On AOL in the ’90s, before the blog was invented, we posted our thoughts on book boards. AOL hosted dozens of book groups at a site called Book Central. One year many of us attended The Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, and it was delightful to meet online friends. Although there were frequent “break-ups” on AOL–a reader’s trashing Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake or Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong could start a riot or a splinter group–I stayed in touch until AOL canceled Book Central and most of us changed internet servers.
The ’90s for me was the best time online, before the breakdown of groups into bloggers and Facebook users, and before the extensive distribution of review copies that occasionally compromise online integrity.
(Yes, I am part of this culture, too. I have seen it, I have done it, and of course I love my blog.)
One thing I especially loved about the AOL groups was our “What I’m Reading Now” posts.
I usually wait to post about books after I’ve finished. But why?
It’s time to revive the “What I’m Reading Now” feature.
D. J. Taylor’s Kept. This is a prequel to his novel Derby Day, the 2011 novel which was nominated for the Man Booker Prize (I wrote about it here). If you are mad about allusions to Victorian novels, as I am, you may like this even more than Derby Day. The vividly-drawn character, Isabel Ireland, is a Bronteish mad woman, based on Thackeray’s wife; Trollope’s Josiah Crawley and Mrs. Oliphant’s Miss Marjoribanks and her father the doctor make appearacnces; and Taylor introduces us to Mr. Pardew, a fascinating con man, and Captain McTurk, a clever policeman, whom we meet again in Derby Day.
I am amazed by the wealth of historical and descriptive detail, and his encyclopedic knowledge of literature.
He also includes historical characters, like Dr. John Connolly, who “advocated radical reform of the treatment of lunatics and a system of patient care…. ” (See Taylor’s endnotes.)
I am savoring the language. I will write more about this novel later.
Sylvia Plath’s Letters Home. Inspired by Nancy at Silver Threads, who reviewed Janet Malcolm’s The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, I got out my copy of Sylvia Plath’s letters. She is mainly ecstatic during her first year at Smith in 1950. Even then, however, she has to be careful not to be overstimulated, and she has joked about suicide twice in the first 50 page. She writes to her mother, “By the way, do you suck those buffered penicillins or swallow with water?… I don’t want to kill myself by taking them the wrong way!”
She is impressed by her teachers, and especially loves Miss Mensel, a charming woman who keeps in touch with all the scholarship students. Sylvia writes, “I had to keep myself from getting tears in my eyes as I told her how happy I was…. I was afraid I would be stiff and nervous at first, but my enthusiasm washed that all away, and I just flooded over and told her how happy I was.”
William Gibson’s Zero History is a science fiction thriller, partly about fashion. Hollis Henry, a former rock star, and Milgrim, a former drug addict, are hired to find out who makes “Hounds,” a beautifully-sewn line of denim jackets and jeans that turn up periodically at select fashion trade shows. Their boss, Hubertus Bigend, is always looking for information, and wants a contract to design military wear in the U.S.
So fast, so fun, so clever!
And more later…
When I finish these, you’ll hear more.