Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What am I reading?

Hi all! I've been such a bad book blogger lately. I think the last post was back in October (OCTOBER! I KNOW!) and it was about music, not books. So, I thought I would cross post something that I wrote for the blog at work. I oversee a blog feature called "What are you reading?" whereby I edit posts written by faculty and staff at my university in which they discuss what they are currently reading. Since I was the one featured this week, I thought I would share. I can't believe how many books I'm concurrently reading right now!

I read. Incessantly. I'm also an eclectic reader who is just as likely to be reading the latest mystery/crime novel by James D. Doss as I am to be reading theology or pop science (is pop science actually a term?). This month is a bit unusual since I've got more than the usual amount of reads going at the same time. I tend to read no more than two books at a time and those books are usually quite different from each other. I'm currently delving in and out of five different books as well as reading articles out of various professional journals. So, if I seem a bit "scattered" this month, you'll know why. Here is the current reading line up:

Clarissa: or, The History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson
You might ask, "Why are you reading a 9 volume epistolary novel, published in 1748, written with rather archaic sentence structure and punctuation?" I have a number of reasons for delving into one of the longest novels of the English language. For one, I need to exercise my 18th century literature reading muscle. It is a bit of a challenge to read (no speed reading here), but I like this kind of challenge. I have an undergraduate degree in English and absolutely love reading literature from all literary periods and then having wonderfully intense conversations about that reading. This is one of those works that I've never read and "feel the gap." Not only do I want to exercise my mind a bit, but the storyline intrigues me -- Clarissa is a tragic heroine thwarted by her family in her quest for virtue. This is a long term reading project for me that I just began. I'm reading at least two letters a day. Anyone want to join me in this long term read?

The Tales of Belkin by Alexander Pushkin
Ah. Another love of mine ... 19th century Russian literature. Alexander Pushkin is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet and the father of modern Russian literature. This particular work is a bit unusual since it is written in prose. As Adam Thirwell says in the Foreword to this book, "A discerning Russian reader [circa 1831] who wants prose reads in French." Russian literature of this period with literary "cred" was written in verse. Pushkin's own famous work, Eugene Onegin, is a novel in verse. One of the queries of the time was an investigation into the conditions of fiction writing. Pushkin intuited that most writers are limited in the kind of stories they can tell. In writing The Tales of Belkin, Pushkin was able to experiment and show that a storyteller does not have to be limited by style. The tales here are exploratory vignettes about "Byronic heroes, lovelorn heroines and supernatural events played out against Gothic backdrops" (from book flap). I'm about halfway through this slim volume and will be writing a review for the publisher, Hesperus Classics, after I finish reading.

The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson
Did someone say Vikings? It's a saga! It's an epic adventure! It's historical fiction! This New York Review Books Classic was published in 1954 and translated from the Swedish. As Michael Chabon says in the Introduction, "The Long Ships is big, bloody, and far-ranging, concerned with war and treasure and the grand deeds of men and kings; [it is also] intimate and domestic, centered firmly around the seasons and pursuits of village and farm, around weddings and births, around the hearths of women who see only too keenly through the grand pretensions of men and bloody kings." This book is said to have something for everyone. I'll just say it is really good.

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright
Sometimes I get into these discussions with people. Theological discussions for the most part, but since I'm far from being a knowledgeable theologian, I'll just say they are more discussions of "life, the universe, and everything." Wright's book was suggested to me after one of these discussions, and then I agreed to co-read it with a different person based on a completely separate discussion from the first (are you still following me?). Anyway, the subtitle of the book should explain both my conversations and (loosely) the content of the book: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. I'm not sure who wrote the wonderful blurb on the book flap, but "Wright convincingly argues that what we believe about life after death directly affects what we believe about life before death." There is a lot to prompt discussion here.

Web-Based Instruction: A Guide for Libraries, Third Edition by Susan Sharpless Smith
OK. This is the part where you can go to sleep if you are not a librarian or interested in web-based instruction. This book discusses new tools and trends for web-based instruction. As you can tell by the subtitle (those subtitles are really handy, aren't they?) it targets the needs of those designing and delivering library instruction, but I think it is something that can be helpful to anyone delivering instruction via the Web. From the back cover:
  • Builds Web instruction advice on a foundation of the latest research in how learning takes place
  • Translates technical Web-speak into plain English, so even non-experts can make effective use of the Web in their teaching
  • Includes an accompanying Web gallery, providing examples of screen shots and links to exemplary programs
  • Shows instructors best practices for incorporating the Web into teaching
So far I'm finding this book to be extremely helpful and easy to understand. Information covered includes project framework; project development tools (e.g. audio software and video editing applications); designing the user experience (e.g. user centered design and instructional design and content); use of multimedia; interactivity; and evaluation, testing and assessment.

College & Research Libraries / College & Research Libraries News
What can I say? These are professional journals with fascinating articles about things like the economics of open access, tying academic library goals to institutional mission, and collaboration in the cloud. If you want to know more, just ask me.


  1. You've got some good books here!

    I actually just got a copy of Clarissa and I'm reading it with Jillian (Room of One's Own) in April (I think...maybe March), otherwise I'd join you! Perhaps when we start up, if you're still chugging along, the three of us can coordinate some awesome Richardson love? It'd be fun! :)

  2. I also own a copy of Clarissa and have been thinking about a long -term project of reading the letters on the dates written. They begin January 10, I think. Have you already started?

  3. Allie: Yes! Definitely check with me when you start reading. I'm sure I'll still be chugging along at that point. It is one HUGE read.

    JoAnn: I did already begin, but am only on letter 5. I wouldn't mind stalling until Jan 10th if you are interested in a read-a-long. Just let me know :)

  4. You are reading quite the assortment of books. They sound good. Enjoy!

  5. Clarissa is one of the best books I've ever read :)

  6. Kailana: Thank! It is quite a handful I've got going this month!

    o: I read your post on Clarissa which is what reminded me I still needed to read it. You were very persuasive! It was a wonderful review.

  7. Thank you, I'm so glad you're going to read it. More people should. I keep saying, what F. R. Leavis said about how it will never be a "current classic" again really saddens me. There is no reason for it not to read today, no reason at all.

  8. I have a confession. I was supposed to read Clarissa for my 18th century Lit course in grad school and DIDN'T. Think it was one of those weeks where I had to finish a book for three classes and I only made it halfway through Clarissa. Do think we need to bring back the term "saucebox" though. Ha!

    So--good luck to you friend. ;)

  9. Trish: Thanks for the well wishes. If you read 1/2 of Clarissa you actually did pretty well! I think all of us with Lit degrees have a story similar to yours. Ssshhhh. Don't tell, right? :)