Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Some Kind of Black - Diran Adebayo

I enjoyed most of this book. Some bits are very powerful, but there were also a few points where I found it hard to want to continue reading.

The main character, Dele, was born in England and is of Nigerian descent, though he has never been to Nigeria.

There's a particularly interesting chapter in which Dele, goes to a student party at Oxford. His views of the other people at the party are interesting and unforgiving, and reminiscences written into the party scene also describe intriguing events in the life of a black student at a predominantly white university in England. He mentions a sort of continuum I hadn't given much thought to before of how strong different acquaintances´ roots are. His inner thoughts regarding black stereotypes are arresting as well; sometimes he intentionally subverts them, while at other moments he deliberately plays up to them and exploits them.

The language throughout the book is creative - especially the representations of dialogue, not so much Dele´s own speech, but of his friend Concrete's, which is transcribed patios - though sometimes it got a wee bit much for me, personally. A wee bit too clever, sometimes.

Really, though, what sealed the deal on this book as a No for the course is that it's too London. As well as having a very dense lexicon, it has too much slang and too many cultural references which I think would be impenetrable. Even selecting carefully and cutting down, I think it's too much. It's tempting, though, because of the point of view it offers, so I might change my mind on this one later.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Nine African Stories - Doris Lessing

I enjoyed most of the nine stories, and the other features of the book - the discussion questions at the end are interesting, as is the sequence of photos of "the Rhodesian Scene". I haven't read Lessing's own introduction yet (I often leave Introductions til the end, they seem to make more sense that way), but I think that'll be insightful too.

On the individual stories themselves:

"No witchcraft for Sale" would be a good one to use, I think, because it is self-contained within just a few pages. I have a few other excerpts on magic, juju and ritual, so it might fit in nicely there.

I liked "A Home for the Highland Cattle", and it raises interesting issues, but it is quite long, and, if I were going to use it, I am not sure yet how I would reduce it. Its point of view is interesting; an Englishwoman recently arrived in Rhodesia for the first time. Seeing things through her eyes might be an interesting contrast with someone who has lived there their whole life and is accustomed to the way things are (Alexandra Fuller´s mother, for example).

"The Second Hut" is the first thing I've read so far that has much to say about relationships between different groups of white settlers - in this case, an English farmer and his Afrikaans employee. When I was reading it, it didn't seem long, but reviewing it, it is actually quite lengthy, so I might have to reduce that one too, if I end up using it.

"The Antheap" is a great story, but it´s long, and all of it is important, so I think making a reduced version would be tough.

In all of these stories, the events themselves, the characters and themes are what's interesting. From the New Englishes point of view, there isn't much to say about the language they are written in, it's fairly standard.

Friday, 20 August 2010

On "Heart of Darkness"

"The exact point of the story of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness is that it is pointless. Kurtz's death is as meaningless as his life."
H.L. Mencken

"Heart of Darkness is an “offensive and deplorable book” [that] “set[s] Africa up as a foil to Europe, as a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar, in comparison with which Europe’s own state of spiritual grace will be manifest."
Chinua Achebe.

Still a no, then.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

Didn't like it, didn't get it, won't be using it.

Right from the beginning, this book seemed flawed to me. Some sailors are sitting around, waiting for something to happen, right? And one of them starts talking. And talking. And talking. And he tells the whole book. And no-one interrupts him, and nothing else happens.

This would not happen. Never. Ever.

Whatever else happens in books, once I realise that they are written in this way, I can't forgive them.

So no. I don't think Heart of Darkness is for me.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Ad for the course

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Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Under My Skin - Doris Lessing

The library did have the first volume of Lessing's autobiography after all! I either overlooked it or someone had borrowed it the first time I checked.

I enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed the second volume. The problem with both of them, in terms of what I want them for, is that while they describe a zeitgeist very evocatively, it is hard to pinpoint particular moments within that description. Lessing occasionally describes scenes - prefixing these paragraphs with "A scene: " - and it is definitely incredibly useful to me as background, but I'm not sure yet how much of it I'll be able to use as text for the course.

I earmarked one section - an exchange between the white intellectual Kurt and his black driver, who comes across - to me at least - as the most level-headed, down-to-earth person in the whole book. It's certainly illustrative and interesting, I'm just not sure yet if/how it could be used in a class.

The Palm-Wine Drinkard - Amos Tutuola

A bizarre book. There are little bits like fables, myths explaining natural phenomenon, lots of very tall tales, and the overarching narrative of the whole novel. I liked it, bits of it made me smile, but some of the utterly wide exaggeration is hard to swallow.

I think it's somewhere in the middle of a spectrum which has standard English at one end and Ken Saro-Wiwa´s rotten English at the other. It's easy to read, although many sentences are not how they would probably have been written in standard English. It doesn´t have - or need - a glossary. The oddity of expression here is almost entirely grammatical, rather than lexical. I like the fact that

And I like that my copy includes a facsimilie of Tutuola's original handwritten draft, with his editor's comments and "corrections"! I will definitely be doing something with that wee gem.

I liked the story about the king looking for the man who killed his son, and it's great because it could well be a stand-alone story, it's independent of the rest of the text. I might use that bit too.

The best bit, though, are the descriptions. The description of the complete gentleman and the huge creature are wonderful. And, from a dissertation point of view, these were great, because while I was still reading them, I was already having ideas about what I could do with them in a class. So far, in the reading I've done, I've been struck by particular sections or chapters or bits of text, but only to the extent that it's an interesting passage linguistically or thematically, and therefore there is probably something I can do with it. This has been the first time - so far - that I've had clear ideas about what that something might be. That's exciting. And reassuring. I was getting a bit worried about that.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Walking in the Shade - Doris Lessing

I started with this volume of Lessing's autobiography just because the library doesn't have the first volume. I knew most of it would be irrelevant for my purposes, and originally planned to just hunt out the Africa bits, and leave the rest for now. I ended up reading the whole thing, and it turned out to be the most absorbing book I have read for ages. I now desperately want to read the first volume. And The Golden Notebook. And just about everything else she's written.

Some of the beginning might be interesting - the part where she describes leaving Rhodesia and arriving in London, her first impressions and her comparisons. There's another bit around the middle (1956 or so) where she writes about a trip back to Rhodesia. Maybe some of the sections about hosting and hanging out with African leaders in exile, but those are pretty factual and to-the-point.

An interesting contrast would be someone British traveling to Rhodesia around the same time. I thought of Alexandra Fuller (Don't Let's go to the dogs tonight), but, as Fuller herself says in the book, she has no memory of England, no memories of ever not being in Africa. And she lived there, so there is no new arrival's first impression, no contrast like the ones Lessing gives. Different time periods, too. So no, probably not Fuller, there must be someone else who is a closer mirror of Lessing's experience.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Disgrace - J. M. Coetzee

I read the book a while ago, and watched the film based on the book over the weekend.

It's been too long since I read the book to compare them minutely, I need to read at least sections of the book again, but I think there's potential for comparing-and-contrasting. Maybe reading and working on a passage in the text and getting to know it quite well, then comparing it with the same scene in the film.

The film is not easy to watch. There are lots of grim scenes - graphic violence against both humans and animals, implied rape and explicit sex, sad bits involving animals... of course, these are likely to be the juiciest sections in both the book and the film, though they'll need to be handled carefully.

More on this when I've re-read at least parts of the book.

Maru - Bessie Head

I finished reading Maru over the weekend. I'm not sure yet whether I'll include it or not. My instinct is, no, but I'm still a long way away from making any final decisions.

First of all, I'm not sure I actually enjoyed it. I didn't feel like I got to know any of the characters properly. I don't feel like any of them have enough depth. And although I think the book has an important message, I thought it was lost in a very vague, hazy plot, in which an awful lot is left unsaid. This, for me, didn't create a sense of mystery, it just weakened the narrative.

Also, although I read the whole novel, students taking this course won't. They will read selected excerpts of the text (initially, at least; I would be thrilled if they then went on to read the whole text). So, while I´m reading these novels, I am constantly keeping an eye out for potential passages, which are interesting linguistically and thematically. In this book, nothing really jumped out at me.

In its favour, it is fairly simply written. I would guess that it doesn't have a high head-word count. This might make it a good choice for non-native speakers of English. And it covers important themes - education, discrimination.

I feel like I need to read it again to be sure.
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