Weekend Miscellany

Weekends in our house are not really times for concentrated work or reading, between household chores, kid stuff, and the odd idea that even academics should be off-duty occasionally. On the other hand, it’s nice to have a little intellectual pay-off for puttering too. So in between activities and distractions, one thing I end up doing a fair amount of on the weekend is poking around in blogs and literary websites, just seeing what’s around that’s of interest to me or to friends or family (whose mailboxes I now regularly clutter up with links to things I think might be of interest to them too). Here are a couple of things I’ve been looking at this weekend, some of them ‘old’ in web years but newly come to my attention:

  1. Crooked Timber had a book event on Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, a copy of which I finally picked up for myself a little while ago. Not only is there a nice array of interesting contributions by ‘Crooked Timberites,’ but Clarke herself participated. I’ve bookmarked it for now, since I’d like to read the novel ‘fresh’ before reading so much about it, but just browsing through its contents has made me move the novel to the top of my ‘to read’ pile.
  2. A. S. Byatt has an interesting piece in the TLS about novels and neuroscience. Its conclusion: “We have had a lot of the body as desire, and listened to many professors of desire. There is something else – the human capacity to think, and to make feelings into thoughts. It is a way out of narcissism.”
  3. Conversational Reading had a Friday Column back in February on ‘Classical Music in Literature’; many of the books sound extremely interesting. I could add to the books named there also Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music, Angela Huth’s Easy Silences, and one of my long-time favourites, Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s Disturbances in the Field; none of these are as formally ingenious as some of CR’s examples sound, but all bring to life the demanding blend of intellectual and aesthetic response (and sheer physical and mental labour) that is classical music. Of the ones CR discusses, Europe Central sounds most compelling to me.
  4. And speaking of classical music, The Guardian has a couple of reviews of recent books about it, all of which sound tremendously interesting: Alfred Brendel’s Collected Essays, and Oliver Sacks’s Musicophilia and Daniel Levitin’s This is Your Brain on Music.
  5. ReadySteadyBook refers back to earlier posts condemning “Establishment Literary Fiction” (or “ELF,” cute) for ignoring the challenges of modernism: “ELF endlessly repeats the tropes and styles of the Victorian Novel, with its fingers in its ears, shouting its (sometimes very good) narrative, flaunting its (sometimes very finely drawn) characters, refusing to be interrogated and refusing to recognise its own structural ressentiment.” I think it’s not supposed to be the Victorian Novel that has its fingers in its ears, but even so, the set-up suggests a monolothic naive realism on the one side with self-conscious meta-fictional modernism on the other, in a way that is hardly fair or accurate. I haven’t followed back all the old links yet.

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