Sunday, December 02, 2007

Literary challenge

Here's a challenge we were set by a guest tutor on my course yesterday:
  1. Take a sheet of paper and map out the main events of your life. (10 minutes)
  2. Imagine what you have described as a novel.
  3. Who wrote it?

It looks like a simple idea, doesn't it? But only one person came up with an immediate answer. I was going to be flippant and say Jerome K Jerome or even Lewis Carroll but this morning I settled on Anthony Trollope. Try it and let me know who might have written your story!


  1. Woody Allen without a moment's hesitation. He could even play the lead part.

    It's classes like the one you describe that has put the edbiz at the very bottom of my list of occupations.

    BTW - Your blog is still not showing up on Bloglines?

  2. Oh dear, e, we educationists must have a little light relief sometimes!
    I don't know why the blog isn't showing on bloglines as I haven't changed any settings.

  3. BTW - I forgot to say, Trollope is a great choice and my favorite author whose books are nothing like my life.

    You do know that most of what I say is off the top of my head and not to be taken as targeted at anybody in particular especially an educationist with fine taste in quilts.

  4. e, I'm usually smiling as I type. I do wish one of those clever IT folk would invent a colour code or something to indicate facial expression and tone of voice for bloggers!

    I've just re-entered my blog on the feedburner. Would you let me know if it has done the trick. It probably won't show until my next new post. Thanks. M. (smiling)

  5. Yes! Suddenly there are four entries for you.

    I so do like it when a plan comes together.

  6. Well, if you've scooped up Trollope, I'll take Wodehouse, who just uses Trollope's plots and adds Jeeves.

  7. Neal Stephenson (without hesitation).

  8. On a good day, Lawrence Durrell; on a bad day, Thomas Hardy.

    And here's a variation: substitute artist for novelist. For me, it's probably Frida Kahlo but Matisse would do very nicely thank you.

  9. This is fun!

    David, I hadn't considered Wodehouse in that way but you are right! You can have Trollope too, he wrote so much I'm sure both of our stories would fit into his canon.

    Bret, I hadn't encountered Neal Stephenson but the Wikipedia entry explains that: I haven't read much sci-fi and the technological stuff would be beyond my grey cells. However, I now feel obliged to borrow one of his books from the library, in the cause of better understanding!

    D, From the personal exchanges we've had to date, I can see the Durrell and Matisse influences. The Frido Kahlo reference makes me realise there is are unsuspected hidden depths. I'll be looking for them on Thursday!

  10. Carol Shields. But only a short story - not enough has happened for a novel.

    Painting? Vuillard. Or possibly Gwen John. I'd love to say Matisse, but it just hasn't been bold or colourful enough!

  11. monix wrote: "However, I now feel obliged to borrow one of his [Neal Stephenson's] books from the library, in the cause of better understanding!"

    Please don't feel obligated to that! Not everybody finds his books enjoyable. In fact, he's definitely not my favorite author. It's just that he would've written my story.

    For amusement, David created a book club for one of Stephenson's books and we discussed it at if your curious what the post-Judd Alliance thought of it.

  12. This is a bit of a wild guess, but if you can tolerate science fiction at all, you might like Stephenson's Diamond Age.

  13. Bret and David, thank you for the advice. I'll look at the discussion first and then read a whole book if I think I might understand it. I usually find I'm out of my intellectual depth by about page 5 when I try sci-fi!

  14. Bret and David again,
    Well, I've read some of your comments on Cryptonomicon. I probably shouldn't judge without reading the book itself, but I find myself in sympathy with Peter's complaint of not being able to keep up with you boffins. I'll get hold of a copy 'Diamond Age' in the hope it is an easier introduction to Stephenson.

  15. Edgar Allan Poe.

    Wait, he didn't write novels.

    Philip K Dick.

  16. Duck, nice to see you!
    Do you mean to tell me all those terrifying Edgar Allan Poe stories, which haunted my teenage years were true?

    I haven't read any P K Dick books, but I see he is described as 'the Shakespeare of science fiction' so perhaps I should give him try. I'm fascinated by the fact that two people have suggested their life story belongs in the sci-fi section, are you going to tell us more?

  17. Hi Monix

    No, I didn't murder anybody or stuff their corpses under the floorboards. I read a lot of Poe as a teenager, and identified with the dark, foreboding spirit of his stories. I was one of those painfully shy, socially maladjusted kids who brooded over everything. I especially identified with this poem by Poe:

    From childhood's hour I have not been
    As others were---I have not seen
    As others saw---I could not bring
    My passions from a common spring.
    From the same source I have not taken
    My sorrow; I could not awaken
    My heart to joy at the same tone;
    And all I lov'd, I loved alone.
    Then---in my childhood---in the dawn
    Of a most stormy life---was drawn
    From ev'ry depth of good and ill
    The mystery which binds me still:
    From the torrent, or the fountain,
    From the red cliff of the mountain,
    From the sun that 'round me roll'd
    In its autumn tint of gold---
    From the lightning in the sky
    As it pass'd me flying by---
    From the thunder and the storm,
    And the cloud that took the form
    (When the rest of Heaven was blue)
    Of a demon in my view.

    I got over that condition (somewhat) as an adult, after getting married and going out into the world, but I still gravitated to that alienation theme, which is what Philip Dick excelled at. He was always playing with the questions "what is real" and "what is human". His characters were always discovering that the world they thought they were living in wasn't real, or that they weren't the person they thought they were. He wrote the stories behind the movies "Blade Runner", "Total Recall" and "Minority Report". He didn't write "the Matrix" but that movie is a perfect example of a Dickean plotline.

    Now I can't say my life followed a Dickean plotline, but it surely has had a lot of unexpected plot twists. I take antidepressants now, so a lot of the dark themes in my life have softened. But I hardly read any fiction nowadays, and the fiction I read in the past was mostly Sci-Fi, so I don't have experience with much mainstream fiction to compare my life to. One novel that I did read in the last decade that I could identify with was "Herzog" by Saul Bellow, about a man going through a midlife crisis over the breakup of his marriage. Very topical for me.

  18. If you want to sample a Dick novel, I'd suggest "Time out of Joint", "Ubik", "Solar Lottery" or "Clans of the Alphane Moon". I'd stay away from the "Valis" trilogy, which was written in the years before he died in 1982. He had gone partially mad during that phase, and imagined that he was in communication with an extraterrestrial intelligence.

    Another author that I read in college and am now remembering was Hermann Hesse - "Narcissus and Goldmund", "Steppenwolf" and "Magister Ludi". I could be a character in one of his novels.

  19. Duck, thank you for the Poe poem, which I hadn't seen before and also for the book recommendations. I've just got hold of a copy of a Neal Stephenson, recommended by David so perhaps, by the time I've read some of your suggestions too, I'll be converted to Science Fiction. Strange things happen!

    It is interesting to hear what you say about identifying with Edgar Allan Poe. Your feelings were obviously more than the general teenage angst but I have to say that in my many years of dealing with people, I haven't yet met anyone who would say they brought their 'passions from a common spring.' I think most people go through life imagining that everyone else has it better, or easier or more interesting or whatever than they do. That is why I like to talk with people, to develop better understanding.

  20. Monix,

    You may be right that most people imagine themselves to be the odd man out. It's taken some time and maturity for me to realize that I'm not that different than the rest of humanity, that we all share common fears.

    At the same time, though, we are all unique in certain ways, and I think that my adolescent angst and alienation was deeper than my fellow teenagers. Its not just something that I noticed, but was something that was noticed about me. So Poe's sense of alienation seemed to speak to me. Had I been less conformist, I may have become a Goth, though that was a subculture that hadn't developed in my day.

    I think that Sci-Fi also speaks to youthful alienation. Since Sci-Fi has traditionally been more of a male genre, I'm wondering if alienation is something that males sense more acutely, due to their inferior socialization skills. I'd be interested in your opinion on that, both as a woman and an educator.

  21. Duck, I can only speak in general terms and certainly not about instances of depression. Thank heavens that is now being recognised much earlier, even among children, and being treated properly.
    You ask if the sense of alienation is more prevalent among males than females. From my experience, I'd say it was the other way around, especially in teenaged girls. Or perhaps it is just more obvious in them, showing up in eating disorders and self-harm. I'll speak to you more off-blog.


I love to read your comments and promise that I will reply as soon as I can leave my garden, sewing room or kitchen!