Posted by: zhiv | January 23, 2008

Reading: Some Background

 Here are the books I’m reading:

  • A New England Story, Catherine Maria Sidgewick
  • Olive Schreiner, Ruth First
  • The Company She Keeps, Mary McCarthy
  • Partisans, David Laskin
  • Life Studies/For the Union Dead, Robert Lowell
  • Diary of a Bad Year, J.M. Coetzee
  • Go Tell It On The Mountain, James Baldwin

I feel like I should explain myself, since none of these books seems to reflect the heart of my reading history, although they all have their reasons for being on the list, and they certainly provide a little cross section of current interests.

I thought to do a post on “Admiring Anonymity,” since I’m already off to a rocky start in terms of taking my past, pursuits, and personality out of the equation.   The book blogs I like seem to get to the point and talk about books and writers and pretty much stay on track.  That being said, however, I like to know where bloggers/writers are coming from and what their background is.  

I got a late start reading, but I always liked writing and ran the high school newspaper, that type of thing, while playing a lot of sports.  I came into reading and literature through the window of Fitzgerald and Hemingway as a freshman in college, and started the English major thing.  I  graduated in1980 under a full head of literary steam, writing a senior thesis on “Self-Deception and Myth in George Eliot,” whatever the hell that might be about.  I was a Dickens, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf guy, with a Shakespeare/Johnson background.  That is to say, I was primarily interested in the Victorian novel, and I wasn’t  a Joycean or much involved with the Romantic poets, etc.  I liked reading about Johnson and the 18th century literary world, both for itself and as the foundation of 19th century lit, and I liked Woolf as a inheritor of that tradition.  Throughout all of this I was an impulsive moron and very very young, of course.

I started grad school in the fall of 1982, , and I did my introductory work on Thackeray’s Henry Esmond, if that tells you anything.  About two-thirds of the way through the two years of course work I reached my fill, more of less, of novel reading, and started focusing on literary biography.  Boswell and Johnson were part of the source of this, but I also discovered my own little grad student gold mine:  Leslie Stephen, the father of Virginia Woolf, whose first wife was Thackeray’s daughter.  So this blog might help me write some of the stuff about Leslie Stephen and biography that I never got around to writing.  I especially liked the fact that Stephen was an important pioneer of mountain climbing in the Alps, as I had my own humble mountaineering aspirations at the time.  Stephen seemed to me to be the perfect grad school topic:  a seemingly inexhaustible resource who was virtually untapped.

Towards the end of my mid-80s grad student days I steered a course towards non-fiction, but it turned out that the wind in my academic sails was beginning to fail.  I got a non-academic job.  I’ve been a frustrated academic and semi-grown up for a rather long time now, and I’ve gone in and out of different reading periods, with some of them being surprisingly lengthy.  Like, for instance, I really wasn’t reading much fiction for five or maybe even ten years, until last fall, but it seems I’ve changed course on that, for reasons I’ll describe another time.  But in the end the goal here, as I’ve said, is to try to keep track of what I’m reading, and basically just chat it up.       



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