Summer 2019: Reading and Reflections

Last year was the most difficult in my 20+ year teaching career.  I was burned out and exhausted by June and decided that, except for a quick trip to Boston, I wasn’t going to do any traveling over the summer.  In order to recharge and refocus I spent my time at home sitting in my garden which has a beautiful view and I alternated between reading, getting some sun, and swimming.

I began the summer by reading Virginia Woolf’s The Waves which I brought with me on my long weekend to Boston in late June.  Of all her books this one seems to get the least attention, but I enjoyed it, in a different way of course, as much as any of her other novels I’ve read.  One can see the beginnings of her stream-of-consciousness style for which she is so well-know.  The story is heart wrenching and tragic and not an easy read, but so worth the effort.  It’s not surprising, now that I look back on the summer, that I chose Horace’s Carpe Diem poem, Ode 2.11  to translate and spend some time with after reading The Waves:  “Why would you exhaust your soul making plans for the future, a soul that is not up to the task?”

After this I was in the mood for more Tolstoy, especially after I saw @levistahl post on Twitter that Hadji Murat was one of his favorite summer reads.  (Levi is great to follow, by the way,  if you like books, cats, dogs, baseball, 70’s movies and Columbo.)  Tolstoy is one of those authors whose writings I savor and am rationing the few remaining books of his I have left.  J.L. Carr’s novella, A Month in the Country was also on Levi’s list and I read the book and saw the film.  Carr’s story was the perfect book for the summer setting in my garden.

I spent all of July reading Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities I was so happy to connect with @genese_grill on Twitter who has translated Musil and who had wonderful insights into this enigmatic magnum opus.  (Genese is also great to follow on Twitter for books, literature and translation.)  The Man without Qualities, both Volumes I and II , were the most challenging books I have ever read.  I’ve seen them described as philosophical novels and the combination of Musil’s complex sentences and thought demanded my focus and concentration.  Reading Musil’s Diaries alongside the novels also provided valuable insights into some of the threads that run throughout his narrative.

My final summer reading was spent on the first three volumes of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.   On Friday night I finished Volume III, The Guermantes Way,  which felt like it ended on a sad note.  The narrator finally gains admittance into the Guermantes’ inner circle and, like many other things, is disappointed by what he finds.  The petty gossip and the shallowness of the characters he meets are sad and pathetic.  I’ve been thinking a lot about indifference, which word Proust uses continually throughout all three books in a variety of contexts.  If I can pull my thoughts together I might write something about this after I finish all six volume. Needless to say, this is one of the most intense, illuminating, pleasurable reads I’ve ever had.  It was a wonderful summer, indeed, and I feel refreshed and recharged and ready to inspire my new classes to appreciate an ancient language.  Wish me luck!

For the rest of this year I will be occupied with finishing Proust and would also like to finish Schmidt’s Lives of the Poets which I’ve gotten half way through.

(By the way, Henry, my black and white cat, who is quite annoyed that I’ve gone back to work, insisted on sticking his nose into my book photo.)



Filed under British Literature, German Literature, In Search of Lost Time, New York Review of Books, Novella, Proust

24 responses to “Summer 2019: Reading and Reflections

  1. Rohan Maitzen

    It sounds like you have had a very restorative summer of really profound and meaningful reading. I hope you feel better about teaching as you head into this year. I always appreciate your commentary on your reading and look forward to following you to the end of Proust – a writer I have yet to read myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much. I really appreciate that. I’ve always been intimidated by the thought of Proust. But once I started reading I was just completely absorbed. Exactly what I needed for my summer break. It looks like it will be a good semester. I hope yours goes well too, Rohan.


  2. I hope things go better for you too, Melissa.
    Teaching (at any level) has become so difficult lately, because of the way both politics and admin have intruded into what used to be a joyous profession.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah, Henry – no more nice comfy lap on tap and fingers gently scratching his ears. At least that’s what my cat, Mischief, loves. I hope the summer has helped set you up to re-enter the fray, Melissa. I live with an academic and know how tough it is.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Quite a wonderful summer of reading, Melissa. Books really are good for the soul!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. alilauren1970

    I’m sorry you had such a hard teaching year, and I’m glad you are able to go back refreshed and renewed. What a wonderful reading summer you had though. And your reading continues to inspire me. I still want to pick up The Man Without Qualities, but I’m just now finishing up Daniel Deronda (two years after I started it! This book will not get the better of me!), and I think this one is a hard Eliot to get through (anyone other than Eliot, and I would abandon it, but she is a favorite of mine so I will finish it). So hopefully I can handle Musil! I look forward to your future posts on Proust. Someday I’ll read him…

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s interesting you say that about Eliot. Middlemarch is one of my all time favorite books. Earlier this year I started Romola but only managed to get half way through it. I guess nothing really compares to Middlemarch!


  6. Hope your summer of excellent reading has fortified you for your return to work. I’ve gone for some easy reading recently as I’ve had a mental health crisis (mainly to do with our cat being ill – he’s turned the corner now, we think, but it’s been a lot of monitoring and medicating and I don’t have the brainspace for anything complicated). Fortunately I have been still able to read Iris Murdoch, who gives me various levels to read on. I keep wanting to read Proust, but I know I could ALMOST read him in French so I get in a knot about that and then don’t do either!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. elisabethm

    It sounds like a perfect summer to heal from all the stress of the past year of teaching. Hadji Murad is a treasure of a novella. I haven’t read any Proust, yet, and I feel like you do with Tolstoy, that I have that to look forward to. Some summer 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sounds like a good summer to me I’ve been swimming a lot more recently

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I admire your blog a great deal, and you must be a fantastic teacher. Thanks for doing important work on at least two fronts!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Liz

    Your choice to focus on relaxation and reading sounds the perfect way to spend the summer. I’m so pleased you feel so recharged and refreshed. I have just started re-reading Cider With Rosie – I had forgotten how beautiful the language is, and can recommend it as a way of transporting oneself back to those lazy languid summer afternoons if things start to get rough again.


  11. Kat

    I don’t think many people understand how demanding teaching is. Your summer sounds idyllic, and slowing down is the perfect antidote to the harried rest-of-the year. Reading great literature also helps. Good luck with the new school year and read on the weekends!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Did you ever finish Dawn Powell’s books ?

    If so would you like to write some articles about her and place on my website ?

    For info about me go to:

    Mike Keene

    Liked by 1 person

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