Like so many others in these days since the controversial awarding of the Nobel prize to Doris Lessing, I am reading The Golden Notebook. I read anoth...moreLike so many others in these days since the controversial awarding of the Nobel prize to Doris Lessing, I am reading The Golden Notebook. I read another novel of hers last month, The Sweetest Dream, and I have to admit, I am not wild about her prose. I enjoy it – I smile bitterly along with thousands of others at the fact that apparently all one must do to receive such honors is to treat women as if they were important and worth thinking about with the same rigor we examine male motives and introspection. Yet she has habits that annoy me: she makes me wait for physical details – I learn twenty pages in to a conversation that this man is not the chiseled figure I’d wrought from her silence, but rather a stout one with a round face and obstinate brow. I struggle to situate the speakers in a physical plane. She moves them with their dialogue and not their space; is she still on the couch, or isn’t she? I long for setting. I know Lessing is remarkably diverse, writing everything from accidental feminism to science fiction, and yet to me I see the same 5 characters entering and exiting rooms with predictable comments. Perhaps this is what she intends – this may very well be the thrust of her point, these types, these thematic repetitions.
Nonetheless, she is doing something in this novel that I find exciting beyond words. I could feel it coming, knowing before sitting down to read that the novel was a simple story divided up between the private, topical, diary-like notebooks of a central character. I could feel the arrival of the shift in voice as if it had knocked on the door of a scene, waiting to be let in. I stopped at the page I was at and leafed forward, looking for it – there is was, three pages later. I read quickly to get there, relieved that the story as it was crafting itself was not so much a narrative thread as it was an excuse for something else, for something, for lack of a better word, more novel. As Lessing herself writes, “...the function of the novel seems to be changing; it has become an outpost of journalism; we read novels for information about areas of life we don’t know...One novel in five hundred or a thousand has the quality a novel should have to try to make it a novel – the quality of philosophy,” (p. 58-9). I could feel the ideas coming, in the form of their own self-conscious doubt.
There is a voice we all have and yet we save. We have public voices, professional voices, voices of lewdness and drunken uninhibited voices, confessional voices, voices used only in bed, quite unrecognizable from those used to direct a taxi or place an order over the phone. We have different voices for when we are resentful or swollen with the false humility of pride. We have voices for children and for the elderly, for the sick or the dangerous or the insane. And sooner or later, other people hear these voices of ours. But there is one that is rarely heard – the diary voice. Already this is disingenuous, because I believe and you well know that, deep down, most diarists write in the hopes that their words will somehow be read, that the things they lack the courage to say aloud will somehow become known, that their undiscovered genius will come to light. Sometimes we make bargains – we agree with Fate to allow our words to find their way to the readers’ eyes posthumously, if need be. Who doesn’t feel misunderstood in her time? Or we find peace in the terrifying ritual of putting words to paper; for the guilty or the tragically unclear, the very act of forming the letters can feel like a death sentence and a liberation. Paper can be crumpled or burnt, marks erased, but writing can never be undone. Once we have written a thing, it seals our commitment even sounder than a spoken vow, for it was once concrete, a solid thing, more than disturbances of air and ear drums. There is a reason why we sign documents as solemn promises of acceptance and disallow many verbal agreements as utterly binding contractual faith. And yet the private performance of journaling brings forth a voice in people that has a bald truth to it, a naked and shivering inability to take an audience into account. Even our diary lies have more meat to them than the most gut-wrenching professional prose, which is always calculated on a certain level for effect.
The shift in Lessing’s work from the novel to the notebook has left me quiet and weeping. In such weakness we reveal such bravery, such moments when something of value is finally uttered between the craft of escapist (and, ultimately, dull,) storytelling. “I am incapable of writing the only kind of novel which interests me:” she writes, as I cry. “- a book powered with an intellectual or moral passion strong enough to create order, to create a new way of looking at life.” (less)
**spoiler alert** Jeanette Winterson is a bit like Italo Calvino, in that her style changes radically from book to book; it would be very difficult to...more**spoiler alert** Jeanette Winterson is a bit like Italo Calvino, in that her style changes radically from book to book; it would be very difficult to offer a typical work, a tone, even a particular penchant for one linguistic device or another - her scenes, her characters, her worlds are each unique. She can be horrifying, funny, erotic, and dull. This was the first I read by her, and I still feel it is her best. Subsequent novels disappointed perhaps because I loved this one so well, and her diverse talent led her to other places, when what I really longed for was to return to this one.
This is a remarkable book in that it manages to do what few other love stories have, even with the likes of Woolf's Orlando: it explores love, romantic love, and sexual attraction, without ever bringing the protagonist's gender into clear relief. The object of desire is plainly a woman, but for the narrator, it is impossible to say, although Winterson toys with us, dropping culturally-coded clues here and there: a bathrobe, a gesture, a hairstyle. These hints are maddening, and are intended to be, I assume - she plays with our assumptions about what makes a man a man and a woman a woman, and our expectations of the behaviors of both. There are moments when the reader is sure the hero/ine is one, and then a few short passages later, we are forced to be just as sure that s/he is another. This effective refusal to include gender in love creates not only a meditation on our preconceptions of what make us who we are, but also frees us from the judgments we cast on the various stereotypes of the sexes. This is a love story liberated from gender (although not from sex), and the result is both entangling and enlightening.(less)
Alisdair Gray is a strange and wonderful writer. I'd like to have a glass of wine...moreDelicious. Dark. Revealing. Truthful. Lush. Haunting. Funny. Artful.
Alisdair Gray is a strange and wonderful writer. I'd like to have a glass of wine in his mind. I don't want him to speak - I just want to wander around in there, dragging my finger across objects and looking into his bookcases and closets. I'd like to try on his clothes.
This book was given to me by a dear friend who apparently knew me quite a bit better than was immediately apparent. It is a very intimate gift. This story has become a secret favorite, as if reading it brought me that much closer to myself. I can't say much of anything about it, except for the fact that I wish it had been written about me.
This book is not for everyone, I don't think. But then, maybe it is.
This was always one of my favorites, growing up. It's a young pagan's dream: an ode to literacy and female independence and spirited youth, disguised...moreThis was always one of my favorites, growing up. It's a young pagan's dream: an ode to literacy and female independence and spirited youth, disguised as an indictment of small-minded religious communities during the Colonial period. Totally kick-ass.
(Recommended reading for anyone under 12. Or over, for that matter.)(less)
Ayun Halliday is one of the funniest people alive. I had to pace myself with this one - only a chapter at a time, like rationing one's cookie consumpt...moreAyun Halliday is one of the funniest people alive. I had to pace myself with this one - only a chapter at a time, like rationing one's cookie consumption, or shots of whiskey - partly to savor it, partly because I just couldn't laugh that hard for that long.
I also really appreciated the recipes that end each chapter - not that I've actually tried any of them, but it was the way they are presented, the little metacommentaries on the structure of how-to. It's made me very conscious of my cooking verbs: fold, rinse, dust, lather, fling.
I wrote her an email once and thanked her for making me laugh, and asked her to read my blog, which she graciously did. It's all part of my master plan to invite her over someday for a bottle of wine.
My favorite times involve funny women in kitchens. With wine.
I have a special thing for Molly Gloss. Her books "Jump Off Creek" and "Outside the Gates" were both startling finds for me in high school. She even v...moreI have a special thing for Molly Gloss. Her books "Jump Off Creek" and "Outside the Gates" were both startling finds for me in high school. She even visited my English class once - an unusual bit of luck for a girl stranded in the smallest of small-town isolations - 19 people in my class, 17 of them boys. My English teacher took her and me out to lunch and she showed Gloss some of my writing. I was mortified, but she, at the very least, pretended to be impressed, inscribed a book for me, and urged me to carry on with my writing. One of these days I'll track her down again and thank her. Even if the 16-year-old girl wasn't ready for the encouragement, the 32-year-old reminds herself of it daily.
This book is what reviewers often call "richly imagined." In a seemingly short number of pages, she unearths whole complex worlds full of introspective and believable humanity, the sort not often found in science fiction. Her meditation is less one of technology and more one of universals, of the persistence of human tendencies, human fears and loves and works, in the most unlikely of settings.
The plot is an escape from a broken world, a flight from a dying planet to a new one that spans hundreds of years and generations of humans aboard a living spaceship full of streams and fields and insects and all the necessary trappings of an agrarian existence. The most interesting aspects are that these people 1. are Quakers, and 2. speak Esperanto, an artificial language that never quite took root anywhere since its creation as a hopeful global lingua franca in the late nineteenth century.
I have little background in the beliefs and practices of the Quakers, other than a vague familiarity with their meeting styles and a consciousness of their contributions to civil rights and peace movements. I am impressed with their practice of shared silence, and the weight Gloss gives this form of consensus-shaping as a political and community model. I love that, even in fiction distant from our own contexts we still find reflection for our practices.
This is a heart-breaking book, in the way that life is heart-breaking. It is full of questions and rolling continuity rather than neat answers and ends. It is both very complete and totally open-ended, in a hopeful sort of way.
I've been making fun of Victorian literature for so long, I'd completely forgotten that I'd never actually read any. Being in Chin...moreWell, shut my mouth.
I've been making fun of Victorian literature for so long, I'd completely forgotten that I'd never actually read any. Being in China was the worst, where young women currently derive 98% of their impressions of female Western culture from Jane Austen novels, and are subsequently using slang and household vocabulary from the 18th and 19th centuries, with romantic notions to match. "Teacher, I cannot come to class because I have chilblains and ague; oh, I suffer so." And then they swoon over a charged look from a member of the opposite sex, an experience that makes them "flush and reel with unknown passions." Luckily, the other 2% seems to come from the Internet, so they dress like Japanese hookers with a fetish for fantasy novels. It's all very confusing.
In any event, I realized that, if I am to continue to mock my friends' taste in BBC period specials (12-hour versions of Pride and Prejudice and the like), then I should probably familiarize myself with the material. Lo and behold, I can - without pride, OR prejudice - say that Jane Eyre tore me a new one.
Seriously. I was hooked. 545-some-odd pages of wistfulness, swishing skirts, orphanages, and severe Christian morality, and I devoured it in a couple of days. What I hadn't counted on was the deep undercurrent of rebellion that runs through Bronte's work: the unlikely struggle of a woman holding her own against both class and gender inequities, and having her fire and faith in self ultimately rewarded. It doesn't get much better than that! Brava, Miss Charlotte. I'll read more - one of these days.
This edition is a great starter-kit for doubters such as myself, as it's illustrated by the self-proclaimed neo-Victorian hipster extraordinaire, "Dame Darcy," a cartoonist with a delightful body of work best typified by Meatcake, and with a jagged, big-eyed style that dances neatly between Tim Burton and an attack of a 12-year-old with a box of markers.
Audrey Niffenegger totally won me over with The Time Traveler's Wife:, and I've since been digging around for more work of hers that I can fall in lov...moreAudrey Niffenegger totally won me over with The Time Traveler's Wife:, and I've since been digging around for more work of hers that I can fall in love with. Her other picture book, The Three Incestuous Sisters:, did little for me. This, on the other hand, I thought was wonderful.
Stark and strange and nearly incomplete, this series of images is stitched together with the briefest thread of a story, at once haunting and oddly warm. The afterword explains that the book dates back to the mid-80s, when Niffenegger was a student at the Chicago Art Institute, working on printmaking and other fiber arts (much like her character, Claire). The artwork was produced from a labor intensive-sounding process involving etchings and plates, and the original publication consisted of fewer than a dozen handmade volumes.
I would recommend reading this without the text - let the pictures work their own magic, and sit with it for a while.
I met Molly Gloss when I was in high school in Eastern Oregon, the setting for her beautiful novel, The Jump-off Creek. She was a local hero for the s...moreI met Molly Gloss when I was in high school in Eastern Oregon, the setting for her beautiful novel, The Jump-off Creek. She was a local hero for the simple reason that she wrote about our world, our hills, our familiar tamarack forests and sagebrush, our quiet people and the lives they lead. In a state best known for Portland and the accessibility of natural wonder to the urban I-5 corridor, it was a refreshing bit of acknowledgment to see real - published! - art showing an interest in and sensitivity to the rural eastern expanse of the state.
Not to wax too nostalgic: I didn't like growing up there. To me, the hills were beautiful, boring boundaries carefully dividing my sheltered little town from the weird, varied world I knew existed outside the valley. People were mean, and small-minded, and often simple and hateful. I was mocked until I got too strange, and then I was just feared; stupid, superficial things like purple hair and noserings became metaphysical symbols of all that the down-home culture despised, and they made damn sure I knew it.
It is odd, then, that a book like this should come along - a tender, honest portrait of a small community in Eastern Oregon, not directly inside the valley where I lived, but near by a county or two, which in rural terms means practically the same place - and completely break my heart. Never have I had so much longing for a thing I never loved.
First of all, don't judge a book by its cover. No, really. Never in a thousand years would I have chosen to read something with a golden sunset and a girl-on-horseback silhouette. Hell, I even try to avoid anything with the word "heart" in the title, unless it's closely followed by "darkness." If you can't get past it, I recommend wrapping the book in a plain brown wrapper and pushing on through, because if you don't, you will miss one of the more interesting examinations of small-town life, and with it, a young female hero demonstrating perfectly that role models don't need to be princesses, warriors, or ravishingly beautiful to be strong and, more importantly, real.(less)
This is one of those odd little books that I struggle to find the right label for on my virtual "shelves." Somewhere between the lines, when you add t...moreThis is one of those odd little books that I struggle to find the right label for on my virtual "shelves." Somewhere between the lines, when you add together your in- and out-boxes of "children's," "heart-breaking," "poetry," and "women-gender," what mysteries those flimsy titles may or may not contain, you run into something like this: sweet, savory, often bitter morsels of young life, vignettes of Chicago - though no Chicago known to me - memories stacked one inside the other until they fit into other people's stories, each a page and a half, images so similar to ones of my own, they begin to blur.
This book has been on my mental shelf for years. Bits and pieces, shreds, chapters have turned up in creative writing prompts, English classes, brainstorms, and poetry slams, but I never managed to sit down and read the whole thing. When I did, it took one sitting. A ravenous, juicy hour and a half. It made me want to wear yellow high heels and drink papaya juice out of a can.
This copy was sent to me by my mother-in-law, an avid reader and member of book groups in her native Chicago. The mayor apparently picks a novel a year and the whole city takes it up like a royal fairy-tale decree: classes and chatrooms and coffee houses and community colleges buzz with it, its discussion, its implications. (As an aside - I wonder if the mayor really picks it, or if its some gem of a side job shuffled off to an eager intern underling, an English major whose dreams of artistry were long since stuffed into a cheap attache case and crammed under the filing cabinet. I hope that's the case. What a darling superpower: picking the city's books.)
Cisneros speaks softly and in anthems - her language never full of itself or its own mission, always real, always more like the awkward voice of diaries than the polished drone of "lit-rih-chuh" - yet in so doing, her voice carries high and clear and far over the heads of her imitators and peers.(less)
Jaime Hernandez' work has been part of my consciousness ever since my brain emerged from childhood. I think if I had paid more attention to Love and R...moreJaime Hernandez' work has been part of my consciousness ever since my brain emerged from childhood. I think if I had paid more attention to Love and Rockets when I was in my teens, I would have become a very different person. I loved it, of course, but always refused to latch on to the weird yearning it ignited in me, probably for fear of where it would take me. Now, as a woman in my thirties who reads things like Hopey Glass while sitting on the couch in her jammies, trying to ignore a football game, I realize exactly how powerful his illustration and storytelling is, and how he can - with a single panel - refresh my entire take on what constitutes beauty and sex and relationships.
The book is divided between two characters: I far prefer the Hopey stories to the more melodramatic Ray's, but both convey a rich subtext and create an incredibly believable, familiar cast of people. Readers who were devoted to the Locas characters from Love and Rockets(Latinas from the L.A. punk scene) will be spending time with old friends.(less)