Monday, April 9, 2012

A narrative compass

Some of the most difficult aspects of working on my dissertation are surrounding the concepts and language people used to describe their reading. I spent some time over the long weekend with A Narrative Compass, a wonderful volume I was introduced to at ALISE 2009 (the last ALISE I attended), which invited female scholars to look back upon the fictive texts which influenced their thinking.

I often grapple with identifying the touchstone text which influenced me as a reader, writer, and thinker during different phases on my life. I think everyone in Alabama is obligated to claim To Kill a Mockingbird, but frankly A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was much more powerful for me as a pre-teen, and Little Women at an earlier age and The Bell Jar and Franny and Zooey in high school. As a graduate student in English, I would have chosen Vanity Fair or Middlemarch. What has surprised me is that I keep coming back to The Diary of Anne Frank. It was the first book I checked out of my middle school library, and I can still see and feel the yellow Bound-to-Stay-Bound cover of that particular copy in my mind's eye. There has scarcely been a year sincewhen I haven't read either the critical, unexpurgated, or original edition, or something related like The Hidden Life of Otto Frank or the writing of Etty Hillesum, another Jewish Dutch woman who kept a diary of the German occupation of the Netherlands.

I have put together a research proposal to study Anne's life over the summer, which is an exciting prospect. I feel like working through my own Rosenblattian reader-response reactions to the text over time will help me develop a better framework to talk about my students' reading.  

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