Month: May 2013

Articles Read & Loved no. 2

I love reading book reviews. There’s something satisfying to me about, after reading a book, seeking out and reading what other people thought of it, how they reacted to it, how they read it. Not as a way to see if my my own opinions, reactions, and feelings measure up to some certified literary person’s, and not as a way to see if I “got” the book either, but really just for the enriching experience of having a different perspective. I love reading literary criticism. There’s no better way to learn how to read than by reading some of the sharpest, most astute literary criticism. Even if reading that criticism only solidifies my confidence in my own opinion or reaction to a book, it’s still the mental literary discussions and debates I had in my brain that led me to that sense of satisfaction. A good piece of literary criticism usually leaves me feeling as enriched as reading whatever piece of literature (if it was good) was being reviewed did.

Yet lately, as I near the beginning of the end of my academic life as an undergraduate in English literature, I find myself becoming dissatisfied with the way I’m being asked to read and write about books and literature. Reading in the academic context is obviously focused on critically engaging with a book, and the scholarly essays of course remains a good way to write about literature, but lately there has been a lack pulling at my heart, there has been something wanting. Even in the non-academic book reviews and piece of literary criticism I read there’s a dryness, a detachment, to the way books are approached and appraised. The emotional response to literature is something that feels like it’s being lost, or even deliberately avoided and forgotten. Thinking about books in a personal, honest, subjective manner is a method every reader uses instinctively to appraise books when he or she begins reading. It think it’s important to remain in touch with this method, even when thinking more critically about literature. It isn’t so much about finding meaning, about teasing out tropes and symbols and themes. It’s about one’s reaction, deeply human and visceral, to literature, and what one can do with that reaction.

That’s why I find The Rumpus’s The Last Book I Loved series of essays on books and literature so refreshing. These book reviews aren’t dry and detached; there is an eagerness and enthusiasm to how books are being read and written about here. There’s a devotion to not only thinking about books, but also to feelings about books. A subjective experience, where someone was living or what they were going through, when they read a book is acknowledged as mattering to their response to it just as much as their critical analysis. The series is a blend between critical rigour and all the enthusiasm of Rookie’s Literally The Best Thing Ever series, and thus offers a fresh perspective on literature.

THE LAST BOOK I LOVED: SLOUCHING TOWARDS BETHLEHEM by Kara Hadge

THE LAST BOOK I LOVED: THE HOUSE OF MIRTH by Michelle Dean

THE LAST BOOK I LOVED: A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Molly McArdle

THE LAST BOOK I LOVED: LAST NIGHT by Erik Evenson

THE LAST BOOK I LOVED: NEVER LET ME GO by Alexa Dooseman

THE LAST BOOK I LOVED: WHITE TEETH by Molly O’Brien

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Articles Read & Loved no. 1

In conversation: Kiran Desai meets Anita Desai

It’s delightful to see mother and daughter, both brilliant authors, chat about each other’s books and writing while being familiar with each other as well as opinionated about each other in a way that only mothers and daughters can. Initially I think this was meant to be Kiran interviewing her mother, but the questioning quickly becomes mutual and if you’ve ever read either of their writings, there’s a lot of insight into their influences and their thematic interests.

Don’t Be a Stranger by Adrian Chen

A response to the op-eds that denigrate social media for crippling our ability to form authentic “real world” friendships that doesn’t ignore how much of the internet is anonymous and shallow while also acknowledging that (to the dismay of op-eds) there are real and complex friendships being forged in online communities.

The Ideal English Major by Mark Edmundson

If you’re an English major, maybe consider printing out a copy of this article and keeping it on hand to shove in the face of the next family member who disparages your academic choices. I can’t lie, I mainly enjoyed this article because it validated me, an English major, and my (according to my family and the friends of my parents) unfortunate life choice of becoming an English major. The article’s argument (“an English major is someone who has decided, against all kinds of pious, prudent advice and all kinds of fears and resistances, to major, quite simply, in becoming a person”) is a little grandiose and the article should probably come with a label, “warning: may cause arrogance and delusions of self-grandeur in English majors”, but fuck it, studying literature is a worthwhile endeavour and it deserves all the validation.

The Sacred and The Profane by Anita Felicelli

A critique of how India has been reduced to a series of exoticized images and narratives, dichotomized into the sacred and the profane, for the North-American literary market and how to consume one Indian fiction novel is to consume them all.

On Reading by Cynthia Cruz

“Reading is a kind of death. One exits one’s life, is gone from the world. If my telephone rings, if my beloved calls out my name, I am no longer here. I don’t exist. Dead to the world. And reading erases the world. When I am deep in a book, my life no longer exists. The city I live in, the people I love, it all vanishes just as soon as I open a book and begin to read.”

I Read Everything Jane Austen Wrote, Several Times by Adelle Waldman

A ranking of Jane Austen’s works that offers insight into each novel and its strengths and weaknesses.