I've been slightly under the weather for the last week, which means, of course, soup, self-pity and comfort reads. Rather than my traditional winter-sniffles re-re-re-read of the Belgariad, I thought I'd go wandering around the historical romance category. That is: duchess porn.At Pornokitsch, Jared Shurin expresses appreciation for "5 things in historical romance I wantonly desire to see in epic fantasy," and commenters suggest where to find them. At the Journal of Popular Romance Studies, similarly meta yet more searching questions arise. [more inside]
"So what is going on here? Should we be reassured that critics are sticking loyally by a work they admire regardless of sales, or bemused that something is being presented as a runaway commercial success when in fact it isn’t?" Tim Parks: Raise Your Hand If You’ve Read Knausgaard. [more inside]
The very fact that reading and writing are in jeopardy, or simply evolving, means that to try to put the brakes of old criteria on a changing situation is going to be either obstructive or boring. In our critical age of almost manic invention, the most effective criticism of what, in the critic’s eyes, is a bad book would be to simply ignore it, while nudging better books toward the fulfillment of what the critic understands to be each book’s particular creative aim.Lee Siegel buries the hatchet-job.
Literature and Form is a series of four lectures by Oxford literature academic Dr. Catherine Brown. The lectures are on the themes of unreliable narrators, chapters, multiple plotting and what comparative literature is. You can listen to it as a podcast or through iTunes U. In this lecture series Brown primarily looks at some central structures of the novel as well as examining what the study of literature entails. Brown weaves in examples from world literature, especially English and Russian literature of the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries.
"Bringing up the women’s question — I mean the women’s fiction question — is not unlike mentioning the national debt at a dinner party."
If “The Marriage Plot,” by Jeffrey Eugenides, had been written by a woman yet still had the same title and wedding ring on its cover, would it have received a great deal of serious literary attention? Or would this novel (which I loved) have been relegated to “Women’s Fiction,” that close-quartered lower shelf where books emphasizing relationships and the interior lives of women are often relegated? Certainly “The Marriage Plot,” Eugenides’s first novel since his Pulitzer Prize-winning “Middlesex,” was poised to receive tremendous literary interest regardless of subject matter, but the presence of a female protagonist, the gracefulness, the sometimes nostalgic tone and the relationship-heavy nature of the book only highlight the fact that many first-rate books by women and about women’s lives never find a way to escape “Women’s Fiction” and make the leap onto the upper shelf where certain books, most of them written by men (and, yes, some women — more about them later), are prominently displayed and admired.So begins The Second Shelf: On the Rules of Literary Fiction for Men and Women, an essay in the New York Times by novelist Meg Wolitzer. She was interviewed about her essay in the NYT Book Review podcast (mp3 link, interview starts at about 18:30). Wolitzer references the classic 1998 essay by Francine Prose, Scent of a woman's ink: Are women writers really inferior?, and further back in time you find Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, which, as literary critic Ruth Franklin notes, still sounds fresh today.
this petty-bourgeois uptightness, this terror of not being in control, this schoolboy desire to boast and to shock
The 2010 Booker longlist is out, and it seems that most of the buzz in the UK is about who's not on the list. The Guardian article "Amis-free Booker prize longlist promises to 'entertain and provoke'" introducing the list of 13 nominees actually devotes its headline, subhead, and most of the first four paragraphs to the subject of who's missing in action: Amis, McEwan, Rushdie. Elsewhere in the Guardian Books section, research professor Gabriel Josipovici pulls no punches in including these (former?) darlings of the glitterati in his assertion that Feted British authors are limited, arrogant and self-satisfied, compares them to "prep-school boys showing off," calls them "virtually indistinguishable from one another in scope and ambition," and muses that the fact that they have won so many awards is "a mystery." [more inside]
The influence of Edmund Spenser across two and a half centuries as traced through 25000 different texts
Spenser and the Tradition: English Poetry 1579-1830 is a mammoth database of English poetry and other writings that traces the influence of the great 16th-Century poet Edmund Spenser on English poetry across 250 years. There are roughly 25000 different texts on the site, over 6000 poems from famous classics to obscure ephemera, and further thousands of biographies and commentaries. Since it would take years to read all the material I am happy to say that there is a guide to navigating the database, an overview of its contents, a statistical summary and an essay on tradition and innovation. The immense database, which started life as a pile of index cards, was compiled largely by Virginia Tech Professor David Hill Radcliffe over the course of 17 years.