Online book club


Last Tuesday, after returning from the beaches of Caramoan to Manila, I finished the last volume of Tristram Shandy. I didn’t want to bring my tablet into which I’ve downloaded the eBook because of the long bus journey. Instead, I brought a paperback copy of Ang Tundo Man May Langit Din which I finished reading by the sea. I’ll discuss this Filipino social realist love story in a future post.

Tristram Shandy was a difficult read because its 18th century British English is different from my 21st century Philippine or International English. Also, unlike the Penguin edition, my eBook doesn’t have endnotes that explain Sterne’s allusions and jokes. I was able to understand some of them however with the aid of SparkNotes online (back in high school, the popular albeit secret reading guides were by CliffNotes that I discovered are now also online). While reading the novel, I came to appreciate my mentors in literature, literary criticism, and creative writing- they introduced me to texts I probably wouldn’t have read on my own and, by fulfilling the role of intellectual guides, helped me interpret them.

My favorite part of Sterne’s novel- it shows this clergyman’s bawdy sense of humor- is one of the narrator’s many digressions: the tale of Slawkenbergius at the beginning of Volume 4. Slawkenbergius is a traveler with an exceptionally long nose who becomes the leading authority on noses. In the context of baby Tristram’s near-castration by Dr. Slop in Volume 3, however, “nose” could mean either the part projecting above a man’s mouth or that below his hip. When Slawkenbergius passes through Strasburg, its townspeople burn with curiosity about his “nose.” A woman says she wants to touch this “nose” so she can determine how hard it is. And nuns couldn’t sleep at night because its image is planted in their minds!

A 2005 film on the filming of a movie on the novel Tristram Shandy (it’s being self-referential like the novel) is here.

After finishing the novel, I decided to complete the yearlong project, so I finally enrolled in Slate Academy. I was able to post comments in the book club’s forum and see those in its private Facebook group (with 223 members and counting). Also I was able to read essays by various experts who had posted them over the past two months for the members’ private viewing:

  • Introduction: Which Edition Should I Get?
  • How Modern Is Tristram Shandy?
  • Tristram Shandy‘s Amazing First Sentence
  • Literature’s Greatest Mansplainer
  • In Praise of Uncle Toby
  • How Tristram Became a Bestseller
  • A Triumphant Failure

It’s like a large English class that’s being conducted online! Since there are no exams and work is not graded, however, it would take self-discipline and a self-imposed structure to complete the six novels this year.

Laura Miller and The Slate Group head Jacob Miller discuss the above four books in the podcast here.


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