Questions, rhetorical and otherwise

  • I checked Andrew O’Hagan’s novel Be Near Me out from the library a little while ago, on a whim and because I read this review from The New York Review of Books. Will I actually read it before it’s due back (the rhetorical question)? I’d like to, but so much else is on my shelves waiting to be read. Checking books out of libraries doesn’t always work for me because, while I want to read whatever book I’ve checked out, I don’t necessarily want to read it right away.
  • Reading my Jane Austen in Context book and reading a novel from Jane Austen’s time, Susan Ferrier’s Marriage, has reminded me that I have yet to read one of the most famous authors from Austen’s time: Walter Scott. Not one single novel of his have I read, which wouldn’t mean much, except I like to think I know something about that time period. My father is a huge fan of Walter Scott — I inherited my love of 19C novels from him — but somehow, along with my interest in Austen and Eliot and Dickens, I never picked up an interest in Scott. Does anybody have a favorite Scott novel? A place I should begin? Something to stay away from?
  • This is a rather obnoxious question, but I’m curious, so I’ll ask anyway. I try to read a variety of kinds of books — books from different time periods, books about different subjects, books from different genres. But I’m sure there are types of books I’m missing, some of which I might actually like. Obviously there are tons of authors I’ve never read, but that’s not what I mean — I’m thinking about categories of books, like 18C novel or contemporary experimental fiction, or whatever. So, have you ever thought something along the lines of “I wonder why Dorothy never reads ______” or “I love ______ and now that I think about it, Dorothy’s never mentioned that she’s read it” or even “I love _______ but I bet Dorothy would hate it”? You see why this is an obnoxious question? Who thinks about what I’m missing in my reading life except for me? Who knows all the kinds of books I’ve read but me? But still, maybe somebody has had such a thought. It doesn’t hurt to ask. And I’m curious. What am I missing? If I get some suggestions, I don’t promise I’ll read them, but I’ll think about it seriously.


Filed under Books, Reading

10 responses to “Questions, rhetorical and otherwise

  1. Heh, I can relate to the library book dilemma. I’ve never read Scott either but would like to sometime. I’ve heard the Waverly novels are good but I can’t tell you what they are because I’ve gotten no further in Scott than knowing that. As for your obnoxious question, I had to really ponder because you read such a wide variety of things, but you don’t read much that could be called science fiction. You could always try something in either of those if you are looking to branch out. If you haven’t read Ursula LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness I think you would really like it. Gender issues and politics galore.


  2. Well, the question is totally valid actually. I don’t think I can recall you reading speculative fiction – either science fiction or what is loosely termed “fantasy”.


  3. Ed

    I’ve read several of Walter Scott’s novels. My favourites are “The Heart of Midlothian”,
    “Old Mortality”, and “Guy Mannering”. He could be a bit patchy, but I think those three
    are his best. He was very good at showing how historical change effected the little people,

    In Edinburgh the main train station is Waverley station, and here in Sydney, Australia
    there is a suburb called Waverley. Nothing like this has happened to Harry Potter (yet).


  4. The campus library allows one to check out books for ages and ages and, usually, the fiction books are not in hot demand. I have a pile of at least ten library books pining for attention. I cannot rationally explain why this is so.


  5. Well, I’ve only read three Scott novels: ‘Waverley’, ‘Ivanhoe’ and ‘Rob Roy’. I enjoyed them all, but Ivanhoe is probably my favourite, a) because its medieval and I’m a medievalist, and b) because it began the Victorian obsession with ‘medievalism’, that wonderful movement that fed into 19th century poetry (‘The Idylls of the King’; ‘Goblin Market’ etc), fiction (Morris!), philosophy (Carlyle, Ruskin), architecture (the Houses of Parliament) and art (Waterhouse, Edward Burne-Jones). I love all that stuff. 🙂

    And: ‘I wonder why Dorothy never reads historical fiction.’ 😉 You love reading 18th century novels, but you never read any novels set in the 18th century, or any other period for that matter. Why is that? If I was going to set you a preliminary reading list, it would go a little something like this:

    Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series (I know you have access to copies of those!)
    Neal Stephenson’s ‘Baroque Cycle’ (I think you would love this; it starts with ‘Quicksilver’, then ‘The Confusion’ and finishes up with ‘The System of the World’)
    Michel Faber’s ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’


  6. I have that same library book problem. I want to read them, but maybe not by the due date. Then if I do read them they jump in front of other books of my own that I want to be reading, too! I think you have a pretty varied selection in your reading actually, but since you’re asking…I think you read a lot of 18th C. lit, but like Victoria says you don’t seem to read historical fiction. Some of it is so-so, but some of it is quite good. Fingersmith was great! The Crimson Petal and the White was also great. You don’t seem to read many mysteries either, but I was happy when you clicked with Maisie Dobbs (and those novels are historical, too). Although I am new to her, I really like P.D. James. You might like her as well–the writing is very good. I need to think about that question myself. I think I tend to read the same sort of book over and over again–I could use a bit of variety myself.


  7. Thanks for the great suggestions everyone — as you’ll see I responded to them in my next post. You’ve given me lots of good reading material.


  8. My favorites by Scott were Ivanhoe and Kenilworth. Kenilworth appealed to me because of my interest in Elizabet I and that period of history and because the death of Amy Robisard has remained such a mystery over the years. I read Scott as an adolescent, however, and have not read or re-read any of his novels in years, so it would be interesting to see if I still liked them as much.


  9. Another vote for Ivanhoe! Maybe I’ll come to love Scott and will read a ton of his novels, like my father.


  10. Weighing in late here, but I’d say I haven’t noticed your reading a whole lot of early 20th-century female novelists (except Virginia Woolf). Of course, I’m going to recommend Rose Macaulay, but I also recommend Dorothy Canfield Fisher (most especially The Home Maker). And I also agree with Victoria about historical fiction. Kevin Baker’s good if you want historical New York (but don’t check him out of the library. You’ll never finish before it’s due!).


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