Sunday Salon: the Quadruple Post
It’s been four weeks since my last Sunday Salon, so I’ve got to cover four Sundays in this one post. :) However, I didn’t actually read during most of those four weeks; my fibromylagia flared up badly, and when that happens I find it impossible to read. Both physically speaking, even the act of making sure my arms and neck are in alignment is too much for my poor muscles, and mentally speaking, because my brain descends into fibro fog and can’t quite put together a meaning from discrete words. I guess the point of this is: 1) fibro sucks and 2) I only have 13 books to talk about.
First up is A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid, which I read for the African Diaspora Challenge. I read Kincaid’s debut novel Annie John last year, and it was so amazing I knew I wanted to read the rest of her books. I put A Small Place on hold, thinking it was another novel. But it turned out to be an extended essay (the book is slightly less than 100 pages) about Antigua and the politics of the Western nations and the Caribbean. It blew me away; Kincaid is an incredible author, and her rage and wit come together to create a sharp, pointed essay that will probably make most Westerners a touch uncomfortable. I was quite happy not to be British and not to have ever gone on a Caribbean cruise while reading this. In the first section, Kincaid uses second-person to the most advantage to grab the attention of her presumably Western audience, by imagining the reader as a tourist arriving in Antigua. From the first line,
If you to go Antigua as a tourist, this is what you will see.
Kincaid sucked me into her writing and kept me there. I think that everyone should read, especially those who might not know much about the political history of the Caribbean. She’s so smart and passionate, and the way she rips into modern Western ‘forgetfulness’ re: colonialism is delicious and satisfying (as an international relations junkie, I get so sick of some of the ridiculousness I see out there that I loved Kincaid’s forthwriteness and willingness to call a spade a spade). I would absolutely love to share some of the passages with you, but alas I had to return all of my library books when I was ill, so I don’t have it here for reference. I definitely want to reread it in the future, though, and as soon as I have an income, I want a copy for my own shelves.
Speaking of awesome nonfiction, I next finished The Far Traveller by Nancy Marie Brown for the Tournament of Reading (Medieval) Challenge. This is a book about medieval Icelanders, mainly Icelandic women and most specifically it centers around Gudrid, a woman who appears in the sagas and has been found in other historical sources. Brown weaves together analyses of various saga stories with a look at archaelogy (she volunteers on a dig at some point) with a look at how history is discovered/made. She continually personalises the history, and as a woman, I found all of my curiousity about Icelandic women satisfied. I adored this book, and I think all of you will too. Seriously! Even if you have no inherent interest in the Middle Ages, or Iceland, Brown has made her subject so fascinating and sparkling it rises above all of that. She finds the universal truths of being woman, of being an explorer, or being human, and then she puts them in their more specific context. I can’t recommend it highly enough, and I rather want to read it again just thinking about it.
My feelings are considerably more ambivalent about The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. This was my first read for the Complete Booker Challenge; in the past, I’ve had a pretty good reaction to most of the Bookers I’ve read. This one had a different feeling from most of those; it felt brash, like an upstart determined to shake the system. It’s told in 2nd person, via a series of one-sided e-mails from a young Indian enterprenuer in Bangalore to some Chinese politician. The enterprenuer, Balram, tells the story of his life from a village boy to chauffeur in Delhi. Now, I think that Adiga has some definite writing talents; his characterisations are strong, and he knows how to pace a story. But I think a lot of this book was about Adiga trying to make waves and show off. Which is why it ultimately founders for me; I didn’t really care about any of the characters, or what would ultimately happen to them. Balram has horrible views on women, and while I understand that Adiga made it that way because Balram’s from a village, and he’s not supposed to be sympathetic, etc., etc., I simply ended up alienated. I don’t know…I was either laughing or rolling my eyes throughout most of the book. There’s enough strong stuff for me to be curious about Adiga’s short story collection Between the Assassinations. But I’m not sure if I’d recommend it. Although, as someone who’s read quite a few authors from the subcontinent, it was certainly a different viewpoint/voice than I would have expected!
I can unequivocally recommend my next read: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (which I’m counting towards the Our Mutual Read Challenge). I’m sure you won’t be surprised that I loved it, since Ms. Waters has a place of honour in my ‘Very Favourite Authors Ever’ sidebar. ;) And unlike some of the other authors there, I think she has a completely universal appeal. So if you haven’t read her yet, go grab one of her novels! Personally, I’ve been reading them in published order, but Fingersmith would be as good a place to start as any. :) Right; I suppose I should actually talk about the book. It’s historical fiction, set in Victorian times, and it’s all twisty and full of fun. But for me at least, the plot wasn’t that huge of a deal. It was the characters, and their voices and experiences, that made me care about the book, that made me bite my nails wondering how it would all end. Which is exactly the way that I’d want it. Waters’ writing is as perfect as usual; her narrators have distinctive, convincing voices, and she’s the master of foreshadowing. For those of you who are more into plot, the book’s got a tight one. I think Waters gives enough hints to figure out all of the twists ahead of time, which in my opinion just makes it more fun; she definitely keeps the reader on their toes until the end. And the setting, the underworld of Victorian London, is great fun! So really, this book has every element it needs to be a wonderful, entertaining, thought-provoking novel, and it’s just that. It hasn’t replaced Tipping the Velvet as my fave Waters ever, but it has made me even more excited to read the rest of her books (which I’ve been spacing out so that they’ll last longer).
In Her Own Sweet Time by Rachel Lehmann Haupt was a very interesting mix of memoir and research about American women having biological children later in life, as our society changes. I picked it up for the Women Unbound Challenge, and I think it was a great choice, since I felt like I was having coffee with a group of smart, motivated women in which we could chat honestly and openly about the confused issues surrounding motherhood. Haupt originally began looking into the issues when she found herself newly single in her mid-thirties and still wanting a biological child. What I love about the book is its lack of judgement or fear tactics; Haupt talks to a bunch of scientists (especially women scientists), interviews lots of women with different experiences, and is open about her personal feelings and how they change as time wears on. It’s interesting for me, since I don’t have a particular desire to have a *biological* child (and yes, I know I’m young, and I know that might change) to read about the lengths other women go to for just that. I also find anything looking at single motherhood by choice fascinating, since I can imagine having a child without a husband, so even though Haupt isn’t keen on the idea, her coverage of it made me happy. :) I feel like I’m being rather disjointed! But ultimately, this is my kind of desert book…a strong woman looking at issues independent, contemporary, middle class American women face. It’s like my version of chick lit…it makes me examine my own life, it makes me chat with my friends, and ultimately it leaves me feeling empowered about my future. I just happen to prefer it in nonfiction!
I listened to Washington Square by Henry James and very much enjoyed it. I’ve always been a fan of James’ novels, though, so I don’t think that’s a surprise to anyone. ;) Honestly, this book has one of the meanest villains I’ve encountered in some time, and watching James’ characterisation of him simply leaves me in awe. Dr. Sloper isn’t a deliberate villain; he just so continuously undermines his daughter and any of her abilities, systemetically destroying her life, that he ends up being more evil than most. And sometimes, he’s even got good motivations. Anyway, the storyline is quite interesting; it’s about a marriage attempt, but unlike in most classic novels, it opens with an engagement. There isn’t really a courtship, and all of the key players are introduced very early in the book. In fact, it has a tiny cast compared to most classic novels; there are really only four reoccurring characters. But it’s so psychologically fascinating, that I loved it and couldn’t wait to find out what the next chapter would bring. While this isn’t my favourite James novel (that’s a tie between Portrait of a Lady and The Ambassadors), I’m very happy that I read it, and it’s the kind of book that stays with you. I think this might be a good place for people to start with James, if his longer works make them nervous. ;)
I read The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa for the Japanese Literature Book Group and then got sick and didn’t participate! I believe that’s irony. ;) I’m sorry that I missed that discussion, but honestly, this book underwhelmed me. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve seen movies like Memento and Proof, or that I’ve read authors like Sacks and Hofstadter, but the memory and mathematics issues didn’t feel fresh to me. Ogawa’s characters didn’t really draw me in…I don’t know, I always felt like I was kept at arm’s reach. It all just felt a bit boring and banal, which is a shame since there are so many Japanese authors I really love that do the ‘quiet but profound’ thing more successfully. It’s interesting to me to see how some books gain momentum in the blogosphere. :)
I’m about to commit blasphemy when I talk about Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett. It’s my first read for the Terry Pratchett Challenge, and it has me a bit nervous that I committed to too high of a level. It’s the first book I’ve read of the adult Discworld series (I have read the YA Tiffany Aching trilogy, set in the same world), and honestly, I’m not impressed. Many of the jokes felt like they were trying a touch too hard, and even though the book itself isn’t that long, I got bored a few times in it. Eek! I really expected to love this one, since I’ve loved all of Pratchett’s books that I’ve read (which, now that I think about it, are all YA), but I don’t know what to say. I’m hoping it’s because it was an older Discworld novel…maybe I should switch from the Witches books to the Death ones?
Now we’re up to February. :) I listened to an audio version of “Hedda Gabler” by Henrik Ibsen, and I must say, I think it’s a great way to read plays! The audio the library had was a full production, with different actors playing each role. I’ve been wanting to read Ibsen for awhile now, hearing that he’s an amazing playwright. And while “Hedda Gabler” isn’t as famous as “The Doll House,” it was awesome and definitely made me want to read more Ibsen in the future! The main focus of the play is Hedda herself, who is one of those super-manipulative types. It was great fun watching her scheme, and since she’s the ultimate anti-heroine, I wasn’t too concerned about how her life would actually turn out. ;) Ibsen reminded me a bit of Chekhov…with the foreshadowing and just the general tone. Since I love Chekhov, this is a good thing! You know, I don’t read a lot of plays (I prefer to watch productions of them, usually on DVD since I live in the boonies, lol), and I’m not really sure how to review them. But I’d encourage people who are skeptical about audio format books to give it a try with plays. They complement each other perfectly!
Whew. I finished three books last night, but honestly, I’m feeling tired! It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these posts, so I’m going to close for now. :) I hope all of y’all have been reading awesome books! Feel free to tell me about any you think I should read. :)