Saturday, November 20, 2010

Swamplandia

I thought working in a bookshop made me a panicked reader. I brought my favorite books with me in the hope that a life devoted to reading - at least for the next three years - would allow me to more engage with the writers I hoped to enjoy and be educated by. Instead (big surprise) this rollercoaster of non-stop reading is rather (strangely enough) course related. This term I have dedicated myself to those funny people the Victorians. Aside from (or maybe in light of) their quirks, their categorization, their love of the miniature, their strange hobbies and anxieties, their advances and retreats, their observations and wrecks - I have found the Victorians to be an intriguing bunch. But as my tutor says, I must be warned not to lump them all into a big pot. The nineteenth century was a complex age, and just as the modern era, social attitudes changed throughout the century in small oscillations and wide leaps. Though tempted, one cannot summarize and say 'The Victorians were like this' (re: Foucault's writing on the Victorian approach to sexuality).

My weekly essays are largely self-determined. Each Friday at nine, when I go to my tutorial I am given the option of choosing the next week's study. So far it's been Browning, George Eliot, the sensation fiction of Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Wilkie Collins, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and now Trollope. I thought I should (as they say) curl up in bed with a Trollope, and so I picked The Way We Live Now. The last page was numbered close to 500 so I thought I could accomplish it despite its deceiving girth. Once I started reading it I realised that it was in two volumes and, in actuality, runs near to 1000 pages. I have only myself to blame. All week I sank into it. And now - now that it is over - I'd like to look around and read more Joscipovici or Geoffrey Hill or Bolano, all of which are in a pile by my bedside lamp and fill me with desire. Instead, I realize that it's not over. It's never over. There's the contextual information, the secondary sources, the essays and journal articles.

Even going down to the JCR for a coffee break to read the arts sections of the Guardian and the Times is overwhelming - there's simply no time to read all of this. It's a sad day when one has one of these What's-the-point?-I-forget-everything-I-read-I'm-just-a-needle-in-a-haystack-of-books kind of days. The only solution? More coffee, and the inevitable grim return to the stack on the writing desk.

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