The Implications of Feminine Curiosity: Reading the Women’s Review of Books (Mar/Apr 2014)

Jan Clausen reviews Curious Subjects:  Women and the Trials of Realism, by Hilary M. Schor (Oxford University Press, 2013).  Clausen writes that Schor takes “curiosity” — specifically women’s curiosity — “to mean several different things” and then cites several fascinating examples, such as:

Isabel Archer (from The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James) — Self actually tried re-reading last year, before she went to Venice, but soon tired of James’s labyrinthine sensibility.  But now she thinks she might try giving it another whirl, especially after reading “while severely constrained by a social order productive of endless marriage plots,” the characters “gain access to a crucial measure of choice in deciding the marriage question — an outcome with distinct advantages for their development as conscious subjects, even when, as for Isabel, the wedded state brings misery.”

The Bloody Chamber, “Angela Carter’s feminist retelling” of the Bluebeard tale, showing “how the bride’s defiance of her husband’s injunction against entering the locked room becomes the crucial occasion of curiosity, affording a true knowledge of self and situation.”

Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot, feature “brides whose costly access to authentic subjectivity is won by way of their disastrous marriages.”

Louisa Bounderby, née Gradgrind, who chucks “her heartless capitalist keeper in Dickens’ Hard Times

Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys, “a Creole riff on the Bluebeard story that functions in relation to Jane Eyre as both prequel and (post) colonial critique.”

Self also discovers (in another review) that Claire of the Sea of Light, Edwidge Danticat’s new novel, grew out of a short story published in the anthology she edited for Akashic Books, Haiti Noir (2010).  Self now adds Haiti Noir to her reading list.

And she encounters this quote from, of all people, Norman Mailer, in a review by Rachel Somerstein of Fools, Joan Silber’s short story collection (W. W. Norton, 2013):

Short fiction “has a tendency to look for climates of permanence — an event occurs, a man is hurt by it in some small way forever” while “the novel moves as naturally toward flux.  An event occurs, a man is injured, and a month later is working on something else.”

Self is amazed that she encounters the quote from Mailer —  the most uber-macho of macho writers — in the Women’s Review of Books.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Perusing the Economist Best Books of 2011: Short List

Books self is interested in reading after perusing The Economist’s “Best Books of 2011” list:

Biography and Memoir

History

  • Jerusalem:  The Biography, by Simon Sebag Montefiore.  “After his acclaimed biographies of Stalin, Catherine the Great and her lover, Potemkin, Simon Sebag Montefiore has finally turned to the book he was born to write.”

Culture, Society and Travel

  • People Who Eat Darkness:  The Fate of Lucie Blackman, by Richard Lloyd Parry.  “A page-turning, if horrifying, read about the murder of a young Englishwoman in Japan and the dubious workings of the Japanese criminal-justice system.”

Fiction

  • Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson.  The Economist calls it a “dense, mesmerising novella about a labourer in the American West … ” (Wonder what that is:  a “labourer” in the American West.  Not a cowboy, not a ranch hand, not a homesteader.  A labourer.  Can’t wait to read the book and find out)

Incidentally, all but three of the above books are published by Knopf (Two are published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, one by Penguin Press).  Self is suitably impressed.

Stay tuned.

In Anticipation of Charles Dickens’ 200th Birthday in Feb 2012

2012 will be a good year.  Charles Dickens is turning 200 in February 2012.  This self learns from reading The Economist of 1 October 2011.

The magazine reviews two Dickens biographies, as well as “an unauthorized autobiography” of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, an exposé by former Obama staffer Ron Suskind, and a new mystery by Robert Harris, The Fear Index.

But self means to focus on Dickens.

First, he was no different from you and self.  That is, he lived in an age when “writing was hardly a proper job.”  More plausible alternatives:  “legal clerk” “courtroom and parliamentary shorthand reporter,” journalist.  The author of Becoming Dickens:  The Invention of a Novelist maintains that “the question of alternatives, of the road not taken, fascinated Dickens.”  At 20, Dickens “had been on the point of auditioning as an actor.”  A stint in a “blacking factory” changed his life:  “It opened the crack in his imagination through which he saw, a hair’s breadth away, a whole world of other sorts of life . . . ”

The other biography is written by Claire Tomalin.  Stop right there!  Even without reading a further word of this review, self knows she will read Tomalin’s Charles Dickens:  A Life.  It all began with Tomalin’s biography of Samuel Pepys (Samuel Pepys:  The Unequalled Self —  which, by the way, gave self the first idea of writing this blog, as self!), which self took along with her on a flight from San Francisco to Berlin.  She was five days in Berlin, in a hotel right next to a river  (Self will never forget that barges tied up right next to the hotel, and people could take one to get to a museum.  She thinks she can recall a destination called  Museum Island)  It was her first time in Berlin, but she simply could not put Tomalin’s book down.  It was super-thick, and everyone on the plane (both going and returning) who was close enough to self to notice how intently she was reading ended up initiating conversation.  Which was extremely fortuitous, especially on the flight to Berlin, because her seatmate was a young architect who told her she simply must try a Turkish meal at Oranienstrasse.

Back to Dickens!

Here’s what The Economist has to say about Tomalin’s Charles Dickens:  A Life:

She tells a story.  Clear-eyed, sympathetic and scholarly, she spreads the whole canvas, alive with incident and detail, with places and people.  She writes of publishers, illustrators, collaborators and all Dickens’s intersecting circle of friends and family.

And there’s more:

. . .  almost nothing can be said of Dickens of which the opposite was not also true.  Dickens’ own daughter Katey, who “loved him immeasurably,” still described him as “a wicked man.”  She was thinking of her mother Catherine, so passive, so overlooked and so constantly pregnant (they had ten children).

Which bears out self’s opinion that when writers are really, really good, it’s damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.  They sacrifice everything —  yes, even family, even friendship —  in service to their muse, their belief in themselves is so uncanny and so unshakable.

Stay tuned.

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Food For Fines

Self was in the downtown Redwood City Library today.  She received e-mail notification that a book she’d requested was available for pick-up.  And self drove there all agog.  And found that the copy was in Spanish.  And why should that be when she requested the English translation?  It took library staff almost 15 minutes to clear her hold fee and figure out how to specifically request an English translation.

Another complication was that the book self had in her hand, the one in Spanish, had title Sefarad.  While the English versions were called Sepharad.  And self had the devil of a time explaining that these were one and the same book.

Anyhoo, the requested item might not arrive before self leaves for the Philippines (There are only four copies in the entire Peninsula Library system, and none of the copies are in adjoining cities)  Self might have to begin the process all over again after she gets back, boo.

But it’s not as if self doesn’t have enough to read, OMG.  Orlando Figes’ Natasha’s Dance alone, which is one of the books self is thinking of stuffing into her suitcase, is 600 pages.  (Self, shouldn’t you give your arms a break?  You’ve been lugging around that hardcover copy of Dickens’ Bleak House for over a week now!  If you tote that around Manila, Dearest Mum will surely think you are nuts!)

So here’s a flier self started perusing while standing around in the lobby, waiting for her hold to be cleared:

CLEAR LIBRARY FINES WHILE PROVIDING FOOD TO THOSE IN NEED

From Nov. 15th through December 30, bring non-perishable food items to one of the participating libraries (Atherton, Belmont, Brisbane, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Half Moon Bay, Millbrae, Pacifica Sanchez, Pacifica Sharp Park, Portola Valley, San Carlos and Woodside) and your library fines will be waived.  You’ll be providing food to those in need, too!

Food must be in store-sealed cans, boxes, or plastic containers within its expiration date.  No glass containers, perishable food or opened containers.

Valid only for library material from Redwood City Public Library and San Mateo County Public Library.  Not valid for lost or damaged items, collection or printing fees.

The Day After the Mother of All Rejections: “This Is It” (Possibly the Best Concert Dance/Movie EVER Made!)

Today, self received calls from her regular masseuse (one of self’s indulgences is a really good massage, every two or three months) and from the nice Filipina who gives her manicures (another indulgence)  Wow!  Could they somehow have sensed self’s despondency?  Her aura must be very strong right now.

Self also went to the Redwood City Main Library and checked out Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (No copies in the regular fiction section; she had to go upstairs, to the Young Adult section).  She hasn’t read a Dickens novel in aaaages, perhaps not since she brought Bleak House to Stanford Hospital, when she went into labor with son.  The book was so ponderous that the nurses would get very impatient every time they had to move it out of the way to deliver self her food tray.  And they warned her explicitly not to even try lifting it, as her stitches (Self had a C-section) might pop out.  Self distinctly remembers Mrs. King visiting her in the hospital and inquiring what she was reading.  When self told her, Mrs. King exclaimed, “Why are you reading that depressing book when you have just given birth to your first child?” Alas, self could not come up with a satisfactory answer.

Anyhoo, self was in the mood for some Dickens again.  Hence, Great Expectations.

She finished the Nemirovsky at 4 in the morning, then slept for four hours.  My God, that book had her so moved, she cried.  Especially when she got to the notes Nemirovsky had written about how she planned to continue the book.  Time ran out for the author, however:  she was picked up by the Gestapo in July 1942, and a month later she was dead, gassed in Auschwitz.  In the meanwile, her devoted husband kept writing ever more desperate letters, trying to find her, until he himself was picked up and disappeared into the camps.  Thank God, their two daughters were saved by a loyal friend, who raised them.

Today, self felt she needed to treat herself to something nice, so she went and saw the early show of “This Is It,” Kenny Ortega’s Michael Jackson movie.  Self happened to be in New York, in the East Village, on the day MJ died, last June.  She was on her way to a reading by Fiona Maazel and Wells Tower.  She was with Drew, who had tickets to Michael Jackson’s London concert.  Suddenly, Drew’s cell rang, he picked it up, and then exclaimed, “Michael Jackson died!”  And self did not believe it.  Not until they passed a group of young tweens who had begun to chant, “Michael Jackson’s dead!  Michael Jackson’s dead!  He flat-lined!  They couldn’t revive him!”  Ghoulish, they were smiling, so exhilarated at being the first to shout out the news.  And then everyone else on the sidewalk at that moment began to cry and talk at once:  “Michael Jackson’s dead?  No, that can’t be!”  And Drew said the tickets to his London concert were a thousand dollars a-piece.

So there was self, in New York, and Michael Jackson had died.  And she never felt that bad about it, until the day she went to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy, and just as she had parked her car (She had by then returned to California), “Man in the Mirror” came on the radio.  And, self has posted about her reaction:  she rested her head on the steering wheel and suddenly began to cry.

So, anyway, here is self in the Century 20, surrounded by about 30 other people (all white —  interesting!).  The movie begins with interviews with the dancers.  And they are all so overwhelmed by the experience of having been chosen to be on a show with Michael, that most of them are crying (and these interviews were presumably filmed even before MJ died).  One dancer said, “I’m Australian, and I heard about the auditions two days ago, and I took the first plane here.”

Then, a shot of the chorus line, and the producers culling their choices.  There is a blonde woman in the line-up, who the producers seem to be paying particular attention to.  “That’s the one,” they say, though it’s not really clear who they are referring to.  Only later do you see this blonde young woman, and she is a demon on the electric guitar.  Her name is Orianthi Panagaris.  And she will be a star.  In fact, Michael tells her this in so many words, during the film.  “This is your moment, this is your moment,” he keeps telling her.  Their scenes together are very moving.

And then, the dancers.  My God, they just danced their heart out.  There were about 11 male dancers.  In the movie, they are mostly in sweaty dance clothes, but the scenes are intercut with scenes from the dress rehearsal, and when the special effects come together it is fantastic!   People next to self were tapping their feet to songs like “Thriller,” “Billi Jean,” “This Is It.”

By the time they got to the very last song, “Man in the Mirror,” self and everyone else in her row were sniffling, blowing their noses, what-have-you.

So now, self has another movie to add to her “Ten Best” list.  It now looks like this:

  1. Der Baader Meinhof Complex
  2. District 9
  3. Inglourious Basterds
  4. Moon
  5. Star Trek
  6. The Hurt Locker
  7. The Time Traveler’s Wife
  8. This Is It
  9. Zombieland

Self realizes that’s only 9 movies, not 10.  She fully anticipates rounding off the list, however, in the next month or so (Though she can tell dear blog readers right now:  She doesn’t think it will be “Avatar.”)

Stay tuned.

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