Esther’s Narrative 2.0

Well I haven’t touched this blog in over a year. There are drafts that have been sitting in my dashboard for so long I wouldn’t know where to begin if I wanted to pick them up. My Mad Men rewatch died long ago, my weekly Mad Men recaps died just before the Season 5 finale, my Wes Anderson project is suspended in midair, I never finished Twilight.  And now I’ve changed my mind. Again. (I’m not hiding my old posts, though. It seems disingenuous on the internet.)

I’ve decided on a new direction for Esther’s Narrative. I’m currently the assistant editor at The Renegade Word, which is dedicated to the topic of writing. I often try to use my B.A. in English to give my posts a sort of reading/literary bent and I have a series about what the authors of today can learn from the writers of yesterday. So that’s all well and good—and not just because “I often try to use my B.A. in English” encapsulates my entire life in a single phrase.

But sometimes I just want to talk about books. So Esther’s Narrative is going to be my book blog from now on.

Background info: I studied English in college, but didn’t arrive at school particularly well-read—my high school seemed to have a weird aversion to the nineteenth century. I always thought I’d study American lit in college, probably twentieth century authors. Well I didn’t. (I did write my senior thesis on Blood Meridian and a semester-long paper on As I Lay Dying.)

The thing about going to a small college is that sometimes you don’t get to take the classes you always dreamed of taking. Sophomore year was the earliest you could take an English course. My intro English was a survey course of the British novel from Daniel Defoe to J.M. Coetzee (he’s South African, but it was a postcolonial novel, okay?), with stops along the way that included Austen, Dickens, Woolf, Sherlock Holmes, and The Early Gothic. I loved these books (okay, Robinson Crusoe, not so much). Well that was great! Peace out, England, I thought, and signed up for Intro to Poetry and Anthropology so I’d have all the time in the world to take things like Melville-James-Faulkner and other cool-sounding 300-level American lit classes when I finally became a Real English Major (which only happens after the Blue Fairy/Registrar’s Office grants your wish).

Yeah…that didn’t happen. When I was at the 200-level, my standing wasn’t good enough for the 300-level classes. When I hit the 300-level standing and above, it seemed like all the American lit classes shifted to the 200 level. And once you’re past your own intro experience, it’s no fun to be a part of someone else’s. Granted, I was picky about professors. But whatever the reason, most of my upper-level courses either involved lit theory (god knows why; I’m awful at it) or the Brits. Brits for days. Brits from Sidney to Virginia Woolf: Shakespeare, Jonson, Dr. Johnson, Milton, Behn, Defoe, Austen, Keats, Dickens, Gaskell, Thackeray, Brontë (Charlotte), Forster, and others. (No Thomas Hardy, though.)  Through books, I’ve lived the life of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, and that is one thing about myself I will always be proud of.

So by this point, I’ve read a respectable amount, but I still had some embarrassing moments as an English major. For one thing, I have huge gaps in my reading repertoire. More than one professor has looked at me, gape-mouthed, and said, “You haven’t read Jane Eyre?” (see also: Heart of Darkness, practically any American author). So part of me wants to be a Good Little English Major in that respect. And I’ve found myself to be rather a lit snob: I am that person who says, “I don’t really read much….contemporary lit.” This year I read through some of my contemporary short story collections and some contemporary novels for book club and they just don’t spin my wheels in the same way. It’s possible I haven’t found a living novelist I love other than Cormac McCarthy.

So on the one hand, I want to be that person who says something like, “Well, even though Northanger Abbey lacks the structural unity of Pride and Prejudice, I think its imperfections open it to richer discussion.” On the other hand, I have the embarrassing habit of dismissing books simply on the basis of not liking them. A good English major mines The Sacred Fount for things to contribute to the discussion and can articulate why the book didn’t work for them instead of just, “My god, did anything happen in this book?” A good English major doesn’t make sturgeon face at the mere mention of Henry James. (If you can’t tell, I really don’t like Henry James. Many of my beloved professors loved him. I just don’t get it.)

So I’m conflicted as an English major. I also lost my English major identity for a while: it took me more than a year to finish reading a book after college, which I’ve already written about. This year I got back on GoodReads and made a goal to read 38 books this year: two every month plus one for my book club. I’ve read 26 so far. I started with more contemporary stuff, if only to free up some shelf space by weeding out what I didn’t love. I’ve skipped around a lot in genres and eras, but I’ve read three novels by Jane Austen, Nicholas NicklebyJane Eyre (after starting and stopping twice after college)and am about one-third through Wuthering Heights. I’d like to write about books more in the vein of “classic literature” (read: shit you would get assigned in school), but I will probably throw in some contemporary works here and there as I want to comment on them.

This blog is named after one of the two narrators of Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, Esther Summerson. Esther is someone who seems to narrate faithfully what goes on around her, but is also weirdly emotionally withholding and often represses her own feelings. This blog is titled after her because a) irony is 4 kool kidz; and, b) I want to give people my honest perspective on the media I consume, even if that perspective is embarrassingly simplistic. I will promise to keep an open mind and I will at least try to articulate why I don’t like something.

And here comes the mission of this blog: staying true to the idea behind Esther’s Narrative while expanding my literary repertoire. What I want to give the people who read this blog is my struggle to reconcile the part of myself that insists on reading with a pen to annotate novels with the part of myself that uses that pen to write notes like “what a dick!” in the margins. I am part lit snob, part philistine. I will try to be thoughtful, but I will not hold back.

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