It always takes a couple of weeks for a term to rev up and really get going: we have to get through a certain amount of reading, for example, before much writing can be done and thus for much marking to be needed. We are passing that point now, though, and this week I have already returned some paper proposals, there’s a batch of tests waiting for my red pen, the pace of submissions has picked up on reading journals, and that won’t be the end of it — not just this week but really for the whole term, since I have built in so many ‘small’ assignments (as part of my attempt to emphasize the process over the product) that from now on there will almost always be something coming in and something going back.
That’s OK, though, because that also means we’re past the start-of-term annoyances (more or less) — things like having to constantly update the class list as students add and drop classes (for two whole weeks! I’m sure I’ve mentioned that this drawn-out period of indecision is one of my pet peeves. I have tried but so far failed to convince administrators that while it may be a convenience for ‘customers,’ it is a pedagogical nightmare for both students and teachers.). And it also means we are getting used to each other so class discussion keeps getting better, and that we all more or less know what’s going on in terms of course requirements and policies and all the rest of the logistical stuff.
I should say that I think our final sessions on Pride & Prejudice went well in the 19th-Century Fiction class last week: whatever my misgivings about the novel’s intransigent popularity, that does mean a generally positive attitude in the classroom and a high percentage of people who are well (really well) caught up on the readings. We’ll see how their spirits hold up as we move into Vanity Fair, which we start on Friday. I am pretty excited about that, actually: I haven’t assigned Vanity Fair since 2010, so it will feel relatively fresh to me, and a quick poll showed that it’s completely new to all of the students. The actual OUP volume looks so vast and dour that I think they can’t help but be pleasantly surprised when they start reading. But before we get there I’m taking one class to do a workshop on how to write a good essay for the course — this has become a regular feature of my upper-level classes and reflects my ongoing efforts to make my expectations as clear and transparent as possible and to demystify, as far as possible, the concept of a “good essay.”
In Mystery & Detective Fiction, we are finishing up The Moonstone. I enjoy it so much that I’m almost sorry I’m taking a break from this class next year. It occurs to me that I could assign it in the 19th-Century Fiction class next year instead, since I’m doing the Dickens-to-Hardy version — but that’s my best chance to do The Woman in White, so I probably won’t.
As that comment shows, one of the things I’m busy with, if so far still haphazardly, is planning next year’s classes. We’ve got our course assignments and it won’t be long before we need to turn in preliminary course descriptions and reading lists, as registration begins in March and the whole course selection apparatus needs to be ready. The one I’m thinking about the most is Pulp Fiction, which I’ll be teaching for the first time next winter. I’ll save my many but currently quite inchoate ideas about that class for another post! But I will say that it’s a good example of why it’s hard to draw firm lines between work and not-work for people in my profession, or at least for me: many things I’ve read “for fun” in the past are now possible candidates for its reading list, and many things I’ll read in the next few months in case they’re perfect for it won’t be strictly work-related at first, and maybe never will be!
I’ve also got a guest lecture on Ian McEwan’s Saturday coming up for a colleague’s class that seemed remote when I agreed to it but is now (eek) just over two weeks away. Wouldn’t you know it: I have a whole folder of materials on Saturday from when I taught it myself in 2006, but somehow I have no lecture notes specifically on the significance of “Dover Beach” in the novel, which is what I proposed talking to her class about (what with my being a Victorianist and all). Since I haven’t actually read Saturday since 2006, I should probably add rereading it to my to-do list…
Also looming uncomfortably close on the horizon is the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900, which I am attending (weather permitting!) as a participant on a panel about criticism in the internet age, along with Dan Green and David Winters. I have an abstract of my paper and a mess of notes: now it’s time to get serious about shaping something presentable out of them! Aside from the work that will require and the stress of having travel plans for mid-February, I’m looking forward to the conference: the program is full of interesting things, and it will be great to meet Dan and David in person. I’ve known Dan virtually since I started blogging in 2007! (Maybe one day I’ll also meet the elusive Amateur Reader face to face. I would promise never to reveal his super-top-secret-real-life-identity!)
I’ve been busy with some writing, also, and with the usual editorial things for Open Letters Monthly. And as if all this isn’t enough, it’s also winter and we have had three storms in the past week, which means we’ve also been busy shoveling. So far it has not been that bad — the roads and sidewalks are getting decently cleared in pretty good time — but I was recently reminded that at this time last winter, Halifax hadn’t turned into Hoth yet either, and we’ve got nearly three months to go before we’re really out of danger.
I am managing a bit of non-required reading in the interstices of my days. I finished Vivian Gornick’s The Odd Woman and the City but haven’t decided whether or how to blog about it. Now I’m about half way through my reread of Emma and it’s not going very well. I will persist, however — and then choose something a little less stuffy with a little more action in it. True Grit, maybe, which is on my list of Pulp Fiction possibilities and which by all appearances is pretty much the anti-Emma.
And that brings us pretty much up to date! I look forward to doing some more bookish blogging soon.