Lost and Found

Hello Readers!

So, remember when I was lamenting the loss of some of my books in progress? I just found one of them again yesterday! It’s Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, and I have just finished reading it. I believe I started it quite a while back, I mean, perhaps as far back as September or October even.

However, I sadly lost it just as things were getting really exciting in the storyline, and here’s the reason why: I’m a book sleeper- I have always liked to read before bed, and in graduate school I developed a (bad? Or Good?) habit of keeping my books close at hand, piled on the side of the bed in heaps. That worked pretty well when I had a bed on the floor, but apparently it does not work so well when the bed is raised.

Very nice tree. I really just wanted to post a tree picture 😉

I found the book tucked away under my bed, amongst a few other items I have been searching for, some for months. Next time I lose a book, I am looking here first.

Will be back with a review for you soon about this novel! I am also curious to know your experiences with books before sleep. Do you leave your books piled on your bed? Do you have a bookshelf next to your bed? I am looking for some strategies for managing this better in the future, and will hopefully be able to continue my reading habits of many at a time, without losing more of my books.

Best,

Miss E

 

Reaching Out, Reading Outside the Lines

I made that reading queue a little while back, if you recall. If you do not, you may find it here.

Well,  I’m reaching out to my readers, because I honestly haven’t been flying through that list like I thought I would.

Despite the fact that I have wanted to read some of the books in my queue for a while, I still am having a hard time motivating myself to read them.

There is definitely a part of me that would rather make chex mix, because it is not on a list, than read a book that is on a list.

Lists may not be my thing.

So far, I have read about 3 or 4 books from that list I made and then published, and about 5-7 books not actually on my list at all, but that have just intrigued me in the meantime.

I keep finding other books that make me say, “shoulda put that one on the list.”

I’m pretty sure that I’m also, on some level, using those other books as a way of procrastinating the reading on my queue.

It’s not that I don’t want to read the books on the list anymore, but only that they are in list form, and hence somehow less appealing to me.

However, in a roundabout way, the list has inspired me to read. I have been buying more books than I was before, and I have been reading more frequently, which was the whole point of the list.

So, at least I have part of it down.

Part of me feels embarrassed, but another (larger) part feels excited to be reading anything, and to not have to follow or be tied down to a specific list, to instead read whatever I feel like. To read outside the numbers and lines I set up as guideposts.

I still would like to read those other books eventually, but may not get to them in any specific time frame or order.

Yours with Chex Mix,

Miss E

The Grapes of Wrath

I am still reading the books from my ridiculously ambitious list as mentioned in this post. 

When I started reading The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Penguin Classics version), I have to admit that I was doing it more out of a sense of obligation than an interest in the plot or characters.

I have heard so much about the novel throughout the years, from sources that vary from friends who have read it to literary tests that discuss its overarching themes and character struggles. I read Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in middle school or early high school. While I thought it was well-written, I also felt like it wasn’t an experience I’d like to repeat.

I also don’t think that I’d like to see the movie version.

The movie version that I don't care to see- fun poster though!

I feel the same about The Grapes of Wrath to a large extent. The last 80 pages or so were pretty depressing. I mean, I did know that it was a novel about the struggles of one family through the depression, but at a certain point I did feel a bit like I was torturing myself by continuing.

The characters suffer so much, and the “epic” narrative style paints an American capitalist process that I’m not necessarily fond of. Large corporate interests overtake hard working “common” men and women during the great depression, and those men are literally driven off of “their” land (which they stole/ was stolen for them from Native peoples), then pretty much slowly starved because a few greedy landowners want to make more of a profit.

The novel switches between a close and distant narration, alternating chapters between the telling of one specific family, the Joads, and the larger narrative of American “progress.” I found this description chilling and timely when we consider the wealth disparity now in place in our country. It is not only the small farmers and tradesmen/women who are struggling now, but it is also the home-owning middle class.

In the novel, the Joads, along with hoards of other tenant farmers from Oklahoma and surrounding areas, are pushed off the land they tend by the banks, quite dramatically with large plows. In this telling scene, many of the family members are looking for someone to talk to about the matter, for someone to fight with about it. However, they soon find that what they are fighting is so large that they are not even able to find it, let alone fight it.

The Bank is driving them, but they are unable to respond. I feel like this ties directly into the current argument being touted by the Occupy Movement, that corporations are Not people. The fact that Steinbeck was already addressing this phenomenon in 1939 so eloquently, and also the fact that the machine that is the Bank destroys human life, destroys crops, and destroys community, is pretty astounding to me.

One of the quotes I think best illustrates this feeling comes early in the novel. In one of the chapters where the narrator is distant, he points out the conversation one feels is echoed by thousands.

We’re sorry. It’s not us. It’s the monster. The bank isn’t like a man.

Yes, but the bank is only made of men.

No, you’re wrong there—quite wrong there.

The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in the                       ~bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is ~something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but ~they can’t control it. (emphasis mine -sorry, the formatting got all wonky when I pasted the text).

I feel like this discussion is very relevant for today, and because of this, I think that I devoured this novel with more zest than I was expecting. It made me appreciate how far we have not come in our understanding of the capital machines that still control and drive our country.

It also made me appreciate the taste of food more. I definitely understand why it’s an American classic. It tells our story pretty poignantly, and asks some questions about the capitalist value system that are not only necessary, but that are also still being asked.

Points taken away: There are definitely a few offensive-to-contemporary-readers storytelling moments in which the characters glorify the old colonial period and the killing of Native Americans, but I also don’t feel like Steinbeck necessarily agreed with those sentiments as much as he was trying to portray the Joads and other Oklahoma residents in the truest way possible.

I would give this book 4.5 of 5 stars for its beautiful writing, its interesting character details, and its importance in our current historical moment.  I would also highly recommend it.

Read with Milk, and some sort of rustic camping food such as fried potatoes, baked beans and coffee.

Regards,

Miss E

Judith and Jack and Chandan

Hi all!

The other night, I went to an informal presentation by wonderful team Jack and Judith Halberstam and Chandan Reddy at Elliot Bay Bookstore promoting their new books.

It was a wonderful reminder of why it’s awesome to live in Seattle 🙂 In my graduate work, I often studied Halberstam, and greatly admire her scholarship. I could not believe that two amazing and pretty famous queer theory scholars would be offering a talk in a bookstore basement easily accessible to me. This was during the MLA Convention, so many scholars were in town. Still, I was very impressed with their choice of location, especially since I did not pay 60 dollars for registration to attend closed panels at the convention.

So, I excitedly hailed a cab to Capital Hill and arrived just in time for the presentation to begin.  I was planning on meeting Judith, but when I arrived, I was introduced to Jack. Apparently, Halberstam is only Judith in writing. Jack’s presentation was really fun, and I found his style incredibly engaging. Chandan was very verbose, but also very pedantic and somewhat jargony.  I think that non-academics had a hard time understanding some of his points, but I also think that he worked hard during and after his presentation to make his information more accessible to the public.

Together, this team of scholars was pretty formidable, and I felt lucky that I got to see them in action.

Here are the pictures from that night:

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I promised a friend that I would copy notes for him, and I decided to copy some for you all as well.

I found myself scribbling excessively for both presentations, but more so for Chandan’s half. He went second, and he made many complicated points about modernity, but interlaced with discussion of a complex racial history. Writing down key points during the presentation was really helpful for me, and I think I got the gist of what he was arguing.

Like Halberstam said at the beginning of their presentation, Reddy’s arguments are complex, but they also reflect the intense complexity of the issues he is working with, some of which would be done a disservice by being condensed. They obviously have a lot of love for one another’s work, and their long-standing friendship began when Halberstam was Reddy’s professor during his first year of teaching. How awesome is that?!

Halberstam’s key points/ highlights:

1. “Failure is something all people do, but perhaps is something only queer people can really turn into a lifestyle.” Jack related this to a capitalist model, arguing that in our society, and in the capitalist model, there must be “winners” and “losers.” There is no way to opt out of capitalism without becoming a “loser” when to succeed in our system, one must have money and conform to both a capitalist and heteronormative timeline for success.

2. Jack also said that “if that’s success, then I choose failure.” I found that to be a very powerful statement.

3. Halberstam also argued that Pixar movies have been “feeding children communist fables” of anti-corporate sentiments in movies such as Monsters Inc., Robots, and Over the Hedge, which she believes has helped the young generation feel so strongly about the Occupy movement and anti-capitalist reform.

4. She also gave 3 lessons in how to “fail,” or to embrace failure, which included: 1.) Learn to lose, 2.) Be a Lesbian (she gave a lot of examples of how Lesbians are still not represented as “winners” in western media, especially “The Butch,” since straight men do not desire her and straight women don’t want to emulate her). Thus, Lesbians are the greatest losers, because they are still unable to be defined by the heteronormative capitalist model. 3.) Embrace a certain type of negativity, and find other options besides winning and losing.

Reddy’s Key Points/ Highlights: 

1. Introduction of his book Queer of Color Critique of Capitalism, and the goal of exploring what a queer reading and queer person of color perspective can bring/do to capitalism.

2. Capitalism = racial capitalism in the US, which = racialized state because of colonial history, which has always been racialized.

3. Discussion of Neo-liberalism. He says that we often think of freedom as the antithesis of violence, so when the state is pointed out as the source of violence, we need to reconcile that lie, or in his words “at the moment in which “freedom” becomes the vehicle of violence.

4. Pointed out the “3 regimes of modern freedom,” which includes his notion of “negative liberties,” or when freedom from violence was untenable; it rather was a freedom through revolutionary violence. He argues against the national rhetoric of the state that purports the idea of attaining freedoms from violence and all peoples becoming equal once that illusive freedom is attained. He pointed out that this approach and this myth hasn’t worked, and has never been attained, using that as a touchstone for the necessity of rethinking our subject positions and the idea of freedom within a violent state.

5. He used a great image example of a “missing billboard” installation art to illustrate the people who are left out of the picture the state paints in the capitalist model. He says that by intentially leaving out or disqualifying other possibilities of being, the modern capitalist state attempts to sustain [and advertise?] very specific system of experience. According to Reddy, we need to look at the latticework, or the frame, the people on the outskirts of what is being represented to us, for models of being.

6. He also argued that we are all being asked by the state, through citizenship agreements, to lose a little bit of our personal identities, and also to re-imagine our complicity with “freedom” and all that it costs. In essence, our complicity is really asking us to reconsider that subject position in the state with it’s history of violence (most likely through ignoring or attempting to “forget” that history of violence). Because we are taught that to identify ourselves and attain “embodiment” through the state, or to be “recognized” by the sate in order to have rights, we sacrifice for those rights.

7. Thus, he argued that “we need not ask for representation, but should try living on the fringe, in disorganization.” Too often, according to Reddy, Gays and Lesbians, etc. “make the cut” with this knowledge once they find safety or representation via citizenship, and THAT NEEDS TO STOP, since only in the fringe can true revolution and self-actualization without participation in state violence really occur.

8. I have 3 more pages of notes from this talk, more than I feel is appropriate to share through blog post, but if you want to know more, just let me know 🙂

I found both presentations compelling, and am very glad that I live in Seattle and was able to experience this discussion. I found Chandan’s argument especially intricate, but very very interesting. Both Reddy and Halberstam really argued strongly for resisting capitalist heteronormativity, for different but valid reasons. In other words, it rocked my socks off!

Excitedly yours,

Miss E

Year of Pleasures, Elizabeth Berg

So, number one on the aforementioned Winter Book List ticked off and read: The Year of Pleasures, by the author Elizabeth Berg.

Look at the delicious looking food on the cover 🙂

I bought this novel from Third Place Books in Ravenna, Seattle.

I read this on the plane ride home for Christmas holiday. It was quick and enjoyable, and I only got my pen out three times, a record low for me in recent years.

That isn’t to say that it was boring, however. I’ll call it subdued, but I didn’t mind that for this type of story. I thought the message embedded in the novel was that living for oneself, and living the best life possible, is never a mistake, while wallowing in grief or pain is a definite mistake, and in fact destroys the pleasure in life.

Good point.

Betta, the main character in the novel, seems to know this pretty well. She is a writer, after all. However, it is with the death of her husband that she is forced to really recognize the importance of living her own life, for herself.

Although Betta herself seemed a bit dull as a character exploration, despite hints throughout the novel at her bravery, adventurous nature, and creativity, her personal story, and the idea of the novel itself was beautifully executed from a writer’s perspective.

My favorite parts:

  1. Female empowerment. The lifelong female friendships portrayed and discussion of women giving of themselves for each other and for loved ones, sometimes at the expense of simple pleasures in life was well-done. While not as dramatic as it could have been, I appreciated that Berg had addressed this issue, one that rings true for many womens’ lives. For example, Betta realizes that she can play music that she hasn’t listened to for years in compromise to her husband’s taste. She can eat when and whatever she likes, and etc. She is, in a way, beautifully freed by his death.

Even though there is some sadness and pain alluded to, Betta is in no way portrayed as tortured over the loss of her husband. At the same time however, the reader’s sense of her freedom is lessened by the narrator’s constant mention of her husband.  She does often wonder if he would approve, and most of the time, he does. I wanted to know, why does it matter?

It was Betta’s story, not his, and at times I felt it was the author’s sense of duty to Betta’s husband, rather than Betta’s. We get a sense as readers that he was a kind and loving man, who showered Betta with thoughtful support and encouragement. However, we as readers don’t actually know him as a character. While it’s expected that Betta will think of him, I felt like some of the narrative reminders of her husband were forced, and made Betta less of an interesting character.

The language on a sentence level was often lush in description, rich in parallel construction (I am a sucker for parallel construction), and done with an elegant respect for language.

  1. I brought out my pen to underline beautiful sentences, something I usually only do in workshop. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading nineteenth century lit. However, since that is the area I research, I usually take out my pen much more often and underline a few beautiful sentences, while focusing primarily on the social constructions of gender, national identity, or class commentaries in the novels I read from my research period.

That being said, those elements of interest still existed in this novel as well. They were just couched in simple and elegant language, and they were more overarching and systematic, inherent to the very nature of the novel itself, as opposed to statement after statement, passage by passage.

  1. The descriptions of food and cooking- YUMMY.

Problematic elements of the novel:

  1. White upper class privilege. It was practically screaming at me. Betta is a white woman from the East coast, and the most financial trouble she seems to have ever endured in her life is during a hippy phase in college. I feel like this might be one of the only explanations of why she seems so lackluster despite the allusions to her interesting personality. She never has really suffered until her husband’s death, and even then, she is a millionaire who can do whatever she pleases. It seemed just a little too convenient, and a little too boring.
  2. She moves to the Midwest, outside of Chicago, so she can experience the “simple” life. I am from the Midwest, and am in fact on a visit there while I write this. I still don’t know how “big city” people, like the fictional Betta, can romanticize it as much as they seem to, while deriding it all the same. I wish Berg would have more deeply imagined her characters from Betta’s new Midwestern town a bit more as well. Many of them were hollow representations. There were a couple that could have been interesting, and Betta only has a few interactions with the most interesting one (the old woman with spunk and history who she buys her new home from). Since it was Betta’s dream to move to the Midwest and open a knickknack store, and her personal goal to reconnect with old friends and make new ones, you’d think that the people in the town she moves to would be painted a bit more clearly. They were not, because they apparently didn’t matter in Betta’s egocentric “search for herself.”
  3. The other problem I had with the novel was that even though Betta and her former husband were supposed to be the main focus, they were so dull that I just really didn’t care. Her old college friends and some of the characters even just mentioned from the town she arrives in seemed much more interesting than Betta herself.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, despite the small disappointments, and in its optimism I can see why it sold well. The writing tone and style was warm and inviting, and Berg treats her characters very kindly.

I would recommend the novel if you are in the mood for a quick read that is not complete trash, that has some literary merit without being actually literary, and that focuses on renewal and new beginnings.

I would not recommend it if you get jealous easily, since I think it is very easy to envy the fictional Betta and her cushy gushy, yet lonely and somewhat dull life.

It gets 3.3 of 5 stars from me purely for entertainment purposes and beautiful sentences.

Read with a DR. Pepper (a drink that gets mentioned so many times you start to crave it) and Indian food leftovers (because it’s something Betta might eat, and because they are simply delicious).  Or, herbal tea and a fruit pie, which is also discussed in the novel often.

Reading Queue

I have noticed lately that I am not reading nearly as much as I usually do. I was staring at a computer for at least 10 hours a day during my former job reading blogs, and I usually just wanted to close my eyes after work.

I also unfortunately have had a hard time reading without a pen in hand, waiting for a gem to underline or mark or analyze.

In order to give myself a healthy dose of both fun and academic reading, I’ve decided to create a reading queue, that alternates between a fun, fast pleasure read and a longer more verbose (and usually more thought-provoking) read. I’ll most likely be reading at least two at a time, anyways. My goal is to get these read by February.

Queue:

1. Elizabeth Berg’s Year of Pleasures

2. Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

3. The Darcy Connection, Elizabeth Aston

4. Ulysses, James Joyce

5. The Happiness Project, Gretchin Rubin

6. Colette’s complete works

7. Hunger Games Trilogy

8. Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell

9. White Teeth, Zadie Smith

10. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan

11. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

12. The Year of Living Famously, Laura Caldwell

This is what I have so far, but I would like to get this list to 15, so let me know if you have any suggestions!

***So, there is no way that I will be able to read all of these by February 1st- I was really thinking more in terms of through the month of February, and even that might be a stretch 🙂

Miss E

The Brownings’ Books

Hello!

I recently found a used book store over in the University District at Magus Books, and had a lovely time browsing the shop for quite some time.

I was most excited when I found two old twin books from the same publishing run, Oxford 1932, for a very good bargain. One is Robert Browning’s Poems, and the other is Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Poetical Works.

They are so fun I wanted to share them with you. Ta da!

The Twin Books

The gold insignia on the cover of each, very simple and elegant.

Don't they look lovely there?

I was interested in them originally because not only are they beautiful and well-looking together, but because of the titles. The super nerd in me noticed immediately that the titles are gendered.

Robert Browning is a “Poet,” also known as a man, and therefore has “Poems.” Elizabeth is a woman, and therefore has “Poetical Works.”

Apparently, despite finishing my masters, I am still interested in examining the language of gender.

Not only does the second title sound more whimsical, it implies that the works are more sentimental, or more feminine. It could also imply, because it is similar but longer than the word “poems” that her work is “Poem- ish.” At first it doesn’t seem like an important distinction, but the more one thinks about it, the more of an interesting move the distinction becomes.

The covers and books in most other manners look about the same. Here are some pictures:

Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Title Page

Robert Browning's photograph and Title Page

As you can see, Robert’s title page has more wording, and is more specific about the works included in his volume. Elizabeth’s has less specific information under the title, and just says “With two prose essays.” So, his work was definitely given a bit more title page respect, although I am not sure that EBB was as well known until later.

I am wondering- does any scholarly reader or historian know when EBB was becoming more popular in the 20th century? I know that manuscripts I read certainly painted this couple as one of interest, and there seemed to have been a very large following of both RB and EBB, so I’m wondering when reception shifted. Of course, there was major bias in the discussion of EBB’s work in periodicals and etc., because she was not only somewhat foreign and seen as eccentric, but was also a female writer.

Btw, the text in both books looks the same:

Inside the Books

Both have sort of a newspaper or periodical quality to them, and are somewhat biblical in their formatting.  Both books have similar font, and the same layout throughout. EBB’s is shorter altogether in page length, but many of her most famous poems like “cry of the children” are included.

Hope you enjoyed my discovery, and if you know the answer to the above query, please pitch in through comments!

Cheers,

Miss E