Empowering Women & Three Literary Links

In the last two years, women have boasted about victimhood.

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

Stop!

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.” 

Meacham wrties,

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.

Trollope’s “He Knew He Was Right” & Literary Links

I am rereading He Knew He Was Right, my favorite novel by Trollope. Is this his masterpiece?  Well, I am fond of most of his books, but I do think this is one of the greatest Victorian novels.

This is a timeless and unputdownable novel about a marriage that becomes unbearable because of a husband’s pathological jealousy and his  wife’s rightful insistence that he has no reason to be jealous.  But he knew he was right, and she knew she was right, so the couple separates with disastrous results.  But I am equally intrigued by the various subplots (which aren’t quite subplots, because some get equal time) about other marriages being made, especially a worldly young woman’s reluctant falling in love with a penny journalist.  If only she could bring herself to marry the rich Mr. Glascock!  And what about the two spinsters pushing thirty who are both courting the affections of the vicar?

This is my fourth reading, but knowing the outcome makes no difference to the pleasure.

I started HKHWR last week after finishing Cousin Henry (which I wrote about here) and smugly planned to finish the 800 pages today.

Turns out it is 930 pages, so my calculations were wrong.

Meanwhile, you can read an essay about He Knew He Was Right at the TLS, “Reading Trollope in the Age of Trump.”

LITERARY LINKS

1. Check out Howard Jacobson’s essay, “Why the Novel Matters,” at the TLS.

I don’t mind you thinking me a scaremonger. Scaremongering has a respectable history. The fact that we’re still here after so many prophecies of doom doesn’t, to my mind, prove the prophets were mistaken – only that the worst hasn’t happened yet. That state of “savage torpor”, for example, into which Words­worth saw the “discriminating powers of our mind” descending – did he get that so wrong? Wrong about the torpid, maybe. We are too hectic to be torpid. We troll, wear trainers and fulminate. But is “savage” so wide of the mark? Wordsworth was describing what made his age unpropitious to poetry. Need I state what makes our age unpropitious to the novel?

2. Obama has posted his Summer Reading list at Facebook.  He writes, “This week, I’m traveling to Africa for the first time since I left office – a continent of wonderful diversity, thriving culture, and remarkable stories.”  And he lists six books by African authors, including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

3.  At Tor you can read “Five SFF Books in Which Art Matters,” by C. E. Polk.

I love art and illustration. My childhood obsession with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood led to hours with art history texts. I’d need a fortnight just to properly do the Met. And so I love it when SFF books engage with art and culture, providing insight into the history of the world, their aesthetic, and their values. There are plenty of literary works revolving around art, and artists, but SFF provides a number of stories where art matters—to the story, to its society, and to its character.

Happy Weekend!

What New Books Are You Reading? & Three Literary Links

I have perused every Summer Reading article in the U.S. and UK:  this is only a slight exaggeration.  But as usual I stick to dead writers, and it is a bumpy ride down from the classics to the much-lauded books of summer. Perhaps I’ll commit to the Man Booker Prize longlist this year, because  I’ve got to read some good new books!

But I have read two excellent genre books: Tara Isabella Burton’s nerve-racking debut novel, Social Creature, a thriller about identity, the internet, and the pursuit of wealth, and Lindsey Davis’s Pandora’s Boy, the sixth in the charming Flavia Albia mystery series, set in ancient Rome.

And I am loving Victoria Glendinning’s new literary historical novel, The Butcher’s Daughter, which I found by chance  at Barnes and Noble.   Glendinning is one of the most brilliant English biographers of Elizabeth Bowen, Trollope, Rebecca West, Vita Sackville-West, and Leonard Woolf.  She is also the author of a stunning novel, Electricity, set in Victorian times.

I have begun The Butcher’s Daughter and am swept away by the elegant prose. Will Glendinning give Hilary Mantel a run for the money?

Here’s a paragraph from the book description at Goodreads:

In 1535, England is hardly a wellspring of gender equality; it is a grim and oppressive age where women—even the privileged few who can read and write—have little independence. In The Butcher’s Daughter, it is this milieu that mandates Agnes Peppin, daughter of a simple country butcher, to leave her family home in disgrace and live out her days cloistered behind the walls of the Shaftesbury Abbey. But with her great intellect, she becomes the assistant to the Abbess and as a result integrates herself into the unstable royal landscape of King Henry VIII.

Doesn’t it sound great?

What new books have you been reading this summer?  And I mean by living writers!

LITERARY LINKS

1. At the Guardian, Natalie Haynes answers the question, “What are the best novels about ancient Greeks and Romans?”

She recommends Emily Wilson’s new feminist translation of Homer’s Odyssey Daniel Mendelsohn’s memoir,  An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic, and Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad, Lindsey Davis’s Roman mysteries (which include Pandora’s Boy, above), and more.

2. At the TLS, Mary Beard writes about Robert Harris’s Cicero on stage in London.  (And she inspires me to want to revisit Harris’s  trilogy, because I quit halfway through the second novel, Lustrum. I found it boring.  I do love Cicero, though, and recommend his brilliant defense of liberal arts, Pro Archia.

Beard writes,

Cicero has a lot to thank Robert Harris for. Many of us have struggled to make the Roman orator interesting for a modern audience. But I fear that my worthy PhD thesis (‘The State Religion in the Late Roman Republic: a study based on the works of Cicero”) have had far less effect on Cicero’s modern fame than Harris’s trilogy, Imperium,  Lustrum, and Dictator which have given us back a funny, enterprising, self-ironic and clever Roman politician (with a career ending, as they all do (I’m quoting E. Powell here, who knew) in failure. In Cicero’s case, that meant decapitation.

3. At Wired, you can read Arielle Pardes’s article about an academic conference on emoji.  Gotta admit, the only one I use is 🙂

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

At Stanford University this week, a collection of linguists, data scientists, computer researchers, and emoji enthusiasts gathered for the International Workshop on Emoji Understanding and Applications in Social Media, itself a smaller piece of the AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media. They brought with them research on how emoji are changing the way we communicate online, how gender and political affiliation are reproduced online through emoji, and the challenges emoji pose for natural-language processing in computers. The assembled academics also debated basic questions about the nature of emoji: Like, if emoji is something akin to a language, why can’t anyone agree on what individual emoji mean?

Happy Weekend!

On Not Ruining Writers’ Days & Other Literary Links

I often complain about the internet, but I have recently read some smart essays online.

I was particularly interested in an essay by Chad W. Post at Three Percent, “Thinking About Book Reviews.” He begins by saying he did not much like Clarice Lispector’s second novel, The Chandelier, recently published by New Directions in a translation by Benjamin Moser.  And Post’s reactions serve as a preamble to an essay on the purpose of book reviews.

Post asks whether reviewers of books in translation should hype books.

I think this is a commonly held belief—especially when it comes to reviews of translated books. There are so few opportunities for most of these titles to get any ink-time, so what’s the point in writing about a subpar book that you don’t really like? These opportunities should be maximized by drawing attention to wonderful books that are masterfully translated. If reviews are supposed to bring readers to particular books, shouldn’t we use this opportunity to direct the curious to the masterpieces out there?

Furthermore, what is gained—for the translation profession as a whole—by shitting on a translated title? Just don’t write/tweet/say anything! There are so many good books out there deserving of attention, not to mention all the great translators doing amazing work—so just write about those.

And then he replies to himself (and the reply is in italics):

But is that really what criticism is? How can the translation profession really improve if these books aren’t ever criticized? Translators, not to mention readers of international fiction, can gain a lot from seeing what works, what doesn’t work, witnessing the mind of a sharp reader in action.

I certainly agree with him on the issue of hype, which applies to all reviews, whether of books in English or translation.  Are we under pressure to  hype?  I seldom post about books by living writers these days, because (a) most new books I read are mediocre to bad, and (b) I don’t want to ruin a writer’s day.  (Reviewing was easier before the interactions on the internet.)

American and English literature seem to be in a slump these days.  If I listed all the new books I have abandoned after reading half we’d be here all day.  New books in translation seem to deal with more significant issues:  is that possible?  I loved Minae Mizumura’s A True Novel, a brilliant Japanese retelling of Wuthering Heights, which won the Yomiuri Prize For Literature in 2002.  (I wrote about it here.)  But I can’t think of any American or English novel I’ve read in this class lately.

But reviews are problematic anyway.  Hype?  Not hype?  New books?  Old books?  What do you think?

OTHER LITERARY LINKS:

At The New Yorker, Karen Russell writes about Joy Williams’ recently reissued second novel The Changeling.

Like Ovid, Shakespeare, Toni Morrison, and God, Williams is interested in metamorphosis, in the “monstrosity of salvation.” Her astonishing second novel, “The Changeling,” first published in 1978, follows Pearl, a young mother on the lam. Pearl’s drink of choice, too, is gin. In the book’s first sentence, she is in a bar, “drinking gin and tonics” while holding “an infant in the crook of her right arm.” Significantly, the booze precedes the infant. His name is Sam; he is two months old. We seem to be in a world of crushing sameness: parking lots and pretzel logs, homogeneous retail. It’s a costume the novel wears for about a paragraph and a half, then shrugs off with a spectacular gesture…

The American Scholar has re-posted a brilliant 2007 essay by Charles Trueheart on Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet

Speak the name Lawrence Durrell, as I have been doing recently, and you will have little trouble prompting the title of his masterwork, the four-novel cycle he called “The Alexandria Quartet.” Yes, everyone read it back when. Or some of it. Justine . . .Balthazar . . . The well of memory tends to run dry about there, leaving only the wistful fragrance of the little remembered but not quite forgotten.

Yet half a century ago, when Justine appeared, it elicited a rush of critical superlatives that announced the birth of a literary classic. Almost at once the novel established an outlandish reputation for Durrell, previously known for a precocious first novel and some sublime travel writing. He was confidently placed in the big shoes of Joyce, Proust, Henry Miller, and D. H. Lawrence, among other modernist forebears. “The novel may indeed be dying,” declared the critic Robert Scholes, “but we need not fear for the future. Durrell and others are leading us in a renaissance of romance.”

ENJOY THE LINKS!

Literary Links: Frankenstein, L. M. Montgomery, & More

I have read some excellent bookish pieces online lately!  Here are the links:

1.   I love L. M. Montgomery‘s Anne of Green Gables series, but did not read her other books.  And so I was intrigued by this excellent essay at Tor on Montgomery’s adult novel, The Blue Castle.

Mari Ness writes,

The Blue Castle is the story of Valancy, who lives a life that makes the word “repressed” sound positively liberated. In her late 20s, she lives with her mother and her aunt in a life of relentless sameness and repression, unable even to read novels, choose the decorations for her own room, purchase her own clothing or attend a church of her choosing. Part of this stems from her family, who as individuals and en masse shredded her self-confidence, but part of this is also her society: a society that sees only one fate for women, marriage. And Valancy does not have the money or education or self-confidence to escape this.

This was a reality that Montgomery knew well from her own experience—apart from the self-confidence part. Well aware that she would inherit little or nothing from her own extended family and financially shiftless father, Montgomery realized early on that she had very few financial options other than marriage. Her extended family paid for full educations (and the occasional trip to Europe) for sons, but not for the ambitious Montgomery, who paid for her one year at college by saving up money by staying in terrible boarding houses while teaching and with a small sum from her grandmother, who apparently wanted to help equip her then-unmarried granddaughter for later life.

I will check this out.

2 Do you love George Eliot?  I enjoyed Rachel Vorona Cote’s essay at Literary Hub,  “Justice for Maggie: On George Eliot’s Most Underrated Heroine.”

In this plug for the heroine of The Mill on the Floss, Cote writes,

I’m always on the watch for Too Much Heroines—women who, in the face of patriarchal dictates, cannot or will not contain themselves emotionally, sexually, physically, or intellectually. A heroine like Maggie Tulliver, one who, over the course of her life, is considered too clever and impetuous and exuberant, commits the gravest of crimes: she occupies space explicitly denied to her. Maggie emotes with lavish immoderation; reads everything her brother does, and exponentially more; and, as a child, thwarts attempts to render her a dainty specimen of girlhood. In other words, she demonstrates a fundamental aversion to gender conventions. You might reasonably compare her to Catherine Earnshaw, minus the sociopathy, or to Anne Shirley, sans the preoccupation with storybook romance, or even call her a Victorian Ramona Quimby.

My favorite Eliot heroine is the difficult, proud Gwendolen Harleth in Daniel Deronda.  Who is yours?

3  One of my favorite books, Rachel Ingalls’ Mrs. Caliban, has been reissued by New Directions. The heroine of this sad, witty, moving novel is  Dorothy Caliban, a desolate housewife who falls in love with a monster, Larry.  Wouldn’t you have given refuge to an amphibious monster on the run from a research lab, too, if your child had died and your husband was cheating?  Poor Dorothy!

Jean Zimmerman writes at NPR:

This season’s secret weapon in literary cocktail banter will be Mrs. Caliban, a peculiar but wonderful and long-overlooked novella by Rachel Ingalls. Originally published in 1983 and seemingly doomed to a dead end ride on the oblivion express, Mrs. Caliban was briefly rescued by an unlikely deus ex machina: The British Book Marketing Council, which in 1986 named it “one of the 20 greatest American novels since World War II.” Its 15 minutes in the public eye ended quickly enough, and this strange, unlikely fable once again sank into obscurity.

Read it as a monster novel, or as a parable.  We Are All Mrs. Caliban!  (That makes no sense, but I can imagine the words on a sign on a protest march.)

4  Did you know that 2018 is the bicentenary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?  At NPR I read a fascinating review of Christopher Frayling’s new book, Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years.

Genevieve Valentine writes,

Half scholarly study, half art book, The First Two Hundred Years offers some great details about the story’s blockbuster success on the stage, and you-know-this-one glimpses of the movie versions of everyone’s favorite monster. But it spends the bulk of its energy on the moving pieces behind the novel itself. Mary Shelley introduced her tale in the famous story contest with Lord Byron and her husband Percy in a villa outside Geneva one dark and stormy night, but beneath it was a sea of contributing factors: Her research into galvanism, her parents’ social views, the landscape of their journey, and her own inner strain (as big a demon, Frayling suggests, as anything in their horror stories).

I do love Shelley’s Frankenstein and this book sounds fascinating.  The cover of Grayling’s book is so hideous, though, that I went with an image of Shelley’s novel.

Happy Weekend!

Jane Austen Bicentenary Readings & Various Non-Jane Literary Links

persuasion-jane-austen-paperback-cover-art

I’m not big on death anniversaries, but I had intended to participate in The Guardian Book Club’s discussion of Austen  to commemorate the bicentenary of her death (July 18).   Alas, they have chosen to read  Persuasion, which I just read in May.

And so I will quietly read Jane on my own.  I am not sure which book.  What will you be reading?

If you think you have read Austen too many times, don’t despair:  there are dozens of new books every year about Austen. In Jane Smiley’s entertaining essay, “The Austen Legacy: Why and How We Love Her, What She Loved, ” in The New York Times,  she writes about Deborah Yaffe’s  AMONG THE JANEITES:  A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom, Devoney Looser’s THE MAKING OF JANE AUSTENand Paula Byrne’s THE GENIUS OF JANE AUSTEN.

AND NOW FOR SOME NON-JANE LITERARY LINKS.

1 Have you read the satirical novels of Thomas Love Peacock? Pamela Climit at the TLS recommends the new Cambridge editions of Nightmare Abbey and Crotchet Castle.  I’m always ready for a laugh.  (And the Penguin is good enough for me.)

2.  Michael Dirda at The Washington Post recommends eight small presses, NYRB, Haffner Press, The Folio Society, Poisoned Pen Press, Wildside Press, Europa Editions, Centipede Press, and Cadmus Press.

“Summer afternoon — summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” So said Henry James, who would doubtless recommend spending some of those sunlit hours with a good book or two. Whether you enjoy escape fiction or literary fiction, check out the home pages of the following small publishers. I confess to deeply admiring their commitment to older or neglected writers, which explains why a few titles from New York Review Books, the Folio Society and Tartarus carry introductions by me.

The Folio Society Jane Austens

Sylvia Plath

Emily Van Duyne at the Literary Hub asks. “Why Are We So Unwilling to 
Take Sylvia Plath at Her Word?” She writes,

Back in April, the Guardian dropped an apparent literary bombshell—new letters had been discovered from the poet Sylvia Plath, alleging horrific physical abuse at the hands of her husband, the British poet Ted Hughes. The letters had gone unread by any major Plath scholar through one of those black holes so common, and frustrating, to those of us who love her work.

It is not a matter of not taking Sylvia Plath at her word; it is a matter of needing to know more.   Van Duyne is writing a book on Plath, so she has read everything  and obviously this discovery means something to her.  I myself know so little about the couple that an article in The Guardian  doesn’t say “Of course!” to me.

But poor Sylvia!  I do love her poetry.

Should We Build a Cat Wing? & Literary Miscellanea

Cats lounging in bed.

I adore cats.  A friend has ten.  Five is our limit.

Multi-cat households can be hectic.

Have you tried to type only to have a cat jump on the keyboard and (a) send an email before it is ready, (b) add a zesty sentence in cat language, or (c) delete an entire blog post?

They are cute and energetic.

When we lived in a large house in a cheap bad neighborhood ( where we dared to live when young), the cats had three floors to explore.  Emma and Miss Beethoven spent hours trying to break into the attic, while Max, Tigger, and Baby lounged like beatniks in the living room.

Now we live in a smaller house, with fewer cats.  They are too fond of me.  If I am on the couch, they sit on the couch.  If I am in bed, they sit on the bed.  If I am in the kitchen, they sit in the kitchen.

So I looked into building a Cat Wing, so they could have more space.  I visualized it as a cheap prefab four-season porch, assembled quickly and attached to the house.  Like a garage!

But it’s not as simple as I thought–and very expensive!

So I made an  experiment.

I bought a comfortable chair.  Not too comfortable–not like our Barcalounger.   It is just a  chair where you can sit and spend some upright cat-free time.

And now the cats give me a few hours while they lounge on the couch or the bed.  It is my new wing!

AND NOW FOR LITERARY LINKS!

My own girly vinyl-and-silk ’70s diary

1.  Do you keep a journal?  Jane van  Slembrouck wrote an enjoyable piece for The Millions, “A Gift to the Future: In Defense of Keeping a Journal.”

She writes,

The first one was the size of a piece of American cheese. It had a photo on the cover of a horse tossing its mane and a silver lock that opened with a key.

2.  At Publishers Weekly, Rosalind Reisner writes about a Depression-era newsletter with a quiz for women booksellers she found at the Columbia University library.

In fall 1917, a group of 15 women booksellers—excluded from membership in the ABA and the Booksellers’ League—met at Sherwood’s Book Store in Manhattan to form the Women’s National Book Association. Membership was open to women in all areas of the book world: publishers, editors, booksellers, authors, librarians, illustrators, and production people. Today the organization is nationwide, with 11 chapters; members are women (and men) who support the WNBA’s mission to promote and connect members of the book community.

As the organization prepares to celebrate its 100th year, research in the WNBA archives—housed at Columbia University—has turned up some treasures. The following bookseller quiz is condensed from a Depression-era issue of the WNBA newsletter, The Bookwoman, and is a reminder that some things seem never to change. The quiz will appear in the forthcoming book Women in the Book World: 100 Years of Leadership and the WNBA.

The quiz is posted at the end of the article.

3.  At Booker Talk, I learned that academics have their own definition for “social reading.”

 What the academics are interested in is a deeply immersive group–based collaborative process that happens on-line. It can involve several readers or even hundreds. All of them read the same text, post comments on it and respond to other people’s comments. Now you might think that’s what you’re doing when you join a ‘read-a-long’ and it’s true this is a fairly simple example of social reading. But for a more sophisticated approach — and the one the academics are most excited about — you’d need to get involved in a synchronous reading where people are reading and commenting on the same text simultaneously.

And she tells us about an excellent website where seven women discussed Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook.  They commented in the margins of the text, which is posted online.

4.  At She Reads, a website run by popular women’s fiction writers Mary Beth Whalen and Ariel Lawhon, the Summer Book Club selections have been announced.

THE BOOK OF SUMMER by Michelle Gable

THE ALMOST SISTERS by Joshilyn Jackson

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS by Lisa Wingate

I read at least one popular  women’s book every summer.  And I do like their posts.