Log in

No account? Create an account
06 July 2014 @ 01:47 pm
publicBooks of 2014: I  
This year I started out with the goal of reading 30 books, which was, in some ways, I think, a bit of a mistake: I don't want one of my main hobbies to become something that I have to feel guilty about not doing. I think this has become clear partially because I've already read 20-something, so the pressure is off a bit, but that's a good lesson for the future.

I've been reviewing the books for a couple of reasons - it started out because I just didn't want to forget them as soon as I'd taken them back to the library, but then I noticed that I also realise their subconscious impact if I'm pushing myself to write something down, so I'm getting more out of them this way.

1. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
“Emma Bovary is beautiful and bored, trapped in her marriage to a mediocre doctor and stifled by the banality of provincial life. An ardent reader of sentimental novels, she longs for passion and seeks escape in fantasies of high romance, in voracious spending and, eventually, adultery. But even her affairs bring her disappointment and the consequences are devastating.”

The structure of this book is quite amazing, flowing at the start, with wide open spaces in the green countryside, where Emma moved freely with her dog, and then slowly closing in, from the open air to the dusty town, to the house, to single rooms, which fill with luxurious objects until the weight of them is crushing. It’s like a spring being wound tighter and tighter, so that I read more and more quickly, entering into her frantic, unreal state. Her dreams are so easy to relate to – freedom and power and love and adventure – that it’s quite terrifying to watch her stumbling off into a claustrophobic labyrinth in search of them. It’s that feeling that I quite regularly have, of there being a layer of cotton wool fog between me and some pure and meaningful reality, that I sometimes think I could just grab and rip away, but then I drift out of reach again. All of the trivialities that almost all of the characters devote themselves to seemed so horrible, these futile, self-centred banalities that humans waste their lives away with – the flashes of beauty and potential happiness seemed always to centre around the natural world.

2. The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer
“A worldwide bestseller, translated into many languages, The Female Eunuch is a landmark in the history of the women’s movement.
Drawing liberally from history, literature and popular culture, past and present, Germaine Greer’s searing examination of women’s oppression is at once an important social commentary and a passionately argued masterpiece of polemic.”

Immediately after reading this, I was incredibly irritated by it – I thought it was just another victim-blaming tirade from someone who was claiming to “not be like those other girls” while not admitting her privileges as white, middle class, and highly educated. I’m still not a wild fan, and I still think that some of her descriptions are just in there for the sake of scandal and/or making her look well-read, but looking over the quotes which I wrote down, I can now agree with many of her points. I like that some of the focus of her call to arms is on anti-capitalism, on the fact that equal pay or equal opportunities will not suddenly solve everything, as our current society can only function on binaries and someone winning only because someone else is losing. I like that she talks about the isolation of individuals within capitalist societies, and this leading to, “egotistic morality, which acts not from understanding and feeling the repercussions of action upon the community because of the continuity of the self and the rest, but by laws and restrictions self-imposed in a narcissistic way” (pp.82-83). I think this is a more productive slant on the question of whether or not there can be unselfish acts, and it’s an idea I want to keep thinking about – basically, what my principles really achieve.

3. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
“The day that Mole abandons his spring-cleaning and sets out to enjoy the sunshine is the start of many adventures. Not only does he discover the river and the joys of messing around in boats, but he also makes lifelong friends with Rat, Badger and the eccentric and incorrigible Toad.”

This book made me feel so hopeful, as though that sense of freedom and being a part of nature that I had as a child is still recapturable. There were passages that made me feel as though I was peacefully floating away into the sunshine and greenery, connected to everything. A very quiet, private book, like I was reading parts of my own soul that I didn’t know were still there.

4., 5. The Golden Age, Dream Days by Kenneth Grahame
“Kenneth Grahame’s unjustly neglected collections of vignettes, reminiscences, and inventions capture the ingenuities of a family of children – three boys and two girls – who live magnanimous lives nourished by the secret expeditions and private games they share. Written in the last few years of the 19th century, as Grahame looked back fondly at his own childhood, these sketches of growing up are poised artfully between two states of consciousness – that of a child protagonist and that of a remembering adult – and so manage to evoke both the active energies of youth and the nostalgic tenderness of reflection.”

Reading these two straight after The Wind in the Willows made me kind of sad - these books seem more to say that the happinesses of childhood are gone forever. I suppose it has to be true that the specific liberty of having no responsibilities and loads of free time can’t come again, but I want to believe that adults can still be imaginative and joyful and spontaneous, and have a connection to the earth, and feel purpose just in being alive.

6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“The only inhabitant of West Egg not to enjoy Jay Gatsby’s legendary parties is Jay Gatsby. The one girl he seeks to impress with them is already married. Glamourous, dangerous, hopeful and desperately in love, Gatsby’s naive dreams can only lead to destruction.”

I thought the style of this was amazing, with so many beautifully-turned phrases that I would read over a few times in admiration. Everything seemed so tangible, but with a sort of unreal summer heat haze laid over it. The contrast of superficiality with human energy and desperation, often within the same people, seems, in the end, sort of hopeful to me, like an ode to the human potential for beauty, even if that potential is often diverted down false pathways to failure.

7. Middlemarch by George Eliot
“George Eliot’s most ambitious novel is a masterly evocation of diverse lives and changing fortunes in a provincial community. Peopling its landscape are Dorothea Brooke, a young idealist whose search for intellectual fulfillment leads her into a disastrous marriage to the pedantic scholar Casaubon; the charming but tactless Dr Lydgate, whose pioneering medical methods, combined with an imprudent marriage to the spendthrift beauty Rosamond, threaten to undermine his career; and the religious hypocrite Bulstrode, hiding scandalous crimes from his past. As their stories entwine, George Eliot creates a richly nuanced and moving drama, hailed by Virginia Woolf as ‘one of the few English novels written for grown-up people’.”

Man, I loved this book. I was a little slow to get into it, but after about a hundred pages, I suddenly discovered that I was completely immersed and thinking about it whenever I was away from it. I liked the edge of sharp commentary mixed with the encouragement to care about all of the characters; although it did turn out to be an “ahhh, what’s going to happen to them next?!” kind of book, my lasting impression is of an affectionate and hopeful discussion of humanity’s weaknesses and strengths. She makes so many pertinent observations, like, “mortals are easily tempted to pinch the life out of their neighbour’s buzzing glory, and think that such killing is no murder” (pp.207-208), which made me think of the author as a sort of mentor. A realisation from the past couple of years has been that people never stop growing up and changing their opinions and principals – I used to think that I’d have everything figured out by now, know exactly how I want to treat people and live my life, and in some ways it’s pretty frustrating and overwhelming to know that I’m going to have to keep thinking about it, heh. But books will always provide plenty of food for thought/inspiration.

8. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
"This novel, based on George Eliot's own experiences of provincial life, is a masterpiece of ambiguity in which moral choice is subjected to the hypocrisy of the Victorian age. As the headstrong Maggie Tulliver grows into womanhood, the deep love which she has for her brother Tom turns into conflict, because she cannot reconcile his bourgeois standards with her own lively intelligence. Maggie is unable to adapt to her community or break free from it, and the result, on more than one level, is tragedy.”

This seems like a much younger book than Middlemarch (I’m pretty sure she did write it earlier), much less calm and considering, more frantic and melodramatic, like a teenaged Middlemarch still flailing around trying to figure everything out and not really managing it. What scared me about this book is the fact that I bought into it. I think the discussion of the potential different moral reactions to the book’s events were quite cleverly written, subtly suggested, but they were presented as the only reactions, and it wasn’t until I was spoilering the book for Stacia (she asked me to!) and she said, “er, well, why didn’t she just XX?” that I realised that there were other options. It really showed me how easy it is to internalise the absolute rubbish that’s presented to you by conventional media. You don’t even necessarily notice that the rubbish is there, it just seeps into you somehow, until you find yourself imagining that there are only two options, clueless as to the compromise that’s glaringly obvious to an outsider...

9. - 11. The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
"Set in a dark vision of the near future, a terrifying reality TV show is taking place. Twelve boys and twelve girls are forced to appear in a live event called The Hunger Games. There is only one rule: kill or be killed. When sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen steps forward to take her younger sister's place in the games, she sees it as a death sentence.”

This was a really fun read, the first time in a long while that I’ve just read something for enjoyment rather than to educate myself/feel more prepared for translation work. Possibly my favourite thing about it was its portrayal of depression, which I thought was pretty accurate, and a great thing to be included in a children’s/YA book − there was no judgement passed on Katniss for being traumatised, no idea that she should just “pull herself together”. I also liked the way her anger was honestly described: that particular balance between feeling that your anger is justified, and also feeling guilty about it, which I think is the way in which women in particular are trained to view their anger. Female characters don’t usually get to be righteously pissed off and get to just get over that anger, as much as is possible, on their own terms, accepting the vestiges of it; I think it’s much more common to see female characters self-sacrificingly accepting apologies and just burying their valid emotions. I liked that Katniss got to have these strong emotions, and be capable and impressive, and also fail sometimes − I know that there’s a lot of debate over whether she counts as a feminist character, but for these reasons my vote is yes.
Mood: calm
Music: Norwegian Wood - The Beatles
( Post a new comment )
cesevieve: austen-esquecesevieve on July 23rd, 2014 10:29 am (UTC)
Hi. Um. Just wanted to say hi. :) And I completely agree with you, reading shouldn't be forced just to meet a set number. Just got back into it myself after god knows how many years, it's lovely. (A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin.)
Caspian: Swirly Kaylee Lovepunkheid on September 29th, 2014 10:51 am (UTC)
Hi :) It's such a fine line, isn't it, between motivation and force... Reading is such a beautifully freeing thing, when it's just for pleasure. Oooh, I read the first SoIaF and had really mixed feelings. I thought the visual detail was amazing, and the plot totally engrossing, but was irritated by the way he was using the female characters. So I ended up just going on the Wiki and spoilering myself for the rest of the series o.o Now that I've forgotten a lot of what I read online, I'm sort of considering going back to the series. It seems like it's got the thing I miss most about HP fandom - the speculation about what's going to happen.