March and April brought my first professional engagements at conferences and classes.  After the end of the term at York, during which time I had shadowed and had a fun (but at times trying) time teaching for the first time, I attended the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature’s first conversation.  The SSMLL and the Corpus Centre for the Study of Greek and Roman Antiquity jointly hosted “Classicists and Medievalists in Conversation: Epic“.  Of course, this event seemed tailor-made for my interests.  I was an undergraduate classicist with a focus on epic, and I am a current medievalist focusing on epic tradition in medieval romance.  This was technically a conference, but it was organised to be a more informal forum for discussion. The short panels left plenty of time for discussion afterwards.  There were lots of big names in the room, and I was particularly starstruck by Philip Hardie whose books I’ve consulted frequently over the past several months.  I think I was a bit timid–this was my first big-girl (as in not just postgraduate) conference, and the discussion tended to be dominated by more experienced, published, and employed academics.  I felt a bit out of place, as much of the discussion was on material I’d never encountered before.  However, it was a good way to dip my toes into the conference pool.  My full conference report can be found here.

St. Hugh’s College, Oxford
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Two weeks after the day-long Epic conversation, I went to back to Oxford for the Romance in Medieval Britain Conference at St. Hugh’s College.  This was a three-day event, and the papers were absolutely fantastic.  I got to see two of my fellow PhD workroom friends present papers, talked with academics I’ve encountered at Cambridge and Durham, and meet other new researchers and post-docs with similar interests.  I was pleased to find that there were many others working on various Troy Books and ecphrasis, there was one panel whose papers fit incredibly well with my MA dissertation on hospitality and generosity in Gawain romances.  It was tiring, but extremely rewarding and fun.  After the last panel, I got to walk around the manuscript exhibit at the Bodleian Library.  While perusing the various sections, I bumped into another PhD from the conference who was visiting from Toronto, and we had a lovely afternoon walking in the sunshine.  My goal is to present a paper at the next RMB in two years, and I hope to keep up with the contacts I made this year.

Old Main, Gustavus Adolphus College
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After that crazy two weeks, I went home and then up to Minnesota to speak at Gustavus.  I shared my study abroad experience at the annual “Why Classics?” event and got an overwhelmingly positive response from the faculty.  The following day, I taught a class on the Aeneid in the Middle Ages with particular attention to the text of Chaucer’s House of Fame (Book 1) and sections of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  I was a bit disappointed that the students didn’t seem to work with the Middle English, and I discovered that I should have spent more time on SGGK because the text I provided for that had a modern translation.  I was expecting a Latin class to be a bit more receptive to engaging with the language, but I understand that it was something new for them.  However, I think the class went well even if I presented many novel ideas in a short amount of time.  I spoke with the only medievalist in the English department (who, of course, had been working in admin while I was a student), and he said he struggles each year when deciding on Chaucer text.  To use or not to use the Middle English?  It’s something I don’t think we should struggle with; Chaucer’s Middle English isn’t particularly difficult, and I’ve seen many undergraduate classes who read all the literature without translations.  It’s something to consider in the future, and I’d never thought about it before.

Being back at Gustavus as a speaker was a bit surreal.  I stayed in the guest house and was driven to and from Gustavus by my old advisor.  I was privy to all sorts of gossip and opinions from the faculty about which I had no idea as a student.  It was interesting to be on the other side of the fence–the side shared by professors I highly respect and adore.

I had a fantastic time being a “grown-up” academic for the first time.  It’s scary to be there, and entering into the ivory tower is daunting.  I hope that with practice I can work up to feeling more like I belong among those academics.


We’ve finally begun our Issues module lectures on the Renaissance.  As I read dense, boring, and often ill-written articles in preparation for Monday’s class, I was struck by the eloquence of Paula Findlen’s article, “Possessing the Past,” in which she discusses the material collection obsession of Renaissance patricians.  To illustrate her point about books and the preservation of knowledge, she included a quote from Petrarch:

And I perhaps own more of them than I ought; but just as in certain other things, so does it happen with books; success in earning money is a stimulus to greed.  There is indeed something peculiar about books.  Gold, silver, precious stones, beautiful clothing, marbled homes, cultivated fields, painted canvases, decorated horses and other similar things, possess silent and superficial pleasure.  Books please the core of one’s mind; they speak with us, advise us and unite us with a certain living and penetrating intimacy.

92, adapted from Petrarch, Rerum familiarium libri I-VIII, 157 (Fam. III, 18)

Petrarch believes to truly possess a book, one must read it, understand it, and contemplate it.  It has to feed one’s mind and soul and not just his or her pride and vanity.  It’s a lovely thought.

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I won’t beat around the bush; this week has been full of chaos.  UK Customs, failed attempts to top up my Orange phone, a mix up with a tutor meeting, my manic Monday of 6 hours of class, and thing after thing driving me insane.  Having said that, I think I have this week planned out well, even though it will be very, very busy, and one thing I can count on to keep me sane is the wonder in books.  There is order and magic and reliability in books, and a full bookshelf calms my soul.  So, here is the contents of the top shelf in my Argos bookcase (which is about 2 1/2 feet long):

  • The Riverside Chaucer
  • The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript, ed. Andrew and Waldron
  • The Riverside Chaucer (library copy)
  • Apollonius of Tyre: Medieval and Renaissance Themes and Variations, Archibald
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses, Norton pub.
  • Ovid, Heroides, Penguin pub.
  • The Lais of Marie de France, Baker Academic pub.
  • Sagas of Warrior Poets, Penguin pub.
  • The Song of Roland, Penguin pub.
  • Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances, Penguin pub.
  • Christine de Pizan, The Treasure of the City of the Ladies, Penguin pub.
  • Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel, Norton pub.
  • Middle English Romances, Norton Critical Edition
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, trans. Simon Armitage
  • Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur, Oxford pub.
  • The Poems of the Cid, Penguin pub.
  • The Nibelunglied, Penguin pub.
  • Dante, Paradisio, trans. John D. Sinclair
  • Las Mocedades de Roderigo, trans. Bailey
  • Chivalry, Maurice Keen
  • The Romance of Tristan, Oxford pub.
  • The Romance of Arthur: An Anthology of Medieval Texts in Translation, ed. Wilhelm
  • Medieval Folklore, Lindahl, McNamara, Lindow
  • Arthur, Daniel Mersey
  • Arthur’s Britain, Leslie Alcock
  • Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, Penguin pub.
  • Beowulf, trans. Seamus Heaney
  • Robin Hood, J.C. Holt
  • Imagining Robin Hood, A.J. Pollard
  • Rymes of Robin Hood, R.B. Dobson and J. Taylor
  • Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography, Stephen Knight
  • William Langland, Piers Plowman, Penguin pub.
  • Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, Norton Critical Edition
  • Chaucer’s Major Poetry, ed. Albert C. Baugh

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The first chunk until Maurice Keen’s book is for class, while the rest is related to research (I swear!) but is interesting reading on its own.  I am sentimentally attached to my Dobson and Taylor Rymes and to the beautiful copy of Chaucer’s Major Poetry.  The first is the best edition of the original ballads, and is hard to come by.  The Chaucer was given to me by my first Chaucer professor at the University of Washington, who had me for one class one quarter and believed in my ability to do good work in literature.  Times like this, when I’ve become overwhelmed with schoolwork and personal commitments, that books give me solace and quiet my mind.

Now all I’m missing is a comfy armchair.  Let’s face it, the regulation Hild Bede chairs just can’t compare…

It’s been a long time since my last post.  I suppose that speaks to the nature of the grad school beast, but it bugs me.  So, in order to get inspired on a quick post, I looked at some friends’ blogs.  You may have read about Alicia in my style post here.  She’s another grad student (in ancient history) and a fellow bookworm.  Her latest post was on the contents of one of her bookshelves, and I think I’ll respond to her post with my own.

One shelf in my two bookshelves has this contents.  I suppose I should mention that I have two bookshelves; one mounted on my wall which came in my room and one hastily put together from IKEA’s lesser brother, Argos, which has three shelves.  (The putting together of this second bookcase is what introduced me to many of my housemates, so while I doubt it’ll last more than a year, it does have great sentimental value already.)  I’ve chosen to begin with my mounted bookcase, which has one shelf of magazines and decorative elements and one shelf packed to the gills of books and various hot drink mixes (coffee, tea, hot chocolate).  I should note that these are my non-academic books.  Without further ado, here they are:

  • The Road, Cormac McCarthy
  • The Piano Teacher, Janice Y.K. Lee
  • Cleopatra’s Daughter, Michelle Moran
  • Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niggenegger
  • Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  • Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak
  • The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende
  • Three Cups of Tea, Mortenson & Relin
  • The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova
  • Leonardo’s Swan, Karen Essex
  • Sprezzatura: 50 Ways Italian Geniuses Shaped the World, Peter D’Epiro
  • Walking to Canterbury: A Modern Journey Through Chaucer’s Medieval England, Jerry Ellis
  • Rules Britannia: An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom, Toni Summers Hargis
  • How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas C. Foster
  • Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World: Nicholas Ostler
  • Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour, Kate Fox
  • Knickers in a Twist: A Dictionary of British Slang, Jonathan Bernstein
  • The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (I just finished this yesterday!)

Okay, so maybe they’re not entirely non-academic (Empires of the Word is literally the history of the world’s languages and equates in my mind to Hermione Granger’s “light reading” of various histories of the magical world.  It’s deep stuff, I tell you.)  I’m starting The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory this evening, so it’s technically not on my bookcase, but it did occupy the space now taken by The Remains of the Day less than 12 hours ago.

What books occupy your shelves?  What is on your imaginary shelf?  (I would have to go with a first printing of Harry Potter, the destroyed copy of Shakespeare’s collected works that my aunt and uncle tossed away–meticulously annotated by my grandfather who got a full scholarship to Harvard but fought in WWII, instead–and leather-bound, and an illuminated manuscript.)

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And, yes.  That picture of me in my new glasses is coming!  I just have to find someone to take my picture when it’s not dreary and awful outside.  Hmmm.  Maybe over Christmas in Oklahoma where it’s still sunny?

I’ve been battling customs, crowds, and a lack of internet all day, but I wanted to give an update…

I’m in LONDON! On Tuesday, I’m meeting with a Gustavus and a Cambridge friend for dinner, and Wednesday is a tour of Canterbury (I’m only part way through this book, but it’s a source of great inspiration: Walking to Canterbury).

On Thursday, September 22, we go to Durham, and I’m really looking forward to getting things settled and some of this hideously heavy luggage dropped off!


P.S.  I spent part of my flight watching movies I wouldn’t ordinarily see, such as Sex and the City 2 and The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.  Meh.  I probably should have rewatched How to Train Your Dragon, as both of my in-flight films were let-downs.  Quick moral of the story: reviews actually are quite accurate, even if you love the premise.

So, I’m pretty set on accepting this Hild Bede Scholarship.  I am still incredibly waffly (is that a real word?) about this, as I have no idea what the College of St Hild and St Bede’s postgraduate community will be like.  It’s apparently the largest college (Good?  Bad?  I don’t know; more people but pretty gardens and a library), and most of my tuition and accommodation will be paid by the university.

I know it’s so silly that I even considered turning it down.  I suppose it’s because on online forums and through my communication with a MA Med/Ren student from last year I felt like I know what to expect from Ustinov.  I don’t really know anything about Hild Bede, as I was supposed to be prepared for this and notified by the college by now (and, really, about the scholarship about 6 weeks ago, ha…).  It’s a very queasy feeling.  Do I take what I know or take the money and bet my living arrangements, hoping with three weeks to go I’ll have everything arranged?

My main motivation is for my parents.  They’ve been so wonderful, and I know that grad school, especially in another country, is pricey.  This scholarship means that airfare, other travel and paperwork, and a bit of the tuition as a non-EU student is all we’d pay for out-of-pocket.  One of my wisest friends, Heather, said that she knew how I felt about community and the social aspect because, let’s face it, I am rely on my friends and connections.  They’re my life.

Another decision I’m coping with is what to take with me.  I know that there are things I need to buy… and quickly:

  • bookbag or backpack of some variety, probably leather for a “grown up” lifestyle
  • day trip tote/purse for camera, wallet, books, and various smaller necessities
  • coin purse (Damn you, coinage!  How dare you scatter all over the bottom of my bag!)
  • boots, waterproofed
  • coat, waterproof, warmer than my raincoat
  • camera, larger than a pocket-sized, but not $800 like some photo shops would have me buy

And then there are the things I want, and think would be practical, if not necessary:

  • printed photos
  • books (Oh, the agony of whittling down my bookshelf!  ARGH!)
  • DVDs, iPod, computer with its new international ports
  • little reminders of home
  • maps and guidebooks I’ve picked up along the way

Plus the absolutely necessary: clothing, setting up a bank account, passport with completed visa (ta-da!!!), transcripts and related academic stuff, toiletries, etc.

I need to buy a lamp, bookshelf, sheets, etc. there, which will be a pain.  I definitely smell a trip to Newcastle and a large order on

Amazon reminds me of my time yesterday at Half Price Books, a dangerous, dangerous place for me.  I have read several of Marie de France’s lais while at UW, including Lanval (knight of King Arthur’s court) and the wonderful Bisclavret (werewolf, based some on Petronius’ Satyricon, hooray!).  Not one person in the store had heard of it, but I did get one amazing anthropologist staffer intrigued!  I think before bed I’ll order the book, which will make happy reading.  I also picked up J. C. Holt’s book on Robin Hood, the Old French Tristan saga (translated!), an anthology of women poets from antiquity to modern times, and a good resource book on Arthur, including the research and theories about the legends beginning with Malory, Wace, and Laȝamon.  Good stuff.  Very bad.

I’m reading the second book by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, which is a prequel to The Shadow of the Wind.  It’s called The Angel’s Game and am loving it!  I also recently read my first book by Isabella Allende, Inés of My Soul, which was completely appropriate with its just post-Inquisition Spain/Peru/Chile setting following my Late Middle Ages’ lecture on the Reformation, the Reconquista, and the Inquisition.  Mmmmmm…  So many books, so little time!

I have a new goal, which for me is actually quite a challenge.  It’s something close to things already on my list, but this one has a definite end date and is actually manageable.

Thirty Books Everyone Should Read Before They’re Thirty

So, in the order of the list, here are the books.  The books I have read are in dark green type.

  1. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
  2. 1984 by George Orwell
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  4. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  5. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  6. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  7. The Rights of Man by Tom Paine
  8. The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  9. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
  10. The Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin
  11. The Wisdom of the Desert by Thomas Merton
  12. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
  13. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
  14. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
  15. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkein
  16. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  17. Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot
  18. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  19. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  20. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  21. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  22. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
  23. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  24. The Republic by Plato
  25. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  26. Getting Things Done by David Allen
  27. How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  28. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  29. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  30. The Master and the Margarita by Mikhail Bulakov
  31. BONUS: How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
  32. BONUS: Honeymoon with My Brother by Franz Wisner

So, as anyone can see, I have a bit to go on this list.  Some of these I haven’t ever heard of (Wisdom in the Desert, The Master and the Margarita), while others I’ve avoided because of their style (anything by Charles Dickens or Charles Darwin or Ernest Hemingway, more by Steinbeck; I feel reading A Separate Peace four times in high school and Great Expectations three times has put me off of that almost lumbering and depressing storytelling).  I also, as you may have guessed, don’t especially like older American literature.  I’m a fan of the more modern “literary fiction,” which is on the rung above romance novels and Twilight, but doesn’t have the prestige of the “greats” like Dickens.  Others on this list I’ve avoided because of the story, like Clockwork Orange and Lord of the Flies.  While I love the film of CO, my mental theatre is quite imaginary, and somehow I find the words and suggestion more influential and uncomfortable than the screen imagery.

I have a lot on this list to do, and after I finish my Isabel Allende/Spanish kick, I may read these.  This will be a challenge, but reading is supposed to inform and sometimes entertain.  Hey, I got through my high school readings just fine, and this time, I have medieval texts to balance it out…

Also on the topic of books, I turn my attention to the declining sale of hard, feel-them-in-your-hands books.  Beloved Barnes and Noble has put itself up for sale and Kindles are being snatched up as fast as Amazon can produce them.  I stumbled upon this post by another WordPress blogger with an amazing quote from a Wall Street Journal writer.  The blogger does not, I repeat DOES NOT lament the change from physical books to electronic, and maintains that readership of literature will still be big in this digital age.  From what I was able to read from the WSJ article (I couldn’t read the entire thing, as I have not paid for a subscription, alas!), the author (like me) feels a loss and sadness about the replacement of books.

Brightly flashing screens have not only replaced letters and face-to-face contact, but have begun to replace the one material thing I value above all others: books.  I cannot believe that this is just the next step to a civilized and technology-filled society and that “it’s proven to be one of the best things that can happen to something we love.”  Can you imagine as a child snuggling up to your mom or dad to read a story from a Kindle or Nook?  Would you want to teach your kid to read on a screen?  If you went on a trip or got lost on an island, what would you read once the power went out?  As a student at university or of life, how will you remember passages from books that have touched your soul when you only have a screen?

Another challenge for me is to find a way to help people to respect the written word and the various forms in which it comes.  While I appreciate any medium that helps people to read and to expand their minds, I cannot help but think of the books that could have been picked up and appreciated in their dust jacketed glory.