Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!
Anatomy of a Moment-Javier Cercas
Scandilicious Baking- Signe Johansen
Giving Up the Ghost-Hilary Mantel
Confronting the Classics-Mary Beard
Consciousness Harnessed to Flesh-Susan Sontag
This Will Make You Smarter-ed. John Brockman
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil- John Berendt
Bonfire of the Vanities-Tom Wolfe
Museum of Innocence-Orhan Pamuk
Space Between Us- Thrity Umrigar
Feast of the Goat- Mario Vargas Llosa
All is Silence-Manuel Rivas
Thursday, June 13, 2013
Painter of Silence-Georgina Harding
It is the early 1950s. A nameless man is found on the steps of the hospital in Iasi, Romania. He is deaf and mute, but a young nurse named Safta recognizes him from the past and brings him paper and pencils so that he might draw. Gradually, memories appear on the page: the man is Augustin, the cook's son at the manor house at Poiana where Safta was the privileged daughter. Born six months apart, they had a connection that bypassed words, but while Augustin's world stayed the same size, Safta's expanded to embrace languages, society, and a fleeting love one long, hot summer. But then came war, and in its wake a brutal Stalinist regime, and nothing would remain the same.
It was nice to read. The language is a bit poetic and definitely full of beauty but I found no point to it. I didn't feel much like I was in Romania-Romania was supposedly evoked by a few historical bits sprinkled here and there and the mild sense of oppression. The characters didn't seem to grow or change even when there was opportunity to do so. I was in such a state of apathy that the ending didn't give me any surprise because there wasn't much to react to and the characters didn't really react either.
This book would have immediately evaporated from my memory were not for my anger at the deafie as a plot device. I thought this would be an interesting book because being a non-lingual deaf within a hearing society is difficult as it is, but being deaf within a war is even worse. But Augustin wasn't a person-he was a romanticized plot device. There was no real consistency in his communication. He couldn't speak, was called dumb, so he drew-the only way he had. How poetic? It was simply to make the whole thing seem almost mystical and dreamy. It was the great mystery! What did the deaf man have in his head? And then it was even odder, the plot hinged on the drawings which were supposedly nice and complicated but they were described so clinically. Harding dodged some bullets but overall I found the novel to hover between super-crip mentality, exoticism, and the plot problem that needed to be solved for the plot to occur.
I can see why it's been critically acclaimed. The language is lovely and the whole thing is a bit atmospheric but that's by hearing people. I wonder what other deaf people think of Augustin.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Wild Places-Robert MacFarlane
Are there any genuinely wild places left in Britain and Ireland? That is the question that Robert Macfarlane poses to himself as he embarks on a series of breathtaking journeys through some of the archipelago?s most remarkable landscapes. He climbs, walks, and swims by day and spends his nights sleeping on cliff-tops and in ancient meadows and wildwoods. With elegance and passion he entwines history, memory, and landscape in a bewitching evocation of wildness and its vital importance.
I am certainly not the sort who likes 'roughing' it. Every time I sleep in the great outdoors I always end up mosquito bit, ant crawling, and damp. I was a bit surprised then when I really enjoyed MacFarlane's journey which was full of biovacs and hikes ending with finding a good place to sleep under a rock. MacFarlane's way of describing the outdoors is a mix of erudition and gorgeous scenery. His musings on 'wild' are broad and fascinating. His definition is gratifyingly broad. He finds the enjoyment in the smallest bit of man made 'wildness' as well as places that are probably truly "wild" in the most narrow definition. It's a view backed up by archaeology, geology, etc. I particularly enjoyed MacFarlane's musings on cartographies and the stories they can tell. It was almost archaeological, at times, his approach to the layers of history which obviously I enjoy.
And let me tell you, I loved the style. Sebald is a favorite author of mine and I definitely think he might be one of MacFarlane's too. There's a similar lack of linearity and similar resistance to easy definition. Just as Sebald set his rambles in almost strangely other-worldly versions of our world, MacFarlane refuses to tell you where he's going. He's developing his personal story map. MacFarlane also admits the shortcomings of language which made it all so more compelling because he is acknowledging our difference, our distance, from our surroundings in a rather subversive way. He's not telling, he's showing and he shows using tricks of analogy, drawing unlike things together in a way I'd never think of. And there's a gratifying evolution of character in the book, there's change in the narrative and thought process that can be followed.
I think there's something here for everyone. I can imagine some of my die hard nature loving friends enjoying it as much as I did...though perhaps different parts. That's the beauty of books that don't stick to any one genre.
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Valentine Grey-Sandi Toksvig
gender: F, queer
London 1897 and a young girl, Valentine Grey, arrives in England. She's been brought up in the remote and sunny climes of India and finds being forced into corsets and skirts in damp and cold country insufferable. The only bright spot: her exciting cousin, Reggie. Reggie, and his lover Frank seek out the adventure the clandestine bars and streets of London offer and are happy to include Valentine in their secret, showing her theatre, gardens - even teaching her how to ride a bicycle.
And then comes the Boer War and Reggie's father volunteers him; the empire must be defended. But it won't be Reggie who dons the Volunteer Regiment's garb. Valentine takes her chance, puts on her cousin's uniform, leaving Reggie behind and heads off to war. And for a long while it's glorious and liberating for both of the cousins, but war is not glorious and in Victorian London homosexuality is not liberating . . .
I rather enjoyed reading it but I didn't particularly want to write about it because I didn't particularly want to dwell on its flaws. That I enjoyed it was clear-I literally read this in a day, leaving aside other things I sort of wanted to do.
There's a slow burn to this novel as the characters of Reggie and Valentine are developed into clear characters that you'll probably like. The writing is evocative of the era with the nameless servants sweeping through the house and the crude soldiers at each other's backs and the theatre.The war is suitably horrible. The tragedy of Reggie and Frank is suitably horrible. This is a book about war. The overt one is the Boer War but it's also about how those attitudes embodied by the Boer War were everywhere held against women, people of color, people from the lower classes, gay people, and basically anyone who wasn't an upper-class hetero white male. But there is a lightness to the writing that makes this not a dark book though it deals with dark and heavy realities.
However, the flaw is...and unfortunately for me it's a bit of a big one. Valentine is too perfect. She's too self-aware in a 21st century kind of way. She's a feminist who wouldn't be out of place in today's feminist movement. A lot of the suffragists were not class-conscious. A lot of the communist writing of the time was somewhat homophobic. Valentine was all of these things-anti war, sexuality equality, feminist, economically radical, and authority criticizing. Her attitudes are bit unreal seeming for her time so that her courage was also somewhat unreal. I enjoyed the strong female lead but she's a strong woman who sounds like she could be from our time. It was almost fairy tale like and there was nothing included in the book to suggest that she was modeled after a real woman. So, I read this book as a sort of alt-universe kind of narrative...which is probably not Toksvig meant.
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay's Dance Bars-Sonia Faleiro
Non fiction/Investigative Journalism
"Leela introduced Sonia to the underworld of Bombay’s dance bars: a world of glamorous women; of fierce love; sex and violence; of customers and gangsters; of police; prostitutes and pimps.
When an ambitious politician cashed in on a tide of false morality and had Bombay’s dance bars wiped out; Leela’s proud independence faced its greatest test. In a city where almost everyone is certain that someone; somewhere; is worse off than them; she fights to survive; and to win."
Faleiro immediately plunges you into this secret world. She doesn't really explain anything until a few chapters in, you're in Leela's world, and even though I know very little about Bombay dance bars (and hadn't understood the distinction from a strip club), Leela is very well defined. This is not a long book but it certainly packs a lot in.
Let's be honest, I was annoyed by everyone and the society. The extent that sex and money was the most important thing to everyone made me so angry and it made me angrier that men always got it. It's the reality, unfortunately. It's a society where the women are kept subjugated, vapid and into self-centred dolls. I found it so galling that mothers sell their daughters into the life that they acknowledged was horrible to them and the matter of fact treatment of rape as a given of life. It was a society where becoming a madam and continuing the whole cycle of mistreatment was considered a good thing. There was also the whole inevitability of being washed up and unhappiness especially since there was so much bittersweet longing for becoming a housewife or Bollywood endings. A lot of it stems from poverty, capitalism, and post-colonialism but good god, I got so angry. And considering the lack of self-pity, I certainly made up for it with my pity.
I failed Leela's main tenant:
"When you look at my life, don't look at it beside yours. Look at it beside the life of my mother and her mother and my sisters-in-law who have to take permission to walk down the road. If my mother talks to a man who isn't her son, brother or cousin, she will hear the sound of my father's hand across her face, feel fists against her breasts. But you've seen me with men? If I don't want to talk I say, 'Get lost, Oye!' And they do."
And certainly, the fact that this false sense of emancipation was freer and better than the horrible picture of marriage as the woman bound to a man for everything but happiness/love...well, that made me even angrier.
Faleiro was doing something right. By following one bar dancer and occasionally getting in detail about others, it made it all more viscerally real than a non fiction book of statistics and disjointed anecdotes. All throughout, Faleiro gives you a sense of conversation, personality, and vocabulary (sometimes I felt as if I could have used a glossary). Faliero inserts enough of herself for the reader to take her role of a sensitive, educated outsider which somehow made Leela and her world a lot less dismissible.
The contradictions of the life chronicled really makes me, as a Western woman, acutely aware of my privilege as a "good" girl in a society where we've made more strides for the woman as a person.