This post can now be found, modified, at The Attic on Eighth.
I've had In Other Words sitting on my dresser since April. Having loved Jhumpa Lahiri's work ever since we studied The Namesake in high school, I picked up the book the second I saw it... Why I didn't read it before now is beyond me, but I'm glad that I've finally done so.
My favorite thing about Lahiri's writing is that she understands the cultural split that defines my life. Born to Indian parents from Calcutta and raised in the US, she is open about feeling alienated from every culture she's belonged to. This makes its way into most of her writing, and I have always been grateful for it. My cultural alienation has different origins –– Turkish mother, American father, French education –– but it is very much the same. I don't feel fully at home in any of my childhood cultures, and that feeling is alienating in a way that never goes away. You grow up and create your own culture, but you always feel your lack of roots. Lahiri fights this in In Other Words by discussing how she's adopted a third language, a third culture, and that spoke to me even more, making me think of how I've tried to make my home in a fourth, in Switzerland.
Personal feeling aside, In Other Words is a fascinating, moving read on Lahiri's journey through the Italian language. In a series of essays, it follows her from her first trip to Italy to her decision to relocate and willingly step away from the English language in order to connect to a tongue she chooses and loves. Though decidedly different from her fiction and written in another language, it still reads in her marked voice –– fluidly and personally. I read the book in three short sittings and felt rejuvenated after doing so. I've been a bit down this week, and reading an effortless but powerful book made a difference.
You can find a few passages that spoke to me in my tumblr tag for the book, here. Though I've read The Namesake and Lahiri's two short story collections many times, I still haven't gotten to reading The Lowland. I think that's going to change very soon...
This has been a somewhat odd, transitional week. Classes haven't started yet, but I started working for the semester (though I haven't had any students). Friends are around, but one's been stuck at home with back pain, and I came down with a stomach bug. I felt like embracing Valentine's Day for the first time, but A's been in England all week. It's suddenly warm out, but I've been sneezing a lot.
As a result, I haven't been the most productive. I wanted to get a decent amount of thesis reading done before classes start on Monday, but I celebrated Galentine's instead on Tuesday and then got sick, and reading theory isn't great when you're constantly queazy. I'm trying to not beat myself up over it, but I also feel like I've had enough down time and am ready to get back to business. Yet, I haven't really been having down time, either. I've been thinking about all I've read in the last week... and I've been re-reading one of my main authors' novels. I just haven't been reading the texts I set out for this week.
Productivity blues are weird to deal with, though. Unless we're writing or getting through lots of reading material, it can feel, as academics, that we're not producing much. Yet, so much of our work happens in our heads. Thinking is producing, and so often we forget that that too is something valuable. I need time to mull things over, to make sense of what I've read and to allow connections to be made as I process things after I'm immediately done with them. So I'm trying now to part with the "must! be! productive!" mindset where I get upset over the lack of concrete material. Lack of time to think and process last year helped lead to the Great Burn Out of 2016, and that's not a place I'd like to go back to.
I talked about this with my supervisor a couple of months back, and clearly, this is something that persists. So how do you deal with it? How do you squash the stubborn guilt?
This post can now be found at The Attic on Eighth.
My time on the internet has brought me lots of different friends over the years who specialize in a great variety of fields. It's allowed me to follow different budding careers and academic paths, and this year, it's allowed me to learn about the publishing process as one of these friends is having her debut novel, If We Were Villains, published later this year.
I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy over the past few days, and it was quite the experience. M. L. Rio has has a theatrical background –– both as an actor and Shakespeare scholar –– and this plays an important role in her novel. Following a group of seven theater students at an elite college, If We We Villains is a story of crime and obsession and Shakespeare. The novel begins with Oliver Marks, the novel's protagonist, finishing a ten year prison term "for a murder he may or may not have committed." The story quickly goes back ten years in time and turns to drama Oliver faces on and off stage with his friends and classmates.
If We Were Villains is a murder mystery at heart, but I'd say it's first and foremost a novel about the theater. Its plot revolves around the stage, but it also innovatively uses aspects of drama to form itself: without becoming a play in prose, it's shaped like a play and makes theatrical use of speech and action. It also works a /lot/ of Shakespeare into different quotations throughout the novel. No doubt this added layers of complexity to the story, but I'll admit that I'm impatient to get along with the action, and I was especially so in this case... so I may have skimmed a few quotations.
It should come as no surprise then that my favorite thing about If We Were Villains was the story. It had a lot in common with both Donna Tartt's The Secret History and John Knowles's A Separate Peace in that it takes place at a prestigious but very small liberal arts school in a very small town and centers around a group of very tightly knit friends who study their craft –– and each other –– obsessively. It fits into a very specific type of campus novel, and for that I'm glad because I've always been at a loss as to what to recommend to people who love The Secret History other than A Separate Peace. Now we have a third novel in the mix! That though isn't to say that the novel is too like the other two. The settings and themes may be similar, but the action is all its own. If We Were Villains is a darkly enthralling read from the beginning. It sucks you in and makes you want to know what happens next –– or rather makes you want to know how things came to be. It's been a long time since I've stayed up reading because I couldn't put a book down, and IWWV did just that to me last night.
Part campus novel, part literary thriller, If We Were Villains is a great read, and I look forward to seeing what M. L. Rio writes next!
You can pre-order If We Were Villains here and read the prologue here.
Finishing with exams last week meant that I got to go back to reading "for fun" last week. That meant finishing Zadie Smith's Swing Time, starting M. L. Rio's debut If We Were Villains, and going back to reading for my thesis. Right now, thesis reading consists of reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman and is consequently great fun. I've read some of her short stories in the past and this week, I had the pleasure of reading her feminist utopia, Herland.
Gilman doesn't get discussed very frequently – I only really picked up on her existence via my supervisor's chapter on "The Yellow Wallpaper" in a book of feminist criticism. She'd never come up in any of my classes at university or in high school, and I can't even say that's from a lack of female authors on any of the curriculums – I've luckily avoided the whole "my professors worship the great male authors" ordeal. Still, no Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Thankfully, that's changing now.
Herland was a delightful read. It tells the story of three male explorers who go on an expedition to South America and find a lost country inhabited only by women. These women live in a sort of utopia where they peacefully coexist in a society that is clearly so much better off than early 20th century America. The novella does a great job at addressing and dismantling sexist hypotheses of the era, proving that women are perfectly capable of not only existing but thriving without men. It's very much a product of its time in some ways – racist comments and horror re: abortion make their way into the text, but it's also ahead in some. For instance, it separates "femininity" from "womanhood" and begins to hint at the fact that sex and gender are not tied together and that what we know as "femininity" is highly indebted to patriarchal society. It's not Judith Butler, but it's still both nice and surprising to see in something written in 1915.
Feminist issues aside, the book is also wonderfully narrated. At first you may wonder why a book about a feminist utopia is narrated by a male character, but that it is is a gift. The narration reads almost like a parody. The narrator is the most likable of the three men, but you still find yourself commenting on and rolling your eyes at the stupidity of men as you read. It's highly entertaining,
I'm very happy my supervisor recommended I read Herland and I will now be recommending it to anyone interested in the era and will be adding it to my "intro to feminism" reading list.
It was my birthday this week, and as a result, I let myself step back from current events for a day and think about the good in my life and oh my god was it amazing. I've decided since then that I'm going to make this a weekly thing. Every Sunday, I'm going to look back at my week and think about the little things that made me happy. And I'm going to post it because I miss being able to share happy thoughts on my blog and eh, we could all use a bit more positivity these days. So here goes for this week:
It's been a long ten days and a tiring ten days and a very demoralizing ten days since I last posted. I spent them preparing what was (hopefully) my last ever exam and staring at my phone and my computer in horror as more and more news came out of the US. It's hard to get through the day without breaking into tears multiple times at this point, and it breaks my heart to think this is what things have come to in so little time.
I don't say "what the country has come to" because no. The country hasn't come to this. The country has stood up and resisted and done everything to make its voice heard. I'm not ashamed of my country and I'm not ashamed of being American. This isn't what we are, and I have faith in the people. Half the time I cry when reading the news is because of the good I see as people resist. I'm greatly demoralized by everything, but I know we won't passively sit by and let this happen.
I don't have much to say now. It's hard to think about other things, even if it's greatly important to do so because doing so is taking care of yourself at this point. They want us to feel demoralized and overwhelmed because that makes us weaker and gives them an advantage. So I will just say this – take care of yourselves. Take the time you need, put down your phones and hug your loved ones, pick up some escapist fiction. Recharge. We need to fight this, but we need to take care of ourselves. It's easy to think nothing else matters right now, but they /do/ matter and they /will/ fuel us to keep going.
I have a little confession to make. I hate working in libraries. I keep thinking I never work at the library because I need my coffee and am more comfortable either at my home desk or my work desk or at a coffee shop... and while that's partly it, it isn't all. Every time I *do* go to the library, it ends badly.
I committed to a study afternoon with Rory yesterday and when she suggested we go to the Art and Architecture library, I agreed. It's the prettiest library in town, has huge tables, and is rarely packed. But then we got there and sat down to work and I couldn't do it. Granted, yesterday was January 20, so I was already raging on the inside for obvious political reasons, but all the feelings of unease I tend to feel at libraries descended upon me at the same time. It's just so quiet in libraries that I can't cope. I love quiet, but I hate unnatural, imposed silence. It makes me hyper aware of every single thing not only around me but that I do myself... and as a result, my brain can't actually focus on anything else. It's a lot like sensory overload... but out of silence instead of excess noise or light. Thank you, anxiety, for messing things up in every direction.
So I left the library after an hour yesterday, and I don't think I'll be back anytime soon. Still though, it made me think... how common is this amongst academics? We're supposed to love libraries (and I do! I love everything about them until I need to sit down and be productive in them) and live at the library and all that jazz, but we're also a hyper-anxious group of people! I got a message almost as soon as I posted a few of these thoughts on tumblr yesterday, expressing the same feelings, and so I've decided to post this here, too.
Who else feels the same?
I'm too angry to accomplish much of anything today, but here's a shot from one of my favorite streets in Geneva.
Hello & Welcome!
I'm Olivia, a twenty-six year old grad student studying in Switzerland. This is where I share my thoughts on the academic journey, culture, travels, baking, and my daily life abroad. Read More.