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Posts Tagged ‘literary criticism’

not just jane book darwins

In the wake of my NYC trip and the presidential transition, here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling
Multiple secret plots, Horcruxes, Quidditch and so much snogging: I love this sixth installment of Harry’s story. It is, in many ways, his last chance to be a teenager. The ending makes me weep every single time, but it’s still so good.

The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables, David Bellos
I adore Les Mis: I fell head over heels for the musical as a teenager and loved the book when I read it a few years ago. Bellos chronicles the inspiration, writing process and publication of Hugo’s masterpiece, with fascinating asides about language, color, coinage, politics and more. Accessible and interesting for Les Mis fans. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 21).

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog, Adam Gidwitz
An engaging, often funny medieval tale of three French children with unusual powers – plus a greyhound who just might be a saint. Fun, clever and moving. (Also: best subtitle ever.) Recommended by Liberty on All the Books!.

The Satanic Mechanic, Sally Andrew
Tannie Maria van Harten, who writes the recipe and love advice column for her local newspaper, gets drawn into a police investigation when she sees not one, but two, men murdered before her eyes. An engaging mystery set in South Africa, which is as much about Tannie Maria’s life and relationships as it is about catching the killer. Lots of Afrikaans words and delicious food descriptions. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 28).

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling
The final, grim, heartbreaking, wonderful installment of a story I adore. It felt astonishingly timely, and as usual, I didn’t want it to end. Lupin’s words on Potterwatch struck me particularly this time: “Everything for which we are fighting: the triumph of good, the power of innocence, the need to keep resisting.”

Not Just Jane: Rediscovering Seven Amazing Women Writers Who Transformed British Literature, Shelley DeWees
Everyone knows about Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters – and they are amazing. But before (and concurrently with) Jane and Charlotte, there were other groundbreaking British writers who were female, feminist, wildly talented and generally badass. A fascinating, highly readable account of seven such women. So good. Also recommended by Liberty on All the Books!.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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So said Bill Rankin, our jolly, red-bearded medievalist professor, to a class full of literary theory students four years ago. (Has it really been THAT long since I first cracked open the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism – which, by the way, I’m using again this semester?) His declaration was, I think, partially intended to scare us, but also to prepare us for what lay ahead. In one semester we would have a go at the entire history of literary theory, from Plato and Aristotle to very recent feminist, Marxist and other “flavours” of postmodern criticism. We would slog through texts from Freud to Arnold to Fish. We would debate the finer points of semiotics and post-structuralism. And yes, that class did make my brain hurt.

I’ve just finished my first week as a grad student: one lecture on Tuesday night, one tonight. And while I believe I’m going to tremendously enjoy these classes and their challenges, yes, they are going to make my brain hurt.

The class on Tuesdays will deal with research methods and literary theory, covering some ground I’ve trod before while excavating new depths in said ground. There are about 17 students and it will be taught turn-about by various members of the English department. (At ACU, that would be a circus. We’ll see how it plays out here.)

My Thursday class is much smaller (three students and two tutors, but only one tutor at a time), and we will be tracing the history of the body and of spaces in early modern English literature. Don’t get that last part? I’m still grasping it myself. But we’re going to look at perceptions of the body along with the evolution of anatomy and sexuality, and also in terms of gender-bending (we’re starting with two Shakespearean comedies). For the “spaces” part, we’ll look at English country houses, fantastic voyages, colonization, and London as a centre for change and commerce.

The Ireland post will come soon, I promise – but I did want to celebrate the completion of my first week. Here’s to many more challenging and enlightening discussions, and (I hope) a couple of brilliant essays at the end of it all.

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