The Best Kind of CanLit
I guest hosted on CanLit podcast Write Reads earlier this month and we talked about Zoe Whittall’s Giller shortlisted The Best Kind Of People. We recorded on Giller Prize eve, and I said I didn’t think it should win, but I did think it would be a contender on Canada Reads.
I’ve felt bad about the podcast since, hence I haven’t shared it till now. I felt bad because it was a little snobby of me to say this book, which I thoroughly enjoyed, doesn’t deserve a prize. I was a bit condescending. But I also felt bad for holding back on the discussion about rape culture. I walked into the recording thinking about Stephen Galloway, and brought him up as soon as we stopped recording. Now everyone’s talking about him and I have to wonder why I didn’t say something sooner. Continue reading
Novellas in November 2016: Are Nonfiction Novellas a thing?
So, uh, anyone reading novellas this November?
The past three years of this event took place during less eventful Novembers than this one. I assume that’s why I don’t see anyone novella-ing yet. Unless you were just waiting for me.
With Nonfiction November taking the (Booktube) world by storm, I thought I’d open with some nonfiction novellas.
Oh, you thought novellas can only be fiction?
Well, that’s probably true, but there is a little subgenre of nonfiction that’s more than an essay but less than a book. There’s a whole blog about it, Brevity, which I just discovered. In this post from 2009, Brevity considers calling these pieces “nonfiction novellas,” but settles on “monograph essays.” That sounds too stuffy for me. #NonFictionNovellasInNovember it is.
Here are a couple I’ve read recently.
Bluets by Maggie Nelson (95 pages)
Help me out, guys. Everyone I know loved this book. It’s the kind of book people push on you. Nelson is fawned over in all her interviews, the various podcasters not sure they’re qualified to be in her prescence, let alone speak to her. But Bluets did nothing for me. The numbered fragments amount to a long essay about a breakup, with major tangents about light, colour, collecting, compulsion, sex, and blue stuff. I read it over a weekend and put it aside, unmoved.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (48 pages)
Time to be a contrarian again: I do not get the hype. To be clear: I do think we should all be feminists. There is nothing in this book I disagree with. But I expected it to show me something new, or challenge my beliefs in some way. It was very “feminism 101.” So, good for someone just starting out, I guess. You can watch the original half-hour Ted Talk here.
Who Needs Books? by Lynn Coady (44 pages)
Technically I didn’t read this, but I was at the lecture in 2015. And I had so much fun writing about it. I do own the book now (thanks Jason!) and in rereading the introduction, was reminded that one of her Giller-winning short stories featured Jean Rhys – stay tuned for more on Rhys when we get to the traditional novellas. I thought this lecture was brilliant, bringing together Franzen and Grover to teach us all a lesson about reading and hedonism. You can listen to her read it in just under 54 minutes right here.
Even This Page is White by Vivek Shraya (107 pages)
Okay, this is a book of poetry, so it maybe it doesn’t belong here. Or maybe it does. These poems are so grounded in place; there’s no mistaking that these are Canadian poems, Edmonton poems, Amiskwaciwâskahikan poems. Then there’s the form: some of the poems are interviews with people about race. One is made of fragments from the comments on a petition to ban Kanye West from playing the Pan Am games. Other poems are autobiographical. Sounds pretty nonfictiony to me. This was also my first experience at a poetry reading and it was life changing.
What about you? And what do you call these in-betweeny, nonfictiony books?
The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart
Feminism isn’t about making things for women. It’s about women making things.
That is badly paraphrased, possibly from something by Sarah Nicole Prickett, but it’s an idea I come back to a lot. It can apply many places, and I think the original context was in response to some ridiculous “women’s” product or another, you know, a pen with pink ink “For Her” or some such. But it works for books, too. When I think about what it means for a book to be feminist, it’s not about writing stories “for women” with “strong female characters” or casting females in roles that defy gender expectations, exactly. It’s about writing from a female perspective and not focusing on a woman’s relation to everyone else (all those “The _____’s Wife” books!) or not only her relationships. Writing her interior life. Letting her be redeemed by something other than motherhood and marriage, or maybe let her not be redeemed at all.
The Bridge of Beyond isn’t very well known as a feminist book (or very well known at all, though the New York Review of Books reissue a few years back will help, I hope) but I would put it right up there with The Handmaid’s Tale or The Awakening or I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Like those books, The Bridge of Beyond is set in a patriarchal, post-colonial, racist world but immerses us in the lives of women who are simultaneously defined by and able to transcend their oppression. Like Angelou’s memoir, this book made me think about how people survive horrific violence and oppression. This book made me think about the institutional and generational side, too: how does the Lougandor family survive through slavery and the after effects?
The story is about the end of slavery and in a way, the end of the Lougandor line, but neither are really over. The effects of slavery are still there, in the air and on the land and in the people. And though Télumée may be the end of the line in her family, it’s impossible to believe she won’t leave a mark on the land she walked or the air she breathed.
Let’s back up, though: on my first reading, I wasn’t even thinking about this book’s place in the feminist canon or anything like that. I was thinking that this book is a perfect reading experience. The word that comes to mind is “light.” You can probably guess that this book is full of horrific violence, abuse, and death, so how can I say it was “light?” I mean that the words flow effortlessly and reading it is like slipping into a dream state, almost. You will lose track of time. Your heart will hurt. But it’s not a grind. Not at all. Every word is perfect.
In the perfection of my rise, its speed and resonance, there was something disturbing, and I was puzzled at having obtained, all at the same time, the three crowns that can usually be hoped for only at the end of a long life. Love, the trust of others, and that kind of glory that accompanies every woman who is happy – these were gifts too great not to become dangerous in God’s sight. So sometimes, in the shade of my Chinese plum, I would tremble with fright, trying to make out the exact moment when the Almighty would take umbrage at my crowns. But then a little breeze would come and play with my skirts, my sleeves, my braids, and I’d feel I could go on like that until the end of time, and it was as if I was already embalmed, powdered, and laid out happy on my deathbed.
Did I mention this is a translation? Reminding myself that these perfect words aren’t even the original words was a constant source of wonder. Barbara Bray is a master. She also translated a lot of Margaurite Duras, who I haven’t written about here, but will. The Lover has a similar dream-like quality. This book is full of regional sayings that I’m sure aren’t a straightforward translation:
If anyone offered to replace Toussine at the bedside for a while, she would say, smiling gently, “Don’t worry about me. However heavy a woman’s breasts, her chest is always strong enough to carry them.” She spent seventeen days and seventeen nights cajoling death, and then, ill luck having gone elsewhere, Meranee expired. Life went on as before, but without one vestige of heart left, like a flea feasting on your last drop of blood, delighting in leaving you senseless and sore, cursing heaven and earth and the womb that conceived you.
Now that I’ve set your expectations, let me tell you how glad I was to go into this book with none. I received a copy from the fine folks at Shelf Awareness, and it was pitched to me as “Cool if you’re looking for something outside of the written-by-White-European-Males world,” and that was the extent of my knowledge going in. I didn’t have time to get nervous about the translation thing, or the colonialism thing. I was just pleasantly, no, wonderously surprised to be reading what would go on to be my favourite book of the year. Maybe reading it on my first away-from-the-kids trip had something to do with it too.
One of the reasons I waited almost a year to review this book (other than laziness) is that I wasn’t sure how to comment on how race plays into it. In finally writing this review, I realized that I don’t have to. Like any other review, I pick and choose what to comment on, and I can just focus on the writing. I bring it up here because I’m seeing a lot of #reviewwomen and #readdiverse and what not, and I realize this book (or more precisely, this author) is a perfect example of that diversity – of gender, race, and language – but the way the book was pitched to me sums up why I’m loathe to categorize it in that way. This book is so brilliant and beautiful; it doesn’t need to be defined by what it is not, i.e. not white, not male. I don’t want someone to pick this up and think “this’ll be great for my diversity stats!” This post by FrenchieDee got me thinking along these lines (read the comments!) I will continue to read and review “diverse” book but I think we all need to step back and not make this about ourselves and turn “read diverse” into a humblebrag, “look at me, reading women of colour!” Let’s keep the focus on the books and the authors. End rant.
The Bridge of Beyond is a classic of literature, period. And if you’re in the mood for something translated, Caribbean, post-colonial, or feminist, you will not do better than this.
The M Word edited by Kerry Clare
My rating: 4.5/5 stars
A Dropped Threads-style anthology, assembling original and inspiring works by some of Canada’s best younger female writers — such as Heather Birrell, Saleema Nawaz, Susan Olding, Diana Fitzgerald Bryden, Carrie Snyder, and Alison Pick — The M Word asks everyday women and writers, some of whom are on the unconventional side of motherhood, to share their emotions and tales of maternity.
Before I sing the praises of this book, I must point out that the subtitle, “Conversations about Motherhood,” is not accurate. These aren’t conversations. They’re essays. They could be conversation starters, sure. But the subtitle made me think Q&A, or point and counterpoint, or maybe multiple authors responding to one question, and that’s not what this is. I realized, though, that I want to have conversations. These essays inspired me to think and remember and empathise, and I want to talk about it!
Conversations about motherhood ARE taking place, of course, and largely, it’s online. For me, it’s not so much in the social media world, but in online forums. Parenting forums have changed very little in twenty years. I first ventured into an iVillage pregnancy forum in 1997 and was extremely creeped out by the slang and abbreviations, like “baby dust” (good vibes for someone trying to get pregnant) and “baby dancing” (…trying to get pregnant. UGH this one is the worst.) Those terms are still used in forums today.
I think The M Word could benefit from a discussion forum. Lots of publishers are using online marketing in innovations ways (I love this tumblr for Cutting Teeth, for example.) and wouldn’t a forum be the perfect social media marketing campaign for this book? A “M Word” forum, in the spirit of the book, a place to actually converse about motherhood?
Maybe it’s just that traditional parenting forums bore me lately. I don’t care about must-have baby gear or any of the debates that come up every few months (vaccination vs anti-vax, circumcision, breastfeeding in public, breastfeeding vs formula feeding, baby-led weaning vs purees, hospital vs home birth, cloth vs disposable diapers, I COULD GO ON.) The M Word is great because it talks about these topics, but drops the “versus.”
While someone with more technical skills and ambition whips up this dream-parenting-forum, I’ll tell you about my favourite pieces in The M Word.
Truth, Dare, Double Dare by Heather Birrell
I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed Birrell’s short story collection, Mad Hope. It’s so good. My favourite short story collection of the year. I wrote in the margin “this essay is everything” and I hate cutesy sayings like that. But it is, to me: traumatic birth, post-partum depression, co-parenting through PPD, strain on the marriage, adding a second child despite all of this… it says so many things I cannot.
Those first few months we spent together as a family feel so far away: a desert island populated by three castaways, veins coursing with hormones and history, a treasure map we’d go cross-eyed trying to decipher.
A Natural Woman by Amy Lavender Harris
A story of infertility and motherhood. Speaking of parenting forums, the #1 topic that causes drama, heartache, and bannings is infertility. The feelings are so raw and so personal. My years in forum-land opened up this world to me somewhat, and I’m much more careful about how I talk about fertility and reproductive technology. This essay is a succinct way to get that insight. It’s also incredibly well written.
To hell with biological determinism, “natural” motherhood, binary feminisms and gender dualisms…we are all cyborgs, made of mitochondria and bits of metal, elements absorbed from the atmosphere and the cells of every child we have ever carried.
Robin by Alison Pick
If you’ve had a miscarriage, this will be a tough read. It’s worth it.
There is nothing to be done, and so we do nothing. We bear the pain, which is much worse that I could have imagined. The offense of the phrase, “You can have another.” What would I want with another? I want that baby, my baby.
Footnote to the Poem “Now That All My Friends are Having Babies: A Thirties Lament” by Priscila Uppal
This essay rubbed me the wrong way but I loved reading it. I want to give it to my child-free-by-choice sister so we can argue about it.
I find myself contemplating, not for the first time, why it is that same group of people who will have a conniption if you don’t bring your own thermo to the Second Cup, or label you a criminal for eating a hamburger, don’t have any patience for the argument that the planet could have saved by having fewer babies.
I can’t help but compare this book to The Good Mother Myth, reviewed here in February. The concept is so similar, but the execution is different and the things that bothered me about TGMM aren’t present here. Some of those pieces felt more like a rehashed blog post than an original essay, but these essays ring so true. Each author brings not only experience and honesty and original ideas, but excellent writing. And where TGMM tried to tie each essay in to a central concept, The M Word is delightfully random, arranged alphabetically so we jump from birth to adoption to single parenting to grandparenting.
Whether you pick up the book or not, make sure you check out editor Kerry Clare’s book blog, Pickle Me This. It’s a favourite of mine and is such a wonderful mix of personal and bookish posts. She reviews all the best CanLit books. Oh, she also edits The 49th Shelf, which is dangerous for the ol’ TBR but also a lot of fun.
Thank you Kerry, and Goose Lane Editions, for the review copy!
Yes, All Women
The other day, I made a “friend zone” joke here on the blog. I acknowledged that the whole concept of a friend zone is sexist and gross, but I still played it for laughs. The UCSB shooting happened shortly thereafter – a massacre motivated by the same sexist concept, that men are entitled to have access to women’s bodies.
I was making a point about how the characters in Dickens and Hugo who are “friend zoned” end up sacrificing themselves, as opposed to whining about why it’s not fair that the objects of their affection won’t sleep with them. My joke isn’t that bad. You can find something more offensive almost anywhere. But it’s not anywhere, it’s here, on a blog about books, written by a feminist. This stuff is insidious. It’s everywhere. Yes, I’m calling myself out. I’m also sharing some stuff I learned because most of my readers are young women and this is important.
I’m reading and participating in #yesallwomen which is a reaction to the instant refrain of “not all men” that comes up when an event like this is viewed from a feminist angle. Suggest that this massacre was motivated by misogyny and aided by a sexist culture, and you will immediately be informed that Not All Men are misogynists. Not all men think that way. Not all men abuse women. This isn’t a feminist issue, they say, it’s about gun control. It’s about mental health (and yes, it’s certainly those things too.) And women are saying, yeah, we get that. Not all men. But all women ARE affected by misogyny. Every woman has a story, probably many stories. Go ahead and check out the hashtag. It’s relentless, repetitive, and extremely disheartening.
(If you haven’t figured it out, this post isn’t about books and it’s about to get really personal. )
What the hell is a Liebster Award?
The Liebster Award is making the rounds. I got nominated for one years ago, and ignored it because it read like some kind of chain letter, and well, it is, but the questions going around these days are much better. I’m old enough to have received chain letters via email and *actual mail.* You know, the ones full of promises of death and dismemberment if you didn’t reply within seven days. The Liebster does not ask about the last person you kissed OR threaten you with death, so it’s already an improvement.
I am nominated by Tania of Write Reads. Thank you Tania! Check out her award post here.
Before I get started though, I have a question…
What the hell is a Liebster?
Apparently NOT a guy named Lieb who insists on being called The Liebster, which is what I always pictured. The Liebster is tough to pin down. If infiltrates a group of bloggers for a while; you feel like your whole feed is Liebster posts. And then it’s gone. Who started it? Is it a book blog-specific thing? Why do the rules vary (it’s supposedly for blogs with “few” followers, and I’ve seen that defined as under 200, 300, 500 and 1000?)
Book blogger Sopphey Says traced it back about as far as you can go, to a German book blog circa 2010. (Her Google-translated bio describes her as a “book rat” which is something we should make happen in English.)
The most surprising thing I learned is that Liebster is not someone’s name, it is German for “darling.” Isn’t that cute? We are all darlings!
Anyway, this is a chain letter, so let’s get down to business:
- State 11 random facts about yourself
- Answer 11 questions about yourself that were given to you by your nominator
- Nominate people yourself
- Give your nominees 11 questions to answer
11 Facts About Me
- I have two children with a combined birth weight of over 23 pounds. I have learned a few things since birthing freakishly large children: that the medical term for “big ass baby” is macrosomia, that 13 lbs will get you media attention, but 12 lbs will only make you a side-show for the hospital staff (and no one bats an eye at 11 lbs) and to never spend money on newborn-sized clothes.
- The first time I met someone off the internet I was 14 and it was 1994 and what were my parents thinking? Yes, I was in to BBS…and yes, the person I met turned out to be a 14 year old as well and not a 50 year old pedophile, which was basically good luck.
- I met my husband on Lavalife ten years ago. This was waaayyy less socially acceptable back then.
- I’ve only had two jobs since graduating University. Seems odd these days. As Samir says in Office Space, “it would be nice, to have that kind of job security.”
- I haven’t been on a bike in almost 20 years because last time I was on one, I was hit by a van. I wasn’t wearing a helmet and took the impact on my left eyebrow… which fell out from the trauma. And the doctor told me if might not grow back (it did.) I was pretty much unharmed otherwise. I remember being a lot more concerned about my eyebrow, and about the illicit items in my pocket that I hoped the doctors wouldn’t confiscate (I was 15!) than the fact that I could have died.
- I worked in a haunted castle. We also had glow in the dark golf and go karts. I was a mall carny 😦
- I was bullied in junior high. I wonder what the incidence of being bullied is among book bloggers? I’m gonna go with “high.” I was a target for a number of reasons and reading books was a big one.
- I haven’t watched TV in over a year. Let me clarify: I haven’t watched TV *for myself.* I am well versed in the worlds of Umi Zoomi, TMNT, and Tinkerbell. Notable exceptions: Pride and Prejudice, Olympics, Blade Runner (for a blog post!)
- I don’t want anything for Mother’s Day. Or any holiday. My husband and I stopped buying each other presents for birthdays, anniversaries, everything, a couple of years ago. Terribly unromantic, but I love not having the pressure.
- I live three blocks from where I grew up. I realize this is unremarkable is you live in a small town, but I don’t, and never intended to come back here. I am totally that person that walks by the old house and tries to look in the window.
- I’m participating in my second Slutwalk this year. I’m pretty open about being a feminist and this is the issue that is most polarizing between me and people I know in real life. Bottom line: I’m raising boys and I want them to learn not to rape; rather than learn that girls need to do X Y and Z to avoid being raped.
Mini Reviews, Manic Pixie Dream Girl Edition: Another Name for Autumn and Me Before You
Who do you think of when you hear the phrase “manic pixie dream girl?” If you’re my age, it’s probably Natalie Portman. If you’re a little younger, maybe it’s Zooey Deschanel. I don’t have any women’s or film studies cred to back me up, but to me the MPDG is a non-conventional and non-threatening woman-child who exists to teach a hero an Important Lesson. This device is pretty unappealing for obvious reasons.
I’ve thought about the MPDG phenomenon a couple times lately, while reading the American novella Another Name for Autumn and again while reading British blockbuster Me Before You. Both feature quirky, twee heroines, but neither are running around dancing in the rain; they’re both dealing with some fairly heavy stuff. All the quirkiness with none of the shenanigans! Sounds fun, eh? I don’t hate these books, but I have Issues with the heroines that coloured my reactions.
(Note: for thoughts from someone who DOES know what they’re talking about when it comes to MPDGs, see this article by author Jennifer Quist.)
Another Name for Autumn by Corrie Greathouse
My rating: 2/5 stars
I won’t paste the Goodreads synopsis here because it wasn’t reflective of the reading experience for me. I see this as a stream-of-consciousness account of a woman dealing with isolation and loss. So far, so good. But the unnamed narrator is a weird combination of Ally McBeal and uber-MPDG Natalie Portman in Garden State and not in a good way (could that possibly ever be in a good way?) She’s forever thinking her quirky, romantic thoughts, and that’s all we get, is her thoughts, relentlessly. Like this:
I wasn’t in love with anyone then but I had this love that was light and spirited and heavy and true and it belonged to someone.
What? And what is it with MPDGs and the rain?
I stopped going outside unless it was raining. When it rains, no one can see that your eyes are filled with years and your heart is full with holes. When it rained, I would sometimes sit outside, hoping my heart would fall silently from the sky again and come back to me.
The writing is all… very much liked the examples above. Oddly childlike and repetitive. It’s all love and hearts and music and fate.
Despite my issues with the character and the writing style, I finished the book in one sitting. It’s not that impressive a feat at 100 pages, but I did stay up past my bedtime. There is something strangely compelling about the writing and it’s rhythm. I was pretty confused at the end. I can barely decide if I liked it or not. If I liked it, it’s because all the stuff I didn’t like was done so well and so consistently, that I couldn’t help myself.
This book being published by a new, small press, there aren’t many other reviews out there, but I would love to see what some of my fellow bloggers think of it. Hit me up if you want my copy, it’s tiny, so I can probably mail it pretty cheap!
Thank you to Black Hill Press for the review copy!
Me Before You by Jojo Moyse
My rating: 2/5 stars
Synopsis: I’m assuming you know what it’s about, since everyone and their mother is reading it right now.
If any book is screaming for a gif-laden review, it’s this one. I’m at a disadvantage, because a) I’m too lazy to find a bunch of gifs and b) my Kobo died, taking all my annotations with it. It’s telling that almost all my annotations were “Run girl run” or “red flag!” or some variation. This is yet another story of a rich, devastatingly handsome, overbearing/possessive/jealous asshole and a young, poor, aimless woman who is just begging to be told what to do. Fifty shades of are you fucking kidding me with this shit.
Before I rant on, I will say that Moyse is a good writer. No inner goddesses here. The writing flows nicely and the dialogue is really well done. There’s not much to challenge the reader, though. The symbolism is beyond obvious (Lou is literally lost in a maze at one point, like, yes, we get it, she needs to find herself and stuff.) And I do appreciate the subversion of some of the tired romance tropes – Lou’s not a virgin, and Will’s disability means he’s not the typical virile hero.
But Lou. Oh Lou. She’s the one who inspired the title for this post. She’s got MPDG vibes with her cutesy outfits and child-like naivety, but she’s so stuck in a rut that I don’t really understand why either of her romantic interests are into her. It’s also hard to root for her when she ends up in the thrall of Will. I just wanted her to get away from him and into a healthy relationship, like, maybe with a therapist. Don’t even get me started on how all the trauma of being gang raped as a teen is magically gone once she talks to Will about it once for like five minutes. Don’t even.
And Will. So many of my contemporaries are singing his praises on blogs across the land and I was ready to like him. I didn’t mind that he was an asshole to Lou at first – I kind of didn’t blame him – but did none of the swooning readers notice how he slowly and creepily insinuates himself into Lou’s life and makes her more or less dependent on him? When Will conveniently gives a job to her desperate, unemployed dad, I forget my exact annotation was but it was for sure in all caps. It’s not romantic for a guy to make your entire family financially dependent on him, it’s pathological!
So I found the two characters and their “romance” abhorrent. But the real deal breaker for me came early on, when the premise of the book was revealed, because it’s 100% ridiculous. I guess I won’t go into it just in case, but a lot of the plot is pretty “convenient” (Lou doesn’t own a computer, Will’s parents can outfit an entire annex for a quadriplegic but can’t Google voice recognition software, Will happens to be fabulously rich, etc.)
I know a lot of you loved this book and part of my reaction is due to my heightened expectations. I didn’t hate it quite as much as this review may make you believe, but despite decent writing and an imaginative premise, I didn’t find it much better than any other romance novel I’ve read.
What do you think of Manic Pixie Dream Girl characters? Do they annoy you as much as they annoy me?
The Good Mother Myth edited by Avital Norman Nathman: Review + Giveaway!
My rating: 3/5 stars
In an era of mommy blogs, Pinterest, and Facebook, The Good Mother Myth dismantles the social media-fed notion of what it means to be a good mother. This collection of essays takes a realistic look at motherhood and provides a platform for real voices and raw stories, each adding to the narrative of motherhood we don’t tend to see in the headlines or on the news.
From tales of mind-bending, panic-inducing overwhelm to a reflection on using weed instead of wine to deal with the terrible twos, the honesty of the essays creates a community of mothers who refuse to feel like they’re in competition with others, or with the notion of the ideal mom — they’re just trying to find a way to make it work.
It’s been years since I read a collection of feminist essays – probably since Dropped Threads in the early 00s. I love reading and I love feminism, but these days I tend to get my fill of non-fiction essays on blogs. Many of the contributors to The Good Mother Myth are bloggers and the book didn’t quite exceed the sum of its blog posts, but it was a good attempt. Rather than my usual list of favourite stories/pieces, here are the things I look for in a nonfiction anthology, and how this book stacked up:
Anyone can write a blog (hi, case in point!) but a book has some credibility attached to it. Then there are the little extras to add an ever greater sense of it – blurbs and forewords and introductions. Continue reading
Middlemarch and Girls Who Read
I’m supposed to be writing my first update for the Middlemarch Read-Along hosted by Too Fond, but I keep thinking about this video:
Girls Who Read made the rounds a couple weeks ago. I didn’t watch it at first, because I’m pretty burnt out on “aren’t readers super special” memes. Most of them make us sound like smug assholes. Eventually I clicked, and I thought it was cute, well read, and funny. Who wouldn’t sigh at “passion, wit, and dreams?” I’m also a sucker for any kind of accent, so that helped.
A few days later, I noticed a minor backlash, including this article which contained the following from Portrait of a Lady:
He didn’t wish her to be stupid. On the contrary, it was because she was clever that she had pleased him. But he expected her intelligence to operate altogether in his favour, and so far from desiring her mind to be a blank, he had flattered himself that it would be richly receptive.
And I got to thinking: there’s nothing wrong with wanting a Girl Who Reads but in 2013 is this something that needs to be pointed out and celebrated? This guy seems to think he’s quite something because he can go one baby step further than tits and ass in his dream girl checklist. Not to mention that the video’s Girl Who Reads is also young, thin, white, and conventionally attractive, so it’s not reading over T&A, it’s reading AND T&A.
The Portrait of a Lady quote is pretty apt, and there’s even more to draw on from Middlemarch. She’s more of a Girl Who Drafts Ambitious Plans Relating to Cottages and Farming but same difference. I don’t have a great pull quote, though I found a few – damn Kobo annotations letting me down, as usual – but I think Dorothea and Casaubon are both guilty of using each other for their intellects. Dorothea wants to be educated and lifted up out of ignorance She says: “There would be nothing trivial about our lives… It would be like marrying Pascal. I should learn to see the truth by the same light as great men have seen it by.” Casaubon, well, I haven’t quite figured him out yet. I think he may have wanted a competent secretary as much as he wanted a wife, but finding Dorothea too smart and too able to see the shortcomings in his work, becomes jealous and shuts her out.
Despite ranting about it here, I’m not that bothered by this video. But it is making me think carefully about Dorothea and her passion, wit, and dreams. I’m paraphrasing someone on Twitter but I think it’s pretty telling that it’s Girls Who Read rather than Girls Who Write who are being celebrated. Reading, by itself, is pretty innocuous. Passive, even. Writing is a lot messier. Similarly, if Dorothea were passive, if she wasn’t compelled to speak her mind and didn’t have ambitions outside of marriage, she’d probably be a lot closer to Casaubon’s vision of an ideal wife.
As for the read-along, I’m just managing to keep pace. At 45% through the book, I’m finding it such a light read, not in the sense that it’s easy or quick or not thought provoking, but in that it doesn’t feel like a burden, even though at 800 pages, it surely is! There’s a perfect balance between all the plot points and characters and themes. Next week I’ll try to write a regular update but suffice to say that Ms. Eliot does not disappoint.
A Reading Soundtrack: Part II
A Reading Soundtrack was one of my favourite posts to write ever, and I got some good feedback from my readers. I even introduced an American reader to a relatively obscure Canadian band, Wake Owl. I feel like the CRTC owes me some money for pushing the CanCon!
The Book: The Paradise Engine by Rebecca Campbell (my review)
The Song: Of Space and Time by City and Colour Continue reading