In my new post at Thornfield Hall, I review Pamela Hansford Johnson’s The Trojan Brothers, published in 1944, and mention three other books worthy of November reading.
The general link for Thornfield Hall is
Are you looking for a fascinating read? At my blog Thornfield Hall, I recommend Celia Brayfield’s Rebel Writers: The Accidental Feminists, an astute study of seven writers of the ‘50s and ‘60s, Shelagh Delaney, Edna O’Brien, Lynne Reid Banks, Nell Dunn, Charlotte Bingham, and Virginia Ironside, and Margaret Forster. In their groundbreaking early work, these women questioned assumptions about sex, class, work, female friendships, and marriage.
For light reading, try Charlotte Bingham’s charming coming-of-age novel, Coronet among the Weeds, published in 1963 when she was 20. I thoroughly enjoyed it: it’s like Nancy Mitford meets Dodie Smith and J. D. Salinger. Like Charlotte, the narrator of Coronet is the daughter of an impoverished lord and a playwright mother.
The general link for Thornfield Hall is
If you read blogs or Goodreads reviews, you often see this odd last line: “Thank you to Netgalley [and X Publisher] for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review.”
And you may ask, What the heck is Netgalley? Well, it is a website where critics, bloggers, and consumer reviewers can request e-galleys from publishers.
Netgalley is a mixed blessing. I have read the best Netgalley books; I have read the worst Netgalley books. The biggest temptation: requesting too many books. I’ve been lucky lately. Three of my favorite books this year are from Netgalley: Alice Mattison’s counterculture classic, Conscience (which I posted about here), Laura van den Berg’s surreal The Third Hotel (here), and Pat Barker’s retelling of the Iliad, The Silence of the Girls (here).
But what if you dislike a book? Yes, we’re doing it “in exchange for an honest review” (theoretically), but I only trash books I have paid for! I put aside The Splintering of the American Mind (a controversial book about identity politics) and Zachary Mason’s Metamorphica (a collection of retold myths) because they “were not for me.”
Since professional reviewers do not indulge in public expressions of gratitude–the reverse is far more likely–I email my thanks to publishers. (Yes, I have manners.) Though it is lovely to get new books, it is unnecessary to write a thank-you note in the actual review.
My rule: don’t let Negalley take over my life. I don’t want to be that person who allows Netgalley to dictate my reading. Nope, I’ve got to read classics.
Here’s a typical day in the life of a Netgalley reviewer.
And now I think I’ll read a classic, because I need a break.
2 Here is Catullus’s popular two-line poem (85). And here is my literal translation: “I hate and I love. You probably ask why I do so./ I do not know, but I feel myself suffer and am tortured.”
Do let me know your favorite literary tote bags!
Yes, I know. It’s very sad. But we are powerful women now, aren’t we? And it’s time to tune into that.
I was a victim of statutory rape. And I pitied the lesbian teacher who seduced me, because she manipulated me with stories of how difficult it was to be gay because people constantly rejected her. When I wrote about it here a few years ago, readers misinterpreted it as “a gay thing.” That’s because I wrote about it from my perspective as a teenager, not as a Woman of a Certain Age. The worst things at age 16 were the bad sex and boredom.
Women need to rediscover their strength and self-reliance! Lightening up is the only way I keep from gnashing my teeth! The Iowa state govenment, under the auspices of Governor Kim Reynolds (a woman), has defunded Planned Parenthood and shut down five clinics with devastating repercussions for women’s health. And, remember, we’ve got to vote for the Democrats in November to refund Planned Parenthood.
AND NOW FOR LITERARY LINKS.
1. Patti Smith writes brilliantly at The Paris Review about Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. (It is actually the foreward to the Penguin Deluxe edition of Little Women. Here’s the first paragraph.
Perhaps no other book provided a greater guide, as I set out on my youthful path, than Louisa May Alcott’s most beloved novel, Little Women. I was a wiry daydreamer, just ten years old. Life was already presenting challenges for an awkward tomboy growing up in the gender-defined 1950s. Uninterested in preordained activities, I would take off on my blue bicycle, to a secluded place in the woods, and read the books I had checked out, often over and over again, from the local library. I could hardly be found without book in hand and sacrificed sleep and hours at play to enter wholeheartedly each of their unique worlds.
2. Philip Styrt writes a stellar piece at Tor about epigraphs: “Always Read the Epigraph: A Lesson for Fantasy Readers.”
Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”— Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
see you there, with that novel in your hand. Turning to page 1 (or, given the vagaries of publishers, maybe page 3), are you? Starting with the prologue, or the preface, or good old Chapter 1? Well, I’m here to tell you to turn that page back in the other direction and take a look at what you might find lurking in the front matter of the book. No, I’m not talking about the publication information (though I’m sure the Library of Congress would love to feel appreciated) and not even the acknowledgements and the dedication (though while you’re here, why not find out who the author loves?). I’m talking about the epigraph. The little (often italicized) sayings or quotations nestled in the very beginning, right before the action starts: right ahead of that opening paragraph on page 1 you were about to read.
3. Jon Meacham writes at the New York Times that “Henry Adams’s 1880 Novel, ‘Democracy,’ Resonates Now More Than Ever.”
The enduring relevance of “Democracy” is a tribute to the gifts of Henry Brooks Adams, whose identity as the author was revealed by the publisher after Adams died in 1918. Few people in the midst of the post-Civil War Gilded Age had a better feel for American democracy than Adams. Great-grandson and grandson of presidents, historian, professor and journalist, Adams had left Boston in 1877 for Washington. “I gravitate to a capital as a primary law of nature,” Adams wrote a friend. “This is the only place in America where society amuses me, or where life offers variety.”’
As he worked on his monumental histories of the early Republic, Adams took time to write “Democracy,” a novel that one might have expected if Anthony Trollope and Ward Just had somehow managed to collaborate across time and space. Mrs. Lee, a widow and an idealist about public life, is a desirable catch. Two suitors are especially drawn to her: John Carrington, an aristocratic young Virginian, and the practical and ambitious Senator Silas Ratcliffe, a rising man from Illinois.
Do you feel overwhelmed? And stiff!
Here’s my latest exercise challenge: shopping with my husband.
Although I bicycle, nothing prepared me for this shopping trip. Usually I make the list and he shops (because I distract him with my extravagant love of name-brand canned tomatoes). But now he has his arm in a sling, so I went with him.
He picked the fruit, I the vegetables. He made me put them back because they were organic. Too expensive.
He also taught me to arrange the cart properly. I wondered, WHY CAN’T THE PIZZA CRUST GO IN THE BACK OF THE CART? WHY DOES IT GO IN THE FRONT? AND WHY DOES THE MILK GO BENEATH THE CART? AND WHY DOESN’T THE CAT LITTER GO UNDERNEATH?
This is why we seldom go grocery shopping together.
The most taxing part: pushing the full shopping cart up the hill to the top of the parking lot. He tried to pull it from the front, but I would not allow this.
P.S. He is healing, and that’s what I care about!
BASSETT BY STELLA GIBBONS.
Over the summer I read Bassett, a charming novel published in 1934. Time flies–I meant to post on it earlier–but I’m just getting around to it (and am a little vague on it by now.) In this delightful novel, Gibbons cleverly explores the worlds of two loosely-connected sets of characters: a couple of middle-aged women who go into business together, and a mismatched young couple down the road who fall in love–but will it last?
This witty novel begins with Gibbons’s description of the eccentric Miss Hilda Baker, a Londoner who works in a pattern-cutting office. “Museums and galleries, dens and historic haunts of peace lay all around Miss Baker, yet she lived as narrowly as a mouse in its hole; and went backwards and forwards between her lodgings and the offices in Reubens Place, for 21 years without much change being made in her dark ordinary house.”
In the opening scene, Miss Baker is speculating on how she should invest her savings of 300 pounds. She doesn’t want a car, or to travel. She doesn’t want to fritter away the money. And so she is intrigued by an ad in Town and Country: Miss Padsoe, a spinster in a country town, needs a partner in the conversion of her house into a rooming house. Miss Baker checks it out: she has a long, uncomfortable trip to the country and is not at all crazy about it. But when her boss sacks her (he is downsizing), she accepts Miss Padsoe’s offer. And the adventures of Miss Baker and Miss Padsoe–which begin with Miss Padsoe being locked out by the bullying servants–are great fun to read.
Less amusing are the adventures of the aristocratic Shelling family down the road. Queenie Catton, a naive young woman with no job skills, takes a job as Mrs. Shelling’s companion. George, the sophisticated son of the house, falls in love with Queenie, though his sister Bell warns him Queenie is not their kind and that it would be wrong to seduce her. If only Queenie had realized that he was a little too close to his sister Bell–but Queenie doesn’t understand their near-incestuous relationship.
I loved the parts about Miss Baker and Miss Padsoe. A lively novel–so much fun! even though it is uneven.
I recently bought a Planner notebook. On facing pages we have a Daily Agenda section and To Do List–which are exactly the same thing, but I like writing everything twice.
I bought the Planner to track daily appointments. My husband was hit by a car while riding his bike in the bike lane; he was hospitalized with a broken collarbone and a collapsed lung. Appointment with trauma doctor–check. Appointment with orthopedic surgeon–check. Pick up Extra Strength Tylenol for pain and the cat’s meds–check. Everyone in this house is on meds now!
Checking items off a list is calming. And then I realized I could eke out my tranquil planner time by scheduling my reading for book clubs.
I have two book clubs in October. I calculate the number of pages I need to read per day. Soon the Planner is a jumble of dates, numbers, and arrows pointing back and forth. Do I really need to read 200 pages of Wives and Daughters and 57 pages of Pussy, King of the Pirates on the same day? That can’t be right– and I’m not even talking about the miscalculation. Elizabeth Gaskell and Kathy Acker do not go together!
Of course any inattention to the schedule will wreak havoc. I will be over-prepared for the Gaskell discussion at the Victober (Victorians in October) group at Goodreads, though I may not even participate, and know zip for the FTF group Acker discussion. But since I dislike Acker’s book, who cares?
Here’s the thing: it doesn’t feel right to stick to a strict reading schedule. I prefer a flow in reading: it’s a natural thing, not a forced activity. And yet Kerri Jarema and other Millennial bloggers often complain about feeling overwhelmed by reading goals. Is the frantic worrying about numbers and goals a result of social media?
In a slightly frenetic essay at Bustle, “5 Reasons A Seasonal TBR Will Help You Smash Your End Of Year Reading Goals,” Jarema wrote,
It happens to me every year: September rolls around and I start to panic about my reading goals. For some, their yearly reading challenge is the most important part of their bookish life. These readers make strict numbered goals, and write extensive year-long TBR lists that they want to complete by the time Dec. 31 rolls around. And even though I made my own goals less harsh this year — choosing to focus instead on reading mindfully — I’ve still got to read 16 new-to-me books before the end of the year to fulfill my own challenge.
I have a glimmer of her feelings now that I have a Planner notebook. I know exactly what I should read when. I look at my planner and think, “I should reread Colette so I can go to the Colette movie tomorrow.” Merde! That is insane! I’ve reread Colette many times!
So, much as I love the Planner, I must take it less seriously. I’ll calculate the number of pages of one book I’d like to read next month and leave the rest to chance.