Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Intentionality

Jane Eyre and the discovery of a pair of book blogs that gave me guidance as to what to read next – I’ve always re-read obsessively because I rarely knew what other books to try – have started me reading a whole new set of literature. And for the first time, I feel confident in saying that I’m reading “real” literature. Fantasy and science fiction books were my bread and butter for most of my life, but now I’m reading from the classical canon and other examples of literary fiction, particularly that written by women in the first half of the 20th century. (Thank you to the Persephone and Virago collections, and to the book bloggers who rhapsodized over their merits enough that I had to experience these overlooked women’s novels for myself!) I have also gone back and read classics of children’s literature that I missed in my own childhood. (Seriously, why was I stubborn enough to refuse to read Little Women or Anne of Green Gables after my mother bought me the complete sets?)

If you’re looking for great book recommendations, check out those two blogs:
Teresa and Jenny at ShelfLove, http://shelflove.wordpress.com/
Rachel at BookSnob, http://bookssnob.wordpress.com/

But I digress. The idea of starting a book blog has been in my head for a few months now, and not just because I have enjoyed my unexpected immersion into the world of book blogging. Over Christmas break, I decided to attempt to read 100 new books in 2012. I’m well on track, as you can see on the “Fiction 2012” page. And of course, I couldn’t resist recommending my favorites. However, it turns out that Facebook is a poor forum for recommending books. With the limited size of posts, my book reviews were by necessity dreadfully short. Discussion of these books was nigh-impossible, although there were a few occasions where comments passed back and forth allowed limited conversation. When I checked out John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, I realized that I would love to have a mini-book group to discuss it in stages, but Facebook is the wrong medium to facilitate that kind of dialogue.

And thus, the first reason this blog was created was to enable longer, more thoughtful reviews of the fiction I read, and to provide the opportunity for discussion if anyone would like to read some of these books along with me. I have no collegiate training in English literature. The classical canon is all completely new to me. It is exciting to see how the critical analysis I am learning as a music historian-in-training can apply to fictional texts.

This blog will not be limited to analysis of fiction, but of the academic writing I read as well. This includes musicological, historical, and theological texts. I intend for this to be a discursive space in which I can puzzle out connections between books and across the fiction/academic gap. When I was partway into D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, I made a passing comment to my husband about the parallel between a major theme of this book and that of the graduate seminar I’m currently auditing (The History of Music Theory). One focus of Lady Chatterley’s Lover is the disconnect between the life of the mind and “really living” – the idea being that theorizing about philosophy, sexuality, and artistic ideas prevents one from actually experiencing life, sex, and artistic creation. I had an intense epiphany connecting this theme to the division between theory and practice that characterizes much of the various histories of music theory. However, my husband wasn’t familiar with either the novel or the academic discussion, and because I didn’t write down any of these thoughts, I’ve since lost them. Perhaps in writing this blog, I can find more and deeper connections between the academic work I accomplish and the books I read for fun.

The final push to actually start this blog came from this post over at GradHacker:
http://www.gradhacker.org/2012/04/04/write-damnit/

The author, an anthropology graduate student, began a blog in order to force him- or herself to read and analyze articles from the field of anthropology. This regular practice in writing is absolutely essential for success as a graduate student and one day, professor. My career will require me to read, form opinions, and write them coherently. And if I can establish a discipline of writing regularly (ideally, daily), then the process of beginning my dissertation in three years’ time won’t seem so daunting.

I have finished 38 new books so far this year, including a few in audiobook format. (If you want to see what I’ve already read this year, check the tab above marked “Fiction 2012.” I may try to bring my existing short reviews to this site.) My academic reading has been a little more scattered, and because I presented at a conference about a month and half ago, has rarely consisted of complete books or articles but rather whatever sections I needed for my research. This blog, however, will not look backwards. I will jump right in and post on whatever I finish reading, starting now.

Things to consider:
Perhaps no one will read this blog. I’m okay with that – the writing practice alone will make this project worth the time. If, however, friends or even strangers make their way to this space, it could be useful to make it easy to sort between the fiction and the academic offerings. Thoughts?

Also, I’m a brand-new blogger and could definitely use advice on the mechanics of running a blog! What should I know to make things easier both for me and for readers?

Things I’m reading:
Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell
Good Wives, Louisa May Alcott
True Confessions: Feminist Professors Tell Stories Out of School, Susan Gubar, ed.
Harmonic Function in Chromatic Music, Daniel Harrison

4 comments:

  1. Welcome to the blogosphere! One of the things I've found most rewarding about blogging is that it's helped me to hold onto the thoughts that flit across my brain as I'm reading. Plus, it forces me to actually think as I read, instead of just casting my eyes over the words. It's been good for my mental discipline. So good luck! I've added your blog to my reader and am eager to see how it goes.

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    1. Thank you! The world of book bloggers seems to be very welcoming and encouraging. I'm looking forward to thinking out my analyses, for mental discipline and to hold onto thoughts as you say. I'm also looking forward to joining the community. Your blog will always hold a special place in my heart and I'm touched that you're interested in reading these thoughts of mine. (The fact that I've decided upon a name and thus changed the web address won't cause problems, will it?)

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  2. Congrats, Samantha, on beginning your blog. So far I don't have the guts to start a public blog, although I have a private one which is part memoir and part whatever-strikes-me in my daily life. You are right that daily writing is a must. I'll look forward to being one of your followers, wherever you are. And I keep a list of books I want to read, so your lists are good for me. (Too bad I didn't keep a list of the hundreds of books I must have read, but who knew that I'd want to know some day! Oh, well.)

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  3. Very best wishes to you in your blogging ventures! I have only recently read Little Women and Anne of Green Gables for the first time. I can't believe until now, that I never knew I'm so similar to Anne Shirley and Jo March!

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