I am going to try to keep a little log of all the books I read this year. I say log for a few reasons,
a) I am far too lazy to write an actual book diary
b) It reminds me of space ships
I will come back to this at various moments of boredom to edit in books and thoughts. However for now, this year I have read:
The Well of Lonliness - Radcliffe Hall,
I have been meaning to read this for years as it is, 'a seminal classic of lesbian literature,' or so I imagine it says on the back.
The problem with lesbian literature is that, in my experience, not a lot of it is very good. Instead the canon is composed of any books where girls kiss. Now, 'The Well of Lonliness,' is an undoubtedly important book, written in the 1920s it must have been radical at the time, however I don't think it's necessarily a good book. Hall places too much stock on obvious metaphors and screaming melodrama.
What I did find interesting was the way the book clearly linked gender with sexuality. I feel Steven is a man in eveything but body, if she were a real person today I would almost say she was transgender, not a lesbian. I found it fascinating that Hall repeatedly described Steven's gender as a mistake, her lesbianism was the outward abhorence, but the character ws always inwardly unhappy, even before she was attracted to women.
Of course the biggest issue I had with the book was the propogation that lesbianism = tragedy. However on an historical level I don't suppose Hall could have come to any other conclusion and still had her novel published.
So yes, paradoxically I found the book very interesting, but I wouldn't recommend it.
The Magic Toyshop - Angela Carter
I read this book for my course. For the record I hate reading books I enjoy/know I will enjoy for English, as they subsquently get ripped into a thousand little pieces of pointless analysis and introspection. This book was a prime candidate for, 'post analysis hatred,' yet I still love it.
The biggest thing I love about Carter's writing is her appropriation of the structure of the fairy tale. It's what I love about J. Winterson and Atwood as well, their ability to weave a fable, to myth make. Because all 3 authors understand the conventions they are working within, they can subvert them.
Carter in particular takes the magic realism of fairytales and makes it concrete. 'The Magic Toyshop,' is all about making the subconcious explicit. I just love the idea of the dreamscape as reality, I love questioning why, 'reality,' is accepted in everyday life, when the symbolism of fairytales is just as pertinent. Conversely I also love looking at why people believe certain stories (be they religious, mythological or fairytales). What need does the fairytale fufill?
The other thing I love about Carter is her feminism. However, 'The Magic Toyshop,' is more about feminine sexuality than political feminism, so the feminist rant is one I'll save for another day ;)
The Outsiders - SE Hinton
This is a teenage book that I believe everyone in America above the age of 15 (kind of like Lord of the Flies in the UK) had read before I even heard of it. I'm glad that my stay in Canadia alerted me to it's existance.
Yeah it's somewhat simple, and incredibly indebted to, 'Rebel Without a Cause,' (mind you the main character does say in his first sentence he has been watching a James Dean movie), but it is beautiful because of that. I love good teenage fiction. At the risk of sounding like a wanker, the book is just so pure in its angst. Plus, the way the Frost poem is used is genius.
Girl Meets Boy - Ali Smith
The Budha of Suburbia - Hanif Kureshi
10 Bad Dates with De Niro - Various
The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime - Mark Haddon
Fantastic. This is one of those rare boks where I completely entered into the character's space. I usually read books with a certain critical detachment, I can't help but be aware of techniques and themes and all that English student shit. I enjoy reading that way, however sometimes it is nice to appreciate a book on a purely emotional level. That was certainly the case with this book, I felt like I was sitting in the character's head.
I think I was able to truely immerse myself in the book because Haddon is writing from an autistic perception. Alienation is turned into something eye opening. Haddon's language and imagery is discordant, but not distancing- it's simplicity it forces the reader to develop a whole new semiotic system in line with the protaganist's.
The only other book that I have had remotely the same reaction to was Golding's, 'The Inheritors.'
The Quiet American - Graeme Green
The Snow Goose - Anon
This was a beautiful kids fairy tale and I honestly don't know why it isn't more well known. It's ingredients are not that unique (swans, beautiful girls, hunchback - your standard faiy tale fodder) but by transposing the fairy tale to the very real setting of Dunkirk something unique is created. The grime of war adds the necessary shadow to a simple story of sacrafice, allowing the good to shine.
This book really acts as an example of why fairytales fascinate me. It is an apotheosis of the stories people tell themselves to keep going, of the primal human need to believe in something.
Son of a Witch - Gregory Macguire
As a sequel to, 'Wicked,' I had high expectations of this book. At first I was disappointed. A big theme of the book is acceptance of history, how all characters and events are interconnected through time. Unfortunately this meant that the beginning of the book relied very heavily on knowing winks to the first book and The Wizard of Oz. These cameos made it very hard to care for the new protaganist, but maybe that was the point, as at the beginning he himself is a character in search of an identity
As the book progressed I enjoyed it more. The book really reminded me of a comment from Tolkein on whether Lord of the Rings was allegorical and, if so, what was it all representative of. He replied that there is a difference between allegory and applicability, that often allegory creates a paper thin novel, full of ideas but little else, whilst a pertinent story can be applicable to any number of situations. Son of a Witch is laden with references applicable to current America (fundamentalist religion, a scarecrow leader, the conflict between patriotic loyalty and personal repsonsibility) but it is not a simple allegory anymore than it is a straightforward fantasy novel. It is in the subtle layering of recognisble reality with total fiction that Macguire creates something memorable
The Pact - Jodi Picoult
If I think Son of a Witch is a great example of what popular fiction can be, this book is pretty much the exact opposite.
My therapist told me I should read some, 'trash,' because I, 'have a tendancy to polarise everything when, in reality, there is a middle ground.' This was meant to be a nice light read, to prove to myself I didn't need to be reading, 'good,' literature all the time.
On the one hand this is definately a compulsive read. Picoult writes excellent dailogue and, whilst her plot was dramatic (2 17 year olds enter into a suicide pact, one survives and is charged with murder. O.M.G!) it was interesting and, mostly,believable.
On the flip side I just can't see the point in Picoult's writing (which probably says more about me than her). She lays all these issues out on the table and then refuses to examine them in any depth. An example - the dead girl was suicidal because she was sexually abused as a child. What was intially an interesting character trait for a seventeen year old, sexual frigidity (is that even a word?), was explained by introducing a 10 foot high ISSUE that was not dealt with in any form beyond being the cliche of the day to explain away an entire character.
Picoult only knows RIGHT and WRONG, there was no place for ambiguity in her novel. For the most part I found this mildly insulting, I don't like to have my hand held throughout an entire novel. However I switched from mildly insulted to downright offended within the last 50 pages. All of a sudden the imprisoned boy finds God, reveals himself to be pro-life and is acquitted by a jury when he tells the, 'one truth.' Hand holding I have an issue with, guiding me through the merry fields of right wing propoganda I can not stand.
So yes, a failed experiment all round.
On Beauty - Zade Smith
Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr - David Bret
Some enjoyable trash! As an introduction to Joan Cawford's era and career it was adequete, giving a nice overview of her life and movies. As a biography of a person it completely failed to offer anything beyond cheap titallation (abused childhood! prostituion! casting couch! gay men! gay women! alcohol! abuse of her own children!). I didn't feel like I was any closer to understanding why a girl called Lucille Laseur would go to a fledgling Hollywood and make herself a star.
Of course, from what I have read since, I think that is probably how Joan Crawford would have wanted it. Of all the 1920-40s stars she fascinates me most because she was possibly the ultimate movie star. Joan Crawford was a character created for the screen who, once she was fabricated frame by frame, had to be played 24/7. I think Crawford was the closest Hollwood (and by that I mean the studio system, the media and her own ruthless ambition) came to obliterating a person in favour of an icon. What interests me is the all encompassing power of, 'the image,' something the book didn't address at all.
The Divine Feud - Shaun Cassidine
The Custom of the Country - Edith Wharton
Raiders of the Lost Arc Novelisation - Some Guy
I am such a lame fangirl sometimes. I bought this for 2p to refresh my memory before I went to see Crystal Skull. It was actually suprisingly gritty, apparently Marion was actually a prostitute in Nepal, oh and Indy committed child abuse when they intially got together since she was only 15. Fun times. In the book such tidbits had their worth, and it certainly was a good read, but I'm glad the novelisation's tone was not reflective of the film.
Now I want to watch Raiders (and Last Crusade) again. Jones!
Behind the Scenes at the Museum - Kate Atkinson
Storms, My Life With Fleetwood Mac - Carol Ann Harris
Conversations with Aanis Nin
Number 9 Dream - David Mitchell
The Plot Against America - Philip Roth
Drowned World - JG Ballard
Mysterious Skin - S Heim
A Fine Balance - Mistry
Wishful Drinking - Carrie Fisher
The Road - Cormac McCarthy