Friday, April 17, 2009

Potpourri -- mystery, chicklit, memoirs, theory

Okay, this is going to be one of those quick catch-up posts -- if I have a minute, one of these days I'll take a photo or two of the stacks and stacks of unreads 'round here -- so I think I should concentrate on reading them rather than writing about, just for the next wee while anyway.
First up, some reading from a genre I don't usually spend much time with -- Chick Lit -- and I guess even more specifically, Chick Lit for the "Mature Chick" (if that's not an oxymoron, then I'm not an English prof!). At Chapters quite a few months ago I picked up a remaindered hardcover whose reference to The Friday Night Knitting Club caught my eye. While I haven't bothered yet to buy or read the latter, I'm a keen knitter and thought another in the same vein might be fun at that remaindered price. And it was an enjoyable quick read when I was sick a few weeks ago and couldn't have managed anything much more demanding --Kate Jacobs' Comfort Food -- but it wasn't about knitting and without that hook, I'm afraid there wasn't much else for me to recommend about it. Competent writing, yes, although I'm not a fan of "upon," preferring the simpler "on" -- you know what I mean: "Upon arriving at the door . . . " "Upon seeing her friend, she . . ." etc., etc., (and no, these aren't examples from the book, but they'll suffice to make the point, won't they?)

No, if I'm reading formula or genre fiction, it's pretty much going to be the mystery novel (although I used to very much enjoy good SF as well). When classes finished earlier this month, I celebrated by cracking out the latest Peter Robinson paperback, Friend of the Devil. I do like our Inspector Alan Banks with his strengths and inevitable frailties and his impressive knowledge of music. I have a weak spot for the bad boys, the Rebuses and the Bosches, but Banks is someone you could imagine having over for dinner and enjoying his company -- and you wouldn't be too worried he'd end up swearing and walking out. DC Annie Cabot is walking closer to that bad boy line, but again, she's bright, interesting, and has a background in art -- between the two characters, I always pick up an interesting fact or two, sometimes even a new favourite musician or artist. Plot was satisfying enough here and Robinson's supporting cast of characters are as complex as always, even the bit players -- caricatures make me impatient except in really spot-on satire (which is seldom what I'm looking for in a good mystery).

I've also just finished reading Mark Doty's The Dog Years and very much admired what he's able to pull together in this memoir about the lives and deaths of two beloved dogs. He manages to create a structure which alternates between anecdotes -- funny, charming, poignant, sad -- and meditations on life and death. It's a fine line, it seems to me, between keeping the overall tone light enough to suit the reader who is primarily attracted by the "dog story" and treating the existential-metaphysical aspects with the weight they deserve. He does that so well that I keep wondering if I could dare teach this to my 1st-year students. There's much more indulgence in language (lyrical descriptions, more adjectives and adverbs than many of them like, many words they'd have to look up) and philosophizing than I'd usually try with them, and he even quotes other poets! (primarily Emily Dickinson) but I do think that the subject matter would keep most of them reading (well, that and the comprehension quiz I could give them!). Certainly, the students in my 1st-year Poetry class this year appreciated Doty's sonnet, "Golden Retrievals" -- do click on the link and take a minute to read this poem and you'll see why.

Right now, I'm reading Kathleen Flinn's The Sharper the Knife, the Less You Cry, another memoir, but this one about a woman who takes the loss of her job as an opportunity to fulfil a lifelong dream to study at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. So far, I'm enjoying it very much -- more later!

As well, I've picked out my Dickens for this summer. As I wrote last year when reporting on Bleak House, I decided in summer 2007 to refresh my familiarity with Dickens' novels after decades away from them. For the cost of $3.00, I picked up a secondhand Riverside edition of David Copperfield yesterday -- cost per word will be infinitesimal.

But right now, it's back to Kristeva -- I've been reading her chapters on Louis-Ferdinand Céline in anticipation of our theory group's last session of the year -- it's this afternoon and we have a visiting speaker, so I'd better go prepare.


  1. I love Rebus too ... Rankin and Kate Atkinson are my favourite relaxation reads. As for Kristeva, I haven't read her since my undergraduate degree. Hard work, as I recall!

  2. We're on the same pages, Tiffany! I enjoy both Rankin and Atkinson. Kristeva would be much tougher going if I didn't have a group of colleagues working through her stuff with me.