Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Do I HAVE to? 5 "Have To " Books of 2011

Using only my own criteria, I'm also doing a list of 5 books per year that are unappealing to me, but that I think are "necessary" to read.  This is totally my own opinion, but I feel books like War and Peace are contributing something, more generally as well as to me personally, and are therefore worth a read, even though it can seem slow and painful.  I also anticipate that some of my "have to" reads will be suprising favourites, too (or at least I hope so!).

Here are my "have to" books of 2011:

1. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy - READ!
2. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (I'd normally not do two from the same author in one year, but there's another readalong later in 2011 for Anna and I found this a great way to get through War and Peace, so am signing up)
3. Candide, Voltaire (I know, I know, a classic, I've had a copy on my bookshelves for about 20 years and have just never been interested, despite being a mad classics fan).  READ!  I'm totally rocking this already!! 
4. Last of the Mohicans, Cooper (likewise)
5. Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky (I'm a legal sociologist who has never read Crime and Punishment.  The shame!)

*sigh* so there are my HAVE to reads for 2011, wish me luck with the next 3.  I'm hoping none of them will fall into the Poke Your Eye Out category.  I prepared this jaunty patch, just in case....

Monday, March 28, 2011

A pause...

Not much reading, or posting, the past few days, it's birthday central in Casa Selene at present, and things are a tad hard...

On birthdays.

I'm reading a lighter series at the moment, and will be back after a good coffee and a lie down ;)  I've got a couple to review I haven't done as yet, and will post them later this week.  'Til then!...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath's only novel, is a famous exploration of mental illness and recovery, made more famous by the author's suidice only weeks after its first publication in 1963.  It is a thinly disguised autobiography, from an earlier period of Plath's life during which she had a breakdown.

This is a compelling book, the disintegration of Esther Greenwood is beautifully rendered in Plath's prose as she moves further and further into depression and "madness,"  and eventually, into recovery.

The Bell Jar is a feminist landmark, Plath's reflections on work, marriage, motherhood, and a creative life, issues that Plath herself never resolved in her own life and work:
"And I knew that in spite of all the roses and kisses and restaurant dinners a man showered on a woman before he married her, what he secretly wanted when the wedding service ended was for her to flatten out underneath his feet like Mrs. Willard's kitchen mat.  [....]  So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterward you went about numb as a slave in some private, totalitarian state."
The Bell jar is a testament of illness (and recovery), though the recovery part is cast into shadow by Plath's own suicide.  I just couldn't get past my "real life" knowledge about her as a person, especially at the end of the book, and knowing the novel is basically autobiographical.  

The Bell Jar is a coming of age story, and a finely drawn portait of its time, the crushing expectations of women, and of creative expectations of the self.  It's a poetic and tragic read.  Books like this take it out of you, but are worth it.  I'm not really a poetry person, but have added Plath's work to my to be read pile.  It's just ultimately tragic that she felt so desolate that she took her own life. 


An e-read on Kindle for iPad.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Candide, Voltaire

In more shameful confessions, I've also never read any Voltaire.  This was a short and sweet beginning.  I liked the melodrama and pathos of Candide.  It was wryly humourous and had a fantastic sarcasm and lightness to it that I honestly wasn't expecting.

Candide is a striking novella, written in 1759, about the improbable adventures of a young man, accustomed to luxury, thrown into a variety of unpleasant situations and crises.  Characters die, come back to life, reunite, and philosophise about their situations endlessly.  It's a sarcastic piece, ridiculing the philosophy of optimism in particular:
"Yes," said Candide, "and I have seen worse that all that; and yet a learned man, who had the misfortune to be hanged, taught me that everything was marvelously well, and that these evils you are speaking of were only so many shades in a beautiful picture."
I pretty much liked it, it's a tad heavy in some parts, but I think my perception of this was more due to when it was written, it's hard for a novel written in the 1700s to not be tad ploddy in parts to a modern eye.  Overall, the humour and wit is worth it. 

On the army:
"...a million of regimented assassins traverse Europe from one end to the other, to get their bread by regular depredation and murder, because it is the most gentlemenlike profession."
 On poets and their reputation:
"Ignorant readers are apt to judge a writer by his reputation.  For my part, I read only to please myself.  I like nothing but what makes for my purpose."  Candide, who had been brought up with a notion of never making use of his own judgment, was astonished at what he heard...."
It's an improbable book, with a moral ending.  Worth a read.


This was a free ebook on Kindle for iPad.  The translation was lovely. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson

It's frankly embarrassing that I have never read this novella.

This book suffers from modernity (or is that postmodernity, I can never decide).  That is, I have been so massively exposed to far worse and more terrible, violent, and horrific tales just in getting out of bed of a morning, that the novella just failed to thrill me.  Reading it was more of a chore than a pleasure.  I just didn't feel it.  I think there are scarier things on Nick Jr.  Culturally, we've moved on.  I also think we've embraced our darker sides more openly than in the era this was written, so someone being self obsessed, interested in (presumably) sexuality and experience is not the jaw dropping horror it may have been in yesteryear.  I know, I exaggerate, but still, popular culture has moved on. 

I get that the novella is a lesson in suppressing the self, and the strength of - okay, I can't resist - the Dark Side.  But overall, I prefer the Star Wars "there's always hope for you in the end, even if you're a homicidal Sith Lord and killed a whole bunch o' people and cut of your son's hand and stuff" brand of lesson, than the "I guess it just went bad, whoops, there you go don't go and do bad stuff, peeps," brand of Dr Jekyll.

Is this review frivolous?  Perhaps.  I blame that potion I drank earlier...

I found the lack of insight of Jekyll/Hyde simply frustrating.  This was something he decided to do to himself.  He kept at it out of some moral passivity that was annoying, killed someone, felt bad, tried a bit harder, but ultimately seemed to blame the fact he ran out of some kind of salt for his complete reversion to his 'evil' self.  Some finer moral reflections on these actions might have been nice.  And the message that, if indulged, our "baser" instincts lead straight to some kind of evil takeover is a tad simplistic and naive for my liking.

One to read, though, definitely.  It's important in the very shaping of the stories we now take for granted, and I'm very aware that I'm reading this work from a particular cultural and social position.  For that reason, it gets -


Another Kindle for iPad e-read, this one was free, there are heaps of free and 99 cent versions of the classics out there!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert's thoughts and explorations on marriage and committment, which I read very early this year but hadn't reviewed til now.

Committed could be called a pop-sociology book, so in that sense, I liked it, though the sociology was a tad light on, and freely mixed with personal reflections or opinions of her friends (but that's the intellectual snobbery in me, perhaps.  I am a sociologist, after all, so mea culpa!). Gilbert has some interesting insights into marriage, paired with her personal story, so the book is a decent read, if frustrating and somewhat disjointed at times.

Gilbert is fundamentally ambivalent about marriage as an institution, and seems to go to a lot of effort to convince herself otherwise, when, to be honest, she could just have got married (or not) and been done with it.  The ridiculous requirements of the US government can't be helped, if you need to get married, then perhaps you just should. 

So, I found the agonising premise of the book, needing to somehow be reconciled to marriage as a whole in order to get married, puzzling.  To be honest, if I'd come out of an exploration of marriage feeling as Gilbert did about it, I wouldn't have been getting married.  Because let's face it, they only got married because they were forced to by US immigration laws.  The happily ever after feel of the ending of the book (which, of course, ends in marriage!) didn't match the questing tone of the rest of the work. It felt a bit like a cop out.

But, I enjoyed the book overall, though it's not as compelling as Eat, Pray, Love.  For those of us who have called a truce with marriage (I have been married twice, despite a lack of faith in it as an institution, and having some very serious issues with being married when others are not permitted to be) it's a decent read that raised many of the issues I've had with marriage myself. Probably worth a read if these issue mean something in your life, but I'm unlikely to re-read this one.


This was a IRL book! 

Elective Affinities, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Embarrassingly, I'd never read any Goethe, so decided to start with Elective Affinities, as it's short and sweet.  Elective Affinities is Goethe's third novel, and also one of three of Goethe's books on the 1001 list.

Elective Affinities is Goethe's attempt to explore human relationships, and marriage in particular, using the laws of chemistry as a...muse?, inspiration?, recipe book?, well, something of that sort.  Published in 1809, it was quite controversial at the time (and since) for what many perceived as immorality and the encouragement of divorce, though apparently many critics (and me!) can't actually decide if Goethe came down in the end on the side of the "sanctity" of marriage, or the pragmatism of divorce - at least, the destiny of true love.

The main characters, Eduard and Charlotte, have married late in life after their first partners have died.  They (for some reason) decide to ask Eduard's friend, the Captain, and Charlotte's neice and ward, Ottilie, to come and live with them, with predictable (apparently, this being the point) results.  Bonds are broken, new bonds are formed, apparently there is nothing to be done (or is there?).  This is, apparently, a double displacement reaction in chemistry.  Sounds thrilling, yes?  Perhaps not.

I'm not sure if Goethe was sure what moral lesson he was going for here, if any, but it seemed to me that the book was a tale of the inevitability of fate, coupled with the efforts of individuals to change it (or not).

 I can't resist quoting the blurb from a critical work on the book:
"From the time of its publication to today, Goethe's famous novel The Elective Affinities (Die Wahlverwandtschaften, 1809), has aroused a storm of critical confusion. Critics in every age have vehemently disagreed about its content (whether it defends the institution of marriage, radically supports its dissolution, or even whether it is about marriage at all), its style (whether it is romantic, realistic, modern, or postmodern) and its tone (whether it is tragic, anti-romantic, or ironic).
"[....]  Readers fiercely debate the role of the chemical theory of elective affinities presented in the novel. Some argue that it suggest a philosophy of nature that is rooted in fate. Others maintain that it is about free choice. Others believe that the chemical theory is merely a structural device that allows the author to foreshadow events in the novel and bears no relevance to the greater issues of the novel."
So, no great suprise that the novel is somewhat confusing and not easy to interpret.  Personally, I felt it was more about the effect of free choice impeding the "natural order" of things, the elective affinity between those who are "meant to be." When the characters refuse to follow the dictates of chemistry, a whole heap of bad stuff happens to them.  So the lesson seems to be: get in line with fate or get out of the way.  Except a tad more poetic and lyrical and stuff.

Okay, I didn't love it.  I found myself actually saying aloud as reading it, "this book is just odd!"  I just couldn't get into it, didn't find it convincing, and didn't get anything much out of it.
I understand that Goethe is telling us something about relationships, now with more chemistry [TM!], but the characters weren't compelling, the relationships seemed one-dimensional and unbelievable.  I didn't love that one of the main love interests was the neice of Charlotte, that Eduard had known as a small child, and was dependent on them, and still at school (!!).  I was [spoiler alert] also just jaw-dropped at the sudden killing off of Charlotte's child!  That, and the utter selfishness of the four main characters just made it an unpalatable read for me.

I have to admit, though, that I've since been interested in reading about interpretations of the book, (probably because I wasn't too certain of my own).  I was also fascinated to read that Max Weber took his concept of Elective Affinites in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, from Goethe's book!  I've always had a soft spot for Weber.

So, read it, it's interesting, and you'll find yourself thinking about it afterwards.  But not a fabulous one to just read.


This was an e-read on Kindle for iPad, though make sure you get the Oxford World's Classics edition, this is a good translation by David Constantine (I hate to think what a bad translation would do to this book!).  It was only a few dollars from Amazon, and the only decent translation in e-book form I could see there.

Ref: Goethe's Elective Affinities and the Critics, Astrida Orle Tantillo (2001), see here for a full reference and extracts.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What Maisie Knew, Henry James

I found myself reading What Maisie Knew because it's a book about shared custody.  I'm a stepmother to two kids who have been in shared care (one is now majority with us) for nearly 8 years.   I was interested to read a take on custody from the point of view of the child, as well as the historical differences, as Maisie was published in 1897.  Not to mention that I'm a bit of a Henry James fan.

 Here's where I confess that I like Henry James. But OMG, is he wordy.  This one suffered from a severe lack of full stops.  I know, I know, that's one of his "things", but still, I found The Ambassadors and Wings of the Dove far easier reads than Maisie, so it seemed particularly bad here.

What Maisie Knew follows the story of Maisie's life as she is landed in shared care between two equally crappy parents, and her subsequent relationships with her step-parents and governess.  As Maisie grows from a child of around 6 into a teenager, so does what she "knows."  This growth is the real point of the novel.  I also thought it was a powerful comment on the casual cruelties of parenting.

"She was divided in two and the portions tossed impartially to the disputants.
"What was clear to any spectator was that the only link binding her to either parent was this lamentable fact of her being a ready vessel for bitterness, a deep little porcelain cup in which biting acids could be mixed.  They had wanted her not for any good they could do her, but for the harm they could, with her unconscious aid, do each other."
At times this book just brilliant, the development of and insight into the central character (and what she "knew") from child to teenager is remarkable.  Some of the insights into divorce and it's uglier effects on children were painfully true.  The constraint that Maisie has, and feels, especially in the early parts of the book, as she is constantly silent and observing, was beautifully captured. [That sentence was positively Jamesian in it's many clauses!]  
"She puzzled out with imperfect signs, but with a prodigious spirit, that she had been a centre of hatred and a messenger of insult, and that everything was bad because she had been employed to make it so.
"Her parted lips locked themselves with the determination to be employed no longer.  She would forget everything, she would repeat nothing, and when, as a tribute to the successful application of her system, she began to be called a little idiot, she tasted a pleasure new and keen."
At other times this book was just too long, too involved, and too essentially unbelievable.  The whole step-parents romance and successive runnings off was just too overly dramatic for me.  It was where my interest flagged.  I felt the sections to do with her parents were far more relevant and alive.  I just noticed that all the sections I highlighted were from the first 50% of the book, nothing afterwards, and this is just where the action moves from her parents to the step-parent/parent/confusing romances and meetings and running away a lot last half of the book.

Overall, the book felt like an over-developed novella.  I also didn't find Maisie a terribly sympathetic character, she was a tad lacklustre, and I would have liked some more anger and grief from her.  More like the passage I quoted above, and less of the "dragged along in the whirlwind" feel she had for much of the book.  I also thought the central character of Mrs Wix was one dimensional, and her "love" of Sir Claude was an unnecessary distraction the book could do without.  The Countess as a figure of horror, largely because, as far as I can tell, she's black, sat pretty uncomfortably for me.

The long conversations and sometimes minute details weighed heavily in the final section, though the tension of this lack of decision was finely done, I was mostly just glad it finished.  The ending was unsatifying, and too many practical questions were left unanswered (like, what did they live on!).

All in all, while I'm a fan of Henry James, this one fell a tad short for me.  It was too convoluted and felt like it wasn't edited closely enough, for my liking.  I'd consider myself pretty fluent in 'James'', but had to re-read several sections, they were so confusing.  Some parts of this book sing, but some fall flat.

Read it if you're interested in custody of children after divorce, or if you're a James fan.  Probably skip it otherwise.


There are four Henry James novels on the core list: The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove, Portrait of a Lady, and What Maisie Knew.  This was a e-read, on Kindle for iPad.  5BBR2AG3E7XG

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Homo Faber, Max Frisch

Wow, just wow.  You know, finding this kind of book is exactly why I wanted to do this 1001 thing in the first place.  I can't really imagine how I would have stumbled across Max Frisch otherwise, and I am just so glad I did!

Homo Faber [Man the Maker] is a book about the realities of life, against a backdrop of plotted unreality: plane crashes, incestuous affairs [echoes of Oedipus Rex are loud and clear here], jungle explorations and other oddness.  In the face of coincidences that it is unnecessary to believe in, Frisch tells his story of ordinary mystification in the face of life.  The title character gradually disgards his practical masculinities in the face of mortality, his own and that of others.  His life unravels, as he wanders back and forth in the face of meaninglessness and death.  The scale of his errors and tragedy is simply the stage for the small and very human reflections of a human being confronting their own mortality and meaning.

The convolutions of plot are the disintegration of his carefully constructed reality, the collapse of his rationalist/technologist world view. You don't have to believe them, they are waystations in the journey Frisch takes you on.  

It was published in 1957, so there's some wincing in the face of the roles/opinions of women of the time, but surprisingly little, I think because Frisch treats the central female characters as full human actors.  There were some gems of reflection in here about gender relations and construction:
The man hears only himself, according to Hanna, therefore the life of a woman who wants to be understood by a man must inevitably be ruined.  According to Hanna.  The man sees himself as master of the world and the woman only as his mirror.  The master is not compelled to learn the language of the oppressed; the woman is compelled, though it does her no good, to learn the language of the master, she merely learns a language that always puts her in the wrong.  Hanna regretted having become a Ph.D.  As long as God is a man, not a couple, the life of a woman, according to Hanna, is bound to remain as it is now, namely wretched, with woman as the proletarian of Creation, however smartly dressed.
Which is essentialist, sure, but nevertheless, awesome!

This book has wit, beautiful prose, and a real visceral feel to it.  It's modern, despite being nearly 60 years old.  It is haunting, and will definitely stay with me.  

On finishing this I bought two more of Frisch's books, I had to order hard copies as they aren't on Kindle, so I'm looking forward to their arrival!

This was an e-read on Kindle for iPad.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Randoms and Rules and Such, and Poke Your Eye Out Substitutes

I'm just starting out on this 1001 Books project, and working it out as I go.  As most of my IRL books are packed up, I'm mostly using ebooks at the moment, and am suffering from overchoice!  That's a new word I made up to express how there are just too many damn books.  How on earth do I pick one to read next?  Other than attacking War and Peace *sigh* I have just been bouncing around collecting (mostly free) ebooks from the list, then mutely contemplating which to read next, stuck between choices.

I've always been a reader based on gut feelings, I tend to read in genre's that last several books, then naturally and slowly transition to another genre, and so on.  This involves a lot of staring at my bookcases.

Part of the reason I'm doing the 1001 book challenge is just that, to challenge myself.  I've read a LOT of books in my life.  Before having kids, I was up round 250 a year, and that wasn't including books for work (I'm an academic).  I read fast (not speed reading, just fast), my Dad timed me at around 100 pages a hour.  Yes, I am taking it all in (*roll eyes*).  But I found myself in a rut, reading the same kinds of books, looking too much for mind-numbing and not enough at the kind of challenge I really enjoy, something with a bit of deeper meaning in it.  To me, good reading includes both types.

So, I've been stuck.  I read over at 2606 Books and Counting that Falaise was using a random number generator to choose his 1001 list books, and it struck me as a good idea to get some coverage of books I'm not likely to choose on preference alone.  So I used one to generate 20 books that I'm comitting to read this year, in addition to whatever I choose more naturally from the list.  I used the core list on Arukiyomi's excel list.

Here they are:

265      Sometimes a Great Notion, Ken Kesey
316      Homo Faber, Max Frisch
432      They Shoot Horses, Don’t They, Horace McCoy
367      The Case of Comrade Tulayev,  Victor Serge
194      Patterns of Childhood, Christa Wolf

387      Christ Stopped at Eboli, Carlo Levi

460      The Times of Indifference,  Alberto Moravia

428      At the Mountains of Madness, HP Lovecraft [READ]

273      The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, le Carre

366      The Garden Where the Brass Band Played, Simon Vestdijk

53       How Late it Was, How Late, James Kellman

602      King Lear of the Steppes, Ivan Turgenev

473      Remembrance of Things Past, Proust

629      Walden, Henry Thoreau

678      Vathek, Willam Thomas Beckford

291      Solaris (READ)

594      The Enchanted Wanderer, Nikolai Leskov

159      Wittgenstein’s Nephew, Thomas Bernhard

42       The Unconsoled, Kazuo Ishiguro

421      Out of Africa (READ)


567      Tess of the D’Ubervilles (READ)

205      Dusklands, J M Coetzee

106      Oscar and Lucinda (READ)

412      Rebecca (READ)

447      Cold Comfort Farm

86      Amongst Women, John McGahern

I was pretty happy to see Unconsoled on here, as I enjoyed Never Let Me Go so much, and also happy to see Cold Comfort Farm, bizarre as I'd just bought a copy!!

Okay, this list made me realise I am just not going to get through all the 1001 list books.  I need some free passes, substitutes, or something!  Again, stealing from 2606 and counting, I think I'll use some kind of get out of jail card, subbing in books on different lists.  Because I have to say that Christ Stopped at Eboli, and The Case of Comrade Tulayev, in the synopses I read, just make me wanna poke out an eye.  Life is too short to read stuff that absolutely doesn't appeal, right?

I don't want the 1001 list read to be a total chore.  I chose to do this as an exploration of the novel, and exploration I can share with others who are reading the list, or who have heard of the list.  Whether I totally agree with all the selections or not (it's not, but isn't everyone's answer not?), it's a widely recognised collection of some of the greatest novels ever written.  I've never seen a review that completely negated that.

But there are some books on there I just don't want to read, and unlike War and Peace, which I can see the point of, just don't seem to me to add anything to my explorations.  So I'm reserving the right to substitute books.  As I'm reading from the Core list at the moment, I reserve the right to substitute in books that have not made it on all the lists instead.  I'll post about it when I do, giving my reasons.

There, that'll save me poking out an eye, or two!

Sorry, couldn't resist this:

These books shall now be referred to as the "Poke Your Eye Out Substitutes".  That is all.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell

Okay, turns out this was a re-read!  I had a suspicion that some of these might turn up: if I wasn't 100% sure I'd read a book on the 1001 list already, I left it marked as unread.  I was fairly sure I'd read Cranford, I'm an Elizabeth Gaskell fan, and wasn't sure how I could have missed it, but couldn't remember anything at all about it!

This definitely shouldn't be taken as a negative about the book, which is a fine one, perhaps more of a memory trick I played on myself, or that year I may have read a lot of Gaskell, or something.   Pays to write books down...I guess!

Cranford is a finely drawn portrait of small town life, or a slice of that life, in particular of the women of a certain class.  It's told from the point of view of an 'insider' visitor who participates in the story, a loosely disguised version of Gaskell herself.

Gaskell is a keen and wry observer of human interaction, and captures the lives of these women so beautifully, sensitively, but with a perfect sense of amusement about it all that made me smile through the whole work.  In parts it is painfully sad, the lives of these women are so limited, and in some cases, tragic.  Gaskell perfectly captures this contained life, while showing that the inner lives and kindnesses of this tightly woven community are expanded, despite the constraints of their circumstances.

As a history of women, it's a powerful one.  I had a sense of horror that this was all I could have expected from that world and that time, this limited and constrained existence, set about by rules of action that are so different from what women of my own "class" get to expect today.  Of course, we have just as many social rules now, but then, it was so small, geographically and socially, women were unable to be strong social actors, to act to change their circumstances, other than within the boundaries set (like marriage, the actions of relatives, or the kindnesses of friends).  Forbidden so much, to both rise or fall, they were trapped like bugs in amber.

Gaskell's writing perfectly matches this constraint, her wry observations, and clear sympathies and admirations, this is a powerful read, disguised as a small story about some women of the middle class who live in the small village of Cranford.  Well worth a read (or a re-read, as the case may be!).

The discussion of Cranford at Gaskell Blog is well worth a read, it adds much to the story.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Unbearable Lightness, Portia de Rossi

I'd been eyeing this one for a while, as I mentioned, I'm a bit of a collector of memiors about eating, and disordered eating, and what it means in a person's life, so was keen to read this memoir. 

This is a gripping read, de Rossi's explorations of the thinking involved in spiraling down into the terrible realities of disordered eating is spot on, and harrowing.  I liked her writing style, how much of it was written from that space of strange thinking, where your messages about fat and beauty, and your own actions are so jumbled and wrong, but seem so linear and commonsensical when you are within it.  I like when memiors of mental illness capture that world, the odd world that to the person seems so sensible and real.  It made the book a page-turner.

I read it while suffering from a terrible plague that my partner bought home with him from America (thanks darling!), and read this book in a day while suffering on the couch, next to my sick 2 year old, in front of Nick Jr.  Perhaps this added to my overwhelming impression of illness from this book, which de Rossi has captured so well, illness disguised as the right thing, the attractive thing, the successful thing.  We all need to re-read the Beauty Myth, like de Rossi, on my first reading of Naomi Wolf's book, I wondered how I could have been such an idiot to "fall for it".  Of course, it's not us as individuals that should be blaming ourselves, it's the society we are part of.  But it's easy to blame ourselves, to hold ourselves as responsible.  As individuals, we are all supposed to be able to somehow overcome our backgrounds, our societies, or at least that's the rhetoric we buy into.  But none of us escape our social systems, no matter how aware of them we are.  Eating disorders are a case in point.  They are, on the surface, all about the individual.  Of course, they are really about our society.  It's a neat trick to get us to blame ourselves. 

There are some chilling scenes in this memior, what sticks in my mind is her fitting for a Loreal commercial, where de Rossi is humiliated publicly for not fitting into the size 4 skirts offered her, this was obviously a big trigger for the final stages of her eating issues.  Also, the loneliness of her home gym, and the messages she wrote herself on the walls.  Her frantic running up and down the apartment stairs, forgetting her dog, to work of some gum (!!) she ate while starving.

I would like to read more about her recovery, this part of the book felt skimmed over, like she hadn't finished with it yet, or perhaps it was too personal.  I wish this aspect of the book had been more fully explored, and showed more clearly the differences between disordered thinking and "normal" thinking, exploring those ideas a little more. It felt too skimmed over.  I would like to know more about how her weight gain affected her career, because no matter how tabloids might villify anorexic celebrities, they still represent the "unattainable ideal" held up to women in this culture.  How did recovery affect her roles, magazine covers, and modelling?  Or is recovery actually being able to let this go, because those ideals just ARE unattainable, if you're "normal"?

I definitely recommend this book, it's powerful, and would be a good read for young women starting out in all this, too.

I read this in trade paperback, it was nice to read a "real" book again!


[Image credit - here - this blog, this is not a diet, is just great!]

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

War and Peace - Read Along Check In #4

I have found War and Peace a challenge.  I understand it's awesomeness, and appreciate Tolstoy's purpose, but simply find it long, tedious, full of diversions in which I'm not interested, and containing far too much of the War.

In fairness, some parts of this book were inspired, and I enjoyed some of the more philosophical reflecitons on the nature of war, death, and love interspersed throughout.  I liked some of the social reflections, the parties and intrigue.  The characters grew and expanded, I particularly liked Nicholai/Nicholas Rostov here, and also Mary/Marya, and their relationship.  Pierre remained a frustrating favourite, I kinda wanted him to just snap out of it.  It sucked that Helene died with little or no exploration, that was obviously a plot device, clumsy.

There were patches I actively didn't like: the wolf hunting scene (that was a WTF moment); the overall portrayal of women, they never quite reached the real world image that was true of some of the male characters, even the central women stayed as stereotypic, seeming to lack that final acceptance of women as actual human actors required to make them fully real; the long descriptions of politics and tactics littered throughout - in trying to be an accurate history, Tolstoy parted ways with having a good story.

What do I think of the book.  Long.  Wordy.  Detailed.  Slow.  Mixed with moments of beauty, grand ideas, and close characterisation (for blokes).  Overall, I didn't like it, but the book itself as a reading experience will stay with me for a long time.  I'm glad I read it, and I'm also glad it's over.

Thank you, Allie, at A Literary Odyssey, for hosting this as a readalong, I never would have finished it otherwise!!