Over the semester break I took the opportunity to read some recent fiction. One good thing about digging around on dozens of English department websites to write appropriately-tailored job application letters is that you also stumble across the names of books you’d like to read and fellow academics with whom you’d like to work. Elizabeth Strout’s name came up on one website where she was a recent guest speaker, and so I dived into her three books of fiction. I loved Olive Kitteridge, a collection of short stories that reads like a fragmented novel. I liked that it was set in rural Maine and from the perspectives of people in a variety of positions in life–rather than solely from well-off people in their thirties, as seems to be fashionable. A breath of cold Maine air did my head some good.
I started to wonder whether I could fit in some regular novel-reading, perhaps at the end of my day, when I’m not at my sharpest for work. But within a few days it became clear that novel-reading consumed everything until I’d reached the end of a book. After three tries as “moderate” reading, I gave up. I will never be a few-pages-before-bed reader. But I’ve taken to reading Woolf’s diaries at odd times (there are five sizable volumes, as well as six volumes of letters and currently five volumes of collected essays) and, though very engaging, I’m better able to put them down to get back to writing. But they’re fantastic. Wit doesn’t get better than this.