About Miriam Jones
Miriam Jones is Associate Professor of English in the Department of Humanities and Languages at the University of New Brunswick, Saint John. She teaches 18th-century British literature, women's writing, and speculative fiction. She blogs at scribblingwoman.
Posts by Miriam Jones
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Bad book math
[As Jonathan just posted on reading lists:]
In an otherwise fluffy piece for the LA Times, staff writer Susan Salter Reynolds disturbs that deep river of anxiety felt by all readers at one time or another: that “so little time, so many books” anxiety that is at the bottom of the widespread irritation, yet perverse fascination, with the ubiquitous lists of “best,” “most influential,” or “must have read in order to be considered even basically literate” lists of books. Damn her, she even runs the numbers:Continue reading "Bad book math"
Saturday, November 26, 2005
Not much of a post
but given our discussion here I did want to point toward two recent conversations about blogging and commenting culture, and gender: Rana at Frogs and Ravens draws some conclusions about the whole kerfuffle over at Dr. B’s, and Ron Silliman examines the gender split in his blogroll, post subjects, and commenters. The tones of the two threads three, counting the one here are instructive.
You’re probably all tired of the subject, so just file this under “worth noting.”
Sunday, November 20, 2005
Lust for paper
Inspired by Miriam Burnstein’s post, below, about collecting 19thc books:
I don’t think we talk enough about our love of paper. Paper, bindings: the physical experience of holding books and touching paper. And the addictive nature of book collecting is almost as visceral.
When I interviewed for my current job, I talked about work I was doing on print culture and street literature. I passed around a little pamphlet, an 18thc collection of songs. It sits inside a clear plastic envelop that screams noli me tangere, which is a dreadful shame as the paper is beautiful. Even 18thc street ephemera was printed on strong, thick paper, unlike the books The Little Professor describes. So on a whim I said, as it circulated, “Go ahead, slip your finger in. Touch it.” At least one person looked revolted; perhaps my tone was more lascivious than was desirable, given the circumstances. At any rate, others must have shared my fetish, for here I am.
In my comment to Miriam B.’s post I mentioned Steetprint, developed at the University of Alberta and billed as
An online community dedicated to the public research, teaching, and sharing of formerly inaccessible texts and artifacts…. We also provide free software for creating your own digital collections. Our goal is to make formerly inaccessible and ephemeral texts and artifacts available to the widest possible audience, fulfilling the promise of the Internet and bringing information “back to the streets.”
I have not looked too far into this myself it’s on my “To-do” list but it seems most promising. And it might, somehow, tie into John Holbo’s ideas for scholarly online community.
Is there a disconnect between lust for paper, and interest in on-line facsimiles? Not really, no: facsimiles are the only way most of us are going to see these texts. In fact, high resolution facsimiles (with workable interfaces) promote an appreciation for the materiality of texts in a way that plain-text transcriptions, as wonderful and useful as they are, cannot.
My only question is, given my admitted propensities, is looking at online facsimiles of texts the same as looking at porn?
[cross-posted to my blog]
Thursday, November 17, 2005
So, is this a masculine space?
Not completely, obviously. But the XX share of the collective burden and privilege of writing and commenting here at The Valve is being shouldered by relatively few. I count myself as more of a shirker, these days, than a shoulderer, btw.
So, what about it? Are there women reading and lurking, but not commenting too often? Or not commenting at all? Are there women who visit less frequently than they once did? If so, would anyone be willing to suggest why? It can’t be demographics, not any more, when graduate programmes in literary studies more or less seem to have achieved gender parity, and women are well represented in the lower ranks, at least, of the professoriate. Is academic discourse, the academic discourse of our discipline(s) in particular, still masculinist? Is it a question of subject matter? Or tone? Or the resoundingly male company hereabouts?
Inquiring minds, etc.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Gaining my religion
Well, okay, that is overstating. Really overstating. Monkeys-are-nothing-to-be-ashamed-of overstating. Please don’t de-link me P.Z. Myers overstating.
But my classes have been interesting lately, and in part because some of the students are bringing their religion with them.
Let me back up. I am sure I am not the only teacher of English literature who feels that dealing in the classroom with religious material is a minefield.
Once, during my first or second year of teaching, I read out some passages from the Book of Revelation as part of a class on Yeats’ “The Second Coming.” How could I not? It’s all there. Anyway, I read it, neither rolling my eyes nor shaking my finger, and a student wrote, in the teaching evaluation at the end of the course, that s/he had not liked my reading from the Bible. Now, whether s/he thought I was proselytizing or being disrespectful by reducing the Bible to literature, I am not sure; that was all s/he wrote. I continue to read from the Book of Revelation when teaching that particular poem, but now I twist myself into an embarrassed pretzel beforehand explaining what I am, and am not, doing, by standing in front of them with that resonant black volume. (It probably doesn’t help that I have an old Bible that belonged to my father, aged and portentous looking. The Bible, not my father. Perhaps if I squinted at a computer print out and stumbled over the words. Ah, but it feels so good in the hand.)Continue reading "Gaining my religion"
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Teaching Carnival II
On Sept. 1, GZombie initiated a Teaching Carnival; if you haven’t visited, do. For my sins, I have agreed to host the next one, on Oct. 15. Links to likely posts, either someone else’s or your own, are most welcome. Don’t be shy.
Please pass on or post this invitation.
And, find out how to tag your posts.
(GZ is in the process of putting together a homepage for the TC and I will post the address when I have it.)
[cross-posted to my blog]
Higher Education for Multi-Taskers: A Online Discussion
I was recently sent the following message, and thought it might be of interest:
Higher Education for Multi-Taskers: A Online Discussion Hosted by The Chronicle of Higher Education
Wednesday, October 5, at 2 p.m., U.S. Eastern time
The description of the event asks whether “Millennial” students need to be taught in new ways, or whether this is merely “pandering.” I would ask a related question: what about Millennial academics? If being “Millennial” means having been born between 1980 and 1994, there must be some out there, and more all the time. Will we need to, I dunno, podcast departmental meetings in future?
[cross-posted to my blog]Continue reading "Higher Education for Multi-Taskers: A Online Discussion"
Sunday, October 02, 2005
The 18thc Online: commonplace book or coffeehouse?
Here are the notes for the paper I gave at NEASECS this past Saturday. The audience was a mixed group of 18thc scholars from various disciplines, mainly literary studies and history. Afterwards, someone asked about how we can judge the validity of internet sources, and that led to a lively discussion about learning to use new tools to evaluate new technologies. I used the example of the ways in which individuals on the internet exposed the lies and omissions of the mainstream media right after Hurricane Katrina.
I do believe everything I said, but I also feel like a proselytizer.
Have you accepted the internet into your heart, sister?
And no, it has not escaped my notice that the following is as much a blog entry as anything else. I clicked away on the featured websites as I spoke, replicating, in a half-arsed way, your experience here, should you read on.
[cross-posted to my blog].Continue reading "The 18thc Online: commonplace book or coffeehouse?"
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
The Canadian SF “Canon” and the Vexing Case of Margaret Atwood
Anyone interested in Canadian literature, sf, or, particularly, Canadian sf, is no doubt aware of the periodic controversy that swells up whenever Margaret Atwood is accused of writing science fiction. Atwood is surely too well-read to believe her own statement that science fiction is about “intergalactic space travel, ... teleportation, [and] Martians.” Is her demurral, then, merely a bid to enforce cultural boundaries? To retain the privileges of the “literary” as opposed to the “commercial” writer? Or is she not so much turning her back on genre fiction, as aligning herself with what she perceives as the more current trends within the genre?
To a large extent, it does not matter what she thinks.Continue reading "The Canadian SF “Canon” and the Vexing Case of Margaret Atwood"
Friday, May 13, 2005
On pens and ink and sealing wax
[I think Conscientious Objector has some valid points (and he’s good-looking, to boot, to judge by the photo on his site). Anyway, some of his remarks, and a post by Kieran Healy at Crooked Timber, prompted this post. A blog post, not an essay or an article:]
When I posted my little questionnaire some weeks back, I worried that it was too pointed. I thought, though, that it might seem innocuous enough, following as it did the pattern of two earlier quizzical posts, and so I went ahead. There went the neighbourhood.
While my questions about writing practices may strike some as not being much different from the general run of Quizilla fare, it was intended as a contribution to an ongoing discussion, or set of discussions, here at The Valve, about the relationship of writerly production, to product. (This may be a good place to apologize for revisiting issues that had finally seemed blessedly dormant. Feel free to move on to the next post.)Continue reading "On pens and ink and sealing wax"
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Going around the room: at the desk
It’s been a little while, but I still feel we’re not best friends yet, so if you could just answer the following questions:
1. Do you compose on the computer? Why or why not?
2. Does carbon paper make you nostalgic?
3. Do you have a stationery and/or a pen fetish?
4. Do you remember the first “grown-up” book that you ever read?
5. What embarrassing book from the distant past brings back a flood of recognition?
6. Are you a scholar, or a critic? Or neither?
7. When did you decide to become a scholar/critic/neither? Did you decide?
8. Has blog writing affected the way you write in other venues? The way you read?
9. Do you still read blogs or other webpages even if the design/print is unappealing or difficult to read?
10. Have you ever bought a book because of the cover/design? Which book(s)?
11. Do you think these questions are irrelevant?
Update: Scott McLemee answers question #11 with an emphatic NO.
Monday, April 25, 2005
Does writing change anything?
asks Salman Rushdie. The answer is yes:
When a reader falls in love with a book, it leaves its essence inside him, like radioactive fallout in an arable field, and after that there are certain crops that will no longer grow in him, while other, stranger, more fantastic growths may occasionally be produced. We love relatively few books in our lives, and those books become parts of the way we see our lives; we read our lives through them, and their descriptions of the inner and outer worlds become mixed up with ours — they become ours.
[Last week we honored] the memory of Susan Sontag and Arthur Miller, great writers, intellectuals and truth-tellers. The old idea of the intellectual as the one who speaks truth to power is still an idea worth holding on to. Tyrants fear the truth of books because it’s a truth that’s in hock to nobody; it’s a single artist’s unfettered vision of the world. They fear it even more because it’s incomplete, because the act of reading completes it, so that the book’s truth is slightly different in each reader’s different inner world, and these are the true revolutions of literature, these invisible, intimate communions of strangers, these tiny revolutions inside each reader’s imagination; and the enemies of the imagination, politburos, ayatollahs, all the different goon squads of gods and power, want to shut these revolutions down, and can’t. Not even the author of a book can know exactly what effect his book will have, but good books do have effects, and some of these effects are powerful, and all of them, thank goodness, are impossible to predict in advance.
Literature is a loose cannon. This is a very good thing.
(Link from Third Wave Agenda).
In his Herbert Read Memorial Lecture (Feb. 6, 1990), Rushdie said,
Literature is the one place in any society where, within the secrecy of our own heads, we can hear voices talking about everything in every possible way. The reason for ensuring that that privileged arena is preserved is not that writers want the absolute freedom to say and do whatever they please. It is that we, all of us, readers and writers and citizens and generals and goodmen, need that little, unimportant-looking room. We do not need to call it sacred, but we do need to remember that it is necessary.
Rushdie is one writer who reconciles the political v. aesthetic schism. Or, at least, he sketches out a common vocabulary for us to talk about it.
[cross-posted to my blog].
Saturday, April 23, 2005
Our campus bookstore
has been nominated for a Libris Award by the Canadian Bookseller’s Association in the category of “Campus Bookseller of the Year 2005.” They are up against some big players — the UofT bookstore, which has won often enough, from the looks of it, and the University of Western Ontario bookstore, which has been nominated before. The criteria are:
To a university or college campus bookstore in recognition of excellence in book retailing. Based on the standard of store fitting; range of stock relative to store size; helpfulness and knowledge of staff; overall store atmosphere; customer service and new initiatives; buying judgement.
I have been to the UofT bookstore, and often, in many of its incarnations; I did my undergraduate degree there and lived in Toronto for twenty years. It is a fine bookstore. I’m sure that the bookstore at Western is also very fine. These are two large and well-endowed universities; they each need, and can support, an impressive bookstore.
At UNBSJ we have a small bookstore. A very small bookstore. But filled to the brim, with an astonishing variety of excellent books. Pat Joas, the manager, is a reader you see, a reader first, and her enthusiasm, and the enthusiasm of the rest of the staff, is evident in every tightly packed shelf, every pile of signed books by the authors who make up our reading series — in which the bookstore plays an integral role — and in the fact that though they are crying for space, they still manage to have a credible range of new and established books in a good range of academic fields, as well as in areas of general interest. And the children’s books! You would think, in a store so pressed for space, that they would focus on required textbooks, some bestsellers by the cash register, sparkly pens, and the usual regalia. And these things are there, along with a very fine selection of children’s books — real books, not licensed ones — and a marvellous array of novels, stories, and poetry. Yes, poetry, piles of it. And people buy it; we have a loyal following for the reading series and an enthusiastic core of student poets.
All of this is possible because our bookstore is independently run. It is not “managed”; it follows the books, not the bottom line. It is a rare and precious thing, as a reader to my blog commented, particularly in this age of the megastore and the chains. Of rationalized campuses. I — we — feel very protective of it. I want it to win the award, but part of me is afraid that if it does, some marketing genius will notice its success — like the baleful eye of Mordor, turned on little Frodo — and decide that it can be EVEN BETTER if only it is “professionalized.”
It could not be better. Bigger, yes. But not better.
[cross-posted to my blog]
Sunday, April 17, 2005
In addition to the thread that swallowed Pittsburgh over at Crooked Timber, if you want more reading, Mel at In Favour of Thinking has a thoughtful post about the recent frothiness on this site, literary study and pleasure. (If you visit, play nice).
Friday, April 15, 2005
But I know what I like
I’m sure I’m not the only one to have become seriously irritated, at various points, with some of the discussions over the past several days. I’ve felt the urge to respond; I’ve felt the urge to do anything but; I’ve wished this was turning into a blog with more people who shared my assumptions … like I said, I’m sure I’m not the only one. But I have discovered — and no, this isn’t a new discovery or a particularly original one, but it is useful to be forcibly reminded now and then — that it is invigorating to be forced to articulate my position, even when I manage not to actually type it out in the comments.
So that is one thing.Continue reading "But I know what I like"