"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Rainy day/Literature/Fireworks

Today is finally a legitimately rainy day. No playing around with sunny spells and sudden downpours (because if that's how you defined a rainy day, then every day in England would be a rainy day). Today is the kind of day where you wake up to a steady patter of rain and know that you're just going to stay cozied up inside and drink hot chocolate. Speaking of which....

Ok, back now with hot chocolate in hand. Anyway, the best thing about today was that I had something to do with my time cooped up indoors. My first real piece of work for my courses (aside from reading) has come more than half-way through the semester - a quirk of the English education system has all the work come at the end. And although it has been wonderful and luxurious to spend the last six weeks simply reading novels, it is so good to be getting back to a different, more active kind of work. I think I needed the break of the summer and the first half of the semester to make me realize how much I love sitting down with an analytic project and digging in.

This particular project is a presentation on Lolita for tomorrow's class, in which I'm focusing on Nabokov's representation of America, particularly American femininity, landscape, and storytelling. Lots of fun, right? Well, of course I think it is, for several reasons.

First, I like writing or talking about books in ways that feel new, or at least not mainstream. All I had ever heard about Lolita before reading it was that it was a scandalous novel of pedophilia with a bizarrely-named narrator. Instead, I found it to be a fascinating glimpse of the immigrant's vision of America - a panoramic view of Hollywood, roadside attractions, motels, comic books, suburban lawns, and 1950s slang. But Nabokov also transcends the outsider's vision and digs deep enough to offer an American novel that is richer than most foreigner's and some native's attempts at the same thing.

Second, I love love love the moment when you find a perfect quote to support your argument or discover a sudden resonance between your ideas and another critic's interpretation of the same book. When I initially think up some crazy idea about a novel, I must be filled with some kind of subliminal doubt that can only be erased by finding reflections in the words others have written. And I'm always surprised by the accuracy of those reflections.

Third, I like writing. I like putting my thoughts into words. Especially thoughts about books. This may be a bit obvious, since I'm going to the trouble of getting an advanced degree in literature, but I find that analyzing books (certain books, at least) makes them more interesting and enjoyable.

So yes, I think I can use the word 'fun' in the same sentence as 'Lolita,' as weird as that seems. In fact, this has been a great weekend overall. I spent Friday (which I have had free from classes for so many years that I now count it as part of the weekend) reading the entirety of Lolita, which was difficult but satisfying. Saturday was devoted to trawling through various scholarly articles about the book and gathering my own ideas into a semblance of a thesis statement. Today I put it all together into a presentation. And I interrupted the work last night to go see the Guy Fawkes night fireworks with my housemates, which was wonderful in a roasted-chesnuts-country-fair-bright-lights-pop-music-candy-apples-freezing-toes-warm-fuzzy-feelings kind of way. I wish I had pictures of the fireworks to show you, but it was too dark. Hope you all had nice weekends, too.

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