Weekly Fragments ~ November 5th

tumblr_lptmh1EY1E1r1sle6o1_500A number of my blogging friends regularly post a piece at the end of each month looking back over their recent reads and projecting forthcoming books for the following four weeks.  It’s not something I’ve ever thought of doing myself, mostly because I rely to a large extent on libraries for my reading material and I can never predict what (if any) books are going to turn up.  However, over on her blog Of Books and Bicycles, Rebecca has a recent post where she looks forward to her forthcoming reading week and that strikes me as a very good idea, if only because it might make me organise my mind enough to recognise the difference between what needs to be read and what I want to read and to be realistic about the time I have available for either.

And, I have to say that the week ahead looks crowded!

Yesterday saw the end of the month from hell in which I had to lead the discussion in all three of my reading groups.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love belonging to reading groups.  I never fail to learn something new about the books through discussion and I suppose that to some extent they are a substitute for the days when I was leading reading groups in university classes.  Officially they were called seminars, but if they work properly reading groups is what they should be.  However, taking on three new books in short order was silly and I’ve already taken steps to ensure that the same thing won’t happen next year.

The most recent discussion was of Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer winning novel, Middlesex, which I read when it first came out but which was new to everyone else in the group.  I have to say I chose this with some trepidation because there are a number of people in that particular group who are very traditionalist in their view as to what a novel should be like and I knew that they were going to find not only the subject matter but also the style very challenging.  However, I happen to think that Middlesex is one of the great novels of the last decade and anyway, the teacher in me still thinks that people should have their reading horizons challenged, so I carried on regardless.  In fact, only two of the group had a problem with the book and the rest couldn’t sing its praises loudly enough. Almost everyone had had difficulties getting to grips with the blend of the post-modern and the traditional, especially as it manifests itself in Cal’s very particular narrative voice, but once they’d tuned in to what Eugenides is doing there they were fine.

Even though that may be out of the way, belonging to three groups means that the next read is always on the horizon and so one of the books I need to read this week is Jonas Jonasson’s The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared. I’m promised by everyone I know who has read this that I am going to really enjoy it, which is reassuring because it definitely isn’t something I would have picked up for myself.  The other ‘needful’ book is Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane which is the set text for next week’s lectures on the MOOC course I’m taking on Historical Fiction.  The portents aren’t so good where this is concerned.  Two of the friends with whom I’m taking the course have already had problems with the novel and I think we’re all beginning to wonder whether the books chosen aren’t a reflection of the authors willing to lead seminars rather than texts that illustrate the best available in current historical fiction.  It’s a shame because the lectures from the professor are very good indeed and he has tried to be innovative in the way he’s set up the course. It’s certainly better than any of the other literature MOOCs I’ve taken.  But, it does show how difficult creating a new module from scratch can be and just how many are the pitfalls you have to avoid.

My ‘want to’ reads all arrived from the library yesterday and they’re all crime novels.  I have these for three weeks and so I must try and limit myself to just one a week, because I know what I’m like when I get my head down in crime fiction – I’m unlikely to surface until it’s finished.  So, this week’s treat is the new Tony Hill and Carol Jordan novel from Val McDermid, Cross and Burn.  I think the highest praise I can offer McDermid is to say that I love her stand alone novels as much as I do her series books, which suggests that it is her writing rather than her characters that I respond to.  This is my last thing at night book when I have finished everything I need to read for the day and can reward myself with sheer indulgence.  For the rest of the day I have given it to The Bears to hide.  I know my own limitations where temptation is concerned!

The other ‘literary-type’ occasions that this week holds include two visits to the theatre.  On Saturday I’m going to the Rep to see a staged version of The Anatomy of Melancholy, which some friends saw in London and have throughly recommended and then on Sunday I’m going to a screening of the National Theatre’s The Habit of Art.  This got rather mixed reviews when it was on in London, but it stars the late Richard Griffiths and I can’t pass up any last opportunity to see him at work.  Two days out at the weekend is going to seriously curtail my reading time so I may have to report a level of failure this time next week, but best foot forward.


15 thoughts on “Weekly Fragments ~ November 5th

  1. You are a very busy woman! Can I recommend that if you don’t get on with the Howe book from the start to not keep going? I’ve had so many comments from people telling me how they slogged through it and regretted it. With three reading groups and now this MOOC, it’s a wonder you have time to read anything you want at all!

    1. Stefanie, you’re absolutely right. I am 64 next week and I do not have the years left to be reading what it would be polite to call second class tat. The Howe is going on the charity shop pile right this minute.

  2. I read the Katherine Howe book a few years ago and didn’t enjoy it at all. I definitely think the choice of texts for the course must have depended on which authors were willing to get involved as there are much better examples of historical fiction, in my opinion. I’m impressed with the course in general, though – I haven’t had time to participate fully but have watched most of the lectures.

    1. Yes, Helen, the lectures are good and I think the professor deserves brownie points for having tried to come up with something fresh. It’s just a shame it hasn’t worked better. Are you going to do the FutureLearn course on Hamlet next term? If you haven’t seen it I’ll be doing a post about it in the next couple of days.

  3. I’m exhausted at the thought of all of this to be accomplished in just one week. My copy of Howe’s book has just gone into the bag for the charity shop. A real dud of a book unfortunately. I saw the Habit of Art in London and did enjoy it – will be keen to hear what you think. And I just signed up for the Hamlet Future Learn Course. I have not been impressed with their course on branding but am willing to give them another go.

    1. I’m going to do a post about the Hamlet course tomorrow to make sure people know it’s coming up. I can’t speak for the quality of the presentation, although the introductory video seems OK, but the scholarship behind it will be second to none. I work with these people and I know you simply can’t get better. One of them was described in the TLS as a genius and there was a letter the following week saying that the review had undervalued his work!

  4. What an interesting post. I agree with your point about Val McDermid often one or the other types of books are less enjoyable but I have enjoyed everyone of hers. I haven’t got around to Cross and Burn yet but it is on the ever-growing TBR 😉

  5. I’ve taken to arranging which books I’m planning to read each month, choosing from my TBR list. I get my books from the library as well, so I make sure they’re available or leave time for interlibrary loans. It’s worked well for me so far, and if I ever run out of what’s on the list it’s not actually as if I have nothing at home to read. 🙂

    Looking forward to your thoughts on these!

    1. Our library moved over to a new cataloguing system this time last year, Jenny, For six months we weren’t able to place reservations and since that service has resumed it has been extremely unreliable. The general feeling is that whoever chose the new system probably wasn’t a reader in the first place!

  6. I see you are another crime fiction fan. I like Val Mcdermid’s stuff too. My favourite British crime writer was the late Reginald Hill who was usually a delight to read. First class tat I would say! Hope the courses and reading groups go well.

    1. Thanks Ian. I enjoyed Hill too and mourn his passing. Have you see this morning’s review of the new Rankin in the Times? It seems picking up with Rebus might not have been the best idea out.

  7. I love reading people’s reading plans, whether they are weekly or monthly. You really do sound busy! I’d like to try Val McDermid at some point. Do you have a recommendation of where to start? I’d also like to try a MOOC sometime, but I shudder at the thought of instructional videos. I just don’t have the patience to sit and listen to someone talk.

    1. It depends how bloodthirsty you like your crime, Rebecca and whether or not you like series fiction. If you can cope with really nasty situations then begin with ‘The Mermaids Singing’ which is the first of the Hill and Jordan books. If you want something a bit easier on the nightmares then either the beginning of the Kate Brannigan series, ‘Dead Beat’ or her most recent one off, ‘The Vanishing Point’ might hit the spot. As for MOOCs, I don’t know what the FutureLearn policy is because I haven’t done one of their courses as yet, but the Coursera principle is that no lecture should be more than twenty minutes long and I find that very manageable.

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