This Week In My Classes: Catching Up

When it’s quiet over here at Novel Readings, that’s generally a sign that I’m busy elsewhere, and that is more or less what’s been up this week. After I got back from Louisville, I had some catching up to do, especially with midterms that needed to get graded so we could all move on to the next thing. Don’t you find, too, that a break in routine throws you off when you get back? I felt really off my teaching game last week, though I hope it didn’t show too badly in the classroom. There are non-teaching things that have also been taking my attention away from teaching more than is usual during the term: our workload is usually described as 40% teaching, 40% research, and 20% administration, but for me the distribution during a teaching term tends to be closer to 60-20-20, with the summer months bringing things back into alignment. For various reasons the balance has been different for me this year — not, perhaps, officially, but at least in where my attention is. So I don’t think I’ve been at my best in class.

Still, we are moving along. In Mystery & Detective Fiction we’ve wrapped up our discussions of The Big Sleep, and in 19th-Century Fiction today was our last day on Jane Eyre. Next week we start Mary Barton, and I’m looking forward to it partly because it’s not a novel that’s well known, in itself or through adaptations. I mentioned before the challenge of teaching a book as beloved as Pride and PrejudiceJane Eyre isn’t quite as much of a general favorite, but it definitely still a personal favorite for many students — which, again, is great in some ways but occasionally challenging. I don’t think anyone has any preconceptions or cherished readings of Mary Barton (well, except me, and that kind of goes with the territory!). I began my own rereading of it while the students were writing their Jane Eyre “mini-midterm” today, and I felt a momentary pang that I’d chosen it over North and South (my usual Gaskell), but then I started to get drawn into both its personal stories and its class politics. It isn’t as neat and artful as North and South, but that very untidiness can be something of an advantage for discussion.

I’ve been doing some reading outside of school, but the two books I’ve finished are both ones I’m reviewing elsewhere, so I didn’t want to blog about them. (In case you’re interested, they are Dan Vyleta’s Smoke and Dinitia Smith’s The Honeymoon; details about the reviews will be forthcoming if all goes well.) I guess if you want some nice fresh book writing you’ll have to go to Open Letters instead, where the March issue — our 9th anniversary issue — is full of good things, from Sam’s review of A. O. Scott’s Better Living Through Criticism to Steve’s happy appreciation of a gorgeous new book on frogs. But come back soon! Because I’ve got Valdez is Coming to read this weekend, and I promise to post about it.

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