This Week In My Classes: Blizzards and Breaks

This week is Dalhousie’s Reading Week, so I’m enjoying a break from the routine of classes. Last week, though, was also sort of a break, or at least a broken up week, thanks to the massive blizzard that arrived late Sunday night and shut the city down almost completely until Wednesday. And then on Thursday another storm hit — meaning we had three full snow days last week on top of a partial closing the week before. That’s a lot of disruption in a hurry! It was also the first time I can remember Dalhousie announcing a closure the day before, instead of at 6 a.m. the day of (ah, the lovely treat of waking up early to find out if you need to wake up early).

I used to panic about snow days. Now I only panic if the snow isn’t quite bad enough to close things down outright but is still bad enough to trigger my significant anxiety about driving in it, or to make it really difficult for students to get safely to and from campus. A cancellation is at least logistically straightforward and it’s rare that the schedule in any of my classes can’t be tweaked a bit here and there to adjust: it’s not like we’re doing time-sensitive laboratory experiments, and there is no universally accepted “best practice” for exactly how many hours we should spend on Cranford. Having said that, it was particularly unfortunate that Cranford was our scheduled reading over those two weeks, as I had not planned very many hours on it to begin with, and so it actually was harder to re-organize than it would have been for Bleak House!

Anyway, one way and another we made our way through the week, and the snow, and now it’s Reading Week. Just because classes aren’t meeting doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do, including prepping and grading for them. After the break, we’re starting Adam Bede in 19th-Century Fiction. As this is the first time I’ve assigned it in an undergraduate class, I have no pre-existing materials to draw on, so working some up has been a priority this week. I do know the novel pretty well from having taught it several times in graduate seminars, but that’s a pretty different kind of preparation. (Adam Bede was also the focus of a read-along at The Valve I organized a few years ago that I still look back on as one of the best online experiences I’ve had.) I’ve drawn up Monday’s lecture and sketched out roughly the topics I want to cover in the five other hours we’ve got for it: I’m really looking forward to the discussions. Several students in the class have already studied either The Mill on the Floss or Middlemarch (or both!) with me this year, so that gives them a head start on some of the issues we’ll address; I think they’ll be interested in how different Adam Bede is — but also, of course, in the continuities. Those coming to George Eliot for the first time will, I hope, find Adam Bede an inviting introduction. Rereading the first installment this week I was especially in love with the wonderful descriptions of the rural setting, which have a marvelous luxury of detail and a particularly rich warmth of light and tone. It is something of a “slow burn,” though readers’ patience is richly rewarded.

In Pulp Fiction we start The Maltese Falcon when we get back: this is fairly familiar territory for me, as I’ve assigned it many times in Mystery & Detective Fiction. That doesn’t mean I’m not rereading it, though, or that the change in context doesn’t require a different approach. Still, it’s something of a relief after the novelty of our Westerns — and a bit of a breather before I have to ready materials for our section on romance novels, another new teaching area for me.

Also on my to-do list this week was finishing a review of Lesley Krueger’s Mad Richard for Canadian Notes & Queries, which looks like it will be ready to submit tomorrow, and finalizing my own and my contributors’ pieces for the March issue of Open Letters Monthly. This issue will mark OLM’s 10th anniversary! I didn’t join up as an editor until 2010; I was in time, then, to contribute to our 5th anniversary celebration, The Critical Issue — which I think probably still stands as our best individual issue ever, though we have certainly run outstanding pieces in every issue before and since. Though we aren’t doing a special topic for this 10th anniversary, it will definitely be another good one, so stay tuned!

These and other projects have kept me busy, but the nice thing about the break from classes is that I feel much freer to spend my evenings not working. Inspired by Hag-Seed, for instance, I am rewatching Slings & Arrows — and I think it’s time for another episode now.

 

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