Jan 06

January 2006 Books

January 3, 2006

\\The Awakening and Selected Stories\\ by Kate Chopin

I’ve read this many times before and picked it off the shelves while I was waiting in the living room to get picked up for my second New Year’s Eve party. The novella is cinematic to me: I can really see the path down to the beach at Lebrun’s, really see Madame Ratignolle in her draperies and ruffles, really see the golden table at the \\coup d’etat\\. I don’t know how Chopin does it, the whole thing is drenched in the kind of detail that assumes you too have eyes to see the way Edna does. I got a couple of things about the main story that I didn’t get the first time I read it; I would have been about ten at the time and didn’t understand what being “supple to his seductive entreaties” meant. I was also painfully aware of the story’s being set in New Orleans…I wanted to lean in through the pages and shout “Be careful! Fortify the levees!” The stories included in this edition are also good but I seem to remember another collection of hers from the first time I read this, which I’d like to find and read again.

**January 7, 2006**
\\Mansfield Park\\ by Jane Austen

I was going to re-read \\Emma\\ but then I read something on 50 Books about \\Mansfield Park\\ and I remembered I hadn’t read \\that\\ for a while either. As the post mentioned, a lot of people prefer Mary Crawford to Fanny Price and I have to admit I see a lot of similarities between Elizabeth Bennett in \\P&P\\ and Mary. I am still not totally sure why Lizzie is cool and gets to marry Mr. Darcy but Mary gets the boot in similar sexual-misconduct-of-relatives scenarios…I guess because Lizzie’s sister only elopes and also because Lizzie is, herself, so shocked by the (eventual) marriage. Julia Bertram also gets a pass for only eloping in \\Mansfield Park\\, I notice. Or something. I thought a lot about the charge of Fanny’s being passive-aggressive, too, compared to Mary Crawford, and I still think that Fanny is what she is in a very specific context; one that doesn’t read as well today as some of Austen’s other social situations do, like needing to marry for money in \\S&S\\ and \\P&P\\. I think the idea of being somehow involved in the lives of higher-class family members but deliberately kept out of certain aspects of their privilege is difficult to wrap my mind around, culturally speaking, but it does make sense to me that Fanny would be absolutely shy and self-deprecating, and that these attributes would be considered \\assets\\. I think. She’s an unlikely heroine, though, certainly compared to Austen’s other protagonists, and I remain curious as to why Austen chose to elevate her above her station, so to speak. So this book is very much about class structure, not to mention consanguineous marriage, and as such is a very good read. Also, Mrs. Norris is possibly the most brilliantly annoying character ever written, and I think it would be a completely different story without her.

January 12, 2006

The Family Tree by Carol Cadwalladr

I liked a lot of the separate aspects of this story: the biracial romance in the 1940s, the whole cousin-marriage thing, and the footnoted seventies’ pop culture references, especially those having to do with the royal wedding in 1981. They all worked quite nicely separately, I thought, but felt like separate short stories than a more cohesive novel. The ending felt a little rushed and patched together for me too. Also, I am a little tired of the emotionally distant scientist stereotype, but this may be because most of the scientists I know are hilarious drama queens who are good at bowling, so I don’t know if this is a valid criticism or not.

January 14, 2006

\\PopCo\\ by Scarlett Thomas

I kept thinking, as I read this, “Wow, this is really interesting backstory, I can’t \\wait\\ until all these pieces fall together!” And then I realized I was two-thirds through the book. Anyway, some of the marketing public-relations speak-stuff in, as far as I know, brilliant, and I especially love that the protagonist works in “I&D” or “Ideation and Design.” The stuff about viral marketing and mirror sites and the like was pretty interesting as well and I didn’t even mind that I had to skim some of the loooooong cryptanalysis digressions (Vierges square, huh?) because they read pretty well and fit nicely into the narrative, such as it was. I say that because the narrator herself wasn’t super compelling and I never got a good enough sense of who she was as a character to understand some of the finer points of the mystery…when I found out one of the big secrets of the story I was like, “So? What does that even \\mean?\\” Not a good sign, I don’t think. Also,the preaching-to-the-choir element of this book was a little much…I was a little embarrassed for the author at some of the denouements. You know, a \\bird sanctuary\\, at the end? Well, all right. If you insist. Whatever problems I had with this I did rip right through it so, characterization and believability (and preachiness!) aside, it was clearly still a pretty good read.

January 15, 2005
\\Geisha, A Life\\ by Mineko Iwasaki

I had made this half-hearted vow not to stray from Fiction’s sweet embrace during the month of January but as usual my library hold list conspired against me, throwing several non-fictions at me all in one week. What was I supposed to do, turn them away unread? So we come to this story, which is actually a memoir (of a geisha, interestingly, although it would seem that the preferred term is in fact \\geiko\\) and is pretty choppily written, though the subject matter is interesting enough. It didn’t feel as though it went very deep though; I think I was hoping for some larger cultural analysis…but if the author herself is not oriented that way as a person or as a writer, well, too bad for the reader. The vicissitudes of non-fiction are harsh indeed. Anyway, a nice quickie bathtub book and the pictures are fun to look at.

**January 17, 2006**
\\The Ethical Slut: A Guide To Infinite Sexual Possibilities\\ by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt

After having read \\PopCo\\ a couple of books ago I kept wanting to call the subtitle of this book “A guide to \\transfinite\\ sexual possibilities” but I don’t totally even know what that really means so it’s only mildly funny if that. Anyway. I’ve had this on my hold list for a while now and it’s one of the strange truths of life that your hold list often will not listen to your wishes when it comes to \\when\\ you’d like to be reading a particular book but instead will give you that book when and if it chooses. Such is the case with the good old \\Ethical Slut\\. It would have been good to read this as a companion to \\The History of Marriage\\ and \\Sex In History\\ but it didn’t happen that way and I was not totally in the mood for it this week. Maybe it’s my own repression talking here, but for the first fifty pages of this I was internally rolling my eyes and snorting at the sections on open communication (“Yeah, sign me up, a guide to \\infinite Relationship Talks\\,” I thought) and how touchy-feely everything was. And then I got to the section on jealousy, and read that a little more closely, and then I got to the section on the economics of scarcity and read \\that\\ even \\more\\ closely and by the end of the book I could see things a little differently and think a little more about a lot of other culturally-held assumptions about love and sex and relationships and so on and so forth. The authors are, of course, big ol’ hippies but I think it’s an intelligent, well-written book (I loved the etiquette section) and comes with the least amount of well-we’re-just-more-\\evolved\\-than-you condescension such a core text could. I still don’t think that the opposite of free love is monogamy, but I do believe that the more pluralistic worldview espoused by the slut utopia is a really good way of thinking about things, sex-related and otherwise. I’m interested in contemplating all this some more, I think, as soon as I get some more fiction reading in.

**January 21, 2006**

\\The Earth Moved: On The Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms\\ by Amy Stewart

We actually have a worm bin here at my house in Ballard; I just figured this out a couple of weeks ago when I happened to be in the basement and saw Treasa digging in there. I learned more about what-all the worms are \\doing\\ in there from this nice little book, the word “oligochaetologist,”and quite a bit about Charles Darwin, who was, interestingly, a \\huge\\ earthworm fan. I love books like this: an accessible live of pop ecology/biology/zoology and a well-written journalistic style, plus a lot of what I am very sure are useful practical worm-farming tips at the end. I am inspired to go downstairs as soon as I finish folding my laundry and to stick my hands in the bin and see what happens.

**January 24, 2006**
\\A Citizen Of The World** by Maclin Bocock

Not only do we have a \\very\\ strong entry for this year’s Best Author Name contest, we have a delightfully weird and crooked set of short fiction, populated by people who don’t know what they want or who they want to be or where they’ll go next. Awesome. I picked this up at the library the other day just sort of wandering around the fiction stacks and I’m very pleased that it worked out so nicely for me.

**January 30, 2006**
\\The Danish Girl\\ by David Ebershoff

This is another one I just picked out off the library shelves without knowing anything about it. It’s based on a true story about a Danish artist who transitions to being a woman, who just happens to be his painter wife’s muse as well. I love the depiction of their marriage as well as the depiction of Lili, the woman he becomes. I have good taste in random books off the library shelves!