fannyprice's 2010 reading
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I'm still not caught up from Club Read 2009 (listing my December reads and reading everyone's posts), but at some point, one has to move on. And when avaland beckons, I obey.
I couldn't think of a first post, since I'm currently reading a pile of old State Dept human rights reports on despotic Middle Eastern regimes that are of interest to no one, so I've just copied my text from the introductions thread.
I have a rich fake-life on the interwebs as parallel universe versions of Austen's least-favorite heroine. I'm fannyprice at LT and F.P. Crawford at Belletrista.com, avaland's fantastic web magazine celebrating women's literature from around the world, where I am a sometimes reviewer.
I'm a bit of a dilettante - I love to learn new things and every book I read spurs in me the desire to read a whole different subset of (possibly unrelated) books. Consequently, it takes me a while to get deeply read in to anything, if such a thing happens at all. This also makes it impossible for me to stick to even the most hazily defined reading plan. Oddly, I also love to plan and make lists, which means I've got more unfulfilled reading commitments than I like to acknowledge and entire shelves of books I haven't read. I spend way too much time reading book reviewers and book blogs, which only exacerbates the problem. In short, if I say that my next read is X, count on it not to be. I read and write for a living, so sometimes I need a break from it all. That break usually involves video games - yes, I'm a total geek - that suck away entire weeks of my life. Any prolonged absences not attributable to major international incidents can probably be explained thusly.
My background is in Middle Eastern studies, with a focus on Judaism & Islam, Arabic literature, and Middle Eastern history & politics, and although I have fled academia, I still try to read a lot in these fields. I spent my adolescence as an aspiring Kremlinologist, so I've got a special interest in history and literature from Russia and the former Eastern bloc countries. Other areas of particular fascination for me include Antarctica, the Arctic, and other frozen-a$$ places; WW1; social and cultural histories, including the occasional commodity or micro-history; dystopias/speculative fiction/smart sci-fi; and most things somehow concerning England. I really love short fiction/essays and I collect and read children's books even though I'm not fond of kids.
Last year I read a lot of great stuff, but - as readers familiar with my Club Read 2009 postings here and here are certainly aware - I read a lot of crap, mostly in the YA genre. I'm not promising to stop completely, but I think the crack-like effect has worn off a lot of those books and I'm trying to reduce the amount of sheer schlock I read in 2010. Other than that, I am taking the revolutionary - for me, anyway - step of making virtually no commitments about the number of books I want to read in 2010, the topics I want to investigate, or the books I want to read - with the possible exception of trying to read more of the books that are languishing on my shelves unread. I had a great time in last year's iteration of this group and hope to do so again this year.
Currently Reading And TBR Soon
Edited to fix HTML stuff
In short, if I say that my next read is X, count on it not to be.
Heehee, love this. I'm glad you're here, fanny! *stars*
Kris - Welcome back - good to "see" you again. I look forward to learning more about what you're reading.
My opening salvo from an often hilarious webcomic I just recently discovered:
>2, 3, 4 - Ladies, it's great to see you all here!
>3, Tracy, I was in Minnesota for Xmas this year. I dug out from the DC blizzard, got to MN in time for the Xmas blizzard. Needless to say, MN was considerably more equipped to deal with it than DC - we were out on the roads almost immediately. :)
Edited to say that the comic is called "Hark, A Vagrant" and can be found at this link: http://www.harkavagrant.com/
#5: Oh my gosh, that is perfect. I like Anne Bronte. She's sensible. Agnes Grey is a particular favorite.
Mahaha! I love it! So true, and so irreverent! Which webcomic is that?
May I add that your name is that of the heroine of my very favourite Austen book. I look forward to following your reading this year.
>8, Yay, another fan of Mansfield Park. There are like 10 of us in the world - we need a support group, methinks. Or a defense society....
The comic is called "Hark, A Vagrant". I thought the picture would actually link to the site, but since it doesn't, I've edited the post to include a link to the site.
If you start a defense society for MP, I want to be a charter member! :D
*laughs at the comic* I've only read Anne's Agnes Grey so far. I look forward to reading more of her work this year.
Well, that reminds me that The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is due for a reread.
And, yes, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey are the only Austen novels I've ever had to defend.
Glad to see you over here. It's fun to stumble through a discussion about Proust or Pushkin and find a review of something involving Victorian teenagers or zombies. I enjoy your reviews of YA novels and find you the literary equivalent of a small scoop of lemon sorbet between courses. Your occasional mentions of Islamic or Jewish literature is also welcome, being an area I know much too little about.
Like many truly great books, Mansfield Park is one of those compulsively good books with a "charming" heroine who gradually becomes more detestable with each successive reading. I reread Mansfield Park at least once a year and hate Fanny with increasingly enjoyable gusto. Incidentally, I once loved Fanny. However, she now strikes me as a self-righteous little prude - so much fun to hate and love :-). Sign me up for the Mansfield Park society. I love the novel.
>11, Whoa, RidgewayGirl, FP has never had such a poetic defense of her trashy reading habits! :) Re: MP and NA, it's rather funny that those two are two that I particularly love.
Still continuing with not reading books, but I did read two very interesting things on the interwebs (not counting all the "Hark, A Vagrant" archives - I think I would laugh uproariously at more of them if I knew anything about Canadian history, but I'm still enjoying the British history ones and the classic lit ones).
"Israel & Palestine: Can They Start Over?" by Hussein Agha and Robert Malley in the NYRB from 3 December 2009.
I am a huge fan of Rob Malley, who worked on Clinton's National Security Council focusing on Arab-Israeli peace issues and who is pretty well-positioned to speak on this issue. The authors examine two contending schools of thought on Israeli-Palestinian peace-making and discuss whether the two-state solution (i.e., Israel and Palestine, side-by-side, independent, at peace) is still even viable (and touch on some implications if it isn't).
The "failure of the two-state solution" fascinates me because it's been the basis of the entire history of Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking since the US and Europe took any serious interest in the matter. However, certain realities on the ground make it increasingly unlikely that a single, viable Palestinian state that Israel can accept as a non-threatening neighbor can be created.
Given that and given that the continued non-resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict prevents the resolution of other conflicts in the Levant, how does the US go about seeking stability in the region? Malley and Agha provide some answers, which I'm not sure are entirely convincing, but an interesting read, nonetheless.
"The Americanization of Mental Illness" in the 8 January 2010 NYT Magazine.
This article didn't initially appear interesting to me, but I pushed through and got to an interesting hook - "....impressive body of evidence suggesting that mental illnesses have never been the same the world over (either in prevalence or in form) but are inevitably sparked and shaped by the ethos of particular times and places." And I thought to myself - WAIT, this is one of my random particular interests and relates to Showalter's The Female Malady - therefore, I must read this.
The article's basic thesis is well-stated, so I'm just copying and pasting: "For more than a generation now, we in the West have aggressively spread our modern knowledge of mental illness around the world. We have done this in the name of science, believing that our approaches reveal the biological basis of psychic suffering and dispel prescientific myths and harmful stigma. There is now good evidence to suggest that in the process of teaching the rest of the world to think like us, we’ve been exporting our Western 'symptom repertoire' as well. That is, we’ve been changing not only the treatments but also the expression of mental illness in other cultures. Indeed, a handful of mental-health disorders — depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anorexia among them — now appear to be spreading across cultures with the speed of contagious diseases. These symptom clusters are becoming the lingua franca of human suffering, replacing indigenous forms of mental illness."
Some of the logic in the article seems faulty (is Hong Kong in 1994 really isolated from the West?), whether that is because the ideas are genuinely shody or because the essay is adapted from an upcoming book and they did a shody job condensing it, I can't say. But I might check out the book Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, at least from the library.
I'll probably be tracking a lot more of my informal reading in this thread than I did last year.
I LOVE that you're going to track your informal reading. That's been my intention, too, though I've yet to do so. Even if I don't comment, please assume I'm lurking and reading.
but I did read two very interesting things on the interwebs (not counting all the "Hark, A Vagrant" archives - I think I would laugh uproariously at more of them if I knew anything about Canadian history,
Where can I find that? I'll give it a try and let you know if this Canadian finds it uproarious.
Very interesting stuff about the different ways that mental illness presents in different cultures. I know a clinical psychologist who spent some time practising in Sri Lanka, and he told me that PTSD often presented there as physical symptoms, eg a paralysed arm - very similar to some of the situations described in Freud's casework.
FP's 2009 Favorites
Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster
Barefoot Gen, Vol. 1: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima & Barefoot Gen, Vol. 2: The Day After
The Rabbi's Cat
A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx
Everything Conceivable: How Assisted Reproduction is Changing Men, Women, and the World
Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII
The Female Malady: Women, Madness, and English Culture, 1890-1980
The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
A Girl Made of Dust by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi
Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier
Diary of A Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (read on the recommendation of my 12-year-old nephew - pretty funny!)
A Spell of Winter: A Novel by Helen Dunmore
Children's Books/Picture Books
Best friends for Frances by Russell Hoban
Golem by David Wisniewski
Biggest Disappointments of 2009**
In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build A Perfect Language
Mad, Bad and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors
One Foot Wrong by Sofie Laguna
The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
The Little Stranger by Sarah Walters
**These books were not bad reads but rather books I expected to love, didn't, and can't forgive.
"Cinderella in Autumn" - Hilary Mantel's original fairy tale of Cinderella 20 years later.
A favorite quote: "Since those days, the romance had gone out of their union. As she said to him, what do you expect if you marry a woman for her foot-size?"
Fun for fans of fairy tales or Mantel. I promise I'll read a real book one of these days here....
And the first real book of 2010 is....
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
No comment? How shall we take this? I have never gotten to Atwood. Should I?
lol - Take it as me being so engrossed in the book that I didn't get online much yesterday. :) Then I spent today house-cleaning, which is necessary but never fun.
The Year of the Flood - Margaret Atwood
Well, first book of the year finally finished. I really do not know what to say about this one. It is a companion novel to Atwood's previous dystopia Oryx and Crake and is set during vaguely the same time period covered in O&C - a dystopian future that is rather an extreme version of our current predicament before, during, and after a plague that seemingly wipes out most of the human population. Corporations, materialism, consumerism, f-ed up gender norms, careless disregard for the environment, bio-engineering all come under fire in both books. Curiously, The Year of the Flood also takes on those who rebel against these trends and implies that their very withdrawal from society might be part of the problem.
I mistakenly remembered really enjoying Oryx and Crake, but when I went back and checked, I see that I rated it three stars, which is okay, but all too often actually carries a hidden connotation of disappointment. I apparently didn't review the book or even make notes on it anywhere, so I honestly cannot remember what I thought of it, which is kind of sad because it was barely three years ago that I first read it. But I obviously liked it enough to want to read more from the same fictional universe.
Anyhow, I had a really mixed reaction to The Year of the Flood. I kept reading and I guess I liked it, but it didn't wow me and much of it either bored or annoyed me. Probably because much of it is so done, either previously in Oryx and Crake, but also in other dystopian literature. Corporations are evil, consumerism is ruining humanity, industrial medicine is poison, civilization is crap, eat vegan... I get it.
The plot was riddled with conveniences and coincidences that quickly became irritating and robbed the book of a lot of interesting possibilities. Virtually every character that manages to survive the plague is someone important to one or both of the two main characters - despite the danger that these survivors face after the initial incident, hardly anyone is ever actually in jeopardy. There is just no dramatic tension there. There seems to be one evil dude in the story who is the exact same evil dude who is responsible for every scummy thing that happens over a 25-year period....every time something bad happens, he is somehow responsible for it.
Even though Atwood critiques the hypocrisy of some of the leaders and practices of the vegan pacifist cult that the two main characters are a part of, there are basically no moral shades of grey in this book. The good characters are fundamentally good and the evil character is all evil. Despite the fact that these people are supposedly struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, no one ever has to make any really hard choices that challenge their moral code. Again, no dramatic tension.
This novel shows the events of Oryx and Crake from a different perspective and presumably fills in some details/answers some questions from the earlier book, but it also manages to rob its predecessor of a lot of its pathos. Jimmy/Snowman, main character of Oryx and Crake genuinely believes that he is the "last man on earth" condemned to spend the rest of his possibly short life caring for humanity's genetically engineering successors. He was injured and alone and seemed genuinely vulnerable. The future was truly a terrifying and mysterious prospect at the end of O&C. So when the characters in this book not only manage to survive but to meet up with Jimmy and save him.....Call me a jerk, but I was so angry.
This book was a big disappointment for me and probably ruined any future attempts to re-read Oryx and Crake for any purpose other than "putting the pieces together". I am kind of mad at fiction after this, because I so wanted to LOVE this book.
In honor of my first Sherlock Holmes read ever, A Study in Scarlet, I present another of my favorite comics from Kate Beaton, whose work can be found here: http://www.harkavagrant.com/about.php
Although this was certainly not "great literature", it was a great way to spend an hour or two when I was feeling really burned out after bitching about my previous read. I've been thinking about exploring these stories and will probably do more of it this year.
There's nothing wrong with reading all of Holmes, and it is doable.
>Robert, I've just snagged myself "copies" (for Kindle) of The Sign of the Four, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. It probably doesn't matter, but I have a thing for doing this in chronological order.
However, I'm taking a different turn for the moment, reading what I think might be reading my first great book of the year - The House at Riverton by Kate Morton is probably not deep or anything like that but it has so many elements that draw me in: English manor family before and during WW1, told from the perspective of an outsider, family secrets, and an extremely compelling and teasing way of narrating the story of those secrets. I'm trying not to be irrationally exuberant, but so far, I love this book. I think I have urania to thank for recommending it as a good comfort read many months ago.
I have a friend who's a fellow Atwood-lover. She's just finished Payback and was deeply disappointed. She said it didn't hang together well and there were so many biblical references that she wonders if Atwood has recently found God (I appreciate that God is a good thing for some people, but not for us!). So she's tasked me with reading my copy of Year of the Flood as soon as possible to see if Atwood can redeem herself. Sounds like her disappointment will continue. For the first time ever I'm not looking forward to starting an Atwood book.
Good to see you back, FP! We've missed you!
>28 Loved all the Sherlock Holmes stuff when I read it back when. I was tempted to pull some of it out again after reading P.D. James' small book on detective fiction.
As you probably know, I disagree completely with you regarding The Year of the Flood but there is room for lots of opinions in this world. There is an article being written on dystopian literature written by women for a future Belletrista issue which I'm sure will include both Atwoods. I think it will be very interesting...
I love that you are posting the comics and your non-book reading. This was my initial vision in creating Club Read - to be able to chronicle all kinds of reading not just books completed. I'm trying to do it myself this year and it's more difficult than I thought!
>29 Interesting question, but I find it unlikely. I think we have a link posted of Atwood's interview with Bill Moyers over in the Atwoodians group (http://www.librarything.com/topic/39682 , post#10, in three 10 minutes segments). She straddles the line in it, imo.
You can count me in for the Mansfield Park fan club. Fanny is great!
>30, I cannot wait for that article in Belle, Lois!
Well, its DC-Snowmageddon here again. I was told yesterday by three of my managers at work not to come in today unless absolutely necessary, so I've had a nice lazy day napping with the cats, catching up on LT threads, and reading about Amazon's increasingly more irritating dust-up with MacMillan. I have always been one of those people who valued the convenience of Amazon and didn't really care if it put bricks and mortar book stores out of business - possibly the product of growing up in an incredibly small town that had no bookstores offering anything other than the latest mass-market mysteries and romance novels and then discovering that I could actually get REAL BOOKS from Amazon. But now I am seriously unnerved by Amazon's dominance and questioning my love of the Kindle. It is so convenient, but am I screwing myself over in the long run?....
Anyhow, I'm settled in for a long weekend - we're anticipating something like 2 feet of snow here, which is a disaster of epic proportions for DC. Reading the Mutts III collection right now, which puts me in such a feel-good place. Need to get back to The House at Riverton as well. I hope that walking away from it for over a week hasn't killed it for me.
Mutts is guaranteed to put one in a good mood, isn't it? Especially with a cat on your lap or a dog curled against your side. We have a steady, cold rain, rather than snow, which is disappointing for everyone who doesn't have some place to drive.
I'm looking forward to your comments on The House at Riverton--I have a copy on its way to me.
Snow day! We're still digging out from DC Snowmaggedon - even Obama is calling it that now - so work was cancelled today. I am just thankful that we never lost power, unlike so many people in the area. Slept late, played with cats, spent a good 45 minutes being amazed by the sheer number of interesting books the Early Reviewers program has for February. ER is like crack - no matter how much it is ruining my life, with piles and piles of backlogged books that I need to read and review, I just can't stop requesting books because there are so many good discoveries there.
Finished My Bird (Middle East Literature in Translation) by Fariba Vafi, which I'll be reviewing for an upcoming issue of Belletrista. I'll post the link as soon as its available. I'll be re-reading it again in a couple of days as I try to collect my thoughts for the review. I always like to do one sort of "thoughtless" read first, if that makes any sense. I think coming to a book explicitly thinking about what one would put in a review of it can sometimes ruin the experience of just reading it.
I will say that it was - as always - interesting to me to read the ancillary materials included with this book (the inside front cover, back cover promotional stuff, in this case there was an essay at the end about the author and the book). I find its a common issue with translated literature - Middle Eastern literature is that with which I'm most familiar, but I'm sure it happens with anything "foreign" - that all these materials are aimed at telling the reader how much s/he will learn about the "real" lives of people in country X (in this case, Iran) and how we will learn a powerful lesson by reading this book.
Perhaps it is just me, but I found the translator's essay to be beyond irritating and I wish there was a way I could go back and unread it. The essay essentially told me what I was supposed to "get" out of reading this book and it completely did not jive with what I had just "gotten" out of reading the book. Obviously, a good work of literature - which My Bird definitely is - is open to a multiplicity of interpretations and can be about more than just one thing, but I really felt like the translator afterward was trying to convince me that there was this grand political message in the book that made it "worth" my time to read it. I just didn't see that in the book - maybe I missed it or wasn't looking hard enough - and I didn't think the book was lesser for the lack of such a message.
Again, maybe I missed it, but I've seen too many small, personal stories written by authors from Middle Eastern countries be marketed as a way to learn grand socio-political truths about a country's people to not get irritated by this. The afterward did not in any way detract from the book itself though, which is a great read. Like I said, upcoming issue of Belletrista, link to be provided when available.
ETA: Belle #4 is up - Here's the review for Fariba Vafi's My Bird:
So, we have yet another snow day in DC, as we are anticipating more blizzard conditions starting later today and they have still not completed road clearing in many parts of the DC area. I anticipate that we will be off tomorrow as well. Trying to make the best of it, but I am starting to go a little stir crazy.
Tracking some non-book reading:
(1) Serious Play: War Games Explore Options on Iran
An interesting summary of three recent war games on the possible US-Israel-Iran kerfuffle.
"Any one of them would have been worthwhile on their own, but taken together they are even more valuable. Using similar issues and agents, they yielded some of the same negative outcomes:
* The United States did not obtain meaningful cooperation from other countries.
* Sanctions did not seem to work.
* The United States was unwilling to use military force or support Israeli military action even after other measures failed.
* U.S.-Israeli relations deteriorated dramatically.
* Iran continued toward a nuclear weapons capability."
I take this summary with a grain of salt because although the Washington Institute does good work, their solution many times seems to be "bomb somebody - anybody!" But still, an interesting piece.
(2) A three part series of blog posts from Three Percent, which is the University of Rochester's website/resource for translated lit, on translated lit and the way translation work is perceived in "the academy'
So Translation is Having a Moment, Part I
So Translation is Having a Moment, Part II
So Translation is Having a Moment, Part III
(3) Chronicle of Higher Education Article: Translators Struggle to Prove Their Academic Bona Fides
"It's almost as though translation is a bad habit, like gambling, that candidates should conceal rather than advertise."
"spent a good 45 minutes being amazed by the sheer number of interesting books the Early Reviewers program has for February. ER is like crack - no matter how much it is ruining my life, with piles and piles of backlogged books that I need to read and review, I just can't stop requesting books because there are so many good discoveries there."
No, I'm resisting, not even looking....damn. OK, now I'm trying to forget what I saw. This is not so easy.
Those Three Percent articles look fascinating.
>23 House cleaning is my excuse to drag out the audiobooks. Just for company you understand. *smiling as I make a to do list*
>36 oooo, now I want to read it! Do you think they added the translator's note to beef up to book size what is essentially a novella? Do you think the note would be helpful to readers without a lot of international reading experience?
I admit to notreading a lot of introductions to avoid what your translator's note did. Not only do many intros tell too much of the plot (I like to 'discover' the book myself first) but oftentimes tells you what you are supposed to glean from this piece of literature. I usually read them after.
Me too! I also try not to read movie reviews any more than I have to in order to decide whether I want to see the film or not. This does end up with me sometimes completely mis-expecting what a film is going to be like. For example, I thought The Death Of Mr Lazarescu was going to be a black comedy, rather than the incredibly bleak, depressing realist movie that it is.
I do value the information in an introduction, I just don't want it to instruct my reading. For example, the introduction to an anthology of Latin American women writers I recently read had some invaluable information on the history, movements and common themes in the literature (without being academic about it) that greatly enhanced my appreciation of what I had just read. I have read a few translator's notes, but again, it was after.
fanny, you read the translator's note after you read the book, or before?
>42, Yeah, the weird thing is that it did come at the end of the book. So it didn't contain spoilers, per se, in that I already had read the book and knew what the author was referring to. It just put a much different slant on the book than I had gotten from reading it - one of those rather trite *in my opinion* "redemption through writing" messages. I get that the life of the mind can be wonderful and freeing and all that crap, but let's not kid ourselves here. If your real life sucks and you're struggling to get by, picking up a pen and starting to write is not going to make it all go away.
I read a similar thought about the book/movie "Precious" - which, admittedly I have neither read nor seen. The commenter talked about how it is essentially a white person's fantasy of how "white culture saves" a minority because despite everything that happens to her, Precious learns the value of reading and (white-authored?) literature. But in the end, she's apparently still got two children from an incestuous, non-consensual "relationship" with her father, one of the children has Downs Syndrome, and Precious herself discovers she's got AIDS.
The fate of the narrator in My Bird was not quite so awful, but still, the translator's essay seems to suggest that because she has started to write, everything is comin' up roses.
On a side note, still stuck in the house with another snowstorm here. I haven't worked in nearly a week. Thankfully I have the luxury of being a salaried employee. I really feel for the people who HAVE to get to work in this weather or they don't get paid.
Ugh, I have been in a total funk lately, overwhelmed with both work and life and not feeling like reading at all.
I've been slowly plugging away at a re-read of Little Women, which seemed like a good idea - a nice, non-taxing visit to a book I LOVED as a child, but I find myself not so interested in it and sadly recognizing the many, many flaws of Alcott's characters, which is painful because I remember Jo as being perfect, by which I mean perfectly imperfect. I also didn't remember it being such a preachy, religious book, which I am finding really off-putting. But then, other parts are truly delightful. Sigh....
Translation is such a hot, hot topic lately.
Stumbled upon an article written by Hilary Plum, an editor at Interlink books, one of my favorite publishers of translated Arabic lit, reflecting on the state of translated lit in the US in general that strongly criticizes the subtext of the recent-ish New Yorker article on Arabic lit:
"Field Guides to Elsewhere: How We Read Languages We Don't Read"
Plum asks: "Why begin a discussion of how Arabic literature traffics in the novel with an emphasis on whether the novels that result are recognizable, welcoming, or even of interest to American readers? That is, why begin an essay on what another literature is saying by first expressing what it is we are most interested in hearing?...Instead one could begin by arguing that the first necessary good is to know what stories we do not hold in common; to be concerned not with what we as readers need and can acquire, but what we do not need and do not want, and yet which is being urgently offered anyway—not offered to us for our convenience, but offered. " She argues that Pierpont's article treats translated literature as a commodity that American readers expect to be accessible to them when they need to learn about another culture or country, which is a particularly capitalist perspective on books.
Plum's background as someone who works to get foreign language literature translated and published for an English-speaking market allows her to provide some interesting insights on how this happens, and she understands that - as someone who works to make literature in translation accessible to Americans - she works to serve the very "commodification" she criticizes.
"Why isn’t international literature allowed to be free of the burden of being a presentable ambassador from another land, here to provide local color and help us find common ground? ... We do not demand that American literature be read as a proxy for history or political analysis, but it seems we often comfortably make this demand of other literatures. American literature is assumed to offer the “unquestionable good” of a literary experience, but for international literature to be worthy of our attention, it is asked to provide an extra-literary experience—to “feel Greek,” to teach us something useful about the Arab world."
So, after reading Plum's strident criticism of everything the New Yorker article stands for, I figured I should read the New Yorker article, by Claudia Roth Pierpont:
"Found in Translation"
Although I did agree with Plum that the opening of the Pierpont article was somewhat off-putting, I didn't think the article overall was as morally objectionable as Plum seemed to think. What bothered me most about the New Yorker article was that Pierpont seemed to fault contemporary Arabic novelists for not writing the way she wants them to (which is apparently like Balzac and Zola, because she lauds Mahfouz for being able to do so) and suggests that the tendency to emulate Kafka or Garcia Marquez instead is an "understandable" accommodation to the political reality these writers find themselves in. "But what about literature? Is it possible for anything like the grandly traditional novel of character development and moral nuance to emerge from societies in extremis, from writers routinely constrained or assailed?"
This seems to imply: (1) that contemporary Arabic writing is incapable of being "literature" because it does not mimic the conventions of 19th century French realists, (2) that other modes of representation are inherently inferior to realism, and that (3) contemporary Arabic novelists have no choice in their modes of representation - they are so oppressed by the state that they are forced into non-realist writing. Pierpont's assertions, in addition to being obnoxious, are ignorant of the historical trends in Arabic literature which (shock!) have followed the same trend as European literature (albeit possibly on a different time scale, given the relatively recent adoption of the novel form by Arabic-speaking authors) away from naturalism-reliable narrators-monovocalism-grand social scale toward surreal and impressionistic modes of expression, unreliable narrators, shifting perspectives and polyvocalism, and a focus on micro-communities rather than trying to present a variety of characters from different backgrounds to represent the "whole" of Egyptian or Lebanese or Palestinian society.
One additional gripe - which seems really petty since the article is not directed at readers who are already familiar with Arabic literature (but I'll make it anyway since that's the kind of person I am lately) - is that for an article about contemporary Arabic literature, the vast majority of the books Pierpont singles out are kind of old (with the exception of a couple of Iraqi-authored books written and translated in the last 5-10 years) and are part of the cannon of great works of Arabic literature (justifiably so). I do like that she focuses a fair amount on Ghassan Kanafani's fantastic novellas, which deserve more readers than they probably have gotten.
>48 Hilary has a new imprint called "Clockroot Books" which is publishing some great stuff. I think Akeela reviewed Landscape with Dog and Other Stories by Ersi Sotiropoulos in the current Belletrista and she reviews Rien ne va Plus by Margarita Karapanou in the forthcoming issue.
Interesting stuff here! I'll have to come back here in a couple days when Belle is up and I can take a real break.
I've made message #48 a favorite, so that I can refer back to it later this week.
>50, Isn't that a great new feature? I love feeling like I can read something and then come back to it when I've got more time.
Belle #4 is up - Here's the review for Fariba Vafi's My Bird:
fannyprice, I too love Mansfield Park. And I loved Frances O'Connor in the film adaptation. She was delightful!
So sorry to hear that you were disappointed byArika Okrent's In the Land of Invented Languages. I absolutely reveled in it. I just love all those hubristic eccentrics who feel able to invent whole languages. I almost decided to learn Klingon and then I came to my senses...
fanny, nearly a whole month has gone by, are you reading anything good? Inquiring minds want to know!
Haha, I know, I promised to report my thoughts. Work has been really challenging lately and leaving me with a serious feeling of mental inferiority, which has led to a slight depressive spiral and me spending a bit of time staring at the wall feeling like a loser. I can't even blame my absence on my video-game vice, because I haven't even been doing that. :0
Thanks for checking in on me! I am still lurking and reading others' posts and will try to get back in the LT groove.
Interworld - Neil Gaiman
I like books about discovering another world within our world (wonder what that says about me), so I really thought I'd like this one. It was creative - boy stumbles upon a universe consisting of all other possible parallel universes and accidentally ends up saving them all. But something about it fell flat for me.
The afterword to the book notes that this was a book that Neil Gaiman wrote with someone else because they actually were trying to pitch it as a TV show, but that failed, then the book sat for a while before they decided to update it and publish it. Either I keep picking the totally wrong Neil Gaiman books, or I just don't get what people think is so great.
Any fans out there that can recommend a book of his to me? Based on my tastes, I should like him!
White is for Witching - Helen Oyeyemi
This book was an unqualified success for me - I LOVED it. When I finished it, I immediately started it again, trying to see if things rang differently at the beginning of the story. White is for Witching has several of my standard "I know I'm going to love this book!" elements - vaguely creepy and unsettling but avoidance of straight-out-horror or shock tactics, multiple narrators, unreliable narrators, multiple unreliable narrators (!!!!), a menacing house, and a general sense of unreality while remaining completely grounded in the mundane "ordinariness" of real life. So many things that happen in this book are bizarre or fantastic, but Oyeyemi does such a good job of making them seem realistic, if seriously creepy, by coupling them with real world oddities like eating disorders and the sometimes co-dependent relationship between siblings.
I'm looking into Oyeyemi's other books to read more from her - I only hope her other books are in a similar vein.
Wicked Lovely - Melissa Marr
So, anyone who followed my reading last year probably knows I fell deep into the cesspool that is young adult urban fantasy, mostly that involving vampires. And even though most of it was such crap, I kinda read a lot and burned out. So much of it is annoying in one way or another - unrealistically goody goody teenagers, hideously irritating plots revolving around "Mary Sue" characters, tediously derivative...
I confess I only read this book because its free on Kindle right now, but I was pleasantly surprised. I think of this book as the anti-Twilight in that it kinda follows the same basic plot structure as that book but adds some interesting twists and has way better characters and writing and an actual plot. The heroine is actually not a sniveling idiot, she actually wants to be a normal human girl, she doesn't throw her entire self into the life of some mystical boy who thinks she's dreamy despite her myriad of obvious flaws - in fact, the "hero" and the heroine in this story don't even really like each other. And not in that lame-ass way where they hate each other so much its obvious they're perfect for each other - they are basically forced together and find a way to deal. All in all, a refreshing twist on the same old same old. I don't know that I'll spend money on this series, but it was a decent way to spend a couple hours.
(Cross posted in the JCO Group)
Still working through High Lonesome - I love short stories, but I can't read too many of them by the same author at once or they get diluted for me. JCO's (Joyce Carol Oates) especially are proving so intense that I read one and need a break. I'm kind of confused by my reaction to these stories, to be honest. I read three or four in quick succession today and with each one, I found that I knew exactly where the story was heading. The plot "twists" - to the extent that these events were even supposed to be twists - were utterly and completely anticipated, no matter how far-fetched they ended up being. But here's the thing - I've read almost every single one of them in breathless anticipation, enjoyed the language, and wanted to keep reading. This kinda makes me think that the plot can't possibly be the point.
Disquiet - Julia Leigh
I think I missed the point of this slim, slight volume about an abused woman who leaves her husband and returns to her family's ancestral estate with her children.
The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism
This book - which purports to be a look back at fundamental ideas underlying American foreign policy, the use of military power, and America's role in the world/history - was initially interesting but ended up being mostly a screed against Bush 2. And while I really have nothing to say for Bush 2, I wasn't really interested in reading about how awful his foreign policy decisionmaking was. I think we all see that pretty clearly. This book is a couple years old, however, its possible I might have had more use for it then.
The Magicians - Lev Grossman
I gotta confess, I truly have no idea if I liked this book or not. This is happening to me more and more where I just cannot how I feel about a book - this cannot be a good sign.
There are at least 100 reviews of this book on LT, almost all of which note that Grossman is riffing liberally (or plagiarizing, depending on your point of view) from Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia - only a few note that he's seasoned this mix with a liberal dose of Bret Easton Ellis. This is definitely a more adult fantasy novel - the first half plays out along the lines of Harry Potter and is deliberately referential, but in a sort of drab way.
An unhappy teenage boy is whisked from his life to a boarding school for magicians. Almost immediately, the reader can tell that things aren't quite so joyfully unquestioned - upon being offered acceptance at the school, Quentin, the main character, a high-achieving guy previously destined for the Ivy League, thinks to himself: "Suppose it really was a school for magic. Was it any good? What if he'd stumbled into some third-tier magic college by accident? He didn't want to be committing himself to some community college of sorcery when he could have Magic Harvard or whatever."
However, in the Harry Potter books, there is both great fun and dangerous adventure - by contrast, life at this school just sort of muddles along - there is lots of studying and relatively little drama. There is even an obligatory team sport that someone accidentally calls quidditch, but no one at the school really cares about it - not even the players - and the matches are depicted as pathetic attempts to generate esprit de corps. Initially I found this whole "disenchanting fantasy" thing to be kind of charming.
But then it kind of becomes overwhelmingly obvious that all of these kids - but especially Quentin - are depressives. Prior to coming to the school, Quentin was one of those kids who thinks his real life is some kind of mistake and longs to live inside a fantasy novel he read as a kid - in this case, Narnia-like novels about a magical world called Fillory. At school, Quentin can never let go long enough to realize that something wonderful is happening and soon notices himself becoming the same unhappy person he was before. No matter what happens, he is always waiting for something else that is more fantastical to come and take him away to what he thinks will be a new and better life - a real life.
After the school chapters, there is a boring interlude where the graduates loaf about being drug-addled and whatnot. This was so reminiscent of Adrift on the Nile, Naguib Mafouz's book about young, disenchanted Egyptians doing drugs on a Nile houseboat - which I also found insufferable. They do horrible things to each other, muse about the nature of Magic and God, and further cement their statuses as unlikeable characters.
And then....They go to Fillory, and we enter the Narnia part of the book. Only that's not right either. Quentin and his gang of young magicians expect that - as in the books they read in their childhood - they will arrive in a fantastical alternate world and immediately be called upon to defeat a great evil, save Fillory, and rule over it. But nothing happens and the novelty starts to wear off. And even when something actually does happen, its much less majestic than in say, Narnia. Four members of the band of magicians will be selected to rule over Fillory after they defeat a great evil, but only because the locals assume that human, foreign rulers can't possibly be any worse than what they've put up with for eons. Oh, and unlike in Narnia, there are more potential rulers than there are thrones. So even this dream come true is marred by the suggestion that Quentin might not even be crowned.
And again, I'm torn between wondering where the wonder is - for all their faults, Harry Potter and Narnia were fun to read - this is just depressing! Quentin is so annoying! Why is he never happy with what's right in front of him? - and loving the fact that Grossman has taken all these fantasy tropes and totally subverted them. Sure, there is a series of climactic battles, but Quentin totally loses it, can't fight and has to be saved by other people. "As a teenager in Brooklyn, Quentin had often imagined himself engaging in martial heroics, but after this he knew, as a cold and immutable fact, that he would do anything necessary, sacrificing whatever or whomever he had to, to avoid risking exposure to physical violence...He embraced his new identity as a coward." That's hilarious! Quentin is no Peter Pevensie heroically facing down the enemy - he's not even Edmund, tempted and bewitched by evil before repenting. He just kind of sucks.
I think this book is trying to levy some sort of critique against self-centered childish fantasies - more than once a character implies that these kids can never grow up if they continue to do magic, but I also felt like there was a random anti-colonial critique of Narnia when the Aslan-like figures berates the magicians for thinking that Fillory is a "theme park, for you and your friends to play dress-up in, with swords and crowns." Fillory is a real world, not some place where humans can find glory in low-cost battles and rule over natives who are waiting to be saved by outsiders. That was a curious thing to me because I had never really thought of Narnia as a colonizing story, but it kind of is.
I'm still not sure what I thought of the ending in which Quentin, after a horrible near-death experience in Fillory attempts to seal himself off from the magical world renounces magic because he needs to be an adult and because he believes no one should have that power, suddenly changes his mind. I'm not sure if the ending was a cop-out because Grossman felt like he had to have a traditional ending that affirmed the fantastical world or if it was supposed to reflect that Quentin had changed and grown from his experiences and was now adult enough to handle the responsibility that his powers brought. I think it was supposed to be the latter, but I confess I just didn't buy it - character growth and development was not this book's strong suit.
I really don't know what to think of this book - it is either a brilliant post-modern take on fantasy novels that subverts their tropes, an attempt to do so that falls short, or a depressing rip-off of some childhood favorites. It didn't follow any of the traditional story arcs that I expected it to, except near the end, when it really felt like Grossman had to do something he didn't want to do and did it sort of joylessly and with a cruel twist.
My reading of this book was shaped in part by this article, which may have led me to feel more conflicted about it: Why There is No Jewish Narnia, which discusses it in depth. Its a fascinating article that discusses how this book's characters' skeptical reactions to fantasy and their inability to approach it with wonder is a product of a Jewish cultural aversion to the tropes of high fantasy. While I don't know if I completely buy the argument, it is an intriguing one. The author also did a follow-up article in response to criticism of the original article: No Jewish Narnias: A Reply
K, now I'm done.
fannyprice - I don't think I'll run out and get this one, but your review was wonderfully thoughtful and thought-provoking. I'm working my way through "Why there is no Jewish Narnia".
>63, thanks Dan. Yeah, I honestly don't know if I would recommend this book or not. Like I said, I'm puzzled.
I also appreciated your review of The Magicians, fanny, and it has cemented my decision not to bother with the book.
Just a random thought - I'm glad Lev Grossman wrote the book, even if I don't read it.
62 - Great review! I'm intrigued despite your hesitance to recommend it.
Sometimes the best discussions spring from the most unlikely sources, eh?
>68, And I'm glad I read it, even if I still don't know if I liked it. I like what Grossman was trying to do.
Who Fears Death - Nnedi Okorafor
For an upcoming issue of Belletrista. Suffice it to say, this was one of the strangest books I've ever read and I totally had to roll with it. It is a tough book to pin down, combining "ripped from the headlines" details of genocide and female genital mutilation with lyrical descriptions of African deserts and fantastical elements like dueling sorcerers and shape-shifting. It shouldn't work - but it does, and I was drawn in, even as I struggled to figure out where I was and where I was going with this book.
This is the author's first book for adults, but she's also written some young adult books that I will definitely be looking into.
Been sick and doped up on Nyquil, so I've been dipping into the cesspool that is YA urban fantasy again.
Spirit Bound - Vampire Academy, Book 5 - This series is drawing to a close. I am still pretty fond of it, for the much more "realistic" dialogue and teenage behavior - teenagers who actually swear and drink! - the book's emphasis on bonds between young women (despite the cover art that suggests otherwise), and the engaging plotlines, but this book seemed weird and rushed in some ways.
Ink Exchange and Fragile Eternity - books 2 and 3 in the same series as Wicked Lovely, which I read earlier. These books were just ok. Nothing super amazing about them, but I do enjoy their more adult sensibility - again, teenagers who swear and drink! (shocking) - and their rather feminist angle on the whole fantasy thing. Ink Enchange focuses on a girl dealing with the aftermath of being raped by her drug-addicted brother's "friends" and is quite dark. Fragile Eternity focuses on the same set of characters as the first book in the series and is more about relationship drama. The thing I enjoy about these books is the way the author has created an entire world of seemingly minor characters who weave in and out of the stories. It seems well-planned, which I appreciate.
Anyway, I'm now coming back to the world of the living, thanks to copious amounts of DayQuil and am very much enjoying Robert O. Paxton's The Anatomy of Fascism, which tries to examine and understand fascist movements at various stages of their evolution. I'm moving soon, which always necessitates some sort of book purge. Unfortunately, most of the physical books that I now own (as opposed to the ebooks) are unread, which makes me highly unlikely to part with any of them.
Dear Ms. Price,
I must confess I wanted to throw Spirit Bound at its author. Unfortunately I couldn't because it is on my Kindle, although i removed it to the Kindle archives somewhere in electronic deep storage. This is the first time I have experienced a downside to being a Kindle owner. In the material world, one can burn, bash, recycle, deaccession, give to one's worst enemy, or rip to shreds the offending book, that mote in its author's eye. In Kindle Land, it's yours. Even if you remove it from your device, it doesn't really go away. In the back of my mind, I know I'm stuck with this book. Even if I were to rid myself of my Kindle, this book would still be out there somewhere registered to urania's Kindle - a wretched birthmark that will not go away but will forever blot my escutcheon.
I will admit that until this book, The Vampire Academy series had been one of my "don't tell avaland" guilty pleasures. However, I am coming out of the guilty closet. Mead was supposed to end the damn thing with this book. Instead, the hapless reader is left with yet another cliffhanger. I will play no more. I have leapt from the cliff with joyous abandon into German literature Andrea Delfin.
#72 Hi Fanny - I've just read Zahrah the windseeker, a YA fantasy by Nnedi Okorafor which won the 2008 Wole Soyinka Prize. A strange but interesting read also. Some of the fantasy creatures were almost too absurd, parts of the storyline too simplistic for me but overall I liked the world she created. There were elements of both Nigerian folklore and Alice's Wonderland.
You have me intrigued by your comments on Who Fears Death, I'm looking forward to reading your Belletrista review.
Have you read any of Laini Taylor's YA books?
#74 In the material world, one can burn, bash, recycle, deaccession, give to one's worst enemy, or rip to shreds the offending book, that mote in its author's eye. In Kindle Land, it's yours. Even if you remove it from your device, it doesn't really go away
Sorry for the minor thread hijack Fanny, but I need to remind Urania that one can also destroy paper books by using them for:
1. papier mache
2. campfire kindling (granted, this is a subsection of burning, but yet more satisfying because involves the ripping of individual pages), and of course,
3. stopper for the barn door
>urania and nickelini - one can also use it as kitty litter in a serious pinch. :)
urania - I found Spirit Bound much less interesting than the previous entries. I'm still hanging on, since there is an end in sight.
>75, I haven't read any of her books. I'm googling her now though!
I found Spirit Bound much less interesting than the previous entries. I'm still hanging on, since there is an end in sight.
An end in sight??? I am skeptical. Spirit Bound was supposed to be the end. I like works that are complete in and of themselves. When a book stretches much past three volumes, it is difficult to sustain. No book can stand alone, and after a while the endless sequels start to bore one.
Belle 6 is up - here's my review of Who Fears Death
The Anatomy of Fascism - Robert O. Paxton
I am quite glad that I finally got around to reading this book, which I have wanted to get for a long time. I'll be posting some proper thoughts in a bit - took a lot of notes down while reading.
Graceling - Kristin Cashore
Young adult, but much more high fantasy than my usual urban fantasy. Honestly, the most interesting thing about this book was the continual anti-marriage theme running through it and the fact that when the two main characters fall in love, they don't immediately settle down "forever." They end up in kind of an open, flexible relationship for as long as it works. I found this shocking for young adult schlock.
Catching Fire - second book in the Hunger Games trilogy - Suzanne Collins
I confess I don't seem to LOVE this series as much as a lot of people do, but it is really good. The stakes are raised in this young adult dystopia - the main characters think they have succeeded in defying their oppressive, bloodsport-obsessed central government but are once again threatened. I was a little bit disappointed with some of the plot developments - it seemed a little bit weak and repetitive of the first in certain spots - but I guess ultimately the series is about a society that pits its children against each other in combat, so there should probably be some combat, eh? The end was kind of a cliffhanger and big changes are afoot. I can't wait to read Mockingjay, the last book in the trilogy, which drops in August.
After going massively on a young adult binge and buying a lot of books in June and July, I have two goals for August.
#1 - I will not read any YA books this month
#2 - Everything I read will be something I already own
Edited for accuracy about the nature of the binge.
>84, Lois, it seems to me that most of these YA fantasy novels either implicitly or explicitly set up an ideal end-state where the protagonists end up married or effectively married and we're meant to assume that this is the end of their lives because they've achieved this state. This book didn't do that, which surprised me.
> 82: I have Graceling home from the library at the moment. It has just jumped a few places on the 'next few books to read' ladder. Can't wait to read it now. I enjoy young adult schlock, but something different always spices things up!
Oh, its been forever since I've posted. This is started to shape up into a better reading year for me, at least in terms of pace, but I just can't get into reviewing and posting regularly recently.
I was kind of let down by Farthing, Jo Walton's mystery set in an alternate history Europe in which Britain came to a separate peace with Nazi Germany. I think this was probably because I was too invested in the alternate history aspect of it and that was actually a fairly minor part of the novel; the mystery itself was not that compelling. I probably won't read the others in this series.
Oh, The Passage, this summer's literary sensation, apparently. This book was such a hodgepodge. The first section, in which we follow a government science experiment going horribly wrong and finally leading to the destruction of American civilization, was fascinating, with compelling characters and fun little narrative tricks like using fake documentary history and different characters' perspectives. I found myself irritated that this part of the book would inevitably have to end and most of the characters would probably have to die.
Unfortunately, the remaining 2/3 of this book -- which are set in a time long after the "end of the world events" described in the first part of the book -- don't hold a candle to the first 1/3. The latter portion of the book is divided into two unequal subsections - one focusing on life in an isolated human colony that may be the last surviving group of humans in the world, which I actually found pretty interesting because its always fun to see how an author might rebuild the world and what myths s/he might create. The biggest portion of the book is a seemingly endless journey that dragged, was populated by generic, goody-goody characters, put them in way too many curious situations that got shortchanged, and offered way too many escapes for characters in seemingly impossible predicaments.
However, there was a really weird, creepy mystery about how the world was destroyed at the heart of all this & even though I didn't get a lot of answers, I got enough hints to make me want to read the next one, which is supposedly moving back chronologically to look at the world-ending event from a different perspective. Cronin needs to work on developing slightly more complex, multidimensional characters and then actually kill one of them off to raise the stakes a little bit -- it was often hard to believe that these characters were supposed to be in genuine peril.
Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910-1939
So, I really enjoyed reading this book, which was basically just a series of gossipy essays on the love lives of prominent London literary and cultural figures, including HG Wells-Rebecca West, Katherine Mansfield, Elizabeth von Arnim, and the strange love triangles that formed around Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. Roiphe may have had a larger, more politicized intent behind compiling these stories -- she lays out her reasons for picking these figures and for finding their marriages worthy of study in a lengthy introduction -- and I was intrigued by the idea that the figures under consideration in this book self-consciously tried to find alternatives to traditional marriage, were torn between Victorian ideals and modern ideas, and often fell into the very traps they were trying to structure their relationships to avoid. A lot of the behavior Roiphe describes seems rather bizarre and destructive, and although she doesn't overlook the impact that had on the partners in these relationships and on their offspring, she generally avoids being judgey & the whole thing generally comes off as great fun. I had a great time with this one.
Followed it up with two more forays into Sherlock and Watson - The Sign of the Four, which I liked a lot more than A Study in Scarlet (read earlier this year), and a book of short tales The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which were usually entertaining. I thought the shorter pieces would not work, mostly because the first two Holmes stories I read were novels, but I think the short stories actually work better. I will be continuing on my little quest to read all of these Sherlock tales.
Also, finally finished re-rereading Little Women. As a child, I -- like most smart, bookish girls who feel somewhat unsatisfied with life in a dull small town -- adored this book and absolutely worshiped Jo March. She could do no wrong in my eye, except perhaps for refusing Laurie, which struck me as quite silly. It was weird to re-read this book as an adult. Certain things were just NOT as I remembered them, the sequence of events was off, and characters appealed to me in totally different ways this time around. I was also struck by how religious and kind of sanctimonious the book was - I found myself tired of being preached at. I found I still liked Jo, but I sympathized more with Meg & found Amy to be the least intolerable of the girls, despite her numerous character flaws. She seemed the most human and realistic of any of them and I really warmed to her this time around. Or perhaps I've just gotten shallow in my old age.
Ok, three more left to write about. Must break now - cat chewing on my hair!
I agree; Sherlock shines in the short stories.
I don't think any reader has ever been happy about Jo refusing Laurie, lol. I know I'll never be reconciled to it. The book definitely has its preachiness and I don't have the advantage of having adored it as a younger reader. But I still like it. Have you seen the movie with Winona Ryder? It's pretty good (and it has a gorgeous score — Thomas Newman is great).
I am going to have to reread Sherlock Holmes -- read The Complete Sherlock Holmes as a teenager and never since.
>89, wisewoman - I saw it a long time ago. Quite honestly, the casting of Gabriel Byrne as Jo's husband is about the only thing that redeems that aspect of the book for me - the whole time I was re-reading it, I just kept thinking "he's really Gabriel Byrne...this is not as blah as it seems." !!!
As another smart, bookish girl unsatisfied growing up in a small town, yes, I too loved Little Women - and Jo March was my absolute heroine for years. I keep toying with the idea of re-reading it...but I think you've convinced me not to. I couldn't bear to spoil the memories.
Am intrigued by Uncommon Arrangements; think I'll have to seek that one out! Am curious as to how you discovered it in the first place though?
87 - Hmm...I put Farthing on my wishlist after reading the first chapter specifically because I found the alternate history aspect so compelling. May move it furthur down.
Count me as another of the bookish young Jo fans. I think it was the first 'adult' book I ever read (that cover in fact).
>93 - Jane, the alternate history element is definitely there, it was just more of a backdrop than the focus of the plot for most of the book.
(still catching up)
A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918 by G.J. Meyer
A fantastic, one-volume history of WW1 that covers both political-military history and social history. I loved the format of this book, which was a straightforward chronological history of the war separated by standback interludes on topics including each powers' political and military leadership, the history of states and empires, the development of military technologies and tactics, each powers' officer corps, war propaganda and poetry, shell-shock, and the role of women in the war. I am much more accustomed to reading social and political history than military history, so these chapters really helped break up the endless stream of battles.
Overwhelmingly, the picture that emerges from Meyer's book is not surprising - the first world war seems entirely wasteful and pointless, characterized by slaughter on a truly staggering scale, especially when viewed from the perspective of contemporary warfighting where a few hundred casualties seems high. This was a great entry into the history of this period and I'll definitely be continuing to read about it because it is endless fascinating to me.
Dolly City by Orly Castel-Bloom
An extremely strange book that I was going to review for an upcoming issue of Belletrista but decided I could not. Someone else may take a crack at this in the future, so I won't say too much about it. Stylistically very challenging with an extremely grim subject matter and more than a touch of unreality to it.
Real World by Natsuo Kirino
I think I may have been expecting too much from this book, which focuses on a group of high-school age Japanese girls who get involved with a high-school boy who murders his mother. It is kind of a mystery, but the mystery is more about the girls, the things they hide (or think they hide) from each other, and why each is drawn to the boy, who they call "Worm." I think part of my dislike of this book had to do with the writing style, and I'm not sure if that was a product of poor translation or was an element of the original Japanese. Each character had a tendency to engage in a rather irritating half-expository internal monologue about secrets and unreality that involved copious mention of the book's title, which I found really irritating. Still, this book was not all bad - it was permeated by a vague sense of creepiness and imminent horror that made me keep reading. Kind of like waiting for a car crash.
>96. You've definitely piqued my interest in A World Undone, and I've had a sample sent to my Kindle. At 800+ pages, that'll be a much easier way to read it!
Fanny, I had a similar experience in my re-read of Little Women about 6 or 7 years ago. I was so crush that it wasn't magical this time around and it struck me how young it read (YA-ish). And yes, a commonality with most early American literature is its moral overtones of one kind or another. Still, I have enjoyed a lot of early lit despite it. It is this moral tone that JCOates pokes fun at in her A Bloodsmoor Romance.
>101, Really? That's intriguing. Running off to check if A Bloodsmoor Romance is on Kindle....
>102 yeah, 1986, I think. And it's a tome. But it is a bit of a take-off on Little Women (part spoof, part homage to that and a lot of other early American lit). I think my review of it might be on my current thread. I thought it a hoot, and the narrator is so charmingly and nauseating moral.
Now, that is a weakness in the Kindle!
Well, its almost September. I think I did well forcing myself to read from the pile (real and virtual) in August - I discovered more than a couple great reads. Realizing that I have spent an obscene amount of money since moving in June, I have decided again to read from the shelves for September. It is a tough choice, especially since there are so many things clamoring at me to buy them & I have a real prejudice against books that have been sitting too long on the shelf (which is probably how I end up with so many unread books), but I'm really trying to discipline myself here. I might allow myself one or two indulgences - Mockingjay, the third book in the Hunger Games series is out and I've been dying to read it!
A World Undone is going on my wish list as well.
You've probably already read Barbara Tuchman's Guns of August, haven't you?
John Keegan has also written an excellent book about WW1.
Wonder if it'd be worthwhile to do a Salon group read of A World Undone? It's been on my wishlist for a while now, and looks like a lot of us want to read it.
oh that's a good idea! We could make it a non-fiction tome read! so much fabulous WW1 poetry too!
Yes, The proud Tower is excellent! I've been trying to get her book on the Chinese Civil War, but it's very hard to find.
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void - Mary Roach
A hilarious and very often cringe-inducing exploration of the history of developments in space exploration, most related to the science behind sustaining human life and providing some basic level of comfort to astronauts.
Mockingjay (Book Three of the Hunger Games Trilogy) - Suzanne Collins
I am not ashamed to say that this book made me cry repeatedly. A fantastic conclusion to this YA dystopia series in which children are made to compete in duels to the death against each other for the amusement of their decadent rulers. This book more than others is possibly not for young or sensitive readers - I was repeatedly shocked by how Collins was willing to put her characters through horrible experiences, kill off major players, and generally defy the reader's desire for happy endings for anyone. Many characters achieved the goal they had initially set out to reach but either did so in such a way that it was impossible to cheer their victory or endured such loss along the way that the victory seemed pointless. More than the other books in the series, the final installment raises some serious questions about the ethics of resistance and portrays even its heroes as flawed. This series is definitely worth reading if you enjoy dystopias and prickly badass teenage girl leads. I wish there was more but at the same time, I am deeply impressed that Collins chose to write a series with a clear and generally well-plotted narrative arc and to end said series in such a way that seems to foreclose the potential of a "fourth book in the trilogy." I can't wait to read what she does next.
I've been on a slight binge through my backlog of middle eastern contemporary history books this week, reading Killing Mr Lebanon: The Assasination of Rafik Hariri and its Impact on the Middle East by Nicholas Blanford, which was fantastic and which I really regret not having read sooner. Also:
The Ghosts of Martyrs Square: An Eyewitness Account of Lebanon's Life Struggle by Michael Young, which was really quite compelling, despite Young's penchant for name-dropping and his tendency to begin each chapter with a discussion of some random European film. Definitely less impartial than Blanford's book, but that's understandable, given that Young is a Lebanese Maronite himself.
Hezbollah: A Short History by Augustus Richard Norton, which was really quite disappointing, especially since Norton is such a big name in Lebanon studies. Read much more like a series of thoughts on Hizballah - many of them quite shallow - rather than a single coherent narrative.
Syrian Foreign Policy and the United States: From Bush to Obama - four short papers of varying quality on Syrian foreign policy. Nothing really that exciting here.
Finally, I also started digging into the essays in Demystifying Syria and Foreign Policies of the Arab States: The Challenge of Globalization.
I had a pretty good quarter, most of it non-fiction.
Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910-1939 - Katie Roiphe
A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918 - G.J. Meyer
The Secret History - Donna Tartt (which I realized I never mentioned anywhere but which I LOVED)
Mockingjay (Book Three of the Hunger Games) - Suzanne Collins
Killing Mr. Lebanon: The Assassination of Rafik Hariri and its impact on the Middle East - Nicholas Blanford
A World Without Islam - Graham E. Fuller
An Early Reviewer's book and quite a disappointment. Perhaps I am not the target audience for this book, but I found it dry, obvious, and utterly lacking in new or interesting insights. Fuller advances the not-so-shocking premise that people throughout history would have found opportunities to demonize each other and war against each other even without the existence of Islam. He sweeps through the history of events that are traditionally thought of as clashes between Islam and Christianity and points out non-theological motives for these events; in essence the book amounts to a continued repetition of the idea that most conflicts are rooted in squabbles over temporal power and resource issues rather than in debates over religious doctrine. This is an important idea, but not one with which I was unfamiliar, so Fuller's book was not that enjoyable for me.
Reviewed for Belletrista 8. Something quite a lot less literary, but I found it interesting to read popular literature from a non-English-speaking country.
Lena Meydan's novel Twilight Forever Rising (originally titled 'Blood Brothers' in Russian, perhaps changed in translation to capitalize on the Twilight phenomenon)—the first installment of a best-selling fantasy series in Russia—depicts a world in which humans unknowingly coexist with vampires who are the real forces behind politics, art, and war.
Russian VAMPIRES!!!!!!! you have got to be kidding me! Whoohhhoooo!
Having finished and (mostly) loved Bill Bryson's meandering, anecdote-filled At Home: A Short History of Private Life, I have now moved on and am reading Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August in conjunction with The Military Atlas of the First World War. I also read two books of cute cat comics: Cats are Weird and Simon's Cat. Both were a hoot.
>123, Which I have but haven't gotten around to reading!
I'm getting behind and distracted. I'm not feeling very engaged with LT right now and that feeling is reflected in the sort of lackluster way this thread has been going for a long time. I hope for better things in 2011!
But for now, flagging some interesting non-book items I've been reading.
"Paradoxical Truth" in the NYT - a post about paradoxes, Aristotle's principle of non-contradiction, and dialetheism - a theory that posits that some contradictions are true. I know almost nothing about philosophy and found I had to re-read parts of this article multiple times to actually understand what was being discussed, but I found this to be a pretty cool piece. Best line? "Interestingly, virtually everything else that Aristotle ever defended has been overthrown — or at least seriously challenged. "
Like many people, following the latest "wikileak".....
A few more, this time book-related. Somewhat of a cross-post with the interesting links thread, with a bit more personal exposition here.
Amy Sackville wins John Llewellyn Rhys prize for The Still Point
The Still Point sounds incredible and has shot to the top of the TBR list.
My book cull: a loss of shelf esteem - An author struggles to dispose of 2,000 books and finds no one wants them; along the way, he questions the value of having a personal library.
I deeply empathize with the author's plight, as I used to dream of having some sort of English manor-level library and held onto dog-eared penguin classics copies of Boethius and St. Anselm from my freshman-year college classics courses, in the hopes that one day a guest would notice them and silently remark to him/herself that my household was quite learned. Then we ran out of space and those guys were the first to go! No one in their right mind is going to come over and be impressed by - much less ask to borrow - these books! But that doesn't mean I don't still dream of having miles of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves containing the world's knowledge at my personal disposal.
Translator Maureen Freely, who translated some of Orhan Pamuk's books into English, talks about how translators get no love, despite the valuable work they do
A tome-like interview with Margaret Atwood
Still working my way through this, but I love her. She's funny and unpretentious - why can't all great writers be a little more humble about themselves? Kind of makes me wish I knew something about twitter, so I could cyber-stalk her there.
>123, 124 have you seen the movie/s? I thought "Night Watch" was really interesting, and cleverly done, though it seems I had to watch it twice to figure everything out. The second movie was fun too but not as clever as the first, imo.
I'm glad you have posted your "other" reading. I always aim to do this but the quantity overwhelms me. Still, I find what you have posted wonderfully varied and interesting (and inspiring, so maybe I'll make another attempt to do this in 2011).
>125 Atwood is a great Twitterer; often funny, politically active, generous. I think you would like Twitter, fannyprice. I like it for the quick reference to news and other media, publishers and any other person or entity I'm following, less for connecting with friends as some do. I haven't been on it for most of this month, my trip sort of broke the habit, but hey, if I can figure it out, so can you:-)
I've somehow started reading Vanity Fair, which I am both enjoying and despising. I am enamored with the parts focusing on our main characters, the infamous Becky Sharpe and her friend Amelia Sedley; however, Thackery insists on continually filling space with digressions where he directly addresses the reader about an entirely different cast of allegedly real people in his own life, muses about politics/morality/fashion/etc.
Also, he never met a minor character who didn't merit a full biographical investigation the first time s/he is introduced, even if the person appears once and is insignificant. A bit of this is ok, even entertaining, but I am finding it really irritating to be so diverted from the fascinating Miss Sharpe and her misadventures. She's like some bizarro-world combination of Jane Eyre and Lydia Bennet! There is - I hope - going to be a discussion on Thackery in December over in the monthly author reads group.
Fanny - Interesting comments! Vanity Fair is one book that has just never made it to my wish list. It may be that I saw the movie starring Reese Witherspoon. I am very choosy about casting in historical films, and young, popular American actresses are rarely okay in my books (the the "popular" being the biggest strike against her). Your mileage may vary.
Yeah haven't seen that movie but I know what you mean. My beef is with kiera knightly, who seems to be in every adaptation of everything... And then they release the film tie-in version of the book and there's kk staring at you in the bookshop!
The better adaptation is somewhat longer, the A&E version. I have watched it many times:-) Agree that the Reese Witherspoon one was ick.
(my daughter gave me the newer Doctor Zhivago adaptation some time ago and I seem reluctant to watch it - I think it might be the Kiera Knightly factor)
Fanny - I agree 100% about Kiera Knightly. I don't even like her in modern roles. Something about her greatly irritates me.
Smugness . . . yes, that might just be it. I hadn't thought of that. And chin, of course. It's funny because the first role I saw her in was Bend it Like Beckham, and I really liked her. Then I saw her in Love Actually and liked her there too. But then something changed and now when I rewatch those films, she irritates me even there!
>131, God, is she in Dr. Zhivago too?????!!!!!
>134, That's really true, she didn't bother me in those movies. I think its because she's now ubiquitous. She doesn't need to be every heroine in classic literature, you know?
>135 yes, the PBS one, 2002. Same year as the Bend it Like Beckham.
What? you didn't like her as the decoy queen in the "Star Wars The Phantom Menance"?
>136, my god, I thought you were joking....the horror. She looks NOTHING like Natalie Portman.
oooh itchy itchy
She irritates me madly too, I'm glad I'm not the only one.
I'm going to check out the paradox article carefully. I love paradoxes and they are an essential part of Dostoevsky's poetics, so thank you for this link!
I love Vanity Fair! Thackery is so funny!
>138, Oh Murr, I wish I could figure out why people love VF. I am hating it so much right now. I know there is probably an interesting story in there under all of the random babbling about this and that & I am desperate to get back to Miss Sharpe, but I find that I've been skimming chapters for so long in attempt to push on to the good stuff. It's killing my will to read anything else. Why do these novelists insist on filling space with nonsense? I'm sure it's not actually nonsense, but it seems so detached from the actual PLOT that it's hard to care.
Sigh.... I might just give up and move on to the books I had planned for Orange January, which are seeming a lot more attractive right now.
>139, And having just sworn off VF in a rage, I attempted to give it "just one more chance..." and got to a delicious section on Becky and her schemes (even poor dull Amelia is starting to catch on)....only to find it followed with another tedious section on the complete backstories of "who-cares-who-you-are-you're-not-Becky!". This is a very difficult relationship to manage.
I think I might be in love....with Edith Wharton. House of Mirth is brilliant!
I'm only a few chapters in and, unfortunately, I "spoiled" the plot for myself when I got carried away reading about Edith Wharton on wikipedia, but I am enthralled with her short, sharp, painfully incisive commentaries on the various characters that we've met so far. This is such a wondrous contrast from Vanity Fair, which is just choking in verbosity. It's like Wharton knows exactly what needs to be said and says it perfectly and no more.
Oh, I love Vanity Fair! I love Thackeray's asides and verbosity. But to my horror, I'm finding Anna Karenina too clogged with stuff (*sheepish glance at Murr*), so we can't choose what we love. This was my review of VF, before I'd really gotten into the swing of reviewing: http://www.librarything.com/work/10168/reviews/50691358
And I was bored by Age of Innocence. I couldn't dredge up any fellow feeling for the characters, and wasn't interested in the other things Wharton had to say. But that was a while ago, before I became a Salonista. Maybe it's time for me to try House of Mirth.
Stayed up too late reading House of Mirth and had horrid dreams where everyone I knew snubbed me and wouldn't sit next to me at school (mind you, I haven't been in any sort of school other than one-on-one intensive Arabic for several years). If you've read the book, you can guess approximately where I am in the narrative. :0
So I'm trying to more actively fulfill my responsibilities at If Written By a Woman, the Belletrista companion blog. In attempt to continue to keep my Club Read thread a relatively complete picture of my reading thoughts, I'll be posting links to my blog posts going forward.
In which I wax poetic about the new books Belle has made me want to buy and talk about how much I love the stories in Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s short story collection There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales, which Tim Jones reviewed for Issue 8: Favorite Belle Discoveries
Trying to catch up before the year ends:
At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson - This book was basically like spending an extended amount of time with an incredibly well-read but rather distractable friend who loves to entertain with random anecdotes. He intends to make a larger point with all these facts and sometimes he succeeds, but even when he doesn't it's entertaining as hell and there's no way you're asking him to stop regaling you with stories.
This book wasn't exactly what I had hoped it was going to be, but I wasn't disappointed by what it turned out to be. Bryson's interest in domestic history is sparked by architectural oddities discovered in his own house, an English rectory built in 1851. Bryson sees the form of the house as contingent, rather than inevitable, and sets out to explore how the structure and its component rooms evolved, with each chapter ostensibly centered around a single room.
However, Bryson defines his scope of inquiry extremely widely, and the book is filled with ridiculous - in a good way - facts about cultivation of food crops, the development of glass windows, the archaeology of Britain, the etymology of various words, the enormous variety of birds once consumed as foodstuffs, the history of recipes, the life of servants, the douchebaggery of Thomas Edison, and so on. Bryson either sees or forces connections between seemingly unrelated topics, so that his discussion of the evolution of the drawing room touches on crop rotation, livestock breeding programs, the enclosure movement, middling 18th century playwrights, notorious architects, and the wonders of mahogany for furniture construction, before bringing us back to the development of upholstered furniture, which necessitated the creation of a separate room designated for eating (to prevent guests from wiping their greasy fingers on the nice chairs) and provided a nice segue into the chapter on the dining room.
All in all, a very enjoyable romp.
Cats Are Weird: And More Observations by Jeffrey Brown
I've been a big fan of Jeffrey Brown's adorable and totally spot on comics about cats ever since reading Cat Getting Out of a Bag and Other Observations in 2007. We had just had to have our dear 3-year-old kitty Oliver put to sleep after facing that he was not going to recover from a sudden and all-consuming illness. Brown's book somehow helped me deal with the immediate shock of the loss a little better. The new book is quite a bit fancier than the previous, with a wonderful cover with little cutouts and a large number of colored illustrations. But same great cute cat incidents as the previous book. Recommended for all kitty lovers.
Simon's Cat by Simon Tofield
Perhaps more famous for the adorable and hilarious videos in which he stars, Simon's cat also has a book. I think these are a little bit less successful than the videos, simply because they lack the sound effects that make the videos so amusing, but the comics capture the spirit of the little films and are quite cute. I laughed quite a bit while reading this one.
The Strain by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo Del Toro
So, I'm really behind the times with this one. I was really excited about this book when it came out, then my s.o. read it and was kinda like "meh" and I forgot about it for a long time. I decided to read it because I was struggling with my other reads and wanted something light that might not be idiotic.
I love stories about apocalypses that begin with a virus and that is essentially what this book is. Except the virus transmits vampirism. The bad old nasty kind, not the sparkly douchebag "vegetarian" kind. This book had an intriguing premise and incorporated some neat folkloric elements. The opening gambit, in which a plane goes "dead" at JFK minutes after touchdown and various groups are called into investigate what has happened was one of the most truly terrifying things I have ever read. I savored the creeping dread, the tightness in my chest, and the genuine fear of the dark that these passages induced in me.
The rest of the book, however.... ouch. We're dealing with some truly wretched prose, continual repetition of the same information as characters are brought up to speed on information that the reader has just learned via a different character's flashback, gratuitous 9/11 references (the book is set mainly in the NYC area and the former World Trade Center site plays a pretty significant role in the plot) and ridiculous, ham-fisted foreshadowing. Some of the lines that are clearly meant to be deep social commentary are just clunkers.
And yet, despite all this, I am intrigued by the world that the authors have created, in which humans are simply pawns in a larger war between different tribes of vampires. However, this book overall was so forgettable that I had to go and read other reviews of it before I could even remember the basic outline of the plot to flesh out the more generalized responses that I had jotted down after finishing the book only a month ago.
Probably only for fans of the vampire or "viral outbreak causes everything to go to hell" genres. Though if one can somehow contrive to read only the portions dealing with the plane, doing so is highly recommended.
I agree with you on The Strain. The great, creepy beginning put me into the right kind of mindset so that I really quite enjoyed the whole thing, despite being perfectly aware that the writing is, um, not exactly good. But coming back to read volume 2, having lost that momentum, was kind of painful.
Ok, not book-related, but io9 has picked their best science pictures of 2010 and there are some really cool photos here:
146 - At Home sounds really interesting. I added it to the wishlist (which seems to only grow).
Just discovered that We Need to Talk About Kevin is finally available on kindle so I've downloaded it and that's what I'm starting the Orange January read with, even though it's not quite January. I've wanted to read this for a while now.
Also reading the fantastic Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, which I bought myself as part of my Xmas presents to myself after reading wandering_star's excellent thoughts on it.
Time to brag about my holiday schwag, much of which I purchased for myself, lol
Fiction: The Still Point: A Novel - Amy Sackville; The Girl Who Fell from the Sky - Heidi W. Durrow; Wigs on the Green - Nancy Mitford; Your Presence Is Requested at Suvanto: A Novel - Maile Chapman; Sense and Sensibility (Norton Critical Editions) - Jane Austen; The Annotated Brothers Grimm (The Annotated Books)
Non-Fiction: The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination - Sandra Gilbert; Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain - Maryanne Wolf; The Best American Science Writing 2010; A User's Guide to the Universe: Surviving the Perils of Black Holes, Time Paradoxes, and Quantum Uncertainty; Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England
Graphic Novels and Children's Books: The Stuff of Legend, Book 1: The Dark - Mike Raicht; How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less - Sarah Glidden
Cookbooks: Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine and Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
A series of New York Review of Books children's books: The Kingdom of Carbonel, Carbonel and Calidor, and Carbonel: The King of Cats
And, the book my cats want me to read and graciously left under the tree for me: 50 Games to Play With Your Cat
ETA: Augh, edited to fix hugely annoying touchstones....
50 games to play with your cat! now there's a book that should be in everyone's library!
I recently read Nancy Mitford's Madame de Pompadour and found it charming and informative. I am now on the hunt for more Mitford.
>155, Murr, I built a cat castle out of a cardboard box tonight. You would have loved it. The little girl cat, Miss Mischa, wrested control of it from her older and larger brother after a fearsome battle and is now keeping watch against invaders.
Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain - Maryanne Wolf
Probably the final book I'll finish this year, unless I can focus on reading for the next 36 or so hours, which is unlikely. I don't have a lot to say about this book, but it was a great exploration of the foundations of written language and the cognitive processes involved in learning to read. I am glad I read it, and I am recommending it to several educators and people who work with kids.
Edited to fix image issues....(and to remove the excessive use of the word "really")
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.