Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Assigned Reading

July 8, 2009 · 11 Comments

As I think we’re supposed to blog a bit about our assigned reading, I thought I’d start us all off while the first book is fresh in my mind.

I just finished reading Salaam Brick Lane and I enjoyed it more than any other summer reading books in recent memory. I liked both Hall’s colloquial writing style and the book’s format and approach to the topic, since I’m more partial to personal, first-hand accounts. I’ve always been interested in South Asian culture, and reading about the UK immigrant experience of Bangladeshis was an interesting, new perspective from what I’m used to reading.

However,  I most enjoyed reading about a side of London that many foreigners rarely hear about or see. Based on my visits there as a tourist and the pictures of London we get from films, TV, and other forms of media, I have always had a vision of London as a quieter, more civilized, cleaner-cut big sister to New York City. I live about an hour outside of Manhattan and it has always seemed to be a chaotic jumble of people living on top of each other in a small area, but I enjoy London because it often seemed a little more prim and proper and orderly, both in person and in the media. I now realize that London does indeed have these areas, and that I know next to nothing about the areas outside of the main tourist circuit. I was always looking forward to scratching below the tourist surface of London, but after reading Salaam Brick Lane, I’m even more excited for learning about the many faces of the city, specifically the different immigrant cultures and experiences.

Since no one else has blogged about reading yet, I’m not sure if this is the sort of response we were supposed to come back with, but I thought I might as well get going with something before it becomes hazy when I move on to the next book. I also was a bit confused about all the reading that’s expected of us before we arrive in England: Are we supposed to have read the fictional account of life in the East End and Ms. Dalloway in addition to Hall, Schama, Wilson and Shakespeare before the London course starts, or will we be reading them there? I assume it would be best for us to have read them beforehand, but I wanted to make sure to leave time for them in my reading list this summer if we’re expected to have read them by the time we arrive.

Categories: readings

11 responses so far ↓

  •   kstaab77 // Jul 9th 2009 at 10:27

    I could be really wrong, I’m pretty sure that we aren’t required to read/watch Schama and that it was just a recommendation in order to get a background of British history. But, yeah, we’re supposed to read then before we get there – or forfit time that we could spend wandering the streets of London in order to frantically catch up! (I’m a fan of the exploring, myself!)

  •   allisonmschell5 // Jul 13th 2009 at 20:16

    I think so too. I’m picking through the readings, and I am definitely going to get them done before we go abroad! What has everyone read/started reading? I’m on London: A History now…

  •   Chelsea Gilchrist // Jul 13th 2009 at 20:32

    Yeah, I guess that was kind of a dumb question…but as I’m trying to fit in Schama too, I just wanted to be sure I prioritized the others over it, since I think Schama is more recommended than required.

    I’m just starting London: A History myself, and I’m really looking forward to Ms. Dalloway–it’s been on my reading list for ages.

  •   apower // Jul 18th 2009 at 12:13

    I too just finished reading Salaam Brick Lane and to be honest it took me some time to get into. I don’t think I initially appreciated Hall’s journey in the East End, and all of his various encounters. I put down Salaam Brick Lane for some time, and when I picked it back up again I found that I was reading it through new eyes (as cliche as that sounds).

    Hall interacted with people from all walks of life. And for that I am a little jealous. I haven’t had many experiences outside of my small New England bubble, and the people I know, work with, and live with tend to be cut from a similar cloth. Perhaps part of the reason Hall’s story took some time to sit with me was because it challenged me in a different way. A way that I’ve always said I want to be challenged, but haven’t had the opportunity too.

    I am an American Studies major who understands little about my culture outside of what I physically live. I can read about the opinions and stereotypes of Americans. I know the history, the politics, the culture. But this is all through words, I am looking for experience. When Aktar was studying the Cockney’s and came up with his conclusion that nothing was truly English, I found myself curious about how all nationalities would stand in this test. I have said since I applied to this program that part of the reason I wanted to study abroad was to view American culture from another nation’s perspective, and as our flight to London approaches I find myself even more excited about this experience.

  •   becca136 // Jul 18th 2009 at 22:56

    I am happy to say, I have finished all the readings so far! I guess I have had a bit of time on my hands. I read the Schama book, the history of London, Troilus and Cressida, Salaam Brick Lane, Mrs. Dalloway, White Teeth, and I read Ali’s Brick Lane for a post-colonial English class freshmen year.

    My favorite of all of these books was most definitely Salaam Brick Lane!! The fact that it was modern non-fiction book probably had a lot to do with why I liked it so much. As I read I would remind myself that all the characters in the book did exist and that they weren’t simply fabricated by the author. I would then think “So this is what London (the East End) will be like.”

    I found it very interesting to read about the issues that Hall’s wife faced as she adjusted to British culture. I always thought that England was culturally about the same as America, but Anu’s experience sure did give me a wake up call! During my time in England I hope to analyze how my adjustment period is similar and different from Anu’s. As our departure date grows closer and closer I find myself wondering “will I fit in?” “will I, like Anu, feel that the British are cold and unfriendly?”

    In contrast I found Zadie Smith’s, White Teeth to be incredibly peculiar. I just finished it today and I am really not sure what to make of it. The ending really through me off guard and left me asking “What the heck?!?”

    I had a hard time fallowing Mrs. Dalloway. The way Woolf flip flopped between various characters while maintaining a stream of consciousness writing style really perplexed me, and the fact that there were no dividing chapters or sections did not help. I also really didn’t see much in the plot however, I could see how this style could be considered revolutionary. I kept waiting for something to happen in the book, but nothing ever did. I realized this when my mother asked me what the book was about and the only thing I could say was that it was about “a day in the life of Mrs. Dalloway.” This realization prompted me to ask myself “what is the point to this novel?” “Where is the story’s conflict?” I still have yet to answer these questions.

  •   buonacos // Jul 19th 2009 at 17:44

    Hi everyone!

    I discovered today that Monica Ali’s Brick Lane was made into a movie. It’s a pretty good adaptation of the book–not as descriptive, but certainly worth watching.


  •   allisonmschell5 // Jul 30th 2009 at 22:31

    As I am conquering the reading list, Salaam Brick Lane is definitely my favorite by far. I enjoy his writing style and his use of integrating history and other writers’ interpretations of East End. Also, after reading this book I am glad that 1) I have a new-found interest and love of Indian food and 2) Took a course on Hinduism last semester. I feel like I have more of an understanding and appreciation for the Indian culture than most other people. And Sarah, I’ll have to now watch the movie! Maybe we can rent it abroad and watch it all together over tea!

  •   russella // Aug 4th 2009 at 19:47

    So amazon lost my order somewhere in NJ(not surprised), but I’ve read Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, and I had read Mrs. Dalloway this winter actually. I watched the film adaptation of Brick Lane last night(curtacy of netflix, which allows you to watch it on the internet), and I found it to have changed the emphasis greatly. There were a lot of scenes in the book that I thought were touching, that were rushed over in the movie. I felt like they jumped to her adulthood too quickly, but that might have been simply because of the time restraint placed on filming. I wasn’t as interested with her story honestly. She goes through her life just letting it come as it does, she complains about, she does nothing about it. I felt like she never really claimed her life. She tells off two men, which is a big deal, and we are left with the stereotypical ending where she doesn’t know what the future holds but at least it’s her future to shape…bla bla bla. I can see why this book was optional. But I digress, the part that interested me about the book was her kids. That was a story I would have liked to read about, because they were the ones really dealng with the cultural divide. I really liked the scene where the girl yells at her father in english, and he can’t understand. The parents were applying to radically divergent pressures: to fit in and to stay true to their culture.

    Next to Night and Day(which references As you like it a few times I am now finding out) , Mrs. Dalloway is one of my favorite’s of Woolf. She discusses radical issues for the time like homosexuality and mental treatment in a vividly realistic and beautifuly fluid way. We all have those days where it seems like we go through the entire story of our life.

    Not to quote Princess Mononoke in the same entry as such great works, but i’ve been thinking a lot about the line “seeing with eyes unclouded” A lot of people have mentioned (in their own words) living in a Bobo’s paradise. We all went to Dickinson to get an education that engages the world–what that really means still alludes me. It will be interesting to put that slogan to the test. To some extent, I do sympathize with Ali’s character: I’ve felt like i was a tourist in my own life plenty of times, and I wonder if leaving, dare i say, escaping that world will somehow help me to evolve, or at least understand, more.

    Ali, I totally know what your saying: Cameron Warner may have changed my life unknowingly

  •   jeylam // Aug 13th 2009 at 12:56

    So as I am completing my reading of Tarquin Hall’s “Salaam Brick Lane” I have to share how much I have enjoyed Hall’s recollection of characters presented. Although Hall is telling the readers his experiences and his return to London in which he felt like a stranger , he found a way to present the stories of immigrants, “yuppies” who willingly move to East End, first generation citizens who prefer the old London, anti globalization activists and those preferring the anonymity that East End offered. I can not wait to personally observe such characters and interact.

    After reading The History of London and White Teeth, Hall’s presentation of Britain’s class system and deep prejudice did not surprise me. However, in one of the instances Hall rides in taxi where the driver states that “it won’t be long before there’s no such thing as an Englishman.” And that made me question, what is an Englishman? Is it anyone who is white and Christian, and whose family can not be traced to any other country besides United Kingdom? Also I noted Mr.Ali’s concern about being considered an immigrant when the author mentions it, Mr. Ali feels the need to distinguish the fact that he has been in England for 33 years and has been paying taxes and voting Labour.
    Although Hall went into the East End, an area that his teachers and parents made seem as of “different race” and evil in his childhood, Hall could not have done a better job at being truly emerged in East End culture.

    As for reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith I enjoyed the representation of three generations and struggle with belonging, women rights and religion. Irie’s experience as a biracial teenager trying to escape from her own family, Millat’s inability to escape from the western world and Magid’s decision to become atheist and go into science stood out to me in this fictional piece because all three characters were the products of their parents. I am looking forward to further discussing White Teeth and all of the characters.

    Well, onto more readings…

  •   kstaab77 // Aug 14th 2009 at 00:07

    So far I have finished four of the readings and have had quite mixed feelings about them. My biggest problems were with Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. I’ve taken two years of ancient Greek and had to read Homer’s Iliad, so it was a bit odd and slightly alarming to read a play based on the Iliad that, essentially, had very little to do with the Iliad! I’m sure that the play will be quite enjoyable to watch, but the entire time I was reading it I had a difficult time separating the Greek myth/legend Shakespeare alluded to from the English-Shakespearian jokes and Anglicized characters that didn’t appear in Homer’s poem.

    Tarquin Hall’s Salaam Brick Lane really made me think about the cultural, religious, and racial problems that are occurring in London and around the world today. Although the stories of every individual that Hall interviewed are different, there was an overwhelming similarity between them all; be they Jewish, Islamic, Christian, or Hindu. Everyone in the East End had suffered due to their immigrant background or accent or colour and could all relate to the immigrant groups that had come before them. One of the things I found most interesting about the book was that every immigrant group that had populated the now-Banglatown managed to move their way up until they were seen as valuable members of society.

    I found Zadie Smith’s White Teeth to have many of the same messages and undertones as Hall’s Salaam Brick Lane. The novel was a discussion on cultural, religious, and racial differences and the slow adaptation of these practices over time (specifically the generation gap). Even though I did not much care for the actual story, Smith’s characters represented a diverse population and illustrated them very well. I found the struggle of culture and religious practices against the overbearing and inescapable Western World to be particularly interesting in regards to the twins and Samad.

    Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway was probably the most difficult and easiest of the texts for me to read. On the surface it seemed very simple; a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway. However, I think I had both the advantage and disadvantage of having seen the movie The Hours, which analyzes the effect of the novel Mrs Dalloway on three women, including Woolf and a woman based on Clarissa, before reading it. Seeing the movie was good for me because I already had an inkling of the basic storyline and knew where to read more into what Woolf was writing. Unfortunately, seeing the film meant that nothing that occured really surprised me. I enjoyed the novel a lot and found that it was really discussing the obsession people have with certain things (unrequited love, suicide, etc) and the relationships between social classes, which reminded me a lot of the relationships between social groups.

  •   Karl // Aug 15th 2009 at 16:22

    Excellent posting Kelley.

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