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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

In Case I Get Lost...

This is the reason why I might not be posting for a while.... hope you all understand. There's a larger meaning to all of this but I will explain later.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I did very well reading over the weekend primarily because I stopped everything and read all day Saturday. Now, of course, I am paying for it. It is not only painful to be so few pages from ending "A Plea for Eros," but also to be so close to finishing and so over-loaded with work as a result of my little "Saturday of joy." Siri Hustvedt really does have an excellent mind; she is bright and knowledgeable and really doesn't have to strain to come across pleasant. The problem--as I pointed out earlier--is that she is fixated on the "I" too much. The personal essay is an art form, and to master it one has to really not so much master the art of writing personally, but mostly to detach ourselves from the "I" and treat the subject. I am personally terrible at doing so, and as a result my personal essays sound over-stuffed and conceited. I do have to say that Hustvedt's treatment of "The Great Gatsby" is one of the most enlightened essays on the topic I have read. I teach Gatsby almost every year in a Survey of the American novel, and I have read a great deal of literary analysis on it. Hustvedt's analysis of the word "vitality" and Fitzgerald's use to describe Myrtle Wilson is outstanding. I have no idea how many times I have read the novel and didn't really notice the use of the word.
Two days away from starting NaNoWriMo and even through I have a little bit of an idea as to where I am going, I am afraid it will fry itself out of steam once I start. They say that the first few days are the most difficult--we'll see how it goes. And again, I have tons of work to get to from school. Let us pray!

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Friday, October 26, 2007

"A Plea for Eros" by Siri Hustvedt

Well, I finished with Maureen Corrigan's book the other day and jumped right into "A Plea for Eros" by Siri Hustvedt. She is married to Paul Auster, which happens to be my favorite contemporary writer. I also read "What I Loved" earlier this year and it was a book I enjoyed. I got "A Plea for Eros" based on a very bad review she got on The New York Times. I found the review fascinated me and made me look out for the book even more. So, I got it and put it in my reading list for the year, and let me just say that the review was right about how centered this book is. While this is a book of essays, and Ms. Hustvedt is an amazing writer, it seems that she forgot the cardinal rule of essay writing (even the personal essay), and that is treat the subject/topic, not how you see the subject/topic. To be sure, there are times when the personal pronoun can't be avoided altogether, but in her case it is just a matter of having overdone it. Again, I enjoy her writing tremendously--"What I Loved" is a magnificent book, but the NYT reviewer (who wrote about Ms. Hustvedt's exaggerated sense of self-worth) was right on target with his critical missiles. I've only read through "Yonder" -- the first of the essays -- and can't wait to see what awaits... what new insight into Ms. Hustvedt's take on just about everything.

Things have not been very good at school. Work just keep getting more and more complicated and I am at a loss on how to make time for other things. I am reading very late at night or very early in the morning. Running I usually do right after work, and then from there a sweaty me starts grading until about 5:30 or 6 PM. I go home then and call my mother on the way home. It has become a habit of sorts, and she really does look forward to it. We talk about the weather (it's the only thing in her life that suffers any kind of change). I tell her about my day, my students, my inability to cope with life. She always says she is praying for me. If she only knew I'd lost my faith. This happened over a long period of time, and while I am not saying I have completely and utterly lost my faith, I can see a long path but no end in sight. I have some ambitions, but can't seem to draw the energy it requires. Who knows where I will draw the time to write 50,000 words in November.... it's late now, and I am very tired.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sticking to What I Said...

I am sticking to what I said about Maureen Corrigan's "Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading." The book is a tour de force on reading and enjoying the reading habit. The only minuscule fault I've found on the book is that it politicizes some things that are better off as simply literature. She seems to take the previously enjoyable "female extreme adventure" a bit too far. Half way through Chapter 3, we are still talking about it. I don't have a problem with it so much as I am making the statement that this part of the book might be a bit over-done. I do have some problems with passages like this one:
"Feminist detective-fiction heroines take a lickin', but they always come back tickin', ultimately (if only temporary) clearing their patch of the evil infestation of the patriarchy."

Also, "[these heroines] dodge bullets and disarm thugs to aim their own suggestively phallic pistols at male-dominated institution like the Catholic Church and the banking and insurance industries that have given women grief for so long."

I know for a fact that Ms. Corrigan is a feminist because she states it clearly enough in the text. I also understand that as a college professor (and one at a very liberal and elite institution such as Georgetown) she "reads" at times like--how else shall we put it--a college professor. Having spent four years of my life in graduate school, and being part of academia I recognize that these interpretations are valid. I just didn't expect to find them in a book that seems pitched to a general/lay person audience. Having said that, there are very interesting moments in the second half of the book. Her inclusion of Mark Edmundson is excellent; he is "the" last word on "reading." I have great faith in all that Maureen Corrigan states about the future of reading. We shall all wait and see.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Teaching and Time to Write

Maureen Corrigan writes beautifully about her appreciation of literature. Books like these make one wonder why on earth is someone else writing what we ourselves could have written years ago. She explain the excitement she feels while reading the extreme-adventure stories, especially when it is a woman protagonist of the same. She defines the extreme-adventure books as "Into Thin Air," and "The Perfect Storm." I can see both of those stories populated by eager heroines, ready to embrace whatever the world throws at them. I am wanting to read more and hopefully this weekend I will make time to do so.
This weekend the students began reading "Maggie: A Girl of the Streets" by Stephen Crane. I have taught this novella before; it is an extraordinary story to introduce students not only to the Naturalist/Realism movement, but also to help them interpret the story from a nihilist/existentialist perspective. I've had little problems with the novella in the past, so this next week might prove for one with little or no inconvenience.
I signed up for the National Novel Writing Month (November) program. The goal is to write a 50,000 words or 175 page novel in 30 days. The good thing about it is that you only have to keep the story moving; editing is done after the first draft is completed. Then you can take the rest of the year fixing it up. We have to agree that the most challenging part of writing is getting that first draft out. What is difficult is to keep going; being a perfectionist, I know this will be very hard. I have plots swimming in my head since I left Washington DC, and I know with a much better discipline I would have finished at least one of them in the past. No crying over spilled milk, though, and I am taking this project seriously. I feel so much better when I fancy myself a writer! :-)

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

How "Vineland" Came to an End...

... and what a melancholic mood I managed myself to get into because of my recent reading pace! It literally took me nearly a month to finish the book. Just like Nabokov's "Glory" before it, Pynchon's "Vineland" was a never-ending series of false starts. I don't blame the book. "Vineland" is quintessentially Pynchon at his best: surreal to extremes, leading into the dark side with a smile on his face, etc. That's his natural way of weaving a story. There are, I suspect, some influences from "Magic Realism" here and on his other works. It is difficult to pin-point, but the last part of the book reveals characters named in that Pynchonesque absurd way that makes us stop for just a fraction of a second and try to see the symbolism behind the name. Again, that is what he is good at--perfectly good at--and after reading "The Crying of Lot 49" and "Slow Learner," I realize I had no one else to blame but myself for any short comings on the reading.
So, I have decided to cheat the system the last couple of days in order to catch up with my reading. I have proctored no exams this past week, even though there's a pile a mile high on my desk, and I have done the bare minimum of preparation (most was done over the summer anyways). The thing I did, have done and will continue to do is read, strongly into the weekend. Presently, I am reading from my reading list for 2007, trying until the very last day to complete it. I still have some volumes but now that I am over the hump with "Vineland" I think I can complete it. I am reading Maureen Corrigan's "Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading!" You might recognize the name because she is the book reviewer for "Fresh Air" on National Public Radio. I recognize the name because she is an English professor at my alma mater, and even though I never took a class with her she was always pleasant to me. Her door leading into the main hall of the English Department was always lined with books sent by publishers, most of which were not going to be read and she would place them there for students to have them. I have still several of those books in my collection. She is a lovely reader. The books is a magnificent piece of evidence that those of us who (as she says, "rather spend time with a book than with a loved one) read voraciously lead a life of intense pleasure and quizzical madness. I am actually taking notes from her book to add to my reading list for next year: "The Classics of the Western Canon" reading list for 2008. She is knowledgeable not because she is a highly regarded critic, but rather because she is the epitome of what readers should be. I love the way she writes and the connections she makes. If you are like me (I tend to buy books about people who read a lot in order to justify my own "madness"), then you need to read this book as soon as possible. What a gem!

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Thomas Pynchon's "Vineland"

My lack of time accounts for not having written anything in the month of September. My courses are keeping me extremely busy, and leave me with little or no time to read. It took me nearly a month to finish Nabokov's "Glory," and I am worst off with Pynchon's "Vineland." The novel begins with Zoyd Wheeler, a drop out hippie, last generation of tuned out people living away from the Nixonian Regime. But like every Pynchon novel, "Vineland" turns surreal before you can say "recluse writer," and trying to keep up with the appeareance of ridiculously named characters is enough to keep one entertained and occupied. I mean to say that it is, in many ways, an interesting and well-written novel. I like it and I wish I could actually have more time to devote to it. Here's a passage I thought particularly well-written:

"At some point he must have gone drifting off to sleep, and she hadn't noticed. She watched over him, hers for a while, allowing presence, his beauty, the fear at the base of her spine, the prurient ache in her hands.... at last, so swept and helpless, she leaned in to whisper to him her heart's overflow, and saw in the half-light that what she'd thought were closed eyelids had been open all the time. He'd been watching her. She let out a short jolted scream. Brock started laughing."

Pynchon is a master of the surreal, of that which they call Magic-Realism in Latin American literature of the Boom. I recognize some of the major influences, incredibly so Faulkner is included here. The novel turns into a cloak-and-dagger thing of sorts with all kinds of agents and double-agents raiding and driving the plot of the novel in continuos changes of persona. It is hard to believe I have been struggling with this novel for so long and I still have over 100 pages to go. Again, it is sad I haven't posted much since school began.

I think my book list for the year has been shot. With only a few months to go I still have over ten books to read and at this pace I don't think I will be able to finish. That will be the first time I haven't been able to do so since 2005. Next year I am doing a full-year reading of Classics I have not yet read. There's a lot of Austen and Bronte I need to read, as well as more from antiquity and Dickens. Writing on the blog feels great again. I intend to make my rounds to my friends' blogs in the not so distant future.

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