The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Monday, October 24, 2005


I had originally intended this blog to focus largely on reading—my reading, in particular. I got through a lot of books this summer and was able to write about most of them. But since this semester started—no way. Up until this week I hadn't been able to get through any pleasure-reading books so far this term (I'd started a few—PICKWICK PAPERS, HERZOG), but finally plowed through Emile Zola's GERMINAL. I'm sure that the novel doesn't need my endorsement, but I'll happily give it: it's a great book. Living here in western Pennsylvania, where a group of miners were trapped underground for three days and where we had to sign a mining-subsidence waiver before buying our house, I had a special interest in this coal-mining novel, which concludes with a catastrophic, sabotage-caused flood in a northern French coal mine. GERMINAL was seen as a left-wing novel, and of course today it still would be (anything that suggests that corporations aren't devoted to their employees' welfare tends to be characterized as left-wing), but its politics are fairly innocuous. Zola is a fantastic writer; his command of detail, of scene-setting, and of tone are brilliant. I read the Penguin Classics edition, translated in 1954 by Leonard Taycock, and was a little surprised by how raw it was—both the actual story (Zola wanted to capture the acceptance of casual and even sordid sex among these destitute miners) and the language. It's 1954 British raw, but it's raw. I didn't find the translation particularly dated, but Penguin is now using a new one in the Classics series.

I picked up about 10 Zola novels in various used bookstore trips this summer and decided to start with GERMINAL. It was a good choice. Now, maybe I'll be able to get through another one over spring break.

Also read James Berlin's RHETORIC AND REALITY (a history of college writing classes) and Dwight Macdonald's THE FORD FOUNDATION: THE MEN AND THE MILLIONS (a 1956 profile of the FordFound, begun as a NEW YORKER profile). Both good and interesting. Next up on this research project: Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s THE VITAL CENTER and the anthology THE GOD THAT FAILED, both non-communist leftist books from 1949.


  • At 11:21 PM, Blogger zp said…

    An interesting post given that I woke up this morning to an NPR story on regulating miner's drug abuse in Kentucky. They couldn't say the obvious? That drug abuse is often the result of exhaustion and overwork? What kind of drugs are they doing? The report didn't even say that . . .


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