War & Peace & Women

Et bien, mes readers-along, si vous n’avez rien de mieux à faire, go to the master post for the read-along schedule and more.

Today’s the day: start reading! I tried to break you in gently by starting my first post off in French… hopefully you all remember your French as a Second Language classes, or got a translation where the French is, you know, translated!

But before we get to the bored socialites, glittering ballrooms, and affected French accents, not to mention the gifs, let’s get serious for un moment.

Those of you new to Reading in Bed might not know that I did a whole year of reading women authors in 2016. And my 2016 summer read-along was forgotten but foundational 18th century novel Cecilia, by Frances Burney. I must admit, it feels almost like a betrayal to go back to a dead white dude this year.

In doing my research (Googling “Was Tolstoy a dick?”) (he was), I found out that War and Peace wouldn’t have made it to our e-readers in 2017 without the help of a few lovely ladies. Let’s give them a shout out as we get ready to dive in. Continue reading

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War and Peace Newbies Tag

Alright, readers-along!  We’re mere weeks away from go time, and I have some questions. Respond in the comments, or, in your own post or video.

Tags are very popular on Booktube, and I even made a video of my own today:

Here are the questions, and my answers:

  1. Have you read (or attempted) War and Peace?

Nope. I’ve owned it for a few years, never even cracked it.

  1. What edition and translation are you reading?

Vintage Pevear & Volokhonsy translation on paper, Maude translation on Kobo.

  1. How much do you know about War and Peace (plot, characters, etc)?

Before I watched the adaptation: nothing! I think it’s bizarre that W&P doesn’t have an iconic quote or character, like other classics. Or, maybe it does, and I live under a rock.

  1. How are you preparing (watching adaptations, background reading, etc.)?

I’m doing a lot more preparation than I usually do. I watched the adaptation a few months ago, to familiarize myself with the characters. Russian classics are notorious for many characters, each of whom have several names. I’m also skimming through Give War and Peace a Chance, which would have been a great name for this read-along, and the diaries of Sophia Tolstoy, to confirm that Leo was indeed a dick.

  1. What do you hope to get out of reading War and Peace?

Checking it off the list (you know, that 1,001 Books list I’ve neglected for the past couple years). Reading pleasure – I usually love these big, meaty classics. And if I don’t, I have snarking rights (I insist on reading a book before I make fun of it.) It’s a win-win.

  1. What are you intimidated by?

The Russian name thing, see #4. Also, the Freemasonry stuff, which I assume is to War and Peace as farming is to Anna Karenina – hundreds of pages of booooooring philosophical asides.

  1. Do you think it’s okay to skip the “war” parts?

No!! I wouldn’t even ask, but I’ve seen it come up a few times in discussions. Just no. If you don’t read all the words, you haven’t read the book.

So. You’re all tagged. Let me know where you’re at with W&P, down in the comments, or make your own post or video.

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I challenge you to do this tag!

 

War and Peace Newbies Read-Along

The rumours are true: Reading in Bed’s fourth summer read-along starts July 1, and we’re going to read War and Peace!

I know what you’re thinking: “You’ve done three of these already?” (Yes, go learn everything you ever wanted to know about whales, revolutions, and inheritance law.)

Also, “isn’t there already a War and Peace readalong that started on June 1st?” Well, yes. I’ve been planning this read-along for months. Yamini and Ange’s readalong caught me off guard. I considered packing it in, because they have huge followings, and they’ve both read the book before. What do I have to offer, other than GIFS GALORE (thank you, recent Lifetime adaptation)?

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Anna Pavlova is dubious about the whole endeavor

On the other hand, I thought it would be nice to have a little corner of the internet for War and Peace newbs. We can learn about Russian to English translation, the Napoleonic Wars, and Freemasonry together! And so, I give you the War and Peace Newbies Read-Along!

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Tell me more!

Continue reading

How to read a book every week by ignoring your responsibilities: seven tips

Inspired by “How to read a whole damn book every week” by Kevin Nguyen, who has great bookish tweets

Ever notice that most “how to read more” articles are really basic? Smug too, but that’s inevitable. The GQ article above was better than most, but let’s talk about some ways to increase your book consumption that you might actually not know about. Continue reading

You Want it Darker?

They’re lining up the prisoners
And the guards are taking aim
I struggled with some demons
They were middle-class and tame
I didn’t know I had permission
To murder and to maim
You want it darker

-Leonard Cohen, “You Want it Darker”

Here’s a first-world reading problem (recognizing that all reading problems are first-world problems): when you expect to be emotionally devastated by a book, but you remained unmoved. You wish the characters made even worse choices, or that they suffered even harsher consequences. You may question your drive to see (fictional) people suffer, but the drive remains: you want it darker.

If you have that problem, here are some solutions.

Only this first example is legit. I read the first book, and specifically sought out the second because I wanted the same thing, only darker:

 

You want to read: Historical CanLit about sexual exploitation
You want it dark: The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay
You want it darker: Slammerkin by Emma Donaghue
For a book about a twelve year old girl sold into domestic slavery, and then to a brothel, The Virgin Cure is so light and inconsequential, from the plot points to the convenient feminist mentor/mother figure, to the main character’s name, “Moth”. There was no character development, no insight, and no dark, dirty horror – shouldn’t be tough given the story and the squalor of the setting. So, enter Slammerkin. Mary, another poor, unwanted young girl, sells herself into the sex trade – not on purpose, of course. But she’s soon whispering “fourteen and clean” at men on the street and meets her own mother/mentor figure, Doll Higgins, who is anything but convenient. These characters are real, the setting horrifically evoked as just as dirty and fetid as you’d imagine 18th century London to be, and there are several moments, not only the end but especially the end, that will leave the reader breathless. The Crimson Petal and the White would probably fall somewhere in the middle of these, for your gritty historical prostitute tales, but for unrelenting darkness, Slammerkin wins.

The rest of these pairings came to me in hindsight, and in some cases I read the “darker” book first. Continue reading

Before & After Canada Reads

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Each year around this time, I take a social media break, and in 2017 it’s more extreme than usual: for the month of March, I’m not only staying away from Twitter and Facebook, but also YouTube, Instagram, Goodreads… anything with a “feed.” And this blog. I’m going to pretend the internet stopped evolving after 2006, basically.

I’d be remiss if I took off with out reminding you all about Canada Reads, which is going down March 27-30 on CBC (I am allowing myself to watch broadcast TV on YouTube. I gotta keep up on Workin’ Moms too!) AND letting you know that Write Reads podcast is staging its own version of the national reading debate.

“After Canada Reads” will be released in a special edition Write Reads podcast in late April. It’s sort of a homage to Canada Reads, but also sort of an anti-Canada Reads. If you enjoy the general concept of debating books, but find the topics and criteria for those debates to be somehow both insipid and alarmist (“the book Canada MUST READ RIGHT NOW”) – or if you just have a lingering ick factor due to the ex-host – this maybe be the reading event for you.

Oh, and I’m taking part! Of course.

The theme: The best/most memorable/most inspirational female character in Canadian Literature.

The books:

  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
  • Malarky by Anakana Schofield (this one is mine!)
  • The Break by Katherena Vermette (also on the legit Canada Reads)
  • A Chorus of Mushrooms by Hiromi Goto
  • Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

Check out all of the defenders and their book choices here.

So, while you struggle through the official Canada Reads without my insightful commentary about who lays the best smack downs, who has the best lipstick, and who needs to shut the hell up, remember to read along and get ready for After Canada Reads. See you all in April!

The Corrections: A character study

Please welcome Meghan Hayes to #FranzeninFebruary! Meghan lives in my spiritual home of Saint John New Brunswick, and is one half of Bibliotaphs, one of my new favourite book blogs – this post in particular caught my eye. Her review of The Corrections takes a close look at each of the characters and reveals the contradictions at the heart of a funny/sad book.

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The Bibliotaph Cat approves

The Corrections is easily Franzen’s funniest book. I think the comedy that comes out of this story works because Christmastime is often hell for all of us, and nothing makes it more unbearable than all the pressure to “be with family.” It’s something we all relate to. The Corrections is similar to Franzen’s other work (notably Freedom and Purity) in that each section deals with another character and it often spans a generation.

This was the second Franzen book I ever read. I started with his essay collection How to be Alone and bought The Corrections immediately afterwards in a Target. So I first read this book ~five years ago. I decided to pick it up again so I could take part in Laura’s #FranzenFebruary.

Something that struck me as interesting in the book is that the characters are often trying to convince the reader that they are not “clinically depressed.” They all seem to be experiencing “depressive episodes” but they are always fighting the “clinical” label (e.g. Chip saying he is unable to behave like a depressed person by ignoring a phone call, Gary openly refuses the diagnosis by his wife).

I remember loving this line from a Chuck Klosterman novel where he says “I wanted to write about people who were depressed, but not depressed for any kind of specific cataclysmic reason. I mean the high school kid is kind of abstractly depressed, which I think is what a lot of people feel like. It’s not like they have anything bad about their lives and if you were to ask them if they were depressed, they’d probably say no.”

And I think this is what Franzen is doing in The Corrections. Each character seems to be depressed but in a way that any married / newly graduated / everyday-human can often be. It’s not necessarily biological, but they feel it nonetheless.

I’m going to divide up this “review” by each of the main characters … because this is the only way I’ll be able to organize my thoughts in any coherent way. Let’s goooooo: Continue reading

Jonathan Friendzoned: Some Thoughts on Purity

Our next #FranzeninFebruary guest post is courtesy of Matt Bowes, who’s pun game is on point (see post title). Matt is the General Manager at NeWest Press, my favourite Edmonton publisher. He sent me my very first review book  back when I was a just a baby book blogger. He used to dabble in book blogging himself, but these days you’ll find him podcasting about Bollywood movies at Bollywood is for Lovers.

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Jonathan Franzen can be a hard writer to like sometimes, but paradoxically I find him to be easy to love. The eternal English major in me thrills to see his recurring writerly tics crop up in each new fiction work, stuff like detailed descriptions of bird species, bathroom humour, the Club of Rome, and an uncomfortable sense of détente with the modern world. It’s one of the reasons people also like Wes Anderson: when an artist sets the table with recurring themes and preoccupations, it breaks down a sort of barrier, allowing readers to see what the deeper truth on offer is this time out. It’s like Commedia del’Arte, a set of agreed-upon motifs that act as a gateway to entertainment.

I’ve only read The Corrections, Freedom and now Purity, so I’m not entirely sure if these recurring traits appear in his earlier novels The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion, but I would be surprised if they weren’t in there somewhere.

So while it’s easy to see a critic latching on to Franzen’s straightforward obsessions and calling them out as being on the nose, it’s this exact heart-on-the-sleeve nature of his work that makes me really like him, and stick up for him in conversation, even as Franzen the reluctant public personality often gets himself into trouble. His jeremiads against social media and its practitioners, his bemoaning the state of book promotion and his attempts to embody The Great American Writer archetype are well-documented and rightly mocked, but unlike some other claimants to that throne, Franzen always comes correct with the literary goods in the end. Continue reading

On not reading The Corrections

And now, the first guest post of Franzen in February 2017! The lovely Carolyn of Rosemary and Reading Glasses valiantly took on The Corrections, after promising to do so last year. Read on to see how she fared – though the title probably gives you an idea – and do check out her blog. Her Last Week’s Reading series is particularly good, if dangerous for the TBR; she is also a certified poetry concierge!

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I’ve read a few of Jonathan Franzen’s essays (hated the one on Edith Wharton, in which he repeatedly comments on her looks; thought better of the one on Antarctica) and I’ve caught the general flavor of his views on technology and the reading public. I’ve also been delighted to read Laura’s spirited posts about the novelist over the last few years.  All of this to say I came to Franzen in February wary of Franzen, but willing to be pulled in by his writing. Continue reading

Literary Jonathans

Portraits of the Jonathans as young men

Remember when Jonathan Franzen took a minor swipe at his not-quite-contemporary, Jonathan Safran Foer, in Purity?

“And are you a big fan of Jonathan Savoir Faire? So many of my students are…So many Jonathans. A plague of literary Jonathans. If you read only the New York Times Book Review, you’d think it was the most common male name in America.”

I don’t know that I’ve noticed a plague*, but I did just finish Foer’s latest, Here I Am, so let’s do a little comparing and contrasting.

Comparing the Jonathans

  • Breakout novels in the early aughts (The Corrections and Everything is Illuminated)
  • American Novels with side trips across the ocean: Chip’s Lithuanian vacation in The Corrections, Berlin in Purity, the whole Israel thing in Here I Am
  • Voice of their respective generations: Franzen gets that label more than Foer, maybe, but remember, Foer isn’t even forty**. Give it time.
  • Insufferable public personas: Do I really need to link to something for Franzen? And in case you missed it, Foer did… whatever this is.
  • Environmentalist: Franzen is all about looking at birds, Foer is all about not eating them.
  • Fascination and disgust with technology: I love how both include realistic technology in their novels (email exchanges in The Corrections, text messages in Purity; sexting, constant screen time, and a Minecraft-like online environment in Here I Am) but they both really hate it, too.

Contrasting the Jonathans

  • The generation they are supposedly the voice of: Franzen’s a boomer, and Foer is technically a Gen Xer. Really though, he’s on the edge of Gen X and Millennial – just like me. Some call us Generation Catalano, but I prefer baby Gen Xer or elder Millennial, depending on my mood.
  • Experimental vs realism: Franzen has a lot of range, but most of his writing is pretty straight up, realistic, and chronological. Foer experiments; not so much in Here I Am, which is much more Franzeny than his previous work, but in the invented language and mythology of Everything is Iluminated, and the flipbook at the back of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
  • Wunderkind vs Late Bloomer: Franzen was in his 40s with two novels behind him before he found success, while Foer was 25 and a debut novelist.
  • Adaptation: Attempts have been made, but so far, Franzen’s work has not been adapted (Purity was in the works as a mini series but I haven’t heard anything in quite some time.) Both of Foer’s previous novels were made into movies; I wonder if Elijah Wood is free to play Jonathan, I mean, Jacob of Here I Am?

As for the books, I’ve only read two of Foer’s but each of them affected me more than anything of Franzen’s. I love ’em both, don’t get me wrong, but Franzen’s writing is a bit too sterile to give me that emotional devastation I crave. I have teared up for Franzen – but only for The Corrections, and only for one late, revelatory scene which I won’t spoil. Foer’s books don’t just make me cry, they have me weeping through entire chapters. Or the last 100 pages, in the case of Here I Am.

So, who’s your fav literary Jonathan? Meet me here for #FoerinFebruary in 2018?

*Jonathan was the 124th most popular name the year Franzen was born, and the 28th by the time Foer was born in 1977. It peaked in 1988 at #15, which suggests that the plague of literary Jonathans is far from over.

**He turns forty on Tuesday!