Year of Shakespeare 2019

 

I signed up to join the 2019 Year of Shakespeare challenge with Hibernatorslibrary.  The goal is to read one comedy in January-April, one history in May-August, and one tragedy in September-December.

I plan to start with Taming of the Shrew.

Feel free to join me!

 

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Deal Me In! Amy Silverberg, Suburbia!

I signed up for Jay at bibliophilica’s #DealMeIn2019 challenge.  The goal is to read 52 short stories this year.  The stories are chosen by drawing a random playing card.

This week, I chose the 4 of Diamonds.

The story is “Suburbia!” by Amy Silverberg, found in Best American Short stories 2018, edited by Roxane Gay.

“Suburbia!” is (for lack of a better word) an odd story.  It begins when the narrator is fifteen, and her father says “I bet you’ll leave here at eighteen and you’ll never come back. . . not once” (251).  The narrator agrees to the bet.  A week after her 18th birthday, her father takes the daughter to the train station and says goodbye to her forever.  (It did not seem that the daughter had been consulted about this trip.) The daughter does OK.  She gets a job as a waitress, makes some friends, and takes a few classes.  But eventually, she misses her family and wants to see them again, so she goes home unannounced.

She is surprised to find that the house she grew up in is tiny–smaller than a toaster.  She crouches down on her knees in order to talk to her parents.  They are embarrassed that she is seeing them like this, but otherwise they are doing fine.

The last line of the story is this:  “I thought this was a funny thing, the way the past and the future could both shrink down to a manageable size, like a pill to be swallowed, or the head of a match” (261).

I believe Silverberg is using the miniature house as a symbol.  When we are children, our families and our homes seem huge, all-encompassing.  After we grow up and look back on our homes, our families may seem in some way diminished.  One can understand why the narrator’s father would not want her to see them through the lens of her adult eyes.

I’m not sure what I think of this story.  I haven’t yet fully “digested” it.  In the back of the anthology, Silverberg included some notes on why she wrote the story.  I will quote part of what she wrote:

  “I’d just read the short story ‘The Paperhanger’ by William Gay and admire the mystery of it, how it seemed to go confidently into an unknown world, a world that felt a little surreal and a little absurd. . . .I was also in a workshop taught by Aimee Bender, and while I hadn’t set out to write anything with a magical realism element, I’m sure her stories. . . rubbed off on me–or if not the stories, then at least the courage or freedom to go confidently into that so called unknown world.”

I do like that idea of writers having the freedom to go confidently wherever they want to go.

*****
Have you read this story or anything else by Amy Silverberg?  Let me know what you think!

 

Six Degrees of Separation: “French Lieutenant’s Woman” to “Rebecca”

 

Kate of booksaremyfavouriteandbest hosts a monthly meme called “6 Degrees of Separation.”   She writes, “On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book.”

This month, the starting book is The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles.  I haven’t read this book but I did see the movie adaptation, which starred Meryl Streep.

Meryl Streep also starred in The Hours, an adaptation of the novel by Michael Cunningham.  The Hours explores one day in the lives of three women.  One of these women is Virginia Woolf, who is writing the novel Mrs. Dalloway, the novel on which The Hours is based.

The main character of Mrs. Dalloway is a woman named Clarissa.  The novel also features a character named Septimus, a veteran of World War I who is suffering from shell shock. Septimus’s doctor plans to send him to an asylum for the mentally ill.

Veterans suffering from mental illnesses stemming from World War I are also featured in Regeneration by Pat Barker.  Rivers, the doctor, is portrayed as a complex and sympathetic character.

Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a novel with a much more critical portrayal of a mental asylum.  The movie version of Cuckoo’s Nest starred Jack Nicolson.

Nicholson also starred in the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining.  That novel scared the bejesus out of me when I read it back in the 1970s.

Another book which scared me when I was younger is Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca.

I travelled from The French Lieutenant’s Woman to Rebecca.  They seem like good companion novels to me.  Both feature lonely young women, and both are set on the southern coast of England.


Now it’s your turn to try!  Post a link to your Six Degrees of Separation in the comments section.

 

Reading Women Challenge

I am hereby officially joining the “Reading Women Challenge” I found on the Reading Women Podcast site.  Click here to see the original post and the challenge list.

This is what the challenge entails:

It officially begins January 1st, 2019 and ends December 31st, 2019.

Here’s the rundown: complete as many challenges as you can from the list below. If you have one book that covers two categories, feel free to count it for both. It’s not a contest. Our goal is to encourage you to read widely (and fight the patriarchy, but that was probably a given), so just have fun with it! To help cheer you on, we’ll be hosting mini giveaways along the way.

(You’ll have to go here to access the challenge list.)

Be sure to share your progress, use the hashtag #ReadingWomenChallenge.

 

Dickens plus Austen = Gaskell?

elizabeth-gaskellI had never read Elizabeth Gaskell’s work before.  After reading her 1855 novel North and South, I have decided that this 19th century English writer is a cross between Jane Austen (especially Pride and Prejudice) and Charles Dickens (especially Hard Times) because of her combination of social critique, romance, and light satire.

Like Dickens, Gaskell is concerned in her novel with portraying the harsh effects of the industrial revolution on so many people.   Margaret Hale, a young woman in her late teens, is the daughter of a clergyman.  She is not as beautiful as her cousin Edith but people admire her because of her dignity and intelligence.    She grew up in the South of England partly in the  beautiful village of Helstone and partly in London.  At the beginning of the novel, Margaret discovers that she has to leave her beloved Helstone parsonage and move north to Milton, an industrial city (based on Manchester).  Her father is moving the family because he has some dissenting views from the Church of England and no longer feels he can remain a clergyman in good conscience.  (If Gaskell explained what these dissenting views were, I missed it.  Why keep them a secret?)

Margaret and her mother nearly have a nervous breakdown because of the move.  One would think nothing worse had ever befallen a soul than having to move homes to a new town. Margaret finds Milton lamentable at first.  A large, bustling, dirty industrial town with bad air, it has none of the charms of her beloved Helstone or the sophistication of London.  It also lacks the “right” type of people—gentlemen and their families.  Instead, it is full of industrialists and people who are in trade.  Margaret looks down her nose at all such people.

She begins to soften her stance towards Milton when she makes some new friends—some people who work in the mills.  However, by getting to know the “hands,” as they are called, she learns how deplorable the conditions are for them.  She learns that one young woman is dying at age 18 because of breathing in so much cotton.  She also learns how hard it is for the “hands” to make ends meet with the money they make and she sympathizes with them when they go on strike.  It is Gaskell’s sympathetic portrayal of the “hands” and her critical view of industrialism that reminds me most of Dickens.  (Apparently, Dickens was her editor, so this resemblance is perhaps not surprising.)

North and South reminds me more of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice when it comes to her characters and her wit.  Margaret meets mill owner (and self-made man) John Thornton when she first comes to Milton.  He is attracted to her, but she looks down on him for not being a gentleman. (She has both the pride AND the prejudice.) Later, she disapproves of him because of the way he treats his workers.  The two characters remain sparring partners for most of the novel.  Gradually, though, we see both of them changing and growing (for the better) into more mature and complex selves.   Creating strong central characters who change in a realistic way throughout the narrative is one of Gaskell’s strengths.  I also enjoyed the way she gently but realistically created characters with glaring weaknesses: her mother is self-pitying, her father is weak, and Mrs. Thornton is, frankly, a witch.   The novel is not a comedy, but some of the scenes with these flawed characters interacting together were quite amusing.

Although I admired Gaskell’s critique of industrialism and her creation of characters, I did not enjoy the book as much as I had hoped I would.  This was partly, I think, because of her long-winded writing style.  She could have cut out a couple of hundred pages with no harm to the story.  I also wondered why certain aspects of the novel were included.  Why the story of the brother in exile?  Why the proposal from Mr. Lennox?  The worst part, though, was the last half or so of the novel, in which people were dropping dead like flies.  I found that such melodrama ruined the impact of the story.

I neither loved nor hated the novel.  I thought it was OK.  I know that a lot of people love it, though, so if it sounds like your cup of tea, I encourage you to go for it.

 

This is my post for “19th century classic” in the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge hosted by Books and Chocolate

His Bloody Project

I was looking forward to reading His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet.  The crime novel is billed as a historical thriller and is set in the Highlands of Scotland in the mid-1800s.  Roderick Macrae is arrested for murdering three people. He admits he is guilty, and he is already in jail awaiting trial before the book begins.  We read his memoir of the events, along with other documents related to the crime, such as statements by people who knew him, medical reports, and so forth.

his-bloody-project

Bloody Project received rave reviews and was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize.  Critics called it “gripping,” “compelling,” a “psychological thriller.”  I enjoy psychological thrillers and was ready to be gripped and compelled.

However, I was disappointed.  Although I was impressed at Burnet’s evocation of the godawfulness of the life of crofters in 19th century Scotland, I did not find the book riveting.  Roderick Macrae admits from the beginning that he killed the three people and is ready to face the consequences.  His memoir explains what led to the killing.   Maybe I missed something, but I failed to see anything of a psychological thriller in his account.  His voice was devoid of emotion or any real depth.  He wrote in what a psychologist might call “flat affect.”  The life he and his family led was devoid of any warmth, affection, joy or anything to make life worthwhile.  The way Lachlan Broad treated them was brutal.  Given the circumstances of his life, I completely understand why Roderick murdered the three victims and why he did not much care whether he lived or died.  I guess that is a testament to the strength of Burnet’s writing.  However, because Macrae’s life was so grim, and there was nothing compelling about his personality, I did not feel affected one way or the other about the outcome of his trial.

To state it bluntly, I felt no thrill or mystery or much of anything except pity for the entire class of people who had to live this way.

Note to writers

From a craft perspective, though, I did find Burnet’s use of various documents to tell the story interesting. It is a different way to convey multiple perspectives on a character or event.   Tim O’Brien used this technique brilliantly in his novel In the Lake of the Woods, and I think it added layers of complexity to the story.

I also thought the inclusion of J. Bruce Thomson, the expert in the field of criminal anthropology, was interesting.  This character illustrates the real trend at that period of “experts” who were able to tell if a person was inherently prone to criminality by examining his physical features.  Criminality was believed by some to be something hereditary and innate rather than a response to circumstances.  Bringing in this character was a good way to help readers understand the intellectual currents at work in this period.

Question for my readers:  I know this was a critically acclaimed book.  What am I missing? 

Teaser Tuesday

The Purple Booker hosts a weekly meme known as Teaser Tuesday.  Here is my tease:

Parisians seemed to feel the will to live more keenly than others.  Rushing commuters “made no detour around me but ran over me full of contempt,” as if Rilke were a pothole in the street, he wrote.  (80)

This is from Rachel Corbett’s nonfiction book You Must Change Your Life, about the friendship between sculptor Auguste Rodin and the poet Rainer Maria Rilke in the late 19th-early 20th century.  Corbett illumines the two artists’ struggles with what it means to be an artist and how an artist should live.  It is an intellectual history that explores creativity, aesthetics, urban living, modernity, friendship, empathy, and much more.

What are you reading?

ERVL0016505

Corbett, Rachel.  You Must Change Your Life.  New York: Norton, 2016.

Here is more information on Teaser Tuesday:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! Everyone loves Teaser Tuesday.