Thursday, May 31, 2012

May 2012 Books

I no longer want to read about the works of Alphra Behn, Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Virginia Woolf or Toni Morrison, I want to read the actual works.  So this month, my plan is to listen to these amazing women's voices as well as read other women's diary excerpts and memoirs.

A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
Published: 1929
Rating: 4

I found two broad thesis' that Woolf conveys in this cleverly written essay.

Using history and fictional characters (Shakespeare's equally genius sister, Judith) and places (Oxbridge - cross between Oxford and Cambridge), Woolf gives convincing reasons why there were no female poets, dramatists or novelist before Alphra Behn, who wrote in the latter 17th century.

Women were poor, uneducated, and imprisoned in an extremely patriarchal world.  Even women of nobility and status were entirely dependent upon their fathers, brothers and husbands to marry well, have children and care for the household (think Downton Abbey).

Therefore Woolf argues that " a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction".  This is the first thesis.

The second addresses the main attribute of the literary artist.  Woolf states her belief that a true artist, a literary genius such as Shakespeare or Jane Austen must write with a certain mind - an "androgynous mind..resonant and porous; that it transmits emotion without impedimental,  that it is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided."

Much food for thought in this slim, highly recommended book.

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
Published: 1996
Rating: 4

It is interesting to see the polar reviews on Goodreads. To quote Ryan Mallady from Goodreads, the plot is pretty basic: "Author summers in Tuscany, buys an old farmhouse, refurbishes it, travels through Italy, and cooks constantly."

I liked it.  It does not surprise me the author is a poet. Her use of language was extremely effective; I could smell the garlic, taste the fruit, see the landscape, touch the marble, and hear the beautiful Italian language.  I've never been to Italy but have always wanted to go - even more so after reading her engaging memoir.  Recipes are included - many of which I would like to try such as Basil and Lemon Chicken, Baked Peppers with Ricotta and Basil, Cherries Steeped in Red Wine, Pears in Mascarpone Custard and Rustic Apple Bread Pudding - yummo.   I would recommend to any foodies, especially those who love Italian!

Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table by Ruth Reichl
Published: 1998
Rating: 3

Another foodie memoir, quite different than Mayes', but similar in that they both have a passion for simple ingredients and good food.  Recipes abound in this book such as her father's favorite, Weiner Schnitzel, the author's infamous Artpark Brownies, a straight-forward Boeuf a la Bourguignonne, and super simple Deviled Eggs from her friend Marion.

It would be difficult to re-cap her very interesting life in a few sentences so will just write down the words that are in my book journal: bi-polar mother, passive father, French boarding school in Canada, college, bourgeois lifestyle, married, Europe, squalor living in NYC, commune in California, cook, restaurant critic, food writer, editor of Gourmet magazine.  An interesting and quick read.

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
Published: 2011
Rating: 4

I have taken a detour from my intended focus on female authors due to a work-related trip to California and the need to get a book that would make the 5+ hour airtime go by quickly.   I was not disappointed by this quick and engrossing crime thriller.

Nesbo is a Norwegian author that is likened to his Swedish counterparts, Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell.  His protagonist is detective Harry Hole and while this is my first foray into the series, it is the 7th book.

According to Wikipedia, the first two, The Bat and The Cockroaches have not been translated in English.  Books 3 - 9 have been translated by the same person, Don Bartlett and are 3) The Redbreast, 4) Nemesis, 5) The Devil's Star, 6) The Redeemer, 7) The Snowman, 8) The Leopard and 9) Phantom.

The story is pretty self-contained although there are enough references to past cases, partners and relationship to guess that reading in order might be more fulfilling.  I have downloaded a sample of The Leopard into my iPad and from what I've read so far, it does feel like a continuation of The Snowman.

I like Nesbo's writing style and his protagonist.  There are a number of twists and turns - at one point, I was feeling pretty good about guessing "who done it" only to be thrown off - which was okay because I didn't want the book to end.

The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg
Published: 2010
Rating: 4

I have continued down the detour by downloading this book on my iPad after reading Maureen Corrigan's review in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago.  Lackberg is another successful crime writer from the Scandinavian region;  she is from Sweden. This is the third in the series featuring police detective Patrik Hedstrom.  The first two are Ice Princess and The Preacher.

One word that would describe the content is "dysfunction".  Within the structure of a straightforward detective story, Lackberg explores this theme with all the major and minor characters. Upon retrospect, it is quite disturbing.  The reader is privy to the creation of a sociopath, a true monster whose actions are the root cause of tragic events in successive generations.

Within my book journal, I wrote a list of the other themes/issues addressed in the book:  Evil, incompetent police officers, postpartum depression, child pornography, murders by various modes, child abuse, Aspergers Syndrome, suicide, domestic violence, adultery.  Pretty dark stuff - all done behind closed doors in a small Swedish town.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Published: 1811
Rating: 5

LOVED IT!  I find Austen's writing virtually perfect.  Each word, phrase and sentence is meaningful and important - there is no fluff.  All of her characters, major and minor, are so vivid and real. The heroine (Elinor) is loved; the villains (Fanny and Willoughby) are despised; the spineless (Mr. Dashwood) is annoying, the broken-hearted (Marianne and Elinor) are pitied and the heroes (Colonel Brandon and Edward Ferrars) are without fault.

The comedic ending is perfect.

After reading the book, I watched the 2008 BBC mini-series and the Emma Thompson's 1995 movie adaptation.   Both are excellent.