It’s been a summer of literary proportions and it’s been a bit since I’ve updated. I’ve had some great reads in the meantime, I’ll give a short stack here for your consideration.
A Tale of Not-So-Happily-Ever-After
Book Club’s April selection was The Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales, an interesting read by Angela Carter. Although Carter died in the 90s, her interest in fairy tales was primarily about the female character and the role she plays in such tales. Thus, the book was divided by the acts or traits of the women: wicked, cunning, beautiful, etc. and Carter is keen to remind you that not all women play the damsel in distress in fairy tales. I read the book in its entirety, but the stories are individual and are further divided by their originating country/heritage. While this may not have been a book that I would have picked up for pleasurable reading, it was an interesting commentary on the female archetype based on geography and historical context. Perhaps my favorite part of Carter’s research is that she includes “Hillbilly” as an ethnicity from which stories derive and included, naturally, the vernacular of these folks as the omniscient narrator.
The Age of Excess Gets Sexy
Perhaps a new favorite, Lady Chatterly’s Lover was a book club selection before I joined this year. Because of the varied sentiment on the readability of the book, I decided to give it a chance myself. I’m always perplexed when men can write a woman so thoroughly, but D.H. Lawrence, who took a most glorious “savage pilgrimage,” was often known to toggle between the sexes himself and so that is perhaps why he writes women so perfectly. Chatterly was also known as incredibly salacious in its day–practically porn to the gilded agers–and considering how red my face got on the metro during my commute reads, I’d say its sexiness is still intact.
Chatterly is about a poised woman who marries young to an invalid, only to realize how important a sex life is to maintaining the flush and passion of her youth. Everyone from her father to her own husband encourage her to find a lover, to fill the void which seems to have paled her pallor and set her about on depressing walks through the woods. No one expects that the lover she will take is the game warden for her estate. A rather tame calamity ensues–fit for modern soap operas–but all the while, Lawrence’s calm, lyrical prose is engaging. I recommend this book, not only for the romance factor, but for the element of setting description that is so often lost in modern books.
For Whom the Bell Tolls–Apparently Plath
I took the opportunity to finally read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and was not disappointed. Plath, who is well known for her head-in-the-gas-oven suicide, recreates her own desperate isolation in The Bell Jar. Knowing now what we all do of Plath’s death, The Bell Jar reads like an autobiography in painful foreshadow–a Plath desperate to have passion, a future, a need to socialize. But alas, as Plath lays out in devastating precision, she is caught in herself, lost for understanding about why she sinks and sinks into an abyss of numbness. Plath reminds me of a later Virginia Woolf–a woman aching to understand her own talent in a foggy world of disillusionment. Perhaps for Plath, who was in the heyday of Leave it to Beaver housewives, the social pressure was too great. Or perhaps the right measurements of medication had not been prescribed–Plath’s character spends much time in a mental ward and even undergoes shock therapy. I wonder how Plath’s writing might have been different in modern medicinal America? Would she had been merely average without the angst?
Note: An interesting read on Plath’s tombstone destruction on Wikipedia–Plath’s husband was a cheating SOB–a fact which Plath devotees haven’t forgotten.
Choppy Waters Lie Ahead
The May Book Club read was To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, an author I imagined I might greatly admire once I actually sat down to read her. Woolf, who is perhaps quite infamous for suicidally putting rocks in the pockets of her dress and walking out into the river to drown herself (Chopin, anyone?), seems to create a kind of modern abstract art throughout the pages of Lighthouse. Like a painting which, standing too close you are only able to see the brush strokes, but from far, able to discern a larger picture (this is called modernism, in case you were wondering), Lighthouse sparks the emotions of both a grown-up and a child. Woolf’s constant stream of consciousness from various characters reminds me of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying; and as with Faulkner’s work, when someone dies, it is merely a parenthetical thought. Here, Mrs. Ramsey who is the primary narrator for the first half of the book, is suddenly dead in the second half and the chronology has shifted too.
Mrs. Ramsey wants her sensitive son, James, to “go to the lighthouse,” but the poor kid’s dream of seeing the salt water home is dashed by the scientific fist of his father (who insists it will rain making their excursion impossible). The bigger metaphor, from my perspective, is the loss of innocence on behalf of James, the narcissism of a father/writer, the duty of a wife. They all seem so completely unhappy in this book that it is not a book read lightly. With its shifting perspective and abstract ending (they do make it to the lighthouse many years later, but now what of the roles of the father? the son?), I do not recommend the book for poolside reading, or even a commuting read. Lighthouse requires thought, for among its pretty words, there is deeper meaning; I’m still contemplating what that might be.
Currently reading: My Antonia by Willa Cather
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
Book Club: The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie