Novel Readings–Not So Much!

I was thinking today that for a blog called ‘Novel Readings’ this one hasn’t shown many signs of novel reading lately (not counting, of course, the ones I’ve been teaching). Appearances are somewhat misleading. I’m in the grading zone right now: papers and exams! This means not much time (or mental strength) for other things. But I am reading, and hope to write soon about, Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy and its follow-up, the Levant Trilogy. And I have an enticing stack of books to read in the summer months, when required reading no longer takes up most of my evenings and weekends (or lunch hours, or time spent in waiting rooms–this is the price I pay for being a Victorianist). A Suitable Boy, for example, top on my Christmas wish list and still waiting for me, along with Affinity and Austerlitz (speaking of which, didn’t someone at The Valve propose a Sebald book event? I expect I’m going to need a little support with this one–again, something to do with my being a Victorianist) and Bel Canto and The Grave-Digger’s Daughter and … Plus I have finally joined the Trollope discussion group, and though I think it’s too late for me to get in on the ongoing exchanges about Orley Farm, I’m game for whatever’s on their summer schedule too.

But the other thing I’ve been thinking is that a lot of what I’ve been doing here continues to be metacriticism, and I’m not altogether pleased about that. I was drafting a longer post, for instance, on criticism in/and the public sphere, putting together some pieces from various things I’ve been reading on- and off-line as well as some of my work on the Broadview anthology of 19thC criticism I have been working on–sort of a make-up exam for a CFP I didn’t manage to submit a proposal for. But today I found have lost interest in it. I started blogging precisely in order to free myself to write about fiction straight up, as it were. Only that’s hard to do when you’re trained to frame every reading you do with an elaborate critical apparatus. It’s also just plain hard to do, or at least to do well. Where do you even begin, after all? And why, if you aren’t writing about the latest thing (that is, if you aren’t offering up a review)? In some ways, it is easier to do “the other thing,” if only because often there’s an argument ongoing just waiting for you to put in your two cents’ worth. I’ve been puttering away at ideas for a grant proposal for some kind of project on the purposes of and audiences for criticism…but really, that’s not what I was hoping would come out of this experiment. Anyway, I’m not swearing to give up writing about criticism altogether. I’m just resolving to do more literary posting, if only to see what purpose I discover for my efforts. Also, tonight while pacing in the strange state of mental suspension that is exam invigilation, I thought I had an idea about how to conceptualize a different kind of project…but maybe it was just lack of oxygen, so no more about that now.

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