Thursday, August 27, 2009

Home again, home again, jiggety jig

. . . And it's pretty much the same. Except that the cat is trying to make up for 18 days without me by sticking her face in front of me every two seconds, and about 50% of the tomatoes were destroyed by caterpillars or blight or not enough water or all three. The first day of classes was yesterday but I'm on leave so I roll out of bed at 8 and spend the morning writing and listening to Bach in my pajamas. I feel kind of ill- like I'm playing hooky or I've got one long extended sick-day.

I've got to get out of here! And so I've devised a marvelous plan: who says I should spend my leave here just because I didn't get a fancy long-term fellowship? Here, where my house is full of distractions and I feel all wrong going to campus and hanging out around my colleagues who are not on leave, and thus envious of me? I have decided to try to sublet my place and move somewhere (avec chat) with bigger libraries, more rare books, more influential and important early modern scholars, and writing-friendly cafes, preferably late this fall, but I'll do January if I must. Can I afford it? Barely. But right now I think it might make a huge difference in my productivity and general happiness. Yes?

Friday, August 21, 2009


I'm still working on this book review. I've never reviewed a book with problems, so I don't really know what the protocol is, or what I ought to do. So please, people who have published many reviews, write in and tell me what I should do.

Here's the deal:

1. It's an edited anthology that was produced in Europe. The introduction has two or three interesting historical observations on the topic, but not much analysis. It doesn't pose any provocative questions or attempt to answer them with the essays in the volume, which is kind of what I thought anthologies were supposed to do. But maybe European anthologies have a different critical approach. Maybe they're less concerned with asking enormous questions and trying to redefine the Renaissance in a ground-breaking way, the way we North American and British folks keep trying to do (and failing). So resisting a grand recit actually would be kind of refreshing, come to think of it.

2. It's full of errors. I wouldn't mind the copy-editing mistakes, but there are some really big ones. For instance, an essay all about Renaissance emblems and poetry repeatedly uses the term energeia ("activity") when the author really means enargeia ("visibility"). Although enargeia is energeia's henchman - "visibility" makes "activity" possible - it's clear that the author of this essay neither understands the difference between the two, nor their relationship. The same article confuses ut pictura poesis (Horace's equation of poetry with painting, which is really about PERSPECTIVE) with poema pictura loquens ("a poem is a talking picture"), a mistake a lot of people make, which never gets corrected because no one reads ancient languages for REAL anymore, or bothers to read the whole of Horace's Ars Poetica and compare it with Plutarch. This really, really bugs me. But maybe I'm overreacting.

3. Sadly, I wish I could write to the editors and tell them about all the mistakes so that they can fix them. This book probably shouldn't have gone to press with so many errors.

So- do I write to the journal who gave me the review and tell them the book shouldn't be reviewed? Or do I review it and mention all its faults in the gentlest way possible? I mean, 500 of my 700 words would be summary anyway . . .

Fellow writers and scholars, please weigh in.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The New Flattery

For the first time, the guy sitting next to me in the Red Horse Cafe asked "where do you teach?" instead of "where do you study?" Is this the new flattery, or am I starting to look my academic age?

To be fair, he was much older than me, taught at a noted boho New England liberal arts college for nine years and got tenure there before moving to a noted boho Manhattan college.

And if he peeked, he might have noticed that my desktop was littered with virtual post-it notes saying things like "Article due August 31," "Book review due Sept. 1" and "Get image permissions" plus the deadlines of various fellowship competitions. Does that make me seem more professional?

Maybe he was just being extremely charming. What young female scholar doesn't want to be mistaken for someone with a successful professional career? This guy was slick. Then he left to go take care of his three-year-old. It's Park Slope, after all- he probably had to walk the dog while his wife went to Yoga class.

Epilogue: the same evening I went to a comedy-improv performance with an adorable beau. The young woman sitting next to us was shocked (actually even a bit taken aback) to learn my "real" age- said I looked "MUCH younger." My students always do this and it makes me laugh because what do they know? They don't know anyone else in their 30s. Maybe it was the beau.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

If you can't say something nice . . . say something mean.

I'm sitting in a cafe just south of Park Slope in Brooklyn, working on two pieces due at the end of the month. It's a lovely space- reminds me very much of the coffee-house where I work in my small Southern town, only much smaller (there is too much extra space in the South). The guy at the counter is from Alabama and serves Sweet Tea and seriously good bluegrass is coming out of the speakers. Were it not for all the cars outside and cute, bespectacled urban hipsters inside, I could be back home. Except that I think I like the South better when it's in Brooklyn.

My pieces are only sort of due August 31- one's a 3,000 word invited article for an online journal, and the other one is a book review which was originally due May 30. I tried to explain this to an MA student who has a crush on me a couple of nights ago. I was out with my friends, a married couple one of whom is a colleague, the other a writer. The student showed up too, and spent a couple of hours chatting with us. My colleague and I were complaining about our deadlines and then we started joking and laughing about how we'll never turn our pieces in on time anyway, because we were invited to do them. The MA student gazed at us with a mixture of shock and admiration, like he was privy to some illicit bit of information about how academics really work. And I'd forgotten all about how scary deadlines used to be, back when I was a student, back when they really mattered (or so I thought). But now that I get asked to do things all the time, of course, everything is so flexible. 'Cause that's how we hot-shot academics roll. (I hope my readers know I'm being silly and sarcastic here: I do take deadlines seriously and only rarely get invited to do anything. Just for clarification).

Anyway, I'm sitting here trying to write a decent review of this book, a collection of nine essays all vaguely pertaining to an organizing topic, and divided into four sections, but the introduction seems cursory, the organizing principle tenuous, and the section themes haphazard. Have you ever started to read a book you're reviewing and begun to think that every sentence (or every other sentence) is false? I'm at that stage right now. The book is decorated with my interjections. As I read each sentence I keep thinking "Really? No way! That is so not true." I can't tell if I'm right about this, or if it's just because I'm in a contrary, doubtful mood, inclined to question anything anyone tells me, whether it's an historical fact, an argument about Renaissance emblems, or a profession of love.

Book reviews don't really count as publications in my world, but they are still necessary. My friend Veralinda calls them exercises of good citizenship. It's just something we do to show that we are part of an (imagined) community of readers, especially at this early stage in our bookless careers. But the problem is that a book review makes a difference in someone else's career- the authors of the book I'm reviewing. And I don't want to ruin their careers since academic ones are so hard to come by. And because I can't afford it because then they could ruin mine. Still this review (graciously passed to me by Veralinda) is for a publication I respect. And I need to start being a good citizen.

At the moment I'm very fond of someone who never tones it down, who speaks his mind honestly and articulately and at times (some might say) insensitively. I have tremendous respect for him, because I cannot stand it when people gloss insults with insincere niceties (bless their hearts). And because I don't think he would speak so honestly if he didn't respect and like me, too. But in the case of my review I think there must be a way for me to write clearly and truthfully about what is wrong with this essay collection and still remain sensitive to the careers I may be tarnishing. I just haven't found it yet.