“Something will break the blogjam!” said an encouraging friend on Twitter when I remarked on how long it has been since I wrote anything here. The problem is, that “something” has to be me actually writing something here, and it turns out that doesn’t just happen by itself! So I figure I have to just write something here, and maybe that will help me get back in the habit. Because for all the talk these days about blogging being over, it remains, for me, the best form the internet has come up with for the kinds of things that I value about the internet. I love Twitter but its conversations (while, at their best, informed, convivial, and supportive) are dispersed and fleeting. I’m not a fan of newsletters: as far as I can tell, they are just emailed blogs, which means if you want discussion to flow from them you have to go on Twitter (see previous comment!) or click over to the newsletter’s site … which is a blog, right? But because most people are getting the material delivered to them privately, there’s much less chance of conversation breaking out over there. I’m for blogs! Which means I’d better get back to writing my own and do my small part to keep them going. (I am so grateful to the book bloggers I follow who have been steadfastly keeping up regular posts lately: reading them is always a tonic, a reminder of the community and meaning created by books and the people who care about them.)
The thing is, I haven’t actually finished many books lately: that’s one reason I haven’t felt as if I had anything to post about. I don’t blame the books. They were just the wrong ones for me right now. (These include Kate Atkinson’s Big Sky, Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights, Simone St. James’s The Sun Down Motel, and Elif Shafak’s 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World.) I may well return to a couple of them at another time, as I picked them up in the first place because they looked worth reading! I did finish a couple of others that I felt too inert to write up in detail: Becky Cooper’s We Keep the Dead Close (that’s a wrap on my experiment with “true crime”) and Mary Lawson’s Road Ends (I liked it! I have nothing else to say about it.) The one book I’ve read through recently with anything like eagerness is Miriam Toews’s Fight Night, and I’m going to be reviewing it so I can’t write it up here!
As I struggled through this slump, I picked up and put back a number of books from the array of unread ones I have on my shelves. I have much fewer of these than a lot of you do, I know from your Twitter posts and pictures! At times like these I wish I did have stacks and stacks of them, to increase the odds of finding something that looked really tempting. It turns out you don’t have to have thousands of them, though: you just have to have the right one, and happily I think maybe I do. Some months ago (maybe longer, who can keep track of time anymore) I bought Lonesome Dove, thinking it would be a perfect book for long lazy afternoons on the deck. This summer has been so humid and/or so rainy that sadly there haven’t been very many of those, and it’s just such a big book that I kept putting it aside. A couple of days ago, though, determined to throw myself into reading at least something, I picked it up and just started reading; I’m nearly 200 pages in now and I am loving it. Hooray for old-fashioned storytelling!
Other than that, my main preoccupation for the next little while is going to be gearing up for the fall term. I was always going to be offering my big first-year class online again, and after waiting as long as I could stand it for more information about Dal’s “return to campus” plans, I took my Faculty up on their promise that we could switch any other courses from in-person to online and decided to do the 19th-century novel class online too. I have many regrets about this, but they are mostly about being sad that we aren’t more clearly out of the pandemic yet, so that returning to the classroom would not be a simple or self-evidently safe experience. It’s not so much that I anticipated being anxious for my own health (though as we know, risks remain for the fully vaccinated) but that there just seem to be too many disruptive scenarios well within the range of probability, and I am much happier being able to plan out an online term than having to cope with a lot of complications and accommodations on the fly, or (heaven help us) another ‘pivot’ to online if things go south.
So I’ll be here working away at Owen’s old desk for another term, spending hours every day on Brightspace instead of on campus. This means I can re-use some of the materials that took so much work to prepare from scratch last year, which frankly was a significant incentive for keeping the intro class online again! I have been doing a lot of revision and reorganizing for that class (including of my specifications grading system) to iron out wrinkles, and I am also applying what I learned last year to the 19th-century fiction class (Austen to Dickens), which is a new prep: I’ve simplifed the logistics compared to last year’s version (which was the Dickens to Hardy class). If things are going well on campus, perhaps some in-person office hours will be possible eventually, but for now at least I know what I’m dealing with and I can put my effort into doing as good a job as I know how. I’ve actually been having some fun working up slides on Persuasion for the Austen to Dickens class. It’s not the same as going back and forth in the room, but I do what I can to convey the same sense of energy.
OK, that’s a start. I don’t know if ideas and posts will start flowing freely again, but at least I won’t feel quite so fretful about neglecting Novel Readings.