Sep 23, 2011

In Which I Mourn My Loss of Access to an Academic Library

Academic reading list

This summer I was going to READ ALL THE BOOKS. As I promised/threatened a few months ago, I was going to write a series of posts on all the gloriously nerdy gems I found in my university library. I made a list and everything, and I kept telling myself that if I committed to it, I could go through at least 50% of it before September came and these books became unavailable to me.

Well, September is here, and like many of my other summer plans, none of this ever really happened. I didn’t count on how exhausted my dissertation would leave me – for a while there I couldn’t even read novels, let alone demanding non-fiction. But as you can imagine, I’m now heartbroken that I can no longer borrow books from an academic library (library memberships are available for alumni, but they don’t include borrowing rights – and there’s no way these would get read if I couldn’t bring them home). It’s especially sad because many of these books are hard to find in public libraries and/or prohibitively expensive. Though I understand the practical reasons that make this difficult, I would love to live in a world where academic libraries were open to anyone interested.

Perhaps one day my circumstances will change and I’ll have access to them again, but in the meantime, I thought I’d post my list to a) keep these books on my radar, b) so you could share my pain, and c) so some of you could perhaps read them on my behalf and then tell me if they’re as awesome as they sound.

Here it goes:
  • English Feminism, 1780-1980 by Barbara Caine — from the author of Victorian Feminists, which I very much enjoyed, comes a history of feminism in England with an emphasis on “the relationship between feminist thought and actions”. Why didn’t I borrow it while I could?

  • The Victorian Press and the Fairy Tale by Caroline Sumpter — a study of the literary fairy tale in the nineteenth-century and of the social history behind it, which won the Mythopoeic Award for general myth and fantasy studies this year. WANT.

  • Silences by Tillie Olsen – the publisher describes it as “a study of the crucial relationship between circumstances - of sex, economic class, colour, the times and climate into which one is born - and creativity (…) Tillie Olsen focuses on the financial and cultural pressures which obstructed, or silenced, their work. She then turns to those who have lost most: women writers, their energies deflected into domesticity and motherhood; black American writers, only 11 of whom published more than two novels from 1850-1950”.

  • Victorian Fiction: Writers, Publishers, Readers by John Sutherland — A history of the social and cultural context where the Victorian novel developed. What’s not to love?

  • Seduction and Betrayal: Women and Literature by Elizabeth Hardwick — a critical analysis of several women writers, including Virginia Woolf, Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Wordsworth, and Sylvia Plath.

  • Charlotte Mew and Her Friends by Penelope Fitzgerald — Charlotte Mew’s poetry has been recommended to me several times, and I know I should read it before I embark on a biography. However, the library had lost its copy of The Farmer’s Bride but had this biography instead, and I was very tempted by it. The fact that it’s written by an accomplished novelist only makes it sound more appealing.

  • Victorian Suicides: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories by Barbara Gates —This has been on my wishlist ever since I read Sarah Waters’ Affinity. The first chapter is available at Victorian Web and it makes the whole thing sound great.

  • Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Si├Ęcle by Elaine Showalter — With a title like this, do I need to add anything? Also, it’s Elaine Showalter, whose writing I usually love.

  • The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830-1980 by Elaine Showalter – see above.

  • A Woman of Passion: The Life of E. Nesbit by Julia Briggs — E. Nesbit sounds like a fascinating woman. The fact that she inspired Olive Wellwood from The Children’s Book only adds to the appeal of this biography.

  • Intellectual Impostures by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont — a companion to Fashionable Nonsense, which, now that I think of it, I also haven’t read. On the bright side, I do own Edward Slingerland’s What Science Offers the Humanities, so I could go read that instead.

  • Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel by Lucinda Hawksley — if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you probably know all about my interest in the Pre-Raphaelites. The fact that I’ve yet to pick up this book is quite a gap in my reading.

  • Half the Human Experience by Janet Hyde — reading this bulky psychology textbook for fun sounds a bit daunting, but I think it would be worth the time investment. Hyde is a famous critic of gender essentialism, plus I’ve read some of her journal articles in the past and her writing is extremely accessible. Publisher’s description: “Hyde examines the balance of cultural and biological similarities (and differences) between the genders, noting how these characteristics may affect issues of equality, and also how men and women behave towards one another. By putting into context the proliferation of research in the field and clearly explaining the relationship between gender and emotion, the author helps demystify the scientific process and study of feminist psychology”.

  • Josephine Butler by Jane Jordan — Butler was a Victorian feminist and activist who battled the Contagious Diseases Act at a time when ladies were not supposed to either speak in public or acknowledge the existence of prostitution. I first read about her in Victorian Feminists, and I would love to learn more.

  • An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis — Laura Miller is to blame for this one – she wrote about it in The Magician’s Book and made it sound wonderful. Fortunately for me, this is far more affordable and easier to find that the rest of this list.

  • To Herland and Beyond: The Life and Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman by Ann J. Lane — I actually had this biography out of the library at around the time I read HerlandClaire Tomalin’s biography really enhanced my understanding and appreciation of Mary Wollstonecraft, and I was hoping for the same here. But the timing wasn’t right and it just didn’t get read. One day!
If you’ve read any of these, I would love to hear what you thought!


  1. "Victorian Suicides" -> Actually, the whole book is available on Victorian Web,isn't it? Not just the first chapter. I read it some time ago, but only remember that I thought it was interesting but not quite what I was looking for.

    And some of those other books sound really interesting too, thanks for making my Victorian whish list even longer. ;)

  2. It is?! I don't know how I missed that! Thanks for pretty much making my day :D

  3. Isn't it always like this with me :(
    But I am sure you will be able to read all of these soon :)

  4. Ooh, Ive read Silences. In fact I used to have a copy but can't find it now

  5. Oh, I totally know what you mean! As a soon-to-be graduate I'm going to so miss my ability to wander in the stacks and pick out a known (or unknown) ancient little treasure to take home. Public library are awesome, but there is just something different about an academic library. I'll still have my boyfriend's ID but, given the gender differences, I just don't see that working out. So sorry about your loss! hehe
    - Chelsea

    PS: The Victorian Press and the Fairy Tale by Caroline Sumpter sounds TOTALLY amazing!

  6. I was wandering through the stacks yesterday as a reward for finishing a paper and found all these amazing and very old books, and I realized I need to get moving on them. My rush for those will unfortunately take precedence over these, but if I have a chance, I will check them out for you.

  7. I so agree about the pity of academic books not being widely available. I would happily pay for a membership if I could access and borrow those books. A membership would still be way cheaper than to buy even one of them!

  8. I know. I miss my university library, too. Apparently if I get an alumni card I can resume using it. It is on my list, but frankly I probably wouldn't have time for the books right now anyway...

  9. Oh my, it does sound like this library was chock full of wonderful stuff, so I can see why you are so down about having to miss out on all of it. Hopefully there will come a time or situation in which all these books will be available to you again. Until then, we will all just have to keep our fingers crossed!

  10. So many books, so little time! It really stinks that you don't have access to these books anymore. My library is pretty suck, but at least in America, the books are more easily and cheaply purchased! I never realized how lucky I was until I met all of you international bloggers!

  11. Oh, I do sympathise. I've got access again at the moment, but I was without it for several years and may not have it for much longer if my working arrangements change. I don't take full advantage of it (though I do like the journals access) but your loss prompts me to make more effort. I'd particularly like to read the Sumpter book.

  12. Looks like I shall be able to report on that book, if I can just coordinate London trips around its availability. Shall check next week in case it's in...

  13. I'm so sad you no longer have access to these books! They sound absolutely fantastic. I'm drooling over many of the titles!

  14. All these books have your name written on them Ana! I mean, weren't they written for you? You should have lifetime access. And yes, I am destroyed every day that I get up and look at the wall of books, some of which I will probably never read. Boo hoo.

  15. I also mourn the loss of an academic library. I REALLY miss all the amazing history I could read at the drop of a hat if I wanted to. I did read some of it, but I'd definitely now pay to get access to the library at the University of York again. I also just miss basic things like the Dictionary of National Biography - I loved looking up who all the people in books were.

    All of your choices sound amazing. I hope you get to read them someday.

  16. I miss having access to article databases at my university library, that's about it. I can get just about any book from my public library (except, apparently, the Sandman comics).

    It seems like summer plans are always overly grandiose. I planned to memorize a book this summer. Didn't happen.

  17. You should check Google Books. They scanned whole libraries and books that no longer have copyrights are fully available. Many copyrighted books are available as well under permission.

  18. Oh, that is sad :( I'm still trying to figure out what library resources I'm allowed to have access to now that I've graduated. I can still get to the databases, but I don't know if that's a permanent thing or something they've missed. I don't want to ask because I'm afraid they'll say, "Oops, you're not supposed to be able to use those anymore!" and there they will go. Good luck getting your hands on those books!

  19. First - congrats on having your dissertation out the door!

    And, thanks for sharing this awesome list. I have a Tillie Olsen (TELL ME A RIDDLE) from a class 20 years ago. I read HERLAND for the same class, and think of it whenever I drive by a street of the same name in a neighboring town.

  20. If you don't mind waiting a little while for them, you could always inter-library loan them from your public library. It takes time for the requests to be filled and to get to you, but it can a godsend when you don't have an academic library you can get them from.

  21. The Elaine Showalter books that I've read are all a happy-blur, but I know I read The Female Malady because I still have my copy of it to remind me. I'm sure you'll enjoy it when you do find a copy!

  22. Well. I have access to an academic library and have actually *gulp* never stepped into any library not in the business school (and that one is not exactly impressive). I feel like I'm wasting all sorts of opportunities here! That said, though, it's hard as a student to find time to read big heavy academic tomes! It's only as an alumni that one actually has any free time.

  23. I would definitely look into ILL!! It's free from many libraries, or at a minimal cost, to cover shipping -- much cheaper than buying the books which can be horribly expensive, even used.

    One of the best things about Texas libraries is they now have something called a TexShare card -- I can take it and get reciprocal borrowing privileges at any library that participates, which includes a LOT of academic libraries -- the only drawback is I have to drive to the libraries and return stuff there, which can be a long drive. But luckily there's a small college nearby that has a wonderful library and I can check out up to four books for several weeks at a time. Sadly, no videos, but I can live with that.

  24. Veens: I hope so!

    Jeane: How did you like it?

    Chelsea: Yeah, might be a little difficult to use your boyfriend's card :P But you could maybe ask him to borrow books for you?

    Clare: Enjoy those old books!

    Jill: Yes, exactly!

    Kelly: It's nice to know the option's there for when you have more time, though!

    Heather: I hope so too! This is definitely a point in favour of eventually going for a PhD :P

    Trisha: You are lucky! I also can't complain at the moment, as my current public library system is very good, but I still remember relying solely on BookMooch all too well.

    GeraniumCat: I can't wait to hear what you think!

    Amy: They do, don't they? If only I'd had more time...

    Sandy: I know! So unfair that I can't get borrowing rights based on that alone ;)

    Meghan: Such a shame that back when we could access it, we were too busy with assignments to read everything we wanted!

    Heidenkind: Booo! Every library should have the Sandman comics! And yeah, there's something about summer that makes us believe we can do anything. Then reality kicks in :P

  25. Amorson: Google Books can indeed be wonderful, but unfortunately I had no luck with these :\

    Emily: Ha, I completely understand being afraid to ask!

    Dawn: Thank you! Tillie Olsen sounds like someone I should have come across in my studies at some point, but somehow I never did. Never too late to catch up, though!

    bookswithoutanypictures: I did think of ILL, but when I asked at the public library I was told they don't currently borrow books from other library systems :\ It might be a service that fell victim to recent spending cuts - such a pity. I definitely wouldn't mind the wait if they still did it!

    Buried in Print: I think I will too! Thankfully her books are nowhere near as pricey as some of the other ones.

    Aarti: Yes, exactly! It's only when you're done that you can fully enjoy the privilege.

    Karen: If I could pay for ILL I definitely would - like you said, much cheaper than buying the books! Also, the TexShare card sounds absolutely wonderful!

  26. I read the Lewis for the same reason and loved it! As for the authors, now I'm going to try to ILL them. ;) (Also, Karen I've never heard of the TexShare card, but now I'm googling it!)

  27. What a fabulous list that is! Sorry to hear you cannot borrow books from the academic library after graduation. Here the academic libraries are open to anyone -and I often borrow books from the National/University Library.

    I have not read any of the books on your list, though. Caine has another book about Victorian Feminists that I have browsed through years ago. Would love to read the one on your list, too.

  28. I thought that a big perk of moving to New York was going to be that I was going to have access to ALL THE BOOKS because of the awesomeness I assumed of the New York Public Library. But all the awesome nonfiction books I want? Can only be read in the rare books library. The books aren't even that rare! Most of them aren't even out of print! But still they don't circulate. Hateful New York Public Library. I miss academic libraries. Especially, I miss being able to use the online resources, the journals and whatnot. That was great.

  29. Awww. Sorry to hear that you're no longer able to borrow from your academic library. It seems odd that the university won't let alumni have borrowing rights.

  30. *Alex furiously scribbles* I'll also share this list with the other people in the Bronte Brussels Group, I'm sure they'd also be interested in the ones about the Victorians.

  31. Oh how sucky! I didn't realize you couldn't check books out as an alumni. I'm pretty sure if you pay for a guest reader card then you get to do that over here.

    If it helps, the Showalter are not too expensive as far as academic books go! Also, not the same I know, but I'd be happy to mail you academic articles :)

  32. Wow, what a GREAT list. You're just torturing yourself, aren't you?;P

  33. Wow! What a fantastic list! I see that The Victorian Press and the Fairy Tale by Caroline Sumpter comes out in paperback Feb 14, 2012 (at least in U.S. via Amazon). Still not cheap, but less than 1/2 the cost of the hb version. I am so drooling over this title right now!

  34. I think I was too young for it, and unappreciative. I came away with a sense it was full of angst for stifled women who couldn't fully engage in creativity because they had to do housework, raise children, or being women writers was frowned upon. But I was only a young teen; I'd like to read it again and see what my reaction is this time.

  35. How I love academic libraries and I am so glad I have access to one and when I get that librarian job finally it will be in an academic library. Are you hoping to be librarian in public or academic? In the mean time, does your public library allow interlibrary loans? Maybe you could get access that way.

  36. Sorry to know that you can't access your academic library anymore. It is always sad when we complete our course at uni - when we find wonderful books in the library and we don't have time because of the hectic course schedule, we think that we can always come back later to read some of our favourite books, but that time never comes. Hope you can get these books outside and read them. I have been seeing Elaine Showalter being mentioned a few times in the literary theory book that I am reading now. I need to check one of her books sometime. Thanks for posting this list. I will bookmark it and keep coming to it. The John Sutherland book and the Caroline Sumpter book look quite appealing to me.

  37. Hi there. This is the first time I've come across your blog, but am enjoying it. I've read a few of these ...

    Victorian Fiction: Writers, Publishers, Readers - this is definitely worth reading. I found all the stats fascinating. It makes the point that the novelists we now know from the 19thc are such a tiny percentage of the actual number of novelists; and that such a high proportion were women, often only publishing one novel, and how so many of them have completely disappeared from knowledge, even of academics.

    Charlotte Mew and Her Friends - I read this recently without knowing any of Mew's poetry except "The Farmer's Bride". I have to say I found it an extremely depressing read. I made some notes about it on my own blog here (can't get HMTL to work) -

    A Woman of Passion: The Life of E. Nesbit - I actually have a spare copy of this that you'd be welcome to. I'll email you about it.

    Intellectual Impostures - I read this when it came out and there was such excitement over it. Although it's quite fun if you're into a bit of hate about ill-evidenced nonsense, I wouldn't go out of your way to read it.

  38. Ooh... I'll have to look for some of these myself. I've been watching Desperate Romantics and feeding my Victorian obsession lately, so a good read is what I need to add to it :)

  39. Eva: I hope you manage to find them and that I get to experience them vicariously through you :P The TexShare card does sound awesome!

    Tiina: I so with libraries here did the same! At the university where I did my BA alumni can have borrowing rights, but for an annual fee. Sadly their selection is far more limited, though.

    Jenny: Gah, why do they do that? :( And I'm really going to miss having access to academic journals and databases too.

    Vasilly: I can understand limiting access to some of the books that are on students' reading lists and thus in high demand during the school year, but I wish they'd let us borrow the more obscure books.

    Alex: I hope you manage to get a hold of them! Enjoy.

    Bina: You can at the uni where I did my BA too, but sadly their library is much smaller. And yes, that's true about Showalter! I'm sure I'll be able to get those two books at some point. And thank you so much for the kind offer!

    Sakura: Kind of, yes :P

    Terri B: Oooh, I hadn't noticed the paperback was coming out!

    Jeane: I can see how it would be a book full of anger, yes. I'm curious to read it!

    Stefanie: My ideal job would be to be a children's/YA librarian, but as the public sector is really hard to get into right now I'm considering being a school librarian. But I think I could also be really happy as, say, a subject librarian in an area I'm passionate about. Working in the academic sector also has a lot of appeal. Also, sadly my public library doesn't do ILLs at all :(

    Vishy: I hope you manage to find some of the books on the list! Sutherland's entire bibliography really appeals to me. I've read some of his articles before and he sounds like a man after my own heart.

    GC: Thank you again for your incredibly kind offer! I am so looking forward to reading the Briggs.

    Emperatrix: I hope you manage to find them!


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.