Join LibraryThing to post.
This topic is currently marked as "dormant"—the last message is more than 90 days old. You can revive it by posting a reply.
I've also just finished Megan Marshall's Pulitzer prize winning biography, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life. It was excellent.
was curious if this is any good, and if she writes substantially differently under the pen name. let us know! (if you've read her other stuff.)
Seconding this. It was very moving, and set me to digging up copies of whatever of her work I could find. I'm reading her Summer on the Lakes right now. But Marshall's book is great account of Fuller's radicalization, even if it is somewhat agonizing to read in places.
thanks! i've wondered in general about her non potter books. i didn't love harry potter so wasn't really planning on reading more...
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit ~ Jeannette Winterson
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration ~ Isabel Wilkerson
The Last Samurai ~ Helen De Witt
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail ~ Cheryl Strayed
Later, at the Bar: A Novel in Stories ~ Rebecca Barry
Three Junes ~ Julia Glass
>18 LolaWalser: Oranges are great, IMO the best Winterson.
It's been years since I've read most of them. A couple of decades ago, she was a complete revelation for me when I'd first come across her. I'm not sure how it came about, but once again there was a recent discussion over at BookBalloon about her. And I'd realised that as much as I've spent the past couple of decades talking about her work, I've probably spent more time recommending her work than revisiting it.
I want to say I've reread The Passion within the past few years. And of her later works, I've read Lighthousekeeping and Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? (essentially the non-fiction version of Oranges), but I wanted to try to reexamine some of the earlier works.
Unfortunately The Passion is the only other one I've been able to find.
I loved The last samurai, against expectation (precocious kids, ugh!)
As a former precocious kid, I may have to take offense at that. ;) (Though as a narrative trope, it's definitely a bit overplayed at this point).
I really enjoyed aspects of this one. It actually reminded me very much of something like Richard Powers, in that it seemed to be a very theory-driven sort of work (and not necessarily just lit theory). At the same time, I'd love to find a good discussion of it somewhere, because I definitely felt that I missed quite a bit of it. I'm guessing that there's enough layers and allusions and references in there, that it's a book that would benefit from a "deeper" reading.
Pssst--Your copy/paste carried over from the other thread...
Re: precocity, they tend to sound precious and smartassy and nobody likes that. I think with DeWitt's character, it's just that I found the topics interesting, so the kid as such didn't bother me. Come to think of it, the mother was a genius too--double the odds for annoyance.
I don't remember much of the plot though, now I'm curious whether I'd still like it as much as I did, ummm, eleven years ago.
I don't remember much of the plot though, now I'm curious whether I'd still like it as much as I did, ummm, eleven years ago.
Really less of a "plot-driven" book than an idea driven one...
Stifled American genius/autodidact (a family trait) that lied to get herself into Oxford gets knocked up by (and I think that's sort of the best way to put that, despite the negative connotations of the phrase) literary lion whose work she believes to be schlock. She doesn't tell the father about the child (nor the child who the father is), but attempts to JSMill the kid into brilliance. Kid teaches himself 20 languages, etc, then sets off on quest to find his father (and barring that, find a substitute that he can "choose" for a father.) Lots of thematic play on the distinction between high and low cultures, etc.
Ah, I've not had coffee as of yet. Will work to fix that.
Yeah-- I remember the kid set out to find his father--and that it was funny somehow. How he's playing the detective and checking his mother for clues to whether he's on right track or not.
Yeah, it's not even that he so much seeks to find his father, it's also that once he finds his biological father, he's not so impressed and so seeks to find a better father to replace him with. You then having him do such things as approaching a Nobel-Prize winning physicist and claiming to be his son...
That one was sort of hit or miss for me, Rebecca. And I'd actually be somewhat surprised if SouthernBookLady hasn't read it, as I believe I first came across it over at BookBalloon. But the whole slice of life/vignette thing about wacky, zany flawed but lovable drunks just rubbed me the the wrong way at times. I'm not particularly sure why, but I'm guessing that having spent an overly large portion of my life hanging out in/working in/and sitting in bars has left me with whatever the opposite of a "romanticised" view of the places would be.
Have you ever read Jesus' Son? A bit less warmhearted, yet not something quite so bleak as Bukowski (which may be about as true to life as it gets at times), but... The Barry kept reminding me of the Johnson.
I'd look into Jesus' Son. It's still my fave by him.
Smart's book is a rare experience, too extravagantly passionate for tepid responses. I loved it but I can easily imagine people hating it. The "real life" story behind the book is romantic, dramatic, tragic and in the end, perhaps even tragicomic. In her twenties, as a student in England, she comes upon a book of poetry and falls in love with the author, sight unseen (he's in Japan). They begin corresponding and she eventually pays for him and his wife to join her in California. Smart and George Barker embark on a tortured affair (he's Catholic! He won't divorce!) that will eventually produce four children... actually, Barker was a complete hound dog and had--as far as I can tell--seven other children with several other women, and possibly one or two with his legitimate. (He's Catholic! Wearing a rubber is a worse sin than producing a dozen kids and abandoning them to fend for themselves!)
I don't know, maybe there's some bio or something out there making a case for the chap... if so, it doesn't seem it will be his immortal poetry taking the defence stand.
Kids aside (if their dad could, so can I), this luxurious, strange, strangling and embracing, overheated book must be worth some measure of Smart's suffering.
I have to skip saying anything about Levertov's book, I don't know how to talk about poetry because I don't know how to think about poetry. Poetry is to me like food--eaten, shared without mediation, in silence. I hated analysing poetry in school and thought I hated poetry. I'm still overcoming the old resistance.
I can say though that while I liked a poem, line, turn of the phrase here and there, I don't think Levertov is a poet to my taste.
I want to give you
something I’ve made
some words on a page--as if
to say ‘Here are some blue beads’
or, ‘Here’s a bright red leaf I found on
the sidewalk’ (because
to find is to choose, and choice
is made. But it’s difficult:
so far I’ve found
nothing but the wish to give. Or
copies of old words? Cheap
and cruel; also senseless:
this instead, perhaps--a half-
I ever write a poem of a certain temper
(willful, tender, evasive,
sad & rakish)
I’ll give it to you.
My recent reading...
Affinity by Sarah Waters -
Pretty good, though at times I'd felt like I was being bludgeoned over the head with a metaphor stick. Kept me turning the pages pretty quickly to the end (I was off by one on the "twist" in the plot, but...) I'm also not sure that the book works structurally (that it's honest on its own dishonest terms? Something like that...)
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi -
A pretty sweet little graphic novel (Am I allowed to post such things here?) I don't know. As much as I understand the impetus and the blending of the ostensibly "high" and "low" here, I'm still having trouble viewing it as much more than slight. Which isn't to say that I disliked it, but it was still something that was relatively easily gone through.
I've got a couple of others going on at the moment, but I'm not sure where I'm at with most of them at all, so... I'll wait to see what happens if/when I complete them.
>35 Jesse_wiedinmyer: How dare you sully this very serious literature group with a graphic novel??? ;) I have a couple of Marjane Satrapi's GNs; I like her writing more than her illustration, but I'm not sure why. I think the only other GN I have by a female author is Alison Bechdel's Fun Home (another queer lit syllabus item).
I'm noticing things about Galbraith/Rowling's writing in The Cuckoo's Calling, and it's tripping me up. Not connecting it/her to HP books, but noting mechanisms and wondering why she chose to write certain types of scenes in a way that feels, to me, jarring. I'm into the story, but obviously not truly sucked in, or else I'd be reading instead of posting here.
I've yet to read that one, but... I don't think there's much in the way of graphic novels that have done much for me. Then again, I very rarely do much in the way of looking at the pictures. Maus and Rent Girl are the two that come to mind as GN's that I enjoyed. I think the Satrapi didn't benefit from the fact that I'd recently read Persian Mirrors: the Elusive Face of Iran, so a lot of what Persepolis contained ended up being a sort of rehash.
I've actually got a copy of one of the later books out of the library, at the moment (The Night Watch?). But I think that may be part of the metaphor complaint. The story/plot seemed sort of secondary to the "let's use these characters to illustrate Victorian-era repression" at times. While reading it, I couldn't help but think of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" a lot of the time.
Now in the current reads stack, penned by women:
Alice Munro's Runaway (an ongoing project to reread her stories chronologically),
Andrea Routley's debut collection Jane and the Whales,
Heather O'Neill's The Girl Who Was Saturday Night,
Elizabeth Renzetti's Based on a True Story,
and Alice Walker's The World Will Follow Joy.
(I always have an assortment of books underway, cuz I'm a moody reader and when I'm on the move I prefer smaller books so leave the heavy/large ones at home for later.)
Thanks for the tips. I'm receptive to poetic prose myself but it's not often I come across something fuelled by this much stark lived experience.
I remember feeling sorry for Angelica... I had somehow thought Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell had a longer, real affair, but apparently that was not the case. Making her more of an "accident" than a love child.
If you enjoy the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency books, I think you'll like Alexi's series. Similarly, quietly strong, good, and gentle people overcome injustice and evil-doers amongst them. Both provide the reader with local color and cultural insight.
Right now I'm reading Fanny Burney's Evelina; an epistolary novel of 18th C British manners a la Jane Austen but featuring a much less dynamic heroine than any of Austen's protagonists. But the likeness of the two authors goes beyond subject matter. There's even a young swain named Willoughby in this novel, who I'm sure is going to prove the same kind of cad as Austen's ditto. Authorial rip-off?
and I just finished a book of essays by Janet Malcolm, Forty-One False Starts that included an essay about Bloomsbury and that was the first I had heard about Angelica. She doesn't come across as that sympathetic in the essay, although I guess she wasn't at all happy.
Lola and Rebecca -- I'm not finished the book yet, and haven't even got to her relationship with Bunny where things will get really weird, but so far there seems that a lot of her reflections are about trying to work out her relationship with her mother and of Vanessa's influence on her. Vanessa was a negligent mother in many ways and it often seems as if her life goal is to just be unconventional. Angelica was raised among adults--odd and very intelligent adults at that--and knew few other children. When she finally went away to boarding school, Vanessa arranged that Angelica didn't write any exams. She says that as a child she was greatly loved, but given little guidance in her life, and as a result often behaved poorly.
Here's one especially interesting thing she has to say about her mother and Duncan: "But Vanessa knew exactly what she wanted. She persuaded Duncan to give her a child, prepared to take the responsibility on herself provided he remained close to her. For her he was a genius, his offspring destined to be exceptional." Clive Bell apparently knew exactly what was going on. It appears that Duncan was Vanessa's artistic soul mate for many years after their brief affair concluded. So it doesn't appear that Angelica was an accident, but I wouldn't call her a love child either. At least if Angelica herself is to be believed.
Anyway, I do have sympathy for her and she will always be that charming little girl from "The Hours"
I was first introduced to Bloomsbury through Lytton Strachey's biography by Michael Holroyd and (at the same time) Woolf's diaries, letters and several bios ('twas a period of utter bedazzlement), so all the "facts" were there, but not much from Vanessa's and especially Duncan Grant's POV. At the time Clive was already for years in a serious relationship with Mary McCarthy (married to Desmond), everybody knew that. Apparently he and Vanessa had an understanding. At any rate, they were friendly and open about interest in other people--Vanessa, for instance, had already had her great affair with Roger Fry.
What was new to me from Deceived with kindness, was the sense that Grant was less than a 100% willing sex partner, at least for anything longer than a tumble. I mean, obviously he was homosexual, but I assumed up till then that Angelica and the lifelong co-habitation with Vanessa was a result of some deeper attachment. Not a one night stand or whatever it was.
As for Vanessa being a negligent mother, I admit my bias the size of a house and prefer to think she wasn't, or at least that wherever she may have failed, her strength was exceeded by everybody's constant demands on her. Unconventional or not, she was still a wife, a mother to two boys (besides Angelica), sister to a VERY demanding and draining Virginia, struggling with endless money trouble, AND she was trying to have a serious career as a painter. That's a lot for anybody's plate.
David Garnett is a weird figure. What sort of man marries his lover's daughter? But then, what sort of woman marries her father's lover, who is himself old enough to be her father? Freud would have a field day here.
At least she lost her illusions quickly.
But then, what sort of woman marries her father's lover, who is himself old enough to be her father? Freud would have a field day here.
I haven't made it to that part of the book yet, but I always understood that she didn't know until after they were married. If that's not true, well, yikes.
I find it impossible to believe that she didn't know about the relationship--that was the background of her life. Grant and Garnett. That's why Garnett was even present in her life. Nor is it credible that she might have misunderstood the nature of their relationship, not in the intellectually and sexually frank "Bloomsbury".
True, people of any age are great at fooling themselves, and the young excel at it. But at some level she must have known.
That much--that expectation that she knew, anyway--was also clearly there among others, as seen in various letters by various characters preceding the marriage. There was much consternation and open hostility, and, although I don't remember who exactly talked to whom, various interventions to talk out of it both Angelica and Garnett.
Incidentally, I wouldn't want to leave the impression that I find such a relationship objectionable on principle--let consenting adults do what they please is my motto--it's simply that she was so young and inexperienced (whatever she may have "known") and that Garnett doesn't seem to have been motivated by pure love. There's some murky getting back at Grant there--maybe from both of them, as it were.
By the way, I realise this looks like wallowing in gossip, ancient though it is, and that may very well be true. But I must say that anyone seeking to explore "la comédie humaine" would be as well served by the fascinating Bloomsbury as by Balzac (better, IMO).
They thrill me endlessly, their friendships and passions, art, books, hopes for the future, dreams, experiments, work--and all of it documented in scribomaniacal detail, to which decades added secondary studies etc. It is a monument, a wonder, and a marvel.
If you can think of the whole mass as one giant novel (postmodern no doubt)--containing art and country houses and treatises on economics and international politics and ballet and now movies too--it might be more tempting. (Or frightening!)
It's that view that made it the one huge exception to my "no bios" inclination. But it's not just poking around in someone's private life, it's social and cultural history of modernity.
And the characters do become characters in a novel, with unprecedented opportunity to hear their own voices. It's like what Bakhtin called Dostoevsky's "polyphony"--only ACTUAL, real life.
Although the prose is no better than serviceable and the plot very simple, I didn't find the story boring--probably because I felt like I finally grasped some basic tenets of spiritualism I had always found too tedious to absorb straight, but also because of some refreshingly feminist-y touches where and when they were least expected.
The plot: poor and innocent orphan Veronica Mainwaring answers an ad for a secretarial post with a Mr. Lucas and is promptly hired. Happy to escape starvation, she is slow to question the reasons and circumstances of her hiring but pretty soon even she can't help noticing something odd is going on. No wonder, her superficially attractive but sinister employer with fascinating eyes is using her as a medium in a quest to further his vast ambition for occult power--and thwart his enemies.
When Veronica tries to escape, she discovers she has been psychically hobbled--there is an imaginary, but to her very real, chain around her neck.
Mr. Lucas is on The Left Path, the Sinister Way, a black magician who "has said to evil, 'be thou my good'". Such people's power lies in being Separate--but what is this?! A budding tie between himself and his hapless victim threatens to ruin him for good, I mean, evil.
I'll say no more because spoilers etc. and it's a tale thin enough--but entertaining, instructive, and in places even truly horrific.
The Pursuit of Love ~ Nancy Mitford
Love in a Cold Climate ~ Nancy Mitford
The Life of Elizabeth I ~ Alison Weir
Dawn ~ Octavia Butler
Adulthood Rites ~ Octavia Butler
Imago ~ Octavia Butler
When the Emperor Was Divine ~ Julie Otsuka
The Women of Brewster Place ~ Gloria Naylor
The Naylor, 2nd Mitford and the Butler series were the standouts.
Finished on commute today Fleur Jaeggy's short and elegant I beati anni del castigo--"Sweet days of discipline" in English translation--a chilly and mutely sad story about the friendship (or failed love) of two teenage girls in a boarding school in Switzerland. I don't know why these boarding school love stories are always so... sinister in flavour. Anyway, nothing horrible happens--in fact, nothing happens at all, first they are friends, a new girl shows up who distracts one of them away, the other's father dies and she leaves the boarding school, prompting the straying sheep to declare her love at the very last moment, to no good whatsoever.
I don't think this is a spoiler--you know off the bat the relentless gloom can only spell doom.
I am less interested in the male narrator's chapters, but we can't have it all, I suppose.
I read another novel of hers a few years back and am liking Americanah much more.
This one has been in-process at my local library for quite some time. I'd definitely be up for hearing your take when you've settled into it a bit more.
Wow, Ms. Lee was really cool. Her work was, however, done later that the period in The Poisoner's Handbook and in Boston, whereas The Poisoner's Handbook is strictly New York.
Wouldn't it be cool if someone published a good picture book of Lee's work? I'd love to puzzle out those crime scenes!
My library has one copy. And one that's currently being processed to be added to the shelves. And that's the only title by Adichie they have... What are the ethics of flooding the purchase request inbox with a couple of hundred titles?
Edit - And I just now realised that I'd read Half of A Yellow Sun a few years back.
Yes, I was on the waiting list two months to get Americanah from the library. Meanwhile, when I read Purple Hibiscus a couple years ago, I just pulled it off the shelf. She's made quite the mark with this book!
I am almost finished through, and I'm enjoying it quite a bit. I love the chapters from the female narrator's point of view; unfortunately, I am utterly uninterested in the male narrator's chapters, and I'm not really sure why. He's just... less interesting. I think he has less depth: where Ifemelu, the female narrator, is complex, with good and bad qualities, he is purely good, and that's so boring. I am also more interested in the chapters taking place in the U.S. than those taking place in Nigeria, but not enough so that it's a problem -- I just love the social commentary blog posts interspersed in the American chapters!
I should note that I like this one more than Purple Hibiscus, which felt more like a valiant effort with a "this is my first novel" quality, and was a little under-polished/under-edited.
Overall I liked the book - probably a four out of five stars. My assessment above still stands. The ending was nothing remarkable to change my mind about the male narrator.
But I just read Sabella, and if it is representative of Lee's work, it's really not my cup of tea.
Sabella is a vampire, a twenty-something babe with no visible means of support and few ties to her Southern Gothicky born-again family, living on "New Mars"--a pink planet.
On a trip to her aunt's funeral she picks up a stranger who becomes her next victim, although she's been trying to kick the bloodsucking habit and live off fruit juice. She didn't even mean to kill the man, and did what she could to save him. She cleans up the mess, but, unfortunately, the man's older, taller, brawnier, handsomer, smarter and altogether yummier brother shows up looking for him and proceeds to abuse and terrorize Sabella. This mean SOB is, naturally, Sabella's Mr. Right. He can explain her, control her, utterly dominate her and thus bring sunshine and meaning into her life. He sneers at her, patronizes her, pushes her around, and absolutely "has" "to treat like her a child".
An irritating abusive relationship with some ornamental vaguely science-fictional trappings is justified in the last few pages:
He has to dominate me, that's essential; for I take his life's blood. The victim must be stronger than the oppressor--or he dies. He has to tell me when and how, and where to walk, and if I may, and I obey him, but that's not for always. I've been anchorless for years. I've wanted a discipline beyond myself, and needed it to show me how to master myself, and I'm learning this too, he's teaching me.
However, we are "not to think of her as his slave". To be honest, I hated thinking about them at all for the time it took me to write this out.
Which one shall it be--Night's Master, Death's Master, or maybe Storm Lord? ;)
I have not read any Gordimer either, but I read three Doris Lessing novels this year, including Martha Quest, so I may be up for some Gordimer. They are purportedly in the same style and touch on many of the same topics (colonialism, racism, the role of women in society). Lessing is from Zimbabwe (Rhodesia, then) however.
Now reading Elaine Pagels' Beyond belief: the secret gospel of Thomas, because it caught my glance on the way out.
I heard Pagels lecture twice, on Satan, and Judas.
I'm considering a reread of Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace (she's a real favourite but I've never reread this one), but in the meantime, I've settled into Gabrielle Roy's The Tin Flute.
I liked Purple Hibiscus at the time but loved Americanah last year. It completely swept me away, and I gulped nearly all of it, then panicked near the end, forcing myself to read only a chapter a day until it was done. Then, I missed them.
i haven't ever read lee so take this with a carton of salt, but i've heard from a lot of people (she is almost exclusively purchased by female readers in my shop) that she writes strong, independent female characters. has even put out a few ya books for girls. maybe this one was an anomaly?
Unfortunately I don't have that one. I read the first part of Sapphire Wine at bedtime and I believe that will be it (I do mean to finish) for me and Lee.
So far, there's humour and a more interesting background to the story, making it a considerably more entertaining read than Sabella, but Lee's take on the sexes is so clichéd (and dated) I find it rather offputting. Since the context is a world in which characters change sex at will, her inability or unwillingness to snap out of the sexist model is especially disappointing.
The narrator doesn't tell us his name (so far), so I'll call him Anon. Anon has been a male unusually long now, although "he" is "predominantly female" (a friend's judgement, with which Anon seems to--reluctantly--agree). Anon and all his friends are the youth, the teenagers ("Jang") in a society which has banished death, and their only business is pleasure. The world at large is run by Committees of robots and "Older Persons", and machines take care of all the work and maintenance necessary--including that of keeping humans infinitely alive by transferring souls to new bodies. As boredom is infinite too, there are some breakdowns and lots of suicides, the latter doing harm only momentarily, as distress-detecting robots inevitably swoop in and the victim merely emerges with a new body.
The plot is set in motion when Anon's old flame Danor returns to this particular dome-city. Conveniently, Danor show up as a female--there are no gay pairings in this world and (Lee's?) homophobia is evident in that itself as well as in hints, thanks for asking. Danor has remained intriguing to Anon because she was "frigid". Sort of a thing that sticks in the mind of a youngster known for his sexual prowess.
Danor, Anon and Danor's very funny mutant pet swan evade the rest of Anon's circle and go off for a quiet heart-to-heart over drinks. Danor has a story to tell--a love story. She was in this other place, and she was male, brooding in a park or some such, about her/his frigidity, what else. An Older (male) Person approached her as if he knew her (him), which he didn't. The geezer, called Kam, mistook Danor for his son, for a moment (NOT A HUSTLER), and wistfully shared his tale of parental ("maker's") woe, about how little he saw him, how the Other Maker got the son's guardianship--and Danor, complete stranger that he/she is, immediately twigs onto this unknown woman's nefarious plan to estrange the son from his father, and pities Kam profoundly. So they take to each other like you wouldn't believe, in a strictly platonic, son-fatherly way, and decide to live together, Kam mentoring this young man and introducing him to girls and whatnot, until Danor tells him he is "predominantly female" and due for a change and is going out for a minute to pick up a curvier etc. body.
So that happens and the inevitable, too, happens, and they are as happy as two people with a thirty-plus years age gap who behaved like they were related can be... when society's judgement leans on them and persuades Kam to stop "ruining" Danor's young life. Oh, the plight of the older man who needs to bang girls young enough to be his daughters! We don't pay it enough attention... in lit and real life.
But the big payoff here falls Anon's way. Danor is no longer frigid, au contraire. I wish I could tell you exactly what magic Kam had wrought, but the text only has:
"All that marrying business, " Danor said, "All that delay. Part of me always knew I was spontaneous. He taught me that."
Don't know about you, but in context (she had just returned with her new bod and gave Kam a kiss), I'm deciphering this as a quickie in the doorway. Wellll, maybe they managed to shut the door first. So, Danor is the kind of girl foreplay puts off. Stuff wet dreams are made of.
(I'll stop in a moment...)
Unfortunately, Anon's so-called "friends" are in a real tizzy about the two of them slipping away like that, and having sex without marrying, and everyone throws tantrums, until Anon is fighting an anachronistic duel with Zirk, the mountain of muscle.
The good things: the mild satire of what a society devoted to teenage pleasure might be, Lee's decent technical skill (don't knock this as faint praise in the age of "Twilight" and even worse), the jaunty, easily flowing storytelling and have I mentioned the swan?
The bad things: gender essentialism, misogynistic stereotypes and homophobia. I'll wait to finish the book to comment on the first and the third, in case something "develops".
On women, unfortunately, I don't see my judgement changing--every character who takes on a female form is in this female form a pointedly ugly stereotype. There's
--the feline Tintha (who is ALWAYS female), who is not only cat-like and catty, she is the craziest of cat ladies, with hundreds filling her home. She doesn't speak, she "meows".
--Kley as a woman is a venomous vindictive viper, a harpy seeking revenge because her advances were rebuffed.
--Mirri is sex-mad and unscrupulous in catering to her sexual appetite. She was male at the time of Anon's duel (maleness chosen only in a fit of pique), and as the thrilling spectacle renewed her desire for Anon (how like a woman to get hot at the sight of blood), s/he precipitated a body change by a suicide--which Anon speculates was "again" an overdose of food injections. (How like a woman to kill herself by eating...)
--Zirk the bulging body builder, while no idol as a male, in female form becomes vicious and ridiculous--I mean slapstick, stamping her little feet and falling-off-her-high-heels ridiculous.
Finally, there's Hatta, a curious character I very faintly hope might yet change my impression of Lee's homophobia. Hatta chooses hideous male bodies, the uglier the better. The reason for this is unclear, but we are told that he loves Anon, and that once, when he changed into a lovely girl, they had the Jang version of drunken, should-have-known-better sex. Apparently Hatta "really" loves Anon, Anon can't hack it, and I with my sudosykological superpowers deduce that Hatta is externalizing his reaction to Anon's rejection by making himself deliberately repulsive.
Anon's lady love Danor is the only woman not caricatured, not that she has any more depth. She's gorgeous, that's about it.
All the women are partial to see-through costumes and pasties. Anon affects a Byronic, damned poet look (no wonder everyone wants to sleep with him...)
I'm also not happy that the worst Jang swearwords translate (in the glossary provided) as "cunt".
I've found that ideas on what is a "strong" female character can vary greatly. I guess I won't get to know Lee's output better. I sure hope whatever she writes for a YA audience is different from what I've seen so far...
Your criticisms are quite true, but the books were written in the late 1970s and, compared to most of the books of the period, they were remarkable in even considering that a person could have a variable gender identity.
Still, I can totally understand not wanting to read her - everyone only has so much time, and sometimes one just doesn't want to revisit the bad old days. There are some really pivotal writers that I just can't put up with, even though I know they were significant to readers at the time.
I still haven't finished, but I don't get the feeling that Lee is going to come anywhere near to, say, Le Guin's exploration of gender identity--I think The left hand of darkness was published in the seventies too?
Btw, I don't mind having read these, it's definitely at least instructive! I was a kid in the seventies and this is a history lesson of sorts, of general culture and feminism and science fiction itself.
I got several oldie paperback Shirley Jacksons in my last haul. It surprised me what a good writer she was. (Only read We have always lived in a castle so far.)
A favourite! One of the biggest ever! Possibly the most beautiful novel ever written by anyone anywhere!
But now it's open and next to my reading chair. There's a good interview with her in Bust Magazine:
>95 sparemethecensor: I enjoyed the lectures about writing and "The Lottery" that were included in Come Along with Me, but I haven't read any of her other nonfiction.
I liked The Sundial quite a bit. What a great satire of group dynamics and pretension!
i've been pushing my book group to read shirley jackson soon. i think i've convinced them to read hill house in oct for halloween, but maybe we should go with we have always lived in the castle. i haven't read anything besides the lottery by her, which i read in high school over 20 years ago. thoughts on which we should read?
She's determined not to give in easily, though, and builds a garden, makes pets. This development is caught by the media and soon she gets company. Danor and geezer Kam, reunited, show up first, then a bunch of silly Jang looking for real life, then some others, including someone who chose Anon's own previous gorgeous damned-poet body pattern for his own, causing a narcissistic crush (a funny touch, this, I liked).
Who is this teaser? (
Some things happen and Anon sort of learns that beauty is only skin deep and real life rocks more than sapphire wine.
That's OK; what wasn't OK, for me, was the continued stereotyping of femininity, now given even worse emphasis with Anon being one (previously one could argue those girls were seen through the eyes of a silly teenage boy), and masculinity for that matter, although as usual men are stereotyped as something nicer than women--they are strong and manly and protective and good at science--women are generally rubbish, either weeping or eating or wanting sex (so they could mother babies).
But the most disappointing was the complete lack of any thinking about what the premise of changing sexes might entail. They went mechanically from one body to another with a set of rules that, like I said, implied homophobia--only straight desire exists, and only straight people.
Obviously any writer is free to create such a world if they so please--what bothers me is that it made no sense according to Lee's own logic of relationships. If Hatta, for instance, had loved only Anon while existing in either male or female bodies (and loved Anon when Anon was either male or female) then this obviously implies a fluid change of instincts, going from homo to hetero and back etc.
But instead, Lee insists on characters only feeling desire for the people of opposite sex, meaning that (with the exception of Hatta) they stop being in love with the person they were in love with just hours before.
That's it for fluff for now.
Dang - now I'm going to have to go back and read that sucker again. I remember thinking the duology was very revolutionary when I was a kid - but, heck, I was a kid . . .
But if you decide to reread, I'd be very interested in hearing your impressions, and whether anything has changed and how.
My finished reads for the past two weeks...
Golden State ~ Michelle Richmond
Briskly paced, and well-plotted, but I found actually connecting very deeply with any of the characters to be not the easiest thing. Richmond tells the story of a day in the life of a California doctor (and a hectic day it is), as her marriage (shattered at the loss of a foster child) and the Union (as in, California votes on whether or not to Secede) go to pieces, while she helps deliver the love child of her semi-estranged (responsible for the loss of aforementioned foster child) sister in the midst of a hostage crisis at her workplace when a damaged previous lover comes finally goes over the edge . I like some of the conclusions drawn, and it's pretty well done for what it is, but it does seem to be a bit much at times.
An Unquiet Mind ~ Kay Redfield Jamison
Jamison is one of the world's foremost authorities on Bipolar Disorders (what used to be called manic-depression) and is also has struggled with the disorder herself. This is her memoir of her struggles with the illness and its affect on her life. Touches on many basic themes wrt modern psychiatry and neuroscience (talk/medical therapy, neurodiversity, meeting the patient on the patient's terms.) Has a sharp wit at times, but could be a bit bloodless in spots.
How I Came Into My Inheritance: And Other True Stories ~ Dorothy Gallagher
Not even sure what to say about this one. Daughter of immigrant Jews offers memoir (and autobiographical fiction) on life with her family. Could be very bleakly and darkly funny, but also felt stretched thin at times. An easy enough read, and made me chuckle at times, but it also seemed a bit too played for effect at points.
Breath, Eyes, Memory ~ Edwidge Danticat
Probably the standout for the past two weeks. Danticat's novel traces a young woman's path through growing up in Haiti, on to her move to New York to be reunited with her mother, and back to Haiti as she deals with her family's past. The book is ostensibly drawn from an autobiographical essay Danticat wrote. The narrator, Sophie, is the child produced by the rape of her mother in Haiti. The shadows of that act, as well as the Haitian premium placed on feminine virginity (and the cultural practice of "Virginity Testing") inform the whole novel.
Family drama!!! Now there's a necessary trigger warning...
I can imagine. Was Jane Jacobs right about the Dark age ahead?
I have a couple books by Greer but haven't read her so far (partly skimmed the monograph on boys...)
Noting Danticat for a Haiti jag before I die.
I was actually looking for some Carrie, and the male fear of the powerful woman, but...
I've also read Fred Vargas' collection of three short stories about Inspector Adamsberg, Coule la Seine. These are too short to be favourably compared to the novels, but even so they manage to shine through with what I've come to think of as her trademark: eccentrics, and old people. She is great at creating curious characters, and unique (that I've seen, which may not be saying much) in routinely using characters in their seventies and eighties, and representing them as vigorous, energetic, capable etc.
A third trait of Vargas' I like is her skill at exploiting the mysterious--I mean the supernatural as both legend and mood.
And fourthly, there's the usually facile, but sometimes Zen-like philosophy, exuding chiefly from Adamsberg but clearly animating the author's larger point of view as well.
In Carmen Boullosa's The miracle worker a young and beautiful virgin has the power of granting wishes to clients, by dreaming them healthy, rich, beloved etc. The litany of miseries that need rectification gives a picture of the reigning poverty and wretchedness. One day, a wily politician tricks the saint into dreaming him in power, which disgusts her so much that she gives up her miracle-working, and virginity for good measure.
I can't help wishing this plot had been treated like more of a farce, because the promise of comedy is rich, but, as it seems Boullosa was heavily alluding to real people and politics in Mexico, perhaps she wasn't in the mood for laughter.
Claire Castillon's Les bulles (Bubbles) is a collection of nasty-toned vignettes illustrating instances of isolation of the characters, almost all women speaking or being spoken about in first person. The isolating circumstance--the "bubble" in each story--can be situational, but ultimately derives from character conflict, lack of understanding or communication--with others, but occasionally with oneself.
Oddly enough, given what one might expect with such a short format, the few that were funny struck me as "deeper" than most, which seemed like no more than a sneer.
For example, in "Sharla" a couple is making love, the man insisting that the woman "talk", and the woman insisting on misunderstanding him, talking about inanities, describing the room when he wants a description of the "scene" they are making, or telling him that his penis ("describe it!") is round and like a broom, but shorter. When she puts on a "Chinese" accent, he comes ('Say you love it!' I replied: 'Yes, I love you'.) He wants fantasy, she wants reality, in between the truth may be that their love is a lie.
Grotesque is almost as good as Kirino's Out, but giving voice to a few individual characters rather than having one omniscient narrator results in a story that seems less tight and directed, especially since all four characters are lost in some way within the strictures of Japanese society. The Japanese women are still a vulnerable underclass, and the Chinese man struggles with the horrific traumas of his past in China and the isolation he faces as a foreigner in Japan.
The first narrator is the unnamed elder sister of the preternaturally beautiful Yuriko. Yuriko and a classmate of narrator's, the clever but unattractive Kazue Sato, have been murdered, presumably by the same man, Zhang the Chinese immigrant. Both Yuriko and Kazue were prostitutes, although the latter had a "day" job in a reputable company and was indeed a well-educated, highly paid professional, who used prostitution as a vent for some undefined psychological problems. The anonymous narrator says in one place that the difference between Yuriko and Kazue was that Yuriko loved sex but hated men, while with Kazue it was the opposite.
The overall message seems to be that as a woman in Japan you are fucked no matter what: "monstrous" beauty or high quality brains, it all comes to nought ground by the steely demands that one be young, look young, and above all, serve.
What the women want is of no consequence. Whatever the women want, they will be used and destroyed. A self-described "nymphomaniac" like Yuriko and an isolated high achiever like Kazue meet the same lonely end through the same means.
Interestingly, a minor female character, the intelligent and cheerful Mitsuru, is given a reprieve in that she at least survives and develops a tie endowed with some humanity and affection, but not before she endured a calvary of her own--and the tie, in the end, being with an ex-professor in his seventies, may not be exactly what girlish dreams are made of.
It seems that the English translation garbles the end, though, through abridgement or something--most infuriating. It's the same thing with some of Haruki Murakami's books, although I don't care much about him. I wish the publishers didn't do that.
I have Breath, Eyes, Memory on the TBR shelf. I'm pulling it out to read next. Thanks for the reminder! I read a lot of books about different cultures.
Who has read Farewell, Fred Voodoo : a letter from Haiti by Amy Wilentz and/or Claire of the sea light also by Edwidge Danticat?
Any favorable recommendations?
Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson. Historical fiction set in Vienna, 1911
Fin & Lady by Cathleen Schine. Greenwich Village in the 60s (Fic)
In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer Irene Opdyke. Memoir of a Polish girl, WWII
Venetia Georgette Heyer. Regency romance
Jinx's Magic Sage Blackwood. fantasy; first in the series was Jinx
Ludie's Life Cynthia Rylant. narrative poetry, life in WV coal-mining community
Stitching Stars; the Story Quilts of Harriet Powers Mary Lyons. Read after Invention of Wings which had a story quilt theme.
Charles Dickens: the Man Who Had Great Expectations. Beautifully illustrated by Diane Stanley
Currently reading Phantom Instinct by Meg Gardiner (thriller) and
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (award-winning YA speculative fiction)
I like variety!
Can you tell me more about The Pickup? The reviews are not convincing me to read it.
"I found Julie to be utterly insufferable."
"felt like the author just wanted to make the point that "Hey! Some women lie about sexual harassment!""
I read The Pickup about 3 years ago... Most of all I liked the African experience - both the contemporary urban scene and Arab desert settlement.
It's an unusual love story with two very different people coming together. Both long for escape and identity, but there is economic disparity, and they have different goals, ambitions and level of confidence. The novel follows their path and choices to reveal whether 'love conquers all' - or not.
Others (by women) set in, or about Africa that I liked -
Cry of the Kalahari
The Eye of the Elephant: An Epic Adventure in the African Wilderness
Secrets of the Savanna: Twenty-three Years in the African Wilderness all by Mark and Delia Owens
Witch Doctor's Wife by Tamar Myers
Long Walk to Water by Linda Park
Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer
Caravan by Dorothy Gilman
Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (and, not as good, the sequel, The Book of Not
The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah
Purple Hibiscus and Half of Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
And, not about Africa, but written by an African woman living in England, Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi
Thanks for the recommendations. I've been making a point of reading African novels recently -- Uwen Akpan and NoViolet Bulawayo have been my two most recent authors. I'll have to check out your recommendations.
I've read three novels by Helen Oyeyemi and I found them all quite disappointing. She's a wonderful writer and all of her books are engrossing for the first couple of chapters, but then they fizzle out. It's one thing for a novel to be weak throughout, but for her, it broke my heart each time because what started out so promising fell apart.
Tender and graceful whimsical fairy tale-ish vignettes and short stories featuring talking colours, everyday objects, kids etc. Most are romantic, dealing with love and friendship.
i'm closing in on halfway through west of then and am interested in what she has to say but am not liking the structure of it at all.
I'm reading Pensons ailleurs by Nicole Lapierre, a collection of musings and biographical information about "outsiders", from Montaigne to Edward Said, who straddled different worlds, or felt removed, in one way or another, from their own world. She's only mentioned two women so far (Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil), which is ridiculously low, and not at all warranted by the subject matter.
I really like the way she reads and critiques literature, her pop culture addiction not withstanding, and it did make me search out some of the movies she discusses, since I like the way she can balance an awareness of the artistic merit of a work against the truthfulness of its narrative, and find ways to acknowledge the merits and flaws of both.
I'm actually reading Hell House for my book club's Halloween selection and it pales in comparison to The Haunting of Hill House. The frequency of irrelevant references to a character's breasts is appallingly high.
elisa.saphier - I don't know if I can pick out one thing about Hill House. It's an amalgam of things with too little concrete answers for me. What's-her-face, Eleanor?, is annoying in the extreme and she brought everything on herself. When the other two made fun of her or set her up for more of her 'manifestations', I laughed at her, too. Then there was the "official" investigation; what a crock. I just couldn't take any of it seriously. The lead battleaxe was at least entertaining. I do admit that the opening paragraph is brilliant though. Bril. liant.
I'm another reader who isn't a fan of this one. I couldn't remember why I didn't like it, so I looked at what I wrote back in 2011:
"I looked forward to this so-called horror classic because I expected it would be creepy and suspenseful without monsters or gore, and in that department it delivered. It sort of reminded me of Henry James's classic Turn of the Screw, in that it was set in an old isolated house, and had an unreliable narrator and the ghostly happenings were ambiguous. However, I really didn't find it very scary at all. The dialogue was bizarre--even in 1959, I don't think anyone ever talked that way. My Penguins Classic edition had a good 22 page academic introduction that I did find interesting."
Not a terrible review, but my memories of the book aren't as positive. I think part of that is because after The Haunting of Hill House I read Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, which worked better for me. So HoHH faded in comparison.
i was surprised that the haunting of hill house wasn't scary at all, and am not really sure why it's considered horror. but i kind of loved that part - that it was so much more about what was going on in eleanor's head than in the "manifestations" in the house. which made me, as a reader, question everything she said, because we don't know if it was happening, if she just thought it was happening, if the house was making it happen. i love the ambiguity.
And I'm sad to say that The Road Through the Wall will probably be my most hated book of the year. Didn't finish it so much as skim until something, anything happened and then it didn't really matter that it had.
So now I'm reading The House on Tradd Street by Karen White because I wanted something different, maybe with a tinge of romance, but I don't know. The 'love interest' is an immature asshat and I don't know why so many romance novels feature men who manipulate women and whose courtship is stuck at the 'pull the pigtails' stage. If my husband acted like this guy or said any of the asinine things that come out of his mouth, I would have laughed in his face, not be secretly charmed like the heroine. Oy. This is what passes for a fantasy man for women? What kind of colossal assholes are in their real lives?
ok...sorry. Got in a pre-coffee mini-rant.
one of the things i liked about hill house is the ambiguity you talk about. it leaves so much up to interpretation about what is happening - is theo really treating eleanor badly or is that just the ranting of someone who is going crazy? etc. to me, this really adds to the book. but i guess that's personal preference. and i don't want to hijack this thread or give away too many spoilers so i'll stop there...
a while back someone told me that "romance" writers were getting better at writing strong female characters who don't like men like you're describing. i sincerely hope that's true but i have my doubts...
The romance-y book I read was published in 2008 I think. The funny thing is that when the 'bad guy' grabs the heroine's arm to prevent her leaving, the 'hero' objects. When he did it (3 or 4 times) it was perfectly ok. Oy.
Earlier this year, I read her first novel, So Much Pretty, which is a mystery set in rust belt upstate New York. The reviews for this book were staunchly divided; many people disliked the nonlinear storytelling, but I enjoyed it and thought it lent an interesting fractured element to the tale.
so interesting. it felt perfectly intentional and expertly done to me.
and you know, it's ok because he knows he's the good guy. as evidenced by him saying he's the good guy. (like in nelson demille's books - his hero is allowed to be racist and sexist because he's the good guy, so it's a "safe" kind of racism and sexism. you know. it doesn't hurt anybody when the good guys do it.)
Also in commute, two Josephine Tey mysteries, because the Penguin re-editions with classic striped green covers looked so pretty, A shilling for candles and The singing sands. Unfortunately I dropped both somewhere in the middle, and just skimmed through last parts. The mysteries were weak and, while Tey is technically much better than a stereotypical genre writer, various snooty attitudes and lucubrations on race and class put me off.
Heilbrun sees "androgyny" (not to be confused with physical hermaphroditism) as humankind's essential virtue, through whose abuse, defects and lack pretty much all self-imposed problems of civilization come into being. An "androgynous" spirit balances and values in balance what are traditionally designated as "feminine" and "masculine" traits, thus providing the widest possible range of freedom to individual expression.
This is explained in contrast to various periods and fashions that imposed restrictions (and penalties) on the androgynous spirit, such as the Victorian era with its caricatural segregation of male and female domains, and the war/postwar decades 1930s-1960s, the heyday of (mostly male) authors who'd drank too deeply at the well of Freudian bullshit: Mailer, Roth, Bellow etc.
I actually picked this up just to find a reference and got dragged in as I started mentally exclaiming "yes exactly!" every few phrases. It's easy reading, concentrating on books rather than theory, so I'd recommend it as an introduction to a viewpoint that aids the establishment of harmony rather than antagonism of the sexes, through emphasis on the infinite nuances of actual, real, living human experience and identity.
And for fans of Bloomsbury, there's a lovely chapter discussing it as a founding example of an "androgynous" society in action.
that was really interesting, thanks!
(and i wanted to say - i didn't feel likehenry james gave his female characters all that much depth, even though they were the main characters, in the turn of the screw (but then i just really didn't like the book much at all so could remember it with that cast) but more importantly that em forster's a room with a view is absolutely wonderful with equally drawn men and women. highly recommend that one as it's also laugh out loud funny and actually about a young woman coming into her own and finding herself.)
There is a section in Jane Smiley's Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel where she discusses the "problem of women". I must go back and reread it. This is what I think writers like James and Thomas Hardy and the like were addressing with their female characters--not women as people or individuals but the problem of the gender as a whole. I'm writing this on my tablet and not expressing myself well but I'll reread that section and try to post a followup.
Just finished two books by men that portrayed women very negatively, and I think unfairly. Male writers are still struggling with the "problem of women".
Heilbrun discusses The Portrait of a lady as the first novel in which Woman as Hero (not to be confused with a mere "heroine") appears.
...there have been what we may call women heroes before the age of "modern" literature. But the Woman as Hero is more frequent in great modern literature precisely because the peculiar tension that exists between her apparent freedom and her actual relegation to a constrained destiny is a tension experienced also by men in the modern world.
In short, Heilbrun marks the point in which woman became a possible metaphor for man at around 1880, with the appearance of Ibsen and James' novels.
What she says about Woman as Hero is exactly what I was feeling but could never properly express for years--that far from being a "special" case, it is woman who is the obvious universal subject, through whose destiny one might gain insight, courage, and redemption. It is woman who is a natural tragic hero, the underdog, the quester, the rebel, the striver... no comparison to any male counterpart.
Fucking Hamlet thought he had problems; let's see him deal with Ophelia's set of cards.
Regarding Forster, she discusses Angela Quested in The passage to India, who acquires the dignity of personhood through ridicule she deliberately draws to herself after having acted meanly, and repented of what she had done.
I just wanted to see that again.
I'm reading Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine. It's beautifully written but I find I'm having a hard time really getting into it. Hopefully that will change once I get past the introduction of all the characters, which has been going on for the first 20 pages or so.
From there, I moved on to A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf, which is something I've been wanting to read for quite some time. It's short enough that it could easily be read in a single day but I haven't had a lot of downtime to sit with it yet. I'm hoping to finish it this weekend. At any rate, I'm already appreciating it and thinking about the topics Woolf presents.
I read Angela Carter's The Sadeian woman and the ideology of pornography but dammit I don't know where I stashed it away and thus can't consult for the remarks I wanted to make. Grrr. And I KNOW I put it somewhere LOGICAL. But apparently I changed my logic sometime in the last three weeks!
I didn't understand much of the first part, Carter's general take on pornography. In part it's because understanding of what pornography IS is so personal, but mostly I just don't think I understood her. Maybe I need more exposure to theory or something. Porn is to me something you use, not theorise about.
The good thing is, that part is relatively short, and once she starts discussing Sade's heroines it is easy to follow, even if you haven't read his books. The usual complications presented by the interaction of Sade's life and writings make it, as always, difficult to know when one is discussing the work and when the man. It is, at best, anachronistic to imagine Sade was a "feminist"--and yet, as Carter points out, his heroines are in their way "New Women"--even the endlessly victimised Justine. (When I read Justine almost thirty years ago, my first thought as I finished the book was for her amazing survival skills--including the fact that her spirit not only was never broken, it never got so much as scratched. Sade missed a trick when he failed to have Justine transform into Juliette. Or maybe that he didn't do so says something important about his goals.)
There is, of course, infinitely more to the strange Sadeian universe, but anyone baulking at the idea of plunging in, especially if interested primarily in the role of women, may prefer this as a primer on the question.