Thursday, June 05, 2008
Summer Book Club?
In the comments to Adam’s recent post about A Portrait of a Lady, Rich remarked, “After our long discussion of evaluative criticism, it’s good to see some that focuses on what works and what doesn’t.” I agreed, and I wondered if there was any appetite to engage collectively in something similar--that is, to pick a literary text and read it together (evaluatively or otherwise). A lot of the discussion here is meta-critical and professional; I’m curious what would happen if we tried a group read of a primary text. Some time ago, Amardeep had mentioned to me his interest in doing something along these lines, perhaps of a lesser-known 19th-century novel. Adam wonders about some other James novels. I seem also to recall some people here proposing a Sebald event. Any of these ideas is appealing to me, but if people have other proposals, that’s good too. Any interest? Any suggestions? We could take Marc Bousquet up on his “fighting words“ and read Green Grass, Running Water, if others besides me haven’t read it and are intrigued by his high praise…
For a group criticism… a shorter James might be of more service: The Europeans?
I’ve not read it. It’s on my summer/fall list… currently reading Musil’s Man without Qualities, which is going to take a few weeks, but could read The Europeans in an afternoon.
What did you have in mind? A conversational approach? Each person who wants to, posts a critical essay, then we dig in and have at it?
The last year of the Valve is a virtual graveyard of proposed “book events” that didn’t come off. The one that I was most interested in was a re-read of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. That’s hardly an obscure novel. It’s an interesting one from an evaluative criticism standpoint, though, because it’s a novel that works despite so many parts of it manifestly not working.
I don’t think it really matters which work is chosen, though.
The last year of the Valve is a virtual graveyard of proposed “book events” that didn’t come off...
Why is this, do you think? Lack of time? Lack of interest? Lack of organization or will? Wrong books?
From my experience, things like group reads and discussions tend to work better on sites and in groups organized differently. Blogs like the Valve are essentially “1.5-way” communication, where there are Authors and Readers, with the vast majority of readers feeling little engagement with the site. I read the site, for example, but rarely or never comment. How would discussion on the book function? Would we each post to our disparate blog, trusting that the other participants will read our posts? Would most of us comment on authors’ posts? Either seems suboptimal for this sort of project. A peer-to-peer discussion board seems almost required.
That said, Green Grass, Running Water looks interesting to me, and I will probably pick it up this Summer after I’ve finished my next few books.
If, per Blake’s suggestion, everyone posted at their own blogs, we could collate a running list of people’s blogposts on the Valve, as a sort of index to keep lists straight.
Something like what they’ve done here for example.
Well, this is the link: http://tukopamoja.wordpress.com/africa-reading-challenge/
Of course I disagree with Blake Hyde. People can and do comment however they like.
“Why is this, do you think? Lack of time? Lack of interest? Lack of organization or will? Wrong books?”
I think it’s because the typical Valve “book event” has involved lining up blog posts on the text by 10-20 people. That would, I presume, involve a lot of work for the book event organizer, and be susceptible to failure if you couldn’t find that many people willing to commit to writing a blog post on a book.
If on the other hand you want a reading group, I don’t see how it would need that much, or any, preparation. You’d just say that you were going to be reading book X, invite other people to, and say that they could post about it either on their blogs or on the Valve as guest authors (subject to approval of their posts by you). The worst thing that could happen would be that there wouldn’t be any interest.
I like Rich’s suggestion of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It has the advantage that many of us have read (& reread) the text so we would not be starting from zero.
I’m for it, though Frankenstein is one of those books that leaves me with less than usual to say because of the vast secondary literature and its slightly didactic qualities.
My vote goes for The Golden Bowl or anything by George Eliot. I mean it. I’d even read Adam Bede.
Honestly, Rich. A graveyard? Couldn’t you have at least said “a gentle resting place, watched over by the elms and the passing years”?
I would think the less formal or involved the method, the better. If we had a reading schedule, for instance, I could put a very basic post up at the end of each interval just inviting comments, and we could see what evolved. Anyone can comment, after all, even if many choose not too--and something informal like this might encourage those who don’t usually feel engaged. People with their own blogs could post there if they preferred and then put a link in the comments thread over here (or just cut and paste). True, that would mean the discussion would always be “below the fold,” but it seems as it that would involve the least diffusion and the least administrative hassle. Of course, if this does not sound like a good system, I know someone will say so. I’ve never tried to organize something like this before!
I wouldn’t want to do The Golden Bowl. I actually did that once with a summer reading group because I knew I’d never manage it on my own. (I was right!) I’m also a bit scared off by Frankenstein, for about the same reasons Joseph gives--but it has been a long time since I read it, so I’d go along if that’s the general will. I might like it better this time! I’m also always happy to read George Eliot: is Adam Bede something that is unfamiliar enough to enough people to be of interest? It’s not one I’ve worked on closely, though I have certainly read it.
Well, not for nothing does GE call it the “labour of choice”: this may be the hardest part!
I was thinking Frankenstein would be good because it was familiar & because many people who read this list would already have read it at some point & might be familiar with the secondary literature. On the other hand, I’d have no problem taking a whack at Adam Bede, which I read last seven or eight years ago. I’m going to be traveling mid-summer, but would probably be able to post on my own blog & comment here, etc.
Well, I don’t see an overwhelming response, but I’ve seen Field of Dreams: maybe if we build it, they will comment...and maybe (pace Blake’s remark) more people will contribute to a fairly open-ended format. So unless I hear some strong contrary opinions soon, I’ll rough out a reading schedule for Adam Bede tomorrow, aiming to end up maybe around mid-August. If people who participate begin to think it would be better to have more direction, we can change things around as we go.
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