Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Light (re)reading

around the edges of a very decent amount of work: one more Georgette Heyer novel, A Civil Contract; two novels by Susan Howatch, The Wonder Worker (the English title was A Question of Integrity, which seems to me much preferable, but I love these books so much that I'm not complaining, I just don't know why Howatch isn't better known in the US) and The High Flyer; two Margery Allingham novellas--and Allingham is another writer who's unjustly little-known nowadays, I'd say, though it's the Albert Campion novels that are really amazing, there is something uncanny and striking about her writing that you don't find in Agatha Christie or Ngaio Marsh or the other classic period detective novels of that type--published under the hopeless title Deadly Duo (seriously, how pitiful can you get?); and a random Ian Rankin novel that happened to come my way. Why am I reading things I've already read before, in some cases a LOT of times before? Well, I've got some more interesting and challenging stuff waiting around, but I don't want to distract myself from the eighteenth-century stuff that's living in my head right now (Defoe, Rousseau, Smollett and Jefferson primarily, with a hint of Virgil's Georgics and also some crazy interruptions from Timothy Nourse, a minor obsession of mine, plus the odd interlude in which I try to develop a grand theory of culture and think about Jethro Tull and the new agriculture and Raymond Williams--here's the syllabus for the course where I tried some of this stuff out last fall). Better to read things I know I like and that have the charm of familiarity. Rereading is one of the great pleasures in life; reading a fantastic new book a second time is almost better than reading it the first time, the first time round I always feel like someone is going to wrench it away from me before I can finish & deprive me from ever experiencing the rest of it, whereas I can relax a little more when I read it again. Very strange.


  1. Out of curiousity, what was the reason for including The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie on the reading list?


  2. Because it is the great 20th-century novel of culture! Seriously, it's hard to explain, but if you read Bourdieu and Burney (especially the scene where Evelina goes to the opera with the Branghtons and she describes them each responding to this cultural spectacle in ways inextricably marking their social class, gender, etc.) you then see how Spark so intelligently comments on what Europe--specifically, a post-Enlightenment, pre-WWII-and-under-the-shadow-of-European-fascism Edinburgh--got from the late 18th century and its cultural formations. Also it is a supreme example of a novel that intelligently deals with the dynamics of people in groups larger than two; it is not interested in courtship, it is interested in the culture of the classroom and the cult, and it therefore offers a way into certain issues that anthropologists are interested in but not always methodologically equipped to deal with (and sociology doesn't necessarily do it better, though I think Erving Goffman is a genius). Anyway, that's the provisional answer, and if you want to talk more about this, I am at your disposal! I always like to think about a 20th-century text that illuminates some of the issues in the less accessible 18th-century ones that are my obsession: I've used Orwell's 1984 with 18th-century satire, Shaw's Pygmalion with 18th-century drama, Edwidge Danticat's novel The Farming of Bones with various eighteenth-century works on language and this is another example of the same thing.