Monday, August 20, 2012

Fiiiiiiiinally Read: Swann by Carol Shields

The latest installment of Fiiiiiiiiinally Read brings me to Swann by Carol Shields, which I read with much delight this summer.

Though it doesn't concern visual art, Swann does a terrific job of suggesting the various ways that the creative work of a single individual (in this case, a little-known (fictional) poet, Mary Swann) can be appropriated, edited and reshaped by others into something completely different.

It also raised a question for me: even if we alter a creative work just a little bit, or make it shape our own arguments or views just a little bit, does that make the work, in a way, completely different from what the creator intended?

As with anything by Shields, it's not just the overarching intellectual theme that sings here. Shields' capacity to observe and articulate details of so-called everyday life, whether it be in academia, publishing or curatorial work (of which an amateur version is presented), is stellar. The clothes people wear, the food they eat, the partners they choose—Shields had a wonderful gift and talent for enriching readers with a full, round sense of life in her characters and settings.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who studies the lives and works of creative people, whether academically or otherwise. (Though academia does perhaps get the most fun skewering/tributing here. And Shields skewering often tempers the sharp with the gentle, and vice versa, one of the most wonderful things, I find, about reading her work.)

For more about Shields—and the way her work was sometimes overlooked by those who found it too comedic or "domestic" (aka, often, "feminine"), read this tribute Margaret Atwood wrote following Shields' death in 2003. (Though you may rightfully question this version of her life, and many others, as Shields herself does in Swann.)

No comments: