Sunday, August 31, 2008
Monday, August 25, 2008
The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton
It is a rare thing to read chick lit with an explicitly feminist message, but that's precisely what one gets from Meg Waite Clayton's The Wednesday Sisters. The novel tells the story of five women, all young wives and mothers, who become friends in suburban San Francisco in the late-1960s. All five have aspirations and dreams, which for many of them focus on writing. Thus, the five friends form a writers' group, and the novel tells the story of their efforts to support one another in meeting their goals within the confines of late-1960s expectations of young women. In this Clayton has created a good and engaging story, one with developed characters and which easily retains the reader's interest and sympathy. One of the larger goals of this novel is clearly to explore women's lives in a time of tremendous change and upheaval. The five women are clearly placed in time-- they watch the moon landing, and they attend an anti-war rally. Where the book was most interesting for me was in its treatment of second wave feminism, looking at how the growing movement shaped the lives of these five women. The book opens in 1967, before the myriad transformative events that will shake the world in 1968. What strikes the reader, and where Clayton does an especially good job, is in showing how white, suburban America in 1967 looked far more like the 1950s than what most of us associate with the 1960s (tie-dye, drugs, bra burning, and the like). But the changes do begin to happen, and the Wednesday sisters do not remain untouched. The book makes clear that the pace of the changes with which we credit the 1960s was sometimes slow, and that for many people, ideas had to change before the realities of their daily lives did. Most importantly, this books highlights some of the limits of feminism (and the other radical changes of the late-1960s). My one significant criticism is that I didn't care for the way in which the story was told in retrospect with Frankie, the narrator, offering 21st century commentary on things she thought and did in the 1960s, offering side notes like "Of course we thought differently then." Just letting the characters be and exist in the 1960s would give them more complexity, and also highlight the limits of change. These women have their flaws. They have racist ideas. They have strong ideas about how families should be structured and the duties of husbands and wives. I'd prefer to just watch these things exist, unfold, and see how they changed, rather than getting presentist commentary. Overall, though, I enjoyed this book. It's a great summer read, particularly for the daughters of these 1960s women who are now young mothers, wives, writers, and businesswomen.
Meg Waite Clayton, The Wednesday Sisters (Ballantine, 2008) ISBN: 0345502825
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Normally I am first in line to complain about the weather in the Pacific Northwest. All that rain, grey sky, and chill get monotonous. It rains more or less non-stop from the end of October through May, and June is iffy. The payoff, though is the summer. In a good year it can be sunny, clear, and beautiful every day in August and September. Unfortunately that does not appear to be the norm for this August. We had a couple of beautiful weeks, but we've now slipped back into the cold, grey rain and fog. The weather stinks, but it is good for one thing: reading. I really believe there's no better environment to curl up on the couch with a good book than when it is cold and rainy outside. The sound of the rain is a soothing sort of white noise, and with the house warm and cozy, with a cup of tea, it's pretty much my ideal reading environment. So, that's precisely what I did today, and I read a whole book. Granted, it was only 160 pages, but it's still a book from the TBR pile that I've now completed. The book I read was Anna Quindlen's Imagined London. It's basically a travel narrative in which Quindlen discusses how the real London relates to the literary city, as it's been chronicled in 500 years of literature. It was a bit slow-going at first, as it begins with a stream-of-consciousness narrative, and the real thrust of the book is the last chapter, wherein Quindlen gets into the real literary criticism. My review will follow on here in a few days. I generally enjoyed the book, but it definitely requires some knowledge of London (either literary or real) to be of any sort of interest. So, I feel like I've accomplished something today. Not bad for a Sunday.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Carp(e) Libris is giving away a copy of The Painter of Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein. The Painter of Shanghai is a fictionalized account of the life of painter Pan Yuliang. To enter, leave a comment on the post explaining what you know, think, or find interesting about Chinese art and culture. To get there, just click on the book cover, above. You can also be entered by subscribing to the blog. And be sure to check out the rest of the blog- it's a nice, eclectic mix of books, and I could stare at the banner all day. I have to admit, blog design is something I totally can't do, but fully admire. A well-designed blog is just so visually pleasing. (Speaking of, look for a post on that forthcoming- I've been wanting to showcase beautiful blogs for awhile.)
Book Room Reviews is currently running a contest with a fantastic prize: a copy of Mia King's book, The Sweet Life, as well as Hawaiian chocolate and biscottis. All this comes in one awesome gift basket. This one is most certainly worth investigating. The prizes for this contest were generously donated by the author, Mia King. In addition, she's agreed to answer questions on the blog. This is quite the event. Other very cool things about the blog: note the adorable little characters (book worms?) that serve as avatars for the comments. Also, I clicked on her full-body avatar on the left, and discovered a wonderful, fun new website: Design-her gals. I could (and did tonight) spend far too much time playing around designing different versions of myself. Start playing here: http://www.designhergals.com/?nav=start.
Finally, Allison's Attic is offering a copy of The 19th Wife on her blog. All you have to do is leave a comment on her post. While you're there, make sure you check out Allison's awesome self-portrait. I want to know where she got her giant tome. Click on the book cover to get to the blog!
Monday, August 18, 2008
Kelly Dwyer, Self-Portrait with Ghosts (Berkeley, 2000) ISBN: 0425176967
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Thursday, August 14, 2008
I received this book through Library Thing's Early Reviewers program, and I was pleased to be selected to review it. Since I began reading I've struggled greatly with what exactly I think of this book, and even more, what rating to give it. Brand's work tells the story of four twenty-somethings living in Toronto negotiating the sometimes tragic details of their lives. There are elements of this book that are very, very good. The way Brand sets the scene in Toronto and its suburbs, in the present and thirty years earlier is excellent. Brand also creates some incredible characters who exist with a reality and depth that is admirable. Brand is a good writer- while perhaps that should go without saying for published fiction, that's certainly not always the case. But with the good comes the bad, too. Parts of this book did not impress me nearly as much. While Brand does create some very impressive characters, there were others who were under-developed, and seemed to have little purpose in the overall work. Oku and Jackie, in particular, and even Carla, to an extent, were marginal. Tuyen was far more complex and interesting than any of the others. This book is not a plot-driven one. It is very much character-driven. Brand is clearly trying to get at some larger issues. The book is about identity, about how people construct their identity and how it is constructed for them. On one level this book is about multi-culturalism in Canada, and what it means to be a Canadian of color. But even more (and connected to that) this book is about how family shapes identity. Each of the main characters is significantly shaped by tragedy in family life. Tuyen is shaped by the loss of her brother, Carla by her mother's suicide and brother's problems, Oku by his difficult relationship with his father, and Jackie by the decline of her parents' Toronto neighborhood. This is a saga about parents, children, and siblings, and how these people play as much of a role in the formation of the self as anything else. Interestingly, all of the main characters are rebelling in some way against their families, abut their rebellions serve only to underscore how deeply they are shaped by their family experiences. Ultimately my opinion was divided on this book, hence the 3. I admired some things, but disliked others, and would have liked more attention to plot and the ending.
Dionne Brand, What We All Long For (St. Martin's Griffin, 2008) ISBN: 0312377711