Weekend Miscellany: Bests and Worsts and Turgenev and Middlemarch and More!

As usual, the bloggers I follow have been putting up all kinds of good posts recently. Here’s a sampling!

At stevereads, the annual Best and Worst of the year extravaganza is in full flood. Lists already offered including Best History, Best Romance, Best Biography, Best Collected Letters, Best Reprints, Best Debut Fiction … and there’s more, and more to come. The range is extraordinary, the judgments vigorously pronounced, and the curmudgeonly digressions about the state of the (book) world today just add to the fun. Nobody I know or have ever known reads more, or more passionately, than Steve.

At Wuthering Expectations, Tom is reading Turgenev:

Turgenev may not have known what to do with the hero of Fathers and Sons once he created him, fleshed him out, and showed him from all sides.  So he killed him off, by disease.  Discerning critics have found this end unsatisfying in that it is arbitrary, too easy.  In a sense, yes.  But the next to last chapter, Bazarov’s death is so good that I do not care.

Vladimir Nabokov, judging by his notes in Lectures of Russian Literature, apparently taught this chapter simply by reading large parts of it aloud to his class.

The funny thing is that there is hardly a sentence in it that I would pull out as particularly good.  The quality is a question of urgency, of small movement, of the right amount of attention given to a scene before a quick cut to the next.  And of course the stakes are high.

There’s always a slightly sideways quality to Tom’s readings, by which I don’t mean they aren’t illuminating or interesting but rather the opposite. He finds his own way into every book he reads. I have never read Fathers and Sons or indeed most of the non-British literature he reads, so whatever he says about these books is inevitably fresh to me, but I always especially like it when he takes on Victorian novels or novelists that I think I already know well and makes me look and think again about how they do what they do.

At Tales from the Reading Room, litlove has a much more positive reaction to The Signature of All Things than I did:

This was altogether a much more convincing and and enjoyable riposte to the 19th century novel than Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, and I think Elizabeth Gilbert has pulled off something quite special here.

I notice Gilbert’s novel made Steve’s 2013 ‘Honor Roll’ for fiction too. Geez, with friends like this … but in fact, this is all evidence that the real method of criticism is not finite declarations but coduction. In reading each other’s views, we test and reevaluate our own, and the goal cannot be some ultimate right reading, but only our most thoughtful, attentive, well-articulated ones.

At Shelf Love, Jenny has completed her posts on Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga. “Such enjoyable books,” she concludes; “If you’ve been considering these, do take them down from your shelf and join me in reading them!” I have indeed been considering them, and I have a handsome Oxford edition that I got for Christmas or perhaps a birthday not that long ago. They sound so good I did indeed take it off my shelf … but then I remembered that I’ve been vowing to finish Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, before the winter term begins if I possibly can, and I’m confident that I can’t do both. I think I will hold The Forsyte Saga in reserve for my February break!

At The Little Professor, Miriam writes on Charles Palliser’s Rustication. I’ve never read The Quincunx, but Danielle at A Work in Progress has just finished it and is ambivalent. I think Rustication might be more my style: Miriam describes it as in the tradition of the sensation novel. I stopped reading before she gave away the big plot twist, in case I do get around to it!

Ana at Things Mean A Lot has been doing year-end posts as well, and this one on Favourite Picture Books made me feel all happy and nostalgic. I really must get a copy of Frederick. One consequence of moving away from my family home is that my family doesn’t have any of our old children’s books!

Among many interesting recent posts at Thinking in Fragments, this one on Laura Wilson’s The Riot stands out because I too am always looking for good new crime writing. Alex writes so convincingly about it that I went immediately to see if I could get my hands on the first in the series … but no luck at the library or any of our local bookstores! I’ll have to order it in — or add it to my wish list.

At Read React Review, Jessica posted her thoughts about Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester, which was also one of the first of Heyer’s novels I read. I didn’t like it at all then, but I reread it after I’d learned to enjoy Heyer and liked it much better.

Finally, 2013 really does start to seem like the Year of Middlemarch. Of course the most spectacular event was the launch of Middlemarch for Book Clubs! OK, maybe not spectacular. But at least I did get it built, and some day they will come! (I’m still working on how to make that happen.) But at The Toast they are leadingMiddlemarch read-along in preparation for the launch of Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch in the new year. Too Fond is also doing a read-along. And at The Millions, Adelle Waldmann highlights Middlemarch for their Year in Reading feature. (Weirdly (for me), I did not teach Middlemarch in any course in 2013. This is shocking! I’ve been thinking of assigning it for the Dickens to Hardy course in Fall 2014 … but right now I’m feeling anxious about students’ ability to keep up with the amount of reading I typically assign, and I’d hate to be dragging them through it. I’ll be thinking about this as book orders come due after Christmas.)


6 thoughts on “Weekend Miscellany: Bests and Worsts and Turgenev and Middlemarch and More!

  1. litlove December 14, 2013 / 6:43 pm

    I am so going to listen to Middlemarch on audio book next year. I have it ready, just got to find the right moment and an appropriate bit of ceremony. I last read the book when I was very pregnant indeed with my son, so it has such lovely memories for me – personal as well as literary! As for Elizabeth Gilbert, you are by no means wrong – I thought your analysis was extremely accurate and insightful. It’s just those things bothered me less than they might have done, which means there’s no accounting for the reading experience! And I also hope to start Laura Wilson’s Stratton series, having heard such good things about it (lots from Alex!).


    • Alex December 15, 2013 / 12:28 pm

      Is that the Juliet Stevenson audio, Litlove? If so I shall be fascinated to hear what you think of it. I’ve got it on my wish list.


      • Rohan Maitzen December 15, 2013 / 2:11 pm

        Another link I should have included for the ‘year of Middlemarch‘ cluster is this essay from the LA Review of Books about listening to the Juliet Stevenson audio book – it was so convincing about the pleasures of the experience that I’ve put the audio book on my iTunes wishlist.


      • Peter Jobson December 16, 2013 / 1:36 am

        I could listen to Juliet Stevenson recite the London Telephone directory.


      • litlove December 27, 2013 / 5:23 pm

        Yes it is Juliet Stevenson. I recently heard her read Austen’s Emma and she did a fine job of it.


  2. Amateur Reader (Tom) December 17, 2013 / 11:34 am

    I greatly appreciated my inclusion in this company – thanks for the kind words.

    Turgenev would be my #1 Russian recommendation to an Eliot fan, actually. He is working on at least one similar problem – how to lead a purposeful life among people. I am distinguishing him from the more internal, spiritual concerns of some of Tolstoy’s and Dostoevsky’s characters. A number of Turgenev characters are looking for Dorothea Brooke’s final achievement.


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