Archive for December 4th, 2017

December 4, 2017

November Reading

Things that happened in November: I passed my viva (trust me, I’m a doctor), I helped run a symposium, I conferenced, I continued to have a very persistent flu, I hung out with a cute dog and watched a lot of Agatha Christie adaptations but not the new one. I reread my own work a lot (for the viva, not out of vanity); I just about managed to read some other things.

 

Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties: Read in bits and pieces across the month. I’d read some of these stories before–and “Inventory“, which I love, was published in Strange Horizons, so seeing us mentioned here made me feel generally warm and fuzzy (nb: I have nothing too do with the decisions made by the fiction editors and therefore probably do not deserve to bask in their glory). This is a great collection–it’s good at bodies (the title would suggest this, I know, but really  good) and worlds that are suddenly (and have always been) hostile and strange, and there’s both desire and a sort of rueful acknowledgement of it, and it’s brutal. Machado has, to me, a really distinctive voice, and it’s one I enjoy a lot.

Also, rereading “The Husband Stitch” reminded me to reread Edna St Vincent Millay’s “Bluebeard“, so that was an extra good thing.

 

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility: Din (who I’m hoping will write about this soon) has been reading and thinking about Austen, and I realised I was unequipped to have a conversation about Elinor Dashwood unless I reread this book–I don’t think I had in at least a decade and probably longer. Much more than my last read, I think, I was struck by how fallible Elinor is–that Austen clearly approves of her doesn’t prevent her from being a character who will get things wrong, and who we can see doing the sort of thinking that’s going to end badly. I love her for it, much more than when she was merely the Good Sister. (Marianne is still an annoying brat, the book is too kind to Edward and Brandon and devastating and great to everyone else.)

 

Arthur Flowers, Manu Chitrakar, Guglielmo Rossi, I See the Promised Land: I’m writing about this at greater length elsewhere, but Newcastle has been having a very Martin Luther King themed few months, to celebrate his trip to this city, and honourary degree from Newcastle University, in 1967. I’ve had this book for a couple of years now, and this seemed like an appropriate time to finally read it. It’s gorgeous, obviously; but also the form of the book, and the context in which I read it has made me think rather sentimentally about solidarities across nations, about MLK in the Britain that produced the Rivers of Blood speech, and Ambedkar writing to W.E.B. Du Bois; and it’s a reminder that I never did get around to finishing that strange Du Bois novel.

 

Maud Hart Lovelace, Emily of Deep Valley: My main reason for reading this was curiosity over a conversation about its portrayal of Syrian immigrants in 1910s America (it’s set in 1912; it was published in 1950). I completely failed to encounter the Betsy-Tacy books when I was growing up (she said, losing all Girls Own cred forever), and have only read one since, so I’m not particularly attached to the setting, and it’s only when Betsy actually showed up that I realised that this was set in the same town as those. Emily is classic YA though–she’s quiet and clever and a brilliant debater, and has a crush on the sort of clever, confident boy that readers who identify as quiet and clever know a little too well. He goes to college, along with all their less deserving friends; Emily, who has made a commitment to look after her grandfather, stays home and makes the best of things. And then there are the Syrians, who, we’re carefully told, are Christians fleeing religious persecution–just like the Pilgrim Fathers. Their inclusion in the novel is … interesting–there’s some 1912- (and maybe even 1950-) style stereotyping, and yet the attempt to write them into the mythology of America feels effective, in a novel that seems to fully believe in that mythology. (There’s an awkward moment when Emily’s new boyfriend bonds with her soldier grandfather over how his grandfather was also at Gettysburg, before adding that he was on the other side. They decide to tell both sides of the story to the Syrian kids. Or something.) Anyway, it is a YA story that has a romance and a makeover and is a lot less cringeworthy than it might have been, and I found it very satisfying.