Sunday Salon

Sunday Salon (1:4)

RBR Sunday Salon

Volume 1, Issue 4

Welcome to the fourth volume of Roof Beam Reader’s Sunday Salon!

This week, in addition to recapping my own posts and sharing what I’m currently reading, I’m sharing my favorite reads from my favorite bloggers, as well as a number of fascinating articles from across the web, including some on science, history, and politics.

I look forward to hearing about what you’ve read/written this week, or what you think about the links I’ve shared. Please feel free to comment below. Happy September!

Blog Posts I Loved

Literary Miscellany

  • Lifehacker: “You Shouldn’t Have to Read these Books in High School.” “My own high school stuck close to the classics, making conservative choices that I had to supplement on my own time. This is normal. But given little structure for finding the great books of my own era, or even the less musty ones of recent past, I flailed around, grabbing my mom’s copies of Grisham and Crichton, spending too much time on Palahniuk—all stuff I’d grow out of, and not regret but not particularly cherish.”

History & Politics

  • CNN Politics: “READ: Sen. John McCain’s  Farewell Statement.” “We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. [ . . . ] We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.”

Culture & Society

  • Clarion Ledger: “Emmett Till Is No Less Powerful, 63 Years Later.” “In 1955, the image of a battered Emmett Till gave a face to all black men who were victims of violence, men who by the virtue of the color of their skin were presumed to be dangerous.”
  • The Silent Film Quarterly: “No More Tears Over Lost Films.” “In the 21st century, it is easy to look back and lament how many films could have been saved. But the harsh reality is that movie studios were businesses, first and foremost, and there was zero monetary incentive to preserve early films. Once a movie was released and shown at theaters across the country, it was effectively finished. Storage of nitrate film reels was costly and dangerous. If these films had no commercial potential, what was the point of utilizing valuable resources to save them?”

Science, Tech., & Nature

Teaching & Writing

Posts from Roof Beam Reader

Currently Reading

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • So Big by Edna Ferber (for #CCSPIN)

Thank you for stopping by and taking part in another SUNDAY SALON. There was much to choose from this week, and I hope I have presented you with a decent selection. Some of these I found interesting and engaging, others troubling and bothersome. I would love to hear your thoughts on any of these or the other things you’ve read this week!


All work found on roofbeamreader.com is copyright of the original author and cannot be borrowed, quoted, or reused in any fashion without the express, written permission of the author.


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Criticism, Dorian Gray in Theory, Essay, Literary Theory, Reader-Response

Dorian Gray, In Theory (Part 2)

Last Wednesday, I introduced a five-part project exploring Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece, The Picture of Dorian Gray, as viewed through various critical lenses. I began in Part 1 with Formalism. A polar argument for dissecting Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray is to switch focus from Wilde’s intentions, to that of the readers’ receptions.

Reader-Response

Stanley Fish, “self-proclaimed inventor of reader-response theory” provides an entirely different way of understanding our own interpretations of The Picture of Dorian Gray (Leitch 2067). Fish believes that we “[locate] meaning not in texts but in readers, not in individual response but in the protocols of communities.” If Fish is correct, then we can attribute each generation’s criticism of Dorian Gray to the cultural, sociological, religious, and financial situations of its time. For instance, the vast majority of first critical responses to the novel were negative. How does a novel like The Picture of Dorian Gray go from being an outrage and abomination to being read in almost every high school and college literature curriculum?

As Fish states, it is our “communities, rather than the texts, [which] govern and generate interpretative communities” (2069). That is to say, it is not Oscar Wilde or his writing who have changed over time, but the way we have been taught to read the novel. At first publication, the homosexuality present in his work was an affront to social decency and morality. The first critics are not so much concerned with the message of art and artist as they are with Oscar Wilde’s inclusion of taboo ideas. Later, in the 1940s and 1960s, critics become interested in Oscar Wilde, the man and author. Focus shifts, then, from outrage over homoerotic motifs to the debate over how much of Oscar Wilde is truly in The Picture of Dorian Gray and other writings. As we reach the 1970s, after the Vietnam War and ideas of “free-love” and sexual revolution have stormed through Europe and the United States, homosexuality in literature becomes, if not a norm, at least not a surprise: “what a number of Urnings [homosexuals] are being portrayed in novels now!” (Schmidgall 376).

So, the contemporary critics of the day were educated in a different way and in search of new ideas. In the 1970s, critics such as Donald Lawler and Charles Knott completely desert the homosexual critique and the need to examine how autobiographical Dorian Gray is to Wilde’s life; instead, they begin to look at the origin of Dorian Gray, the writing process behind the famous novel. Still, into the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, theoretical criticism for The Picture of Dorian Gray is fluid and changing. In the 1990s, for example, in wake of new laws on child-care and changing ideas of the damages of corporal punishment and discipline, comes psychoanalytic approaches to understanding The Picture of Dorian Gray as a text on child abuse.

Most recently, with Elisa Glick’s often cited “The Dialectics of Dandyism,” comes a new, Queer theory approach to Oscar Wilde, a look, not so much at homoeroticism and the evils of homosexuality, but at the role Oscar Wilde’s work plays in forming a queer identity, a literary rebellion of oppression. The point that Fish makes, then, that all literature is read anew, depending upon education and interpretations, is valid. Each new generation will read The Picture of Dorian Gray in a new manner, deeming different ideas important and different passages significant, depending on what that person’s interpretative community has chosen to demonstrate. A quick Google Image search for covers of the novel, comparing them across time and culture, will put this into sharp focus.

Please come back next Wednesday, when I consider Dorian Gray and Post-Structuralism.

Works Cited and Consulted

  • Glick, Elisa. “The Dialectics of Dandyism.” Cultural Critique, no. 48, 2001, pp. 129–163.
  • Leitch, Vincent B ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001.
  • Schmidgall, Gary. The Stranger Wild: Interpreting Oscar. Dutton: Penguin, 1994.
  • Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

All work found on roofbeamreader.com is copyright of the original author and cannot be borrowed, quoted, or reused in any fashion without the express, written permission of the author.


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Sunday Salon

Sunday Salon (1:3)

RBR Sunday Salon

Volume 1, Issue 3

Welcome to the third volume of Roof Beam Reader’s Sunday Salon!

This week, in addition to recapping my own posts and sharing what I’m currently reading, I’m sharing my favorite reads from my favorite bloggers, as well as a number of fascinating articles from across the web, including some on science, history, and politics.

I look forward to hearing about what you’ve read/written this week, or what you think about the links I’ve shared below. Happy Sunday!

Blog Posts I Loved

Literary Miscellany

History & Politics

Culture & Society

Science, Tech., & Nature

Teaching & Writing

  • The Atlantic: “The Humanities Are in Crisis.” One common explanation does line up with the data fairly well, at least in part: that students fled the humanities after the financial crisis because they became more fearful of the job market. [ . . . ] The fields that have risen in the past decade are almost entirely stem majors, including nursing, engineering, computer science, and biology.
  • Cult of Pedagogy: “Noticing the Good Stuff.” So much happens in a school day, there are literally thousands of discrete interactions and decisions made [ . . . ] and our brains are wired to hold onto negative information to prevent mistakes in the future. So when good or even great things happen in our classrooms or during the school day, they may not be top of mind once class is over.

Posts from Roof Beam Reader

Currently Reading

  • Good Without God by Greg M. Epstein
  • So Big by Edna Ferber (for #CCSPIN)

All work found on roofbeamreader.com is copyright of the original author and cannot be borrowed, quoted, or reused in any fashion without the express, written permission of the author.


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Contemporary, L. Philips, LGBT, Mental Health, Music, Romance, Young Adult

Sometime After Midnight by L. Philips

Sometime After Midnight by L. Philips is a modern-day retelling of the classic Cinderella fairy tale, aptly sub-titled “A CinderFella Story” because the central romance is between two young men named Nate and Cameron. Nate is the orphaned son of a troubled but genius musician and Cameron a teenage millionaire, heir to a world-wide music empire, and a pop culture icon. When the two meet at the same obscure concert, it seems to be love at first sight, a true “Cinderella” story. Unfortunately for both of them, their identities and histories are soon to catch up with them, causing perhaps insurmountable obstacles.  

One of the achievements for Philips’s novel is its characterization. Each of the main characters, secondary characters, and historical figures (like Nate’s dad) have compelling and believable personalities and motivations. Nate’s best friend complements him as a heterosexual and somehow delightfully dangerous sidekick and Cameron’s sister likewise complements him as the supportive meddler, sometimes causing harm when she means to be helpful. As the story unfolds, most of the characters come to interact with one another and with other side characters along the way, such as a mentor musician whom Nate turns to for guidance. Something I truly cherish in any story is a cast of characters who are there to play a role and whose presence propels the plot forward; in Sometime After Midnight, each of the characters is important and is there for a reason, and the backstories—often delayed, creating intrigue and tension—add to this in significant and entertaining ways.

Another strength for the novel, in my opinion, is how unbelievably romantic it is, but in a realistic way. Yes, the story wraps-up in a tidy little bow, but it is no easy task getting Nate and Cameron to that point. There is a lot of drama, a lot of anger, much confusion, and several misunderstandings that must be overcome before the two young heroes can reach their happily ever after. None of these dramatic elements, though, is overwrought (something I tend to complain about in drama-for-drama’s sake young adult romances.) The pacing and plot structure are also balanced incredibly well; there is just enough forward motion (just enough pay off) to make the struggles bearable. At some points, it seems like it will be impossible for Nate and Cameron to reconcile their differences, and for good reason; but the two, surrounded by their supporting cast, work hard at it because they feel it is worth it, and isn’t that what a healthy and respectful relationship usually needs?

Finally, I enjoyed how complicated but realistic these characters are drawn. Neither of the protagonists is perfect, nor are the supporting cast members. Nate’s anger issues seem sometimes frustratingly self-indulgent, and yet one can understand why he feels so much pain and mistrust given what he knows (and discovers) about his father. Cameron’s privilege often manifests in typically obnoxious ways and is highly reminiscent of the way privilege of wealth/fame often manifests in real life. Similarly, Cameron’s sister’s involvement balanced between helpful and harmful. She sometimes seemed downright villainous in her disregard for others, and yet without her help, the two might never have made it.

If I have one complaint, it is simply the alternating narrative perspective. Like many young adult novels published in the last 10-15 years, the author segments the chapters into smaller parts, labeled with the name of the protagonist currently narrating his side of the story. While this does open several opportunities for the story, such as allowing a kind of omnipotent first-person narration that would otherwise be impossible, it also seems to me a kind of cliché at this point. It is well done, though, and I did enjoy witnessing both Nate’s and Cameron’s perspectives, seeing their thoughts, feeling their emotions. It made me root for the relationship rather than rooting for one character or the other, and that might have been the point. I only wish there would have been a reason for the dual narration, something at the end which explained to the reader how and why we are getting both perspectives (a realistic opportunity for both Nate and Cameron to be reflecting on this time, perhaps?) In fact, I think the story was set up for that quite nicely, and it would have taken just a simple epilogue explanation to pull it off.

All-in-all, this book is exactly what I needed at exactly the right time. It was sweet. It was a little bit dark. It was entirely realistic. And it was a darn good gay romance, without too many of the tired old tropes. It’s also steeped in music—the industry, the mood, and the power of it—which is something that speaks to me very intimately. Sometimes, you just want all the sugary goodness! If you’re in the mood for that, this is your book.


All work found on roofbeamreader.com is copyright of the original author and cannot be borrowed, quoted, or reused in any fashion without the express, written permission of the author.


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Criticism, Dorian Gray in Theory, Essay, Literary Theory, Non-Fiction, Oscar Wilde

Dorian Gray, In Theory (Part 1)

Original artist unknown.

“Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital” (Wilde 4). One of my favorite novels is Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. It was thrust into the critical pool upon its first release in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in 1890, and it has remained in that pool, wading through theoretical waters, ever since. The novel has been critiqued by hundreds of scholars, from all schools of theory and research. But what makes Dorian Gray such a compelling research topic? What can the different theories bring to light about the novel? How do we read Dorian Gray and get what we “should” from the work? Is it important that Oscar Wilde may have written the novel as an autobiography?

To answer these questions, I would like to consider how this novel has been treated by five different theoretical perspectives, which I will divide into a five-part series, as follows: First, a Formalist approach to Dorian Gray, discussing the idea that the best artists put nothing of their own personality into their product; second, the reader-response theory and its implications on The Picture of Dorian Gray over time, such as how cultural shifts and experiences change the way we view the novel; third, the post-structural ideas of “play” and “remedy vs drug”; fourth, the text as a historical product, as informed by Raymond William and Marxism; and fifth, the feminist view, or lack thereof, on Wilde’s work.

This is a source-informed but somewhat recreational attempt to examine, in non-linear fashion, a variety of ways in which Dorian Gray has been treated in literary theory and criticism. I was intrigued by Wilde’s assertion that diversity of opinion about an artwork essentially keeps that artwork alive. Since diverse opinions continue to surround Dorian Gray after nearly 130-years in print, it seems fair to say that this work of art is still very much alive. 

Formalism

T.S. Eliot writes, “no artist produces great art by a deliberate attempt to express his personality” and that a “poet has, not a personality to express, but a particular medium, which is only a medium and not a personality” (qtd. in Leitch 1096). To argue or to agree with Eliot and the Formalists, one must first do two things: define “great art” and decide what favor or disfavor has been done by an artist attempting to express himself in his work. The first of these two things seems, to me, an impossibility. There can be no definition for great art, any more than there can be definition for art in general (how often has this conversation come up?). So, for my purposes, I reject the need to classify art as good or bad, and instead focus on whether Oscar Wilde is autobiographical in Dorian Gray; if so, are the Formalists correct in their argument that a writer’s biography and personality must be kept separate from an artist’s work in order for the work to be, shall we say, effective?

According to one researcher, The Picture of Dorian Gray is all about Wilde. In his essay, “Oscar Wilde and the Devil’s Advocate,” Nethercot writes that one of Wilde’s methods of self-revelation “was his habit of introducing details from his own life and character into his descriptions of people he was writing about” (Nethercot 835). He goes on to argue that the narrator’s review of the “curious stories [becoming] current” about Dorian Gray in his twenty-fifth year is, in fact, Wilde’s own review of himself: “Wilde was twenty-five in 1879, and by that time the mask which he had at first endeavored to set up before his face in his daily activities and conversation had begun to slip” (841). Even Dorian’s “confession” monologue near the end of the novel can be viewed as an internal-struggle Wilde was having, himself unsure of how much of his personal life to make public, though he had been “confessing in public all along” (842). The mystery is, then, was Oscar Wilde consciously using his own life experiences and personalities in his writing and, if so, did he approve of that practice in general? Should we?

A wide reading suggests Wilde does put much of himself into his writing, and perhaps Dorian Gray was a type of public, yet veiled, “coming out” for the author. However, it is likely that Oscar Wilde knew the danger in which he placed himself by putting so much of his own personality into the pages of his text. Houston A. Baker writes that Wilde’s own view on the artist is that he “must have a strong personality, but he cannot simply thrust upon the world his own raw emotions in the work of art” (Baker 352). This opinion also seems to be made clear in the pages of Dorian Gray when Basil Hallward admits that he cannot exhibit his own work because he has “shown in it the secret of [his] own soul” (Wilde 8). Perhaps, then, The Picture of Dorian Gray is answering two of Wilde’s needs: to present himself honestly to the public and to publicly admonish himself for it. If this is the case, then Wilde confounds the Formalists not only by inserting himself into his fictional work, but by admitting he has done so and using the same work to reprimand himself (ultimately a kind of meta-insertion).

I’m uncomfortable with the Formalist’s approach to literary criticism. The suggestion is that one can (or must) study a work for structural purposes only, rejecting any other context or outside influence that might have helped to create that text. While I see the benefits of this type of consideration in terms of critiquing the success or failure of plot structure, for example (or pacing, or narrative time, etc.), as a single method for evaluating the text it is too limited because it necessarily omits a number of important elements that influenced and allowed for the creation of the work in the first place. To me, a piece of literature (or art) should not be dissected from its context, be that social, economic, or cultural. 

Come back soon for my thoughts on Dorian Gray and Reader-Response theory!

Works Cited and Consulted

  • Baker, Houston A. “A Tragedy of the Artist: The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 24.3 (1969): 349-55.
  • Leitch, Vincent B ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001. 
  • Nethercot, Arthur H.  “Oscar Wilde and the Devil’s Advocate.” PMLA 59.3 (1944): 833-50.
  • Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

All work found on roofbeamreader.com is copyright of the original author and cannot be borrowed, quoted, or reused in any fashion without the express, written permission of the author.


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Sunday Salon

Sunday Salon (1:2)

RBR Sunday Salon

Volume 1, Issue 2

Welcome to the second volume of Roof Beam Reader’s Sunday Salon!

This week, in addition to recapping my own posts and sharing what I’m currently reading, I’m sharing my favorite reads from my favorite bloggers, as well as a number of fascinating articles from across the web, including some on science, history, and politics. There’s also a provocative piece on how to organize one’s bookshelf that I would love to hear your thoughts on!

I hope you enjoy some of these as much as I did!

Blog Posts I Loved

  • Bookish Byron: Brontë Dissertation“After a lengthy period of racking my brains, trying to choose an interesting topic to write on, jumping from research solely based on Charlotte to the Byronic hero, I finally settled on exploring the relationship between marriage and class in Charlotte’s Shirley, Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.”
  • Blogs of a Bookaholic: Why You Need to Read Only Love Can Break Your Heart. “Webber’s writing shines as bright as the desert stars she depicts and is as hopeful as the morning sunrise over the rocky sand. It’s also got an almost dreamy/surreal quality to it – this book sucks you in and the rest of the world fades away.”
  • I Would Rather Be Reading: The Beautiful Tragedy of Jane Austen’s Final Novel. “As with all of her other works, Sanditon attracted supporters and detractors in equal measure. While many believed in its innovative style, critics such as E.M. Forster believed that Austen’s lingering illness and approaching death overshadowed the work itself.”

Literary Miscellany

  • The Paris Review: Holy Disobedience: On Jean Genet’s The Thief’s Journal by Patti Smith. “Fourteen years later, Genet writes The Thief’s Journal, his most exquisite piece of autobiographical fiction. He is the transparent observer reclaiming the suffering and exhilaration of his own follies, trials, and evolution. There are no masks; there are veils. He does not retreat; he extracts the noble of the ignoble.”
  • Lit Hub: In Defense of Keeping Books Spine-In. “Here’s a fundamental truth about my life as a writer and reader that might offend my fellow bibliophiles more than anything else I could possibly say: for over two years, I arranged all my books spine-in. I’ve gathered that this is a controversial declaration, and that I risk inciting upset, even outrage.”

History & Politics

Culture & Society

Science, Tech., & Nature

Teaching & Writing

  • The Chronicle: The Rise of the Promotional Intellectual. “The main tasks of a professor are to teach and do research [. . . ] Now, it seems, a new task has been added to the job: promotion. We are urged to promote our classes, our departments, our colleges, our professional organizations . . . ourselves.” (This article may be restricted.)
  • Prolifiko: How to Harness Your Writing Brain’s Hedonic Hotspots. “Writing is never going to be something you do on autopilot – it’s way too difficult for that. But there are some simple methodologies based in neuroscience you can use to make you, and your writing brain, feel more positive about finding a regular time.”

Posts from Roof Beam Reader

Currently Reading

  • Good Without God by Greg M. Epstein
  • So Big by Edna Ferber (for #CCSPIN)

All work found on roofbeamreader.com is copyright of the original author and cannot be borrowed, quoted, or reused in any fashion without the express, written permission of the author.


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2018 TBR Pile Challenge

August Checkpoint! #TBR2018RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

We’ve reached month eight in our TBR Pile Challenge, which means we are now in the final quarter of the event! (It also means, for me, fall semester begins in less than two weeks — where did the summer go!?) I hope you’re all enjoying the challenge, the monthly check-ins and questions, and any reading that you’re doing from your own lists; I have to admit, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by my own choices.

Last month, I challenged all of us to get 200 reviews written and linked-up with the Mister Linky widget below. It looks like we almost made it, so great job! We’re sitting at 193 at the moment. 

Question of the Month: Have you challenged yourself with a genre outside of your “comfort zone” this year? Did you read non-fiction when you’re usually a fiction person? Try a collection of poetry when you normally prefer prose? A classic, when you prefer contemporary YA? 

My Progress: 6 of 12 Completed / 5 of 12 Reviewed

Didion-WhiteI’ve read 6 of my books and am currently reading number 7. I’ve reviewed 5 so far (just need to get my thoughts down on Pudd’nhead Wilson!) As of last month, I was sitting at 4 books read and reviewed, so I am feeling pretty good about the progress I made in the last 30 days, and I hope I can continue to read these regularly so that I complete all 14 on my list by year’s end. Here’s hoping! 

Of course, with the new semester starting, most of my time goes back to prepping classes, grading papers, and doing the reading (re-reading) I need to do for my classes, especially the literature courses. I’ve got six novels to re-read this semester while teaching them, and they are all personal favorites (hooray!), but that said, it will take away from my own new/pleasure reading. 

My completed reads:

How are you doing?

index

Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated! At the end of the challenge, all entries will go into one big raffle for the $50 book prize! 

MINI-CHALLENGE #3 WINNER

Congratulations to Jean at Howling Frog Books, whose comment last month was randomly drawn as the winner of Mini-Challenge #3. She will receive a book of her choice, up to $20USD, from The Book Depository

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS 

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