Lady Slane has at last been set free to make her own decisions at the age of eighty-eight. Released by widowhood, she moves to a house of her own choosing at Hampstead. And tells her large and overbearing brood that their visits are not required, and in some cases, will not be accepted. Her companions are her French maid that has been with her a lifetime, her eccentric, coffin-making landlord, and the odd but refreshing Mr. FitzGeorge who loved her a very long time ago unbeknownst to her. People that see the self pressed very far down by a life scripted for her.
Despite the opinion that her family holds of her as a not particularly bright person, Lady Slane saunters out through a lifetime of memories into areas first foggy and amorphous and questioning then very clearly focused on the choices she made, why she abided by them, and if perhaps she should have. By the latter half of the book, the delicate and fragmented musings of the beginning give way to great insight into her relationship with her husband:
" --- then other demands were made upon her watchfulness: she must be quick to detect his need for reassurance when a momentary discouragement overcame him; when, mooning, he strayed up to her and drooped over her chair, saying nothing, but waiting (as she knew) for some soft protection to come from her and fold itself around him like a cloak, yet it must all be done without a word directly spoken; she must restore his belief that the obstructiveness of his Government or the opposition of his rivals was due to their shortsightedness or envy,and to no deficiency within himself, yet must not allow him to know that she guessed at his mood of self-mistrust or the whole fabric of her comfort would be undone. And when she had accomplished this feat, this reconstruction of extreme delicacy and extreme solidity - when he left her, to go back strengthened to his business - then, with her hands lying limp, symbol of her exhaustion, and a sweet emptiness within her, as though her self had drained away to flow into the veins of another person - then, sinking, drowning, she wondered whether she had secretly touched the heights of rapture."
And her thoughts on motherhood:
"Shocking, unnatural thoughts had floated into her mind. 'If only I had never married... if only I had never had any children.' Yet she loved Henry - to the point of agony - and she loved her children - to the point of sentimentality."
"But none of these things had held any truth in them. She had always been aware that the self of her children was as far removed from her as the self of Henry, or, indeed, her own."
It would be easy to pigeon hole this work as feminist tract about the sacrifices required of women by a patriarchal society. But the author herself always shied away from such lines of thinking preferring the application of humanist perspective to feminist perspective in regards to her thinking and written work. What we have here instead is a quiet and lovely and telling picture of an individual who has dressed herself in the garb of conformity when she craved the accoutrement of non-conformity.
"She was too wise a woman to indulge in such luxuries as an imagined martyrdom. The rift between herself and life was not the rift between man and woman, but the rift between the worker and the dreamer. That she was a woman, and Henry a man, was really a matter of chance. She would go no further than to acknowledge that the fact of her being a woman made the situation a degree more difficult."
A very thoughtful, enjoyable book that rings with this authentic voice of a dreamer.
Anthony pointed us all to this addictive Literature Map site yesterday where you type in the name of a favorite author and a map is generated of other author names that bear some similarity in sensibility. The closer an author name to your favorite, the more likely that you might find the work appealing. But you will have a difficult time stopping at just one map. Because you can click on any author name in the map to generate another. And then you can start typing in your least favorite authors for tips as to whom to avoid. And so on and so on.
Then this morning, Thomas took it a step further and asked us all if we thought he would like the works of Mary Wesley as the name popped up in one of his maps, and he is unfamiliar with her work. Now the name that popped up in several of my maps was Margaret Drabble. I am familiar with her work (and her sibling of course) but have never read a word written by her. Or so I thought until I realized I have read an introduction or two to an academic text that she penned. But will I like her fiction? Hmmm... Some of the cover art turns me off. Fluffy. A disservice to content? Tell me?
So maybe you would like to share your "Would I Like...?" after you waste a portion of your work day flipping around the literature maps?
Happy Father's Day to all especially those of you who have thought but not spoken the words so well read by Samuel Jackson in the video above. Makes me laugh out loud.The language and content in the guise of a children's book are really offending some people, but the popularity of the new book Go the F**k to Sleep speaks volumes about the things fathers (and mothers for that matter) press way far down in the name of love for the little ones. Done well, parenting is an extremely challenging job. So enjoy the video guilt free. And to all the dads out there, I hope the wee ones all go to sleep on time tonight.
How large is your Twitter vocabulary? Want to see just for fun? I bookmarked this Word Nerd function on The Times (UK) months and months ago but did not get around to visiting it until yesterday when I was cleaning up my computer desktop. Mindlessly entertaining. Unless they get you all wrong.
As each school year ends, planning for the next one is already well underway. One of the tasks I have set for myself this summer is the completion of the middle school reading room, a needed sanctuary for our oldest students where reading material not necessarily appropriate for the 3-10 year olds downstairs can be housed. A lounge type atmosphere can help us push recreational reading a bit more and hook some reluctant readers. But I need your recommendations for graphic novels appropriate for the middle school set. And if you are so inclined, I really need any gently used copies you might be willing to donate to the cause. Help me? It would be much appreciated.
37. Beautiful books. Arrived with the grumpy, book-hating mailman. Soulless bastard. If he had only known all the ideas he held in his hands. The possibilities. Instead of just the literal weight of the box. Versus the figurative. But I am being mean. He did look tired.
The five Duel editions will arrive well before reading commences in August for the Art of the Novella Reading Challenge. And then the set of 42 will be complete! Thrilled about the books and thrilled to hear from so many of you who want to read as well. Beyond in love with those of you who chose to post about the event yourselves - Anthony, Thomas, Nadia, Bellezza, Sara. Have I missed anyone?
I only gulped once when I stacked all of these up out of the box, and doubted myself for only a moment. The thing that really makes me pause is the question of what order in which to read them? For a variety of reasons, Bartleby the Scrivener must be first. And The Hound of the Baskervilles must be last. And I have a keen desire to read all five Duels consecutively beginning on their release date. But aside from that I think I will have no plan. Except to make sure that I do not burn through too many of the shortest in the beginning. I may need help by month's end.
My favorite kids in the school where I work are those capable of the absolute ridiculous. Those who attempt things on any given day that send teachers to the aspirin bottle or drive them to drink after school. Not mean or malicious behavior - just ridiculous. The preschoolers who peed in their bag of potato chips in the bathroom to see if it would melt their snack. The middle school student who was "possessed" by a song he heard to the extent he needed to remove his shirt and dance in the cafeteria. Standing on a table. Something about these types of behaviors appeal to me. The curiosity, the energy, the mischief - all speak to a certain joy in life that not all possess.
Now you might already realize that I was one of those kids. The thing I most heard out of the mouths of my parents and the nuns who educated me was a sigh. And I have spent my entire adulthood making sure that I do not lose touch with my love for the ridiculous. So this August, I am going to attempt to read all 42 volumes in the Art of the Novella series from Melville House and blog about the experience as I go. For no other reasons than the books are incredible and I just want to see if I can do it.
The people at Melville House have a touch of the mischievous about them too. If you do not already, you should be reading their blog, Moby Lives. They seemed more than happy to entertain my crazy idea and have built a reading challenge around it which you can see the details of here. And they are giving away a bunch of stuff too. Because everyone should have their stuff and book bloggers love free books because they don't have enough reading material in their houses already. These are the different levels at which you may participate:
Curious – Read 1 novella
Fascinated — Read 3 novellas
Captivated – Read 6 novellas
Passionate — Read 9 novellas
Mesmerized – Read 15 novellas
Obsessed – Read 21 novellas
Fanatical – Read 27 novellas
Unstoppable — Read 33 novellas
Bibliomaniac — Read all 42 novellas
Thomas, I know you want to do this so go sign up now. And the rest of you, you should do the same. These are novellas, people. Small commitments. Unless you sign on to read all 42. You don't want to just witness my complete lack of sense. You want to participate in it, right? And you want your August beach read to scream to the entire shoreline just how smart you are. What do you say?
There have been summer books arriving through the mail slot aplenty lately, but none more looked for than Your Face Tomorrow by Javier Marias. Three volumes of well over a 1,000 pages but perhaps more one than three. Frequently described as "part spy novel, part Henry James," my hopes for this read are so ridiculously giddy that I hope I am not setting myself up for disappointment. So even though I promised I would save my start until the end of school so as to bring a clear[er] mind to the read, I immediately opened and read the first three pages within minutes of the UPS driver ringing my doorbell. And it might be hard to stay away. It begins:
"One should never tell anyone anything or give information or pass on stories or make people remember beings who have never existed or trodden the earth or traversed the world, or who, having done so, are now almost safe in uncertain, one-eyed oblivion. Telling is almost always done as a gift, even when the story contains and injects some poison, it is also a bond, a granting of trust, and rare is the trust or confidence that is not sooner or later betrayed, rare is the close bond that does not grow twisted or knotted and, in the end, become so tangled that a razor or knife is needed to cut it. How many of my confidences remain intact, of all those I have offered up, I, who have always laid such store by my own instinct and yet have still sometimes failed to listen to it, I, who have been ingenuous for far too long?"
If you find this excerpt as irresistible as I do you may want to join Richard's group read of the work this summer. As I will be doing. Follow this link and sign up. The reading schedule looks like this:
Your Face Tomorrow, Vol. 1: Fever and Spear (Thursday, June 30th)
Your Face Tomorrow, Vol. 2: Dance and Dream (Sunday, July 31st)
Your Face Tomorrow, Vol. 3: Poison, Shadow and Farewell (Wednesday, August 31st)
And maybe we can see together how Spanish hero Jaime Deza philosophically navigates service in British intelligence, and how Marias manages to evoke Proust in this "intellectual thriller?"
With little spare time at my disposal this week, I was happy to see the new issue of Granta, the much talked about F Word issue, arrive in the mail. Short pieces for short snatches of time to read. Like so many hyped up releases though, this one left me mildly disappointed if for no other reason than it seemed rather timid. A.S. Byatt, Lydia Davis, Eudora Welty, Francine Prose and on and on - the writers in this issue all appeal but as they delve into the current state of feminism in various approaches, nothing new or novel really struck me. Some really interesting reads but my currently crusty self kept thinking rehash.
One high point for me though was Helen Simpson's "Night Thoughts." In this clever and very funny inversion of the "natural order," a husband wakes at 3:29 in the morning, unable to fall back to sleep as his wife snores away undisturbed beside him. He worries why his wife fails to recognize how anxious he is about trying to juggle child care, running the house and looking after her. He wants to go part-time at work to spend more time with the children but does not know if they can afford it. He ponders the "unfair fact of nature" that women often grow more appealing with age while men have to see their sexual allure fade. He feels inadequate because of his wife's online porn habit. He worries that his son may be suffering from anorexia. And so on and so on. You get the idea. Just the right note is struck in this short piece to render it humorous and playful at the same time it has a satisfying bite.
Have not finished reading all but hope to today. This issue is entertaining. Just lacking the impact I wanted.
The rest of my reading day will be taken up with the recommendations from the work friends. Will finish Ender's Game first which I have enjoyed infinitely more than I expected. Was warned that the ending is somewhat unexpected so have been deliberately putting it off until I could imagine as many possibilities for myself first. Like it was a dare or something. But today is the day. And then the graphic novel Fun Home was suggested for both story and vocabulary of all things. The kids at school frequently accuse me of using too may big words. Maybe that is where that comes from? No matter, it has chapter titles like "In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower." Everyone is reading something or comparing the dive into a sexual experience to Odysseus jumping into the fray. Good enough for me.