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Articles by Rohan Maitzen

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

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

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

This Week In My Classes – An Update: Middlemarch Unplugged

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

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

This Week In My Classes: Micromanaging Middlemarch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week In My Classes: Lots of Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week in My Classes: Low Stakes, High Rewards

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

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

On Being Neither Fish Nor Fowl

September 25, 2014
On Being Neither Fish Nor Fowl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week in My Classes: Setting the Tone

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

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

Summer 2014: A Reading and Writing Retrospective

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

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

Open Letters Monthly, September 2014 Edition

September 4, 2014
Open Letters Monthly, September 2014 Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week in My Classes: Beginning My 20th Year

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

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

Sue Grafton: W is for Wasted [Time]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hero as Kitten: Georgette Heyer, Friday’s Child

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

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

Zoë Ferraris, Finding Nouf

August 8, 2014
Zoë Ferraris, Finding Nouf

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

This Week: A Little Class Prep Goes a Long Way

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

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

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

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

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

August in Open Letters Monthly — and an Interview

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

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

Vancouver Vacation: Sun, Fun, and Family

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth George, Just One Evil Act

July 21, 2014
Elizabeth George, Just One Evil Act

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

House of Cards Update: The UK Version

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent Watching: House of Cynicism Cards

July 9, 2014
Recent Watching: House of Cynicism Cards

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

Catching Up: Storm Warnings and Summer Reading

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

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

Open Letters Monthly July 2014!

July 2, 2014
Open Letters Monthly July 2014!

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

Beethoven in the Soul

July 1, 2014
Beethoven in the Soul

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

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

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

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

The Silver Spoons and the Joy of a Loving Letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back from Boston Bearing More Books!

June 17, 2014
Back from Boston Bearing More Books!

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

On Vacation!

June 13, 2014
On Vacation!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Title Menu: 8 More George Eliot Novels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

May 19, 2014
Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

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

Shhh! It’s (Still) A Library!

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

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

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

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

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

Summer Plans: Adding Things Up

May 8, 2014
Summer Plans: Adding Things Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amateur Hour: Alan Rusbridger, Play It Again

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

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

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

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

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

A tangled net of links: Vikram Chandra, Sacred Games

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

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

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

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

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

This Week In My Classes: Endings and Beginnings

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

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

Open Letters Monthly: April 2014!

April 2, 2014
Open Letters Monthly: April 2014!

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

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

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

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

This Week In My Classes: Canons and Complications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week In My Classes: Writing and Talking

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

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

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

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

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

The First Ever Novel Readings Book Giveaway!

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

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

This Week In My Classes: Marching Along

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

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

Open Letters Monthly, March 2014

March 3, 2014
Open Letters Monthly, March 2014

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

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

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

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

February Break(down) Posticle

February 21, 2014
February Break(down) Posticle

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

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

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

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

The Enchanted Island: Mary Stewart, This Rough Magic

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

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

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

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

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

Open Letters Monthly: The February 2014 Issue!

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

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

Lost in Eliot

February 1, 2014
Lost in Eliot

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

This Week in My Classes: Great Fiction

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

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

Weekend Watching: Foyle’s War

January 26, 2014
Weekend Watching: Foyle’s War

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

Weekend Miscellany: Good Reading and Common Pursuits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Winter Term: Some Small Good Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Novel Readings 2013

December 31, 2013
Novel Readings 2013

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

Stepping into the Bog: Josephine Tey, The Franchise Affair

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

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

2013: My Year in Writing

December 25, 2013
2013: My Year in Writing

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

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

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

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

Holiday Traditions

December 18, 2013
Holiday Traditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week in My Classes: Term Limits and New Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bridget of Sighs

December 1, 2013
Bridget of Sighs

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

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

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

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

This Week In My Classes: Pressing On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Week In My Classes: Moving Right Along!

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

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

Uncritical: Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins

November 6, 2013
Uncritical: Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins

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

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

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

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

Open Letters, November 2013!

November 2, 2013
Open Letters, November 2013!

The November issue is up! Headlining it is Steve Donoghue’s review of Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge (spoiler: he doesn’t like it!). Other recent fiction reviewed includes Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, and Richard Kadrey’s YA novel Dead Set. Sam Sacks takes a look at a new book on Hamlet that “attempst to illuminate the play’s darker corners, and in [...]

Second Glance: No Lesser Crime

November 1, 2013
Second Glance: No Lesser Crime

“The Moonstone will have its vengeance on you and yours!” Those fateful words propel us into one of the first and best of modern English detective novels — still sensational after all these years.

Book Club: Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley

October 30, 2013
Book Club: Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley

My local book club met Monday night to discuss The Talented Mr. Ripley. We were all newcomers to Highsmith, and though not everyone exactly enjoyed reading the novel (I definitely did), I think we were all intrigued and impressed by it — or perhaps I should say by her, and the quietly insidious way she got us [...]

This Week In My Classes: Fictions of Development – Brontë, Dickens, and P. D. James

October 25, 2013
This Week In My Classes: Fictions of Development – Brontë, Dickens, and P. D. James

We had our last class on Jane Eyre in 19th-Century Fiction on Monday. Reflecting on my own diminishing enthusiasm for the novel, I’ve been thinking that one of my problems is not only over-familiarity but also difficulty seeing the novel anymore — it just doesn’t rise fresh from the page anymore but comes trailing clouds of interpretation. Why [...]

“As if she were a governess in a book”: Elizabeth Taylor, Palladian

October 22, 2013
“As if she were a governess in a book”: Elizabeth Taylor, Palladian

I can’t take any credit for interpreting Elizabeth Taylor’s strange, gloomily elegant Palladian as a pastiche of Austen and Brontë. Not only does the back cover of my Virago edition baldly state that the novel “examines the realities of life for a latter-day Jane Eyre” and explicitly compare Taylor’s method here to Austen’s in Northanger Abbey, but [...]

This Week In My Classes: Hunkering Down!

October 17, 2013
This Week In My Classes: Hunkering Down!

Ah, the holiday weekend, with its leisure reading! It’s just a fond memory right now … Well, I exaggerate slightly, as I’ve certainly had more hectic terms than this one (this time last year, just for instance, I was teaching three courses, including one entirely new one), but I have been pretty busy with class [...]

Holiday Reading

October 14, 2013
Holiday Reading

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving! It is a beautifully crisp sunny fall weekend here: I treated myself to an amble through the Public Gardens on Saturday, where the gold-tinged foliage provided a lovely backdrop for the remaining bright flowers. The Gardens are my favourite spot in the city, a perfect place for “a green thought in a [...]

What P. D. James Talks About When She Talks About Detective Fiction*

October 8, 2013
What P. D. James Talks About When She Talks About Detective Fiction*

I finally picked up P. D. James’s Talking About Detective Fiction, which I’ve been mildly interested in reading ever since it came out in 2009. I say ‘mildly’ because I’ve read all of James’s novels (some of them multiple times) as well as her autobiography and numerous interviews with her, not to mention essays, critical articles, [...]

“Good novels, nothing else”: Laurence Cossé, A Novel Bookstore

October 6, 2013
“Good novels, nothing else”: Laurence Cossé, A Novel Bookstore

What if Jonathan Franzen opened a bookstore, called it “The Good Novel” and refused to carry any of Jennifer Wiener’s books — not to mention Dan Brown’s, Tom Clancy’s, Jodi Picoult’s, or E. L. James’s? It’s only too easy to imagine the brouhaha that would ensue, with cries of “excellence!” on one side and “elitism!” [...]

A New Month, A New Open Letters Monthly!

October 4, 2013
A New Month, A New Open Letters Monthly!

Once again, a new month has brought with it a sparkling new issue of Open Letters Monthly. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll go check it out. As always, there’s a wide range of coverage and styles. We’re spotlighting Steve Danziger’s review of Jonathan Franzen’s new translation of Karl Kraus (you know, the one in [...]

An Inglorious Life

October 1, 2013
An Inglorious Life

Elizabeth Gilbert’s ambitious new novel imagines the life of a 19th-century woman botanist, as insightful as Darwin but lost to history. It’s an interesting project, and a worthy one, but does the novel live up to its premise?

This Week in My Classes: My Waverley Intervention

September 30, 2013
This Week in My Classes: My Waverley Intervention

My sincere thanks to everyone who weighed in, here or on Twitter, with advice about handling the classroom slump brought on by Waverley. Here’s an update on what I decided to do. First of all, I did decide to do something different, rather than just pressing on with my usual strategies. I had to admit to myself [...]

This Week in My Classes: In which I return to Waverley after many years.

September 28, 2013
This Week in My Classes: In which I return to Waverley after many years.

In class this week one of my students asked me when I last taught Waverley. “2006-7,” I promptly replied — I knew this because I had gone back to my old files to see what notes and handouts I had in reserve.* It used to be a fixture on my syllabus for The 19thC Novel from Austen [...]

Putting the Record Straight: Muriel Spark, Curriculum Vitae

September 22, 2013
Putting the Record Straight: Muriel Spark, Curriculum Vitae

When I’d finished puzzling over A Far Cry From Kensington, I decided I’d had enough Muriel Spark for now. There are just so many other books I really want to read, after all. But then I remembered that I’d picked up a copy of her autobiography, Curriculum Vitae, from the public library’s discard sale (it’s shocking, really, what [...]

This Week in My Classes: Processes and Products

September 20, 2013
This Week in My Classes: Processes and Products

The second full week of term has gone by already: it’s amazing how time seems to accelerate when things get busier. In both my classes we have moved from throat-clearing and context-setting to richer discussions about our readings: in The 19th-Century Novel from Austen to Dickens, we’ve wrapped up our work on Persuasion, and in Mystery and Detective Fiction [...]

“I was Mrs. Hawkins”: Muriel Spark, A Far Cry From Kensington

September 17, 2013
“I was Mrs. Hawkins”: Muriel Spark, A Far Cry From Kensington

My local book club met last night to discuss Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry From Kensington. We always try to follow some kind of thread from one book to the next; after reading two novels by Elizabeth Taylor we were thinking about other mid-20th century women novelists and while Muriel Spark seemed like an obvious choice, The Prime [...]

This Week In My Classes: The Seventh Season Begins

September 11, 2013
This Week In My Classes: The Seventh Season Begins

I began writing posts about my teaching plans and experiences because I thought it might contribute to demystifying our profession — and perhaps counteract, just a little bit, the way it is sometimes demonized (or ridiculed).  I discovered after that first year that there were real benefits in this for me, and, not incidentally (if [...]

“The Rough Rocky Depths”: May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude

September 8, 2013
“The Rough Rocky Depths”: May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude

“Plant Dreaming Deep has brought me many friends,” says May Sarton early in Journal of a Solitude, “…but I have begun to realize that, without my intention, that book gives a false view.” She worried that she had given an overly idealistic picture of her life alone in her restored New Hampshire farmhouse, which she describes [...]

Summer 2013 Reading Recap

September 5, 2013
Summer 2013 Reading Recap

My first classes of 2013-14 meet tomorrow morning: between that and the expectation that temperatures will drop into the single digits tonight, it’s clearly time to admit that summer is over — and along with it, Maddie and my annual summer reading project. (She exceeded her goal this year, so good for her!) Because blog [...]

“Better than the truth”: The Orphan Master’s Son

September 2, 2013
“Better than the truth”: The Orphan Master’s Son

It is a true story of love and sorrow, of faith and endurance . . . Sadly, there is tragedy. Yet there is redemption, too! And taekwondo! What would it be like to live in a world where it is better not to know what happened to someone you love — where lies becomes the [...]

Rose Tremain, Restoration

August 29, 2013
Rose Tremain, Restoration

I really enjoyed Rose Tremain’s Restoration, which an excellent friend promptly posted to me when I needed a bit of cheering up. (Everyone should have a friend like that!) Not that Restoration is very cheerful, but a good novel is always a tonic, isn’t it? And Restoration is awfully good. Like Wolf Hall, it’s a historical novel that is less about [...]

Barbara Messud: The Excellent Women Upstairs

August 25, 2013
Barbara Messud: The Excellent Women Upstairs

She’s an ordinary woman leading a quiet life – no thrills, no romance, few expectations, just her work, her friends, and the comforting knowledge that everyone relies on her common sense. In a crisis, she can be counted on to make tea. All this changes when the new couple comes on the scene. The wife [...]

The Reader as Writer: Giraldi and His Gratuitous Grumblings

August 24, 2013
The Reader as Writer: Giraldi and His Gratuitous Grumblings

I don’t teach creative writing classes or attend MFA workshops or writers’ conferences, so I have no first-hand experience of the lamentable species William Giraldi is so annoyed about in his recent essay at the Los Angeles Review of Books: wannabe writers with “no usable knowledge of literary tradition [who] are mostly mere weekend readers [...]

Weekend Reading: I laughed, I cried, I’d read it again!

August 20, 2013
Weekend Reading: I laughed, I cried, I’d read it again!

And that was just the first book I read this weekend … I was right that David Copperfield not only gave me great pleasure while I was reading it but restored my flagging enthusiasm for reading more generally. I finished it over the weekend and loved almost every minute of it. The big setback for me is always [...]

Saved by the Inimitable!

August 16, 2013
Saved by the Inimitable!

Judging from a few recent blog posts and twitter updates I’ve seen, a lot of us have fallen into reading slumps lately. I blame my own partly on a phase of duty reading: I was sampling books with an eye to assigning them for a course, which means a lot of them were books I [...]

Pleasure, Guilt, and Pizza: Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love

August 14, 2013
Pleasure, Guilt, and Pizza: Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love

One of the writing projects I’ll be turning to in the near future is a review of Elizabeth Gilbert’s new novel, The Signature of All Things. I thought that made this an appropriate time to revisit her earlier work. I also wrote a bit about Committed, which I ended up not liking as much as Eat, Pray, Love. [...]

Georgette Heyer: Romantic but not Sexy?

August 5, 2013
Georgette Heyer: Romantic but not Sexy?

I’ve just finished Cotillion, which is one of my favorite Georgette Heyer novels so far. Like The Grand Sophy (which was the one that helped me finally “get” why people enjoy Heyer so much), it’s laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s also very sweet. I was so pleased with the resolution to the romance plot, which turns on its [...]

Why Do I Like George Eliot So Very Much? My Top Ten Reasons!

July 30, 2013
Why Do I Like George Eliot So Very Much? My Top Ten Reasons!

A wise man once told me that the introduction to my long-imagined book should represent “the passionate peroration you’d deliver verbally about ‘Why George Eliot?’ if it came up in intelligent company.” After drawing up my inventory of everything I’ve written about George Eliot over the years, I started to feel a bit overwhelmed by [...]

Most Seriously Displeased! Robert Hellenga’s The Sixteen Pleasures

July 28, 2013
Most Seriously Displeased! Robert Hellenga’s The Sixteen Pleasures

I was very restrained in Hager Books on my recent trip to Vancouver: I picked out a modest two books there. One, Gift from the Sea, I chose because I’d heard so much about it. The other, Robert Hellenga’s The Sixteen Pleasures, I chose for the opposite reason: I’d never heard of it at all! That may seem [...]

Recent Reading Round-Up

July 27, 2013
Recent Reading Round-Up

It’s not that I haven’t read anything except Gift From the Sea recently, though you might think so from the dearth of book blogging going on over here. If you peer at the summer reading tally on the right, you’ll see a few more titles on either side  – but I haven’t written them up! Distraction, [...]

Writing About George Eliot: An Inventory

July 22, 2013
Writing About George Eliot: An Inventory

A week or so ago I noted that among my remaining summer projects was thinking through “what kind of larger project could emerge from the essays I’ve been writing on George Eliot”: “Do they, could they, add up to something larger, perhaps some kind of cross-over book project?” is the question — and if so, [...]

A Few Shells: Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

July 17, 2013
A Few Shells: Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

Gift from the Sea is a book that enacts its own prescription … which is my attempt to sum up how this book about the difficulty, but also the inestimable value, of quiet meditation prompts its readers (or this reader, anyway) to just such inward contemplation. It’s a little book, and an easy one to [...]

Taking Stock: Summer Reading, Summer Plans

July 14, 2013
Taking Stock: Summer Reading, Summer Plans

It was just about three months ago that I reported having filed the grades for my winter term courses. In addition to the clean-up work that remains at that point, and the unfolding list of administrative business that encroaches especially in May, I mentioned a number of projects that I was going to be working [...]

Vancouver: By the Books!

July 8, 2013
Vancouver: By the Books!

I’m back from my trip to Vancouver. Including travel days, I was on vacation for 11 days, making this the longest trip I’ve taken in ages. It was wonderful to spend so much time with my family and to meet up with so many of my friends — among them the wonderful Liz of Something [...]

On Vacation – Back Soon!

June 29, 2013
On Vacation – Back Soon!

“The value of appreciation“: Harrison Solow, Felicity & Barbara Pym

June 24, 2013
“The value of appreciation“: Harrison Solow, Felicity & Barbara Pym

I missed Barbara Pym Reading Week by just a bit. I have been keen to read more Pym and serendipitously picked up a couple of Pym’s novels at a book sale just in time for it (The Sweet Dove Died and A Few Green Leaves). And I ordered Harrison Solow’s Felicity & Barbara Pym, which arrived on [...]

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: The Crème de la Crème?

June 23, 2013
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: The Crème de la Crème?

I’ve finally read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: that’s one more potential “Humiliation” winner gone! I very much enjoyed reading this novel. And yet I felt as if I understood better what it was about than why it was written as it was. Miss Jean Brodie is a fabulous character, as charismatic as a creation as she [...]

Rereading Dick Francis: the Top Ten!

June 18, 2013
Rereading Dick Francis: the Top Ten!

As previously reported, I have been binge-reading Dick Francis in service of an essay project that is steadily, if a bit stumblingly, heading towards completion. One question I’ve been asked pretty often when I mention that I’m doing this is “Which Dick Francis novels are your favorites?” A variation on this is “If I haven’t [...]

Middlemarch for Book Clubs: the beta launch

June 14, 2013
Middlemarch for Book Clubs: the beta launch

Just over a year ago, I got somewhat exercised over a news story claiming that Middlemarch is the kiss of death for book clubs. My annoyance was exacerbated by the number of links it got from other sources, which added up to quite the anti-Middlemarch buzz for a while. My first response was a post on this [...]

“This blurred world”: Elizabeth Taylor, A Game of Hide and Seek

June 12, 2013
“This blurred world”: Elizabeth Taylor, A Game of Hide and Seek

Elizabeth Taylor is the first repeat author we’ve chosen in my F2F book club: for our last meeting, we read Angel, which was such a surprise hit we agreed we’d like to try more of Taylor’s novels. By “surprise hit” I mean in part that because we had no expectations, we were surprised to find ourselves [...]

How human! Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard

June 9, 2013
How human! Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard

Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s singular classic The Leopard is the latest book for the Slaves of Golconda reading group. Three other readers have already posted their thoughts, and having read their interesting remarks I find myself wondering what I have to add! They’ve all mentioned aspects of the book that I was also interested in. Alex, for instance, stresses [...]

Blogging: Accept No Substitutes!

June 5, 2013
Blogging: Accept No Substitutes!

Some time ago (two years, to be precise — where does the time go?!), I wrote a testy post about some things Leonard Cassuto said about blogging in an online discussion about academic publishing. One of my chief complaints was that he threw “a veil of pragmatism” over “an argument for accepting (even reinforcing) the status [...]

Open Letters Monthly: the June 2013 issue!

June 2, 2013
Open Letters Monthly: the June 2013 issue!

It’s a new month, and once again, a new issue of Open Letters Monthly is live and ready for your reading pleasure! As usual, the pieces range widely and probe deeply. I have a proprietary interest in a handful of them. Alyssa Mackenzie, a former honors student at Dal (now doing graduate work on Virginia Woolf in [...]

June 2013 Issue

June 1, 2013
June 2013 Issue

Olivia Manning: A Woman at War
By Deirdre David
Oxford University Press, 2013
When is a woman writer not a “woman writer”? What does it mean to claim or resist that identity — for a woman who writes, …

Teaching Art: “Let me describe it to you”

May 31, 2013
Teaching Art: “Let me describe it to you”

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that we’ve been watching one of The Learning Company’s ‘Great Courses,’ The History of European Art. In the comments thread, I noted that the lecturer’s favorite move is to “describe” an artwork to us. At first glance (so to speak!) that seems an odd strategy: we’re looking right at [...]

Middlemarch for Book Clubs: Preview #1 – Choosing an Edition

May 27, 2013
Middlemarch for Book Clubs: Preview #1 – Choosing an Edition

I’ve been working industriously on my Middlemarch for Book Clubs website. I hope to have a “beta” version of the whole site ready to make public by the end of June, but I thought it would be helpful for me to get some feedback on a couple of pages sooner rather than later. One reason is [...]

Writing Carolyn Heilbrun’s Life: Susan Kress, Feminist in a Tenured Position

May 26, 2013
Writing Carolyn Heilbrun’s Life: Susan Kress, Feminist in a Tenured Position

It’s appropriate for a biography of Carolyn Heilbrun to be self-conscious about the challenges of writing about a woman’s life: Heilbrun literally wrote the book on this, in her slim but influential Writing a Woman’s Life. I’ve written here before about the influence of that little book on my own thinking and writing — and I’ve written [...]

“There solitude became my task”: May Sarton, Plant Dreaming Deep

May 22, 2013
“There solitude became my task”: May Sarton, Plant Dreaming Deep

I’ve owned Plant Dreaming Deep for a couple of years at least. It’s always funny, isn’t it, when a book that has just been sitting on the shelf suddenly catches your attention, as if its moment to be read has finally arrived? I sometimes think of it as a ripening process — though whether it’s me or [...]

Before Coursera, There Were the ‘Great Courses’

May 19, 2013
Before Coursera, There Were the ‘Great Courses’

Have any of you watched any of the videos produced for The Great Courses series? We’re pretty big fans of these in our house as sources of enrichment and edutainment. My mathematically-inclined son has watched  a number of them (along with his dad), including The Joy of Mathematics, Zero to Infinity: A History of Numbers, An [...]

Communities of the Wounded: Olivia Manning’s The Fortunes of War

May 16, 2013
Communities of the Wounded: Olivia Manning’s The Fortunes of War

I’m reviewing Deirdre David’s Olivia Manning: A Woman At War for the June issue of Open Letters Monthly; inevitably, that has me thinking again about Manning’s best-known novels, which I read and wrote about a few years ago. Here, from the Novel Readings archives, is that original post. David’s excellent critical biography has prompted me to look up [...]

“Not Fitted to Stand Alone”: Deborah Weisgall, The World Before Her

May 12, 2013
“Not Fitted to Stand Alone”: Deborah Weisgall, The World Before Her

I had a deeply and perhaps irrationally ambivalent response to Debora Weisgall’s The World Before Her. I think that on its own terms, it’s quite a good novel. It’s atmospheric, interesting, and thought-provoking, especially about the pressure marriage puts on identity: like so many characters in Middlemarch, Weisgall’s protagonists are struggling in relationships with partners who don’t [...]

The May Marks Meeting: That’s What It’s All About

May 9, 2013
The May Marks Meeting: That’s What It’s All About

Today we held one of our department’s most cherished and loathed rituals: the “May Marks Meeting.” It’s called that because one of its key elements is the annual review of students’ marks in aid of awarding our departmental scholarships and prizes, and also because we go over the standing of all of our current graduate [...]

Binge Reading vs. Close Reading

May 4, 2013
Binge Reading vs. Close Reading

I’ve undertaken to write an essay on Dick Francis this summer, in preparation for which I am reading through all of his 40+ novels. His first, Dead Cert, was published in 1962, and he basically published one a year until his death in 2010 (the last few in partnership with his son Felix, who has now [...]

New Reviews and “Right” Reviewers

May 1, 2013
New Reviews and “Right” Reviewers

Launch day never comes but what I am surprised at what we’ve pulled off, thanks to the talent, perseverance, and generosity of our contributors and the diligence, enthusiasm, and contributions of our editors! Our May issue seems to me to exemplify what we want Open Letters to be. It covers a wide range of material — [...]

It Might Have Been

May 1, 2013
It Might Have Been

In life there are no second chances, no do-overs. But what if we could keep trying until we got it right? Kate Atkinson explores the possibilities in a novel that just might win her a coveted literary prize or two.

The Butterfly Effect: Penelope Lively, How It All Began

April 28, 2013
The Butterfly Effect: Penelope Lively, How It All Began

I’m a long-time fan of Penelope Lively’s Booker-winning 1987 novel Moon Tiger.  In my first year teaching at Dalhousie, it was one of the novels I assigned in a seminar on women and historical writing (IIRC, I also assigned Daphne Marlatt’s Ana Historic — these details date me as much as the seminar!). I’ve read a number [...]

My First Romance? L. M. Montgomery, The Blue Castle

April 23, 2013
My First Romance? L. M. Montgomery, The Blue Castle

Once upon a time I had never read a “romance novel” — or so the story went. There’s a way in which that was absolutely true: I had never read anything marketed or labeled explicitly as a “romance novel” (a Harlequin, say). As with all literary labels, though, “romance” isn’t really that precise:all around the territory of [...]

Catching Up and Looking Ahead

April 21, 2013
Catching Up and Looking Ahead

Friday afternoon I filed the last of my final grades for 2012-13. Compared to the arduous work to be done at the end of last term, wrapping up this term hasn’t been as difficult, but it also hasn’t been quite as interesting. My last post dwelt on the perplexities of ‘coercive pedagogy.’ Marking exams last [...]

This Week In My Classes: Coercive Pedagogy

April 13, 2013
This Week In My Classes: Coercive Pedagogy

Monday was my last day of class meetings, and now I’ve moved into the exams-and-essays phase of the term. I have mixed feelings about both final exams and final essays, but for different reasons. Final essays can be triumphant culminations of a term’s work, the products of significant reflection and practice.  But they can also [...]

“Because she’s a woman”: Carol Shields, Unless

April 7, 2013
“Because she’s a woman”: Carol Shields, Unless

I’ve just wrapped up a couple of weeks of reading and discussing Carol Shields’s Unless with the students in my Intro class. I assigned it a bit on impulse: I wanted a reasonably contemporary Canadian novel on the syllabus, and I was also looking for a novel to pair with Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own — [...]

Diana Athill, Stet: On Angela Thirkell, Virginia Woolf, and the Embarrassment of Caste

April 2, 2013
Diana Athill, Stet: On Angela Thirkell, Virginia Woolf, and the Embarrassment of Caste

This month’s reading for the Slaves of Golconda group was Diana Athill’s briskly evocative memoir Stet, about her decades-long career in publishing. Other folks have been putting up their smart and detailed posts, and you should hop on over and read them if you haven’t visited already. Partly because I’m tired and busy, and partly because [...]

Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men: “They are not some other way. They are this way.”

March 30, 2013
Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men: “They are not some other way. They are this way.”

No Country for Old Men is stylistically enough like The Road that I feel retrospectively justified in having taken the later novel as provisionally representative. There’s the same accumulation of terse, practical sentences propelling the story forward; there’s the same obscure yet precise vocabulary; there’s the same scrupulous, almost tedious, recounting of physical and technical actions; [...]

This Week In My Classes: Sitting Around Admiring Significant Texts

March 26, 2013
This Week In My Classes: Sitting Around Admiring Significant Texts

This week in my classes, which are traditional English classes rather than warm and fuzzy creative writing classes, I am burdening students with historical background, wrapping ideas in grad-school jargon, and generally obscuring the pleasures of reading and the power of literature. No, really! OK, not really, but if you believe this recent encomium on the [...]

“Menaced by intimations of the truth”: Elizabeth Taylor, Angel

March 23, 2013
“Menaced by intimations of the truth”: Elizabeth Taylor, Angel

Angelica Deverell, the eponymous protagonist of Elizabeth Taylor’s Angel, will not accept the dreary reality she lives with, and so she creates a different world through her fiction, finding in it all the glamour and drama she yearns for and believes she deserves. So far, so good, right? We’ve met imaginative young girls in novels before [...]

Should Graduate Students Blog?

March 19, 2013
Should Graduate Students Blog?

On Thursday I’m speaking to our graduate students’ “professionalization” seminar about academic uses of social media, particularly blogging. I’ve given related talks a few times now, but this is the first time I will have led a session about blogging specifically for an audience of graduate students, for whom some of the issues I typically [...]

Latter-Day Dorotheas? Renunciation in Trollope and Tyler

March 16, 2013
Latter-Day Dorotheas? Renunciation in Trollope and Tyler

From the Novel Readings archives (originally posted June 15, 2007) When I decided to take a break from more “serious” reading with Joanna Trollope’s A Village Affair, I wasn’t really expecting the novel to reach towards the serious itself. I had read it before, but what I had retained was admiration for the clarity with which [...]

This Week in My Classes: Anger and Passivity

March 14, 2013
This Week in My Classes: Anger and Passivity

Andrea Kaston Tange’s post on ‘the chastising professor‘ at Curiouser and Curiouser was timely: on the very day it went up, I had started my intro class with a brief rant pep talk about last week’s disappointing attendance and lackluster participation. It was a subdued occasion: no hissy fits, I promise! My intervention was very much [...]

“Move it or lose it”: on stagnation and (im)mobility

March 12, 2013
“Move it or lose it”: on stagnation and (im)mobility

Craig Monk’s column in the latest University Affairs really struck a chord with me. Energized by the presence of a new colleague, he reflects on the challenge of “elud[ing] stagnation” in academic work. Hiring often happens in cycles, and right now at many places (Dalhousie included — or at least in my faculty at Dalhousie) [...]

Incalculably Diffusive? The Impact of the Humanities

March 8, 2013
Incalculably Diffusive? The Impact of the Humanities

From the Novel Readings archives, a response to early reports on the UK’s “Research Excellence Framework.” Collini’s critique (and this post) came out in November 2009 (sadly his piece now appears to be behind a paywall). UK academics can no doubt update us on how far his concerns have proven justified. At the TLS, Stefan Collini [...]

This Week in My Classes: Feminism and Fatality

March 5, 2013
This Week in My Classes: Feminism and Fatality

This week in my section of Intro to Literature we’re starting a unit organized around women writers and feminism. We’re starting this week with some poetry — Adrienne Rich’s “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” and “Diving Into the Wreck,” Margaret Atwood’s “You fit into me,” Marge Piercy’s “The Secretary Chant,” and Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy.” Next we’re working [...]

“Middlemarch in Six!” Nick Hornby’s The Polysyllabic Spree

March 4, 2013
“Middlemarch in Six!” Nick Hornby’s The Polysyllabic Spree

This is the first in what I plan as a regular series of re-posts from my archives. It seems appropriate to lead off with a review that was not only one of my earliest posts (it first went up on the blog in January 2007) but one that lays out some of my reasons for [...]

“Buried Treasure”: Disrupting the Archives

March 3, 2013
“Buried Treasure”: Disrupting the Archives

In the article by Robert Cottrell of The Browser that I linked to in my earlier post on blogging and intellectual curiosity, there’s a section on the way “we overvalue new writing, almost absurdly so, and we undervalue older writing.” His comments about this really resonated with me. I’m sure I’m not the only blogger [...]

Her Hands Full of Sugar-Plums

March 1, 2013
Her Hands Full of Sugar-Plums

George Eliot’s Middlemarch is beloved for its wit and wisdom. But behind its many beauties lurks a disquieting possibility: that misery is the price we must pay for morality.

Intellectual Curiosity: True Confessions Edition

February 27, 2013
Intellectual Curiosity: True Confessions Edition

Even as I wrote my previous post about how disengagement from online discussions strikes me as evidence of a lack of intellectual curiosity, I was nervously aware that in my own ways I too am disengaged and incurious. For example, I almost never attend my department’s weekly colloquium. I used to go faithfully every Friday. My [...]

Blogging and Intellectual Curiosity

February 22, 2013
Blogging and Intellectual Curiosity

Inger Mewburn, a.k.a. the Thesis Whisperer, has an interesting post up at PhD2Published about academics and social media in which she asks a question that I have often wondered about too: While I can understand not writing a blog (sort of) I really can’t understand people who don’t read blogs, take part in Twitter or [...]

Blogging and Intellectual Curiosity

February 22, 2013
Blogging and Intellectual Curiosity

Inger Mewburn, a.k.a. the Thesis Whisperer, has an interesting post up at PhD2Published about academics and social media in which she asks a question that I have often wondered about too: While I can understand not writing a blog (sort of) I really can’t understand people who don’t read blogs, take part in Twitter or [...]

Blogging and Intellectual Curiosity

February 22, 2013
Blogging and Intellectual Curiosity

Inger Mewburn, a.k.a. the Thesis Whisperer, has an interesting post up at PhD2Published about academics and social media in which she asks a question that I have often wondered about too: While I can understand not writing a blog (sort of) I really can’t understand people who don’t read blogs, take part in Twitter or [...]

Blogging and Intellectual Curiosity

February 22, 2013
Blogging and Intellectual Curiosity

Inger Mewburn, a.k.a. the Thesis Whisperer, has an interesting post up at PhD2Published about academics and social media in which she asks a question that I have often wondered about too: While I can understand not writing a blog (sort of) I really can’t understand people who don’t read blogs, take part in Twitter or [...]

Is Cormac McCarthy a Terrible Writer?

February 15, 2013
Is Cormac McCarthy a Terrible Writer?

For the record, I don’t think so. In fact, I think he’s brilliant. Mind you, so far I’ve read only The Road. Still, though I had my doubts when I began it for the first time, by the time I finished it I was under the spell of its strange, difficult, deeply poetic language. I’ve been reading [...]

“Who shall tell what may be the effect of writing?”: On Audiences and Serendipity

February 14, 2013
“Who shall tell what may be the effect of writing?”: On Audiences and Serendipity

Who shall tell what may be the effect of writing? (Middlemarch, Ch. XLI) One of the things I always emphasize to my students is the importance of considering your audience when you are writing. Knowing your intended audience settles a lot of questions about tone as well as style and content: formal or informal, colloquial [...]

This Week In My Classes: Cranford and The Road

February 11, 2013
This Week In My Classes: Cranford and The Road

The honeymoon is over. At the beginning of every term things putter along easily enough while I wonder why I felt so stressed out at the end of the previous term … and then marking starts to come in, and the new assignment sequences dreamed up over the break loom on the horizon and require [...]

Richard III Redux

February 5, 2013
Richard III Redux

Anybody who has known me for more than, oh, twenty minutes has probably learned about my long-time fascination with Richard III. I wrote all about it for Open Letters last year. Little did I know that if I’d only held back my piece for a few months, I could have ridden the wave of Richard III-mania stimulated [...]

This Week In My Classes: Information and Education

February 3, 2013
This Week In My Classes: Information and Education

We’re starting new books in both of my classes this week (well, weather permitting, we are, anyway!): The Road in Introduction to Literature and Cranford in 19th-Century Fiction. What makes this a particularly exciting but also daunting prospect for me is that they aren’t just the next books on our syllabus but they are also [...]

Queen of the Gypsies

February 1, 2013
10

Spoiler alert! It’s a familiar warning — but isn’t it also a silly one? There’s so much more to novels than their plots. And yet what if we’re better readers for not knowing? Consider The Mill on the Floss, for example.

Georgette Heyer, The Grand Sophy

January 30, 2013
Georgette Heyer, The Grand Sophy

I’ve tried Heyer before but without great success: I found Sylvester stilted and predictable when I read it a year or so ago, and more recently I finished The Convenient Marriage and though its madcap escapades amused me for a while, by the end the fun had gone out of it for me. Undaunted, I moved on [...]

This Week in My Classes: Focus on Writing

January 27, 2013
This Week in My Classes: Focus on Writing

I don’t seem to be posting my teaching updates with the regularity I used to: “this week” too often means “last week” or “these days.” I was wondering why I put off posting, and I think it’s because after doing this series for so long, I worry about repeating myself if I simply report on [...]

Hjalmar Soderberg, Doctor Glas

January 22, 2013
Hjalmar Soderberg, Doctor Glas

The obvious comparison for Doctor Glas is probably Crime and Punishment, but as I haven’t read that (I know, I know) I was reminded of Poe’s tales of horror, specifically “The Tell-Tale Heart,” which is also a tale told by a murderer, full of logic and hatred and signifying … well, actually, that’s where the resemblances end, as [...]

Rebus is Back: Ian Rankin, Standing in Another Man’s Grave

January 19, 2013
Rebus is Back: Ian Rankin, Standing in Another Man’s Grave

Yes, Rebus is back, and it’s good to see him again, the sodden old crank. The Malcolm Fox novels have been fine, but I don’t find Fox as interesting a character as Rebus–though that could be because I’ve known Rebus for so long. Also, I had hoped that Rankin would take up Siobhan Clarke as [...]

This Week In My Classes: The Value of F2F

January 15, 2013
This Week In My Classes: The Value of F2F

Last week I cancelled two regular class meetings for my Introduction to Literature Class and instead set up individual conferences, 15 minutes per students. (If you want to do the math, of the 26 registered students 24 ended up meeting with me, so that was six actual contact hours in place of two, and since it [...]

Magical Thinking: Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

January 12, 2013
Magical Thinking: Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Breakfast at Tiffany’ s is the January read for my Halifax book group: we’re meeting next Saturday at Pipa to talk it over and celebrate the new year. I more or less enjoyed reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s: more because the prose is so elegant, less because I found Holly Golightly tedious. She seems to me one of [...]

From the Archives: The Last Time I Taught Bleak House…

January 10, 2013
From the Archives: The Last Time I Taught Bleak House…

For some reason this phrase has been running through my head to the tune of “The Last Time I Saw Paris.” I don’t know why I would be feeling nostalgic about teaching Bleak House, though it was rather a while ago–it was Fall 2008, to be precise. Because we’ve started work on it in my 19th-century [...]

Next Week in My Classes: Winter 2013 Term Begins!

January 6, 2013
Next Week in My Classes: Winter 2013 Term Begins!

The past week has been all about getting organized: packing and cleaning up from Christmas, sorting the kids out to get back to school, and sorting myself out to be ready for the start of winter term classes tomorrow. I wasn’t starting from scratch, happily, but I made some adjustments to my plans for my Introduction [...]

Novel Readings 2012

December 31, 2012
Novel Readings 2012

2012 seems to have been a particularly rich and rewarding reading year – also, a particularly maddening and occasionally stultifying one. I suppose what I’m saying is that it was a reading year like any other one! As always, some books stand out, though sometimes as much for the challenge and gratification I found in [...]

“And such is the meaning of all existence!” Levin and Anna Karenina

December 30, 2012
“And such is the meaning of all existence!” Levin and Anna Karenina

If Anna represents the futility of material striving–of seeking lasting happiness through pursuing her own immediate needs–perhaps Levin represents spiritual striving. At any rate, that’s the best I’ve come up with so far as I ponder the relationship between the two major plots of Anna Karenina. In Levin’s epiphanic musings towards the end of the [...]

“I want to love and to live”: More Anna Karenina

December 29, 2012
“I want to love and to live”: More Anna Karenina

I finished Anna Karenina yesterday–or, I should say, I finished Anna Karenina for the first time: it’s so large and complicated, and also so alien, so unfamiliar, to me that I hardly feel I’ve really read it yet. It was an odd, engrossing, and somewhat frustrating experience working my way through it. Despite its sprawl [...]

2012: My Year in Writing

December 24, 2012
2012: My Year in Writing

I began my annual look back at 2012 with my small contribution to the Open Letters year-end feature. I’ll follow up soon with my regular survey of highs and lows from my reading and blogging year. But this year I thought I’d also take a moment to review the writing I’ve done this year for venues besides Novel [...]

This Week In My Classes: Wrapping Up

December 21, 2012
This Week In My Classes: Wrapping Up

The last ten days or so have been all about evaluating the final assignments for my two fall-term classes, Mystery and Detective Fiction and The Somerville Novelists. The students in my Intro to Literature class wrote a last essay for the term too, but that came in earlier and so I was able to turn [...]

Holiday Concerts

December 16, 2012
Holiday Concerts

Every year we attend at least one school holiday concert, events which are as much a part of our family traditions at this time of year as seasonal music, books, and presents. School concerts are not my favorite special events. I find noisy, chaotic environments very stressful, I find it frustrating to have performances disrupted [...]

More Anna Karenina: What About Love?

December 9, 2012
More Anna Karenina: What About Love?

Well, that was abrupt. Here I thought that this novel told a great love story, and instead we seem to have stumbled into a love affair with no good reason. Not that Anna and Vronsky don’t have their reasons, but we hardly know what they are or why we should care when all of a sudden [...]

Getting Started with Anna Karenina

December 6, 2012
Getting Started with Anna Karenina

When I posted about Madame Bovary a few months ago, I remarked on the oddity of reading a very famous book for the first time–it is, I said, “intensely familiar and yet strange at the same time. . . it is no longer an idea of something but the thing itself.” My posts on Madame Bovary show [...]

This Week In My Classes: Finishing Touches

December 3, 2012
This Week In My Classes: Finishing Touches

Today was the last day for my fall term classes, which means the last meeting altogether for two of them. One of them, Introduction to Literature, continues in January, when I will also be adding another round of The 19th-Century Novel from Dickens to Hardy–a very different round, just by the way, from the last [...]

The Stage Swarmed with Maggies: Helen Edmundson’s The Mill on the Floss

November 28, 2012
The Stage Swarmed with Maggies: Helen Edmundson’s The Mill on the Floss

Last night I attended the Dalhousie Theatre production of The Mill on the Floss that I mentioned here: I was invited to give a short talk to the “Patrons” on opening night. As I explained to the attendees, I wasn’t there as an expert on Helen Edmundson’s adaptation, though I had read through most of it in [...]

Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

November 25, 2012
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

I am nearly as reluctant to write about Wide Sargasso Sea as I was to read it — and, yes, until last week, I had never read it, which in some circles (like, for instance, the circle of 99% of my professional colleagues) would surely have made me a winner at “Humiliation.” I knew about it, [...]

This Week In My Classes: Where Did It Go?

November 23, 2012
This Week In My Classes: Where Did It Go?

It really does not feel as if it has been a whole week since my student’s thesis defense — where does the time go? This sense that the days are racing past is probably a function of how busy this time of term is: it’s one thing after another after another, and it will stay [...]

Catching Up

November 17, 2012
Catching Up

When I said I was posting my review of Crewe Train a bit early because I had another big deadline coming up, in a way I misspoke. It wasn’t exactly my own deadline, although I was involved in it: a Ph.D. student I have been supervising defended her thesis on Friday, so my part of the [...]

“Why did not anything do?” Rose Macaulay, Crewe Train

November 11, 2012
“Why did not anything do?” Rose Macaulay, Crewe Train

Crewe Train is the first novel by Rose Macaulay I’ve read. I can’t decide if it makes me want to read another! It was easy to read: the prose is brisk, the tone is lightly satirical, the characters and incidents are quirky but mostly engaging. It has something of the flat quality I’ve noticed in [...]

This Week In My Classes: So Much To Do! Also, a New OLM!

November 5, 2012
This Week In My Classes: So Much To Do! Also, a New OLM!

It’s the time of term when I really just have to focus on doing one thing at a time: if I contemplate the big picture, it’s overwhelming. The truth is, everything does not in fact need to get done in a hurry or come due at once, but the constant appearance of more items on [...]

Margaret Kennedy, The Outlaws on Parnassus

November 1, 2012
Margaret Kennedy, The Outlaws on Parnassus

Preparing for reading The Constant Nymph in my Somerville Novelists seminar, I was intrigued to learn that in her Times obituary Margaret Kennedy was accorded little significance as a novelist while her book on the novel, The Outlaws on Parnassus, was considered her greatest literary contribution. I promptly ordered it from interlibrary loan, and it arrived just in [...]

Performance Anxiety

November 1, 2012
Performance Anxiety

What does it mean to say “only the music matters?” In her bleakly intelligent new novel, Lynne Sharon Schwartz challenges us to consider what we really value in music and how our own demand for superhuman perfection strips it of its soul.

‘The Secret Fortresses of Her Mind’: Winifred Holtby, The Land of Green Ginger

October 30, 2012
‘The Secret Fortresses of Her Mind’: Winifred Holtby, The Land of Green Ginger

Once again, I’ve finished a book from my Somerville cluster feeling, paradoxically, both engaged and adrift: it’s as if these novels have their own idiolect, their own set of terms and meanings and tropes that are related to the ones I know from my other reading, or from the general ideas I’ve picked up from [...]

This Week In My Classes: More Margaret Kennedy

October 29, 2012
This Week In My Classes: More Margaret Kennedy

We had another session on The Constant Nymph today, and I think it’s safe to say we are getting more comfortable with it–which is not to say we have worked out our interpretations of it, but that we have a sharpening sense of what is interesting about it, of what critical conversation to have about it. [...]

This Week In My Classes: Meetings, Deadlines, Poems, Mysteries, and Nymphs

October 27, 2012
This Week In My Classes: Meetings, Deadlines, Poems, Mysteries, and Nymphs

This past week was very busy, which is why I didn’t manage to post this during the week. For one thing, one of the committees that I’m on had to do a series of consultations, which involves both the actual meeting times and a fair amount of correspondence and negotiation getting things set up. Another committee [...]

South Riding: They like it! They really, really like it!

October 21, 2012
South Riding: They like it! They really, really like it!

I’ve just finished rereading South Riding, ready for our final discussion of the novel in the Somerville seminar tomorrow. I was caught up in it both intellectually and emotionally, more than I was when I first read it last spring. Rereading made the subtleties of the novel’s construction more apparent: the sophisticated way Holtby weaves together [...]

This Week In My Classes: Love Poems and Social Novels

October 15, 2012
This Week In My Classes: Love Poems and Social Novels

In English 1000, we’ve started our first poetry unit. We’ll be doing more poetry after Christmas, organized into what I hope will be provocative thematic clusters, but for now we’re just working through the basics of reading and analyzing poetry — meter and scansion, figurative language, poetic forms and modes. We haven’t really talked much [...]

This Week in My Classes: Am I Making Excuses for Gaudy Night?

October 11, 2012
This Week in My  Classes: Am I Making Excuses for Gaudy Night?

I’ve confessed here before that I can have trouble staying “objective and professorial” during discussions of Gaudy Night because I love the novel so much.  I have loved it pretty much since the first time I read it, which is a long time ago: my personal copy is from a 1978 edition, and though I can’t see any [...]

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

October 8, 2012
Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

It’s Canadian Thanksgiving today. We cooked and ate our traditional dinner yesterday, which means today we can relax, catch up on some work, and enjoy leftovers for dinner. Despite a threatening forecast, it’s a bright sunny day so far; yesterday was gorgeous too. The foliage isn’t as bright as it sometimes is at this time [...]

A Year in the Life of a New Romance Reader

October 6, 2012
A Year in the Life of a New Romance Reader

While I was sick last weekend I downloaded a few light reads from the library to help cheer me up and pass the time. All of them were romance novels — which (as I emerged from my Neo-Citran haze) struck me as noteworthy and led me to the realization that it has been about a [...]

This Week and Last Week … But (I hope) Not Next Week!

October 2, 2012
This Week and Last Week … But (I hope) Not Next Week!

It has been quiet over here, I know. That’s a symptom, as usual, of things not being quiet elsewhere and so my not having enough time and energy to spare for blogging. For the past couple of weeks it seems we haven’t had two straight days in which at least one member of my family hasn’t [...]

Elizabeth Speller, The Return of Captain John Emmett

September 27, 2012
Elizabeth Speller, The Return of Captain John Emmett

I picked The Return of Captain John Emmett for my ‘light reading’ over the last couple of weeks because it seemed such a perfect fit: here I am reading and teaching both literature of the First World War and mystery fiction, and it’s a mystery set just after–and preoccupied with events during–WWI. In retrospect, maybe that [...]

Blogging is Detrimental to Literature? Make Him Stop Saying That!

September 25, 2012
Blogging is Detrimental to Literature? Make Him Stop Saying That!

Just when you thought maybe, just maybe, the worst was over when it came to casually dismissive generalizations about blogging–you know, of the kind that used to get us all riled up way back in 2008, and that still irked us in 2010–we get this, from the editor of the TLS: The rise of blogging [...]

This Week In My Classes: Good, Better, Best!

September 20, 2012
This Week In My Classes: Good, Better, Best!

We’ve almost settled into a routine in my three classes, I think. The one I feel least certain about is my section of Intro. I think we’re doing OK, but I wonder if I made things a bit too intense at the very start of term as I focused on establishing expectations and framing our [...]

Book Review: The Life of George Eliot

September 20, 2012
henrybio

A careful and discerning new biography tackles that most daunting of all great Victorian novelists, George Eliot – with largely praiseworthy results.

Macaroni and Cheese

June 1, 2012
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“You come as opportunely as cheese on macaroni” is a terrible line, a symptom of all the reasons George Eliot’s Romola is a failure. But is failure really such a bad thing? Maybe a novelist’s reach should exceed her grasp.

From the Archives: Second Glance: The Radicalism of Felix Holt

June 1, 2012
Eliot

Felix Holt, the Radical may be one of George Eliot’s least-read novels, but its questions about a democracy that puts power in the hands of “ignorant numbers” still have both moral and political resonance.

All the World to Nothing

May 1, 2012
9

The real mystery of Richard III is not the fate of his nephews, the Princes in the Tower, but why we never tire of telling and re-telling his story. What do we really see when we stare at his enigmatic portrait?

Abandonment, Richness, Surprise

March 1, 2012
VWoolf

Impressionistic, idiosyncratic, unsubstantiated: Virginia Woolf’s literary essays challenge us to rethink, not just our experience of reading, but our expectations of criticism itself.

The Quiet One

January 1, 2012
branwellbronteportrait

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.

Desultory Vivacity

November 1, 2011
middlemarch

Does marriage mean much anymore? Does the novel? Jeffrey Eugenides sets out to reinvent the classic literary story—but can he combine the style and the substance of the greats he hopes to update to our times?

Memo to a Colleague

May 1, 2011
marjoriegarber

Is Marjorie Garber’s defense of literary studies balm to the beleaguered English professor’s soul? Not yet, anyway.

A Novelist in Tahrir Square

April 1, 2011
SiestaFrederickLewis

It’s fitting that Ahdaf Soueif is narrating this exciting new chapter in Egypt’s history: for decades she has offered her readers richer, more complicated stories of the Middle East than the commonplace ones of submission and extremism.

A Woman of High Courage

February 1, 2011
IndemnityOnly

For nearly three decades, Sara Paretsky has used the familiar form of the private eye novel to turn a critical eye on contemporary America. Rohan Maitzen reviews the latest in her V.I. Warshawski series.

George Eliot for Dummies

November 1, 2010
2

Free thinker, strong-minded woman, scholar, lover, novelist: George Eliot lived a courageous life that should be known and celebrated. But does Brenda Maddox’s new biography do it justice?

Against the Wind

October 1, 2010
gwtw

It’s one of the iconic bestsellers of the 20th century, an epic of love and war — but how well does “Gone With The Wind” hold up, as a book? A personal journey through a problematic classic.

The Morality of Vanity Fair: It’s All About You

July 1, 2010
67.1

Thackeray’s seminal big baggy monster of a novel is a satiric romp across all levels of English society – and every bit as enjoyable now as it was when it was the talk of London in 1847

The Idea of Her

June 1, 2010
rainingmen

Her stature has only grown over time, dominating bookstores, television, movie theaters, and now the Internet. She’s Jane Austen, the world’s least likely pop star.

Second Glance: Reading Anthony Trollope

October 1, 2009
anthony-trollope

He wrote over 40 novels, many of which are classics, and that sheer quantity can be daunting. Rohan Maitzen tells us how best to approach the literary dynamo that was Anthony Trollope.