Logical metaphors (and witches) in Lolly Willowes

Lolly Willowes: or The Loving Huntsman was written by Sylvia Townsend Warner and published in 1926. The title page of my edition features a set of three stamped blue witches, flying diagonally from corner to corner. Until the last fourth of the novel, it’s unclear why they are there; for most of its 250 pages, the book follows the emancipation of frustrated spinster Laura (“Lolly”), who flees her cloying London family for a lonely country town in the Chilterns called Great Mop.

And then in the novel’s final act, she sells her soul to the devil.

Read More

Telling more in Madeleine Thien's Do Not Say We Have Nothing

I cannot do justice to a book like Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing (2016) in a single blog post, so I do not mean to try. But I will say this: the novel richly deserves its Booker nomination. You should read it. If you are wondering what art means in times of terror, and what forms beauty takes to survive, you should read it right now.

Thien’s prose is an answer to a maxim I have heard persists in Creative Writing degrees, though I cannot verify this since I have not done one myself. The maxim is this: show, not tell. It is meant, I think, to teach concision, and to cultivate a digging eye, as if prose were a core sample rooting away from a tiny ring of surface detail. Do Not Say We Have Nothing is not a concise book. But it is deep, and its depth is a product of the breadth and clarity of its surface.

Read More

When desire isn't sufficient

This post comes out of a facebook question posed by some humanists from my PhD-granting institution about leisure reading. The question: “Do you read for pleasure, and if so, why and how?” And the question-behind-the-question: “How do you continue to read for fun when your job is reading? And what happens if you feel like you don’t, anymore? Can you get it back?”

I was struck by how many academics, in replying to these posts, reported having lost some or all of their ability to pleasure-read, even if a love for books was what brought them to the academy in the first place. I can’t speak for their experiences, but my own answer to this question was revealing to me, about me. Since it might be useful to others, I felt like it would be worth reposting and extending a bit. 

CW for discussion of eating disorders below the cut.

Read More