proclamations by institutions like my own about fostering a “culture of innovation.” This has got me reflecting on how we define or recognize innovation — something that is not as obvious, I think, as its champions, […]

Waifs and Strays: Emma Claire Sweeney, Owl Song at Dawn

July 1st, 2016
Waifs and Strays: Emma Claire Sweeney, Owl Song at Dawn

I’m so glad Emma Claire Sweeney put me on the list to receive a review copy of her new novel Owl Song at Dawn. A heartfelt story about love and acceptance, it is also an evocative look at a time and place — northern England in the 1950s — in which, for families like those Sweeney […]

“Riding Backwards”: Wallace Stegner, The Spectator Bird

June 26th, 2016
“Riding Backwards”: Wallace Stegner, The Spectator Bird

Is there a name for books structured as backward explorations — books like Moon Tiger, say, or Old Filth, or Stegner’s Angle of Repose or The Spectator Bird, framed by aged protagonists’ desire (part nostalgic, part existential) to understand the story of their own lives? It’s a simple enough device, and at least in the examples I can […]

“Where You Are”: Kent Haruf, Plainsong

June 23rd, 2016
“Where You Are”: Kent Haruf, Plainsong

“The crib scene kills me,” Mark Athitakis said on Twitter when I remarked that I was half-way through Plainsong and loving it. At that time I hadn’t reached the crib scene yet, but when I did, I knew what he meant. It epitomizes the novel’s perfect balance of sweet and strong, tough (even, sometimes, brutal) and […]

“Another Corruption of Love”: Maurizio de Giovanni, Everyone In Their Place

June 19th, 2016
“Another Corruption of Love”: Maurizio de Giovanni, Everyone In Their Place

Now, in the light of these new events, the commissario came back to this idea with some concern: both because he’d seen with lucid clarity who had killed the Duchess of Camparino and because he was no doubt infected with the same disease that had triggered the murder: jealousy. Let’s call a spade a spade, […]

“More Than You Could Understand”: Dorothy Dunnett, Race of Scorpions

June 18th, 2016
“More Than You Could Understand”: Dorothy Dunnett, Race of Scorpions

What would a truthful man say? You are too honest to be trusted with some secrets. One slip of the tongue would have betrayed all I was working for. There are more threads in this web than you even know yet; more than you could understand; more than you would ever forgive. I wonder how […]

This Week In (Planning) My Classes: High Impact Practices

June 14th, 2016
This Week In (Planning) My Classes: High Impact Practices

I’ve been roughing out schedules for my 2016-17 courses — even the winter term ones, because before I can order books for them I need some idea of how the readings will fit in. As I consider how best to allocate class time, especially for my first-year class, I’ve also been thinking about a very […]

Weekend Reading: Dorothy Dunnett via Buffy

June 12th, 2016
Weekend Reading: Dorothy Dunnett via Buffy

A few days ago I picked Dorothy Dunnett’s The Ringed Castle off my bookshelf to look up a particular scene and ended up not just reading to the end (again) but following up with a reread of the next novel in the Lymond Chronicles, Checkmate. I didn’t actually read every word — these are books I have read […]

Sowing Seeds: On the Duties of Professors

June 10th, 2016
Sowing Seeds: On the Duties of Professors

From the Novel Readings archives, a post that addresses issues still very much on my mind: what we mean by the terms “research” and “scholarship,” and what we take to be the duties of professors and the work of the humanities. A friend and colleague who read and sympathized with my previous post passed along to […]

Book Club Update: Moby-Dick Contains Multitudes

June 7th, 2016
Book Club Update: Moby-Dick Contains Multitudes

My book club met last night for the first of two sessions on Moby-Dick. For this one we read only about half way through, so a lot of our discussion either began or ended with some variation on “I wonder where this goes.” Does the novel as a whole uphold Ishmael’s endearing open-mindedness – or, for that […]

Open Letters Monthly, June 2016 Edition!

June 5th, 2016
Open Letters Monthly, June 2016 Edition!

Another month invariably means another issue of Open Letters Monthly! Just in case anyone who visits Novel Readings doesn’t already automatically check out our new issues, here are some highlights that might encourage you to click on over. The range of topics seems particularly broad to me: that eclecticism may be part of what keeps us relatively obscure, […]

Sedentary Mascots: The Turner House, and My Houses

June 2nd, 2016
Sedentary Mascots: The Turner House, and My Houses

Humans haunt more houses than ghosts do. Men and women assign value to bricks and mortar, link their identities to mortgages paid on time. . . . We live and die in houses, dream of getting back to houses, take great care in considering who will inherit houses when we’re gone. Cha-Cha knew his family […]

Comfort and Joy

June 1st, 2016
Comfort and Joy

Mary Balogh’s Survivors’ Club novels are romances, which means they tell hopeful stories about people whose struggles end happily. Why should that optimism earn them such disdain?

“Boldly Launched” — On My First Reading of Moby-Dick

May 29th, 2016
“Boldly Launched” — On My First Reading of Moby-Dick

Already we are boldly launched upon the deep; but soon we shall be lost in its unshored, harborless immensities. When I wrote about Madame Bovary here a couple of years ago, I commented that reading a very famous novel for the first time is like meeting a celebrity in person (or so I imagine). It is intensely […]

This Week In My Classes: Planning Ahead

May 27th, 2016
This Week In My Classes: Planning Ahead

Technically, this post should really be called “This Week For My Classes,” since of course I’m not actually teaching any right now. In between other projects, though (mostly finishing a small essayish review on Mary Balogh’s Only Beloved for the next issue of Open Letters — yes, that’s right, I am trying my hand at writing a little bit about […]

Curtis Sittenfeld, Ineligible

May 21st, 2016
Curtis Sittenfeld, Ineligible

“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” –  Fitzwilliam Darcy, in Pride and Prejudice “I’m in love with you. It’s probably an illusion caused by the release of oxytocin during sex, but I feel as […]

“You’re the One”: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

May 16th, 2016
“You’re the One”: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Over the weekend I finally wrapped up my first ever run-through of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When I started watching the series last summer, I actually came to it with remarkably little information and no preconceptions except that (and obviously I got over this one) it probably wasn’t going to be a hit with me, since vampires — […]

Weekend Catch-Up: Reading, Thinking, Watching

May 14th, 2016
Weekend Catch-Up: Reading, Thinking, Watching

Where does the time go? It seems like I only just finished reading The Danish Girl, but here it’s almost a whole week later and I haven’t written another word here. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. In fact, in among the other business of the week (which included the department’s traditional “May marks meeting” […]

“A Perpetual Track of Transformation”: David Ebershoff, The Danish Girl

May 8th, 2016
“A Perpetual Track of Transformation”: David Ebershoff, The Danish Girl

She’d learned to live with him, with his transformation. Yes, it was if Einar were on a perpetual track of transformation, as if these changes — the mysterious blood, the hollow cheeks, the unfulfilled longing — would never case, would lead to no end. And when she thought about it, who wasn’t always changing? Wasn’t […]

“The Precious Ordinary”: Kent Haruf, Benediction

May 2nd, 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 1st, 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 30th, 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 28th, 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 20th, 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 17th, 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 14th, 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 10th, 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 6th, 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 3rd, 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 1st, 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 1st, 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 30th, 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 28th, 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 23rd, 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 20th, 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 20th, 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 15th, 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 9th, 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 6th, 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 4th, 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 25th, 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 25th, 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 23rd, 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 13th, 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 12th, 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 8th, 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 4th, 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 4th, 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 3rd, 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 31st, 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 29th, 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 25th, 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 25th, 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 21st, 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 20th, 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 13th, 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 9th, 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 3rd, 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 2nd, 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 1st, 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 30th, 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 27th, 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 26th, 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 23rd, 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 20th, 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 16th, 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 9th, 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 9th, 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 3rd, 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 1st, 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 1st, 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 27th, 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 24th, 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 22nd, 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 17th, 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 15th, 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 9th, 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 4th, 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 2nd, 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 1st, 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 28th, 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 25th, 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 22nd, 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 16th, 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 12th, 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 11th, 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 11th, 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 6th, 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 5th, 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 3rd, 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 30th, 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 29th, 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 26th, 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 21st, 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 17th, 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 16th, 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 16th, 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 12th, 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 12th, 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 10th, 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 7th, 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 7th, 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 5th, 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 3rd, 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 31st, 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 29th, 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 26th, 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 24th, 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 21st, 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 21st, 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 21st, 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 21st, 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 21st, 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 21st, 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 21st, 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 21st, 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 21st, 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 21st, 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 21st, 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 21st, 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 21st, 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 18th, 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 16th, 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 14th, 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 13th, 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 9th, 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 7th, 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 4th, 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 2nd, 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 30th, 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 28th, 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 26th, 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 22nd, 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 22nd, 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 18th, 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 16th, 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 15th, 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 11th, 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 9th, 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 4th, 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 1st, 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 1st, 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 27th, 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 23rd, 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 21st, 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 18th, 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 15th, 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 13th, 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 11th, 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 7th, 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 31st, 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 31st, 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 26th, 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 20th, 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 17th, 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 9th, 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 8th, 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 8th, 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 2nd, 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 1st, 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 28th, 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 25th, 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 19th, 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 12th, 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 10th, 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 5th, 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 31st, 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 29th, 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 27th, 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 22nd, 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 18th, 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 16th, 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 11th, 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 9th, 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 4th, 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 2nd, 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 1st, 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 28th, 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 25th, 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 21st, 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 14th, 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 8th, 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 6th, 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 5th, 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 1st, 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 27th, 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 26th, 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 24th, 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 20th, 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 18th, 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 14th, 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 10th, 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 7th, 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 2nd, 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 31st, 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 29th, 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 26th, 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 22nd, 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 21st, 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 13th, 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 8th, 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 2nd, 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 30th, 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 25th, 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 18th, 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 14th, 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 10th, 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 5th, 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 3rd, 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 1st, 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 26th, 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 22nd, 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 19th, 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 14th, 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 7th, 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 6th, 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 30th, 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 30th, 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 27th, 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 26th, 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 25th, 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 17th, 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 12th, 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 10th, 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 7th, 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 4th, 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 2nd, 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 1st, 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 31st, 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 24th, 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 20th, 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 15th, 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 10th, 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 8th, 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 7th, 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 4th, 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 3rd, 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 1st, 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 23rd, 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 21st, 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 19th, 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 14th, 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 10th, 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 9th, 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 6th, 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 2nd, 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 1st, 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 26th, 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 25th, 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 24th, 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 20th, 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 17th, 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 13th, 2014
On Vacation!

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

June 11th, 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 10th, 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 8th, 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 […]