What am I doing this summer?
Firstly, I’m writing the first draft of a historical novel, set in 18th century Scotland.
Secondly, I’m preparing for my PhD comprehensive exams. That means reading a whole lotta books.
A PhD in Creative Writing basically has three stages: classes, comp exams, and dissertation. The first stage, which usually takes two years, is to do the coursework on literature, teaching, and fiction writing. With the spring semester finally over, that’s where I am now. Done! Done!
(It’s a great feeling to have completed all the classes I need ever take. It’s an even better feeling to think about all I’ve learned and written these last two years.)
Then, once the required number of classes are done, you put together judging committees for your three “Comprehensive” exams. You take two of those exams in the autumn semester and one in the spring. The two in the autumn come from the list of set subjects: you choose whatever two subjects you think best fit your interests and future teaching career.
In the spring, you do your third exam, the “specialised exam,” on a reading list of your own design, specifically meant to prepare you for your dissertation.
Complete that third exam successfully, and then you begin the final stage of the PhD: writing the dissertation. Because I’m focusing on fiction writing, my dissertation will be a work of fiction and an accompanying historical essay / manifesto / artist’s statement.
Knowing me, it will probably be quite long.
So. Now it’s summer, and I need to read. Out of the possible reading lists, I’ve chosen the “novel” and the “contemporary literature,” because I figure that’s what I’ll most focus on in the future. This means reading the history of the novel and (for the contemporary exam) a host of poems, plays, and novels written after 1945, plus the great works of scholarship relating to both.
To give you a sense of what each list involves, I’m cutting and pasting most of the titles for the Novel comprehensive exam below. Which ones would you most like to read? Which ones frighten you the most? Would you have chosen a different list entirely?
Over the summer, I’m going to write some comments on these novels as I read them (avoiding, most likely, the books on the list I already know–there won’t be time to re-read Lolita), and share some particularly fun or extravagant paragraphs from those novels. First up will be the book I’m reading right now, Thomas Pychon’s infuriating, enormous, ingenious WWII conspiracy novel, Gravity’s Rainbow.
I should have a short post on Gravity’s Rainbow ready over the next few days.
Best wishes for your own summer reading!
1. The Novels:
The Castle of Otranto
Pride and Prejudice
Jude the Obscure
The Scarlet Letter
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
The Portrait of a Lady
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Heart of Darkness
The Good Soldier
A Passage to India
The Marrow of Tradition
The House of Mirth
The Great Gatsby
The Sun Also Rises
The Sound and the Fury
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Maus I and Maus II
The Red and the Black
Crime and Punishment
The Magic Mountain
Things Fall Apart
A House for Mr. Biswas
Wide Sargasso Sea
One Hundred Years of Solitude
If on a winter’s night a traveler
2. The Scholarly Texts:
The Rise of the Novel
The Dialogic Imagination
Essentials of the Theory of Fiction
Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach
Desire and Domestic Fiction
The Novel and the Police
The English Novel
Reading for the Plot
Story and Discourse
The Sense of an Ending
Love and Death in the American Novel
The Afro-American Novel and Its Tradition
The Theory of the Novel
For a New Novel: Essays on Fiction
“The Literature of Exhaustion”
Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction
Towards a Postmodern Theory of Narrative