Saturday, October 14, 2017

Reading irritations for a Saturday morning

The good news about being an academic in the humanities--okay, literature--is that you get to read a lot.

The bad news about being an academic in the humanities is that you get to read a lot, and you don't always get to choose what you read but you have to find an interest if you're going to write about it.

Right now, this never-ending story of a piece that I am working on has me reading some things that are worthy, even brilliant, but are a little . . . trying. Here are some additional irritations to add to last year's post.
  • Religious doctrine, religious reflection--very important, I know, but reading this stuff is a slog for me.  "Be a good person, the end" is my medieval-peasant style level of understanding, if that's not an insult to medieval peasants.
  • Travel writing. I love the blog entries that you all post from travels in other countries, but straight travel writing, 19th-century style, reads sort of like this: "As we meandered down the [word in another language], we were greeted by the [ditto], with their charming [ditto] beside them as they [ditto] in happy expectation of our [ditto]," followed by a paragraph describing the local flora and fauna in exhaustive and exhausting detail. It's Mad Libs, international style.  I don't lose my will to live, but I do lose my will to read. 
  • Modernist texts that like to play hide the person's name, or the pronoun reference, or the central defining event of the book by mentioning it once in 400 pages. I understand why that's important and representationally sophisticated and the rest, but for trying to slog through, please give us a name. Please. 
  • Cruelty to animals and children. If they show up in a contemporary text, you need to look out, because often they won't last long and will be dispatched in highly unpleasant and lengthily described detail to prove that the author isn't "sentimental." I gave up on John Updike's Roger's Version because of this, and you have heard me rant before about Lolita. "But look at the wordplay and the language," I was told. "Lolita herself is just a girl, just incidental." Not to me, she's not. 
And now back to reading my religious-doctrine-centric book with lots of travel and name-hiding and, I fear, some animal cruelty coming up.

Edited to add: Nope--child cruelty and death. Modern fiction, you never disappoint in your predictability.

What kind of reading do you find tough to get through?

*Updated to add: The Man Booker Prize this year goes to George Saunders's Lincoln in the Bardo, which is by all accounts wonderful, and which I want to read--but it features #4 (Lincoln mourning his dead child) and #3 (a surreal, experimental style that one account said will leave you not understanding what's happening for chapters at a time). Just . . . leaving that out there.


Servetus said...

Anything that involves apocalypticism / millennarism / assigning current events to End Days patterns.

pat said...

For my PhD, I had to read long detailed descriptions of fish bones. Kid you not, sometimes I had to cover one eye because I was so bored I was seeing double. And I read it aloud to my cats, because that was the only thing that would keep me from skipping paragraphs.

Fretful Porpentine said...

OMG, I am SO with you on the religious-everything (not a good trait in an early modernist, alas) and the trying-to-be-too-clever contemporary literary fiction. Also, pretty much all contemporary poetry with very rare exceptions.

undine said...

Servetus--me, too! I know that's popular now, but no.

pat--that's hilarious and totally believable about reading to cats, and something I'm going to try the next time a narrator gets all down in the weeds about salvation by works versus salvation by grace (or fishbones).

Fretful--I can't even imagine being in early modern studies because it'd be hard to ever get away from religious everything. And you have to actually pay attention to those angels dancing on the head of a pin doctrinal disputes! I'd almost rather read a travel book :).

xykademiqz said...

I'm with you on modern fiction -- as if no one can hope to be taken seriously as an author unless a character is raped, molested as a child, or lost a sibling to unspeakable abuse/murder. There is also the mom-gets-breast-cancer-and-dies or dad-leaves-cause-men-amirite childhood trauma.

And this quote makes me want to kiss (electronically and platonically!) Fretful Porpentine:
the trying-to-be-too-clever contemporary literary fiction. Also, pretty much all contemporary poetry with very rare exceptions.

heu mihi said...

I'm going to name names: Alain de Lille. Richard of St. Victor. And anyone else with an overly well-thought-out allegory. (Frankly, The Divine Comedy fits into this category for me.) I need something messy to keep me going!

xykademiqz said...

A few more offenders here:

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I'm really getting tired of anything that uses the Nazis as the ultimate bad guys. Of course they were bad. But the good-guy-against-the-Nazis plot has been so repeated it's now really tiring. There are LOTS of other times in human history in which people were evil. If you want to write historic fiction, maybe find something that hasn't been done to death.

No, I'm not a Nazi sympathizer. I think the Holocaust was sickeningly awful. WWII was terrible. I just feel like people could be more creative than recycling these ideas constantly.

undine said...

xykademiqz--that article expressed so much about how I feel about the "prose like chunky rocks" school of writing--thank you.

heu mihi--Messiness keeps it interesting; otherwise, you want to make an allegory chart and be done with it. But at least your guys are dead :).

Fie--Tired, yes, but Nazis are the only really safe bad guys because everyone hates them. Well, everyone sane.