Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February Reads

Having a single post to cover all I read in 2016 was a bit overwhelming—both to write and, I'm sure, to read. So I've decided instead to do a monthly recap of books I've read, and share a little about each book.

This month I went on a week-long reading deprivation (as part of The Artist's Way) and I read one really long, book, so my overall book count was down over January (missing from that January post, Sense and Sensibility and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for a total of six, not counting TAW which I'm not done with yet), but that one book was so long, the page count should be fairly equal. 

First up, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which should have gone on January's list, but I forgot to include it. This one I read out loud to E and Z (and sometimes M). After reading to them on our hiking trip over the summer, I realized how much I missed doing that (and I think they did too), so I've been trying to keep up the tradition. This is also I know the only way to get them to experience certain books they're not inclined to read on their own. As you probably know, The Cursed Child (you have to pronounce it—curse-ed child, so it sounds like a swear word. More fun that way.) is a play, so it's a little awkward to read without dialogue tags, but we figured it out, either with different voices for each character, or I'd throw in a "Ron said" here and there to make it clear. Overall, it was a fun read, but not nearly as interesting as the seven original HP books. If Harry Potter had an after-school special, this is what it would be like. Harry's son Severus, Malfoy's son Scorpius, and a certain other person's daughter (don't want to give away too much) all have daddy issues, which all get resolved in the end. Very Hallmark channel. But with magic. So I would say, not my favorite, but still entertaining.

My poetry read for the month (at around one to five poems per day, first thing in the morning; a very nice habit to have), was Sandra Cisneros's Loose Woman. This was a gift from my blog friend Lone Star Ma a few years ago, and I only finally got around to reading it now. I love Cisneros's playful language, sly humor, and sexy stanzas. A really fun read.

Next, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which I know everyone was reading like two years ago so I'm a little behind the 8-ball. One of my writing group buddies suggested we read it together, only that was months ago and she was long done by the time I got around to it. Once I did start reading, though, I flew through the first half, then got bogged down for the third quarter, then really got into the last quarter again. It was an engaging book, a little on the long side (I think 100 or 200 pages could have been cut without losing anything), with a very mystery-like story and a surprising but satisfying ending. But. But, definitely required a suspension of disbelief for all of the terrible things that happen to the main character (no on can have that much tragedy, right), which I found more unrealistic than the actually unrealistic elements. Also, it was not a relaxing read. I was pretty stressed out and on edge the whole time reading—not a good choice when the world is already putting one into existential distress. But the ending is redeeming, and the (very, very long) denouement leaves on a hopeful note. So there's that. I'm glad I read it and I'm glad it's done.

Finally, while the shitshow that is America today has sent many I know scurrying for classic dystopian reads like The Handmaid's Tale and 1984, I've headed in the opposite direction, picking up Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland, a utopian tale of an all-woman society. Gilman is best known for her autobiographical short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" which depicts a woman going mad from the ravages of postpartum depression and "the rest cure." In Herland, she tells the tale of three male explorers who come upon a remote and isolated country of all women. If the reader can overlook the dubious science behind the parthenogenetic reproduction that takes place in the land, and that the race of this 2000-year-old culture in South America is white, it is an engaging and entertaining read that turns every assumption the male explorer-narrator has about gender and western civilization on its head. The women of Herland are utterly and completely devoted to motherhood—recognizing the great miracle of their being able to reproduce at all—and every endeavor they undertake—from cultivating land to building cities to designing clothing—is for the betterment of their small world for the children's future, including refraining from reproducing more than the land can sustain. Theirs is not a sappy, sentimental motherhood, but rather a practical and universal one; every woman is a mother to every child. The narrator describes it thus, "You see, they were Mothers, not in our sense of helpless involuntary fecundity, forced to fill and overfill the land, every land, and then see their children suffer, sin, and die, fighting horribly with one another; but in the sense of Conscious Makers of People. Mother-love with them was not a brute passion, a mere 'instinct,' a wholly personal feeling; it was a religion." Though written in 1915, the women of Herland are subjected to attitudes from their male visitors that we still experience today, including mansplaining and rape culture. Herland continues to be relevant today and is worth a read not only for the clever, amusing story but also because it can remind the reader that there are better ways to do things than "the way it's always been done." It also teaches a very useful mode of argument—continue to ask innocent questions until your opponent is forced to concede the error of his thinking.

What are you reading this month?

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