This Week In My Classes: Here We Go Again, Again

januaryIt starts to feel as if I have written a lot of these ‘start of the term’ posts: I’ve used up every variation I can think of for titles! It’s in the nature of academic work to be cyclical, though, and on the bright side, this term I am doing one all-new course, so at least you can look forward to some novelty in my teaching posts!

This Week In My Classes‘ was one of the first regular series I started up on Novel Readings. The very first was ‘Books About Books‘ – and there aren’t really any others, except, sort of, my book club updates. Otherwise, as I’ve observed before, for better or for worse I pretty much just write about whatever I’m reading, or whatever else is on my mind about either literary or academic / professional topics. It’s interesting (to me at least) that reading and teaching so quickly took on equal importance here: that’s actually what I was thinking about as I contemplated this post, more than any specifics about this week’s class meetings (though I’ll say a bit about those in a bit). I didn’t know anything about blogging when I began doing it, so I didn’t know there was such a thing as “academic blogging” or “book blogging” — or “mommy blogging” or anything else. As a result, I really didn’t have a plan, except to post some updates about reading I could share with friends and family when they asked what I’d been reading lately and if I had any recommendations. (I’ve written at some length about the transformation in my reading, writing, and scholarly life that ensued: if you’re reading this post, you probably don’t need to hear any more about it anyway! I’ll probably make a few remarks around my anniversary, though.)

cassatI’ve sometimes wondered if I should have had a plan, or developed one, in order to give Novel Readings a more definite identity. In the decade since I launched this blog, I’ve seen quite a lot of articles or posts giving advice on blogging, and the key to success is apparently having a mission, or filling a specific niche — along with posting on a regular (and frequent) schedule, and keeping your posts under 1000 words. (Hey, I’m 0 for 3!) I do think the hybrid identity of Novel Readings — which is not really, or at least not just, a book blog, and not really, or not altogether, an academic blog — has probably limited its appeal, because for some bookish people there’s no doubt too much academic stuff here, while for some academics, there’s too much book talk (or, too much book talk that’s not sufficiently academic).

But because I didn’t have a plan, or a purpose, Novel Readings evolved based only on what I wanted to write about. That I still want to write it is, for me, the surest sign that on my terms, it has been successful. I think this is true of all of the bloggers I follow, in fact: we blog because we like the activity itself (including both the writing and the community and conversations we’ve found through the comments). After my very first year of blogging about my teaching, I wrote about how valuable I’d found the experience. If I didn’t like doing it, I could have just stopped: my blog, my terms! And that could still happen — but it hasn’t yet.

bleakhouseoupSo: what’s up for this winter term? Something old and something new. I’m doing another iteration of 19th-Century British Fiction (Dickens to Hardy), beginning, this week, with Bleak House, which I haven’t taught (or read) since 2013. I was so sad to read Hilary Mantel identifying Dickens as the most overrated author: “The sentimentality, the self-indulgence, the vast oozing self-satisfaction, the playing to the gallery.” Them’s fightin’ words, even from a writer I admire as much as Mantel. I’ve never written anything more formal than a blog post about Dickens: 2017 might be the year that changes.

My other course this term (and how lucky I feel, to have just two!) is my new intro class, Pulp Fiction. So far we’ve just been warming up, but next week we start our unit on Westerns, which means I have been busy putting my miscellaneous notes in order for an introductory lecture, after which we read some short stories and then launch into Valdez is Coming. I just read through the first batch of reading journals (about Lawrence Block’s twisty little crime story “How Would You Like It?”) and it looks like a good group.

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8 Responses to This Week In My Classes: Here We Go Again, Again

  1. David says:

    I hope you do write at length about Bleak House!

    I’m curious: how much time do you give your students to read Bleak House? It’s a book that takes commitment.

    • Rohan Maitzen says:

      It does, doesn’t it? We read the first 6 chapters for Wednesday of this week and we will wrap up our class discussions on January 27 — so, about 3.5 weeks, which seems pretty reasonable. I always assign specific chunks for each class, so we don’t get overwhelmed. It’s not hard to keep up with 75-100 pages at a time (though it’s hard to catch up if you fall behind).

      • David says:

        Three and a half weeks seems like a pretty good clip. I remember that in graduate school we were given two weeks to read Ulysses, which was nuts. Bleak House requires sustained concentration, and it’s a challenge to keep the myriad of threads in mind, but it’s not so complex that 75-100 pages at a time seems unreasonable.

        • Rohan says:

          Sorry: I meant 2.5 weeks, didn’t I. Still, longer than usual. Most novels get around 5 class hours and Bleak House gets 8.

  2. Laura says:

    I would enjoy a post or two on Dickens. I confess that my impressions of Dickens are in line with Hilary Mantel’s though I’ve never read a single book (and I was an English major!), so I would welcome your perspective. Besides, I can never decide which book to try first, and googling that question leads to complete disagreement. Any recommendations for those of us trying Dickens for the first time without a the inspiring guidance of an insightful prof?
    By the way, even if you didn’t have a plan starting out, I really enjoy reading your blog. I like the mix of posts on your personal reading and your academic/professional life and activities. Your blog has inspired me to read Middlemarch (a project for this year), too. I wish I could take your class and read along with Bleak House!

    • Rohan Maitzen says:

      I can certainly promise a post or two! And maybe even an essay, later in the spring. Maybe I’ll focus specifically on Mantel’s complaints in coming up with what to write about, starting with self-indulgence…

      I appreciate your generous comments about my blog. I am very excited that I have inspired you to read Middlemarch! I hope you know about this site I put together:
      https://middlemarchforbookclubs.wordpress.com/

  3. Theresa says:

    Surprising to see the Mantel comment about Dickens…I came across this interesting article about Dickens and Gaskell… news to me about their rocky relationship since I was under the impression Gaskell promotes Dickens’ works in her “Cranford” novel (Capt. Brown: ‘and in the evening… Dickens is my friend’ and his enjoyment of the Pickwick Papers) http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-manchester-29442552

    You may already have read about this but thought I’d pass it on… regards, Theresa

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