Dear Readers,


I now consider this blog to be my Juvenelia. Have fun perusing the archives, and find me at my new haunt, here.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

How Many Books Did You Read in 2009?

Here's my final tally: 57! I kicked my own ass, after being inspired by commenters last year who read way more books than I. This list includes 10 Sookie Stackhouse books, 2 Alexander McCall Smith novels, 12 PW review books, a goodly number of thick feminist books, three 19th century novels, one 18th century novel, FIVE Pulitzer winners, two obscure Edith Wharton novels, and a sprinkling of insanity!
How would you rate your year in reading, numerically or otherwise? Happy almost New Year, readers!
  1. Morality for Beautiful Girls, Alexander McCall Smith
  2. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
  3. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, Michael Chabon
  4. The Lake Shore Limited Sue Miller 2010
  5. March, Geraldine Brooks
  6. Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell 2009
  7. The Blythes are Quoted, L. M. Montgomery 2009
  8. Lost: A Novel,Lichtenstein, Alice 2010
  9. Push.,Sapphire 2000
  10. Whitethorn Woods (Vintage), Binchy, Maeve 2008
  11. When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, Gail Collins, 2009
  12. Living Room: A Novel, Rachel Sherman 2009
  13. Netherland (Vintage Contemporaries), Joseph O'Neill 2009
  14. The Solitude of Prime Numbers: A Novel, Paolo Giordano 2010
  15. A Touch of Dead (Sookie Stackhouse: The Complete Stories), Charlaine Harris
  16. Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse, Book 9), Charlaine HarrisHarris, Charlaine 2009
  17. All Together Dead (Southern Vampire Mysteries, Book 7), Charlaine Harris
  18. From Dead to Worse (Southern Vampire Mysteries, No. 8), Charlaine Harris
  19. Dead to the World (Sookie Stackhouse, Book 4), Charlaine Harris
  20. Dead as a Doornail (Southern Vampire Mysteries, Book 5), Charlaine Harris
  21. Definitely Dead: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel (Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood) Charlaine
  22. Club Dead, Charlaine Harris
  23. Vinyl Cafe Unplugged, Stuart McLean 2009
  24. Living Dead in Dallas, Charlaine Harris 2009
  25. Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, Jon Krakauer 2009
  26. The Kingdom of Ohio, Matthew Flaming 2009
  27. The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday (Isabel Dalhousie Mysteries), Alexander McCall Smith
  28. Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, Lizzie Skurnick2009
  29. The Grapes of Wrath (Penguin Classics), John Steinbeck
  30. Jamaica Inn, Daphne Du Maurier
  31. That Old Cape Magic, Richard Russo 2009
  32. Shanghai Girls: A Novel, Lisa See 2009
  33. The Glimpses Of The Moon Edith Wharton
  34. Picking Bones from Ash: A Novel, Marie Mutsuki Mockett 2009
  35. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn 2009 (50%)
  36. Dead Until Dark (Southern Vampire Mysteries, Book 1), Charlaine Harris
  37. Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri
  38. Breathing Lessons: A Novel, Anne Tyler
  39. Moby-Dick: or, The Whale, Herman Melville
  40. New World Monkeys: A Novel, Nancy Mauro 2009
  41. Day After Night: A Novel, Anita Diamant 2009
  42. Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout
  43. Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded, Samuel Richardson
  44. The Broken Teaglass: A Novel, Emily Arsenault2009
  45. The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins
  46. The Buccaneers, Edith Wharton
  47. A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, Elaine Showalter (50%)
  48. Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, Kathryn Joyce (50%)
  49. The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World, Michelle Goldberg (50%)
  50. The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women, Jessica Valenti 2009
  51. I'm So Happy for You: A novel about best friends, Lucinda Rosenfeld 2009
  52. Wetlands, Charlotte Roche 2009
  53. Taking Back God: American Women Rising Up for Religious Equality, Leora Tanenbaum 2009
  54. On Writing, Stephen King
  55. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz2008
  56. Hello Goodbye: A Novel, Emily Chenoweth 2009
  57. Follow Me: A Novel, Joanna Scott 2009
  58. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
  59. On Beauty , Zadie Smith

Monday, December 28, 2009

Wives and Daughters, Book and BBC

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell


My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading this book is like finding an undiscovered treasure. It's a slow simmering concoction of 19th-century social observation, and has none of the gritty class and labor issues Gaskell was so passionate about in books like North and South and Mary Barton. But it also lacks those stories' high-Victorian melodrama and shows an artist truly reaching the height of her powers. Don't let the basic contours of the story fool you; as the excellent, excellent Penguin Classic introduction points out, there's a ton of profound struggle beneath W+D's surface, including a playful take on fairy tales, a hero who is based on Darwin and a Darwinian theme, and a serious interrogation of the gender roles its plot seems to support. The male heroes--Roger and Mr. Gibson--are supposed to be rational men of science, but they are both frequently undone by their own prejudices and irrationalities when it comes to the fairer sex. Molly and Cynthia each in their own way end up being far wiser, less sentimental and less easily alarmed then the men around them.

Simple as she is, Molly Gibson is a heroine for the ages--honest and faithful with a hot temper that keeps her from being a Mary Sue. Her stepmother Mrs. Clare Kirpatrick-Gibson is a stepmother par excellence, so busy trying to prove that she is NOT the archetypical wicked stepmum that she doesn't notice how miserable her clumsy machinations make her clan. Her creation definitely owes a debt to the redoubtable Mrs. Bennet, but she's an awful all her own. And Cynthia K, stepsister and friend, is an excellent ingenue, a careless flirt for whom Gaskell, and we, nonetheless retain some sympathy for.

The primary tragedy of the book is its unfinished ending, which leaves one quite breathless with unsatisfied anticipation.

As for the obligatory Davies-penned BBC miniseries, it's one of the greats, without a doubt. Definitely rent it if you haven't, and even Davies' typically unsultry conclusion can't stop you from loving every minute. The cast is a veritable hotbed of "Six Degrees of Austen Adaptations" British character actors. It includes Mr. Meagles from Little Dorrit as well as a number of Cranford's spinsters!



fanpop.com- Molly and Dr. G survey the rolling hills near Hollinford and Hamley Hall.


View all my reviews >>


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Wives and Daughters--Book and BBC

Wives and Daughters (Penguin Classics) Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell


My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading this book is like finding an undiscovered treasure. It's a slow simmering concoction of 19th-century social observation, and has none of the gritty class and labor issues Gaskell was so passionate about in books like North and South and Mary Barton. But it also lacks those stories' high-Victorian melodrama and shows an artist truly reaching the height of her powers. Don't let the basic contours of the story fool you; as the excellent, excellent Penguin Classic introduction points out, there's a ton of profound struggle beneath W+D's surface, including a playful take on fairy tales, a hero who is based on Darwin and a Darwinian theme, and a serious interrogation of the gender roles its plot seems to support. The male heroes--Roger and Mr. Gibson--are supposed to be rational men of science, but they are both frequently undone by their own prejudices and irrationalities when it comes to the fairer sex. Molly and Cynthia each in their own way end up being far wiser, less sentimental and less easily alarmed then the men around them.

Simple as she is, Molly Gibson is a heroine for the ages--honest and faithful with a hot temper that keeps her from being a Mary Sue. Her stepmother Mrs. Clare Kirpatrick-Gibson is a stepmother par excellence, so busy trying to prove that she is NOT the archetypical wicked stepmum that she doesn't notice how miserable her clumsy machinations make her clan. Her creation definitely owes a debt to the redoubtable Mrs. Bennet, but she's an awful all her own. And Cynthia K, stepsister and friend, is an excellent ingenue, a careless flirt for whom Gaskell, and we, nonetheless retain some sympathy for.

The primary tragedy of the book is its unfinished ending, which leaves one quite breathless with unsatisfied anticipation.

As for the obligatory Davies-penned BBC miniseries, it's one of the greats, without a doubt. Definitely rent it if you haven't, and even Davies' typically unsultry conclusion can't stop you from loving every minute. The cast is a veritable hotbed of "Six Degrees of Austen Adaptations" British character actors. It includes Mr. Meagles from Little Dorrit as well as a number of Cranford's spinsters!



fanpop.com- Molly and Dr. G survey the rolling hills near Hollinford and Hamley Hall.


View all my reviews >>

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Solstice, Redux

...From me and Dar Williams (whom I'm seeing live this weekend!) and my beloved Robert Frost. Enjoy the darkest evening of the year.

Dar Williams, "The Christians and the Pagans:


Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost
New Hampshire
1923



Question of the holiday season: what are you reading?


Hope all's well out there readers. It's been busy times here at EBC headquarters trying to maximize snow-frolicking, finish all work in time to PLAY with my family and friends, and get my end-of-year reading done too.

I finished "March" and a new Sue Miller novel for review later this year, and now am making my way through Chabon's "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay," which is hilarious so far but dense and may take me through New Year's.

What tomes are you cozying up with?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Rounding up the year in women-penned books

...this piece, by yours truly, published today in Women's eNews:

Women's 2009 Books Enjoyed a Banner Year:
Female writers in all genres and at all levels--from blockbusters to thought stirrers--have won a generous portion of this year's critical acclaim, sweeping up a large percentage of the major prizes and, partially thanks to a spate of new film adaptations, spending considerable time perched atop the bestseller lists . read more.

Happy Bday Jane

Today, December 16, 1775, Jane Austen was born, the woman who would become one of the most beloved and acclaimed writers ever and the object of EBC obsession.

I have now written 66 posts about Jane Austen and 35 about Pride and Prejudice and as "Emma" comes down the pipes, the number will only grow. For providing me such endless, endless fodder for thought and fun, I raise a cup of coffee and a muffin* to Jane and to you, my fellow Janeites.


* With such rivals for the notice of the fair as Mr. Wickham and the officers, Mr. Collins seemed to sink into insignificance; to the young ladies he certainly was nothing; but he had still at intervals a kind listener in Mrs. Phillips, and was by her watchfulness, most abundantly supplied with coffee and muffin.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Some of My Literary Scribblings

More Twilight writing: In honor of the release of the "New Moon" film, this post has a roundup of all my latest writing and quotes on the "Twilight" Saga.
Gail Collins' Whirlwind Tour Through Feminist History This is a review, in a feminist context, of Collins' new book.
New Arrivals: Novelist Rachel Sherman on Voicing Three Generations of Jewish Women--an interview with Sherman, author of the recently-released "Living Room"

And two book reviews from print pubs: Review of "Taking Back God," Bitch Magazine, Fall Issue 2009/
Review of "Wetlands" Venus Zine, Summer Issue 2009

Push, by Sapphire

Push Push by Sapphire


My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love it when a book--any book--is hot property. This is certainly the case these days for "Push," which I bought from a book vendor on 125th street. because the title was so popular the weekend "Precious" came out he had to summon another vendor who came sprinting down the street, book in hand.

So is "Push" any good, hype aside? Yes. It's a quick read, and a painful read--Sapphire doesn't pull any punches and her heroine suffers every kind of tribulation imaginable--but I found it incredibly worthwhile first as an example of experimental narrative, second as an incredibly real window into a place and time and a person's psyche. Precious--the abused teen who tells our story-- improves her literacy as she writes, thanks to a second chance school and a visionary teacher, Blu Rain. This leads not only to a leap forward in her ability to tell her story as we read on, but also a new sense of self, an expansion of her goals, an ability to question, if not abandon, the things she repeated like a mantra early on in her tale. As in the film "Precious", you are witness to the awakening of a human being years into her life, "the birth of a soul" to steal the promotional copy.

More than the film, though, which aims for a certain degree of universality, Sapphire's "Push" is meant to really expose conditions in Harlem in the 1980s. This is evidenced by a lot of specific cultural references, but also by the book's coda, which is the collection of writing done by the girls in Precious's class. Each one of their stories rivals hers for horror and sadness, painting a picture of a lost generation of girls, a few of whom have found some light in the darkness by learning the tools of self-expression.

The book is valuable on its own, and is also an interesting counterweight to urban narratives of deprivation and redemption that have a male perspective, like my beloved "Down These Mean Streets."

View all my reviews >>

Saturday, December 12, 2009

NYTBR on new Abigail Adams Biography

Abigail Adams, Founding Mother,

"In this account, the self-assertive wife of the second president often emerges as the dominant partner."

If you're anything like me (or you've seen "1776"), Abigail "remember the ladies" Adams is one of your heroines!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Zombies, Zombies, Everywhere--And Natalie Portman?

It seems that Natalie Portman will play the zombie-slaying, nunchuck-wielding, upper-crust gentleman bewitching, Mr. Collins-refusing Lizzie Bennet.

For my thoughts on the matter, I refer you to this previous post.
Any input on the casting, or too sick of the undead to care?

_________________________________
More Jane, and zombies, around the web (it never ends, readers!):

The Transcontinental Disability Choir: Pride & Prejudice & Ableism
People have been adapting and playing with the works of Jane Austen for decades, whether they're bringing them to life on the big screen and staying true to the novels, or taking the plots and characters in entirely new direction...
from Bitch Magazine Blogs

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies the movie - undead in a theater near you!
Portman will co-produce with Annette Savitch.Natalie and I are longtime passionate fans of Jane Austen’s books and this a fresh, fun and thought-provoking way to approach her work,” Savitch said. .
from Jane Austen Today

Just in Time for Christmas: Pride and Prejudice and 30% More Zombies
This new leatherette edition boasts 30% more zombies in its expanded version, a new preface by coauthor Seth Grahame-Smith, and thirteen oil painting illustrations by Roberto Parada.Why does the publisher desire you to spend more money on this new edition? Becaus...
from Jane Austen Today

The Jane Austen Backlash!
Jane Austen, "vicious gossip?" Look, anyone who's read any Austen in school knows that there are plenty of people who will dismiss her as boring or trivial - in this regard, 19th century literary critics are rivaled only by 14-year-old boys.
from Jezebel

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Today in Jane: Are you a zombie-spinoff lover, hater or both?

Confessions of a Jane Austen-Spinoff Addict: in Slate's Double X, by Sara Dabney Tisdale

(A review of A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen, which is totally on my Hannukah wishlist)


A sampling:

After all, every fan of Jane Austen fan thinks she is a real fan of Jane Austen – that her understanding of and empathy with Austen surpasses that of other readers, that she and she alone fully appreciates and savors Austen’s merits.

I say this because before I hated Jane Austen spinoffs, I adored them. No—I was addicted to them. But in both phases, I considered myself a Jane Austen snob.


Is it me, or have pop-cultural Austen references just been obliterating even Shakespeare references recently?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

"Best" lists stink: Worst books of the decade?

What were your worst books of the decade?: "

It's all very well to make lists of the decade's best books, but surely the worst books would give future generations a truer glimpse of the 'noughties. Let's name and shame.

Thus asks Sam Jordison at the Guardian, who adds that he'd put nearly every single Booker Prize-winning book on his list! Harsh.

So have at it, readers. What books, published between 2000 and now, have been terrible, or overrated, or otherwise unreadable?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Best Last Lines in Literature

We love talking about first lines, but now (thanks to political blogger Matt Yglesias) here's the American Book Review's list of 100 best last lines, as a PDF. It's a little heavy on the po-mo but a GREAT conversation starter.

Here's how I'd arrange my top 15 on the list, based on books I've actually read, and last lines that have made me gasp, sob, cry, shake my head, or think. (The ranking #s from the official list precede them) I think it makes my populist/Victorian/feminist taste very clear. There's a lot of Joyce in here because he's such a master at building you up to a crescendo and then making your brain explode with his last words.


3. So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
–F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925) [You win, Scotty]

4. I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. –James Joyce, Ulysses (1922) [YES! the actual last sentence goes on for pages and pages. I copied out a bigger chunk of the soliloquy here]

11. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the
universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead. –James Joyce, “The Dead” in Dubliners (1914) [utterly perfect, comes to mind all the time]

29. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive:
for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that
things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the
number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs. –George
Eliot, Middlemarch (1871–72) [A tear-jerker and profound, too. I've written about this one here]

5. But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt
Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there
before. –Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) [Just brilliant last line. I <3> Huck.]

14. Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity! –Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener (1853) [My HLP was just talking with me about how Bartleby is the first countercultural hero in Am-Lit]

45. Are there any questions? –Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (1986) [Um, yes, there are a ton. So ironic.]

46. It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just
circles and circles of sorrow. –Toni Morrison, Sula (1973) [This one made me cry, too. Wrote about this here]

77. “Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.” –Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (1936) [A cliche, but true.]

99. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see. –Zora
Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) [Really triumphant, life-affirming last line, for a heroine who's seen so much death]

56. He knelt by the bed and bent over her, draining their last moment to its lees;
and in the silence there passed between them the word which made all clear. –Edith
Wharton, The House of Mirth (1905) [Wrote about this here--NEVER fails to make me cry]


64. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the
rain. –Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (1929) [Wahhhh]

52. Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody. –J. D.
Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951) [Wahhhh, part 2]

59. Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead. –James Joyce, A
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) [So clear, yet so mysterious, a great line to utter when you're on the cusp of a new beginning or endeavor]

41. I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering
among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the
grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth. –Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (1847) [gee, Mr. Lockwood, how could anybody ever imagine such a thing? Maybe by reading the last 300 pages?]

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Whitethorn Woods

Whitethorn Woods Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy


My rating: 3 of 5 stars
So thus far, this was my least favorite Maeve Binchy, which I expected given that I was rather "eh" about the premise and bought it for $2 Canadian on my last day in Montreal.

The titular woods in Rossmore, Ireland are home to a shrine of St. Ann's that is being threatened with extinction due to a new motorway coming through. Binchy weaves together the stories of dozens of people who live in Rossmore or have prayed at the shrine, leaving the fate of the place itself in the balance until the last possible minute. The theme, obviously, is modernity vs. tradition in Ireland. A lot of the stories are pitch-perfect pleasure-reading sappy, some veer towards being too sappy, but some are unusually sharp and unsentimental for Binchy, including a nasty little murder plot.

Aside from displaying her warmth and emotional acuity, the fact that all the stories are first person reveals that Binchy also has a really great talent for manipulating perspective and unreliable narration. She writes these stories in the voices of flawed people that leave you gasping, somehow, with your feelings of both stern judgment and sympathy for them. Most of the stories in WW are intersecting and paired, too (first you hear from a character, then you hear from his or her sibling/spouse/teacher etc) so you hear bits of the same events from two different points of view, which is very clever and thought-provoking.

So with all this praise, why wasn't this my favorite? Answer: the religious element. It felt a little too hokey, particularly the stuff surrounding the shrine and how the characters truly believe it will answer their prayers. Although Binchy tries to counteract this through the eyes of a skeptical priest (!!) this wasn't enough skepticism to suit my tastes. And more importantly, I'm not sure Binchy really believed it either.

View all my reviews >>

Around the Web

  • Bronte Blog has a good wrap-up on various Twilight-Bronte connection articles around the 'nets, including a piece in the Guardian on how Twilight is helping the Brontes by getting several stalled Bronte film adaptations into high gear, and a piece from a Smith college's publication asserting the opposite, for more intellectual reasons.
  • Also in the Guardian, a great piece celebrating 150 years of Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, an EBC favorite. Here's a taste:
Despite such drastically mixed reviews, The Woman in White was a mad success with the public, and made no less of a sensation out of its 35-year-old author, Wilkie Collins. In middle-class dining rooms everywhere, discussion turned to the intriguing cast of characters Mr Collins had invented – mannish, eloquent Marian Halcombe; faithful and angelic Laura Fairlie; sinister, secretive Percival Glyde; and of course Count Fosco, seductive and cunning, with his cockatoo, his canary-birds, and his white mice running over his immense body. Two months in, Dickens was calling the novel "masterly", and Prince Albert admired it so much that he later sent off copies as gifts.
Who could ever forget Count Fosco?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A chat, and the Little Dorrit theme music!

(edited and abridged)

she:
did you know
that PBS is re-airing all of Cranford
in December
to prepare us for CRANFORD II: RISE OF THE SPINSTERS
and by that I mean "return to cranford."
WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT THAT?

him: omg!!
:)
i will watch some of it with you

she:
PLUS they are doing an ALL NIGHT little dorrit marathon on new year's eve
all night baby.
screw going out.
right?

him:
YEAH!
@#$%! DAT!
LET'S WATCH SOME ORPHANS GET ABUSED INSTEAD!

she:
[snort]
[snort]
that was me doing Mr. Pancks

him
: i knew!

me
: you're a damn fine gent with no bigad nonsense about you

In honor of said marathon, here's a treat, at long last: the Little Dorrit theme music coutesy of an awesome youtube user named "A Victorian Lady."

Makes me get all weepy and simultaneously creeped out just listening.

Team Ahab vs. Team Dick

Just in time for the holidays, it's Novel-T.com, where you can purchase baseball T-shirts with references to seminal characters and authors in American Lit. Kind of awesome.

Have we talked about how important it is to buy books and bookish stuff for presents this year? Because it is.


Oh and P.S. We need a Brit-lit version, don't we?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

NYT 100 notable books list broken down by gender

FICTION: women authors = 20/45 picks
NONFICTION women authors = 13/55 picks (is this possible?)

Last year it was 33/100--and it looks like this year is the same. Big improvement in the fiction category this year, with a drop in non-fiction.

Fact check my hastily-done research: here's the list.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

This Week in Jane + An Update

TWIJ:

Cold Case: Jane Austen : At Jezebel, discussing the Morgan Library exhibit and the new theories surrounding Jane's demise.

Jane Austen Movie Throwdown from Jane Austen Today -

Things That Are True About Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey: At Isak, Anna discusses the sheer joy of reading Northanger Abbey for the first time. I feel you sister--some of us will never have the pleasure of opening a brand new Austen-novel again. But we can live vicariously, and we do. P.S. Henry Tilney is a hottie. Oh yes, a man who knows his muslins is not to be ignored.

Speaking of reading an Austen tome for the first time, I'm absolutely finding Wives and Daughters to be among the best of the almost Jane but not quite novels (AJBNQ?) I've ever read. It doesn't have that broad Victorian scope I'm used to from Gaskell, going more into detail about two families and their sorrows and intrigues, which reveals a more direct debt to Austen's novels of manners. I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying this book, fairest readers. I never want it to end. Which is good, because it doesn't! (Gaskell died before completing it). Any others who've read the book know what I'm talking about?

I still owe you reviews of Netherland, Push, and Whitethorn Woods among others. Will catch up ASAP--it's a terribly busy time of year, is it not?

Netherland

Netherland Netherland by Joseph O'Neill


My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a book that's a meditation on setting--time and place--more than anything else. It goes back and forth over time, from London to Holland to New York and beyond. It tells the story of a Hans Van den Broek, a Dutch businessman alone in the Chelsea hotel after 9/11. Hans rediscovers his love of cricket and eventually makes his way back to his estranged family in London, while spending time with an extraordinary denizen of New York, Chuck Ramkissoon, an entrepreneur and dream-spinner of uniquely American, and New York, sensibility.
Netherland
doesn't have much plot beyond this, and to be honest I occasionally had to push my way through it, but it did have the most gorgeously evocative and incredibly witty passages. The visuals of the book, from a bedraggled drag queen with angel wings, to a remote cricket field in the outer boroughs baking in the sun, to a mom and her son ice-skating up a river in Holland, have stuck with me--so if you love clever language and vivid prose imagery, I heartily recommend it.

Also, the novel contains allusions to The Great Gatsby which the erudite among you will lap up like thirsty kittens.

And here's James Wood on that very subject, and on the book as 'postcolonialist.'

To sum it up overall, here's my dad's thoughts re: Netherland: "I absolutely loved it, but I can see how would have seemed pretty boring when I was younger." That pretty much says everything I've just said, but far more concisely.

View all my reviews >>

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What authors are you thankful for?

image: clipartguide.com


Happy Turkey day, readers. If you drop by over the long weekend, let us know which authors or characters you're thankful for having in your life.

Right now I'm thankful (in a purely secular, literature-is-my-religion kinda way, o' courrse) for Mrs. Gaskell, Charlaine Harris, and L.M Mongtomery's existence, and for all the Y.A. heroines like Anne, Emily, Jo and Meg Murray with whom I grew up.

Aww!

Your turn.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Today in Jane

More of the usual musings on Jane's enduring popularity from the New Yorker's Book Bench blog. It includes a great EM Forster quote, which I am reprinting in full here:


E.M. Forster "I am a Jane Austenite, and therefore slightly imbecile about Jane Austen. My fatuous expression, and airs of personal immunity-how ill they sit on the face, say,of a Stevensonian! But Jane Austen is so different. She is my favourite author! I read and reread, the mouth open and the mind closed. Shut up in measureless content, I greet her by the name of most kind hostess, while criticism slumbers."

Gaskell-Mania redux


Elizabeth Gaskell remains all the rage. Charleybrown at Enchanted Serenity is celebrating the 5th year anniversary of the period drama adaptation that blew our collective socks off: North and South. And over a their place they've also got all the updates on the new Cranford, which will be hitting our screens right as 2010 starts. Can I get a hell-yeah for adorable spinsters and widows?

In honor of the Gaskelly season, I've just started making my slow way through Wives and Daughters. Loving it so far. Can't wait to watch the mini-series with my grandma when I'm done.


You can crush my strike any time, Mr. Thornton!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fifteen Awesome Books By Women written in 09

(That's me clutching Elaine Showalter and Charlaine Harris)

A little late, but better than never.

Women writers all over the web are responding to our lack of presence on mainstreams awards lists and "best of" lists with lists of our own--(note to world: I got there first re the PW list).

So in that positive spirit, here goes--awesome books I read that were written by women in 2009, both high and lowbrow. What's on yours?

NONFICTION:

A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx
Elaine Showalter

The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World
Michelle Goldberg

The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women
Jessica Valenti

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement
Kathryn Joyce

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present
Gail Collins

Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading
Lizzie Skurnick

**
FICTION

The Broken Teaglass: A Novel
Emily Arsenault

Day After Night: A Novel
Anita Diamant

Picking Bones from Ash: A Novel
Marie Mockett

Shanghai Girls: A Novel
Lisa See

Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse, Book 9)
Charlaine Harris

Living Room: A Novel
Rachel Sherman

A Short History of Women: A Novel
Kate Walbert

Pictures at an Exhibition
Sara Houghteling

Hello Goodbye: A Novel
Emily Chenoweth

Literary Linkage GALORE

There's so much Twilight-mania it seems absurd to try to collect it in one place. Here are a few of my favorite recent literary links though.

Jacket Copy gives us a rundown on the National Book Awards.

Meanwhile mediabistro asks folks at the National Book Awards about sparkly vampires.

Comparing Twilight to Samuel Richardson's Pamela at The Millions

Romancing the Tome takes on a new book of Jane Austen essays.

DoubleX blog finds out where writers do their best writing, from the dark to the bathroom.

I was quoted as a guilty feminist Twilight-lover at the Washington Post.

The ladies of Jane Austen today have an awesome quiz linking the actors from S+S '95 to Harry Potter.

The Times o'London lists the best 100 books of the decade. An odd assortment.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Today in Jane: WWJD?

James Collins in the Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece (excerpted from a new book of essays on Jane) on Austen's morality in terms of its applicability today, when so many social rules and values are different than they were in her time.

Unlike today's social observers, Austen never advocated rearranging or even challenging the structure of society; she mocked the status quo, but was a big believer in protecting oneself and skillfully, practically navigating within a system that could be downright unfair to women and classist, to boot. Feminists like me may not like to admit it, but today Jane very well might be one of those pragmatic folks who urged her fellow women not to wear short skirts or go out clubbing on their own. So is she still an acceptable moral guide in our liberated world?

Collins' piece gets the most interesting partway down, when he talks about three of the more troubling (by today's standards) "moral" choices made by Austen heroines Fanny, Elinor and Anne:

If one is to argue that Austen's morality is useful for a person living today, one must deal with three hard cases. First, there is Fanny's objection to the amateur theatricals in "Mansfield Park." Then, in "Sense and Sensibility" there is Elinor's refusal to pursue the man she loves, Edward Ferrars, when she learns that he is oficially engaged to Lucy Steele, a woman who "joined insincerity with ignorance." Finally, there is Anne Elliot's avowal in "Persuasion" that she did the right thing by following the dictates of Lady Russell to refuse Captain Wentworth, even though this led to years of loveless misery for them both. In all three cases, Austen endorses a morality that seems nearly absurd in its strictness. What is the big deal with theatricals? Is the principle of honor worth upholding when it results in mismatches and regret? And what kind of value system puts obedience before love?
To find out how Collins makes sense of these tricky situations, read the piece.

I'd venture to add that Austen's descriptions of her characters' feelings provide a very human counterweight to the ultimate moral message she delivers--she doesn't pretend it's easy to do the right thing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sookie Stackhouse, the Final Five


So this is a review of books 5-9 plus the story collection "A Touch of Dead". What can I say, readers? These books were literary crack... as I said last time the series definitely gained momentum after the third book and pretty much kept going. Although I found some of the books, particularly the ones that took us away from Bon Temps, less well-done than others, I zipped through them all in record speed. Charlaine Harris has won her loyal readers over by creating an awesome cast of characters with reliable quirks and traits that almost read like Homeric epithets--Pam in her cream-colored sweaters, Eric's 2,000 years of experience in the ways of love, Claudine's outragious physique, etc. etc. Harris also fearlessly expresses her love of genre fiction by mixing three traditions together with impunity; romance, fantasy, mystery, with a touch of humor, and it's a bewitching concoction.

Unlike purveyor of even stronger crack/object of EBC scorn Stephanie Meyer, Harris has the guts to kill major players off, have characters change and evolve, and give them sex drives that actually lead somewhere beyond pouty looks and abortive makeout sessions. Essentially, her characters' actions result in consequences, as opposed to their heroine protecting everyone she thinks is speshul with a bogus "wuv shield" (yep, I'm still bitter about Breaking Dawn). This makes the pleasure of reading the books even less guilty.

Honestly, I can't wait for Dead in the Family.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Armistice/Veteran's Day Poem: Dulce et Decorum Est

So when I was a kid, my mom bought us a book of war and peace poems and read them with us. That's where I first encountered famous poems like "Abhu Ben Adam" and "The Charge of the Light Brigade" and "In Flanders Field" (that's what being brought up by Jewish intellectuals is like, folks). It also had the below poem which has always haunted me, as I'm sure it has to most everyone who reads it.

On a day like today it's hard to pick just one anti-war poem, since there are so many devastating ones. But if one must (and one must), Wilfred Owen is the clear choice.

What are your favorite poems or books that describe war and its consequences, readers?



Wilfred Owen

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Mad Men: Reflecting on the end of the season

I know a lot of you like me have been glued to the couch on Sunday nights watching "Mad Men." It's been an incredible season--dark and portentous with a few rays of hilarity and hope. I thought last's nights finale was a pitch-perfect hour of TV and I've avoided my usual Monday-Morning indulgence of reading "Mad Men" open threads so I could jot down my thoughts and ask you yours.

SPOILERS BELOW.
(my how they've grown since season 1)

I thought the episode was marked by Don and Betty's inverted efforts to build a new life for themselves. Don's new venture looks like a repeat, but is in fact an uncharted course; Betty's plans look new but it's going to trap her in the same prison she was in before.

Don's new company has the same DNA as the old one: the same core people he's been working and fighting with forever with a name that starts out the same as well--but the reality is very, very different. He's abased himself in front of everyone: Sterling, Peggy, Pete, and has to acknowledge them as equals. Now he's played his cards of telling these colleagues exactly why he admires them-- and needs them--rather than keeping his little "does Don like me?" guessing-game power-trip game going. This awareness and openness is clearly spurred on by what was happening at home, *and as people on the internets reminded me, his memory of the grisly fate that befell his dad when he "abandoned the collective." So Don succeeded with Peggy and Roger where he failed with Betty. And as Peggy's retort to Roger about the coffee shows, Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce is going to be a very different place from the original SC.

Meanwhile Betty, who is rightly furious at her secretive womanizer of a husband, thinks she's found her fairytale prince and her ticket to happiness and freedom. But with a protective, overly-chivalrous guy who wants to do exactly what Don did--put her on a pedestal and provide for her--she may be doomed to a repeat performance. What Betty needs is not another father figure, but the ability to let go of that little-girl persona and grow up.

As broken-hearted as I was by Betty's decision, and especially its effect on the kids, I also felt a flood of relief that this tense standoff between the two of them was over. And I felt poignantly the tragedy of an era, and two people, who wouldn't allow, wouldn't even consider, of Don's warm and natural parenting instincts to ever influence or take precedence over Betty's horrible childishness at home.

So what did you think? And what are your hopes/predictions for next season?

Friday, November 06, 2009

This Week In Jane


Yes, the blogs are abuzz with news of the Jane Austen exhibit opening at the Morgan... it's a writerly exhibit of manuscripts and letters, so no Colin Firth paraphernalia to be found, just raw genius. I will be going to this and reporting on it forthwith, dear readers.

The Pride and Prejudice graphic novel we've talked about before is shooting up the bestseller charts.

You know, every single time I go to the bookstore I see more Jane-related titles. At what point will news reporters realize that Jane-ism isn't just a fad?

Question of the NaNoWriMo Weekend: What are you writing?


I'm not furiously writing a new novel this month--still revising the old one (yet again) and trying to come up with a new batch of freelance journalism pitches to take me through the holidays.

But what about you guys? I know I have some NaNoWriMoers in the audience, and I know that a lot of you are also working on personal writing projects, whether it's journals, blogs, theses, poetry or fiction. So here's your chance to tell us how your scribbling is going.

Good luck!

PS for those who haven't, I recommend joining the new social network for female writers, www.shewrites.com. And be my friend!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Why Do Writers Get Compared Only to Writers of the Same Ethnicity?

A really funny--and also true-- post at HuffPo from Celeste Ng about the way every single writer of East Asian descent seems to be compared to Amy Tan in blurbs, back-cover copy, promotion and even book reviews. And it's not because of their approach to prose. The same goes for writers of other backgrounds:
Check any bookshelf of contemporary fiction and you'll see what I mean. Black writers get compared to black writers; Jewish writers to Jewish writers; gay writers to gay writers. According to the publisher's description, my friend Preeta Samarasan's novel Evening Is the Whole Day is "sure to earn her a place alongside Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, and Zadie Smith." I teased her: a place on the shelf of Brown Women Writers. As someone of Indian descent, Samarasan can apparently hope to become a Bharati Mukherjee or a Jhumpa Lahiri, but not -- say -- a Toni Morrison or an A. S. Byatt. Or an Amy Tan, for that matter.

Well worth a read. I've always found it funny that this is done, because a lot of the writers who get compared to each other have little in common in terms of style and tone, even if their subject matter overlaps: Gish Jen, Sam Chang and Amy Tan are all EXTREMELY different, as are Kiran Desai and Jhumpa Lahiri.

55 Years of Pouring Water Down the Mail Chute

"I am a city child. I live at the Plaza."

Happy 55th birthday to Eloise, the most mischievous scion of wealth who ever grew up in NYC's Plaza hotel, and star of one of my absolute favorite childhood books. I can still hear my mom chuckling over the phrase "city child" as she read it aloud; indeed, prank-loving Eloise is a quintessential fictional New Yorker.

The Daily Beast has an interview with Hilary Knight, the book's illustrator.

And Knight will be giving lessons on how to draw the iconic character in NYC!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Another Top Ten Book List Sans Les Femmes

While things improve slowly, we've certainly seen this before.
This time, the culprit my (otherwise wonderful! really!) occasional employer, Publishers Weekly.

Here's the list. Fact-check me if I'm wrong about the complete lack of estrogen here.

Previously:

Another Book List Leaves the Ladies Out: WSJ Edition

Another Book Listie Leaves the Ladies Out

National Book Award: Testosterone
y

Anti-feminist book critics review feminist works

Times' Gender ratio improves

Pulitzers: kinda testosteroney

Question of the Weekend: Scariest moments in literature?


Happy Halloween!

As an overly-imaginative reader, I've never found it very hard to get creeped out by a book I'm reading. This has been true from the early days when I used to read Alvin Schwartz' "Scary Stories to Read in the Dark" children's series in bed with a flashlight to spook myself out.

Still, it's harder for books to truly frighten their readers than it is for films , and writers often do their work on us not by mood music or lighting or camera angles, but by presenting something uncanny:

From Wiki; The Uncanny (Ger. Das Unheimliche -- literally, "un-home-ly") is a Freudian concept of an instance where something can be familiar, yet foreign at the same time, resulting in a feeling of it being uncomfortably strange. Because the uncanny is familiar, yet strange, it often creates cognitive dissonance within the experiencing subject due to the paradoxical nature of being attracted to, yet repulsed by an object at the same time. This cognitive dissonance often leads to an outright rejection of the object, as one would rather reject than rationalize.


If you go back to classic gothic lit and read the narrator's description of the various monsters: Frankenstein's creature, Dracula, Mr. Hyde, they all describe that feeling, noting that the evil creature bears a resemblance to something familiarly human in form-- but is also so strange as to cause a feeling of phyiscal revulsion or illness in the viewer.

Playing with twins, doubles or dopplegangers also contribute to that uncanny effect.

Here are a few of the creepiest moment I can recall from my reading career--I'll try to avoid spoilers. What are your most fright-filled reading memories?

  1. An empty boat runs ashore in England, with all its crew members missing except for the dead captain, who is tied to the ship. A wolf jumps off the ship. Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Nothing like an empty ship to send chills down the spine.
  2. And speaking of ships and dead men, the reanimated corpses of the dead sailors in Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner pick up their oars and row home. Ick.
  3. Mrs. Danvers stands behind the second Mrs. DeWinter, urging her to jump. Rebecca, Daphne DuMaurier. Psychological terror at its finest.
  4. The second black cat appears, missing the same eye as the cat the narrator killed, The Black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe. The Doppelganger effect in this tale freaks me out more than all of Poe's other stories put together.
  5. Marian Halcombe makes a surprising discovery while visiting the mysterious "Woman in White" at an insane asylum, in Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White. Revealing more than this constitutes a spoiler (and if you read this book as an adult you'll likely guess the twist) but this is one of those shocking moments that I encountered early at a credulous enough point in my reading career so not to predict it beforehand. Readers, it blew. my. mind!
Have a spooky but safe All Hallow's Eve!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Invincible Louisa, Back in the Spotlight

"Invincible Louisa": That was the award-winning YA biography I read of Louisa May Alcott as a kid, a book which made me kind of obsessed with her, even more than I already was as a die-had fan who'd read and re-read all the Little Women/March family books as well as Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom. Now as a grown-up I can add that I've also read her thrillers, including the amazingly-titled A Long Fatal Love Chase. I think you can pretty much guess what that one's about. (P.S. Yes, it was awesome.)

Anyway, Ruth Graham at DoubleX has a great piece pegged to the existance of a kind of Louisa-hoopla in American culture.

Her piece focuses on the author's struggle--so evident in her books for young girls--between her fiery radical feminist side and a moral duty side. Alcott had a genuine wish to reign in her ambitions and needs in the service of the people and ideals she loved, even those who took advantage of her. Writes Graham:

That idea of compromising—expecting less, accepting fate—is one that shows up frequently in Alcott’s work, and throughout her life. As John Matteson pointed out in his 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and her Father, most of Alcott's heroines, including all four March sisters and many other lesser-known characters, respond to life's challenges not by speaking up for their needs, but by learning to tamp down their own desires.

Alcott saw sacrifice as part of a worthwhile life—even at the expense of self-expression and fulfillment.

Well worth a read. On another note, this radical feminist still wishes Jo and Laurie had found a way to make it work, though if the rascally heir had reformed his ways post first proposal and made a second go of it, that would probably have turned Little Women into Pride and Prejudice II: Boston Nights. (Seriously, f*** Amy, that little man-stealing brat!)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Some Things Never Change


3047_47
Originally uploaded by fellowette

What were your reading habits like as a kid? Were you nuts like me, sneaking out a book in the middle of the night and reading throughout long car trips (can't believe I did that!), or did your bookworm proclivities develop later?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday Morning Poem: Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a Wire"

I saw brilliant Jewddhist-Montrealer/citoyen du monde Leonard Cohen in concert this Friday night. Afterwards, my sig oth and I thought that of all the great songwriter-lyricists whom we love, Cohen's literary background renders him the truest poet: many of his words could stand alone without music. Here's one example.

"Bird on a Wire"

Like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.
Like a worm on a hook,
Like a knight from some old fashioned book
I have saved all my ribbons for thee.
If i, if I have been unkind,
I hope that you can just let it go by.
If i, if I have been untrue
I hope you know it was never to you.

Like a baby, stillborn,
Like a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out for me.
But I swear by this song
And by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee.
I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
He said to me, you must not ask for so much.
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
She cried to me, hey, why not ask for more?

Oh like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Shelf Discovery


I know a lot of my readers are fans of the same group of YA novels as I am--Madeleine L'Engle, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and so on--plus some insanely awesome middle grade books from the era of my youth like The Westing Game and classics like The Witch of Blackbird Pond.
All these books show up as the subjects of essays in Shelf Discovery, which as most of you already know, is Lizzie Skurnick's girl-YA Bible, a guide to life-changing, emotion-evoking tomes we used to adore.

The book, like Skurnick's Jezebel column "Fine Lines" is a nostalgia-fest with a strong dash of literary analysis. It reads humorously and breezily and if you're like me, you'll skip to your favorite books of yore first (The WOBP, A Ring of Endless Light, Tiger Eyes--all the death+ sexual awakening ones for me, I guess) and then leisurely sift your way through the rest.

The only nitpicks I have are that some of the entries are a mere paragraph--you tease us, Skurnick!--and a dearth of unifying analysis. Are these books just great reads or are they meant, subtly, to prepare young women for life as adults and adolescents? I wanted more heft and depth at times and I wonder if time constraints prevented Skurnick from tying her hilarious, wise essays together. But that's just a quibble from a dorky English major--if you've read enough of the books in the table of content, then this is a worthy purchase indeed.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

BOO--How well do you know your Gothic lit?

A great quiz from the guardian just in time for All Hallow's Eve. I got a 6/10 on my first round, then using process of elimination aced it on the second. As always with the Guardian, it's very Brit-centric.

How well did you do?