Recent Reading: Micro Edition

The pile of books I’ve read but not written about is growing. I guess it’s a good sign that, however busy I am, I’m still getting some things read that aren’t strictly for work. But right now it feels like, between teaching and administrative responsibilities (which are heating up, inevitably, as the term moves along) , writing a book review, doing the usual round of editing for Open Letters, and resisting the temptation to get drawn into long debates with commenters on my Gone with the Wind essay (it turns out the down side to getting attention is getting negative attention!), I won’t do any long book posts for a while. But I had an idea: if Bookphilia can do 10 word reviews, surely, so can I–or as close to 10 as is reasonable to expect from a Victorianist!

Anita Brookner, A Start in Life. So depressing it made me want to draw the curtains, turn out the lights, and drink. Or go to Paris–which would probably cheer me up.

Leila Aboulela, The Translator. In the end, it didn’t seem a lot more to me than a love story, and not a very believable one at that. Evocative prose, though.

Robert B. Parker, Pale Kings and Princes. Spenser, Hawk, and lots of Susan–all’s well with the world, or at least it is when this invincible team is done its work.

Elif Batuman, The Possessed. This one I’d quite like to write about at more length. Maybe on the weekend. I had no such adventures as a graduate student, that’s for sure! She went to Uzbekistan, I went to, um, Buffalo. I’ve been out of graduate school longer than she has, also, and I’m still not able to find my experiences there funny. I consider myself still in recovery! If I ever write the story of those days, there’s a ‘townie’ bar that will represent a sanctuary from a world in which I had to keep my head up while someone told me (in front of others) that I was “intellectually calcified,” and another told me (in writing) that because I wanted to argue about concepts of literary merit (I was for them), I needed to prove I wasn’t D’nesh D’Souza. Did I mention I’m still in recovery?

If you’re looking for more substantial blog posts, I recommend Adam Roberts’s review of Room at Punkadiddle (and also see this helpful roundup at The Second Pass). Stefanie at So Many Books makes Rosy Thornton’s The Tapestry of Love sound very appealing (I recently read and enjoyed Hearts and Minds), and Craig Monk weighs in on Freedom at The Classroom Conservative. Stevereads turns to Rosemary Sutcliff, then has a bad day with comics, and at LikeFire Daniel Nocivelli writes about what sounds like a wonderful story in the New Yorker: “a magnificent look, through the eyes of a book, at the many and varied transformations occurring across a half-century of one woman’s life, from her junior year abroad to her deathbed.” Enjoy! And more substance from me soon.

6 thoughts on “Recent Reading: Micro Edition

  1. Amateur Reader October 19, 2010 / 5:40 pm

    No one’s graduate school experiences were that funny. Batuman is a good comic writer, that’s all. Meaning, 1. she has a good eye and ear, and 2. she made a lot of it up.

  2. Colleen October 19, 2010 / 5:56 pm

    Love the Brookner tiny-review, Rohan. 🙂

    My grad school experiences weren’t funny either, except for one, and I may be the only person who thinks it’s funny. Dark humour, of course: The night before writing our specialist comprehensive exams, a friend and I sat in a bar studying. She drank whiskey and I drank Pepto Bismal straight out of the bottle. If I were writing a memoir about it, I’m sure I’d make stuff up – we know too well what elements are required to make a good story better, after all. In this case, I’d begin by having the waitress ask me to leave for bringing in outside beverages, and then mixing me a pepto/absinthe shooter (after I explained my plight) which would be called either “The Pink Elephant” or “Terry Eagleton.”

  3. John Williams October 19, 2010 / 11:48 pm

    Thanks for the link to Adam Roberts’ review on Twitter, Rohan. I have to say, though, I’m not convinced that Wood was very far off in comparing Room’s story to those real-life incidents. And the more I read about the novel, the more wary I become. I’ll eagerly await your report (at least 10 words, please) if you end up tackling it!

    Your graduate days sound harrowing, but I, for one, would love to read more about “the story of those days.”

  4. Rohan Maitzen October 20, 2010 / 9:58 am

    OK, Room goes on my TBR list, and I promise a full report…eventually. Next term I’m on sabbatical, so I’ll be reading and writing like mad, I hope. And who knows: perhaps some of the writing will be harrowing stories of graduate school. Not that it was all bad, of course. All of my immediate supervisors were excellent! Intimidating, but excellent.

    Colleen, if you “made up” that story, I’d believe it. It’s the sort of thing that should be true, even if it isn’t.

  5. JoVE October 20, 2010 / 10:54 am

    I see a future in Twitter book reviews 🙂

    And I am very sad that so many people’s grad school stories are harrowing. I believe that they are but I wonder why we have a system that treats this as normal.

    (I did grad school in UK, where there are no comps and it takes max 4 years. Didn’t find it harrowing at all.)

    Someone really needs to make that “Terry Eagleton” drink 🙂

  6. Craig Monk October 21, 2010 / 12:25 am

    I read Batuman, too. I enjoyed it, but I think that I expected it to be more amusing: a detached and droll look at the enterprise that might interest a wider readership in her subject of study. It certainly wasn’t that. I didn’t run out and buy any of the works she referenced.

    I started as a term for two years and only then got on the tenure track, that after a humiliating period of piecemeal work. Compared with that time, graduate school was wonderful. I know that people have experienced much worse in looking for an academic job, but, had I known what I would face, I would have stayed in England a little longer — and I still have great affection for my time spent there.

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