Tag Archives: Literary Theory

Review: Literary Theory: A Complete Introduction

Literary Theory: A Complete Introduction by Sara Upstone

Title: Literary Theory:  A Complete Introduction
Author: Sara Upstone
Published: 2017
ISBN: 9781473611924
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Twitter: @SaraUpstone
Publisher’s Blurb:  Literary theory has now become integral to how we produce literary criticism. When critics write about a text, they no longer think just about the biographical or historical contexts of the work, but also about the different approaches that literary theory offers. By making use of these, they create new interpretations of the text that would not otherwise be possible. In your own reading and writing, literary theory fosters new avenues into the text. It allows you to make informed comments about the language and form of literature, but also about the core themes – concepts such as gender, sexuality, the self, race, and class – which a text might explore.

“… criticism, then, is where we find the interpretation of literature.  Theory, in contrast, is where we find the tools to facilitate that interpretation.”  (p. xii)

This little book is packed with literary theory goodness.  In 260 pages, Sara Upstone covers 19 different schools of theory.  And while I don’t always agree with her assessments, or placement of movements within theories, Upstone’s overview is a great place for anyone to start learning about Literary Theory.

Having this at my fingertips has helped me figure out how Modernism and/or Post Modernism might apply to N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy, an exercise assigned by my mentor.  If Modernism is trying to make sense of the chaotic changes in a book, then The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate offer a lot to be interpreted through that lens.  People of the Stillness must make sense of their new world as the rift and the coming of a Fifth Season wreak havoc.

Further, if Post Modernism is the questioning of reality itself, The Broken Earth Trilogy again offers an opportunity for that interpretation.  Is Alabaster turning into a Stone Eater a reality?  How it it possible he was taken into the middle of the planet by a Stone Eater and lived to come out the other side?

Mind you, these are just notions I’m playing with as I explore what both Modernism and Post Modernism mean to a critical reviewer and whatever book she happens to be reading.

My biggest quibbles with Literary Theory:  A Complete Guide have to do with the dates used to place each school in a context.  I will grant that cultural anchors must exist in order for events to have a context within the greater stories.  However, as a person with a background in history, I also know that dates aren’t hard and fast.  World War I may be marked as beginning the day Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, but that’s not really what started it all.

I mention this only because I want to caution readers not to get stuck on the dates Upstone uses as absolutes.  Surrealism, sequestered in the Modernism school of theory, had its precursors in authors like Arthur Rimbaud and André Breton.

And while I’m at it, if anything, Surrealism belongs with Post Modernism if we are to take the definition of Post Modernism at face value.

But, those are of little import when it comes to the actual information contained within this small volume.  It’s best to consider the essence of the overviews of each school of theory.  And by all means, we should give consideration to our own thoughts about what we’re reading.

Sara Upstone’s Literary Theory:  A Complete Introduction has earned itself a permanent place on my reference shelf.  If, that is, I can ever get it to leave my desk.

Review: 2018 Reading

Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Karmeron Hurley
The Calculating Stars signature
Binti by Nnedi Okarafor
River Queens by Alexander Watson
How Fiction Works by James Wood
The Queen of Crows by Myke Cole
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

For the first time in so many years, I’m not in utter misery looking into the New Year.  2019 holds great promise and hope for me. As unexpected as that is to say, it comes as a great relief.  Books and lists are the great constant. The great coping mechanism of all time, making lists. It was like the sun shone only on me the day I realized I could combine the two and keep my sanity.

One blissful weekend in August when I was hanging out with other geeks and nerds who loved what I did my vague dissatisfaction was temporarily banished.  I went to panels about writing, met authors (and a real live astronaut), sat in lines with others and talked about writing. Frequently amused that wherever there was a line, we all had some kind of device out in order to read. My device was dead tree style.

Exhaustion was my companion the entire con, but gods I was happy.  Happy? How could that possibly be? When WorldCon 76 San Jose was over, the sticky film of vague unrest returned.  Barf, I thought (or words to that effect, anyway). Inklings filtered through my overtaxed, hyperalert brain.

When great ideas hit it can feel like a jolt of lightning, adrenaline flowing through my spine.  This idea was quieter. An author I met at WorldCon started posting about teaching writing. And so I asked, “do you have something for me?”  His probing questions finally got me to the bottom of my unrest. “I want to learn to read and write about books better.”

And that’s how I found a mentor, and made the last quarter of 2018  happy. Best decision of my life ever. It’s not just the reading and writing which have evolved.  Unexpected personal growth came at me like sunshine filtered through open doors. Even on the hardest of hard days when I think I can’t even get out of bed, and the writing is like carving bricks of granite with my bare hands, I know I’ll be good.  Discovering the weird joys of LitCrit have given me a new dimension of meaning.

It is nearly impossible to pick just a few great books from 2018, but here’s my attempt at defining the seminal books for me.

2018 Books by the Numbers:

  • 68 read
  • 20,382 pages
  • 26 unique publication years
  • 40 unique author names
    • 19 female authors
    • 23 male authors
    • 26 new to me authors
  • 98 books new to the stacks
    • 48 new to the stacks read
    • 7 new to the stacks Pearl Ruled

Favorite Reads

The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood, Margaret
Even more relevant today than when first published, Atwood’s description of a dystopian, Puritanical society with no agency for women chills.  My review focuses on the use of Scripture as justification.
The Armored Saint by Cole, Myke
The Queen of Crows by Cole, Myke
Heloise is the hero we need now.  Tight, intricate, suspenseful story about a young woman leading the uprising against the religious order in charge.  Book 3, The Killing Light, comes out in 2019.
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Egan, Jennifer
Freakin’ brilliant.  We spent a month on it, I read it three times.  Don’t let the non-linear style throw you off. Egan tells a hell of a story.
American Gods by Gaiman, Neil
What happens when Old Gods realize they’re being squeezed out by the New Gods?  Just as fantastic on the second read.
My Journey in Creative Reading by Gallowglas, M. Todd
Don’t know how to review this book since he’s also my mentor.  Every bit is so good and resonated so deeply I knew I had the right guy.
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Hurley, Kameron
My love letter to Kameron who speaks the truth about being a woman so hard.  I continue to learn a lot from her about feminism and writing. GFR has earned a permanent place on my reference shelf.
The Calculating Stars by Kowal, Mary Robinette
The Fated Sky by Kowal, Mary Robinette
Speaking of feminism … Elma’s a wonderful example of all any human could be; blind spots and social anxiety and all.  Mary Robinette Kowal is as kind and generous as I had hoped. An hour with her and real live astronaut, Kjell Lindgren was more than I’d expected.  Excitedly waiting for two more Lady Astronaut books.
Beloved by Morrison, Toni
Because I am stubborn and refuse to read what “everyone” else is reading, it took an essay in The Methods of Breaking Bad, and some serious prodding from a trusted friend to read Toni Morrison’s classic.  Best opening line ever, “124 was spiteful.”
Binti by Okorafor, Nnedi
Binti: Home by Okorafor, Nnedi
Binti:  The Night Masquerade by Okorafor, Nnedi
Nnedi Okorafor’s brilliant story about a young African woman who breaks tribal taboos to go to university on another planet.  My review focuses on bigotry.
River Queens by Watson, Alexander
Alexander Watson’s writing is elegant as he tells the tale of refurbishing a wooden boat and sailing her from Texas to Ohio.  His is the most polished debut I’ve read and I’m forever grateful he asked me to review it.
How Fiction Works by Wood, James
Every writer, every critic, every anyone interested in reading and writing needs to read How Fiction Works.  My review focuses on why critical reviewers should know about craft in order to write better themselves.

New to the Stacks: Lit Crit

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms by Ross Murfin & Supryia M. Ray

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms by Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray
How Fiction Works by James Wood ~ read
Literary Theory: A complete introduction by Sara Upstone ~ read
Genrenauts by Michael R. Underwood
How Literature Works by John Sutherland
#litcrit

How Fiction Works by James Wood
Literary Theory: A Complete Introduction by Sara Upstone
Genrenauts by Michael R. Undersood
How Literature Works: 50 Key Concepts by John Sutherland