Wednesday Backreading: The Haunted Room, Essay by Carole de Santi (Women’s Review of Books, vol. 26)

  • “Give her another hundred years . . . a room of her own and five hundred a year,” wrote Virginia Woolf in 1929, of the woman novelist. “Let her speak her mind . . . and she will write a better book one of these days . . .” — Virginia Woolf, A Room of Her Own

  • Woolf “knew very well that creative and intellectual freedom depend on material resources, and that women have always been poor . . . Despite bestseller rankings and lifestyle features, big advances, and superstardom, many women writers seem to be living hardscrabble creative lives. Even those whose ‘rooms’ are more like palaces are nailing down the floorboards, putting buckets under leaky roofs, and wondering how to keep the lights on, particularly those of the incandescent mind.” — Carole DeSanti, The Haunted Room

Two More for the Reading List

Self just finished reading the Women’s Review of Books *(Vol. 30, No. 5: Sept/Oct 2013). Sigh. She is just so way behind in her catch-up reading of magazines and journals. Thank goodness she’s having a very quiet Christmas.

Here are two books she discovered from WRB:

  • My Beloved World, a memoir by Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court Justice (Knopf, $27.95)
  • Trauma and Recovery, by Judith Herman

More books will probably be added to the list as self continues her inroads into the Humongous Pile of Stuff

Stay tuned.

Further Adventures in Ireland (County Cork)

It turns out most of the stuff self heard about the Irish are not true.

For one thing, the Irish are really direct.  They don’t mince words.  If they don’t like you, you’ll know it.  In about two minutes.

This is a good thing.  Because, after all, who has the time?  Why tie oneself up into knots trying to figure out this or that or the other thing?  If self wants a wake-up call, she’ll go straight to Ireland.

But when an Irish person smiles at you, it’s like the sun!  Self is NOT KIDDING!  It’s better than when a Californian smiles at you because it’s not a politeness thing, it’s a sincerity thing!

Self is also really grateful that she did not push through with her decision to cancel her subscription to Condé Nast Traveler. 

In her periodic attempts to simplify her life, self tries to get a grip on all her magazine subscriptions.

She must have at least 20.

The one big thing she decided to cancel this year was The New York Times Book Review, which she’d been subscribing to for at least 20 years.  That subscription was over $100, who wants to keep subscribing to a thing one has barely enough time to read?

She wavered quite a while over Condé Nast Traveler.  She is impatient with the articles that seem geared exclusively towards possessors of the Gold American Express card.  But, in contrast to the NYTBR, the cost of a year’s subscription to Conde Nast Traveler is only $12.  That’s $1 per month.  Even though self barely had time to read it, especially in the past year, she did stumble upon an article about “Hidden Gems,” one of which was Ballyvolane House in County Cork, Ireland.  Where self is spending tonight and tomorrow night.

The minute she walked in the door of the house (built in 1728, originally Georgian style but now Italianate — don’t ask self to explain, she’s reading this from a book she found in her room), she felt she’d landed in the middle of a Merchant & Ivory movie.  No, it was better than a Merchant & Ivory movie.  Because she was in it.

Ease:  Self's bed in Ballyvolane House, County Cork, Ireland

Ease: Self’s bed in Ballyvolane House, County Cork, Ireland

She arrived back in Dublin last night.  Thank God her Aer Lingus flight was uneventful.  Dublin was pouring rain.  She made it by bus to O’Connell Street, but there were no taxis.  She got to Inchicore drenched to the skin, an hour before dark.  She stumbled out for Chinese take-out, then lugged everything on the train for Cork (from Heuston Station) this morning.  But — heavens to mergatroid — self is getting good at this!  Not even man-handling two full-to-the-brim rollies and a purse and a laptop threw her the slightest bit off-schedule. Not the slightest bit.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.


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.

Women’s Review of Books, vol. 51 No. 1 (January/February 2014)

Self really loves the Women’s Review of Books.  She devours each issue passionately.

The latest one to arrive in her mailbox is vol. 51 No. 1.

Here are a sampling of the books reviewed:

  • Book of Ages:  The Life and Chronicles of Jane Franklin, by Jill Lepore:  Reviewer Martha Saxton describes it as “original, affectionate, and smart.”
  • The Riddle of the Labyrinth:  The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, by Margalit Fox, a book “about the writing on tablets unearthed in Knossos, Crete, in the first years of the twentieth century and about the crucial contribution of Alice Elizabeth Kober, a classics professor at Brooklyn College, to their eventual decipherment decades later.”  The review is by Susanna J. Sturgis.
  • The review by Mako Yoshikawa of two new collections of linked stories: Horse People, by Cary Holladay and The News From Spain:  Variations on a Love Story, by Joan Wickersham.  Yoshikawa describes Horse People as “beautiful” and “engrossing,” and calls The News from Spain “wise and wonderful.”
  • The Girl Who Loved Camellias:  The Life and Legend of Marie Duplessis, by Julie Kavanagh, is about the life of “the Parisian courtesan” who fled “poverty, abuse, and the depredations of old men” and whose genius lay in always presenting “the beautiful appearance, the polished surface, the opera box, the pink champagne, the fine sensibilities and insatiable appetites.” The review is by Carole DeSanti.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Women’s Review of Books, July/August 2013

Below, a sampling of the more interesting reviews from the most recent issue of the Women’s Review of Books:

  • “Wages for Housework,” a review of Sex, Race and Class:  The Perspective of Winning:  A Selection of Writings, 1952 – 2011 by Selma James — The review was written by Kate Weigand.  It made self want to read these two other feminist books:  The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan and A Woman’s Place, a “chronological collection of James’s writings.”
  • “Pursued By Hounds,” a review of Marmee & Louisa:  The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother, by Eve LaPlante —  The review was written by Martha Saxton.  Based on newly discovered material, the book “fills out the poignant and sometimes distressing story of the powerful love, mutual dependency, identification, and shared disappointments that united mother and daughter during the family’s most difficult years of poverty and turbulence and indeed throughout their lives.”
  • “Passionate Strangers,” a review of three new novels by women:  Homesick, by Roshu Fernando, The Third Son, by Julie Wu, and The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen.  —  The review was written by Women’s Review of Books regular contributor Trish Crapo.  Fernando’s book chronicles the lives of Sri Lankan immigrants in London, “at the cusp of the year 1983,” Wu’s is about a young boy victimized and chastised by his own family, and Jakobsen’s is about a father and daughter who live on a tiny island whose only other inhabitants are a priest called “Priest” and a magician called “Boxman.”
  • “Writing and Remembering,” a review of The Generation of Post Memory:  Writing and Visual Culture After the Holocaust — The review was written by Rochelle Ruthchild.  The book’s author, Marianne Hirsch, the William Peterfield Trent Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, “seeks to reconceptualize the field of memory studies.  She distinguishes between history and memory” and argues that “the presence of embodied and affective experience in the process of transmission . . . is best described by the notion of memory as opposed to history.”
  • “The Chick Slicks,” a review of Jennifer Nelson’s Airbrushed Nation:  The Lure and Loathing of Women’s Magazines —  The review was written by Andi Zeisler, who says the book’s subtitle (“lure and loathing”) “perfectly sums up the perfumed cloud of feeling that overtakes me at an airport newsstand when I’m trying to choose between Vogue and Marie Claire, only to curse myself as I buy both.”

Kelly Cherry, Poet Laureate of Virginia (2010 – 2012)

The Very Many Shoes of Imelda Marcos

(published in the Women’s Review of Books, July/August 2013)

Serial shoe shopper Imelda Marcos
Displayed her finds in a room dedicated
To that purpose. There were hundreds of pairs,
In every color and combination of colors,
With or without sequins, bows, and straps.
A woman couldn’t help but covet them
Despite discomfort with her better self:
Stilettos, espadrilles, platforms, and pumps;
Wedges, Mary Janes, and kitten heels,
Open-toe, slingbacks, slides, and stacked heels,
Ghillies, jellies, flip-flops, and chunky heels,
Ballet shoes, sandals, flats, and boots,
Rattlesnake, satin, silk, and doubtless a
Glass slipper and its perfect, mated match.
Meanwhile, orphaned Filipino children
Scratched through city dumps, rooting for food.
Seldom is the line between good and evil
As clear as it was when I toured Imelda’s shoes.

Self never thought of Imelda as the type to wear flip-flops.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Reading the WOMEN’S REVIEW OF BOOKS (May/June 2012 Issue)

When Louise-Antoine de Bougainville set out in 1766 to circumnavigate the globe on behalf of the French crown in the coupled interests of knowledge and empire, his expedition included the necessary contingent of cartographers and doctors, an astronomer, a naturalist, and a crew of 330 officers and men —  one of whom was revealed in the course of the voyage to be a young woman in sailor’s clothing.  Jeanne — who was known on board as “Jean” —  Baret, valet and botanist-assistant to the celebrated naturalist Philibert Commerson, was not known at journey’s start to be his lover.  She was in fact not only his lover and companion but also, we discover, the mother of a son born to them and left at the Paris foundling hospital the previous year, and his teacher in all manner of herbal wisdom.

*     *     *     *

Ridley is not the first to recognize Baret’s achievements and to expose her cross-dressing.  In fact, Bougainville’s voyage is documented by eight surviving original accounts, four of which speak of Jeanne Baret in some (sometimes conflicting) detail, including the commander’s log (published in 1771) and the naturalist’s journal.

—  from Janet Beizer’s review of Glynis Ridley’s The Discovery of Jeanne Baret:  A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe (New York:  Crown Publishers, 2010) in the Women’s Review of Books, Vol. 29, No. 3 (May/June 2012)

The same issue of the Women’s Review has a fascinating review by Candace Howes of three new books about care workers.  Howes writes:

. . .  as women entered the workforce in large numbers during the twentieth century, they “outsourced” their unpaid domestic labor, substituting for it commodities like washers, dryers, precooked food, and paid labor.  Middle-class white women hired mainly foreign-born and native-born women of color to care for their children and aging parents, enabling them to work outside the home while minimizing domestic conflict —  giving rise to the notion that “serfdom saved the women’s movement.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Women’s Review of Books, vol. 29, no. 2: March/April 2012

When self settles down to start reading an issue of the Women’s Review of Books, she doesn’t just read:  she luxuriates.

Here are a few reasons why:

“Poverty, Gospel, Revolution,” a review by Martha Gies of The Journey of a Tzotzil-Maya Woman of Chiapas, Mexico:  Pass Well Over the Earth (University of Texas Press) by Christine Eber and “Antonia”

As a doctoral candidate in 1985, “Christine Eber made the first of a half dozen trips to Chiapas, Mexico to do fieldwork on her dissertation on the use of alcohol by Tzotzil Maya women . . .  When tourists went, it was to contemplate the glories of postclassical Maya architecture at Palenque’s well-manicured grounds or to brave the Lacandon rainforest’s steaming heat and buzzing insects for a glimpse of mysteriously beautiful archaeological sites of Yaxchilan or Bonampak.”  (Because self has read Rosario Castellanos, she knows the anguish of Chiapas.  Seven years after her first visit to Chiapas, Christine Eber interviews “Antonia,” one of the Tzotzil women she has befriended.  This book is Antonia’s story)

“The Index of the Mind,” a review by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell of The Politics of Fashion in Eighteenth-Century America, by Kate Haulman (University of North Carolina Press)

The review begins:  “In eighteenth-century America, where not even the elite had extensive wardrobes, fashion choices were profoundly significant.”  How could one fail to be engaged?

“Real Books,” a review by Trish Crapo of Adios, Happy Homeland!, the new story collection by Ana Menendez (Black Cat), Greasewood Creek, by Pamela Steele (Counterpoint), and Birds of Paradise, by Diana Abu-Jaber (Norton)

Never mind what the reviewer writes about these three books:  suffice it to say, they are all lovely and well worth the purchase price!

There’s also a poem on p. 16, about living “In a House with Two Doors,” (by Sheila Squillante), and just reading the title gets self widely excited because — wouldn’t you know? —  Self lives in a house with two doors!

Here’s how the poem begins:

It’s always cold in a house with two doors.
The wind will sneak into a house
like that, cavorting like a bad-mannered
guest; long-drawn and drunk, nosing through
medicine cabinets, upstairs bedroom drawers.

In a house with two doors, take care
when you answer the bell. At the front
will be cookies for sale, floral deliveries,
and the quick blue smirk of the postman.
It’s fine to answer these bells in your bathrobe;
your neighbors won’t mind . . .

Self would strongly urge dear blog readers to purchase the Women’s Review of Books, March/April 2012 issue, to read the rest of this wonderful piece!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Thoughts About Bagels

The husband works for a medical company in Pleasanton.  (Lucky to have a job!  Especially in this economy!  Self just heard over the news that Hewlett Packard is laying off 27,000!).  Every couple of weeks, it falls to him to bring do-nuts or bagels to the office.  Today, he brought bagels.

Here were a couple of things that self found interesting about that:

  • A few weeks earlier, The Economist ran an obituary of “Bagel King” Murray Lender.
  • Self discovered that Noah’s Bagels opens at 5 a.m.  The only reason she knows this is:  that was how early the husband went over to get his order.
  • Self also never knew that a big order gets packaged like this (Reminds her of a Chinese take-out carton, only 10x bigger.  And with brown cardboard instead of white.)

Leftover bagels on the kitchen counter, next to an open copy of the Women’s Review of Books. Self was just reading a review of Arundhati Roy’s new book, Walking with the Comrades. The review is by Kerryn Higgs. Since winning the Booker for her novel, The God of Small Things, Roy has confined herself to writing only nonfiction.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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