Friday, June 20, 2008

What is Eluned Summers-Bremner reading?

The latest contributor to Writers Read: Eluned Summers-Bremner, Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at The University of Auckland and author of Insomnia: A Cultural History and other scholarly works.

Her entry begins:
Because I owe a book on the novelist Ian McEwan to a publisher by the end of July, most of this year has been taken up with rereading McEwan--or illicitly reading things like Bruce Chatwin’s biography and Kerouac’s On the Road for the History of Wandering I’ll be writing after that, but which I’m not allowed to work on yet. I was struck by how much I enjoyed (again) McEwan’s Saturday while simultaneously feeling short-changed by it as a book about the decision to go to war in Iraq. And I was struck by his having neurosurgeon Henry Perowne issue a statement about science one day cracking the secret of consciousness in a novel in which Perowne’s daughter’s recitation of a poem works the magic that frees the family from a hold-up. [read on]
From the Financial Times' review of Insomnia:
Summers-Bremner’s excellent account of insomnia shows that the consideration of our waking moments is indicative of the changing ways we think about life.
Andrew Stark, in the Wall Street Journal, wrote:
[Eluned Summers-Bremner's] account of literary usages of insomnia, from Gilgamesh to Garcia Márquez, is a rich one, sufficient to make the case that insomnia is a recurrent theme in Western culture. She reminds us of insomnia's centrality to great literary characters, signifying everything from inner dread in Macbeth to mental liberation in Milton's "Penseroso," who relishes the mind-wanderings that nocturnal wakefulness brings. Insomnia can also determine an author's signature style, as it did, Ms. Summers-Bremner argues, with the sleep-deprived Samuel Johnson, who tended to jump inconclusively from topic to topic. And it can be crucial for mood: Think of how sleepless characters contribute to the exhausted, no-way-out atmosphere of film noir.

Even so, Ms. Summers-Bremner offers a different reason for our failure to take insomnia seriously as a medical condition. It has to do with our attitudes not toward the struggles that lie along the insomniac's path but toward his goal: sleep....
Read more about Insomnia: A Cultural History.

Learn more about Eluned Summers-Bremner and her work.

Writers Read: Eluned Summers-Bremner.

--Marshal Zeringue