Field Notes, vol 2
This has been another week overflowing with books for me! The weather has been cool and cloudy, perfect for reading and drinking big mugs of tea and taking enough photographs to consider my new camera a promising new friend and simmering pots of soup on the stove and lots of blogging and adventures in the woods wearing woolens and boots that don’t mind mud. Thistle and I have been enjoying ourselves.
My fiction reading continues to be dominated by books who add an extra layer of magic over everyday life. After being swept away by Dinesen’s Winter’s Tales, I wasn’t sure where to turn next until I caught a glimpse of Arabian Nights and Days by Naguib Mahfouz. Unlike his better known realist novels, this one was full of djinns and weak mortals and the occasional madman. Just what I needed! By the time I picked up another novel, I’d heard some bad news (don’t worry, it was resolved with a couple of days) so I turned to Anna Dean and her historical mystery series for an un-demanding comfort read. A Woman of Consequence was just that: engaging, entertaining, and the best of the series so far. It’s always nice to see a good author improving, and I look forward to her future books.
With the bad news behind, me, though, I was ready for some meatier fare. I still craved a fairy tale feel and woman’s touch, so it’s a good thing indeed I had brought Eva Luna by Isabel Allende home from the library. From the first page, I was sunk completely into Eva’s (and Allende’s) storytelling spell, only to emerge at the end in blinking wonder. I do so love magical realism, but I rarely hear Allende mentioned in the same breath as Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Mario Vargas Llosa or the other Latino greats. Since I happen to have a copy Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, I thought a reread would be the perfect way to extend my magical realist reading and do a bit of comparing. Pretty soon I was again swept away to the tiny town of Macondo and multiple generations of Buendia passion and madness. I always get a little thrill when a novel includes a family tree as a frontispiece, although of course I never actually look at it until I’ve finished for fear of learning too much of the plot beforehand. It reminded me of why I feel in love with Marquez, and really Latin American literature (One Hundred Years of Solitude was my first experience, back when I was 18), and reading it right after Allende provided enough food for thought that I suspect my blog post about it will be longer than usual.
Yesterday I finished the last hundred or so pages of the Marquez, watching what the sixth generation of Buendias got up to, and later had to decide what to read next. I was craving a classic, but still something with a bit of otherworldliness about it, so in the absence of any available medieval lit, I decided to finally get to know Ann Radcliffe and added The Mysteries of Udolpho to my new nook. While I’ve been slightly curious about Gothic novels for ages now, I’ve seen enough lukewarm posts about Radcliffe that I’d rather dismissed her. Then in October, when my weekend visit to Amy suddenly got extended a couple of days thanks to Hurricane Sandy and bus cancellations (Amy and her then-roommate were both so gracious about it too!), I not only managed to devour even more croissants and buns from the bakery around the corner but to read a couple of Amy’s books too. One was a fascinating essay collection called How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ, a literature professor and sci fi novelist. In it, she mentions all sorts of older women authors who have been pushed to the margins by the literary establishment, including Ann Radcliffe. Her wonderful writing convinced me I needed to give these authors a try, and now that I’m over a hundred pages in to The Mysteries of Udolpho I’m so glad that I did. Good thing I listed all of the authors and books Russ mentioned: I suspect I’ll be referring to it quite frequently from now on! Not to mention tracking down her other essay collections: Stefanie recently reviewed one that apparently has a whole essay devoted to Gothic lit. Yay!
Oh dear: I’m over seven hundred words and haven’t even discussed my nonfiction reading of the week yet. I can see this loose format, together with these wonderful new compression gloves my mom discovered and gave me (they help arthritis), has unleashed my naturally verbose self. But in between my devouring of fiction, I’ve gotten to read quite a few nonfiction books too. There was a lot of social justice reading for me this week: from the status of LGBT and other minority rights in the US from a legal standpoint (Covering by Kenji Yoshino) to a merciless catalogue of the effects of the oil industry (Crude by Sonia Shah) to a challenging, infinitely rewarding analysis of Western feminism and how it views Third World women (Feminism Without Borders by Chandra Talpade Mohanty), I’ve learned a lot. While these were all wonderful books, they’re both intellectually and emotionally exhausting, so I paired them with lighter topics like naturalism (Biophilia by Edward Wilson, which surprised me with its broad scope) and seeing the holy in everyday life (The Preaching Life by Barbara Brown Taylor, which I finished yesterday and makes me more thrilled than ever that I’ve found a progressive Episcopal church to attend). I also read Emily Carr’s journals Hundreds and Thousands earlier this week, and to my surprise I loved the experience. In fact, it awakened a passion in me to read more diaries! I always assumed my aversion to memoirs meant I wouldn’t enjoy diaries or journals either. But somehow it’s quite the opposite: the immediacy and rawness draw me in and let me put my guard down. I know many bloggers are already a fan of this genre, so if you have any to recommend to me, please do so!
I haven’t left much space for the blogosphere, have I? Well, on the blogging front I did my first video in ages and loved getting to ramble on about library books again. You can also see a bit of a preview of my new bookshelves behind me. :) Also, I’ve so far managed to keep up with writing posts about the books I’ve read (I tend to finish three at around the same time, so I write three posts at one sitting, which has turned out to be my natural rhythm anyway). As I’ve always had a backlog of books before, and thus never really attempted to write about a book as soon after I finished it as possible (the backlog insisted that I should concentrate on books I’d finished earlier instead), I’m surprised at how much more fun and joyful blogging this way is. Obviously, I haven’t yet posted about all the books, but seeing the draft posts lined up so tidily is deeply satisfying and not having a backlog makes me feel light and fancy free. In other words, the way a hobby should be! Those gloves I mentioned have also helped, allowing me to spend more time at the computer than I’ve been able to in ages, so I’ve also been able to comment more on other’s blogs. I do love this community. :)
Very quickly, here are three links I came across this week and found quite interesting. The first is an article entitled “Secret Reading Lives Revealed” about researchers who study old books to learn more about historical readers. There are several interesting books mentioned in the article too; in fact I’ve already put in an interlibrary loan request for one of them! I wonder if you can guess which one. ;) Claire of the Captive Reader started an interesting discussion about whether reading classics ‘intended’ for ‘mature adults’ when you’re younger ruins them for you (based on a passage she came across in a book about books). Claire’s own thoughts are lovely and the comments are a treat to read! And finally, a wonderful blog called The Reconstructionists whose purpose is “a yearlong celebration of remarkable women who have changed how we see the world.” Each post includes a beautiful illustration and brief profile of one such woman. So far four are up, all of white women, but I hope it turns out to be racially inclusive.
I lied, one more brief thing. I mentioned Feminism Without Borders by Chandra Talpade Mohanty above, which is the book we’re discussing this month over at A Year of Feminist Classics. It’s quite academic and I imagine a lot of people might give up or never seek the book out. So I’m planning the discussion to focus more on Mohanty’s ideas, and I’ll be making it so that even those who haven’t read the book will be able to easily join in. And I’ll be gearing it towards how these concepts affect our reading and blogging lives. On that note, this is my plea that anyone interested in feminism or women’s studies or international authors or POC authors or social justice come and comment! There’s only one post with discussion questions up now, so you’re not behind, and I’ll be adding more posts this upcoming week.
Apologies for the length of this! To break up all that the text I’ve included some of my favourite photos from this past week or so, despite their lack of bookishness. As I said last week, I’m still experimenting with the format of these field notes, until I settle on the best approach. So do give me any feedback you have! I hope everyone else had a lovely week.