Friday, February 17, 2012

I'm glad February is the shortest month because it has been a disappointment and I would like it to just end already thanks

I have hair like Sylvia Plath's hair. We do not look the same-- my face is not nearly as wicked. But we have the same hair. My hair does not know it's 2012. My hair thinks it's 1960.

I read some things. Flannery by Brad Gooch. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. The Adults by Alison Espach. I'm still working on Sylvia Plath's journals but honestly that book is really big and hard to carry around, so it might have to wait for summer.

I love reading biographies, but I tend to get caught up reading so much fiction that I don't read as many as I would like. I've actually been meaning to read Flannery since it came out a few years ago, when I saw the New York Times book review on it. By the way, if you're interested in the book and don't already know a lot about O'Connor's life, don't read the NYT review. It ruins everything. It's fun to be surprised, even in a biography, and it's much more enjoyable to be guided by Gooch's narrative than the breakneck facts of the review, which spends more time talking about O'Connor's life than the quality of the book itself.

It's a very good book, benefiting from a fascinating subject. O'Connor's presence dominates the book. I could sense her on every page, hear her voice drawling out the many quoted letters, conversations, etc. She's a formidable character. If I took anything from the book, it's that I'm not sure if I would have liked Flannery O'Connor the person (as opposed to the writer), but I sure as hell would have respected her, had I known her.  Gooch covers a lot of ground in a not-huge book (unlike most biographies of writers, which tend toward tomes). The only thing that caught me off guard was how brief the section about O'Connor at Iowa was because I expected it to be more than a focus, but I suspect that was more about a balance of information and what was important rather than a stylistic choice on Gooch's part for any reason.

If you have any interest in biographies of writers, this is a really good one to check out. You might want to get a copy of O'Connor's collected stories while you're at it because reading the biography makes you want to discover/revisit her writing in a big way.

The Adults by Alison Espach is a book that I heard about all last year. It's kind of a big deal, reviewed everywhere, the whole bit. I came across a copy in the library the other day, snatched it up, and read it in a day. I had my concerns when I started. There's a lot of voice going on. I was worried that it was going to be all voice, all look how clever I can be, isn't everyone so quirky? Thankfully, the book did a lot more than that.

The Adults follows Emily Vidal, a young woman living in a wealthy Connecticut suburb (and later Prague). I personally enjoyed the section about Emily in high school more than I did the rest of the novel, but overall I really enjoyed it. Emily was lost, screwed up, compelling. The language throughout the book was stunning. No one really talks like people in The Adults talk, but that's a good thing. It's simultaneously how you wish your life would work and the last way you want your life to work.

I would review this more, but seriously, everyone did already. Everyone. If you want reviews, go read those (NYT, Washington Post, etc). Better yet, go read the book. It's good, I promise. You'll like it.

I am reading other things now! I am, as usual, reading so many things that I can barely keep track. I would really like to be one of those people who starts one book and goes until she finishes it, then starts the next. I have yet to succeed at that plan. Right now I am reading:

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (I read half of this last semester, and I'm trying to finish it up. I don't know why it's taking so long. I really like it. Reading Flannery made me want to read all sorts of southern writers from that time period.)
Ayiti by Roxane Gay
The Raising by Laura Kasischke
Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum

I'm also reading Here on Earth by Alice Hoffman and a bunch of Jane Eyre criticism, but that's all for my independent study so it doesn't really count.

If you like writers and blogs, you should read my writing soul-twin's blog. Her name is Joellyn and she is fabulous, also a writing student, all that good stuff. She's been published places. Check it out. She's also the one who loaned me Ayiti because I have no money to buy it, so I have to thank her for that too.

Especially Freeing

Okay, so that's all.

-Taylor

Monday, February 6, 2012

Updike Though

"Another couple, younger, was walking down the beach like a pair of creatures, tawny, maned, their movements made stately by their invisible effort to control self-consciousness. One had to look hard to see that they were naked. A summer's frequentation of the nudist section up the beach, around the point from the bouorgeois, bathing-suited section where the Maples lay with their children and their books and their towels and tubes of lotion, had bestowed up the bodies of this other couple the smooth pelt of an even tan. The sexual signs so large in our interior mythology, the breasts and pubic patches, melted to almost nothing in the middle distance, in the sun. Even the young man's penis seemed incidental. And the young woman appeared a lesser version of the male - the same taut, magnetic stride, the same disturbingly generic arrangement of limbs, abdomen, torso, and skull.

Richard suppressed a grunt. Silence attended the two nudes, pushing out from their advance like wavelets up the packed sand into the costumed people, away form the unnoticing commotion and self-absorbed sparkle of the sea.

'Well': a woman's exclamation, from underneath an umbrella, blew down the beach like a sandwich wrapper. One old man, his dwindled legs linked to a barrel chest by boyish trunks of plaid nylon, stood up militantly, helplessly, drowning in this assault, making an uplifted gesture between that of hailing a taxi and shaking a fist."

-John Updike, "Nakedness"

How good, though? Seriously.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

I have not been blogging because I have been reading for long, uninterrupted stretches but I am reading so many things that I'm not finishing anything in a timely fashion and I've also even been writing more than usual.

This is a strange point in my life. It's only the beginning of February, but it's like I can already feel the pull of the term winding down. Like there isn't much time left and then I have to change the way I live.

I have so many things to write this semester to fulfill all of the commitments I've set for myself. It's a little scary, but it's actually going well. I feel good about the material that I have so far.

Like I said I've been reading SO MANY THINGS:

-the Brad Gooch biography of Flannery O'Connor. I like it, though I'm not sure that I would have liked her, based on the way Gooch portrays her anyway. So, so Catholic.
-I also got her collected stories because it's impossible to read a biography of a writer and not want to see their work. I've read a good number of her stories already, but they're no less engaging in re-read. She's got this way of seeing people that I'm not even on the same planet with.
-The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I read this for about three hours straight the other night, totally caught up in how passionate and ridiculous it is. I'm still only about a third of the way through, and I'm pretty sure it's only going to get crazier.
-Sylvia Plath's unabridged journals. I own and read the abridged version back when I was about sixteen or seventeen, about the same time that I read Ariel and The Bell Jar. I hate it when I read abridged things. Of course, this isn't a normal abridging situation. In any case, I'm having a good time revisiting the sections I've already read and going through the new material.
-I got out Robert Lowell's letters because he plays a big part in the O'Connor biography and seemed like a really interesting person. I also got a book of his poetry because I haven't read much of it at all. Just got those today so haven't read much, but his letters to Ezra Pound when Lowell was 19 asking to go study with Pound in Italy were pretty hilarious.

No program news yet. The waiting game continues. I'm hoping to be a real writing/reading machine this semester. Who knows what I'll be doing after school ends.

-Taylor

Monday, January 23, 2012

Guys I Totally Finished the Marriage Plot

So I finished The Marriage Plot, and it is probably the last contemporary work that I'll read for the duration of the semester, excluding a few novels that I have to read for my junior seminar. Of course, I say that, and I'll probably be reading something else new next week. Right now, though, it's all about the 18th and 19th centuries. I'm just starting Zolfoya by Charlotte Dacre for my independent study. I'm super excited because I get to reread Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, which makes me sound like a hopeless nerd, but it's true. Love me some Bronte sisters.

OKAY I'M ABOUT TO TALK ABOUT THE MARRIAGE PLOT NOW AND SO IF YOU HAVEN'T READ IT YOU SHOULD STOP READING THIS POST. OKAY.

Anyway, about The Marriage Plot. I'm a bit late to the game and there are about a billion reviews of this online already, so I'm going to try to make it brief. It doesn't help that I am pretty confused when it comes to my feelings about this book, so this post might be even less coherent than usual.

I liked The Marriage Plot... I think. I'm pretty sure I liked it. I read it all the way through, so that says something for it. I think my main issues with it were: 1) most of the characters were terrible (not terribly done, just terrible people) and 2) there was this weird thing with the timelines that kept tripping me up.

Madeleine, the female protagonist of the novel, drove me out of my mind. She was absolutely insufferable, and so was her boyfriend/husband Leonard. But I'm not going to talk about that too much because it's more of a personal thing and doesn't have very much to do with the merit of the book itself. Mitchell, the protagonist I thought I would like the least going into it, actually turned out to be the only one I could stand.

BUT JUST ONE MORE THING ABOUT THIS: So, like I said, I found Leonard pretty much insufferable, so by far the worst part of the book for me was the part where we had to go back and hear the blow by blow of Leonard's depression. It was painful to say the least, and I honestly didn't care.

The thing that bothered me the most, though, was the fact that we kept getting sent back in time, basically, to catch up on what happened with the other characters. Not that this isn't done in other books, but the problem with this one is that we kind of keep having to go through events that we either already know or can infer have happened. The clearest case of this for me came at the end of the book. Leonard and Madeleine see Mitchell at the party, and then they leave the party and break up. Then we go back to when Mitchell was still in India and have to retrace everything all the way back to the party. It just got tiresome and unnecessary.

So yeah, The Marriage Plot, I have feelings. I'm not 100% sure what they are, but I know they're there.

-Taylor

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Halfway through The Marriage Plot and BOOK LIST OF DOOM

This post is going to be about two things: my progress in The Marriage Plot, which I was hoping to have finished by now, and my love of making book lists.

On The Marriage Plot:


This book is everywhere right now. Because duh. I thought I was going to have to wait for three months on a library hold list, but I got lucky enough to grab a copy on one of the new-fiction tables at my local library. Woohoo!

I'm a little more than halfway through. I was sitting in my senior seminar earlier this week and Irina Reyn was like, "The first half is great and then the second half is terrible." And I was like, why would you tell me that halfway through? So that happened.

I like this book. I have a confession to make, though. I've read The Virgin Suicides (when I was fourteen or so after a surgery on my arm), but I haven't read Middlesex. I know, I know. I will. People get really upset when they find out that I'm a writer/lit major and I haven't read it. I really have no reason why. Anyway, this is slightly relevant because I'm heard from a few people that some people who really love Eugenides and Middlesex don't like The Marriage Plot and a lot of people who haven't read him before like the book a lot. I don't really know how to evaluate that because I've read one of his books and was excited for the new one but didn't get too hyped up or anything.

I really don't know why it's taking me so long to get through the book. It's not that long, it's not that dense. The characters try me a little bit, but the writing is good and I'm really interested in the subject matter. I have to admit that Eugenides scored major points with me when he started talking about Madwoman in the Attic. That's basically the way to my heart.

We'll have to see how it goes. I'm going to try to finish the book this weekend, at which point I'll actually share my feelings about it instead of just pointlessly rambling about how I haven't finished it yet and I maybe like it. One thing I will say, though: this is the kind of book that will make you want to read books. It is a book about books in a lot of ways, and it will definitely give you things to add to your list.

Speaking of book lists:

Guys. Guys. I love making book lists. It's one of my favorite things to do. I just love the possibility of new books, of possibly finding some new book that will become a favorite. Book lists have so much potential, and they give you the opportunity to feel productive when you cross off books you've finished. The new semester is underway, and I have a ton to read, especially for my independent study. For some reason, having a bunch of serious stuff to read just makes me want to read more serious things, which is probably counterproductive. Being in school just makes me ambitious about reading. When I'm on break I still want to read quality stuff, but I tend to go for the lighter stories. To give my brain a break.

So here's some lists. I named a lot of the things I am reading for my classes in the last post, but I'll list those in full. Then my independent study list. Then the huge personal book list of doom that I made in the last few days, which basically contains all of the books I want to have read by the time I enter grad school and some other stuff.

Yay lists!

What I'm reading for class:
1. The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2011
2. Things That Pass For Love by Allison Amend
3. Mansfield Park 
4. Jane Eyre 
5. The Secret Garden 
6. Atonement
7. The Remains of the Day 
8. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
9. Northanger Abbey
10. North and South
11. a bunch of poetry from The Norton Anthology of English Literature (the Romantic and Victorian versions)

I think that's it. I'm also reading a bunch of political writing, including essays, political philosophy, and fiction, for my history class, Comparative Views of Freedom 19th and 20th centuries. This is my third time studying Jane Eyre in a class, and I'm also using it for my independent study. This is my second time studying Northanger Abbey in a class, and I'm also using it for my independent study.

Here's the list for my independent study. I put this one together myself. It's massive, but a lot of it is rereading, and many of them I am rereading for the third, fourth, fifth time. With those, it will be more of a quick review to make sure that I have what I need for my project.

1. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter (reread)
2. Red as Blood or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer by Tanith Lee
3. The Mysteries of Udolpho (reread)
4. Northanger Abbey (reread)
5. Zolfoya by Charlotte Dacre
6. "The Yellow Wallpaper" and "Why I Wrote the Yellow Wallpaper"
7. A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott
8. Wuthering Heights (reread)
9. Jane Eyre (reread and also my favorite book)
10. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
11. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (reread)
12. Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier (reread)
13. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
14. Frankenstein (reread)
15. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (I can't believe this is happening. I never thought I would put that book on a list, but there you go).

I am going to read an update/adaptation/sequel for Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Rebecca, I just haven't selected them yet. I am also going to read at least one other young adult contemporary novel with Gothic themes, but I haven't picked that yet either.

Here are the main critical texts I am going to use:
1. The Madwoman in the Attic Gilbert and Gubar (mostly rereading)
2. The Female Gothic Juliann E. Fleenor (I am using basically every article in this book. It is the greatest find.)

I am super excited about all of these books because many of them are my favorites, so I will try to remember to post the stuff from my reading responses as I do them.

And finally, here is my personal book list. I know that I probably won't read all of them because it's a pretty heavy list, but here's what I want to read in the near future (only a few are rereads that I want to remember to return to). I culled these mostly from other lists, so they are thematically or chronologically linked at points:

1. Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
2. The Way We Live Now by Trollope
3. Sister Carrie
4. Indiana by George Sand
5. Hope Leslie by Catharine Sedgwick
6. The Hidden Hand by E.D.E.N. Southworth
7. Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner
8. Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
9. Possession by A.S. Byatt
10. Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
11. one of Marilynne Robinson's novels
12. Bleak House or something else by Dickens (I have to confess that I haven't read a Dickens novel in full since I was a child and my mother read me A Tale of Two Cities. I hated it. But I feel like I owe him another shot).
13. Dracula (reread)
14. Anna Karenina and War and Peace (So I took a class in Russian short stories and it was a terrifying experience. Ever since I've been a little traumatized and unable to read anything by Russian authors. I need to get over that, so I tried to include some Russian novels on the list.)
15. Middlemarch (I just started this. Dorothea is so freaking crazy.)
16. Madame Bovary (reread but I read it when I was twelve or thirteen)
17. Vanity Fair 
18. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
19. something other than "The Yellow Wallpaper" and Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
20. Portrait of a Lady (I tried to read this last year but only got about fifty pages in. I honestly can't remember why I stopped.)
21. The Awakening 
22. Far From the Madding Crowd 
23. The House of the Seven Gables (I want to read something else by Hawthorne because I hate The Scarlet Letter. I don't care what anyone says; I hate it.)
24. The Great Gatsby (this is one of those books that I really should have read by now and haven't. I don't know why I wasn't assigned it in high school.)
25. Lolita (There are three books that I have attempted to read in my life and had to stop because I was so disturbed: Brave New World, Invisible Man, and Lolita. Lolita is the only one that I feel up to trying again. I feel like it will be okay now that I'm not a fourteen year old girl.)
26. As I Lay Dying or The Sound and the Fury or something else I haven't read by Faulkner
27. Sons and Lovers
28. Mrs. Dalloway (I've only read Woolf's non-fiction, mainly her journals. I feel like I should probably read some of her fiction.)
29. Slaughterhouse-five
30. A Passage to India
31. one of Hemingway's novels
32. one of Edith Wharton's novels
33. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
34. The Bell Jar (reread, but I haven't read it since high school)
35. The Sportswriter by Richard Ford
36. All the Pretty Horses 
37. The Big Sleep
38. Gone with the Wind
39. Lonesome Dove 
40. one of Updike's novels
41. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
42. Moll Flanders 
43. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
44. Crime and Punishment 
45. one of Balzac's novels
46. Love in the Time of Cholera
47. Villette 


Oh god that list is so long. This post is so long.

-Taylor






Friday, January 6, 2012

What I'm Taking This Semester

New semester (last semester!), new classes. Here's what I'm taking:

1. Senior Seminar in Fiction

This is the capstone class for my major, and the main goal of it is to complete a senior "thesis" in fiction. For us, that means 50 pages of either connected short stories or a novel excerpt. The stories can be connected through character, setting, or theme. My section is taught by Irina Reyn, author of What Happened to Anna K. I'm pretty excited about it. I am going to use a story that I wrote for my grad school applications and branch off from those characters (siblings) to write a few more stories. I know a few people in the class from previous courses, but there's definitely not as much overlap as in my previous writing classes, and I'm happy that I'll get to see some work from new people. My biggest hope for the class is that because it's a senior capstone and a small class, everyone will take it seriously and strive to create the best work possible.

We're reading short stories from the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2011 Allison Amend's book Things That Pass For Love. Allison teaches at Pitt as well, and she's going to come in to talk with the class near the end of the term.

2. Writing Well, Grammar and Style: Sentence Workshop

This is my wildcard class for the semester. It's taught by Lois Williams, who lead a brief workshop I attended last semester. The whole class is focused on writing amazing sentences and using grammar, style, and punctuation to experiment with sentence structures. I'm taking it with one of my best friends in the program, and I'm hoping that it will be my low-stress class for the semester. One of the best parts about it is that the only required text is a $15 course packet, which is great because I am broke and can't technically afford my books this semester.

3. 19th Century British Literature

This is a historical period course that is required for my literature minor. I'm not very happy about having to take it because even though I love 19th C. Brit. Lit., we're not really reading that much that I'm into. We also have to buy two Norton Anthologies, which just pisses me off because I pretty much hate Norton and don't want to give them any money. So yeah. We started off the class by watching an incredibly dull British documentary from the '70s about the relationship between Romantic painting and poetry. I would probably drop this class if I could, but I need it to graduate.

4. Junior Seminar in Literature: English Country Houses

I am taking this class with Marah Gubar, who made one of the best first impressions any professor has made on me. She was so enthusiastic and friendly and made us all feel really comfortable and familiar even in the first class. The reading list in this class is astounding: Mansfield Park, Jane Eyre, The Secret Garden, Remains of the Day, Atonement, and How I Live Now. This is the third time I will be studying Jane Eyre in a class; it's my favorite book. I am ridiculously excited for this class.

5. Comparative Views of Freedom, 19th and 20th Centuries

I am taking this class with Leslie Hammond. This is my third class with her, and she is easily the best history professor I have ever had. This class is fulfilling my final general education requirement.

6. Independent Study

I am working on an independent study with my adviser, Lori Campbell. It is a hybrid literature and fiction independent study that focuses on the legacy of 19th century Gothic fiction by women. It's basically an excuse to read a bunch of my favorite books.

In other news, today was a really good library day. Here's what I got:
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
A Writer's Diary by Virginia Woolf
On Secrets, Lies, and Silence by Adrienne Rich
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

I haven't read any books in about a week because I have been absolutely obsessed with reading journalism on longform.org. It's basically the best thing ever.

Hopefully soon updates on some of the books I listed and my current writing projects (of which there are many. Perhaps too many).

-Taylor