Friday, May 27, 2005

Top Ten?

A top ten list? I don't know if I can do that. I can only think of two books that I would come back to in the category of "favorite book," and even beyond that, these opinions change? Best book I read this year, even, would be hard.

We'd have to start with The Nun's Story by Kathryn Hulme. I've been squawked at, "It's not a true story, you know!!!" (By a librarian, no less--the one in Hudson who used to comment on all your books as you were checking them out.) Yeah, and I only read true stories. That's what all the dragons, spaceships, and true unending romance are about.

Then there's Shining Through, by Susan Isaacs. I don't think I could understand someone who didn't like that book, or at least find it funny. If Bridget Jones were smart and together and funnier, you'd come close to this book.

Um...I'll have to think about the rest of the top ten list. But I can tell you about the next ten.

I'm reading Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, and How to Be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward, both very enjoyable books. I'm listening to Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell on my MP3 player. And I've got George Takei (you know, Sulu)'s autobiography and an old and obscure book of Judith Martin essays from the library. Plus The Law of Similars (Chris Bohjalian), The Final Solution (Michael Chabon), The Thief Lord, two books of Alice Munro stories, the collected short works of Dorothy Parker, not to mention the MAMMOTH Autobiography of Henry VIII: A Novel. And that's just the borrowed stuff.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Joy, rapture, the autobiography of George Takei has made it to the library in time for me to pick it up with an obscure and probably boring essay by Judith Martin that I've reserved. And the author of the book I just started, Amanda Eyre Ward (How to Be Lost is the book, and so far so good. She went to Williams, I'll point out for the tenth time) wrote a review a long time ago of a book I had changed my mind about wanting to read; the review changed it back. The book is Strip City, and it's a non-fiction account of a road trip that an ex-stripper took just before settling down to marry a fairly straight-laced military man. Basically, she strips her way across the country. I wasn't sure at first that I'd want to read about someone who thinks that flesh trade is a positive life experience, but it sounds from this review like there's a little more to it than that. (The review is here, by the way)

So my list is back up to 48, though I'm working my way through two of them, and my two library books are going to be another two. Then I really need to get to some books on my shelf, mostly borrowed, that are not on the list, though.

I'm so excited! So very!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The O.S.C.

Just to confirm for everyone; Orson Scott Card's work is spotty at best.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Misogynist or Misanthropist?

My newfound comprehension of Mormons makes me see pretty clearly how Orson Scott Card feels about women--or anyway, how he addresses them in his books. That is, they can be good people (chiefly by being good wives and mothers), but they are weak and ignorant, and need protecting. That's overstating the case, but if he wasn't understated, it wouldn't have taken me this long to figure it out. Rachel & Leah of his Women of Genesis series brought this one home.

And this has made me think about male writers who address women. It's not the kind of thing I usually notice; I suspect that's mostly because I'm less aware of the differences between men and women than some people. Everyone is "people," and then whether you're a man or woman will have an effect on what kind of person you are. That sounds kinda sickeningly simplistic, but the personal insights behind it are not the point here.

The point is some books in which I've disagreed with people on how men write women (I can't speak to how accurate women are when they write men). For example, She's Come Undone, by Wally Lamb. I might be the only person I know who thought that was NOT a very good depiction of a women. It was a very well-written person, especially for someone so troubled and messed up, which is hard a hard thing to do appealingly with your narrator and protagonist. I don't think I would have any complaints if everyone hadn't ranted about how well the male author wrote the female character. I don't think she was very specifically female at all--if anything, I felt a disjoint between the fact that her personality was formed by sexual abuse (in her early teen years, not as a young child) and the aggressive, active, self-sabotaging attitude of the character. Not that women aren't that way, sometimes, but for a book lauded as having a feminine sensibility, I wasn't convinced.

Let's see, then there's The Color of Light, by William Goldman. Possibly the only people who have read this book are the ones I've lent it to, but I've loved this for a long time. Mostly this is because William Goldman is a hilarious and brutal writer. When Jo borrowed it, though, her reaction was, "He doesn't really like women, does he?" which was the first time I realized that all the female characters in the book were pretty messed up in one way or another. I brooded on that for a while and then realized that ALL the characters were pretty messed up; the reason the women were notably unredeemed was mostly because Chub was the only redeemed one at all. So that's men 1, women 0--not a great score for either team.

(Two Brew wasn't redeemed--he was just rich and funny)

As a partially relevant side-note, I've always thought Stephen King wrote women in a style that I would call poor but likeable. He thinks women know something he doesn't--have some grasp of Truth or Humanity that any man (or at least King himself) lacks. But I find that kind of appealing, in a flattering way. Heck yeah, I have a deep grasp of the cosmos. I'll take that kind of credit wherever I can get it.

And then there's Orson Scott Card. I retain my fondness for Ender's Game, and I'll say that I enjoyed Enchantment, Homebody, and Speaker for the Dead. But these Women of Genesis books, besides tricking me into thinking I knew Bible stories when I really learned Book of Mormon stories, are full of men who, even when they're CLEARLY WRONG--within the context of the story--are treated as right for being men. And when women are right, they're still just women. It makes for a weird imbalance of character.

I was quite old before I thought of myself as a girl. I mean, I was never a tomboy (though I wanted to be), but I think there are a lot of moments that make people identify with their gender that I'm missing, either because of how I grew up or because I've always been a little dim that way. But I've often felt like I was watching these interactions involving gender with a certain objectivity. I wonder if that's at all valid, or if everyone feels that way.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Roseanne Barr

So I read a book that was later made into a Roseanne Barr movie. (Was there more than one Roseanne Barr movie?) The movie was She-Devil, and the book was called The Life and Loves of a She-Devil. By Fay Weldon.

I try not to be too much of a Polyanna, and I have appreciated some pretty grim books in my time. But I didn't like The Epicure's Lament, our last book club selection. That was because you couldn't like the main character, and you couldn't see the world without him. He was an unreliable narrator, but not as funny or smart as he thought he was, and the author didn't let us work around him at all.

Anyway, there is no one in She-Devil whom you care about. There's a clear protagonist--the wronged wife out for revenge. Normally, I'd love to be on her side. But she is not a very nice person, does not learn anything, is not redeemed by any positive traits. Being put-upon is not a positive trait.

And no one else she encounters in her long journey has any kind of wisdom, or dignity, or integrity. All the men want to have sex with her--most do. All the women are dim, pointless, reproduction and/or sex machines.

She-Devil and Epicure share this: both are trying to make me feel that the human race is pretty worthless. I've felt this way before: I used to have a list of things that make me ashamed to be a part of the human race (#1 on that list was that commercial for I Can't Belive It's Not Butter, the spray that starred Fabio. That convergence of elements was too much for me). I wouldn't put these books on that list, but I can say that they don't make me happier about humanity.

Not like French Martinis.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Fast, Cheap, Out of Control

Miss Manners is coming! Miss Manners is coming! Oh, I am beside myself! She will speak at the Boston Public Library, and I hope I can go. Linden, I'm sorry if it means a short dinner on Wednesday, but it's Miss Manners. I hope you understand.

This weekend I read (very quickly) My Posse Don't Do Homework, which was amusing and heartwarming, as it was intended to be, and bore little or no relationship to the movie they made from it, Dangerous Minds. I liked the movie, liked the book better, though it was schmaltzier. Best, though, I liked the segement of This American Life where the author of the book--the teacher who was played by Michelle Pfeiffer in the movie and Annie Potts in the short-lived TV series, rips into Hollywood for turning these mostly good, hard-working kids into violent gang members who aren't motivated or interested. It's more complex than that, and in spite of the schmaltz (did I mention the schmaltz?), the book did a better job of portraying kids who want to succeed but are afraid to try, full of anger, or just have other priorities.

There will be plane trips coming up soon, which are good for reading. But also weddings and busy weekends, which are not. But I'm going to start obsessing about the weather now, because I have a goregous new dress, but am apparently attending an outdoor wedding in what promises to be the rain and mud this weekend.

Wish me luck.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Mormon Fever

Regarding books that come in spells. It seems like parenthood and religion are the thing now on my list. I tried to avoid it, somewhat, but I've got Bible story retellings (Rachel and Leah), religious autobiography (Son of a Preacher Man), and a teacher memoir (Dangerous Minds) from the library.

Leaving the Saints was just as good as I had hoped. Martha Beck is witty and perceptive, and does not suffer from cynicism in spite of a life that really should have engendered it. Funny without being ironically distant. Also, Mormons are wacky. Also, if you don't like your therapist, fire your therapist. That's what I say.

I also learned that a number of Bible stories I thought I knew are NOT actually Bible stories but Book of Mormon versions of them (thank you so very much, Orson Scott Card). My whole world is turned upside down.

Now I want to get a little bit away from the religious thing, mostly because I've gotten too deep into it. I read Travelling Mercies by Anne Lamott, and found it a little too preachy for me. I thought Son of a Preacher Man would be a somewhat skeptical indictment of mainstream Christianity and/or televangelism from Jay Bakker, son of the famous Bakkers. But it looks like he's a pretty mainstream (albeit tattooed) Christian, and the story itself looks a little haphazard and apologetic. So I might not even read it right now.

The parenthood/children thing I might be able to maintain, though. It's not so much a reading theme yet as on my mind, since I've been reading Rebecca's blog about Anna, and since I've been reading Dooce for a while now. I guess it's my online reading that's parenthood oriented. But there's a book called Raising America about the history of parenthood theory in the US--Dr. Spock to Dr. Phil--that I'm curious about.

And book club went well yesterday. After the renegade meeting, we might just see how the real thing pans out. I have hope again; this is a valuable thing.