oops! all Wednesdays newsletter! I meant to put this together earlier this week, but man after work often all I want to do is lounge and not use my brain. I’m also getting out of work later than I have been, which is good because I’m getting paid more, but also means that I spend more time AT work instead of using my brain at home doing other things like yknow. Writing reviews and this newsletter.
Some of this though I do think is in part me trying to recover from my brief weekend away, which was AMAZING, but I did drive six hours on Sunday right before I had to show up to work the next day so maybe that explains some of why I’m dragging at least mentally this week, or at least why I’m worn out mentally by the time I get home after dragging myself out of bed to be at work. It’s also getting colder, which is exciting!!! But makes it harder to think.
Otherwise, I continue to love my job. It is not Perfect, in the way that working to survive is never perfect, and in the way that working in education in any capacity is never perfect, but I’m deeply enjoying my coworkers, I don’t find the work to be completely unbearable, and while yes I do not love being awake at 6 am (so I can read and then get ready for work) it’s also not the most terrible thing in the world. Work! It’s work! And it’s about as good as it can get.
But all of that is just My Life, and there are other things I’m doing, like reading and writing about reading, so let’s move on to
Books I Wrote About This Week
I don’t know if people know this about me, but boy do I like King Arthur stories. Disney’s The Sword in the Stone is a regular “background noise” rotation for me on the weekends, I read T.H. White’s The Once and Future King in fifth grade, and one of my all-time favorite movies is King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. And that’s very funny to me overall, given how the legends themselves are often fairly place-specific; King Arthur is specifically a British legend, and much of what we get out of more recent adaptations are doing work that involves incorporative narratives for Britain; I’ll link here to an essay by friend of the newsletter Andrew about Dev Patel’s casting in the recent Green Knight film, which is excellent!
So to have this specific work take up King Arthur in so many contexts is fascinating on its own. Like historiography, the kinds of fictional stories we tell tell us more about our current time. Here’s what we’re interested in, according to this collection: Lancelot! We are HORNY for Lancelot’s entire tragedy, for his love of both Arthur and Guinevere, for poor Elaine. That’s probably a solid third of the stories in this book. The other third are stories about MERLIN. We love Merlin, which, fair. (Sudden flashback to the Lost Years of Merlin series. Damn I forgot how much Arthurian content I was into as a kid!) The last third feels like less of a third and in fact is may be like 49% Lancelot, 49% Merlin, 2% Sword in the Stone stuff. Which is all really interesting! We’re less into the Founding of Britain in this collection (which makes sense to some degree) than we might be and that’s interesting!
The stories themselves were of varying interest to me; I liked the “present” ones quite a bit, but also some of the “past” and Alexander Chee’s future piece. And all of it made me definitely want to go back and reread all those other stories I read as a kid, even just to jog my memory a little more on the story (I… admit that I kind of forgot about Elaine, but it’s Been a While!) So we’ll see how I feel about those versions in the future!
Folks, this is not my favorite Eagleton book I’ve read thus far. It has all the great features the other books have—once again, he’s excellent at explaining things and breaking down arguments—but the difficult lies in a cross-section of two issues. The first is that I might have read Eagleton’s book about literary criticism and theory too close together. Some of the lines were even the exact same from Literary Criticism, which frankly I have no problem with; those books are aimed at pretty different audiences, and it’s honestly genius to lift lines from one book to another. Work smarter not harder! But it does mean that sometimes I’m reading the same explanation over and over.
The second part though, and I think frankly the bigger part, is that this book is SO poorly organized. Eagleton even notes that if someone is looking to understand basic parts of how to read a poem, they should skip to the middle end of the book, which like: if you’re already aware of what people who read your book are looking for, then maybe just move the chapters? Not that I don’t find the content of those early chapters interesting, even if in some ways some of the ground they cover I’ve already read in Eagleton’s other books. It was nice to have a chapter on Formalism, a literary movement that Eagleton referenced frequently in Literary Theory and never explained within the confines of the text. It just seemed like it wanted to be two books instead of one, and that was rough. But I do think the later chapters, which get into the actual nuts and bolts of poetry and how to analyze it from a number of perspectives, were really helpful for me. I don’t know that I’ll actively USE the strategies as I go on and read poetry in the future, but it was a useful resource all the same.
(Frankly: I’m a little bummed that it wasn’t better, otherwise I might have bought the book and used it for reference more often! Any other books you like about ‘how to read poetry’?)
Folks I want to talk about when I find cool worldbuilding cool, because I feel like I frequently go “I don’t care about worldbuilding” and the secret to making me care about your cool magic system or whatever is to make good characters and have them interact with their world. This is not me like trying to be Snarky (though I can absolutely be snarky about books with Cool Worldbuilding being an absolute snoozefest if we want!) more like a realization in fact about how difficult that balance is to pull off.
I think when there’s good characterization, I don’t notice as much, because I’m not looking for good worldbuilding, so if it’s “missing” in fantasy etc, I don’t really care. I can overlook a lot if the characters are compelling; if the characters aren’t compelling but the world is “cool,” I cannot overlook that because I will get bored. Again, this is a matter of personal taste so I’m not like trying to dunk on people for whom “cool worldbuilding” is a more important part of the reading experience. But I generally only notice cool worldbuilding when the characterization is weak. Oops!
This book though, had a beautiful blend of both of these things. I was drawn in by the characters and the character conflict, and it was tied up so neatly WITH the way the world worked. I know you’re like “Ai that’s just called fantasy” WELL YES BUT it was done in a way that made me invested in the conflicts in a way that I rarely am in books. Or maybe not rarely generally, just like recently I’ve had a spree of rough rides when it comes to speculative fiction lately. But I think the key for maybe my growth as a reader here was that I could notice, instead of just ignoring it the way I typically do with books that have good characterization. But it was so good here in this book, and I had a really wonderful time reading it, even if I ran out of time on the library ebook and had to wait uh… four months to finish this! Definitely recommend it.
The Reading Situation
100 books: at the time of this writing, I have finished 96 books! Not too bad. I don’t think I’ll hit 100 by the end of October, given that I have four books left and less than a week, but I’ll have been close which is pretty good! I just have to read some shorter books!
Author identity challenge: still sitting at 14/18 prompts, or 78%. Right now I’m more focused on getting those last four books in than completing all the prompts, but maybe after that’s done I can really pay attention to this!
Currently reading: moving far too slowly through The Third Pitch, really finally hitting my stride in My Heart is a Chainsaw, and Women’s Liberation is due this week but I still have like 100 pages of it, oops! But I’m closing in on the end! And inching closer in Sexual Justice and Ideology, though they are not my focus right now. (I feel like once I finally finish Women’s Liberation my world will open back up again re: reading, but we’ll see.)
And that’s it for this belated week! I hope you are enjoying this Halloween season! I am certainly enjoying the cooler weather (again, even if it makes it a little difficult to get out of bed—at least until my landlords turn on the heat in earnest!) I’m not sure if I’ll have enough turnaround (or have read any more books…) by Sunday to turn out another newsletter, but if I do then you will hear from me! If you want to see me tweet much less frequently because I’m at work and not on twitter 24/7, you can follow me on twitter @fadesintointent; if you want to see what my friends are doing and the cool art they make, you can follow me on instagram @sonofahurricane. Take care of yourselves and each other! <3