So I've been thinking about the book questions, the ones Common Smartweed answered on her blog, Nice Belt.
It's a basic set of questions about books I've read and books I've liked and why. But answering such questions is hard when you're an English teacher. Because a) I don't really get to read many books for fun anymore, it's all mostly Renaissance texts and criticism and early modern documents and the like and b) I have this fear that because I'm an English teacher I'm actually supposed to know something about literature and therefore people will take my answers seriously. Which they shouldn't.
Which book/s changed my life?
Pale Fire and Mme Bovary. I read them both when I was 16. Up until that point I had been devouring novels right and left and delighting in living in the imaginary worlds they proffered. No longer. I guess I just hadn't realized that books could hide nasty secrets. But I love that they do.
The Goldbug Variations, because no one writes like Richard Powers, and no one tells a double-helix story as well as he does, here. You might as well give up on double-helix stories, because this is the best and final one, like Beethoven finishing the sonata with Op. 111 (in Mann's Dr. Faustus). Powers basically created and finished the double-helix story with The Goldbug Variations: there is nothing more to say on that subject.
And finally, Hamlet because if I had never been a 14-year-old Ophelia, I probably never would have become a professor of Renaissance English literature.
Which book/s have I read more than once?
Everything by Jane Austen. It's quite curious that something with such a predictable plot could continue to give so much pleasure again and again, and could compel me to keep turning those pages in anticipation. Why on earth is this? We all know she gets him in the end of every single book. Maybe it's something metaphysical about Austen's prose, maybe it's the way her knowing narrator includes her audience in the dryness of her jokes. I don't know, but I think it's a little bit weird.
I've also read The Rape of Lucrece probably about eighteen times in the last three years. And the damned article still won't get accepted. Oh well, I'll never tire of reading that excellent and terrifying poem, so I guess I shouldn't be so upset at having to continually revise my critical entry into it.
Which book/s would I like to have on a desert island?
I don't know what function desert island books are supposed to have. Are they supposed to comfort me in my hour of need, or are they supposed to be something that never bores me? I guess Paradise Lost would probably fulfill the latter function, but only Don Quixote could do both.
Which book/s made me laugh?
Don Quixote, Titus Andronicus (macabre humor: I love it), Crying of Lot 49, Hero and Leander, the last act of Poetaster, and a certain novella I read recently.
Made me cry?
Goodnight, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian, all of P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins books (but especially the last one when she goes away for real) and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman. Children's novels do it every time.
Do I wish I had written?
Since I'm just a humble English teacher and not a writer per se, critically speaking, I'm still in awe of Patricia Fumerton's Cultural Aesthetics and Bourdieu's Distinction. There are a lot of scholars I'd like to be able to write like. The transparency of Margreta de Grazia's prose resembles cool, clear spring water. And Simon Schama's historical prose is impossible to resisit. And I suppose I wish I had cashed in on the medieval/renaissance historical murder mystery. Because I wouldn't have had to do any extra research, and I'm immodest enough to say that I think I could have done it a lot more imaginatively than almost every one I've read, with the exception of Ross King's Ex Libris, which is kind of like a 17th century Crying of Lot 49. I also wish I could write like Thackeray. There, I said it. Put away your puppets children, our play is done.
Do I wish had never been written?
The Da Vinci Code
Am currently reading?
I should probably lie and say that I'm reading something great but right now I'm heavily into teaching prep as I start the day after tomorrow. So I'm reading Chaucer, Sidney, Lydgate, and Holbein's illustrations to The Dance of Death (also known as the Imagines Mortis). Actually, the Holbein is pretty cool: dancing skeletons in various stages of decomposition, mocking their living counterparts.
Wanting to read?
Gilead. Because Common Smartweed makes it sound really good. Pearl, because my mother says it's really good. But definitely not the next brilliant break-out novel by some guy named Jonathan or David with glasses who lives in Brooklyn. Seriously, there are at least five of them. Shouldn't we be worried?
And now it's time for me to pass the baton, because it seems to be customary with these questions. So I pass it to Jonathan (Super Bon!), Skookumchick (Rants of a Feminist Engineer), and Pantagruelle. Have fun, guys.