I'm going to start using this blog to do something I know I should have begun long before now: keeping a reading journal.
Somewhere once I came across a reproduction of a few pages of Adrian Martin's film diary for a year in the 1970s. It is obviously a useful thing to have, for future reference. I don't suppose 35 is too late to begin.
This week, then, I read the following:
Daisy Ashford, The Young Visiters Hadn't read it before, now I've read it twice and counting. For a few delirious hours there after reading #1 I considered designing a course around books written by children, just so I could FORCE other people to read this: one of the recurring temptations of teaching literature is the abuse of one's power, such as it is, to inflict one's less familiar enthusiasms & obsessions upon the unsuspecting. I bought an old copy secondhand more out of a sense of duty (having seen references to this book in studies of Victorian fiction) than in the expectation of being entertained. Oh how inappropriately low were my expectations. This wonderful, cruel story is by a nine-year-old girl. It deals with an elderly, 'not quite the thing' man of 42's quest to become more like a gentleman and to win the heart of the liberally rouged Ethel. Mr Salteena gets the Court position his heart years for but Bernard Clark, with his fine legs and costly apartments, gets the girl. Right up there with Diary of a Nobody.
Edith Nesbit, The Treasure Seekers Reread this on the rebound from the above. Not a committed reading; I opened it in the middle of the book (actually at the chapter about the Bastables' newspaper, something like this is mandatory in any late-Victorian book about a large family of children), read on to the end, then thought I might as well read the remaining four or five chapters at the start. This is one of the small handful of books that I valued very highly as a child, but since I've been grown it doesn't have that same perfection in my eyes. It's still fun but it now reads to me like it's making too many winks and nudges to the adult reader, something I really despise in kids' books and movies. The worst of these nudgey bits is a sustained passage of virulent and gratuitous anti-semitism. I have a lot of sympathy for Albert from next door, now, too.
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness Eight or ninth re-read of this difficult, exciting book. I went home this evening feeling dispirited after two unsatisfactory tutorials spent trying to discuss it with students who simply would not talk. I don't know what the problem is. I find it's best not to try to guess or to mindread in this situation. It could be any number of things. They might mostly not have read it (a few had); they might not be equipped to cope with or venture into Modernism; they might be teeming with ideas but finding it a bit overwhelming to process the thoughts into words; they might just be having a bit of mid-semester lacklustrousness. I will say, though, that the Mildura students I read it with this time last year did much, much better. They probably spent more time preparing.
Emma Tennant, Elinor & Marianne I'm considering embarking (gradually) on a research project around the recent explosion of semi-professional Austen fanfic - sequels, continuations, updatings and so forth. I intend to bring this recent development into my Austen course next semester and it seems logical to try to combine teaching-research with publishable writing. These sequels have always trickled into print but over the last couple of years there has been a real flood appear (and not all of them by vanity presses by any means) I have a small collection of older ones and am doing some exploratory reading before biting the bullet and ordering a shtload of recent examples from Amazon. (NB I shall probably buy the blue novels about Mr and Mrs Darcy's bedroom capers either way) Elinor & Marianne is by Emma Tennant, a notorious whipping girl for the Janeite set, on account of how she reputedly has no sense of decorum or proportion and a tin ear to boot. To my slight surprise then I rather enjoyed this novel in letters, which takes up where Sense and Sensibility leaves off. (skimmed a lot of it, though, admittedly. Not the sort of book with a dimension other than the simple recounting of events, which is not a criticism, necessarily.) Mrs Ferrars goes mad and tries to steal Mrs Dashwood's linen and china; Marianne almost runs off to the New World to found a Free Love colony with Willoughby; Edward Ferrars is still a wet rag; Nancy Steele finally did get the good Doctor, who is to attend Elinor at her confinement. Of course it is all very silly but it's lightly done and always good humoured. Robert Ferrars ruined himself, was packed off to Africa, and got eaten by cannibals, which made a nice link with Heart of Darkness.
Holmes, Martin, Mirmohamadi, Reading the Garden A really enjoyable, readable account of (some of) the meanings gardens have held for Australians since settlement. Dorian & I are working hard on our own garden and the chapters on postwar suburban lawns and backyards were the most personally resonant, but the sections about memorial gardens and infant burials in the colonial period were also deeply interesting.
Christopher Priest, Fugue for a Darkening Island I'm going to post some remarks about this novel on Sarsaparilla shortly, so no further comment now.