Current reads

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1sturlington
Feb 15, 2015, 1:37pm

Time for a new thread.

I am currently reading Their Eyes Were Watching God. I am relishing the lush use of language and natural imagery, and I really love Janie's character so far.

2sturlington
Edited: Feb 15, 2015, 1:37pm

{Deleted some sort of weird double post}

3jnwelch
Feb 15, 2015, 4:06pm

I liked Their Eyes Are Watching God, too.

I'm becoming a big Helen Humphreys fan, having started with The Frozen Thames, then Coventry and The Lost Garden. Now I'm reading her Evening Chorus.

4CurrerBell
Feb 15, 2015, 6:41pm

>1 sturlington: >3 jnwelch: I've read Jonah's Gourd Vine, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and some of the stories. I think I've going to give Hurston a full reread in the two volumes of the Library of America (second volume includes autobiography and folklore) along with a biography of her I've got around the house somewhere.

Personally, I prefer Nella Larsen over Hurston, but in fairness I think Their Eyes Were Watching God is the kind of book that requires at least two readings.

5sweetiegherkin
Feb 15, 2015, 8:57pm

>4 CurrerBell: Hmm, I think I prefer Their Eyes Were Watching God to the two works I read by Larsen (Quicksand & Passing), but I haven't read anything else by Hurston to make a valid comparison between the two. They were both obviously very talented novelists.

6CurrerBell
Feb 15, 2015, 10:57pm

>5 sweetiegherkin: That's strictly my personal preference. I think objectively Hurston has to be considered the greater writer because of Larsen's very limited output, with her career ending in the plagiarism scandal involving the "Sanctuary" story that she plagiarized from Sheila Kaye-Smith's "Mrs. Adis."

And yeah, much as I love Larsen, I think the plagiarism is obvious (aside from the change in the ending). If you put the two stories side-by-side, you'll see that even the dialogue is copied, except that Larsen "translated" it into Southern Black dialect. More's the pity, because with her change in ending Larsen's is definitely the better story – in contrast with Quicksand and Passing (stories of racial identity), "Sanctuary" is a story of racial solidarity and represented an apparent change in Larsen's thematic interests.

7sturlington
Feb 16, 2015, 7:11am

I haven't read Larsen. I was an English major in college 20+ years ago, and our exposure to non-white authors was pretty deplorable. I hope it's not still like that.

I previously read Huston's autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, as well as Tell My Horse, due to an interest in Caribbean religion, but never any of her fiction. She's a terrific writer. She just blows everything else I've been reading lately out of the water. I find myself wanting to highlight passage after passage.

8overlycriticalelisa
Feb 18, 2015, 12:27am

>1 sturlington:, etc: it's been a long time but i absolutely loved their eyes were watching god both times i read it. i have been wanting to do a reread so this might be a good push.

just finished a mystery/thriller by cara black for book group, the first in her series - murder in the marais. not without mistakes but a good first novel and a good writer.

tomorrow will start the turtle warrior which i think is supposed to be very serious and moving but the cover of which i keep glancing at and thinking is a little boy peeing, which i suspect is not the effect they were going for...

9sparemethecensor
Feb 18, 2015, 7:44am

>8 overlycriticalelisa: You are not alone. He does look like he's peeing.

I just finished The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke. I thought it was well-written and engaging, and I loved the way the setting of Northern Ireland impacted the characters. But then the book had a twist ending that basically made the whole thing pointless. It went from a four-star read in my mind to a two-star at best. Sigh.

10sweetiegherkin
Feb 21, 2015, 5:29pm

>6 CurrerBell: My comment was entirely my subjective opinion as well. :) Thanks for sharing more about Larsen; I had no idea about the plagiarism scandal.

11overlycriticalelisa
Feb 21, 2015, 5:52pm

finished the turtle warrior this morning. lately i've had issues with how authors - or characters in books - deal with grief, which seems a terrible thing to critique, especially as everyone handles it differently. but that was the main thing that didn't ring true for me in this book. otherwise i was pretty impressed with this. she even makes a weird (to me) choice to write this from the pov of 5 of the characters, in the first person, and then 2 other characters in omniscient 3rd person. but it works, as unusual as that is. i'm not sure how necessary it was, though...

12southernbooklady
Feb 24, 2015, 9:48am

I just finished When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams. I struggle with her, sometimes, because she's often a little too poetic and spiritual for me. But I really liked this, and the flights of metaphor didn't grate on me as much for whatever reason. I think mostly because among other things it's a book about her relationship with her mother, grandmother, and the other women in her extended family, and it comes at a time when I've been thinking a lot about my own mother and my grandmothers. And by god, Williams can tell a story when she wants to.

13jnwelch
Feb 24, 2015, 3:40pm

Reading Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Dandicat, which is very good so far.

14rebeccanyc
Edited: Mar 14, 2015, 2:19pm

Before I left on a trip, I finished the wonderfully written and perceptive Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai, and while I was away I read the intriguing and thought-provoking Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, and I've finally found time to review them.

15sparemethecensor
Mar 14, 2015, 1:59pm

>14 rebeccanyc:
Our Endless Numbered Days sounds fascinating. I'm adding it to my TBR list. Thanks.

16jnwelch
Mar 17, 2015, 4:54pm

Reading The Real Jane Austen, which is living up to the accolades. Well-researched and written.

17sparemethecensor
Mar 20, 2015, 7:15am

After reading two Alice Munro works this month, I'm beginning Oranges are not the Only Fruit. I've heard good things about this from multiple people. It's my understanding that this semi-autobiographical novel was an early pioneer in queer fiction.

18LolaWalser
Mar 20, 2015, 4:16pm

I loved Oranges. For me it's the best Winterson I've read (at least 7-8 titles, I think). It's very poetic, as is her style in general, and some don't like that, but it's also sufficiently anchored in description of real people and events that it keeps the attention on the "story" level.

19sparemethecensor
Mar 20, 2015, 5:19pm

Good to hear, Lola. I'm loving it so far. I read half the book already and it's wonderful. Beautifully written and incisive about fundamentalist parenting.

20LolaWalser
Mar 20, 2015, 5:45pm

That was amazing. I must admit I had no idea such fundy-ism had a presence in the UK too. Pentecostals, were they? I once met someone of that denomination (if that's the word) from Texas and she had horror stories to tell. She actually escaped the place where they lived, the compound or village or whatever it was, several times before succeeding finally, the first time at fifteen.

21overlycriticalelisa
Mar 20, 2015, 5:50pm

>20 LolaWalser:

pentecostals sounds right for oranges. when i learned that that book is quite true to her experience i couldn't believe it, because of the fundamentalist stuff. i think this book was my first exposure to that sort of thing and it kind of blew me away.

22sparemethecensor
Mar 21, 2015, 9:45am

I finished Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit last night. Highly recommended. It is beautifully written and so heartbreaking given its autobiographical basis. I actually liked it much more than I liked the first thing I read by her, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, which is a memoir. (Although it was the latter that inspired me to read the former, in the first place.)

Yes, they are Pentecostal. Like most books about growing up in fundamentalist religious environments, Oranges provides a fascinating glimpse into this life. I read lots of books, fiction and non, about insular communities like these; they're my catharsis the way some people read/watch horror. I thought this one was especially well done in the way that it juxtaposed pretty abnormal beliefs and actions with a child's desire for parental love.

23sparemethecensor
Mar 21, 2015, 9:46am

Next up for me is Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel, which I am reading for my work book club. Her current book is very popular, but we are starting with an earlier work.

24CurrerBell
Mar 21, 2015, 1:09pm

>22 sparemethecensor: There was a really great three-part BBC production of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit back in 1989. I've got the video of it on VHS. It seems to be available on disk on Amazon, but be careful you don't get a Region 2 disk, which won't play on most American machines.

25overlycriticalelisa
Mar 21, 2015, 2:41pm

>22 sparemethecensor:

i've been wondering how similar the two books are since oranges draws so much from her life. i'm wondering why you liked this one so much more?

26overlycriticalelisa
Mar 21, 2015, 2:43pm

am just starting no horizon is so far, which was recommend by my sister-in-law. i didn't know the byline that the touchstone (and the cover of my book) gives me and so had no idea at all what this is about. now i do, and even though it isn't written by "writers' i think i'm going to like this.

27sparemethecensor
Mar 22, 2015, 9:43am

>25 overlycriticalelisa:

They are very similar. I liked Oranges more because Normal is highly self-referential. I might like it just as much if I read it now, after reading Oranges; I probably would like it a lot if I read it after all of her other books. But it is not a good introduction to Winterson in the slightest.

I specifically remember a long passage in Normal in which she talks about a character in one of her semi-autobiographical novels who is complete fiction. The point she was making was a good one -- that in fiction we expect tropes, such as a kindly ray of light character who sees the abused narrator for who she is and provides a small amount of emotional sustenance, even though in real life most abused children do not have such a person -- but there was so much discussion of this character specifically that because I had not read what she was referencing, I didn't get as much out of it as I could have.

I also thought Oranges had a more poetic and engrossing writing style, though I don't recall much about the writing style of Normal. It may also be well-written.

28sweetiegherkin
Mar 22, 2015, 7:56pm

I stumbled upon The Adults by Alison Espach in my library on audiobook and thought it sounded interesting. I ended up hating it; very self-absorbed, selfish people who don't gain an iota of perspective at any point. Next up on audio is The Round House by Louise Erdrich. Looking forward to this one; I had taken it out of the library last month (or even the one before?) but then had to return it before I got a chance to start it, due to another patron requesting it.

In print, I'm about half way through Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro, which I'm enjoying but haven't had a lot of quiet time to sit down with so far.

29overlycriticalelisa
Mar 23, 2015, 5:31pm

>27 sparemethecensor:

thanks for the explanation. as to writing style, i suspect that she had to write quite differently when she was writing her memoir; i don't see a memoir working really well in the style she uses for her novels.

30sparemethecensor
Mar 24, 2015, 8:58pm

It has been a great string of reads for me. I've loved Oranges are not the only fruit, Last Night in Montreal, and Family History. All highly recommended novels by women writers.

Next up for me is a nonfiction book recommended by my aunt, Unthinkable: Who survives when disaster strikes. Not my normal taste in nonfiction, but I'll be interested to see if it is useful or just crackpottery.

31Nickelini
Mar 25, 2015, 1:51am

I'm reading brand new book-- Asylum: a mystery by Jeannette de Beauvoir. So far I'm really enjoying it.

32overlycriticalelisa
Apr 5, 2015, 1:33pm

and speaking of jeanette winterson, i'm starting gut symmetries, which already (on page 5) i can see is one that i'm going to have to read really slowly to understand and fully appreciate.

33southernbooklady
Apr 6, 2015, 9:20am

I just finished Everything is Wonderful by Sigrid Rausing. The author (who is now the owner of Granta, I think) spent a year in Estonia on a collective farm in 1993-1994, just after the Soviet Union fell apart, and wrote a fairly well-known account of the culture of Estonian Swedes as her dissertation for her anthropological studies. This book is a more personal account, all the things that didn't have a place in her academic work. It's a bit bleak, but it is basically an account of a people on the cusp of re-asserting their culture after the decades of systematic eradication -- first by the war, then by Soviet occupation and influence. What's most interesting about it is how much Rausing, a Swede herself, finds familiar in the people she is writing about. Despite her dedication to remain somewhat objective in her "field work" she is aware of the force of her personal reactions, and her desire to identify with the people she gets to know. It's an engaging account, in cool, thoughtful way.

34jnwelch
Apr 6, 2015, 9:27am

Sounds like a good one.

I just started Round House by Louise Erdrich, and I'm liking it.

35sweetiegherkin
Apr 8, 2015, 11:09am

>34 jnwelch: That's what I'm reading right now also. It's incredibly well written and absorbing, I'm interested to see where it will go next.

36jnwelch
Apr 8, 2015, 11:15am

>35 sweetiegherkin: Agreed, sweetiegherkin. It's the first of hers I've read, and it looks like it won't be the last.

37LolaWalser
Edited: Apr 8, 2015, 1:58pm

Oh god, I finally found and finished my book by Fagyas--the book I thought would be the "first by woman in 2015"--it wintered in my fall purse on the bottom of the closet while I, naturally, moved half a ton of books twice in the meantime looking for it!

La fabbricante di vedove (The Widowmaker) is a great quick read if you have a taste (or tolerance) for the macabre--based on true events in 1920s Hungarian village, it's a zesty fictionalised account of a slew of suspicious deaths, mostly male, mostly by arsenic poisoning.

I don't know how accurate the Wiki entry might be, but here it is, about the actual events:

Angel Makers of Nagyrév

Fagyas is very good at intertwining social commentary with the incredible proceedings, and manages to make the assassins understandable and even sympathetic, in some cases. The life of these peasant women is probably the worst on earth. Treated as literally nothing but beasts of burden and brood mares, forced into marriages more often than not, abused every which way, beaten to pulp by familiars, condescended to and ordered about by everyone else from the priest to the squire, they are as low as mud. When war gives them respite from their typically brutal husbands and, significantly, let's them experience not only independence but success in being heads of households, some find it difficult to reconcile themselves to losing it all again on husbands' return--many of whom are now sick and invalids, doing nothing but increasing the already horrendous burden on these women.

There's a monograph on the case: Tiszazug: A Social History of a Murder Epidemic; I think I'll get it. Interestingly, there seems to be at least one previous case of mass poisonings with a similar, if not exactly alike social framework, in pre-WWI Samara (then Russia), where one A. Popova poisoned or helped poison some 300 (by her own admission) abusive men, before getting executed by a firing squad.

38LolaWalser
Edited: Apr 8, 2015, 2:33pm

Also read Muriel Barbery's L'élégance du hérisson (Elegance of the hedgehog), which I thought dreadful--I can't remember when I last encountered such a pile of banalities and triteness masquerading as profundity, or a presumed attempt at depicting the acme of culture and refinement resulting in more vulgar ethnic stereotyping. Couldn't someone at least tell her that drinking jasmine tea is more of a trademark of the Chinese, not Japanese? Or to choose a name for her Japanese protagonist in a less glaringly lazy, "symbolic" way, assuming she really thought of him as a real person? Or that a truly refined person who is also truly rich, would not tell his guest exactly how much the sashimi he's feeding her costs? But because Barbery wants to stun her readers with this tidbit (does she like sashimi, or did she just gape at an expensive menu?), she lets this "refined" character commit such boorishness.

Same goes for the finale, which is of truly unbelievable stupidity. Yep, nothing snaps us out of depression and motivates to live as the death of rare dear friends, especially when we've barely just met them.

But, enough, I could snark about that book all day. Oooh, Kant is the greatest philosopher! That's it, that's ALL I have to tell you about Kant. Oooh, reading The German ideology will show you that Marx was wrong! No word about which exactly of the million things Marx wrote is wrong--all of them?--it's just a name dropped to resound on the blank-minded pages. Husserl gets a treatment, though. Phenomenology is deconstructed and tossed out the window with the help of a fat cat, in one paragraph, as we are triumphantly invited to perceive that, when all is said and done, we perceive said cat.

Oh, look, all day!

39Nickelini
Apr 8, 2015, 2:40pm

Great review of Elegance of the Hedgehog. I hope that you have my experience and forget the whole thing within days of reading it (forgotten except for a sort of queasy feeling in my stomach).

I'm half-way through the Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing, which is a much better read.

40overlycriticalelisa
Apr 8, 2015, 3:27pm

>38 LolaWalser:, >39 Nickelini:

wow! i'd only ever heard good (excellent, really) things about the elegance of the hedgehog and was looking forward to one day reading it. probably still will, but glad to have seen this first!

41LolaWalser
Apr 8, 2015, 3:33pm

>40 overlycriticalelisa:

It seems popular (I haven't read anything about it and sure will not now) but fwiw... the more I think about it, the more it enrages me--the book, AND its success (whatever it is). There is such an infernal smugness about it, such an air of self-congratulation... and it's actually so shallow as to seem cynical.

42overlycriticalelisa
Apr 8, 2015, 3:38pm

>41 LolaWalser:

this is probably neither here nor there, but you also read it in french, which is the language it was originally written in, right? i always wonder what gets lost in translation, so there can't even be that excuse in this case.

43LolaWalser
Apr 8, 2015, 4:13pm

>42 overlycriticalelisa:

In this case, anything lost in translation could only result in an improvement... >:)

It pains me to say this; I love French literature. The language is lovely, the tradition is rich, the varied inclinations toward both frivolity and philosophy, frequently commingled, created many nonpareil masterpieces. But I suppose that also inevitably resulted in an army of lesser talents who fall flat on their noses when they try to be "lightly profound" à la française. I don't read much contemporary lit but when I do, it alarms me how frequently the hot French book is half a cup of insipid froth, a gimmick or two (the protagonist is being followed by a talking cloud. The protagonist is deaf on Thursdays. The protagonist has sex only in elevators, at work. It was all a dream.), some name dropping and one or two shopping trips, either in support or in protest of capitalism. And the tone! The arch, clipped, knowing style! The flat affect--like a bleeding chorus of "Mom died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know.", it's been decades and they are still writing in that mood, as if the freaking existentialists made it illegal to have feelings and show them.

But then they go overboard in the other direction and up the Amélie-type zany till you want to throttle the first whimsical manic pixie dream girl that crosses your path.

Oooh, am I cranky this ugly Wednesday or what!

44sparemethecensor
Apr 8, 2015, 7:38pm

Just added 33, 34, and 37 to my TBR. Thanks, everyone. (This is mostly sincere and only a tiny bit "more on the TBR, really?")

I just finished Life After Life, which I thought was OK. It was my first Atkinson, and I think my expectations were too high having read such high praise for the book when it came out (last year, I think). I would read more Atkinson, but I don't know that I could recommend Life After Life.

I did think it did a beautiful job of showing how much bullshit women had to go through in the early 20th century! Sadly, some of the topics (being blamed for sexual assault, being hushed up about domestic violence) are not as "fixed" as we might hope, in the 21st century.

45overlycriticalelisa
Apr 8, 2015, 9:35pm

>43 LolaWalser:

and it pains me to say this: i think i don't know almost anything about french literature. my lt stats tell me that most of the books i read were originally written in english. i need to work on that. (hope your day improved today!)

so it's nice timing that i'm just starting don't move by margaret mazzantini, translated from the italian. i'm only about 5 pages in but am totally gripped already, even as it's a bit off-putting and unusual in its style.

46rebeccanyc
Apr 9, 2015, 8:23am

>38 LolaWalser: I couldn't read more than about 20 pages of The Elegance of the Hedgehog! Sorry you ended up reading the whole thing!

47LolaWalser
Apr 9, 2015, 12:08pm

>46 rebeccanyc:

Ha, do you remember what ticked you off?

I tend to stay with a book more often than not--then again, I don't frequently pick up stuff I've no reason to think I'll like, or at least like "encountering". Especially for the very popular books, if I start hating on them, I feel it's my duty to finish the whole thing in order to justify my hatering or, less likely, let it redeem itself. (Applies only to contemporary stuff, not well-known classics. The latter I can ditch without mercy because I feel they are safe enough.)

I didn't mention the two WORST things about the book either. One is the reverse snobbery with which she endows the concierge (and partly gives to the little girl too) and what I perceive as Barbery's own snobbery toward the concierge. I get the sense of someone belonging to the comfortable classes--someone who no doubt lives in and visits rich apartment buildings such as she describes, with the concierge (porter-woman? doorwoman?) in a little booth on the ground, controlling the traffic and running errands for the tenants--who one day looked at some nondescript specimen of the class and thought, 'Tiens! but isn't she human too? What if this ridiculously base-looking character had a SECRET--that she is INTELLIGENT! and READS BOOKS! watches JAPANESE MOVIES! drinks JASMINE TEA!'--you get the picture.

As if this were some unheard of, startling twist! The lower classes reading Tolstoy! And then putting up a front to throw off the rich (why exactly? What's the point? Who'd give a damn whether the concierge spends her days picking her nose, reading the prayer book, or Barthes? Oh, by the way, she probably did NOT read Barthes--Barbery has her "discovering" what's basically in his Mythologies on her own. In fact, I can't remember whether she name-checked any French thinker or modern writer--she just plagiarised them to use as "the concierge's own" thoughts.)

The second worst thing is the absolutely worst thing, which is the little girl, and her problem. Perhaps *I'*ve got a problem here: losing all sense of humour or something. But, hell, so it is: I will not have the topic of suicidal children treated lightly. (For that matter, the death at the end I thought was an obscenely shallow manipulation, but such a weak trick and such a cliché, that I was more bothered by its nature of a technical failure than as an event. That's some terrible, hackneyed plotting.) Yes, children can be suicidal. And yes, children, as young as five, have been known to commit suicide. It is tragic, not silly, not funny, not cute, not whimsical, not something to be wrapped up in Elle-magazine type bullshit.

48rebeccanyc
Apr 9, 2015, 4:58pm

>47 LolaWalser: Fortunately, I have blocked out most of my memories of the book, but if I dropped it so soon it was probably the writing style and/or the tone of the writer, which ties in with your comment about the author's patronizing attitude towards the concierge.

49overlycriticalelisa
Apr 9, 2015, 5:09pm

>47 LolaWalser:

yikes. that last sounds particularly inexcusable. why have i only heard good things about this book before?

50overlycriticalelisa
Apr 9, 2015, 8:29pm

this book - don't move is kind of amazing and kind of appalling. i'm in a constant state of resisting looking up things about it because i'm only 1/3 of the way through it and don't want the internet to ruin the book for me. but i might not sleep tonight because i *have to know* what she's doing and what point she's making with some of the things she's writing about woman-hating and sexual violence. (please, please let there be a worthwhile point.)

anyone here read this one?

51CurrerBell
Apr 9, 2015, 9:21pm

Currently reading Mary Olivier. So far it's absolutely out of this world (and stylistically reminds me very much of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), but I'm only about a third of the way through and I'll have to see what Sinclair's "moocow" and "baby tuckoo" style develops into as Mary grows older.

52Nickelini
Apr 10, 2015, 12:45am

>47 LolaWalser: Especially for the very popular books, if I start hating on them, I feel it's my duty to finish the whole thing in order to justify my hatering or, less likely, let it redeem itself.

Ah yes. That is my approach as well.

53overlycriticalelisa
Apr 12, 2015, 12:32am

oh my goodness i wish someone here had read this book so i could talk about it. (don't move).

or i wish i'd read it for a book group because it really bears a discussion.

and >47 LolaWalser:, >52 Nickelini:

my m.o. as well, except for books like twilight, which i feel able to hate upon without actually reading.

54sparemethecensor
Apr 12, 2015, 9:28am

>53 overlycriticalelisa: How long does it take to read? I would be interested in a "Reading Books by Women" group read, and my library has Don't Move so I could get it today or tomorrow.

55overlycriticalelisa
Apr 12, 2015, 9:56am

>54 sparemethecensor:

i read it in 2.5 days and i'm a pretty slow reader (although i do dedicate a lot of time to the endeavor).

i'd love to discuss!

56rebeccanyc
Apr 12, 2015, 12:15pm

I've finished and had a chance to review the delightful Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris and the disturbing Thus Were Their Faces, a collection of short fiction by Silvina Ocampo.

57LolaWalser
Apr 12, 2015, 3:50pm

I read Journey by Marta Randall, a 1978 science fiction novel about human colonists on an alien planet. In terms of female characterisation it stands up head and shoulders above everything else I've read in my "old science fiction" read so far. Don't think it could be bettered today (and from what I hear, plenty of contemporary sf/fantasy falls below its standards.) The plot itself didn't thrill me too much, it's basically a slow tale of growth over twenty years--life is hard, babies are born, people die, the prodigal son slowly returns...

58Sakerfalcon
Edited: Apr 13, 2015, 12:24pm

Currently reading three books by women - Millenium Hall, an early feminist novel; Shadow man, SF that explores gender and sexuality; and In certain circles, an Australian novel about two families from difference social classes whose lives intertwine over the years.

59Nickelini
Apr 13, 2015, 12:29pm

Finished The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing, and found it rather masterful. I'm almost finished a Virago, Poor Cow by Nell Dunn and find it . . . interesting. Not sure what I'll read after that.

60sparemethecensor
Apr 13, 2015, 12:39pm

>55 overlycriticalelisa:

I picked up Don't Move at the library today and will begin it on my commute home. Would you like to start a discussion thread?

61overlycriticalelisa
Apr 13, 2015, 4:33pm

>60 sparemethecensor:

sweet! i've kept my copy so i can refer back to it for any discussion. here is the thread i started: https://www.librarything.com/topic/190035

62overlycriticalelisa
Apr 22, 2015, 12:27pm

i forgot to say that i started reading cavedweller a couple of days ago (am going very slowly for some reason). i'd only ever read bastard out of carolina by her before, which i want to reread soon. but anyway, i'm quite impressed with her writing.

63sweetiegherkin
Apr 24, 2015, 10:54am

>38 LolaWalser: Wow, I had only heard good buzz about this book before and it sounds insufferable now. I actually have a copy on my bookshelves somewhere and had been previously looking forward to getting to it eventually...

64Bookmarque
Apr 24, 2015, 12:53pm

Am reading Adrienne Mayor's latest book The Amazons which looks at new archaeological and osteological evidence for Amazons and contrasts that with what has previously been "known" about them. Not only is it interesting and well-researched, but the actual book is lovely. I'm tempted to get a copy of her prior book about Mithridates just because it's from the same publisher. I already have it as an audio, but Princeton University press does such a nice job with book as object.

Also reading She Wolves by Helen Castor which looks at English queens before Elizabeth I. None of them had the power Liz did, but their efforts over the centuries leading up to her reign definitely created precedent and legitimacy for taking the crown and keeping it despite the no penis thing.

65southernbooklady
Apr 24, 2015, 1:29pm

>64 Bookmarque: Am reading Adrienne Mayor's latest book The Amazons

I've been afraid to read that because I disliked so much about the way she does history in one of her other books, The Poison King.

66Bookmarque
Apr 24, 2015, 3:56pm

I knew going into The Poison King that a lot of it was speculation. The hero worship thing I could have done without, but I still enjoyed the book. This one seems way more balanced in new research and findings, especially the many many kurgan that have been excavated and now can be analyzed with modern DNA & osteology techniques. So many skeletons were identified as male because they contained weapons, only now are revealed as women.

67CurrerBell
Apr 24, 2015, 7:54pm

>64 Bookmarque: Thanks for the comments on The Amazons. I've seen it on the shelves at B&N but have so much else right now, but I've wishlisted it on B&N.com for the next time I get a B&N 20%-off coupon.

68jnwelch
Apr 27, 2015, 11:30am

Just started another D.E. Stevenson, The Two Mrs. Abbotts.

69overlycriticalelisa
Apr 27, 2015, 12:23pm

reading this is not it and am coming to the conclusion that i really don't get lynne tillman. anyone have any insight?

70rebeccanyc
Apr 29, 2015, 10:16am

I read and reviewed the disappointing The Man Who Loved Books too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett. The title was better than the book, which as confused, padded, and too filled with the author's thoughts and actions.

71rebeccanyc
May 3, 2015, 12:41pm

I finished the thought-provoking and subtle The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm yesterday.

72overlycriticalelisa
Edited: May 3, 2015, 1:15pm

finished the color purple yesterday and found it just as satisfying as when i've read it in the past.

eta: also as heartbreaking.

73sparemethecensor
May 3, 2015, 1:10pm

>71 rebeccanyc:

That book is on my list. Glad to hear it is as thought-provoking as it's billed.

74sparemethecensor
May 10, 2015, 9:31am

I am reading Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. The author argues that gender is not socially constructed but socially exaggerated -- while there are biological/hormonal elements underlying male/female differences, they are impossibly exaggerated in Western society.

It's a very thought-provoking book, combining her personal experiences with an extensive academic lit review. Not a Trans Issues 101 book, which I appreciate. (Of course, I am already very sold on rejecting the gender binary, so I found it very easy to get into this book.)

75overlycriticalelisa
May 10, 2015, 11:20am

i've heard such good things about that book, >74 sparemethecensor:; i don't know why i haven't read it yet...

reading kilmoon by a local author for our mystery book group. this is one of the only books i've ever seen lt to predict that i won't like, but so far it's ok.

76jnwelch
May 11, 2015, 9:19am

After seeing a lot of positive responses to it on LT, I started The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson, which features a different kind of princess.

77LolaWalser
May 13, 2015, 9:58am

I galloped through three books of Ferrante's L'amica geniale (My brilliant friend) in about as many days. A fantastic experience I'll be thinking about for years. Can hardly wait for the fourth book.

There's so much to say I feel like I can say nothing at all.

78Sakerfalcon
May 13, 2015, 10:11am

I've just started The waves, one of the few novels by Woolf that I haven't already read.

79sparemethecensor
May 13, 2015, 10:18am

>75 overlycriticalelisa: I finished it last night. I recommend it. Based on your library, you'd like it too, I'd guess.

80sturlington
May 13, 2015, 12:22pm

Just started Ruth Rendell's last book, The Girl Next Door.

81rebeccanyc
May 16, 2015, 11:44am

Last Sunday night, I finished another book by Janet Malcolm, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession, a fascinating portrait of Freudian psychoanalysis at the end of its heyday, but I've had such a busy, crazy week I didn't have a chance to review it until now.

82LolaWalser
May 18, 2015, 5:06pm

I finished the latest (eighth) novel in Fred Vargas' Inspector Adamsberg series, Temps glaciaires and am sad to say I didn't find it as good as the other (minus the second one, "Seeking whom he may devour", which I think is even weaker). It was still riveting enough to read in one sitting, although one plot was obvious from the beginning, and the second suffered from too much masquerade, resulting in a net loss in Vargas' trademark, her colourful, unusual characters.

83sparemethecensor
May 19, 2015, 7:11pm

After finishing Wise Children by Angela Carter, I'm starting Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I read her debut novel a few months back so I'm looking forward to this one.

84Sakerfalcon
May 20, 2015, 4:30am

Having finished The waves, I've now started Mrs Dalloway. It's a reread but I don't remember much from the first time around.

85Sakerfalcon
May 22, 2015, 7:50am

And now I've finished Mrs Dalloway (I think I appreciated it more this time around) and have started Adult onset, the new novel by Ann-Marie MacDonald.

86sweetiegherkin
May 25, 2015, 11:17am

Somewhat recently finished both The Round House by Louise Erdrich and Wise Children by Angela Carter, both of which I enjoyed but for totally different reasons, the former being rather serious and the latter being more humorous.

Now I'm reading One Good Turn in print and Life after Life on audio, both by Kate Atkinson. So far, One Good Turn is more of a page turner than Life After Life, and not just because it has physical pages!

87jnwelch
May 26, 2015, 12:38pm

Reading a Publishers Weekly-recommended science fiction space opera story by Mary Fan, called Artificial Absolutes, and a I'm-not-sure-what music-based novel by Anna Small called The Chimes.

88Sakerfalcon
May 26, 2015, 1:03pm

>87 jnwelch: I just got a copy of The chimes, so will be interested to hear what you think of it, Joe.

89jnwelch
May 26, 2015, 1:44pm

>88 Sakerfalcon: And vice-versa, Claire. :-) So far it has got me intrigued and involved.

90CurrerBell
May 28, 2015, 11:03pm

5***** to Penelope Fitzgerald's Human Voices, which I just finished as part of my project of a complete Fitzgerald read before I go to the TBR pile for the new biography by Hermione Lee.

91sparemethecensor
May 29, 2015, 7:33am

I am reading Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China by Leta Hong Fincher. I've learned many horrifying things about gender relationships, particularly heterosexual marriages, in urban Chinese cities. For instance, it is considered inappropriate and emasculating to have a woman's name on the deed to marital home, so the vast majority of homes are owned exclusively in the man's name. If they divorce, she has no claim to the home unless she can prove she contributed equally to its purchase -- and unsurprisingly, it is also considered inappropriate for her to keep receipts showing that. Chinese banks do not permit married couples to have joint bank accounts, so women who do not work cannot access any money other than what their husbands give them.

So, who would ever be dumb enough to marry in this society? The government started a propaganda campaign telling women that they are old maids past the age of 25 and they need to settle for a man or they'll be alone forever. Oh, and the recent increase in birth defects? Caused by advanced maternal age (over the age of 26), and definitely not by all of the pollution. Thanks, propaganda!

92LolaWalser
Edited: Jun 1, 2015, 11:02am

Read Gender outlaw : on men, women, and the rest of us by Kate Bornstein, for me only the third book to discuss transgenderism and in a more systematic, concentrated fashion than the other two (Jan Morris' memoir of her transition, Conundrum, and Leslie Feinberg's Stone butch blues). It consist of two parts, the second being a fairly lengthy transcript of a stage performance, Hidden: A Gender, that dramatizes the ideas given in the first part. Visually, the text may seem fragmented as Bornstein breaks the main text with bolded inserts, but these are enhancements of points, not digressions.

Bornstein gives hir own story through discussion of concepts and practices surrounding gender. Like all of us, on birth ze was gendered based on hir sex, and raised as a boy. However, ze had from infancy a feeling that being a boy didn't fit hir, and showed resistance to being treated as one. The conservatism of hir environment (ze was born in 1948 in a devout Jewish family) eventually forced hir to submit and ze learned to "perform" being a man--even marrying (three times) and becoming a father. In 1985 ze finalised hir transition and after years of preparation had surgical reconstruction of sex.

While it may seem that the story of people like Bornstein happens too rarely to concern us, it is actually of relevance to everyone, and I only wish I could persuade those people who take gender for granted, as they probably take for granted everything else about how we organize culture and treat each other, to read it.

Bornstein's first question is the first question ze ran into already as a child--what is man? What is woman? What does it mean to be defined by sex? Why is it so important to be of one or the other gender? Why are "gender outlaws", whether transsexuals or non-heterosexuals, treated so severely? Hir comparison of gender to a cult is funny, but not inaccurate, when you think about it. We get chosen, initiated, and must observe strictly enforced rituals of form, dress, behaviour--failing, we incur all kinds of penalties, soft to hard. We may even get killed.

Of many ideas in this book, I'll note only Bornstein's plea for abandoning the gender binary. It may superficially seem to simplify things, to insist on two categories, but when these are enforced by violence, then clearly what's at stake isn't observing "nature" and the health of society, but preservation of power structures, and by extension, preservation of the violence and destruction we are mired in.

ETA: Note on pronouns: I just saw that the Wikipedia article says that Bornstein prefers neologistic ze/hir pronouns, so I changed all the she/her above. I know this sort of thing frequently excites hostility and ridicule but so did (or still does?) the invention of "Ms" or the retirement of "spinster"... Heck, there are people my age rolling their eyes at "he/she" and "he or she" as examples of rabid PC.

But, you know, slowly, slowly...

93sparemethecensor
Edited: Jun 8, 2015, 1:21pm

I am starting Still Alice by Lisa Genova today.

94jnwelch
Jun 8, 2015, 1:11pm

I started a re-read of Lois McMaster Bujold's Cordelia's Honor, the beginning of her landmark Vorkosigan sci-fi series.

95CurrerBell
Jun 8, 2015, 2:27pm

I'm just starting The Blue Flower, Penelope Fitzgerald's biographical novel of Novalis. I'm hoping to do a complete read of Fitzgerald and then get on to the new biography by Hermione Lee.

96sturlington
Jun 8, 2015, 4:39pm

I started Euphoria by lily king.

98sparemethecensor
Jun 29, 2015, 8:04pm

Inside These Walls by Rebecca Coleman

99LolaWalser
Jul 13, 2015, 3:22pm

I read Pauline Kael's I lost it at the movies (1965)--still interesting both to movie fans and cultural archaeologists interested in the recent past. At one point Kael mentions a letter from a male reader, asking her why doesn't she go and make movies when she knows so much, adding--"oh right, first you'd have to grow a pair of balls."

A female reader berates Kael for her lack of niceness.

Fortunately we can laugh as easily as we might cry.

Also read The Leavenworth case (1878) by Anna Katharine Green. Quite readable, and although not "deep" in any way, I found it fresh and surprising in its treatment of female characters. Instances like these make me think there really IS a difference when it's women writing about women.

100nrmay
Jul 15, 2015, 10:57am

Letter from Peking Pearl S buck

101CurrerBell
Jul 15, 2015, 1:03pm

I've returned to The Setons by O. Douglas. I started it during last year's VMC WW1 read, was enjoying it, but then for some reason or another got distracted.

102jnwelch
Jul 16, 2015, 3:08pm

Reading the Liaden sci-fi series by Sharon Lee, and H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

103nrmay
Jul 16, 2015, 11:06pm

Now reading Friendship Cake by Lynne Hinton.

104Sakerfalcon
Jul 21, 2015, 8:49am

I've just started The matriarch by Gladys Stern, which follows several generations of a large Jewish family.

105sparemethecensor
Jul 23, 2015, 8:43pm

I am reading a classic of feminist literary criticism, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the 19th Century Literary Imagination (sorry for the weird touchstone - it only works for the title before the colon). It is making me want to revisit the Brontes!

106CurrerBell
Jul 24, 2015, 1:40am

>105 sparemethecensor: I'm currently doing a thorough read/reread of Emily's poetry using Janet Gezari's Penguin edition and simultaneously reading Gezari's explication de texte in Last Things: Emily Brontë's Poems (the latter a gift from my Virago Secret Santa). I've also begun tackling a long-standing TBR of Brontë juvenilia, having just finished the Oxford edition of Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal edited by Christine Alexander (4****) with several other juvenilia volumes on the table right beside my livingroom "reading chair" (along with Fannie Ratchford's The Brontës' Web of Childhood).

I've got The Madwoman in the Attic in TBR. I've read Frankenstein (Norton Critical Editions), which includes the Mary Shelley chapter from Madwoman, but that's all I've read of Gilbert & Gubar.

You might also want to check out Juliet Barker's The Brontës: Wild Genius on the Moors (and see my 5***** review of the Kindle edition, which I prefer over the heavy treeware).

On another note, my current Kindle read is The Golem and the Jinni.

107sparemethecensor
Jul 24, 2015, 7:53am

>106 CurrerBell: Thanks! (And the TBR grows...)

108Nickelini
Jul 26, 2015, 6:59pm

Only 50 pages in, but so far I'm loving Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel. I also just finished the Joy of Writing Sex, which was much better and very different than expected.

109jnwelch
Jul 29, 2015, 10:55am

Started Mrs. Dalloway, and so far I'm liking it very much.

110LolaWalser
Jul 29, 2015, 11:04am

Read Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, a collection of short pieces whose theme is black experience in America.

111Sakerfalcon
Aug 1, 2015, 2:05pm

>109 jnwelch: I recently reread Mrs Dalloway and thought it was excellent. I hardly remembered it from the first time around so it was good to rediscover it. I also read The waves for the first time, which is very good too.

I'm currently reading Seawitch, a paranormal mystery with a sensible heroine who doesn't jump into bed with every supernatural creature that comes along.

112jnwelch
Aug 2, 2015, 12:10pm

>111 Sakerfalcon: Hey, London friend! We'll be back in September at the same time Darryl is. Hope we can see you.

The Waves was another one rec'd to me, like Mrs. Dalloway. Good to know you recommend it, too. I'll make that my next one of hers.

113LolaWalser
Aug 2, 2015, 5:27pm

So happy whenever I see someone enjoying Woolf!

Finished Alice Munro's awesome The Moons of Jupiter, a story collection. If you like Chekov, you'd probably like this.

114sweetiegherkin
Aug 8, 2015, 10:26am

>113 LolaWalser: I read Munro's Lives of Girls and Women earlier this year, which while it was a novel technically, still sort of read like a bunch of interrelated short stories. I'm not sure that I would make the Chekov connection myself, but it's been a while since I've read any of his short stories. I found this really interesting interview with Munro somewhat recently (although the interview itself is from the 90s) that you might enjoy: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/1791/the-art-of-fiction-no-137-alice-mu...

115LolaWalser
Aug 8, 2015, 12:23pm

Thanks, that was nice. She's a bit too understated, in style especially, to be a real favourite of mine, but her quality's unmissable. Some of the most banal-seeming stories hid the deadliest punches.

Noting: There was a feeling that women could write about the freakish, the marginal.

116Nickelini
Aug 8, 2015, 2:06pm

I finished Hlary Mantel's Beyond Black, which I have mixed feelings about. Some fabulous writing, great dark humour, but repetitive and over-long. Now I'm on to North of Normal, a memoir about a woman who was raised in a tipi in the wilds of British Columbia by pot-smoking nudists.

117Sakerfalcon
Aug 10, 2015, 5:17am

>112 jnwelch: Joe, I'm hoping I can meet up with you and Debbie while you're over. It would be great to catch up.

I'm currently reading Pilgrimage 2, the second volume of Dorothy Richardson's stream-of-consciousness magnum opus.

118rebeccanyc
Aug 10, 2015, 7:43am

I've read two mysteries by women: Deception by Denise Mina and Don't Look Back by Karin Fossum.

119jnwelch
Aug 10, 2015, 3:03pm

>117 Sakerfalcon: Aces! Our fingers are crossed. We'll be there the same time as Darryl.

120Nickelini
Aug 10, 2015, 3:19pm

I'm reading a fascinating memoir, North of Normal, which is about a woman who was raised in a tipi (in the chilly wilds of Canada, no less) by hippie grandparents and a teenage mom. She now lives a "normal" life with her own family, living in a house.

121jnwelch
Aug 10, 2015, 4:17pm

I just read the hopeful graphic memoir Yo Miss by high school teacher Lisa Wilde. It grabbed me.

122southernbooklady
Aug 11, 2015, 10:46am

I finally put my thoughts about Go Set a Watchman into some kind of coherence, if anyone is interested:

http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/likefire/

Basically, I think the book is worth reading, but it is neither a coherent examination of cultural racism, nor a well-written story. But there are parts that are well-written, and they are very well-written.

(x-posting in girlybooks)

123LolaWalser
Aug 11, 2015, 11:30am

>122 southernbooklady:

Interesting, thanks. You certainly reaffirm the impression that the literary value in this case may be trumped by its value as subject for social commentary. It seems to me (and yes I belong to that select octet of people who haven't read To Kill a Mockingbird ;)) that the biggest story here will forever remain the history of the reception and understanding of TKAM, and the deception--perhaps followed by some change in how TKAM is read and taught?-- on the publication of Go set a watchman.

I can scarcely believe such a glaring "white saviour" myth, something so obviously flattering to whites in the midst of a thoroughly racist society, took so long to receive any wide public criticism, but there it is...

I'm curious, do you know of any examples of a "coherent examination of cultural racism" of the same vintage, in the same type of book, literary fiction, by a white author?

124southernbooklady
Edited: Aug 11, 2015, 12:00pm

>123 LolaWalser: I'm curious, do you know of any examples of a "coherent examination of cultural racism" of the same vintage, in the same type of book, literary fiction, by a white author?

It's a good question. I can't think of any off the top of my head. Most of the white authors writing at the time were writing about the dissolution of their Southern society - Flannery O'Connor, Erskine Caldwell, etc, not really focused on race except in so far as it provided a backdrop to white culture. The first book that came to mind was Lewis Nordan's Wolf Whistle, which was written in the 90s, and then Will D. Campbell's Brother to a Dragonfly which is actually a memoir of his participation in the Civil Rights movement, among other things, but not a novel. I'll have to think on it.

ETA: I should add that in my mind when it comes to fiction "the story" usually trumps "the message" in a good novel. Or maybe it would be better to say if the story has to be sacrificed for the sake of the message (certainly the case in GSaW) it undercuts both.

125LolaWalser
Aug 11, 2015, 12:12pm

>124 southernbooklady:

I've still a couple hundred people ahead of me waiting for the book, but I can say immediately, because it holds generally, that I don't think of a book's "message" as THE message, or the (necessarily) most interesting communication in it.

In this case especially we are dealing with something that projects much beyond anything it can package as a spelled-out "message".

126jnwelch
Aug 13, 2015, 2:26pm

I started Marriage Can Be Murder, a mystery by Emma Jameson, and so far I like it.

127rebeccanyc
Aug 17, 2015, 8:06am

I've read and reviewed the somewhat disappointing new collection of much of Shirley Jackson's unpublished work, Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings and the first of the Inspector Sejer mysteries, Eva's Eye.

128jnwelch
Aug 17, 2015, 9:49am

Marriage Can Be Murder was an enjoyable cozy. Now I'm reading Iris Murdoch's The Bell.

129sweetiegherkin
Aug 30, 2015, 1:43pm

In print I'm reading Fannie Flagg's I Still Dream About You and on audio I'm listening to Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy. Having read books by both authors before, I admit to a bit of disappointment with both given the high expectations I had going in, but they are both enjoyable and entertaining enough.

130jnwelch
Aug 30, 2015, 2:05pm

Enjoying Louisa Hall's unusual Speak: A Novel.

131rebeccanyc
Sep 5, 2015, 12:21pm

I just read the utterly fascinating and compelling readable Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett, about two shipwrecks on remote, stormy Auckland Island, in the 1860s, and their very different fates.

132CurrerBell
Sep 7, 2015, 2:02am

I'm starting to do some reading on Charlotte Bronte's friend Mary Taylor. I'm just starting on Miss Miles in its Oxford University Press reprint, but I'm also reading on my Kindle a PDF from Google Books of Swiss Notes by Five Ladies, which looks to be interesting.

133Sakerfalcon
Sep 7, 2015, 8:12am

I'm reading The chimes which is on the Booker prize longlist. It's not grabbed me so far but I'll keep going.

134jnwelch
Sep 7, 2015, 1:03pm

>133 Sakerfalcon: I was a little disappointed by The Chimes, but some people love it.

135VivienneR
Sep 14, 2015, 7:30pm

I just finished Poor Cow by Nell Dunn a Virago Modern Classic. The story, told with some personal experience, is about Joy living in the East End of London in the sixties. I gave it five stars.

Thanks to nickelini for the book bullet.

136LolaWalser
Sep 14, 2015, 8:01pm

I finished most recently Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life, by sisters Karen and Barbara Fields, a sociologist and a historian, respectively. The chapters are separate essays, but strongly connected. I'm still processing everything (I hope a group read of the book planned for October will help with that) and hesitate to "sum up" in any way the whole book for fear of misrepresenting what I think are extremely important, valuable insights.

Let me just say that if anyone felt the need for a new way to think about racism after the recent general recognition that not only it didn't disappear with Obama, in some ways it looks worse than ever since the Civil Rights era, get this book.

Perhaps just a word about the term "racecraft": the authors have found useful an analogy with witchcraft in explaining how "folk beliefs" entrench themselves as "general knowledge", the "everybody knows some people have evil eye" and other superstitions and magical beliefs existing alongside rational habits of the mind.

Thus, "everybody knows race exists" seems to be something that hardly needs proof or explanation for many perfectly "rational" people.

Except that "race" doesn't exist, not as a primary-occurring biological feature of any human being. We actually KNOW this, scientifically, from even before the era of genomic typing, when human populations were being analysed on the basis of blood type, genetic loci etc.

No standard of "diversification" has been established (and thousands of racists looked VERY hard for more than a century now) such that can "type" people unequivocally as white, black etc.

In other words, race is a social construct. But whereas most discussions about race, at least among progressives, end there, the authors, eminently logically, BEGIN with that, and show how constructing race is the whole pathetic and paradoxical business of racism.

Um, did I say "a word", well... great book, anyway.

137overlycriticalelisa
Oct 11, 2015, 9:58am

lola, this is an excellent (and helpful) summary of the beginning of this book. i'm really excited to get further in because, like you said, most conversations end with this, and they're starting it here. i'm looking forward to seeing where they take it.

group read starting here: https://www.librarything.com/topic/197196#5300912

138jnwelch
Oct 14, 2015, 10:43am

I finished Georgette Heyer's The Corinthian, and it was another witty, fun outing after The Grand Sophy and Cotillion.

139LolaWalser
Nov 24, 2015, 11:52am

Books by women read since last posting: Christa Wolf's 40-year chronicle of September 27 (Ein Tag im Jahr), capturing the difficult and fascinating period in divided German history--I was far too unprepared to appreciate it fully, but it held me fast--Sheri Tepper's Grass, Evelyn Underhill's Practical mysticism (Underhill was Christian but that's not necessarily apparent from this), Jenny Erpenbeck's excellent Visitation, another book dealing with Germany's eternal nightmare, and Iris Murdoch's The flight from the enchanter.

As the last one is the freshest in my mind and as it's the first Murdoch I've read, I feel like saying a bit more about it.

The main theme seems to be relations between men and women, or even "sex war", if you will. All the female characters who are conventionally young enough to be sexually active, suffer in weird bonds to men, specifically the "enchanter" in the title, an enigmatic character named Mischa Fox (Mischa, by the way, is a Russian nickname for "bear"--I don't know how far Murdoch's associations went, but the man's some kind of curious beast anyway).

But is he really doing any "enchanting" at all? Aren't the women rather buying into fantasies of their own making? Fox also holds potent influence over several male characters, and at least in one case it looks as if the "secret" were in nothing more complicated than sordid blackmail.

The women who fall in thrall to Fox range from ex-lovers such as the late-thirtyish "English lady" with a socialist conscience, Rosa Keepe; similarly aged Nina the foreign dressmaker whom Fox set up in business and uses for various favours, but not sex; eighteen-year old Annette the cosmopolitan brat of glamorous diplomatic parents who abandons school in order to educate herself in "The School of Life"; and, fleetingly, even the formidably capable Agnes Casement, on the wrong side of twenty or even thirty and out to marry her boss John Rainborough or replace him in the office--possibly both.

And yet, Fox himself seems to be more of an intangible and elusive symbol or evil spirit of women's bondage who, for example, wants to buy the Keepe's impoverished feminist magazine in order to destroy it, as he "doesn't believe in female emancipation", but the women suffer more directly, personally and intimately, in relations to other men. Rosa is being abused by a couple of sinister Polish brothers who first charmed their way into her friendship and then turned her into a mutual girlfriend, with whom they have sex in turns in the same room where their invalid mother mutely watches the proceedings. Peter Saward, the man who supposedly loves her, insists on knowing her mind better than she does, causing their relationship to stagnate and likely peter out.

Annette is a willing instrument of her adored brother's, who tells her what to read, what to think, how to behave and had even arranged her defloration, when and by whom it suited his ideas. Both Rainborough and one of the Poles try to rape her ("school of life", eh?), and you could say the injury of the assault is compounded by the insult of making it somehow her fault.

Nina wasted her life serving and waiting for Fox to make her his mistress. Agnes Casement is carrying on a vital battle with Rainborough and other privileged men for an office she is a million times better equipped for--but she is a woman, and poor, and alone. In those circumstances, any means must do, which includes humiliating herself, as women are expected to do.

You can tell I was fascinated by the goings-on here, but I can't say it's a good book. Much interesting is is hinted at, but it doesn't hold together at all. Which, somehow, doesn't interfere with it being a compelling read!

It is dedicated to Elias Canetti. I know they had an affair and I dimly recall reading that Canetti was a real pig to her. The take from his biography is that she was madly in love with him while he couldn't wait to get rid of her, and abused her a lot to other people. I think this is what made me reluctant to read Murdoch before, the fear that she'd be one of those depressing daddy-fixated masochists forever crucifying themselves on the altars to "remarkable", "genius" men.

But, there are traces here of something else as well, something steely and parrying.

140rebeccanyc
Nov 29, 2015, 7:43pm

Finished Magdalena Tulli's Flaw which, like all her other books I've read, is complex, allegorical, poetic, and metafictional. I didn't like it as much as the others, most of which I loved, but that might have been my mood, not the book

141jnwelch
Dec 2, 2015, 11:07am

I'm reading two graphic memoirs, The Story of My Tits by Jennifer Hayden, involving breast cancer, and French Milk by Lucy Knisley, about her time in Paris. Both are very well done.

142.Monkey.
Dec 2, 2015, 3:09pm

I just finished The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermoût. The first half was a very slow read for me, because it's not the kind of thing I normally go for, but it was one my husband bought for me several years ago. Her writing is brilliant and beautiful and captivating; even though the first half dragged a bit for me, I still ogled the writing, it's very hard to put into words the quality it has, but, the style and feel of the writing is just...unique. I definitely recommend people to read it. And the second half I read pretty much in one sitting, it was much more engaging to me, perhaps because more is actively happening. It also is the part that has the emotional bits, twice she managed to make my eyes leak, agh!

143CurrerBell
Dec 3, 2015, 11:25pm

I just finished Gold Fame Citrus and rated it 3½***. Beautiful language, but over-the-top sometimes. Interesting story, characters, and desert setting too, especially considering Claire Vaye Watkins's background (daughter of Paul Watkins, a former member of the Manson "Family"), but some of it seemed pointless at times. I might have rated it higher except that there's been such hoopla about this book that I may be gone into it with exaggerated expectations.

144rebeccanyc
Dec 4, 2015, 11:53am

>143 CurrerBell: I had mixed feelings about Watkins's collection of stories, Battleborn, too.

145janeajones
Edited: Dec 5, 2015, 11:46am

I'm bingeing on Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels -- half way through the third one and thoroughly enjoying it.

146LolaWalser
Dec 4, 2015, 1:05pm

Read another Iris Murdoch, The sandcastle. This one was less entertaining (to me) than The flight from the enchanter, as it focussed on my least-favourite theme, marital woes and adultery. Bill Mor the middle-aged professor at a boys' school falls in love with a young painter only years older than his teenage daughter. But this is no ordinary mid-life crisis, they are well and truly in love, something that may not have ever been true for Bill and his domineering, unpleasant wife Nan.

Other characters range themselves, deliberately or inadvertently, into pro- and con-affair camps and their interventions give some colour to the narrative, but the central couple is dull as dishwater. Murdoch does like the weird incident though, and I enjoyed her frequent sending the plot out of joint.

147sturlington
Dec 4, 2015, 4:04pm

>146 LolaWalser: I've never read Murdoch. Is there a title you'd recommend to start?

148LolaWalser
Dec 4, 2015, 4:16pm

>147 sturlington:

I'm a newbie myself! I just joined the Iris Murdoch group the other day, do check it out, @sibyx is a fount of info and a very sensitive reader:

http://www.librarything.com/topic/206124

I've only read two and a half (currently reading Under the net) books and she wrote at least two dozen, so I'm not sure any of these would be my first recommendation on better acquaintance, but... choosing among them, I'd pick The flight from the enchanter over The sandcastle. It sure got my attention.

Under the net may yet beat them both, I think the writing is the strongest (of these), although it was her first.

There's a curious and appealing individuality to Murdoch's world and manner. I doubt anyone can mistake her books for anyone else's.

149janeajones
Dec 4, 2015, 7:33pm

I liked Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea and The Unicorn.

150southernbooklady
Dec 4, 2015, 7:46pm

It's been ages since I read it, but I remember really liking A Severed Head

151overlycriticalelisa
Dec 5, 2015, 12:43am

recently finished the seriously excellent white is for witching, which takes the haunting of hill house a step further, and am currently enjoying saving fish from drowning. it's been a while since i've read amy tan; i didn't remember her being funny.

152janeajones
Dec 7, 2015, 10:28am

Last night I finished binge-reading Elena Ferrante's quartet of Naples novels -- an addictive visit into the lives of women and a neighborhood from the 1950s to the present in the hands of an elusive, skillful writer. Here's a two part interview with the author whom nobody publically knows: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2015/08/elena-ferrante-interview-the-story-of-...

153sparemethecensor
Dec 7, 2015, 10:59am

>152 janeajones: They are on my TBR. Everyone I know who has read them loved them.

154LolaWalser
Edited: Dec 7, 2015, 8:17pm

>149 janeajones:, >150 southernbooklady:

I have "The sea, the sea" and "The severed head". Don't know whether I'll turn into a full-fledged Murdochian but she sure hooked me.

>152 janeajones:

Oh, yes, I have the fourth waiting for the Xmas break, I've raved about the first three in multiple places.

ETA: still totally hoping I'll get my ma to discuss them with me! Did anyone have multi-generational conversations about them?

155Nickelini
Dec 7, 2015, 9:01pm

I have several Murdochs too. Must get to her soon.

156LolaWalser
Dec 7, 2015, 9:15pm

>155 Nickelini:

She's an oddity. :)

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Dec 8, 2015, 4:12am

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158jnwelch
Dec 8, 2015, 9:10am

I enjoyed the conclusion to Ann Leckie's Ancillary sci-fi series, Ancillary Mercy.

159sparemethecensor
Dec 22, 2015, 12:07pm

I just finished Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan, which I cannot recommend highly enough. An absolutely outstanding memoir.

I'm now starting State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, which an anthropologist friend recommended to me as, "This is what would happen if Heart of Darkness was anti-racist, had female characters, and took place in the 21st century." I was sold.

160rebeccanyc
Dec 26, 2015, 12:30pm

I finished The Liar's Wife: Four Novellas by Mary Gordon, an author I was reading for the first time.

161overlycriticalelisa
Dec 26, 2015, 12:31pm

reading nightwood by djuna barnes for a book group. supposed to be a bit tough so we'll see...

162.Monkey.
Dec 26, 2015, 2:36pm

I'm reading Denise Mina's Exile.

163sparemethecensor
Dec 27, 2015, 2:57pm

I'm reading Blackening Song by Aimee Thurlo. Interesting plot for a mystery so far, but the cultural clash between Dine and "Anglos" is so toothless.

164LolaWalser
Dec 28, 2015, 1:29pm

From my "awareness campaign thread":

 

I was drawn to read How to read the Qur'an, copyright 2007, because author Mona Siddiqui is a woman and a British Muslim (otherwise there are many similar basic introductions to Islam, some of which I've already read) and we are witnessing a crisis at the clash point of Islam and the West in which the role of women is assuming an ever greater importance for deciding on the possibility of co-existence with Muslims in the West.

You can guess at the general stance she takes vis-à-vis interpretation just from looking at her photographs: she's devout, but does not wear religious covering (one expects she would in a mosque). Coverings for women have become completely politicized, especially in the West, with many Westerners assuming, as do many Muslims, that it's a legitimate Koranic tradition. But it isn't.

Like every other "holy book", the Koran is interpreted, and interpreted in various, even wildly divergent ways. Siddiqui argues for contextualising the Koran (and the hadith, the later sayings attributed to Muhammad), understanding the historical circumstances in which specific verses/prescriptions arose, for evolving interpretations in harmony with the necessities of modern life, and for "generosity" in interpretation: choosing the positive over the negative, the kind over the harsh, mercy over antagonism.



How I learned to drive by Paula Vogel

Many people will tell you plays ought to be seen, and I don't disagree, but I ALSO love reading plays. Even when they REALLY need to be seen to grasp fully, like this one. It's a coming-of-age story of a girl nicknamed Li'l Bit (a reference to her private parts, like all the rest of nicknames in her scary, inbred hillbilly family), who is desperate to get away from the poverty and general sordidness, and the sick spell her troubled in-law uncle Peck cast on her, lying in wait for the time she becomes "legal". The growing girl's increasingly conflicting emotions, confusion, fear, attraction and revulsion, desperation and guilt, are masterfully conveyed. Vogel uses devices such as a female and male chorus that voice various single roles, intercutting action, slide projections, suggested music and so on, that are not difficult to follow on page, but must add so much more in live performance.

But even just reading, one is aware of the great power of the play.

165overlycriticalelisa
Dec 28, 2015, 4:17pm

>164 LolaWalser: that last sounds fantastic. i'm putting it on my list now.

am just starting the hounding by sandra de helen, a modern take take off of the hound of the baskervilles and the first in her lesbian mystery series (i'm told there isn't lesbian content in this one; her dr mary watson comes out in the second book, i think, and her shirley combs is, like sherlock holmes, asexual, i think). i know, and like, sandra so am not entirely sure i will be able to be objective in my reading/evaluation, but will try.

166jnwelch
Edited: Dec 28, 2015, 4:30pm

I'm reading Hattie Ever After, the sequel to Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson. First time I've ever seen "Kirby" as a woman's first name.

167LolaWalser
Dec 29, 2015, 12:53pm

Finished my third Iris Murdoch, Under the net, story of a drifting writer Jake Donaghue and his imaginatively assorted acquaintances: ex-girlfriend, loyal Irish hanger-on, ardent socialists, philosophers, actresses, an industrial magnate with a meditative turn of mind and a love problem, and a has-been canine film star.

The first half was great, the second lost the energy a bit as events slowed down and Jake's reasoning--pages of rumination, as it were--caught up with the truth, but was still amusing in a wistful fashion... very funny in places.

Have started John Bayley's memoir, Iris (Elegy for Iris for the touchstone) and to my utter surprise it's compulsive reading, truly fascinating, not least because their marriage was rather unconventional.

168LolaWalser
Dec 29, 2015, 1:14pm

>165 overlycriticalelisa:

Would love to know what you thought when/if you get to it!

One could talk about it for ages...

169LolaWalser
Jan 1, 2016, 2:04pm

Okay if I continue the thread? Jan 1 and all... :)
This topic was continued by Current reads 3.