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How to Be Both
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Group Reads > How to be Both group discussion (Feb '15)

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Alexa (AlexaNC) | 1256 comments Mod
I just got this out of the library but haven't started it yet. All I know about it right now is that it made the short list for the Man Booker Prize for 2014. Looking forward to it!


Alexa (AlexaNC) | 1256 comments Mod
So who's planning on reading this, already started it, still waiting on a library copy?


message 3: by Kat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kat | 145 comments I haven't started or even bought it yet, but this is definitely one I'd like to read, from what I've read about it. Does anyone know how long it is?


Alexa (AlexaNC) | 1256 comments Mod
I have a hardcover copy, (this edition: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... ) it has 372 pages, but not densely written pages at all (like perhaps 200 words a page?).


message 5: by Kat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kat | 145 comments OK, just bought a copy for my Nook. Though I'm a slow reader and am reading two other novels as well, so I don't promise to be ready to discuss any time soon!


Erin (rinvas) | 46 comments I just started it. Definitely different, I am not used to the flow yet. But I do like it. It feels like a long poem


Alexa (AlexaNC) | 1256 comments Mod
This seems to be turning into quite a year for poetry!


message 8: by Kat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kat | 145 comments I had a funny experience starting this book. Of course the big innovation is that it can be read either of two ways, either the Eyes section first and then the Camera section, or vice versa. I started with the Eyes section but absolutely could not hack the poetic flow, was on the edge of writing here that I'd changed my mind about reading it. Then I decided to start with the Camera section instead. It's more conventional and I was able to get into it. It remains to be seen whether the Eyes section will be more palatable to me after having read the Camera section.

My Nook says the book is 379 pages long, but it contains two versions, one that begins with the Eyes and one that begins with the Camera section. So it's really only 185 pages or something along that line.


Alexa (AlexaNC) | 1256 comments Mod
Mine didn't say anything about there being a choice of how it was read, it just started right in with the camera section. So I checked, and realized that both sections are labeled "one." Then I checked on-line and found out that apparently there are different editions, some that start with the camera and some that start with the eye.

So, I've got the camera section first, and I just fell into it! I picked it up last night, just to get a taste of it, and I simply couldn't put it down. I could taste George's grief so clearly, and yet at the same time it was so, so funny. I'm wondering how the final experience will be different for those who start with the other section.

Anybody got/know the translation for the epigraphs?


Alexa (AlexaNC) | 1256 comments Mod
This is seriously wonderful!


Alexa (AlexaNC) | 1256 comments Mod
I am love, love, love, love, loving this! It is so rich and funny and touching and poignant and and and!!! I love the way the two stories are intersecting each other - although we won't really be able to talk about it until everyone's done I guess.


Alexa (AlexaNC) | 1256 comments Mod
She describes grief so beautifully! This is from page 73 of the camera section: (view spoiler) Or page 80 of the camera section: (view spoiler)


Alexa (AlexaNC) | 1256 comments Mod
What do you all think the title means?


message 14: by Kat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kat | 145 comments Not there yet--not even through with the Camera section and haven't even started Eyes. But I think the title will prove to have multiple meanings. I know I've highlighted a few pieces of text I thought related to the title, but I haven't got it in front of me at the moment. I'll chime in when I do.


Alexa (AlexaNC) | 1256 comments Mod
I can make several guesses - but none of them seem really it. You're right though, it wouldn't make sense until we've all finished.


Alexa (AlexaNC) | 1256 comments Mod
I've finished it, and I have to say this was a delightful wonderful experience all the way through! I am so, so glad I read this - and thanks a ton to whoever first nominated it!


Story (storyheart) Alexa wrote: "I am love, love, love, love, loving this! It is so rich and funny and touching and poignant and and and!!! I love the way the two stories are intersecting each other - although we won't really be..."

Me too...haven't felt this in love with a book for a long time.


Alexa (AlexaNC) | 1256 comments Mod
How are people doing, how much have you read, any thoughts?


Story (storyheart) Alexa wrote: "How are people doing, how much have you read, any thoughts?"

I'm finished. I loved it.


message 20: by Kat (last edited Mar 06, 2015 08:08PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kat | 145 comments POST ON HOW TO BE BOTH. Sorry it took me so long to finish this brilliant novel. There are various reasons, but only one has to do with the novel itself. Though the Camera section pulled me in and flew by, I found reading the Eyes section a bit of a chore, in spite of its gorgeous and playful language and its rich themes. That's not a criticism of the novel, it's an acknowledgment that for me, the greatest reading pleasure still comes from an individualized character with something at stake. Though the narrator of the Eyes section is unusual, at the same time she's quintessential, representative, and whether she's narrating her past or her present, she's removed and remote from the action, not directly engaged. The pleasures of the Eyes section are more cerebral than emotional. So in spite of its brilliance, I did have to push myself a bit to get through it.

Now that I have, though, I'm interested in taking up the question Alexa posed about the title. There seemed to be dozens of references to it in the text. Past or present? George says. Male or female? It can't be both. It must be one or the other.
Who says? Why must it? her mother says.

Other "boths": the close-up happening and the bigger picture. "Supercoil can be both/ positve/yeah and/negative." The picture underneath and the picture on the surface. (fresco) What we see or how we see. Girl playing Rosalind pretends to be a boy and then a girl. The dead painter is dead and alive both. Nature is a bona fide artist of intent both dark and light. “The great Alberti…wrote…Let the movements of a man (as opposed to a boy or young woman) be ornato with more firmness, [he] understands the bareness and pliability it takes, ho, to be both.” And she refers soon after to knowing other painters “who could do my particular both.” “Relax, I said. Don’t move. Can you do both?” “In the making of pictures and love both” We need both luck and justice. How can I be seed or tree or both? The water of forgetting and the water of remembering both. Fingernails that are both living and dead at once. “…pictures can be both life and death at once and cross the border between the two.” “…to paint them like they were both seeing and blind.” “…that’s what a proper burnishing of gold does: properly done it will give out both at once darkness and brightness…” And of course at the end, “…everything to be made and unmade both.”

Okay, I got carried away. But I think in the end the novel and its title point to a metaphysical challenge, the challenge of carrying within us in an almost but never quite reconciled state our constitutional paradoxes, which come to us as part of life both generally and in “particular bothness.”


Alexa (AlexaNC) | 1256 comments Mod
Thanks Kat! I really, really enjoyed reading your analysis! You picked out some really important appropriate quotes there. I had forgotten that bit, almost right at the beginning (past or present, male or female). Good catch!

I'm really glad my book was Camera first, I can't see it having the same impact Eyes first, but I'll never really know....

Also for me (although I don't have any good quotes) it has to do with the more everyday mundane questions of dealing with overwhelming grief and yet carrying on with life - that one can be both sad and happy at the same time - that's the issue I see George dealing with.


message 22: by Kat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kat | 145 comments Yes, good point. To enjoy life in the midst of grief. Of course, the "both" themes don't exhaust the meanings. There's a strong thread about the senses, not only eyes which are front and center but also ears. That was one of the most striking images in the fresco as originally described, for me, someone whispering into an ear. And it's such a visual book, with these close descriptions of paintings and things looked at in a painterly way. I myself am much more auditory than visual, and have a hard time making the leap from a description in words of something visual and imagining that in my head. (I never, for example, form pictures of what characters look like, which I know other people do. Upside: when the movie comes out, the casting doesn't upset me. :)) This gives me a fondness for novels with lots of dialogue and a minimum of description, such as those by Jane Austen or, more recently, Pat Barker.

Anyway, mentioning the visual aspect is a lead-up to wondering if anyone knows of a link to an image of this fresco? I believe the painter is supposed to be historical, though probably not historically known to be a woman, is my guess. Am I making sense?


message 23: by Kat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kat | 145 comments Do you think there's a distinction between being watched and being seen? I'm thinking about George's mother who believed she was being watched but liked it, felt it added something, made life "pert." And at the end George and H (if I'm remembering the letter right) make eyes to watch the woman who watched George's mother. Is it revenge, or gift, or a combination of the two? Hmm.


Story (storyheart) Kat wrote: anyone knows of a link to an image of this fresco? I believe the painter is supposed to be historical, though probably not historically known to be a woman, is my guess. Am I making sense?

http://www.abcgallery.com/I/italy/cos...


Story (storyheart) Alexa wrote: I'm really glad my book was Camera first, I can't see it having the same impact Eyes first, but I'll never really know...."

Mine was Eyes first and I enjoyed that section much more than I did Camera, though I had to read the first few pages aloud to catch the rhythm. I found it more vibrant than George's section.


Alexa (AlexaNC) | 1256 comments Mod
Revenge or a gift - what a fascinating question!

Thanks for the link Storyheart, that's great, I kept meaning to go looking....

I knew the artist was completely real from the author's picture in the book! So I went on to assume that everything George's mother told her was accurate.

For me, this book was about George, and the entire Eyes section was just George from a different view. But if one starts reading Eyes first, then the book can't be about her at all, she's just an odd mostly unknown detail - which on the other hand is just what the painter is to George. So, for Eyes first readers, what, in a nutshell, is the story "about?"


message 27: by Kat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kat | 145 comments Thanks for the link, Storyheart. (What a great user name, by the way!) Fascinating to see the work after reading so much about it.

Alexa, what a great question--what is the book "about"? I'm not sure I saw the Eyes section as being about George. I guess I saw it as being about making art. I don't know what I'd say to the question of what the book as a whole is "about." Its two sections are unified by theme rather than plot or character, I think.

Re being seen and being watched: I just remembered George's daily watching of the porn video. That must belong in there somewhere. You could write a dissertation on this book!


Story (storyheart) Alexa wrote: "So, for Eyes first readers, what, in a nutshell, is the story "about?"

To me it was about creation:who has the right to make art and who tries to control and censor what's made? But the Eyes section was also about Francesco's lively character. George was lively too, in her own way but her way was darker and maybe more bitter.

I also wondered if 'how to be both' meant both the viewer (eyes) and the recorder (camera) and what the difference is between what an artist sees and what they record in their art?


message 29: by Kat (last edited Mar 08, 2015 09:11PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kat | 145 comments Good answer to the "about" question. Both George's mother with her subverts(and ultimately George with her eyes) and Francescho are trangressors, people who are not "supposed to" make art. So that ties the two halves together.

I like your second idea as well, about how to be both viewer and recorder. Or, to go a step further, how to be both the watcher and the watched, the artist and the art? Though I'm not sure there's evidence for that. Hmm.


Story (storyheart) Kat wrote:"how to be both the watcher and the watched, the artist and the art? Though I'm not sure there's evidence for that. Hmm."

I think it's implied. People watch Francesco because they sense there is something different with him/her and George watches the woman her mother was in love with who in turn watches George's mother...


message 31: by Kat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kat | 145 comments Yes. We are clearly meant to think about different ways of watching and being watched, seeing and being seen.


Alexa (AlexaNC) | 1256 comments Mod
There's also this subtle thread running through it about sexuality, and whether one might want to introduce a sexual relationship into a perfect friendship.


message 33: by Kat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kat | 145 comments Yes, which reminds me of a new "both": Francescho is sad because she couldn't have both work AND love. If I'm remembering rightly.


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