Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Random Women Authors

The last eight books I've read were by women. I think I'm doing well. I wish I could go on a women-only binge lasting months but I've got Ray Oldenberg's The Great Good Place checked out from work and I want to get to that next. I'm pretty excited about it. I checked out Watch This Space!: Designing, Defending and Sharing Public Spaces byHadley Dyer and Marc Ngui last year before giving it to my little cousin and Mr. Oldenburg was quoted succinctly: “The adolescent houseguest, I would suggest, is probably the best and quickest test of the vitality of the neighborhood; the visiting teenager in the subdivision soon acts like an animal in a cage. He or she paces, looks unhappy or uncomfortable, and by the second day is putting heavy pressure on the parents to leave. There is no place to which they can escape and join their own kind. There is nothing for them to do on their own.” Even though my little cousin hasn't read Watch This Space!, because she never reads anything I give her, I'm glad she has it because it's an insightful book on the importance of public spaces and it's loaded with bullet-pointed, thought-provoking propositions and infographics, so she she could read it of she felt like it, dyslexic though she is. The Great Good Place is the grown-up version.

Women I've been reading:

I finally finished Robin McKinley's Sunshine and I know safely that I am a person apart because I didn't like it much. I started reading it in October while I was cat sitting for my friend Missie, who loves Robin McKinley and owns all her books. I had to choose between Sunshine and Deerskin, and then I had to choose between the shiny paperback and the ARC, because Missie owns both. I was expecting a rollicking adventure a la Buffy and Spike's relationship, but nothing happens in Sunshine. Three suspenseful days chained to a wall with a vampire an arm's length away, and then Sunshine, or Rae, describes her baking skills full on. Over and over again.  She makes cinnamon rolls.  She drinks tea with her downstairs neighbor, she goes to a used book sale, she surfs the internet. Nothing happens again until halfway through the final battle when she starts killing tens of vampires with no skills or weapons.

Then there are the books I mentioned two blogs ago: Sofia Petrovna, The Wicked and The Just, Dear Enemy and the Kid Table.

I really liked the Kid Table. I liked The Wicked and the Just as well. Both teen books, both teen girls with family conflicts, both trying to find a place in the world, and both bitches. Cecily was a major, hands-down, fully-lacking-in-self-awareness bitch. Ingrid was trying not to be a bitch, but she was a manipulator by nature and she used it. Interesting store. Ingrid's cousin, the newly minted psych major, announced, at a family party, that Ingrid was a psychopath. The psych major's boyfriend, the ubiquitous teen book boyfriend, tousled hair and eye contact, secretly loved Ingrid. They bumped into each other over a year of family gatherings. They flirted. Nothing could happen.  Because Ingrid was not a psychopath.  Or was she?

Cecily was not a psychopath, just a person who believed in the class system. She had eye contact with the wrong boy too, but she needed a husband to have a career as a wife, because that's what you did in the Middle Ages. Up until electricity was invented you really needed an extra woman or two in the household to manage getting enough cooked food on the table and not let the mice take over. Cecily's father moved them to Caernavon in Wales to get a burgage, and the house they moved into came with a sullen, skinny Welsh serving maid. Cecily threw a six month long temper tantrum. She was leaving all the potential husbands behind in England and moving to the back of beyond. England had recently conquered Wales, and they needed English folk to build a walled city and sit around inside it eating better mutton than the locals. Then the crops failed and Cecily was reduced to eating porridge. In The Kid Table, Ingrid was forced to sit at the kid table and eat macaroni and cheese. Both were worthy books. Both had less than satisfying endings. Both read slowly. End of comparison. I just want to say: thank you, The Kid Table and its author, for writing a book about family gatherings that isn't weird or negative. I have an extended family and so does almost everybody I know, but if you watch TV or movies or read anything, you would not know that American adults ever spoke to their siblings. Think about all the Christmas episodes of the TV shows you like and how Christmas dinner is attended by the television family and nobody else at all. How boring would that be in real life? It's nice to read a whole book about family gatherings that are not too exciting but kinda fun, because you get to see your cousins, which is cool because your cousins are nice people who are related to you.

Today I went on a four mile walk with my iPod and listened to The Indiscreet Letter by Eleanor Hallowell Abbott. I was pretty excited because an !indiscreet letter!, that could be risque. You could end up dropping your handkerchief and a gentleman who has not yet been introduced to you could pick it up, if you go down the path that indiscreet letters take you. It was an unusual book. Less plot-driven than anything that would ever be published nowadays, and I'm not sure if that's a bad thing. On the tip-top of the plotless book, you get Jean Webster or Dostoevsky's Poor Folk. There is a beauty to thoughtful, descriptive prose that captures peoples feelings and types, that speaks to universal truths and makes you look at another person with a new eye. And then there's the author who can't quite capture human emotion, and uses adjectives weirdly, and makes you wonder if she's Canadian or something. “More than being absurdly blond and absurdly messy, the Young Electrician had one of those extraordinarily sweet, extraordinarily vital, strangely mysterious, utterly unexplainable masculine faces that fill your senses with an odd, impersonal disquietude, an itching unrest, like the hazy, teasing reminder of some previous existence in a prehistoric cave, or, more tormenting still, with the tingling, psychic prophecy of some amazing emotional experience yet to come.” I don't know what she means. Maybe I have not led a life charmed enough to encounter one of these people, maybe this was a common emotion in 1915, this masculine face that fills you with impersonal disquietude while being extraordinarily vital. If anyone has had this experience, please comment and tell me what happened and why that sentence speaks to the depths of your soul. The Young Electrician doesn't do much in the novel. At one point a small child falls asleep on his lap and he tenderly unbuttons its collar. Then the train stops to shovel on more coal and the Young Electrician picks the child up and carries him outside. When the Young Electrician walked off the train holding the toddler, I thought he might be kidnapping it and that would be the plot of the book, but they just went outside to play in the snow for a bit. What a nice world it must have been when a strange man could carry off your child and you would assume that he'd be back again in a few minutes.

The Young Electrician might have been an archetype, but he wasn't. He did not fall in love with Miss Indiscreet Letter. He had six children at home and supported them on his electrician's salary. Also, fun fact: they had braces in 1915! The traveling salesman mentioned how much it cost to have his brother's child's teeth straightened and the Young Electrician said, “Oh no! $65!” The bulk of The Indiscreet Letter was spent by the traveling salesman telling the Young Electrician and the young aristocratic woman (and indiscreet letter writer) about what a great wife he had. And she did sound great. Then the aristocratic young woman 'fessed up and said she had written an indiscreet letter. A year ago to the day, she was in a horrible train crash where everyone in front of her died and she spent some hours pinned beneath steel and cushions that smelled like the general public had been sitting on them, and she cried. Then the voice of another crash victim, a man's voice, of course, said, “What in creation are you crying about?” She said “I don't think I'm hurt, but I don't like having all these seats and windows piled on top of me,” which seems like a logical and a sufficient reason to cry or pass out, but the man's voice said, “Don't cry,” and he let her hold his hand even though his wrist was broken and told her his name and address and bank account numbers and described all his relatives and told her his deepest darkest secrets to pass the time until the rescue team got to them and she was whisked off to the hospital before she could thank him. She, being rich, went to Tehran to sip cool drinks on a balcony and forget about the horrible wreck, but she couldn't forget that man, so she wrote him an Indiscreet Letter asking him to meet her at the train station in Boston on the anniversary of the train wreck. The traveling salesman and the Young Electrician seemed to think that was a reasonable indiscretion, and so do I.  

1 comment:

  1. The beauty of Sunshine is not what happens, but how it happens. Ashley didn't like it either, but she didn't finish it.