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Tag: reading

My 20 Books of Summer

I am once again joining Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, which she hosts at her blog. I’ve sworn off most reading challenges, but this one is a fun way to mark summer reading. There’s no pressure and you can choose whatever you want. Since I read 6-7 books a month anyway, it’s not about the volume for me so much as thinking about what to read in the stretch of the year where I know I have more time for all kinds of fiction.

The Man Booker longlist will come out in late July and that will create a bit of a crunch because I plan to read as much of it as I can, but I’m going to list 20 books anyway and see how far I get.

Translated Fiction

  • In the Night of Time by Antonio Muñoz Molina: Yes, I’ve been reading this for ages. This is the summer, I swear it.
  • Compass by Mathias Énard: Énard’s most highly acclaimed novel and the one which most thoroughly engages with his interest in Orientalism.
  • Fox by Dubravka Ugrešić: This was on a bunch of awards lists and comes highly recommended.
  • Celestial Beauties by Jokha Alharthi: This just won the Man Booker International Prize. I bought it when it was longlisted but haven’t read it yet.
  • Valley of the Fallen by Carlos Rojas: A 1970s novel about Spain during Goya’s and Franco’s times. Recently translated by Edith Grossman and well reviewed but has not been talked about much.
  • Not to Read by Alejandro Zambra: A book of essays about reading, authors, and literature by the always-worthwhile Chilean writer.
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Weeknote 8

We’re settling in for the summer, which should mean that except for a trip in June, blog postings should be more or less normal. Which is good, because I’m finding these Weeknote posts both enjoyable to write and useful.

Work

The semester is officially over, which means I’m only working with graduate students (those are a 12-month responsibility) and doing the off-semester admin that never goes away.

Not much this week, since the first half of the week involved the road trip to get here. But I spent half a day doing necessary administrative work and another few hours unpacking and setting up my home study space. Now I have no excuses, which is good because it’s time to get to work.

Reading/Watching/Listening

I read Spring, the most recent installment in Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet. I didn’t find it as enjoyable or satisfying as the previous two, but I’m still not sure I’m being entirely fair to it. My review is in the previous post and Janine’s questions expand on some of the review points in helpful ways.

I also spent a few hours trying to read one of the new It Books in the rom com subgenre, Red, White, and Royal Blue. I tried it because a friend and I were having a long discussion while she was reading it and it was easier to just read parts of it myself. I abandoned it after 4 chapters or so because it was just so dire. It has loads of 5-star reviews at Goodreads, which reinforces my belief that people read books for a wide variety of reasons. I can only conclude that the readers who love this one are reading into the book a great deal that is not there and ignoring what is actually on the page. The characterizations are inconsistent and insubstantial, the setting bears no resemblance to anything in the supposedly real world in which it’s set (it’s an alternate timeline but not an alternate universe setting), and it is clearly supposed to be snarky and witty but for me it failed on almost every attempt. Some of the other negative reviews have described it as Tumblr-type fanfiction, which seems about right to me. The author has written an RPF fanfic of actors in The Social Network and after reading a bit of that story, I can see definite similarities in the approach and writing style.

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Weeknote 7

I’m so late this week! Blame it on more cross-country driving. We had beautiful weather and we had the chance to visit relatives and catch up, but I’m glad we’re done and settled.

Even though this week is more than half over, for consistency’s sake I’m writing this weeknote about last week.

Work

More meetings. Most went well. More tasks assigned to me, some of which are fine and some of which I wish I didn’t have to do. But what else is new! If I manage my time well I can take care of the administrative and teaching stuff without sacrificing research and writing time. I could write lots more on the work front, but I’d rather talk about other things!

Reading/Watching

I finished North and South. I really enjoyed it and I’m glad I finally read it. There were passages that felt as if they fit the world we live in today, especially those which talked about Milton’s workers and how they were constantly busy and had almost no time to stop and think about their lives. I found the way Gaskell brought John and Margaret together to be quite interesting. Margaret slowly lost everyone around her that she most cared about, which pushed her toward John. She also had a chance to visit her home in the South and she discovered that it had changed and so had she. And John suffers setbacks which bring him closer to Margaret. By the end they both knew they were meant for each other and that each was right for the other person. It was an interesting way to bring about the happy ending. A bit contrived, obviously, but effective.

My library holds are coming in with a vengeance. I’d suspended a bunch because I knew I wouldn’t have time, and I cancelled some as well, but apparently I have a hold problem. 😉 One long-awaited hold was welcome, though: Ali Smith’s third installment in her Seasonal Quartet, Spring. I’ve read about a quarter of it so far. It’s very good in places and I like the characters she introduces first, but it hasn’t grabbed me the way Autumn did. It might be that I’m not giving it enough attention. I’ll finish it this week and report back.

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Weeknote 6

The flu is dragging on but I’m definitely improving.

Work

No writing this past week because (a) it was a short week in the office and (b) I was swamped with admin and teaching stuff. My sabbatical is basically over, whether it is supposed to be or not.

I had hours and hours of meetings with students and colleagues once I got back. The student meetings were enjoyable, the colleague ones a mix of enjoyable and difficult-work-related. More of the latter to come this week. Isn’t it always the way? But they’re necessary.

It’s interesting to write up these weeknotes and realize how much time I spend in appointments and meetings. I think I block that information from my memory, even though most of it is written down in my calendar. But the impromptu ones aren’t, and they are more frequent than I realize.

Reading/Watching

I continued reading North and South, which I’m about 3/4 of the way through at this point. I’m enjoying it a lot. I’m still not crazy about the dialect but I know it’s accurate (Gaskell’s husband wrote about Yorkshire dialect, I read somewhere), and it reminds me of Heyer. I also started and then set aside a Man Booker International shortlist book that I’d picked up last year: Annie Ernaux’s autofiction-memoir The Years. It is highly rated by the various MBI readers on GR and whose blogs I follow, but I found it a slog. The tone is unvarying (I’ve read the first 50 pages) and Ernaux charts her life through private and public events. I don’t mind when I don’t recognize the cultural references, but every single paragraph is related in the same pitch and style, and I just couldn’t keep going. I might dip into it again, but not now.

I also read a library book that was close to expiring: Laila Lalami’s The Other Americans. I’d been looking forward to it because it is a book set in the Mojave Desert area of California featuring stories about immigrants and other residents in a small town. I wrote a brief review at GR. It was mostly successful on its own terms, and at times I really enjoyed it, but I wasn’t crazy about the style, and the characters, especially the supporting ones, tended to show up when needed and then disappear. The main characters were engaging, but I’m starting to wonder if I’m just not part of the audience for contemporary books about educated, cosmopolitan people in their 20s and early 30s. Their lives are so different from what I and my similarly educated and placed cohort experienced, and I find myself impatient. Not so much in a #getoffmylawn way, but more in the sense that yes, things are bad for you, but not orders or magnitude worse than for a lot of people then or now. I think that’s why I’m enjoying the historical and 19thC fiction I’m reading. These days I prefer socially engaged fiction that isn’t mostly inward-looking.

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ReaderWriterLinks

Courtesy of the Chronicle, here’s a depressing story about the decline in reading (both the act of reading and reading comprehension):

The scores of fourth- and eighth-graders on reading tests have climbed steadily since the 1990s, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But those of 12th-graders have fallen. Just 37 percent of high-school seniors graduate with “proficiency” in reading, meaning they can read a text for both its literal and its inferential meanings.

The problem seems to extend to life after college. In 1992 and 2003, the National Center for Education Statistics studied American adults’ prose, document, and quantitative literacy (respectively, the ability to do things like read news articles, to read maps and food labels, and to balance a checkbook). The results, experts said, were “appalling.” College graduates’ math skills, statistically, hadn’t budged. But their prose and document literacy had declined. While those with bachelor’s and graduate degrees maintained the highest levels of literacy overall, those groups also experienced the steepest declines. Just 31 percent of college graduates were considered proficient readers in 2003, by that test’s definition, down from 40 percent in 1992. (International studies show similar trends. More data allowing comparison of adult literacy over time is expected this year.)

I teach a writing-intensive course for upper-level undergraduates every year, and I force them to write short response papers on the readings (you can’t write about a subject if you don’t understand what you’ve read on it). I teach at a highly selective institution, my students work very hard, they are able to devote most of their time to their studies, and yet they mostly don’t complete the assigned reading unless they are penalized for not doing so. It’s frustrating but it’s something we need to confront. Reading is just not that popular an activity anymore, even among the most highly educated. And even prestigious, selective colleges emphasize social and other non-academic aspects of student life as much as they do in-class learning, so there are more officially certified, built-in distractions that we didn’t have when we were in school. I don’t want to make college only about class experiences, but if people who clearly do enjoy learning aren’t treating scholarly and leisure book and article reading as integral to their daily lives, how can we expect it of everyone else?


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