Archive for November, 2009

Welcome to the New Website of the Circumlocution Office

In the popular imagination, the “English professor” is pictured as an individual of middling gender, sporting a certain amount of corduroy and tennis shoes, and having a really bad hair century. We imagine English professors, if they’re over fifty, as being halfheartedly obsessed with symbolic archetypes in the plays of T.S. Eliot and keen on converting the young to the latest version of MLA style. We think of under-50 English professors as simmering with a desire to reveal how naturalizing heteronormative cultural practices under late capitalism are inscribed on disabled bodies in the graphic-novel-style advertising of polyglot postcolonial spaces.

In real life, much as English professors wish we could be doing such exciting things, we resemble every other institutional employee on the planet. Our days are spent reading memos, drafting memos, and complying with mandatory paperwork. As in all other corporations, we’re often told how easy that paperwork is “because it’s all on line now!” – as if enduring browser crashes, getting scolded for lack of cookies, being interrogated for one of 75 inmnemonic personal passwords, fording unnavigable interfaces, and waiting for 30 seconds between screens for individual bytes to be schlepped by carrier pigeon from some antiquated server, only to see, after 10 minutes, the dreaded “your session has timed out” message – as if that were Bob’s-your-uncle compared to filling out a paper form.

UTA is no exception. Much as we are told that we are “Mavericks” who think in mercurial, untramelled ways, our work routines are (like everyone else’s) increasingly strangled by red tape.

In the paper-ridden 20th century, English professors would hand out class syllabuses, try to get papers published, and occasionally fill out a tax form to record their meagre earnings, or maybe a travel-reimbursement form if they were lucky enough to deliver a talk in some glamorous conference venue like Toledo in February.

In the 21st century, we hand out syllabuses, but we must also post them on line at our “Research Profiles.” If we publish or deliver papers, we must enter them on the same Profiles. If we direct dissertations, we must read and comment on them as always. But soon we must also enter our contacts with students on the on-line “DS-PRO” database, so that every step of the process is replicated by a on-line data trail. (As one Graduate Advisor put it, a grad student using “DS-PRO” is like a swimmer in a race looking over her shoulder every other stroke to see if anyone’s gaining on her.)

If that graduate student wants to travel to deliver a paper, she must fill out request forms and reimbursement forms and save receipts – and now must also supply three letters (from herself, her supervisor, and her conference host) that all contain the same information – plus an itemized estimated-budget spreadsheet. But no problem – it’s all on line!

If that graduate student wants to do research that involves speaking with any living being, she must run a gantlet of Institutional Review Board protocols to seek a sanction hard-won, temporary, and easily revoked. Rules originally meant to discourage vivisection now bloatedly govern questionnaires that ask you what your favorite poem is.

In the 20th century, English-professor ethics were straightforward. If you didn’t commit theft, assault, plagiarism, or aggravated mopery, you were probably OK. In the 21st century, in order to become keener ethical thinkers, we undergo regular “compliance” training – naturally, all on line! In the early 21st century, this training was provided by slides followed by tough exam questions. For example: “Are you in compliance with University best practices if you require each of your students to pay you $500 to attend a Mazola party on University property where scheduled drugs will be consumed by students under the age of 21 while they are forced to use University photocopiers to duplicate Libertarian Party leaflets?” The radio-button options were Yes and No, and if you answered Yes, you were redirected back to the slides for a refresher course.

Well, that got to seem silly even to the Compliance Office. So the tests were replaced by slides that merely ask you to affirm that you’ve read them, making Compliance training a matter of seeing how fast it’s humanly possible to click through a slideshow.

This past week, in the latest of the new electronic straws on faculty backs, we were informed that every professional service duty we undertake – the bread-and-butter of academic life, such as peer review of scholarship and peer evaluation for promotion and tenure – must now be approved in advance as “outside employment” (even though such work is expected of faculty as a matter of course in their inside employment). Don’t worry, an administrator told me – it’s all on line, and it only takes a few clicks, a form, and a few days of waiting to get approval!

It seems a matter of time till toilet doors on campus will be fitted with ID-card swipelocks, opening only if an instructor has first submitted an on-line Request for Evacuation form that indicates #1 or #2, estimated paper consumption in square meters, and carbon footprint of ambient heat generated by zipper friction.

All such red-taping appears to increase accountability for spenders of taxpayer nickels and dimes, of course. But its cumulative effect is to ensure that less and less intellectual work gets done on campus. I hope that’s not the intent. But as compliance and monitoring bureaucracies grow, there’s less focus on true accountability, and more on expanding the missions of the compliance officers.

Two serious principles are involved in my rant. One is the incremental burgeoning of bureaucracy. To be fair, this is nothing new. Mission creep was at the heart of the Circumlocution Office, and I’m sure of Roman Senate subcommittees, and has probably been around since the first Sumerian beancounter said to his staff “But it’s only one more cuneiform tablet, guys! How long does it take to press a couple of sticks into wet clay?” To which my answer is, sure – it’s not much skin off my nose. But it makes my life a little harder, a little more stressful, every day. And it takes time away from my students and from the flagging life of my mind. Impose such obstacles if you must, but don’t pretend that they improve anybody’s life.

The other principle is newer and more insidious. Now that databases are ubiquitous, storage space is infinite, and Internet access universal, everything that can be measured will be measured, whether or not the measurement serves any practical purpose in any conceivable world. We assume that the more data a computer stores, the better off we will all become. But when record-keeping becomes an end in itself, the machines that were supposed to save us labor and shrink our bureaucracies end up generating work and spawning new offices full of staff to keep up with it. What kind of Maverick keeps a spreadsheet with columns for Distance Traveled from Herd, Cowpunchers Dodged, and Estimated Time Spent Bucking and Snorting?

—Tim Morris

Published in:Tim Morris |on November 27th, 2009 |1 Comment »

Thanksgiving Poem

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This is Thanksgiving Week — and what better than a poem that inspires the deepest gratitude? This is one of my favorite poems and certainly a poem of thanksgiving, but it describes a very simple, quiet, solitary day — a day very unlike the busy, noisy, bustling one that most of us will be having this Thursday. Yet, in the midst of the feast, between football games or puzzles, during all the tumult of laughter and conversation, take a minute to remember that it could have been otherwise.

Otherwise by Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Published in:Desiree Henderson |on November 22nd, 2009 |No Comments »

In Praise of the American Short Story

Last year, in an article for the New York Times lamenting the lack of appreciation many American readers have for the short story, Stephen Millhauser said, “…here in America, size is power. The novel is the Wal-Mart, the Incredible Hulk, the jumbo jet of literature. The novel is insatiable — it wants to devour the world. What’s left for the poor short story to do? It can cultivate its garden, practice meditation, water the geraniums in the window box. It can take a course in creative nonfiction. It can do whatever it likes, so long as it doesn’t forget its place — so long as it keeps quiet and stays out of the way. ‘Hoo ha!’ cries the novel. ‘Here ah come!’ The short story is always ducking for cover. The novel buys up the land, cuts down the trees, puts up the condos. The short story scampers across a lawn, squeezes under a fence.” And I think it’s this squeezing under the fence bit that best sums up the quiet power of a really well-written short story–the best ones are able to sneak up on you, offer an emotional wallop, and are able to do so in the same small amount of time it would take you to watch a re-run of “Saved By the Bell.” These days, it seems that any writer showing up on an agent’s and editor’s doorstep, polished short story collection in hand, is met with pity. “Where’s the novel?” The agent will ask. “I can’t sell these!” The editor will wail. If this writer is lucky she’ll get a two-book deal, which involves a publishing house accepting her short story collection only along with a novel. And the novel will probably make its way to print, and eventually to the bookshelves of Borders. And the short story collection? No matter how craftily written, this poor manuscript will forever remain in “editing,” until the publisher releases the collection from contract (with pitying looks for the poor writer who has wasted everyone’s time). This seems to be a recent development, and it makes one wonder if a writer like, say, Raymond Carver (a writer known for brevity whose longest works are in the 12-page range) would even have a shot today in the publishing world. And there’s Cheever and Barth, both writers who are best known for their short stories. I think proof of this bias can be seen with Lorrie Moore (immediately buy Birds of America if it’s not already on your shelf), a master of the short story form, who, it seems, is forced to put out the occasional sub par novel (the problematic Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? was originally a much-loved short story in The New Yorker called “Paris.”)

Recently there has been a lot of discussion about the place of the short story in the American reading landscape. Publishers don’t want them because, well, they don’t sell. But there’s something beautiful in the way a short story invites you briefly into a world, lets you glimpse the grace of this world’s inhabitants (or perhaps the horror of their lives), and then releases you before you have a chance to even sit down and take your coat off.

Here’s a brief list of just a few of the stories that–no matter how many times I re-read them–punch me in the gut (almost all of these are contemporary, but since she’s my favorite short story writer, I had to slip in one by O’Connor):

“Hunters In the Snow” by Tobias Wolff. Not many writers can get away with a story that relies almost completely on dialogue and action (no exposition here, my friend). This story is chilling, and the ending is downright frightening.

“People Like That Are the Only People Here” by Lorrie Moore. This story has the perfect narrative voice. It’s like one of your best friends is telling you about a really, really bad experience while you share a glass of wine with her. It’s heartbreaking.

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor. I know most Flannery-ites don’t think it’s her best, but I get chills every time the Misfit shows up. And, like Wolff’s story, the ending is tough.

“City of Boys” by Beth Nugent. The protagonist of this story is wise and smart and sad and hopeful all at the same time. And there’s that chilling refrain that occurs throughout the story, gaining menace as the narrative progresses (“rent control is not going to last forever in New York!”)

“Gryphon” by Charles Baxter. It’s difficult for me to bond with child narrators. But I find this story charming. Plus, it was made into a film by PBS.

“Cathedral” by Raymond Carver. The scene where the protagonist traces the cathedral with the Blind Man is gorgeous.

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates. Uh-oh, I’m starting to see a trend in my favorite stories (it seems I like the ones with the creepy predators).

Okay, I’m going to stop there. Those are just a few of mine. What are yours?

-Laura Kopchick

Published in:Laura Kopchick |on November 20th, 2009 |7 Comments »

Not the “Neglectedest” Classic

sg

As promised in my last post, I am making my way (very slowly) through the nominations for “neglected classic” made by ten contemporary authors for the radio 4 program Open Book. This past two weeks I read The Snow Goose, by Paul Gallico, and Samuel Johnson’s This History of Rasselas Prince of Abissinia. I will only have room here to address The Snow Goose—it’s just that kind of book, and not in a good way.

Paul Gallico seems to be best known for penning The Poseidon Adventure, and is thus ultimately responsible for the excesses of the 1970s adventure movie featuring Gene Hackman et al upside down somewhere in the Atlantic. The Snow Goose, published in 1941, was his first novel, and apparently his most successful. It’s barely a novel, really, being more of a novella or a short story at only 58 small and rather sparsely lined pages. I should also mention that it’s a book for children (or I really hope that’s what he was going for).

Unlike truly great children’s literature, this book doesn’t address and satisfy multiple audiences, however. It’s that time-old story of hunchback meets girl, girl grows up, hunchback falls in love with girl, girl at first finds hunchback creepy but then too late realizes that she is in love with him. Oh, and there is a goose involved. In fact, the goose brings them together, as geese so often do (really, who needs Match.com when you have a goose?).

Clearly The Snow Goose was a product of its time, and is moderately interesting for that. Rhayader, the hunchback, dies at Dunkirk after rescuing hundreds of troops in his little sailboat, a testament to the many private vessels that assisted in the evacuation.

In most other ways, though, the characters of The Snow Goose occupy the timeless realm of fairy tale and the netherland of racial stereotype. In this latter element, The Snow Goose finds me a particularly unsympathetic reader, since it demonstrates the ways in which a little knowledge of Old English can do a whole lot of damage. Frith, whose name means peace and thus rather crudely ties to the whole war thingy, first approaches the hunchback with a wounded snow goose that she has found in the marshes. Frith is, “beneath the grime as eerily beautiful as a marsh faery. She was pure Saxon, large-boned, fair” (15). She lives in the “ancient Saxon oyster-fishing hamlet of Wickaeldroth,” a place that seems to have survived untouched since Anglo-Saxon times; she speaks in an annoyingly in-your-face regional accent full of ays, ‘ees, and idiosyncratic verb usage. “’She be’ent going’,” she says, of the snow goose, and, littering the Essex landscape with her dropped consonants (and vowels, for that matter), “’The Princess be goin’ t’ stay’.” Even more vexing is that Frith intuitively knows things, such as the fact that Rhayader is doomed when he sails off in his little boat to Dunkirk (duh!), “from the ancient powers of the blood that was in her” (54). Need I quote more?

In addition to all this yukky Germanicism, The Snow Goose is prone to flights of sentimentalism as soaring as the course of the snow goose itself. Witness this passage from the conclusion of the book, when the goose returns from Dunkirk, where it had faithfully followed the hunchback:

Wild spirit called to wild spirit, and she seemed to be flying with the great bird, soaring with it in the evening sky, and hearkening to Rhayader’s message.

Sky and earth were trembling with it and filled her beyond the bearing of it. “Frith! Fritha! Frith, my love. Good-by, my love.” The white pinions, black-tipped, were beating it out upon her heart, and her heart was answering: “Philip, I love ‘ee.”

My recommendation to ‘ee be’ent t’ read this book.

–Jackie Stodnick

Published in:Jackie Stodnick |on November 18th, 2009 |3 Comments »

Lyric Centenary: Johnny Mercer

mercer

The “American songbook,” music written in the half-century 1920-1970 for Broadway, radio, and Hollywood, is dominated by composers: George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael. The lyricists who wrote the words for their songs were brilliant too, but are usually granted a smaller helping of fame. Ira Gerswhin excelled at ringing changes on vernacular phrases; Lorenz Hart was the master of impossible rhymes about unrequited love; E.Y. Harburg was deft and whimsical; Oscar Hammerstein II preferred a full assault on the tear ducts. But to enter the pantheon, a lyricist was best-advised to write his own songs, as Berlin and Porter did.

The exception is Johnny Mercer. Mercer was born 18 November 1909, making next Wednesday his centenary. Mercer was the ultimate hired-gun lyricist, writing a spectacular portfolio of standards with the great unattached composers of his day. His 19 Academy Award nominations were shared with eight different composers: Harry Warren, Artie Shaw, Jimmy McHugh, Arlen, Carmichael, Henry Mancini, Marvin Hamlisch, and himself. Sources differ on how many #1 pop hits Mercer wrote, but it’s somewhere between 14 and 20 – sometimes with Mercer himself as vocalist. All of Ella Fitzgerald’s priceless “Songbook” albums feature the work of a single composer (Kern, Ellington, Porter, e.g.) except one: the Johnny Mercer songbook. A Mercer song, alone in the world of jazz standards, is identified with its lyricist, not its composer.

Several of Mercer’s greatest hits are novelty songs: “Jeepers Creepers,” “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” “Accentuate the Positive.” Mercer is often rightly identified with wonderful high-energy nonsense like “Glow-Worm”:

Glow, little glow-worm, fly of fire,
Glow like an incandescent wire,
Glow for the female of the specie,
Turn on the AC and the DC.

But his biggest novelty song, a #1 hit and Oscar-winner, shows how readily Mercer could shift into a key of sheer wonder. There are few moments in movie musicals more gorgeous than hearing Judy Garland arrive on “The Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe” (composed by Warren):

Back in Ohio where I come from,
I’ve done a lot of dreaming and I’ve traveled some;
But I never thought I’d see the day
When I ever took a ride on the Santa Fe.

Mercer was in love with Garland, which put him in less than exclusive company in the Hollywood of the 1940s. Their brief affair resulted in unforgettable songs, though: “In the Valley Where the Evening Sun Goes Down”, “I Remember You,” and “That Old Black Magic.” Bittersweet, haunting infatuations were Mercer’s stock in trade: “Laura,” “Fools Rush In,” “I Want to Be Around (to Pick Up the Pieces),” “Day In, Day Out,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and “One For My Baby” (composed by Arlen):

I got the routine
So drop another nickel in the machine.
I’m feeling so bad,
I wish you’d make the music dreamy and sad.
I could tell you a lot, but you’ve gotta be true to your code.
Make it one for my baby,
And one more for the road.

But he also captured the most difficult thing to put into verse, the complete certainty of love. “You Grow Sweeter as the Years Go By” (composer Johnny Mercer):

Though September takes the place of June,
In September there’s a harvest moon.
Let the leaves start falling, darling,
What care I,
When you grow sweeter as the years go by.

Mercer was unusually successful as a translator of European lyrics, as in “Autumn Leaves,” “Summer Wind,” and in fact “Glow-Worm,” which he liberally adapted from Paul Lincke’s 1902 operetta number “Glühwürmchen.” Mercer wrote “Blues in the Night,” “Mandy Is Two,” “My Shining Hour,” “Travelin’ Light,” “I Thought about You,” “And the Angels Sing,” “Moon River,” “The Days of Wine and Roses,” the magnificent “Skylark,” and the incomparable “Too Marvelous for Words.” Much too marvelous, in a lyric that throws the attention back onto Richard Whiting’s music:

You’re much too much,
And just too very, very
To ever be
In Webster’s Dictionary.

And so I’m borrowing
A love song from the birds
To tell you that you’re marvelous,
Too marvelous for words.

—Tim Morris

Published in:Tim Morris |on November 13th, 2009 |1 Comment »

Libraries: An Argument

Suzanne E. Thorin, dean of libraries at Syracuse University, made the news last week when she declared “Let’s face it: the library, as a place, is dead … Kaput. Finito. And we need to move on to a new concept of what the academic library is.”

Thorin made these startling comments at the 2009 Educause Conference, sparking a lively debate amongst the conference participants that has now been taken up across the web, as many commentators have begun to weigh in on the question of whether the library is, in fact, dead — or whether there is still life in the old brick-and-mortar receptacle for books.

It seems to me that there are many excellent and compelling arguments to be made for why libraries are still necessary, if not urgent. However, I want to enter into this debate by putting forward what is probably the least substantive argument in favor of the continuing value of libraries: aesthetics.

I love libraries. I think they are beautiful, aesthetically pleasing places. I can think of few human-designed environments that are as appealing as libraries. There is something about the balance between symmetry and order, and the wide diversity of textures, colors, physical and spatial forms that produces, in me, a sense of serenity and reflection. I have spent many hours in many libraries – some ultra modern, built out of steel and glass – others historic, located in old, restored brick or stone buildings. I’ve been in libraries that were kept too cold, or were too loud, or were disorganized, or too dark, or that looked like they could be the setting for a serial killer flick. But, the ones I remember the most are the beautiful libraries – those with large windows, big tables, comfy chairs, and that certain indefinable feeling that comes from being surrounded by more knowledge than one person can contain.

My favorite library is the American Antiquarian Society, which is an elegant and lovely space, with the clearest light and sense of openness that I ever have encountered in a historic library. (Photo: the AAS Reading Room)

aas-photo

Of course, it helps that the AAS is one of the most important archives of early American history and literature (my particular scholarly interest) and that the librarians there are incredibly helpful and kind. My days doing research there were a delight on a number of levels, not the least of which was the opportunity to just sit and soak up the environment.

I’m not the only one who takes their love of libraries to the level of aesthetic appreciation. The wonderful website, Librophiliac Love Letter: A Compendium of Beautiful Libraries, includes pictures of some of the most extraordinary, breath-taking libraries that I have ever seen, and only dream of seeing in real life.

So, in rebuttal to Dr. Thornin’s rather too hasty declaration of the death of libraries: What’s your favorite library, and why?

– Desiree Henderson

Photo source: HistoryGradGuy on Flicker

Published in:Desiree Henderson |on November 8th, 2009 |1 Comment »

Online Voyeurism

180px-found-magazine-41

Okay, I have a confession. I’m addicted to these new(ish) online confessional culture projects (Postsecret, Six-word Memoirs, Mortified), where people (often anonymously) admit (often embarrassing)  personal information that, not too long ago, would have only been revealed to a best friend after one too many glasses of pinot noir.  I caught the fever about seven years ago when I discovered Found magazine on the shelf at Shaman Drum bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The cover of the magazine featured what appeared to be a senior prom photo from the 1970s, complete with awkward boy in tinted oversize glasses and girl with impressively feathered hair.  Inside I found a slew of photocopied handwritten notes, love letters, post cards, photographs, all found by readers on street corners and alleys and dumpsters around the world.  The little grocery shopping lists seemed particularly heartbreaking–one shopper made a note to buy a single red rose and also reminded himself to refill his Valium prescription.  A love letter asked the recipient to check a box at the bottom of the page if he did, indeed, want to go to the prom with her and “get it on” afterwards in the backseat of his Camaro. I flipped through the pages of the magazine and imagined the lives of the people who had written these random notes (did the writer of the “prom” note ever receive a response? I imagined a girl in a bubblegum pink organza dress, waiting anxiously on the bench next to the doors of her high school gym, a wrist corsage bothering the skin of her arm, wondering why Bobby never returned the note to her locker like she’d asked). So much information about the lives behind these scraps of paper was conveyed in such a small amount of space, and I was reminded of Charles Simic’s quote about poetry, which states: “Little said, much meant, is what poetry is all about.”  I did, indeed, feel as if I’d found a sort of poetry in Found Magazine.

Although Davy Rothbart, creator of Found Magazine, isn’t planning a trip to the UTA campus anytime soon, we can look forward to PostSecret creator Frank Warren, who is coming to the Bluebonnet Ballroom on November 11 at 7:00 pm.  I’m looking forward to heartbreaking postcards with scribbled confessions on them and that sugary feeling I get in my veins when I get a glimpse into the private world of strangers. See you there!

-Laura Kopchick

Published in:Laura Kopchick |on November 6th, 2009 |No Comments »

Hurrah and All That for Radio Four

radio4

Before I begin I should make it clear that this post is not about to turn into one of those “isn’t everything about England great” rants. Lots of things about England aren’t great—like overcrowded roads, telephone boxes that smell of urine, Christmas cake, and the tiny sizes that deodorants come in (ok, those tiny deodorants are really quite cute). But something to be duly celebrated about England is BBC Radio Four.

Radio Four provides the soundtrack for my trips home, echoing through our house on three different radios, one of which always used to play at a slightly different pace than the others because it wasn’t digital. Radio Four is like NPR minus the pledge drive, the local phone-in shows with poor telephone reception, and the repeats, and plus oodles and oodles of literature. I mean no criticism of NPR—because, really, what would life be without it? But, apart from on the weekend (when NPR loosens its tie a little bit, and possibly changes from suit pants to neatly pressed chinos), it offers quite a serious bill of fare. Don’t get me wrong, Radio Four is deeply serious too, catering to the same demographic in England that NPR appeals to in America. But Radio Four wears literature like a jewel in its crown, instead of relegating it to 7.30 on a Sunday (or whenever it is that Selected Shorts is on). So if you need a little slice of drama, poetry, literature or comedy during your week, you should consume a little Radio Four.

For instance, Radio Four has a forty-five minute afternoon play every day and, since you can allow yourself an extra fifteen minutes of drama because it’s the weekend, a sixty minute play on Saturdays. Woman’s Hour, on every day of the week and not just for women, also includes a fifteen minute play. Sundays are particularly decadent, featuring an hour-long dramatization from the Classic Serial. Several times a week we can tune in for the Afternoon Reading, a fifteen minute extract from a novel or a short story. Every day we can catch a fifteen-minute portion from the Book of the Week, a serialized reading from a wide variety of genres. But my favorite has to be Book at Bedtime, a fifteen minute reading from a classic or a new work that airs at 10.45p.m. GMT. Because, really, where else outside of the nursery and creative writing events can a respectable adult get a bedtime story these days? (Although of course it would only be 4.45pm here in Texas, which is not an appropriate time to retire–but because you can listen again online, you can go to bed whenever you want and still have your Book at Bedtime).

If you like the soapy type of drama, or just want a bizarre listening experience, you should check out The Archers. This show began in 1950 as a vehicle to encourage farmers to do the work that would feed a Britain still under food rationing; the 15674th episode was broadcast on January 1st of this year. The content? Impossible to describe. It’s basically a soap set in a fictional village called Ambridge and features characters with an improbable set of regional accents struggling with such hot-button issues as who will star in the panto and what to plant in the top field.

If you prefer verse, you can tune in for Poetry Please, which, I have just discovered, has been running almost as long as The Archers at three decades.

Those who would rather hear books being discussed than being read should try A Good Read, Bookclub, With Great Pleasure, Off the Page and Open Book. This latter brings me to the second subject of my post: the Neglected Classics poll currently being run by Open Book. As the website reads, Open Book, with the help of ten lauded contemporary authors, is unearthing “books that have been overlooked or become inexplicably out of vogue.” Each author has nominated one book for consideration and, following an online audience vote, the winner will be dramatized on Radio Four next year. Fortuitously, this endeavor seemed to combine the subject of the last two posts by Desiree and Tim: prize-winning books and (perhaps justifiably) forgotten classics. Unfortunately we won’t be able to participate in the vote, since it closed at midnight GMT today. But we can still read the books and have our own poll of sorts. So I invite you to read with me and let the English Matters community know what you think. Or, if you have a neglected classic in mind that doesn’t appear on the list, tell us about it. The ten authors and their selections are as follows:

William Boyd The Polyglots by William Gerhardie

Susan Hill The Rector’s Daughter by F M Mayor

Hari Kunzru A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov

Ruth Rendell Many Dimensions by Charles Williams

Colm Toibin Esther Waters by George Moore

Beryl Bainbridge The Quest for Corvo by A J A Symons

Howard Jacobson Rasselas by Samuel Johnson

Val McDermid Carol by Patricia Highsmith

Michael Morpurgo The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico

Joanna Trollope Miss Mackenzie by Anthony Trollope

Happy reading!

–Jackie Stodnick

Published in:Jackie Stodnick |on November 3rd, 2009 |No Comments »