The Bronte Sisters and the Usual Suspects

Okay, so it was only supposed to be every other week, not a whole month between posts.  In my defense I have been reading relevant to my novel, so it was still noveling that got in the way of the posts, even though it was the reading part of noveling.

So I am drinking a beer during Independence Day after talking my husband into taking us to the beach first thing in this heat wave, before the beach turned into the inevitable crap show and we went home to sit in front of movies and AC.  Holidays are for breaking a long silence on my blog, yes?

Oh, and Happy Birthday to America, of course.  I found sparklers this year which I haven’t gotten to use in YEARS.  My beach going, treats eating, movie watching sadly deprived son will get to see the magic tonight.  Because I like having a little magic in my son’s childhood.  I enjoy adulthood but even I can’t say it isn’t a bit anti-climatic at times.

I thought the book I was reading for this post was a re-telling of Jane Eyre.  I decided to commit to it anyway after I discovered that it wasn’t exactly a re-telling, to go with my theme. It’s not even a BookRiot category.  Seriously, I am a mess this summer.  But since I have read Wide Sargasso Sea, which I loved, I am not sure any other Jane Eyre re-telling would get a fair shake compared to that.    I also read and reviewed Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye, which is somewhat of a re-telling, and I thought that was hilarious. I have the newest Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker, but I thought of that too late.

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The Madwoman Upstairs, Catherine Lowell

Like I said, this is not a Bertha Rochester special, although she does get some time in the narrative.  But so does Agnes Grey, Helen Graham, Heathcliff, Cathy, Jane and Mr. Rochester.  This is about a young scholar trying to find her eccentric father’s inheritance through their shared relation to, and study of, the Bronte sisters and their works.  She is an American at Oxford and is studying one on one with a professor.

I have read all the Bronte novels save for Shirley and The Professor, which didn’t feature as much in this book, thankfully, as the other ones I read. I was going to do a Bronte blog entry once I get through those last two gems of Charlotte’s, and I still will, but I was glad I went into this having read as much Bronte as I had.  This one started off slow, and without the context of what I had already read, I might not have continued with it.  There is a lot of academic banter, and remembering that time in my life I could relate to it, but aiming the book toward someone who has been an academic as well as some familiarity with Bronte novels would limit the audience to whom it would appeal.

Once it did pick up into the meat of the mystery and the narrative, I did enjoy it, even though it was talking about Anne’s novels not being the best ones, when I might like Anne the best because shallowly I like her endings.  Charlotte’s Villette and Jane Eyre end entirely in an unsatisfying manner, which may be why I have not tackled her last two, despite having them even on audio. I worry I will press through them just to take issue with how it all ended up.  As much as I enjoyed Jane Eyre I didn’t like that she only truly captured Rochester after he was damaged goods.

I liked the way this one ended and I am surprised that I liked it, because usually I don’t go for that sort of thing.  I can’t say what it was in case a fellow reader decently versed in Bronte and doesn’t mind literary criticism talk reads this post and wants to check out the book for herself.  Other strong points were the description and the language, beautiful and poetic metaphors, and the sarcastic tone.  The audio narrator captured this sarcastic tone well and the tone was fitting the point of view character, a young academic who wasn’t so young as to have evaded enough sadness and disappointment to be a little cynical herself.  I liked also that it was not just about the Bronte novels but who the sisters were behind them and what ‘madness’ really meant in their context and is not quite the ‘madness’ that I have known in my professional life.

I don’t mind being part of a niche.  I would like to think I don’t love white people problems the most as a book topic, but I do.  I am looking forward to reading more literature with nonwhite or nonwestern characters, I really am, but I can get sucked right into the problems of the privileged.  Not super super privileged, as I lose patience with those people and saccharine plot lines fast, but women who are able to get educations and have careers are my jam.

I can’t tell you where this blog will go next, if I am going to do something like re-read Jasper Fforde’s Eyre Affair, which might be completely different now that I have read many of the novels that it references and I hadn’t back in 2007 flying across the country alone, or go for another re-telling, or go back to Book Riot, or take my readers on a tour of the most epic she-shed of she-sheds, which is nearing completion in my yard. I am into another round of revisions after meeting with my excellent instructor and I have started to read more Anthony Doerr to punch up my poetic language, but I don’t know if that goes with my current blog-tastic themes.  But it’s better than not posting at all.  Reader, you will have to stay tuned.

Comments/likes/shares are always a thing!

 

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Re-tellings continued: Austen Project #3

I can hardly believe that I have arrived at the end of my son’s kindergarten year.  It felt like eons before he could even enroll in public school, even though I did so as soon as he was old enough, on the cusp of turning five with some behaviors that were equally on the cusp.  I had a few weeks of concern over his adjustment, but then, after he turned five, he was magically fine.  Something clicked.

My son appears to experience distinct leaps in growth.  The first one involved two night terrors a night apart, after which he emerged sleeping through the night, walking, and never having another night terror at fifteen months.  Every August I feel that he has turned the next age in his maturity, when his birthday hovers around Halloween.   Facebook reminds me every year with bringing back posts on different years where I captioned, “a lot of growth this month!”

And now here he is with a kindergarten musical this upcoming Friday and here I am talking about the Jane Austen re-telling that I feel is the most about growing up than all her major novels…

 

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Emma (The Austen Project #3), Alexander McCall Smith

I really liked this one. Emma might be my favorite Austen novel now.  I loved Pride and Prejudice first, once I had gotten enough understanding of the plot. At the time in my life I fell in love with the story I was hoping for some secret rich guy to fall in love with me from the wings.  I needed it to happen back then before I met my husband when I was floundering around in relationships that were frustrating and confusing in the impecunious years of youth and school and very little stability.  Pemberley?  Just because I am my feisty self?  Whaa?  I watched my favorite Pride and Prejudice movie after I got married and it didn’t give me the same hope.  Because I didn’t need it anymore.  I had created my own stability.

Anyway.

The author beat me to the punch on this one with the age difference.  Mr. Knightley is is established early on as being already established in the world and a bachelor to boot, but he specifically discusses how a fourteen year age difference didn’t impede the couple’s growing regard.  He talks about how they care about each others opinions and slowly begin to find the other interesting. I think them ending up together was less of a surprise in this one than in the original.  Also, with my own writing instruction and my love of  and familiarity with this plot, which extends to the movie Clueless, I could easily spot the setup in the conversations Emma had with her governess that set up the growth that she was about to experience through her actions in the rest of the novel.   Maybe it isn’t that I am better at picking these things out, it might just be Smith’s artistry.  But I liked it.

This one felt truly modernized, not just the same plot with some cell phones, texting and social media tossed in there, like Sense and Sensibility felt like.  There was the classic useless parent, this time a father, who doesn’t move her growth along nearly as much as her governess.   I like that she makes the active choice to stop being idle and trying to arrange people’s lives from her pedestal and learns that truly helping others more than just telling them what to do is the true fulfillment. This combined with having her own occupation and contribution also helped make it seem more modern to me.  Her contribution in the original one is just to get married, which a happy marriage is the highest they can aspire to back then, but with her choosing a real direction with her life was much more modern and satisfying.

So, Emma grows up, and my boy is at a milestone.

I don’t know where my next post is coming from. I need to re-read a classic for my novel and I have a BookRiot book post waiting for use, but neither of those go on my retelling streak and I have not completed all my books that are re-tellings of classics.  So, I am not sure.  And being that it is summer, I need to start posting every other week again, to give me time for other writing.

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Two Retakes on Sense and Sensibility

I think it is safe to mention at this point that my husband almost has my she-shed finished.  It will still be a few weeks before I am ready to post pics, as he wants to do more of a wrap around porch and more of the outdoor stuff, and he hasn’t finished the electrical and what he wants to do with the kitchen counter, but it is fixing to be magical.  I want to check out some antique stores to see if they have any metal chairs I might want for the kitchen around the table that can be out or in.  This will be the third summer and I will have my retreat and I will post on it and my heart will be joyful, so stay tuned.

Sense and Sensibility was a super early foray into the classics for me. It happened actually the summer after my first year in my doctorate, the same summer I read Jane Eyre.   I only read in grad school in earnest on winter and summer breaks, as the rest of the time I didn’t have the brain space for it.   And it usually wasn’t classics, it was Nero Wolfe novels, which were classics in themselves.

I liked classics and Nero novels at that time too because the emotional investment in them was low.  The characters and their situations were not so hand wringing-ly familiar.  I have noticed changes in my brain since I was in early adulthood, one of them being I don’t as often have such intense emotion, so it’s easier to widen my scope for reading as I am older, but in my early 20s, when everything seemed stressful and up in the air constantly, including a relationship that was on and off and completely unwieldy, I didn’t need some book playing with my emotions on top of it.  I didn’t need to step into another stressful world to get away from my own.   The only exception I remember making for this was when the Harry Potter books started coming out again.  I did read them when they were fresh.

I’m still like this with TV but that’s another post on another blog far, far away.

But, Sense and Sensibility.  Read too long ago and didn’t particularly move me.   So I was looking forward to the two re-tellings I review today and as any decent re-telling it helped me with a newer and more decent appreciation of this one.

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Sense and Sensibility (Austen Project #1), Joanna Trollope

I will repeat that I can appreciate the challenge of this project.  No one is asking me to rework a beloved Austen classic.

That said, my review of this was mixed.  If the goal was to hold pretty close to the original, I believe that this work does it.  Granted, the original was not refreshed in my mind like Northanger Abbey was first, but the ties to the original were pretty clear based on what I know of Austen novels, that I have read all her full works at least once.  Sisters, a useless mother, misfortune, lucky connections in love in the end.  I have noticed that many of Austen’s books feature useless mothers, but maybe this is just a plot device for them to stay out of the way of the true story between the sisters, who are always afforded significant freedom due to their mother’s uselessness.  Same with distracted parents in YA novels.

If the goal was to increase relatability, I think it still misses the mark.  There is social media added in, true, but there were still the holidays where girls stay with other family members in different places for weeks on end, something I don’t see in modern novels, something that I have not seen done in my regular (American, upstate New York middle class) life. Also there is that creepy age difference again, this one the most heinous yet with Colonel Brandon being 35 and Marianne not even be legal.  I don’t know why this age difference has to be preserved in these stories.  Admittedly, she doesn’t end up with him, there is no defined exclusive relationship with them at the end, but there is still a man in his mid thirties pining over a sixteen year old who, through most of the novel, has made a total idiot of herself over her first love. Why that is appealing to a man nearly old enough to be her father who should have even less patience for her naivete due this experiences serving overseas I know not.  She is arrestingly beautiful and that’s fine, but a man falling in love with a woman mostly due to her beauty has an unappealing immaturity himself.  It’s not heroic and romantic, it’s weird and infantile and depressing.

I liked how the women all grow and change in this book, and while they miss their old home, their idleness there and lack of responsibility seemed to arrest all of their developments and they get back on track with the challenges they face in finally finding their own way.  The mother even reduces her uselessness.  I don’t know what she does all day with no job and without really parenting her children, but even she stops making Elinor deal with things all the time that she doesn’t want to deal with.  I might have to watch the movie of the original again.  I see there is a 2008 miniseries of the novel, the first three episodes free to Prime members.  Hm.  Looks like there is only one season though?

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Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood, Abby McDonald

BookRiot posted on retellings of Jane Austen novels, which were ferried into my wish list on Amazon to stalk prices and availability, and this was one of them.

This one might make true Austenites cringe, but it is much more relatable than the Austen Project version.  Considerably.  I think whether you like these depends on how much you need them to remain true to the original or how much you need the story to morph into a part of the modern world.  All stories have been told and retold to fit the times, and I like a story I can pick out despite it’s modern trappings.

I really liked this one.  It had the same elements, which were easy to recognize due to Trollope’s version, but done a different way:  the girls are mixed race, Dad abandoned them to an affair before he died and the new wife got the house.  Mom is an artist so she is doing something at least but consumed elsewhere.  Hallie (Marianne) is trying to make it in Hollywood, which is a flighty and ambitious goal, but their setting of L.A. doesn’t make it impossible, and the world of the rich is updated to really hit home the level of money and privilege in the world of these girls, as well as the ever changing social scene. The younger one is the more sensible one this time and working on finishing school and getting ready for college, pining quietly for her own love while her sister makes a world of dramatics over her breakup over a boy in a band who leaves her to make it big in New York.  Hallie does not have a life challenging condition like Marianne’s severe asthma to complicate things and increase the drama.  Hallie is pretty dramatic on her own.

Also, Colonel Brandon is in his early/mid 20s and he is into the 19 year old Hallie, much better, and his darkness from serving in the war creates a connection point between Hallie and him.  The attraction on his end still is a little immature, as there is still the whole dazzled by her beauty piece when she has barely seen the world and he has psychological implications from his service, but it is workable.  The relationship between the other sister and her guy is much less skeez in any version, and it was cute here.

But, as I said, considerably more relatable and readable.  I might have been more willing to tackle the original as a teenager if I had read this version when I was one.  I’m sure I have mentioned in the past that my first slog through Pride and Prejudice was the summer I turned fifteen and I read it but I could barely reach it and the implications.  I was completely turned off with no context to help me through it.

The summer of re-tellings continues!  And so does noveling!  I am doing some exercises this month to work on my pacing and reverberation.

I am considering again posting every other week over the summer, to make room for more creative writing in different veins.  I am back to training, which cuts my writing time, which requires some sacrifices if I am going to meet the goals I have for myself.

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Re-Tellings, Continued: The Austen Project #2

Happy Memorial Day weekend!  The unofficial kickoff to summer! The green of the brand new leaves in May is my absolute favorite green.  It’s invigorating to see it in all the trees.

And, because I am married to a vet I’m not losing sight of the reason for the season, which is to honor the fallen.

I usually spend Memorial Weekend with my parents because they are up for the summer, and I get another writing instruction session Monday morning because I have the time and its not actually a holiday in South Africa, where my writing instructor lives.  I need that time with her, as I hammered out a second draft in a month and there are lingering pot holes that I thought of after I emailed it to her and she said let her see what she can do.  Because writing instructors are wholly magic people!

This week’s classic retelling is not a book that needed any redemption.  Not only due to how I read it the first time, but it deserves mention: I have the Jane Austen omnibus from Barnes and Noble, back in the pre e-reader days when I was collecting classics and actually paying money for them.  The giant book with the tissue thin pages with the eensy print to fit it all on the pages.  I read this one on my loveseat on a second story glassed in porch during a rainy spring weekend and reveled in my solitude.  I was renting two rooms in a house in Poughkeepsie, I was in my graduate internship, I was not constantly hammering out graduate work nor tending to a long term relationship in my immediate space.  I just read a classic novel over the weekend, because I could.  It was the beginning of a glorious space in my life where my time was neither consumed with endless graduate work or the wonderful but endless responsibility of motherhood.  When I need time to myself I look wistfully back on that weekend as the paragon of what I once had. That and there was also a funny day trip to Ikea with my close friends where we spent hours in the store and were so tired when we were leaving that we laughed uncontrollably when we briefly lost the driving friend in the parking garage and couldn’t really understand why it was so funny.

But the book…well, I guess the book was good too.  *insert tongue in cheek here*

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Northanger Abbey, Val McDermid (The Austen Project #2)

Like I said when I reviewed Eligible, it is a tall order to ask established writers to go in for a Jane Austen retelling, and not only that, to make them more accessible to today’s teens.  The ratings suggest that this is another layer people just won’t go in for.  I can’t even find a suggestion of Persuasion or Mansfield Park even having authors chosen for them online, the last Austen Project updates I can find being for Eligible in 2014/2015.  There’s no hard evidence that the project has been canned, but I am losing optimism that it will be completed.

Also, I cheated a little and listened to the radio dramatization of the original first just to freshen up on major plot points. I remember the rain and the love seat and the paper thin pages and a couple of my beefs with the story but I felt I would do better with the retelling with a rehash first.

So, I liked this.  I liked that she is going to Scotland to be in the theater and social scene there.  It is more fun than the original.   I wanted to know how she was going to pull off the Gothic novel obsession in a modern context and I almost thought Catherine would be really into TV,  but I felt her choice of vampire novels and then comparing the Tilneys to Edward and his clan in Twilight (although she is never that explicit, I read Twilight to catch every reference) was a good one.  Especially since the few minutes of the movies that  I have been able to sit through have been kind of atmospheric in a Pacific Northwest kind of way which could be similar to Scotland’s, although I have been neither place.  Sadly.  So, well done.

(A brief sidebar:  Someone put the collection of the original Gothic novels mentioned in Northanger Abbey on Amazon, Northanger Horrid Novels, complete with Radcliffe.  I read The Mysteries of Udolpho because of this book and someday I will read the other Gothic novels in the collection.  You know how I love my Gothic reads)

I also liked that the reason Catherine gets randomly cast out makes more sense in the modern world and is more fitting to a teenager’s understanding. There are fortune hunting characters but we are not such in a fortune hunting world anymore.  Parents have considerations for their children that can extend past money and I am glad she did something else with that.

I wish that Catherine Morland had been made a little older, as seventeen was a respectable age to get a husband back in the day but now it’s just barely legal for consent (at least in NY) and the age difference between couples at this age needs to be smaller to not be creepy.  Like, who can’t love Henry Tilney, but I don’t know anyone who is getting started after law school that would develop more than friendship feelings for a 17 year old who really knows nothing of the world.  They would not have enough in common to really develop a relationship. We are no longer in that time period where being completely naive is an attractive quality in men looking for a life partner and an equal rather than a wife.  I know she has to be naive in the story to make it work, but there can be too much in order to make the couple seem implausible, which is what is happening here.  I guess maybe I also spend more time with 17 year olds than many other people.

But there was one change to the relationship that she made that I did like.  It still eludes me why Jane Austen saw fit in the original to comment that Henry only marries Catherine out of gratitude and because she loved him first.  I don’t know why they couldn’t just love each other.  I felt badly for Catherine in the end because she was being married somewhat against the Captain’s wishes and then only because her husband was grateful.  In this one they really do just love each other, even though I feel that she should have been made a little older to help.

Like I said, it is a tall order to work on the Austen Project and the more I read them the more this becomes apparent.  I can better respect the challenge that McDermid was up against.

So, I am reading more retellings, because I love them, mixed in with the BookRiot challenges.  Rolling into summer and seeing if I need to space out the posts like I did last summer because I am busier in the season I can actually go places.

And the second draft of my novel is done?  I started writing in late January.  I feel good about that, even if my brains are on the blink because I am making them do all the things.

Comments/likes/shares!!

 

Alice Hoffman Redeems a Classic

I think I might have posted on Wuthering Heights forever ago when I started this blog,  probably in my short guide to how to start reading the classics.  For anyone who has not memorized all of these posts, I recommended not to start with Wuthering Heights.

I don’t remember all the details of that post, but I do remember picking the book up in my second year of the foray into classical literature.  When I came back to reading but in full force, picking up the books that culture referenced over and over again.  I almost didn’t make it through the first 25-50 pages of this book because it was so depressing, and then it got less depressing, and then the characters were terribly abusive when I thought this was supposed to be some sort of love story and then I was disgusted, wondering why this was some sort of paragon of love.

Now I don’t think that it is held up as a great love story, but it is lots of drama and scandal written in a time that those things were secretly craved by readers (as opposed to openly craved now).

Regardless, I was like, “what the frig is this?” especially after having my first foray into the Brontes being Jane Eyre by Charlotte, which was also depressing and the love story is off and a little disturbing, but not to this degree.  As of this writing my favorite sister might be Anne.  But I haven’t read the rest of Charlotte’s stuff, which is a goal of mine.  Anyway.

An Oprah’s Book Club pick:

 

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Here on Earth, Alice Hoffman

I am assuming that BookRiot added an Oprah’s book club pick because she picks intense and eye opening novels, which BookRiot also challenges you to do.   Books that push you into other perspectives and hopefully a better understanding of them.  I have actually read a decent amount of her picks because my mother was into them for awhile, because she liked the hottest new read.

The fact that Here on Earth is a retelling of Wuthering Heights made me more likely to read it, not less.  I love Alice Hoffman.  I would love to be able to pull off her magical realism, her historical fiction, her characters, her productivity as a writer (although I know I couldn’t write like she does as well as have my job).

I wanted to know how Hoffman was going to pull of Heathcliff, in this book Hollis, a one name character while everyone else had two names anchored with family.  I wanted her to make him better but then I didn’t. I didn’t want her to write a character in a way to justify his crappy attitude and treatment of others.  She made his attachment issues and subsequent abusive thought processes crystal clear without asking the reader for sympathy.  You could understand his abuser’s mind from his long history of being the underdog, but you aren’t asked to forgive him.  Like everyone, we are all responsible for how we act when the past is over and we are in a position to make our own future.  Hollis/Heathcliff are deeply damaged and only try to help themselves by controlling more and more of the outside world, which does nothing to heal the broken and unloved little boys inside them.  At least how Hoffman writes Hollis, he loses any charming vulnerability he once had as a child, the vulnerability that March saw and fell in love with at one time.  A boy who disappeared long before March returned and who March thought was still there when she got sucked back into his orbit.

I also thought the Coopers (Lintons) were well done.  The benevolent and naive family that gets pulled into the dysfunction of Hollis and March, who deserve so much better than them and who love and wait for them and allow themselves to be abused and killed off by the dysfunctional force that is Hollis and March.

I had to go back for a wikipedia refresher to remember the role of Nelly Dean.  I remembered that she narrated the story to the traveler in the original, and in this one the housekeeper’s death is what pulls March back to the area, so she continues to be somewhat of the focus even though she is dead.  Nelly Dean has been credited by some as the unreliable narrator, whereas Judith Dean in this book is also disappointed by love similarly to March.  She’s one of the centers who doesn’t even get to tell her own story, but is part of everyone else’s.

The one thing I wasn’t as sure of was how March was created.  Catherine Earnshaw in the original is wild and needs a decent amount of civilizing, which pulls her away from Heathcliff, which is why he gets himself more civilized in the first place, to be able to marry her.  March was in love with Hollis from a young age, which is so impressionable, but I think the original Cathy was more of a wild child.  March just goes through the motions of her comfortable and safe marriage and then when she submits to Hollis, she  enters a dream state and dissolves.  The love chemicals in her brain that are back from when she was a teenager puts her in a trancelike state and disconnects her from her awareness of consequences.  For awhile, she is completely consumed and in a dream.

I think this one sucked me in because it was so psychologically juicy.  I think it helps me understand the appeal of the original Wuthering Heights.  Hoffman’s characters maybe aren’t so savage, have more relateability than the original.  And I have had time to digest it and I must have liked the original somewhat because I wanted to read someone else’s spin.

It has started a tide of my wanting to get to work on my stash of re-tellings, so if you like them too, stay tuned for next week.  I am working on a new one right now.

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Sometimes I’m that mom who doesn’t want you to notice what I’m reading

The world has finally turned its face toward Spring.  It seemed as though it was never coming, and now it is here in a rush, the warmth and the green and the long hours of glorious sunlight all at once.  I don’t need the clip on light for my computer again until Fall, even when I am up at dawn to write.

So I’m happy and I missed it more than I even knew.

I am wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to Mothers, in all permutations, around the world today.

Last year for Mother’s Day I posted on books about mothers.  This year I talk about being a mom while reading unusual Mom-terial.  So it’s about Moms.  Sort of.  It’s a tiny bit about me as a mom.

A few weeks ago I took my son on a Mom guilt assuaging trip to the indoor water park.  I thought bringing along a book was a flash of maternal optimism.  I didn’t think I’d really get enough time to polish off a decent part of a book.

What I learned that day was that it’s glorious to have a child who is old enough and has the inclination to play on his own after my obligatory slide runs and trips around the lazy river.  I soaked up every moment of mom reading glory, at least an hour away from every other obligation and my cell phone locked away in a rented locker.

If I had known I would get that reading time I may have chosen a different book, just in case any other parents in the throes of boredom/relaxation looked over to see what I was reading.  I forget in my avid kindle reading that paper books involve covers.  They don’t have the privacy of an electronic device.  I wrapped my book in my towel when I wasn’t reading not because I didn’t want someone to take it, I didn’t want someone to think I was weird.  I mean, it’s a Hannibal Lecter mask on a bust.  Not the shoe, martini glass or handbag that would slip me into true anonymity.

A Book of Social Science:

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The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers Can Teach us About Success, Kevin Dutton

Although my degree is in Psychology, I wasn’t super excited about this category.  Social science books are interchangeable in my mind with self help books.  Books on how to optimize your brain function and stop being codependent or free you from whatever vices you believe yourself to have. Books that break down the nuts and bolts and provide entire chapters on motivation to even change in the first place.  Nah.  Too basic. Too close to work.

My formally educated father in law bought this book for a plane ride and gave it to me when he arrived in my home on the other side of the country from his home.  He’s an engineer, and although I liked this book, I wondered how relateable this book is to those who are educated but not as much as I am in Psychology.  It is clearly written for those who have learned about research methods and how to be a decent consumer of research, at the very least.  I thought this was a definite plus.  I didn’t have to skip over anything too basic.   It was good at firming up my thoughts on psychopathy, especially as it was framed in terms of its adaptive qualities, which, like any quality, has to exist in an optimal range to be beneficial.  And the best creative nonfiction takes a spin on something,  or a juxtaposition, and this talks about the good aspects of something usually acknowledged as all negative.

It talks about how their emotional recognition functions when identifying their own as well as the emotions of others, the difference between if it is state or trait, if they can shut off these qualities at times when they are no longer beneficial in the situation.  It talks about how it psychopathy even stayed in the gene pool due to its benefits as well as how our cultural icons can be seen in terms of this emotional constellation.  It talks about research in a very poetic and interesting way, posing hypotheses and clearly how well the results fit them.  I would encourage anyone with an interest to pick up the book even without formal schooling on research methods.  I might think I am all fancy with my edumacashin and I might be wrong.

There was a time when I thought I was committed to nonfiction writing forever, around the time I was finishing school and entering a golden and brief period of free time in my life that I killed off four years later by having a child.  I would have liked to write something this informed and poetic and relatable.  I would have liked to do the interviews with the researchers, the psychopaths themselves, and gathered my own body of main studies to review.  I would have liked to do this project coming out of school and I would have aspired to it.  It reminded me of where my heart was about ten years ago, going through rounds of dissertation revisions and hoping I could get a job before it was done, sharing a rented house with a stranger.

So I was someone’s mom in my mom swimsuit (and it’s definitely a mom swimsuit, designed to minimize mom body flaws) reading something completely un momlike, following the professional passion that I had long before I even thought seriously about a baby.  No one asked me why I was reading about psychopaths.  I also read it at the playground and the McDonald’s playplace, and nothing.  I must not be notable when my son isn’t announcing farts and swearing in the big plastic tubes of playplace.  I must not be notable in my mom suit in the sunlight that streams through the ceiling of the water park.  When I am a Mom and my kid is behaving okay it doesn’t matter what I am reading.  I am deliciously invisible.

Noveling rolls forward.  Second draft revisions and flashes of panic that the sequence of events doesn’t hang together or make any sense.  Then coping skills, a major one being that someone will look over this for me and help.

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A Haunting Short Read

And not haunting in the way I usually mean it, with the ghost stories I love and post on here so much.  A different kind of haunting. The haunting of madness.

But before I get to that, I am stretching and getting limber for the next lap of noveling.  Getting all loosed up at the start line.  Shaking off the nerves and making my best effort not to overthink everything.

This post is an excellent excuse for procrastination.  And the fact that I can confidently say we have reached Spring where I live and I have been working on the spring chores, like changing out clothes and bagging up what won’t fit my son next winter, which is, like, everything.  My husband is putting out the warm weather furniture and entertainments.

I am having trouble with reading, though because the book for today is one of the last quick books I have on BookRiot that I haven’t done.  My posthumous book, my book of true crime, my post colonial literature, my protagonist over the age of 60, my sci fi book written by a female with a female protagonist…all need more attention than I might be able to give when I am in the bowels of noveling.  I am halfway through another book to post on, my social science book, so maybe I can get through that one in time to keep the posts flowing…

I am only on 19 books this year.  For someone who can get to 100 that’s very slow, but I can read every year.  It’s not every year I have a writing teacher helping me getting my novel to its full potential.  And when I read a lot I have this nagging feeling I am not writing enough.

A one sitting book:

 

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The Vegetarian, Han Kang

This one has been hanging out on the TBR for a year, since it became highly lauded and in my face.  There are a ton of eligible books for this category, both books I already have and books that I could get at the library.  But this one, in all its haunting beauty, was what it had to be.

This is about madness, but, as madness doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it is about family too.  It is about a woman who stops eating meat in response to delusions about what is inside her body.  She is unrecognizable from the beginning to the end in this book. She is unremarkable and obedient in the beginning and breaks all those things with her symptoms, spiraling downward, shattering her family and leaving only her sister to hang on to her through the madness and trying to save her.  She starts out accepting the norms of her world and ends up being unable to live within them.

I am perusing the reviews on Goodreads and I have decided that I liked this because I understand and have met people suffering intensely from schizophrenia.  People thought it was intense and absorbing and others really felt that they didn’t ‘get’ it.  Psychotic symptoms are psychotic symptoms because they defy typical experience.  A person experiencing a world that most people don’t experience. They also can change with the cultural context.

Many reviewers wanted the book from the protagonist’s viewpoint, but I don’t know if the madness could be better explained if it was her viewpoint.  I liked the snippets that we got, the moments when she was able to describe to a character what was happening for her, the faces inside her body, the symptoms being a reaction to her intense traumatic nightmares.  She had her own logic.  She was psychotic.  And that was enough.

I oddly listened to this on a day trip for my friend’s baby’s christening.  Driving to a ceremony that is about belonging and listening to a story about a woman who is breaking away from all the belonging she has as her sister tries to anchor her to the world that she has long ago left behind.  Ironic.

I liked that this could be put down in a few hours.  It might have been too intense if it was longer, or had to get deeper into some other characters, for people to be able to hang in there to finish it.  But I enjoyed it.

Round 2 of noveling shall begin and I will wrestle down more books.  But I will stop complaining about spring leaving me hanging, as it has finally decided to show up.

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