As a budding professor of English, I talk about books…a lot. Especially on this blog. I make it a rule to always have a “for fun” book going during the school year. I believe extra-curricular reading keeps me sane, and it helps me remember why I love what I do.
Summer is nice, because it brings with it a good deal of extra free time. Mind you, I am gainfully employed (through a temp agency) at a place that operates under business hours, so my time is not exactly endless. However, I am pleased that the month of May has been productive so far. I’d even go so far as to say having to work motivates me to spend my time more wisely.
This summer, I decided to read books that will come in handy for my specialized area. Since I’ve decided to focus on contemporary British literature, I have some catching up to do! Plus, there’s the pesky “bucket list” of books that grows or shrinks over the years (and I can never seem to conquer, even if I can steadily whittle down the books on the list). The following books are ones that have kicked off the summer so far, and they are a compilation of books for grad school reading, and for mere pleasure:
- My Fair Lazy by Jennifer Lancaster. **To be fair, I started this at the end of April** I first read Ms. Lancaster’s work with the arrival of her first book, Bitter is the New Black, a memoir chronicling her fall from grace as a VP of a dotcom company that collapsed after 9/11. She’s since written several (meanly or wittily) hilarious books about: her attempts to eke out big-city living in Chicago, lose weight, recall her childhood and adolescent fashion experiences, and now, be more culturally diverse and well-rounded. This book has been the most frank about the author’s character flaws and growth achieved, which makes this memoir (in my opinion) the most satisfying of her body of work. (Obviously, this was a “fun” book)
- American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Anyone who’s anyone in speculative fiction (that’s a poncy academic term for sci-fi or fantasy) has read Neil Gaimain. So, I started with this one. Good grief, it’s weird. I don’t know many American folkloric tales, so that may have been part of the problem. The episodic quality of the narrative also made a reading groove difficult, as I kept flipping back to see if I missed anything. Nevertheless, the Odyssean quality of Shadow’s journey across time and the US (especially the Midwest: and by the way, I have been to most of the places in Wisconsin, so the travelogue aspect was especially entertaining for me) was intriguing. Based on this book alone, I felt that Gaiman was a bit unnecessarily…salty, shall we say…in his writing style. But after all, he is British. I’ll definitely read more of his work. (Another fun book).
- Divergent by Veronica Roth. I have no idea when/where I first heard of this YA novel, but the premise piqued my curiosity right away. For those not familiar with Divergent: a young woman grows up in a futuristic Chicago, divided up into five factions, based on certain character traits: Amity (peace), Abnegation (self-denial), Candor (truth), Erudite (knowledge), and Dauntless (bravery). Having been raised Abnegation, she must choose a faction as her official entry into adulthood. Typically, one chooses the faction they’ve been raised in, or show the most aptitude for. But Beatrice’s aptitude is inconclusive: she’s divergent, the most dangerous category of all. Apart from the schmoopy teeny-bopper side story, I really liked the writing, the story, and the ideas it forwards. (yet another fun book)
- The Stranger’s Childby Alan Hollinghurst. I first read The Line of Beauty, Hollinghurst’s Booker-winner, for a class, and I loved it so much I ended up writing my seminar paper on it, which should hopefully become–wait for it–a portion of a dissertation chapter. I honestly think that The Stranger’s Child may form another piece of that chapter, since it complements what I discussed in LOB. Hollinghurst is a writer who creates dialogue, characters, historical context, and tableaux really well, which is perfect for an Austen-Eliot reader like me. Plus, the thoughtful way in which Hollinghurst pushes at the deceptive nature of heteronormativity is exciting and challenging. (For doctoral work, but it was fun)
- Lucky Jimby Kingsley Amis. When I took my contemporary British seminar this last spring, I read a LOT of scholarly articles that discussed Lucky Jim, either in passing, or in detail (or, in DJ Taylor’s case, a linchpin for Why Contemporary Literature Sucks So Hard). So, I decided to read Lucky Jim. I now totally get (a) why it was so popular in the 1950s-70s and (b) why nobody studies it anymore. I think that Amis is a clever writer, but maybe almost too clever? There are some really darkly funny academic moments that make it a must-read for anyone in grad school or academia (doctoral book–only sometimes fun).
- Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. I am really ashamed of myself for not reading this sooner. Watchmen is, quite simply, a stunner. It’s a morally complex, rich, horrifying work of art and fiction. It combines dystopic fiction with noir, psychological thriller, and superhero story. As soon as I finished reading, I wanted to read it all over again. (both academic and fun read).
- Oranges Are Not the Only Fruitby Jeanette Winterson. I’ve never read Winterson before, and I decided to start with this one, because the premise really interested me. I’m a bit mixed about it, though. I think it’s a frank telling of a coming-out story, and an important one, but I had a hard time connecting with the style of writing. There were other side stories that crept in that really interested me, but I felt those didn’t get fleshed out enough for me to make me feel their significance in the larger text. Plus, I had a hard time connecting with the characters. It didn’t feel “memoirish” enough if it was indeed a memoir, nor did the fictive aspects really grab me. So, I don’t know…(academic book).
Currently, I’m on Sexing the Cherry, also by Winterson, and I think I might like it better than Oranges. Next up: a McEwan double-header of Enduring Love and The Cement Garden. I’m excited, y’all. I loves me some Ian McEwan. What are you reading? What do you recommend?