Saturday, 7 March 2009

high on books

So I survived my Very Busy Week in fine style: Thursday afternoon saw me spellbound with interest at an awesome keynote lecture by the inexplicably undersung Marcel Swiboda on Samuel Beckett's Ghost Trio, followed by a very exciting response from Richard Stamp which followed some of the same theoretical and formal questions through a reading of Duck Amuck (YouTube link). (Later, over dinner, I argued that there was, in fact, a right answer to one of the central questions - 'what does a close-up sound like', or 'what is the auditory equivalent of the close-shot' - and that answer was THE SOUND OF THE TARDIS.) So that might have been one of my favourite academic moments ever.

Then on Friday I went to a short-listing meeting where we all quite amicably agreed on a short-list for the one-year post-doc at the Institute of Greece, Rome and the Classical Tradition, and then to a workshop on mentoring (I have a mentee!), and then came home and finished* my marking. Then J & I celebrated the finishing of marking with champagne, popcorn and the episode of Black Books where Manny gets a weekend off and announces his intention to take long baths, braid my beard, unbraid it, lie around fondling moonbeams and being a lord of leisure, eat tiramisu in bed with a long spoon.

And now it is the weekend, and I have two days off,** and things are going to be a bit calmer for the next few weeks. When I was walking down the hill to my mentoring workshop yesterday, it was a beautiful spring day, and there were daffodils in the gardens of Bristol Grammar School and blossom on the trees by the road and that springlike energy in the taste of the air, and it suddenly occurred to me that on the way home I could go into a shop and look at the things in it for no reason! I could take slightly longer than necessary over tasks! (In the end, I didn't, because I wanted to get my marking finished early. But still. That sense of being off the treadmill is just glorious.)

So far my moonbeam-fondling activities have mostly consisted of having energetic conversations with J and reading novels of immense brilliance and joy. In termtime, I read very little new fiction, because I get so little uninterrupted reading time that everything has to be broken up into five pages here and there (usually in bed, first thing in the morning and last thing at night, when I don't want to be sinking luxuriously into a fictional world/a sensory-intellectual bath of wordlove). So I mostly read chicklit, and undemanding chicklit at that, while J rolls round in literary splendour and piles up huge Towers O Books by my side of the bed for me to look at longingly and then pick up another Meg Cabot novel.

But today! I read Cathy's Key, which is the sequel to Cathy's Book, which I stayed up till one in the morning to read in one hit last summer. Key is slightly less exciting than Book, I think, and does less with its so-called 'interactive' format,*** but much more emotionally complex and interesting - in the same league as Feeling Sorry for Celia, which is one of my favourite books in the world. You guys should all read it: it's a really refreshing in a post-Joss-Whedon kind of a deal (as in, following up on the cool stuff in Whedon and briskly repairing the uncool stuff in a no-nonsense, hip kind of way), and makes me even more puzzled that Twilight is taking over the world. Here's a non-spoilery extract from some of the metafictional discussion towards the end, which I read as a pleasing sideswipe at Bridget Jones**** and post-Bridget Jones romantic comedies (on which, see this potentially interesting Guardian article, by the way), and as kind of a manifesto for the books' portrayal of kick-ass girlhood:

Hollywood is nervous about having female lead characters. Romantic stories about young women in adventurous situations are considered very niche - only for teenage girls. [But] they liked all the bits about you getting humiliated at work.

Anyway, there's a third one coming out next month, Cathy's Ring. Hooray!

And the second book I read today is Kensington Gardens, which all my ch lit friends must go and read IMMEDIATELY, though I have also told you all to go and see P J Hogan's film of Peter Pan and none of you have done that, so I hold out no hope. But it is awesome! It's narrated by Peter Hook, a children's writer and the creator of 'Jim Yang', the time-travelling boy hero who can't grow up, and it's a kind of bonkers mash-up of the life of J M Barrie with London in the Swinging Sixties. It's rich and strange and full of pontification and riffs and at one point has a ten-page list of people who were famous in the last 60s, and it's completely compelling - it's 400 page and I read it in one go.

The oddest thing about it is that J loves it, and it's totally the kind of thing she'd usually hate. I know this because it's avowedly structured very like The Good Soldier, which is one of Fresan's favourite books and also one of mine, and J hates The Good Soldier to the extent that she is gnashing her teeth and hurling it against walls by about ten pages in. And actually, the 'ten-page list' thing makes me think of American Psycho, which it doesn't really resemble except where it does, and J hates that, too.

Anyway, but the really awesome thing about it is that it's kind of a version of Homeward Bounders, which I don't think (from his acknowledgements and lists of sources) Fresan has read. I am semi-seriously toying with the idea of sending him a copy, because I think reading some DWJ would totally remap his ideas about children's literature.

And tonight! J and I and our friend G are going to go and see The Wizard of Menlo, a play about Thomas Edison (sample quote from publicity: Yes. Life is being improved. We are improving it with our machines), which I am fully expecting to be as steampunkily mad and brilliant as Tomorrow's Eve, though I may of course be disappointed. So between the post-Buffy teen-girl-adventure-romance-with-supernatural-elements and the Latin-American-magic-realist-Peter-Pan-60s-London thing and the Czech-paean-to-Edison, possibly my brane will explode and I won't have to teach on Monday anyway. HOORAY FOR THE WEEKEND.

*I still have three units of second-marking to do, but none of that is actually late yet, and I have finished my first-marking! (Until my Latin students have their exam on Thursday, anyway.)

** Well, I have to do a handout/Powerpoint for my 9am lecture and read like fifty lines of Vergil for my 10am reading class on Monday. BUT THAT IS ALL.

*** The books have phone numbers and email addresses and websites and suchlike in, that really work, and a little envelope full of doohickeys - menus and documents and scribbled-on matchbooks and stuff. The doohickeys are cool but the phone messages are all transcribed in the book itself, and the websites also seem to just have scans of the doohickeys, and I'm unsure why 'clicking on stuff' is any more 'interactive' than 'turning the pages of a book'. But I am a grumpy old woman, I know.

**** I actually really liked Bridget Jones the book, which is mainly about female friendship and urban friend-based kin networks of care, and the inanity of self-help-book versions of heterosexuality which try to set up men and women as different species. But the film... didn't really do that so much.

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