Thursday, 20 September 2012

Book mining

Hi everybody. Radio silence again today - so much to do, so little time.

I met half of my first-year personal tutees today - 6 of the 13 new ones turned up which for us is quite good. We don't actually tutor them, and they can be assigned from any degree course in the school, so I wonder whether they don't really see the point of another contact when they have seminar leaders, module leaders, academic counsellors, course leaders and the like. Still, a few turned up and they seemed rather lovely. What the absentees are like is another question: usually the ones you can't track down are the ones who need the help. The eternal conundrum.

Shortly I'm off to an English department meeting, then an actual academic one: choosing which sonnets we want to inflict on the Renaissance students. I'm all for the rebel sonnets, but I guess we'll have to include some of the 'standard' ones that gentlemen learned to write as part of their courtly training.

I've mostly been too tired and busy for reading (let alone work) this week, which is very dispiriting, but I thought I'd mention the books which have detained me. Most interesting so far have been Claudia Johnson's slim and fascinating Jane Austen's Cults and Cultures (Chicago 2011). It's not really about Austen herself, though there's a lot of fascinating material about her: instead it's about the Austens created by fans, critics and other obsessives. One of the interesting points she makes is that the absence of Jane's body - there are no proven pictures of her, and only a few potential candidates - clears the field for fantasies of all sorts. Some of her family suppressed her sharper letters and created a saintly, soppy aunt (very imaginative, given the pungency of some of her comments) while others retained a more complex view. Later readers often saw her as some sort of shrinking violet or recluse, a bore or a miniaturist. All authors are creations of their critics and readers, but Austen and Shakespeare are particularly vulnerable because we have no diaries, few letters, no chat-show appearances, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds or autobiographies.

I'm also reading a collection of articles on 18th and 19th century travel writing edited by my colleague Ben. I say reading, but actually I'm shamelessly plundering it for an article of my own comparing George Borrow's Wild Wales with O M Edwards's Cartrefi Cymru. So far I've learned a lot about the transition between antiquarian and associative writing, and that I really have some nerve trying to share intellectual space with these people.

I've finally caught up with the enormous pile of London Review of Books back issues over the summer - enjoyable reading but also slightly guilt-making too, having let them pile up. I'm about to trawl through three books I've read before: Alan Plater's Beiderbecke trilogy, Jackie Kay's Trumpet and Jim Crace's All That Follows for a paper I'm going to write with a colleague (again, shame will keep me at it) and loads of new books for fun have turned up: Moomins the comic strip book 7, Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me about American historiography, Sword's Stylish Academic Writing (maybe I should start with that one), Ann Pancake's Appalachian novel Strange As This Weather Has Been, Terry Pratchett's new Victorian novel for kids Dodger, Lyndall Gordon's biography of Emily Dickinson Lives Like Loaded Guns, a collection of Italo Calvino stories, Claire Kilroy's Dublin recession satire The Devil I Know, Borges' collection Labyrinths, A S Byatt's Ragnarok, and Martin Green's interwar social history Children of the Sun (how I missed it first time round I have no idea).

Oh dear. I did so well over the summer, reading more books than I bought. And now I'm surrounded by a new wall of them… and so much work to do.

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