It has been quiet at Novel Readings this week but that’s not because I haven’t been reading! It’s more that there hasn’t seemed to be much to say about the reading I’ve been doing. My recent novel reading has mostly been rereading: Rosy Thornton’s Hearts and Minds (nice, light, familiar, but also, as I remarked in that earlier post, a bit on the melancholy side for ‘comfort reading’); Lynn Sharon Schwartz’s Disturbances in the Field (an old favorite that, oddly, I have never written about at any greater length than this brief note at John Williams’ old site); and, following on the success of rereading Affinity, Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger (still a good read, still to me a bit dissatisfying with its irresolute ending – just how unreliable is Dr. Faraday? just how literally should we take his final revelation?).
Those are the novels I’ve reread for “fun” (though as I’ve said before, it is never 100% clear to me when or why my reading shades into “research”). I’ve also just finished rereading The Years, and I am a few chapters along in yet another time through South Riding, both of these with an eye to whatever it is that I’m one day going to write about them and the ideas and material I was deep into during my last sabbatical. I had some real momentum for this work going into Fall 2019 and in fact I sent off a proposal related to it early in 2020—but then came COVID and since then I haven’t returned to it in any systematic way. Last summer it was as much as I could do to finish a couple of smaller, more narrowly defined pieces of writing in between the work I was putting in on preparing for my first year of online teaching; while I was actually doing that teaching, I had energy to spare for only a couple of other similarly finite writing projects. (The main one, a feature on Olivia Manning’s The Balkan Trilogy, will be out soon in the TLS, I hope!) The work of the term is mostly wrapped up now, though, and even if Fall 2021 is partly (or even completely) online again, it won’t require nearly the same amount of effort to prepare for it, so I am determined to use this summer to reinvigorate this research and figure out what to do with it. This means not just rereading the relevant novels but also revisiting and adding to my folder of related scholarship.
The other reading I’ve been doing pretty steadily is also for research purposes, but with an eye to my teaching rather than my writing: I’m always gathering up references to new or (to me) unfamiliar scholarship in, around, and about “my” field, and at intervals I resolve to dig into it and see what else I could or should be talking about in the classroom, or just thinking about. Since the end of term I’ve been trying to go through 2-3 articles a day from that folder. This exercise tends to be equal parts exhilarating and exhausting: I enjoy feeling as if I’m learning new things or seeing familiar things from fresh angles, but I have long had a vexed relationship with academic criticism. About a decade ago I resolved to stop worrying so much about it and just get on with my own work; sometimes this reading (which I do consider one of my professional responsibilities) reminds me why I started looking around—and advocating for—other (complementary) possibilities.
I’m not sure what I’m going to read next “just” for myself. I bought Lonesome Dove as a summer treat, but I’m saving it for real summer weather: it looks perfect for reading on the deck. My book club’s next choice is Nancy Mitford’s The Blessing (we wanted something light for summer, and this was one of hers that none of us had already read)—but I don’t have it in hand yet. Of course, like everyone likely to read this post I have a number of unread books on my shelf (not as many as some of you have, though, I’m pretty sure!) but none of them look that tempting right now, which is probably why I haven’t read them already … Maybe I’ll reread something else I know I’ll like, if only to keep the temptation to order yet more new books at bay!