I read widely from many genres. Perhaps this blog will feature fewer ratings and reviews, but I certainly intend to write about my reading life - it's the subject I most find myself wanting to talk about.
A friend recently posted on social media some thoughts on water motifs in feminist and proto-feminist fiction. George Eliot's "The Mill on the Floss" certainly deserves a high spot on a short docket of such books.
Poor Maggie Tulliver has been singled out for her looks and headstrong disposition since childhood. And as fate sinks her family, her first priority is to be able to take care of herself. Her second priority is to be a credit to her family and honor her friends with kindness. She is open to love, but not at the expense of her selfhood and values.
Eliot does not submerge Maggie's fate - the final line of the novel is also its epigraph - and her fate is foreshadowed again and again. She ultimately is drowned by two men, her emotionally negligent and abusive brother, Tom, and her cousin's manipulative lover, Stephen.
There are a few place in the novel where Maggie could chart either an easier or more manipulative course for herself, but she remains true to her values. And she lives in a society that does not recognize or honor those values.
Carol Gilligan examines Maggie's plight in her famous work of feminist criticism, "In a Different Voice." Gilligan certainly helps us understand why Maggie can't overcome her circumstances and change the tides of her life.
A proto-feminist classic novel and a modern classic of feminist criticism both deserve a spot on everyone's reading lists.
Daisy Goodwin's novelization of her "Victoria" miniseries ends with the engagement. So last Sunday's episode was the first "off book" installment. It covered the prenuptial negotiations and the wedding itself.
Now, I don't expect adaptations like this to be perfectly historically accurate - although I do appreciate it when filmmakers get the easy things right. I've already complained about Lord Melbourne's hair - the famous historical blond here portrayed with Rufus Sewell's iconic dark curls instead.
But Sunday's episode bent history in a way fewer people will catch - and is certainly disappointing. Like it or not, Goodwin's Victoria is a bit of a snippy brat - or bitch, if you feel she's outgrown the appellation of brat. And when she's discussing her wedding plans with the ladies-in-waiting, she is asked who will walk her down the aisle. Necessary, because the story must explain why "Uncle Leopold," kind of the Belgians, and the close male relative we've seen in all the episodes previous, can't do it. Victoria tells her ladies she supposes her "Uncle Sussex" will have to do it - even though the last time she saw him he was wearing a funny cap and rouge (what?).
Snark, snark, snark. It fits Goodwin's characterization, but is it historical? I'm no expert in the period, but from what I understand, "Uncle Sussex," - Prince Augustus, Duke of Sussex - a younger brother to Victoria's late father, was a nice man and perhaps the actual Victoria's favorite uncle. He basically stayed above the fray as the Hanover brothers raced to make legitimate marriages and produce heirs after the death of poor Princess Charlotte and her baby. Perhaps because he was one of the youngest - but still.
Was the historical Victoria so unkind to a purported favorite? I hope not. Was the remark true to the adaptation. Yes, I guess it was. Was I disappointed to hear it? I certainly was.
So the first trailer for the new "Handmaid's Tale" has been out for a couple of weeks. And it does look pretty darn good.
I don't need to repeat myself, but I'm a strong believer in ALWAYS READING THE BOOK FIRST. Why? Because films are always an interpretation of a primary text. As is your own reading. Reading is interpretation. Make your own interpretation, then see someone else's.
Here's where this comes into play in a major way, especially with something that is probably going to be uber-popular (speculative fiction usually is, and people know Margaret Atwood and "Handmaid's Tale" are much-beloved): People will watch the show first; that will be their primary text, and if they bother, they will compare their interpretation of the book to the film as if the film were primary. Or they won't bother to read the book (even worse) and think they KNOW the book, even though what they know is the filmmakers' interpretation.
For readers like me who believe in the primacy of the text, this is annoying, to say the least.
Booklikes seems to be working much better this weekend - dare I say even at a normal speed? It makes me happy because I didn't want to abandon this blog for another platform (and believe me, I was close to that point).
I especially appreciate the social network aspect of this site. As I'm sure many of us do, I cross-post my writing here to my Facebook page. And although I know almost all of my 200+ FB friends in real life, my last half-dozen or so blog posts have received practically no response - no likes, no conversation, nothing.
My Booklikes friends, on the other hand, are completely unknown to me in the real world (I'm pretty sure one of you lives in the state to which I am adjacent), but you never fail to show my writing support.
Thanks, everyone. Here's to a smooth and productive 2017 for us readers and writers.
If you are a regular reader of this column, or a friend IRL who is used to my dogmatic proclamations, you know that I always make an honest effort to Read the Book First before seeing a movie.
Sometimes, that reading is so profound and hits me in such a visceral, emotional place I know the filmmakers could not possibly do justice to that experience. Let's face it, they're just going to F-it up.
Had one of those experiences recently with "A Monster Calls" by Patrick Ness. So grateful to my friend, L., for the recommendation and the affirmation of that recommendation by the trusted B. This book broke me a little bit. Yes, it's amazingly heavy-handed in its use of symbolism (http://carissagreen50.booklikes.com/post/1511966/knock-knock-symbolism-calling), but it touched a really primal place in me, so it worked. I ugly-cried over this one. Twice.
Add this one to the list that includes, for example, "The Giver" by Lois Lowry, "The Book Thief" by Marcus Zusak, and anything "Narnia." Filmmakers, your films won't measure up. You can only fail with these. They'll undoubtedly disappoint me and retroactively mar the book a little bit. Sorry, try again with something I love a little bit less.
According to my reading log, I read 83 new books in 2016. This doesn't include re-reads and the occasional book that eludes my cataloging madness. It was a pretty good year. Here are some highlights:
It was the year I read "War and Peace." Mostly just to be able to say I had. But I liked it. Not as much as I liked "Anna Karenina," but I did like it - especially poor Pierre. Tolstoy isn't kind to the big lug, but his progression through the story is fascinating. If you, too, want to honestly say you've read this big book, start around Memorial Day, commit to about a chapter a day, and you'll be done right around Labor Day (that's what I did).
Also missing from my reading log (because it wasn't my first time through), but still quite notable, was the fact I spent the first several months of the year reading the Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson aloud. I read the entire volume in college, and have dipped in and out many times since, but it's the first time in more than 20 years I've gone all the way through. And I put them out in the air with my voice. Very satisfying.
Three reading marathons, each in conjunction with seeing a favorite author read: Nine volumes of Sherman Alexie (and a total binge on his podcast with Jess Walter) before seeing him in February. Six volumes of Joy Harjo before seeing her in the summer, and four volumes of Michael Chabon before seeing him in December. I'm now almost a Chabon completist, with just the brand-new Moonglow, a couple of the movies, and graphic novels left. I also read Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe" in preparation for his visit to our university in March. Such a great year for author sightings. There were a few more, but not with accompanying book-binges. Thanks to my friend, C., for arranging the Alexie and Chabon trips for me!
When I went to Harjo's reading, I ran into an acquaintance from Graduate School, Denise Lajmodiere, and leaned she has had a book of poetry published. I got my hands on it in December, and it'll be read in 2017. Denise was visiting with her friend, Heid Erdrich, and I introduced myself and got to tell Ms. Erdrich how much I enjoyed her book, "The Mother's Tongue."
This was also the year I finally read Pat Barker's "Ghost Road" trilogy, as well as the actual collected poems of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Ticked off some more World War I books and this wonderful series I've neglected since learning about it in the '90s. Highly recommended.
For the record, here's a broad genre run-down of my logged titles:
Short stories/Poetry - 1
Mass-Market Romance - 17
Poetry - 10 (seems low, but several were longer "collected" volumes, plus I'm constantly re-reading poetry, and re-reads don't get logged.)
Short stories - 3
Literary and General Fiction - 21
Non-Fiction (could have been broken up into MANY sub-categories) - 19
Kids (YA and Middle-grade) - 5
Picture Books - 3
Memoirs - 2
What does 2017 hold? Well, I'm already working my way through August Wilson's century cycle, so plays are taking center stage in January. Other than that, all I can say is MORE. More books, more books, more books. Please.
Wow - I really can't remember the last time a book beat me over the head so hard with its symbolism.
This book is saturated with it. Freudian. Jungian. Symbols spanning from the ancient mythologies to the New Age. Every. Single. Page.
Ostensibly, this book is for young-ish readers. I wonder how they handle being dunked in the primordial soup of the psyche again and again and again?
Here's the thing: Daisy Goodwin's "Victoria," written in conjunction with her TV miniseries, isn't a bad book. It's frothy and fast-moving. But it's just a lightweight book. It doesn't feel particularly like a 19th-century story at all.
Even worse: Take away the overlay of the politics of the British court, and it's basically this: Teenage girl hates her mother. Teenage girl hates her mother's controlling boyfriend. Teenage girl develops inappropriate crush on her much older co-worker and clumsily tries to seduce him. Teenage girl refuses to take her family's advice about ANYTHING - including which boys might be good for her to date . . . until the very end, oh wait, maybe I DO like that one . . .
Seriously, this Victoria isn't very smart, and she's only borderline savvy. The political material isn't covered in much depth, the whole novel lacks pathos, and the prose is functional but not elegant. I much more enjoyed this territory when it was covered in the Emily Blunt/Sarah Ferguson film "The Young Victoria."
Will I enjoy the upcoming PBS Masterpiece broadcast? Probably - I'm a sucker for pretty costumes (and when doesn't Rufus Sewell steal the show?). But this book doesn't motivate me to read any more of Goodwin's work anytime soon.
books logged for the year, with two weeks left to go. Where, oh where will the graph top out? 82? 85? Stay tuned; only time will tell.
Do you like your writer's reference books to be written by someone with wit and sass? Bonus points for having Oprah's imprimatur? Then Fay Faron is your woman.
A fun book about a subject I never knew I needed to know about. Fun BECAUSE of the writing style.
There's always a reason to read a book. Sometimes, it just takes a while for that reason to emerge. A friend loaned me several reference books for writers. Because they are all geared toward genre fiction, I wasn't entirely sure how useful they'd be to my knowledge bank.
But on page 65 of "Daily Doses," a book covering poisons of all sorts (no, this isn't going where you think it is), I came across an entry for Bryony, a common, climbing plant of the British Isles with poisonous roots and berries. Never heard of it before.
But Bryony. That's a homophone for Briony, the lynchpin character in one of my favorite novels, Ian McEwan's "Atonement." Her lie poisons the family unit. And learning that her name is that of a poisonous plant, I now have another layer of subtext and meaning for this book I dearly love. So thanks, "Deadly Doses."
(If I have one quibble with the book, though, it's that the book designer didn't do a great job. One entry runs directly into another without so much as a blank line for white space. Not especially reader-friendly, and too bad because the book is chock-full of valuable information, if this is your bag.)
When "Girl On the Train" was released, it was touted as the "New 'Gone Girl.'" I suppose there are a minimum number of similarities, and marketers need to market. But strangely enough, my reaction to "Girl On the Train" was the reaction many of my friends had to "Gone Girl": I didn't like it because there were absolutely no likable characters.
Now, this may be true for "Gone Girl." In fact, in both Gillian Flynn novels I've read, the people certainly aren't nice. But the story was so interesting, the motivations and twists so -- well, twisted -- that I did enjoy the books.
"Girl On the Train," on the other hand, is populated by a bunch of unlikable (in basically uninteresting ways) people who do a bunch of stereotypically shitty things to one another. Without the complex psychology and psycho plot twists, it was just another woman-in-peril story for me. Like the network TV hour-long "dramas," if you know what I mean.
So there you go, if you didn't like "Gone Girl" because there were no "likable" characters, make sure you skip "Girl On the Train." It's the lesser book.
Ernest Cline's 2011 debut "Ready Player One" is steeped in '80s nostalgia, which made it a runaway hit and more than covered up its weaknesses in character development and plotting.
I bought into it and was much entertained. Is it great? No. Is it goooooooood? Absolutely.
Cline's 2014 follow-up, "Armada," was no such treasure, panned by critics and largely ignored by readers.
But in my reading of "Ready Player One," I came across this passage (Page 53 in the hardcover, if you're following along at home): "Today he was reading excerpts from The Egg Man, a bestselling Halliday biography I'd already read four times." THIS is the book Cline should write next: The "biography" of his Steve Jobs-esque, painfully antisocial computer mogul. And his best friend/fake Woz, Ogden "Og" Morrow. That would be interesting.
The question is, does Cline have the skill to pull off such a novel? I'd love to see him try. I'd love to read THAT book.