Sunday, December 27, 2009

Monomania, On and Off

Before I left to do my MA in London, a dear professor of mine gave me a copy of Elizabeth Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Brontë. The accompanying card suggested the gift was for amusement on the flight and, as we taxied away from EWR, I dutifully opened the volume and began to read. I think I managed about two pages before I set the work aside. The quality of Gaskell's prose or the subject was the problem, I simply wasn't in the mood for the work before me (and, recalling my nerves at the time, I couldn't have concentrated on anything had I determined what exactly I was in the mood for). So the book traveled with me to London, from London back to New York, and from New York to Portland.

Five years and roughly nine-thousand miles later, I finally pulled the book from a shelf on my "Victorian" bookcase and made it past the first two pages. When I was finished, I picked up Villette, long overdue for a re-read, and lined up Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall for similar treatment. In my copy of Villette are scattered pencilled notes and underlining, remnants of the my first read through and the Great Project to Read All The Brontë Novels I Haven't Read Yet (GPRABNIHRY), undertaken in the Summer of 2004.

To find the aforementioned novels I had to paw through roughly alphabetized-by-author stacks of books (my bookcases are cheap pine garage shelving, so books are stacked horizontally in piles). In doing so I uncovered the bulk of my gothic novel project, the beginnings of the (sadly stalled) Dickens reading project, the Sarah Water Project (neo-Victorian and complete), the Great War collection (primarily poetry), and Victorian Women Poets (a course from my MA and almost entirely Broadview Press). Later that day I went to my "Non-Victorian or Everything Else" bookcase to find a novel for a friend. There's the quarter shelf of Atwood (though I'll refrain from buying her new one till it's out in paperback), the half shelf of Murakami, the long stretch of Harry Potter hardbacks, the Arthurian Myth/Joseph Campbell set (a course with the amazing Beth Darlington), and the Hemingway/Fitzgerald set, and my tiny Jane Gardam set (just now coming into print in the US).

My husband jokes that I don't know how to not do and he's somewhat right. I always have some sort of project going, even when I'm not in school, and the projects are often centered around reading. Or, if they're not specific projects, I will get into a mood where I sit down and just absorb a large chunk of something. When Fall quarter started to wind down, I ordered a ton of books on Dickens and Christmas - food, booze, stories and the like. I read them all in bits and pieces in between XML assignments and policy papers. I do the same with television or movies. I devoured all of Q.I. and Top Gear during a few wintry months (which also necessitated reading a ton of Stephen Fry's books and handfuls of the textual produce of Clarkson et al.). My husband and I, prostrate from the intense heat this past summer, watched all of The Tudors (necessitating a brief refresher on British history) and are now working through Mythbusters (I am just hoping that nothing in our apartment is blown up in the future).

My undergrad and MA are examples of this sort of highly localized and intense focus that is rapidly replaced by a new topic or subtopic. For a time I was going to be a Bronte specialist, then a Dickens scholar, and then I was determined to master the "scientific romance" and the gothic novel. While this sort of intense devouring of a topic can be intensely satisfying (and excellent preparation for any sort of trivia game), it does make me worry for my career in libraries. When I started my current position I felt most comfortable in technical services. After a year or so on the job my focus shifted and I began to feel that perhaps Circulation/public services would be the place for me. And now, another year later, I'm thinking that it is in fact technical services that is where I should be once this degree is over. Will my fascination with FRBR and MARC last till the end of this degree and beyond? What about the siren call of Interlibrary Loan and the exciting new ILLIad 8 interface?

Though my specific topics ebb and flow, there is still a shared thread throughout my reading/viewing interests -- Victorian, British, often reviewed by the Guardian, easily fueled by Powells and Netflix. What is the connecting thread in my library work? Problem solving? Service? I think this is a question that I will have to answer before I'm finished with my degree.

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