Monday, September 19, 2011

The guilty occupation of a life - or, Wuthering Expectations is four years old

An abuse of imagination lies “in turning what was intended for the mere refreshment of the heart into its daily food, and changing the innocent pastimes of an hour into the guilty occupation of a life.”  So argues John Ruskin in the third volume of Modern Painters (1856), Chapter IV, paragraph 6.

Tomorrow I will have been writing Wuthering Expectations for four years!  Quite something, ain’t it?

Two years ago I assembled a guide for readers chancing upon Wuthering Expectations for the first time.  It is time for an update.  This is what I do, part two.

I write, and think, in series.  For example: Laura Ingalls Wilder week, where I covered Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie. How I remembered the books; Wilder, Edmund Burke, and the Prairie Sublime; no seriously the Sublime; Wilderian irony; young Laura discovers the Augustinian conception of time.

Although I have more than one trick, Wuthering Expectations is generally highly aestheticized.  I read Little House on the Prairie not as a naïve autobiography or as nostalgic kitsch, but as a work of literary art, which is what it is.

For another sample of my approach, see (Anti-)Sympathetic Character Week.  I am against sympathetic characters; the unsympathetic character is a useful device; writers are tricky devils; the sympathetic character is a useful device; I am in favor of sympathetic characters.

I do not write so many book reviews as such, nor do I think of myself as an advocate for particular books or authors.  An exception was the great John Galt; I spent two weeks working through his books.  Try The Provost and The Entail.  The Galt reading somehow led to the first reading challenge in book blog history that was actually challenging, the Scottish Literature Challenge.  No one will bother to sort through this, but it’s all right here.

Victor Hugo takes his grandchildren to the zoo.  Arthur Rimbaud and Robert Louis Stevenson wrote similar poemsKaramazov in California.  Collaborative James Hogg.  Nick Carraway is a great writer.  Russian books are short.  Annie Dillard reads like I do.  The Wuthering Expectations Lifetime Reading Plan.

Moby-Dick week was great fun (spoiler alert: the whale dies in the end).  Anything Ubu was a sight to see.  My single most complex week went:  Sartor Resartus, then more Carlyle, then Melville’s Clarel, then Clarel again, and then Melville plus William Carlos Williams.  Every one of those posts was a collaboration with another book blogger.  They led me on quite a dance, even if I was the only one who could see the pirouettes and paradiddles.

Should I even bring up the mummified cats?  I spent a week investigating the subject of mummified cats.

What do you think the most visited post, by far, in the history of Wuthering Expectations might be?  Did you guess the recipe for skillet green bean casserole?   That should tell us all something.

Some of these links go to what I think are the best posts of the last two years; others go to writing and subjects that are more representative.  By “best,” I mean the same thing I always do – best written.  Wuthering Expectations is writing.


  1. Congratulations, a great accomplishment, a wonderful blog, and apropos presidential politics, four more years, four more years! K

  2. Congrats on the long life of your excellent blog, Amateur Reader! Curiously enough, I just today linked for the second or third time this year to one of my favorite recent posts by you--and I see that post of yours doesn't even show up in this post's highlights. I guess I have a knack for being out of step, even among "colleagues" whose work I enjoy!

  3. Like Richard's, my "most thought about" post of yours from the past few years (Verlaine's frolicking clowns) doesn't appear here. You just provide so much food for thought, it can't all fit into one post. Congratulations on four years of blogging!

  4. I'm quite late to the party, having just discovered your blog very recently, but it looks like catching up will be immensely enjoyable and rewarding (and for what it's worth, you had me at "mummified cat," as I have a friend who has an actual mummified cat hanging in her living room). I already have 35 books out of the library at the moment, but it looks like I need to head over there now to pick up something Senegalese and something by John Galt, for starters - Scott

  5. Congratulations! An excellent list; I am particularly glad to see Galt and Wilder on it (and Clarel!). I will selfishly wish you many happy returns.

  6. Thank you for your efforts, may I put in a word for your Trollope, Scott, and Oliphant posts all of which I've found most useful (and enjoyable).

  7. Here's another selfish wish for more guilt. I mean long life.

    And I'll add another congratulations!

  8. Congratulations on four years-here is to many more years

  9. Ah, Verlaine's forest clowns! And later Jules Laforgue thinks "Beautiful but not beautiful enough," so he moves the clowns to the moon.

    I strongly considered those posts - the Argentinean Literature of Doom, too. My week with Oliphant's The Perpetual Curate is solid - another book that, once I got writing on it, I flatter myself that I really "got." But all of that linking wore me out.

    I also considered asking people for favorite posts, but the egomania of that idea seemed all too plain, although on birthdays one should forgive a little self-congratulation.

    As for everyone else's congratulations, thanks so much! Onward and upward!

    PS - She has an actual mummified cat in her living room! That's prime turnip fertilizer going to waste.

  10. So exciting! Congratulations for keeping the reading and writing going for 4 years! Here's to the next 4-Cheers.

  11. John Galt wrote some short stories-where do you suggest I start-does he have some for sure best short stories-I checked a bit and could not find the answer to this question-thanks

  12. mel - a good question with no good answer. Galt's short stories, in my experience, are weak compared to the remarkable cluster of novels he started writing in the 1820s. An exception might be "The Howdie: An Autobiography," a curious story of a midewife, but I will warn you that it is a no-kidding-around Scotch dialogue story.

    Anna - thanks so much. Your slogan ("Keep writing, friends") is inspirational.

  13. Amateur Reader (Tom), so do we get a real name released every four years or what? Noticed this over at my blog today also. I'm so confused about your secret identity now!


    Richard (Richard)

  14. Amateur Reader (Tom?),

    Congratulations! Here's hoping for many more years.

  15. "The Howdie: An Autobiography,"-is there are part I and II-I ask as I could find a Part I online but no part II-thanks for the response

  16. Happy anniversary/birthday to you and your blog, Amateur Reader. I should celebrate with you by finally making those beans!

  17. Four years from now, I will reveal the initial of my surname.

    That first name is still pretty anonymous, I figure, and might not even be my real name, except that some people who stop by here know me and know that it is. I could reveal my entire name and still be pretty well hidden on the internet. A lesser Tom Jones, for example, would be hard to track down.

    mel - look at this crazy Galt archive! Neat. "The Howdie" I was thinking of is the 27 page story within the collection also titled The Howdie. Glacing at the story, I can say with confidence that I do not remember it well. The Provost, The Entail, even the bizarre and amazing Ringan Gilhaize, now those I remember.

    And thanks to everyone for the good wishes.

  18. Trade your guilt for pride!

    And I love the phrase Prairie Sublime--perfect for me....

  19. The past few years reading your work have been bewilderingly rich, and enriching. Thank you so much. Higher up and further in!

  20. Ah, everyone is so nice. I do not really feel so guilty, although a Ruskinian self-examination of the assumptions of one's life is always in order. Regardless, I keep trying here - my way of kicking against the pricks, although that sounds so violent. Cultivating my garden, maybe. Trying to write interesting sentences.

  21. Way behind on the reading this week, so I'm late to the party to congratulate you on four years! Your Little House series is one of my favorites, simply for the way it looked at some of my favorite books from growing up in a completely different manner than I ever would. (Then again, you look at everything differently than I do...which is why I keep reading.) Looking forward to many more interesting posts.

  22. Thanks a lot. Writing the Wilder pieces was a great experience. Just giving the books the respect they deserved, based on what was on the page in front of me.

  23. Just stumbled upon this blog recently and I love it! I'm a Comparative Literature major (19th century literature), and your blog is exactly the right thing for me - I love the in-depth thoughts you give about the works you read, as well as their links to other books of the period, literary movements, and whatnot! (although I strongly disagree with your judgment on Dumas, and posted a relevant comment on one of your Count of Monte Cristo posts).

    Also, is there any chance you could add a link to my blog on your list of blog links? I've recently started a book/literary blog where I hope to post thoughtful analyses of the things I read (many of them classics), like the ones you do.

    The Itinerant Bookworm:

  24. Anastasia, thanks so much, and welcome. I do not believe that we disagree about Dumas as much as you think, except perhaps in the matter of love for him. I am a cold-hearted reader.

    Thanks for the link to the blog; I have plopped it into the old blog reader.

    Which 19th century literatures are you comparing? May I recommend: all of them.

  25. Hmm, a cold-hearted reader. That's interesting. I think, in a way, I am as well, in that I can often be very judgmental about characters' choices and motivations; still, that doesn't prevent me (like most women, it appears) from falling in love with literary characters.

    As for Comparative Literature, comparing all of the literatures does sound quite nice, but as I've realized, I will be alive for a limited time and thus actually have to make choices I'm focusing on 19th century French literature (inspired by my love of Dumas, of course). I also love Victorian literature, especially Oscar Wilde and the like, and am actually hoping to write my BA thesis on the links between 19th century French literature and its influences on Victorian literature.

    Also, thanks for checking out my blog and adding it to your reader!

  26. I am often very judgmental about authors' choices and motivations. Characters are puppets; I admire the puppet-makers and puppeteers.

    French to Victorian, hmm? Good, good. I am going to give you some links to a valuable resource, me writing on that subject:

    Stevenson on Dumas

    Stevenson's Villon

    I could go on but will not.

    Comparing all literatures is my project, one for which a lifetime will have to be adequate.