The past two weeks have been crazy busy: I received and returned 65 midterms, 40 papers, and about 30 paper proposals–and, of course, I kept prepping for and going to class. It was such a blur I can’t even think of anything reflective to say about all that!
While all this was going on, we were working on the December issue of Open Letters Monthly, which went live on Thursday and not only looks great as usual but is (also as usual!) full of diverse and interesting content. I don’t have a full-sized piece in this month’s issue, but many of the editorial team pitched in on our Year in Reading feature, which includes John Cotter on Jonathan Swift (and others), Steve Donoghue on some outstanding reissues of classics including the annotated Persuasion, Sam Sacks on various collections of literary criticism and essays, and much more. Another highlight for me in this issue is Rosemary Mitchell’s essay on Hilda Prescott’s A Man on a Donkey, a book I have owned for many years but never read–clearly it’s time! And there’s a lovely piece on Horace’s Odes that brings home to me, as so many things have done this year, how woefully backward my education in the classics has been. Do go over and check these out, along with the rest of the issue, and if you enjoy it, help us spread the word.
While I was working on all these things, I was also supposed to be finishing Molly Gloss’s Wild Life for the Slaves of Golconda book club. Fail! I had time to do it–I know that, because I did read a bit of other ‘just for fun’ stuff. But I came to dread picking it up because I really wasn’t enjoying it. I don’t really see that as a good excuse: the point of being in a book club is to get out of your comfort zone sometimes, and besides, a commitment is a commitment! The comments from other readers in the group have been helpful in bringing out strengths and weaknesses of the novel as they experienced them, and I do plan to push on to the end this week. One thing about the novel that was working for me was its evocation of the “Pacific Northwest,” which of course is more or less the landscape of my youth–not just B.C., but we used to take camping trips into Washington State and Oregon as well. Reading Wild Life I recalled how much I used to love Daphne Marlatt’s Ana Historic, another historical (indeed, meta-historical) novel full of towering trees. Maybe my reward for finishing Wild Life can be a reread of Ana Historic.
And while all the rest of this was going on, I was also reading through the final draft of a Ph.D. thesis by a student I have been co-supervising in our Interdisciplinary Ph.D. program for seven years. It’s a study of four 19th-century women’s travel narratives, two by British women, two by German women, all (primarily) about Italy. It’s a perceptive, wide-ranging study of little-known material that is as interesting for what it says about travel writing as a form of self-discovery and identity formation (personal as well as national) as it says about Italy. I’ve learned a lot from being part of this project, and we worked hard to bring it to fruition. I am proud and happy to report that she defended her thesis successfully, and with authority and also considerable panache–congratulations!
So it has been quite a couple of weeks, and I can hardly express how relieved I feel to have made it through with only the one minor blip. If I had to fail at something, I guess in the circumstances I’m glad it was Wild Life. Next week will not be nearly as crazy, as I’ll have “just” the routine business of class prep, and that only up until Wednesday, which is our last day of the term. Then there’s a small lull until exams and papers pile up–I have to actually make up the exams, but that’s not the kind of thing that usually means working nights and weekends. I should be able to get in a little Christmas shopping, clean up and reorganize my offices (at work and at home), enjoy some guilt-free time with Testament of Experience, get The Paris Wife finished for my other book club, and turn my mind to next term’s classes….
Have you read Annie Dillard’s Pacific Northwest historical novel “The Living”? I read it years ago but remember liking it. And Dillard’s prose is always lovely (I love her memoir of childhood).
“But I came to dread picking it up because I really wasn’t enjoying it. I don’t really see that as a good excuse…” Personally, I can’t think of a *better* reason to stop reading a book; life is short, the reading list is almost infinite!
I used to force myself through books no matter how little I was enjoying them but in recent years I’ve become ruthlessly opposed to making myself do this. It is likely a failing on my part, but I really don’t get much of that process. That said, I don’t always give up on books if I’m not enjoying them; generally, if a book is unenjoyable but interesting I’ll persevere; but if I’m just bored, I quickly put self and book out of our respective miseries.
It was nice to have your comments on Wild Life, even if you didn’t finish it!