I’m not interested in teaching books by men. I’ve never found — James Joyce is the only writer that interests me as a male writer, so I do teach one s...moreI’m not interested in teaching books by men. I’ve never found — James Joyce is the only writer that interests me as a male writer, so I do teach one short story from James Joyce. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would teach only the people that I truly, truly love. And, unfortunately, none of those happen to be American, or men. Um. Except for James Joyce. And when I try James Joyce, I find he actually doesn’t work. He’s too sophisticated. He’s too sophisticated for even a third-year class. So you’re quite right, and usually at the beginning of the semester someone asks why there aren’t any male writers in the course. I say I don’t love male writers enough to teach them, if you want male writers go down the hall. What I’m good at is women.
Would you have a problem with that?
It shouldn't be wrong one way but not the other. (Incidentally I would not be likely to follow either version's reviews on Goodreads if they were a poster.) Without the controversy I wouldn't have thought Gilmour's comments worthy of any particular thought or attention. Literature tutor/novelist only teaches authors they like, tends to like authors from similar background to their own. So fucking what?
I don't find his comments particularly relevant for anyone except his prospective students. If for some reason I were a lit student at the university of Toronto (though I would rather study another subject and leave literature as a hobby) I wonder whether I'd decide Gilmour was simply a bit lazy (if he can't make 21 year olds at a good university understand Woolf, he can't be much cop as a tutor), and should retitle his course* as I suspect, or whether to take it out of curiosity and for future conversational value.
* If certain sectors of academe are so keen on classifying people by their race and gender (an essentialist practice I generally dislike) then why not have courses on, say, American white male writers of the twentieth century just as you do on black female writers etc, making them an equally niche group of equal standing to show that the contemporary canon isn't the same as Bloom's canon and hasn't been for quite some time. (Fifteen years ago I did take a literature module as an extra course, and wasn't happy to be spending time on seventeenth century female poets who just weren't very good. I don't think it gives a good impression of women's writing to teach bad writers on a lower-level general/introductory course like that - they were obviously nowhere near as good as Donne, Marvell etc and belonged on a more specialist module with an emphasis on writing as social history etc. With a very very few exceptions (whom I can't actually name off the top of my head, I just consider the blanket statement would be too rude as well as potentially inaccurate) there don't seem to have been British female authors who were equally as good as their most esteemed male counterparts until the nineteenth century. Presumably because of changing social and economic conditions. And if those were necessary for more women to write well and publicly and for their works to survive, does it not prove a feminist point in any case?)
A while ago I stopped posting rants like this because they were going into friends' update emails despite my keeping them out of the feed. But I've grown more and more pissed off with Goodreads over the course of this year and I've got to the point of not caring if I indirectly piss off people I know only from this site. (Those who know me from elsewhere will be unsurprised by this sort of thing.)(less)
The only book on this year's Booker longlist I didn't finish. The writing style too often made an exciting subject boring. I gave up about 3/4 of the...moreThe only book on this year's Booker longlist I didn't finish. The writing style too often made an exciting subject boring. I gave up about 3/4 of the way through The Massive. The characterisation in that second part was very flat. (Still wonder if it was deliberate, to represent the ordinariness of the people and the nature of the environments they were stuck in.)
Still, I am grateful to House and the judges for kickstarting my John Le Carre addiction. I didn't expect to find a thriller as tedious as I found The Kills (given that I like them as films and enjoyed reading a few when I was younger) so I checked out The Spy Who Came in From the Cold as reputedly the best British thriller. And liked it very much indeed. If only The Kills had been as good as reading four Smiley novels, it would have been an absolute treat.(less)
Margaret Drabble, in her introduction to the British edition of Thoughts of Sorts by Georges Perec, has this to say about CBR, who was a friend of her...moreMargaret Drabble, in her introduction to the British edition of Thoughts of Sorts by Georges Perec, has this to say about CBR, who was a friend of hers. I thought the increasing number of CBR fans on GR might be interested. (The text is Drabble's but I'm happy for someone to paste my transcription to a more appropriate thread if they like.)
Geneva-born Christine Brooke-Rose (b.1923) was certainly highly conscious of the [OuLiPo] group's presence; she is bilingual, lived and taught for many years in Paris, and has written novels that deploy a variety of semantic devices. More significantly, when planning to write a memoir, she felt compelled to find an alienating persona. She told me this, as I recall, in 1991, when we were visiting Bletchley Park together, that home of codes and crossword puzzle addicts, where she had worked during the war with Angus Wilson. She said she found it impossible to write, simply, in the first person. She eventually solved this by referring to herself in Remake (1996) as 'the old lady', as well as employing other concealments and replacements and pseudonyms. Bletchley Park, of course, instilled into its workforce a habit of official secrecy that went very deep. Although the war occupies only a section of her memoir, mental disciplines acquired during it affected her thereafter. I remember at the time being puzzled by her inhibition, and have much more sympathy with it now. Deviousness is forced upon us. In Life, End of, published in 2006, she describes the growing afflictions of old age: she is no longer the 'old lady', she has become one of the 'O.P' - the Other People, the Old People - and her last line is a heroic pun in French: 'les jeux de maux sont faits' [maux: misfortunes - rather than mots:words].(less)
[4.5] Almost as good as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and only makes me look forward to reading more. The plot is simpler – as much a detective s...more[4.5] Almost as good as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and only makes me look forward to reading more. The plot is simpler – as much a detective story (complete with Plod) as a spy thriller - occasional clunks in the writing, but still very good. This is the first in the George Smiley series and was Le Carré's first novel - more impressive than most of the recent début novels I've read this year. (Also such a relief to read something so straightforwardly enjoyable after Lolita.)
I haven't yet got over my surprise that a thriller could contain such good understanding of emotional states - here especially wariness/ paranoia, trauma and fear, lost love, the wish not to be bothered - perhaps that's part of what distinguishes le Carré. I very much like the way he relates the emotional legacy of the Second World War and the contemporary effect of the Cold War on individuals and politics. Unlike some more literary books which can really put one through the wringer, evoking feelings and memories at great length, this acknowledges rather than dwelling on them: there's always a distraction, something happening - (and it’s sometimes quite loud.)
BTW, why on earth did Penguin make their new covers for the George Smiley novels - like this one - pastiches of 1930s posters? The books are full of wonderful detail from their own times, the early sixties and onwards. Those picures look senselessly wrong and there's no shortage of enthusiasts for mid-twentieth century design in Britain. I love these books at least as much for the sense of the era as for the stories. (less)
I read Pynchon's intro weeks ago on a sample. That's pretty much the best thing in this book; still it's interesting to watch development in style and...moreI read Pynchon's intro weeks ago on a sample. That's pretty much the best thing in this book; still it's interesting to watch development in style and motifs through these stories, which were first published 1960-1964.
The Small Rain A lot of this is a pretty conventional short story, not a bad one though, about an army battalion sent to clear up after a natural disaster. Presumably a semi-autobiographical element: some of the main characters are rank & file soldiers their comrades think are more than smart enough for other work. An amazing few sentences almost summarise why I like Pynchon, as well as being an idea close to my own heart. What I mean is something like a closed circuit. Everybody on the same frequency. And after a while you forget about the rest of the spectrum and start believing that this is the only frequency that counts or is real. While outside, all up and down the land, there are these wonderful colors and x-rays and ultraviolets going on. Most books feel to me like they're stuck in that one place. Reading Pynchon is being on the road and seeing all the other spectacular stuff, - though with someone who seems to share some of the same opinions and neuroses, and apparently contains much of one's own general knowledge plus that of a few friends with different specialties.
Low-lands Another fairly conventional story, about an ex-Navy guy and his drinking partners (one with the fabulous name Rocco Squamuglia, Squamuglia later making an appearance in Lot 49 as a fictional Italian city-state) – though it's more anarchic than 'The Small Rain' and in the last few pages spills into a fantasy section reminiscent of a children's book. One of the things I've really enjoyed about Pynchon so far is that his writing actually distracts me from a lot of the stuff other books make me dwell on, and so it is much more fun. 'Low-lands' was an exception as I found myself yet again tiresomely mulling over old relationships. (I thought Cindy was pretty intolerant; the relationship I had which worked best for the longest time was with someone who sometimes disappeared on multi-day drinking binges and might turn up a couple of hundred miles away. Other people would have soon thought about each of us “I've had enough of this shit” but we rarely thought of it as shit and accepted stuff, just as we each tended to accept other people who were quite weird. However, rather like Miriam in what seems like a satirical scene in the next story 'Entropy' – albeit without breaking windows - I was upset by the same ex's views on philosophy of science. Though we still remain friends fourteen years after first meeting.)
Entropy The whole thing must be intended to represent entropy; it meanders and moves in a way that would be easier to draw as a shape or a graph than to summarise with words. Partly an account of an anarchic lads' house party from the Beat era when jazz was the coolest thing. In other scenes a couple named Aubade and Callisto, apparently living in a greenhouse in the garden, ponder various cultural and scientific phenomena. It's very rare I even consider applying the word pretentious – to those scenes I did. Though A&C are still rather sweet. A development of immersive digression, fantasy blurring with reality and, well, entropy from the previous piece. There are a couple of paragraphs here better appreciated by someone with a thorough knowledge of physics. As it was, I wasn't sure whether a character's idea followed, or if it was a mystical/pseudo tangent from the science. Like quantum mysticism only with thermodynamics.
Under the Rose Late Victorian British Empire spy spoof with a minor robot presence – another part of the case for “Pynchon invented steampunk”. Most of it was somehow uninvolving and a chore, and I kept wishing I was reading more John Le Carre instead – even though the idea of this story sounds great and there are some marvellous character names, including Hugh Bongo-Shaftsbury.
The Secret Integration Pynchon writes Peanuts. This story, three years and the other side of V from its predecessor, is so much better. Also it's longer which gives the author more space to freewheel. There isn't exactly a beginning, a middle and an end. A bunch of nice and well-meaning pre-teen mostly boys of varying degrees of eccentricity (including reluctant child genius Grover as the brains of the operation) – not to mention their dog - get up to various escapades in a middle American town including home made explosives, pranks with water balloons, being an Alcoholics Anonymous buddy to an old jazz musician, and trying to thwart local racists including their parents. Really really charming.
These stories aren't amazing, a bit of a fans-only thing. Saw one post mentioning they'd been a set text on the reviewer's course – I'm not sure why a tutor would set an author's poorest work. But they were good enough that I enjoyed them as a break from the duller parts of the contemporary novel I was also reading, The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner.(less)