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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Reading and Viewing recap

What follows constitutes a survey or perhaps cataloguing of my current reading along with my Netflix/Amazon Prime/PBS viewing. (We don't have a television chez Reynolds but we do project certain TV series and movies from the computer onto a screen, liberating ourselves from commercials).

 I often dream of reading books sequentially, as I used to, by which I mean finish one, then begin the next, but alas, that is no longer my way. I have starred those I've finished.

Recently (since June) I have read or am reading:

*Penelope Fitzgerald's The Bookshop, a short, "quiet" book which I loved. Written in the 1970s and set in a small village in 1950's East Anglia, it tells the story of middle-aged widow who does what the village considers shocking: opening a bookstore. It's wry, quiet, funny (sales spike when she stocks Lolita) and also sharp in its portrayal of the class system and the politics of envy and control.



*Bram Stoker's Dracula: I read most of it on flight home from Europe and found it completely engrossing. I finished it in the first days home. I knew all about it as a book fearing the New Woman, a sexualized, aggressive and murderous "other," while valorizing the passive angel of the home, but I wasn't prepared for the extent to which I would enjoy it as a well-imagined page turner that encapsulates most of the familiar vampire tropes. (And one of the chief "angels" is almost as feisty as a New Woman!) Of course, here the vampires represent evil in its totality, rather than, like today, often standing in for misunderstood or tortured souls. And Christianity is the answer for fighting off these demons. 



*Balzac's "Sarrasine", which I read aloud to Roger on the way to Pittsburgh last weekend. Romantic and overheated, it's a very interesting longish short story about gender, love, illusion and the nineteenth century demi-monde.

*A book on Warhol,  *a Jane Austen sequel and an book of *Roland Barthes essays, all of which I will (or may) write about eventually.

I am on a Barthes tear, so have begun S/Z, an analysis of the afore-mentioned "Sarrasine."



I am in the middle of Elizabeth Goudge's The Rosemary Tree, reading Gouge at the suggestion of local friends. I have mixed feelings about this book. My interest in the problem of religious fiction drives this read--so much overt "religious" fiction is terrible, and much of what is good is so because it lands smack in the middle of cruelty and doubt, dealing with loss of faith, disillusionment, despair and betrayal. What decent novels deal with religious themes in a positive vein? (I will say, perhaps having spent too long as "insider"--as a religion reporter and an MDiv.-- I tend to be underwhelmed by books like John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany and Marilyn Robinson's Pulitzer prize winner about the pastor, the title of which I have forgotten.)

This cover says something about the intended audience and is one of the more restrained I found online: I have an early edition from my local library that has a more subdued cover. 


Reading neighbors who are Quakers suggested Goudge, and I would say she writes about religion well, mostly by displacing it to nature. We find God and grace and truth through the small beauties of creation or through the tiny, merciful, graceful gestures people make towards each other, usually imperfectl, having to transcend some irritation or another to reach out. Her nature descriptions are lyrical and lovely, reminiscent of Ann Radcliffe's in Mystery of Udolpho. While I am enjoying The Rosemary Tree, it does have its limitations, and I will make it the subject of its own blog post when I am done.

Books that I am "reading" in a different way include the following on-going, slow projects:



Roger and I continue to work our way through Sir Charles Grandison on road trips. We have five letters left in volume 4, then only three more volumes to go! Will Harriet and Sir Charles ever get married? Will Richardson ever find a place where he doesn't need to use 200 words where two would do? I still marvel that these seven volumes were the only fiction works Darwin brought with him on The Beagle.




Tom Jones, a reread after many years--very slowly.



The Austen Papers--focusing on Eliza de Feullide's letters, again slowly. I am finding them very interesting, in part because in many ways Eliza, Jane Austen's first cousin, was so ordinary a society type, but this is another slow, sporadic read, between "other things."

Northanger Abbey, but then I am always dipping into Austen.



I plan to start Ferrante's The Days of Abandonment as soon as I am finished The Rosemary Tree.





TV series I am following:

While Will was here, we as family got "hooked" on Orphan Black, a Canadian series about a young woman, played by Tatiana Maslaney, who finds out she is one of nine (or possibly 11) clones and joins with her identical "clone clan" of at least four other of her "sisters" to fight a group that is trying to destroy them. It's been lauded as a feminist series, and in some ways this is true (but in some very fundamental ways not). It's a gripping if over-the-top story, very well done, and part of the pleasure of watching it is seeing one actress bring off many different characters so adroitly. This series, will, I hope, become the subject of another blog.

The many faces of Maslaney in Orphan Black: strong women but the series is not unproblematic. 


True Detective: Not thrilled with the second season of the noir show: too self consciously artsy, too filled with macho masculinity and "pain," too lacking in a sense of humor, and hard to follow. But I am sticking with it for now--and hoping I will get to like it better.

Poldark: I never saw the 1970s version nor have I read the book, but am following this one. I love that it focuses on the plight of the lower classes and challenges the still-dominant ideology that poor people exist for the sake of the profit the rich can grind and squeeze from them. I loved when Poldark said he is reopening his mine not for profit but to primarily to employ people--and he ruffles the feathers of his own social class when he pays decent wages. He also crosses class lines to marry. He is actually a decent human being, who really sees other people and cares about community more than his own self aggrandizement. What a welcome contrast to a world that encourages us to focus narcissistically on our own "needs" to the exclusion of all else. The series so far (I have seen the first three episodes) is old-fashioned, and can sometimes be "icky"--moments of crashing waves and music coming to a crescendo as the lovers kiss kind of thing--but I am looking forward to what will happen next. But why criticize: Downtown Abbey does the same, but without the conscience or more precisely, with an entirely different lens of consciousness, than Poldark. But this too demands a post of its own.



Five Days: A very British series, only five episodes long, about what happens when a wife and her young daughter go missing. It was made in 2007 with some actors who soon after would catapult to Downtown Abbey fame. While I enjoyed it well enough, I felt that to really "get" the nuances of this series, you have to be British: a group of English actors perform agonizing English awkwardnesses and contortions about expressing emotion--and experience a level of agony and self-consciousness the average American simply wouldn't. (Sorry, British friends--and our US emotional "spilling" is probably a worse problem!) Probably, for me, the most typically "British" moment was when an older male character burst out that he "didn't know the script, didn't know how to be, how to act" in the circumstances.


Five Days

We watched the first season of Outlander, then dropped it.














1 comment:

  1. From Ellen:

    I enjoyed reading this and will make a note of Penelope Fitzgerald's Bookshop -- or buy a used copy, hoping eventually to read it. it's the sort of book I wish we had time for this summer on WWTTA.

    I have read Dracula at least three times, mesmerized and terrified the first, most recently shocked by the open hated of women and violence towards them. I assigned it in a gothic class once, but despite the evident willingness of so many to read it, wouldn't do it again. I recommend Suzy McKee Charnas's Vampire Tapestry as a substitute: her vampire is not a misunderstood tortured soul; there are other types of people :)

    I can't read overtly religious books, have no patience for them. I wonder if there is any difference in a woman's version; there must be for nationality and kind of religion.

    It's interesting to me I also have books I read differently, slowly across time and not just in order to share with others thoughts about them here on the Net or elsewhere. Mine just now are Fielding's Tom Jones, Ippolito Nievo's Confessions of an Italian, and also those Austen papers. I find I need to post on them or write up notes or I lose the train of feeling and thought too much, and can't let too much time go by. This method is best for books I've read before: I probably could read Richardson's Clarissa one page or letter portion (according to dates) at a time.

    Most of the time I can't watch series like Orphan Black: Breaking Bad was an unusual one, but I did watch Five Days and was drawn totally into the feeling and thought. She did what I've seen other women writers in this genre do: take a woman's tale from a woman's point of view and re-engineer so it has the usual "suspense" features and used them intelligently too -- to reveal subjective life.

    II'm not British but lived with a British man for 46 years and have spent much of my life reading British books or watching their films of films partly by British people so Five Days is just my thing too.

    My love for the Poldark books are partly from my discipline (18th century), politics (radical, jacobin), my identification with Ross and Demelza (which I discussed this week in my blog), though when I was on a message board my "character" name was Elizabeth Chynoweth as I feel deeply for her too -- I love quite a number of the characters in the first 7 books. But more frankly -- I've not said this before, I find in the books a spirit like my husband's, born in the early 20th century but from a background so similar, I see the books mirroring post WW2; they are part of a substratum of British books I enjoy immensely because they participate in the world my husband came from and remained part of at some level.

    Yes after two episodes I stopped Outlander -- it's a ploy to avoid the problems of Poldark (that women cannot behave sexually the way today's audience wants) by having a 20th century heroine, but after all it's watered down (considerably) Daphne DuMaurier who at least (like Stoker, like Charnas) takes evil seriously as there for real and mattering.

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