ULYSSES readalong: Ch 13 Nausicaa

April 20th, 2015

to-catch-a-thief

Welcome back the Ulysses readalong. We’re through more than half the chapters, but not quite through half the book.

I was excited when chapter 13 began with three women friends on a beach, with straightforward storytelling, albeit in romanticized prose. As we spend more time in Gerty’s mind, it becomes clear she has been brainwashed by women’s magazines and novels and thinks in romantic cliches.

This chapter has a lot of close echoes of the analogous scene from the Odyssey, in which Odysseus is washed up on the shore of a river and falls asleep in a shrub. He wakes when a group of giggling girls, led by the princess Nausicaa, play with a ball that lands near him.

Gerty is daydreaming about a boy named Reggie, when she spots a dark man a little way up the beach. Her romantic imaginings transfer to him as she catches and holds his attention. Fireworks start, a nearby church is having a temperance meeting and service, Gerty shows some leg to the man, and becomes aware that he’s masturbating. Around the part of the chapter, the POV switches and we find it’s Bloom (Joyce had been withholding this detail from us till now) and we’re back in his stream of consciousness. I may have the sequence mixed up a bit–they are tangled in my memory.

Ah!

Mr. Bloom with careful hand recomposed his wet shirt. O Lord that little limping devil. Begins to feel cold and clammy. Aftereffect not pleasant. Still you have to get rid of it someway. They don’t care. Complimented perhaps. (13.91-92)

I sensed Joyce provoking the reader in this chapter. We open with a seemingly charming tableau, which becomes less lovely as we read Gerty’s silly romantic notions, her dislike of the mess and noise of children, and her deliberate and escalating provocation of Bloom, who is a willing participant. This felt like Bloom at his least likeable, ogling and jacking off to a young girl, one that he thinks less of once he sees that she’s lame. We hear more about his troubled marriage with Molly, and the scene ends with him dozing, interspersed with the cries of “cuckoo,” which I took as reminders of his supposed cuckolding by Boylan.

I suppose this interlude with Blooms masturbating was inevitable–we’ve read about him taking a shit, farting, and now this. Bloom is a man with a messy, noisy body. Additionally, Gerty, for all her outward beauty, has some ugly thoughts, and a disability. She is a virgin, but also sexual, so she denies the madonna/whore dichotomy.

What did everyone else think?

I’ve found the resources at schmoop.com helpful for summaries and analysis. Like Wikipedia, though, it’s not to be trusted completely. Searching this weekend, I also found posts on a book blog I admire, The Sheila Variations, here is the LINK to the post on Nausicaa.

Join us next Monday 4/27 to discuss chapter 14: Oxen of the Sun.

The rest of the schedule, and what we’ve done already:

The schedule for the rest:

4/27/15 discuss and tweet section 14
(3 weeks to read the very long section 15 which we’ll spit into three chunks)
5/18/15 read, then discuss and tweet all of section 15
5/25/15 discuss and tweet section 16
(extra week to read the longer section 17)
6/8/15 read then discuss and tweet section 17
6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18
6/16/15 Bloomsday!

Past posts:

Week 1: books 1 and 2
Week 2: books 3 and 4
Week 3: books 5, 6
Week 4: book 7
Week 5: book 8
Week 6: book 9
Week 7: book 10
Week 8: book 11
Week 9: book 12

ULYSSES Readalong Ch 12: Cyclops

April 14th, 2015

cyclops1

Well, sort of. I read the chapter in its entirety and was left with the uncomfortable feeling of having bathed in so much anti-semitism that it wouldn’t wash off. The things people say about Bloom are so appalling, and I take umbrage on his behalf as if he were a friend, which he is rather getting to be over this book, even with all the TMI of shitting and farting and such.

I do not yet feel I can write a proper post on Cyclops, though, because I’ve only read it once, and am not yet even halfway through the Gifford notes. Which, if you’ve read the chapter and encountered those long Biblical-begat-esque lists, you know are a killer this week as they attempt to ’splain every Tom Dick and Harry in a chapter Joyce was working hard to make the most reference heavy EVER.

But I’m a day late in putting up this post, for two reasons. One, I had to take my elder, 11yo Drake, in for a strep test yesterday. It’s a weird parental thing where I both hope he is positive to justify having schlepped in for a test, and negative because, well, duh. He was positive so now we have to make sure he takes his anti-b’s 3x a day for 10 days. I made a chart so we don’t forget.

Also I started the book Reconstructing Amelia that my friend Sam lent me ages ago, and while I almost put it down at the beginning because I felt like I could see where it was going, I’m glad I didn’t, because it spun out to satisfying and in many ways unexpected conclusions. But that meant I didn’t get to chapter 12 of Ulysses till Sunday, which was too late for this behemoth of a chapter. It’s not like I wasn’t warned: the title is Cyclops after all.

So, before I delve back into the notes and a re-read, here is what I’ve got for you: the chapter is narrated by a nameless man, one who nearly loses an eye right off the bat:

a bloody* sweep came along and he near drove his gear into my eye

The chapter is interspersed throughout with long parodies of other written material, such as legal writs, Irish folktales, newspaper articles, and more. These alternate with the conversations of the unnamed Cylopean character with others in the bar as they drink. A lot. One man, named only The Citizen, becomes increasingly incensed at Bloom.

*Gifford’s note: A mysteriously offensive curse to the Victorian and Edwardian ear that continued to be offensive until the 1930’s; no one can quite explain how or why. Joyce thought, or at least said he thought, that it derived from By Our Lady; others suggest By God’s Blood.

My own idea: no matter its origins, I suspect an inferred connection to menstrual blood is what made it so offensive for so long.

On a completely different note, I enjoyed this malapropism, which made me picture someone throwing edible flowers at people:

Don’t cast your nasturtiums on my character. (vintage 320)

I will embiggen this later after I’ve finished Giffording, Schmooping, and re-reading. EDITED TO ADD: I found this note at Schmoop.com helpful. The myopia of the chapter applies to nationalism, to racism, and even to just sitting in the bar:

As readers, we’re subjected to the narrator’s very limited point-of-view, and we begin to notice just how constraining it can be to hear a story in the first person. The pronoun “I” becomes another metaphor for the Cyclops, for only being able to see things one way. It’s directly opposed to the idea of parallax – seeing one thing from a number of different points of view in order to get a fuller sense of the thing– that runs through the entire novel.

What did everyone else think?

See you here next Monday 4/20 for chapter 13: Nausicaa. Which I might just supplement with a viewing of Miyazaki’s debut masterpiece of the same name.

The schedule for the rest:

4/27/15 discuss and tweet section 14
(3 weeks to read the very long section 15 which we’ll spit into three chunks)
5/18/15 read, then discuss and tweet all of section 15
5/25/15 discuss and tweet section 16
(extra week to read the longer section 17)
6/8/15 read then discuss and tweet section 17
6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18
6/16/15 Bloomsday!

Past posts:

Week 1: books 1 and 2
Week 2: books 3 and 4
Week 3: books 5, 6
Week 4: book 7
Week 5: book 8
Week 6: book 9
Week 7: book 10
Week 8: book 11

ULYSSES Readalong Bk 11: Sirens

April 6th, 2015

ormond

Welcome back the Ulysses readalong. You can join in by commenting here, or by tweeting with the hashtag #TCUlysses. This week we tackled Chapter 11: Sirens. The first time through was somewhat bewildering for me, as is often the case. I was helped immensely by the note in Gifford that this is a musical chapter, and the opening is like a rehearsal, or perhaps an entr’acte?, that glides over the major points to follow, and concludes with “Done!” and the action begins with “Begin!”

As in music, several motifs are repeated throughout. The sirens of the title are most obviously the two barmaids who flirt and are flirted with. Less obvious, though, I suspect it’s the siren call of the past and the lotus-like inertia brought on by nostalgia.

Bloom sees Boylan for the third time that day, and dares to follow him into the Ormond hotel. I’m not sure I have this right, but it seemed like Bloom feared Boylan’s assignation with Molly would take place at the Ormond, but Boylan leaves before Bloom does. Is he off to see Molly? Is Bloom imagining the affair?

In any case, Bloom eats lunch, listens to the music, then feels lonely, writes back to Martha, then breaks the spell by leaving before the end of the song The Croppy Boy that the other men are so moved by. And ends the chapter by avoiding a homely prostitute he’s been with before, and farting intermittently then loudly when loud street sounds will cover it.

What did everyone else think this week?

Join us next week on 4/13/15 for Book 12: Cyclops. The schedule for the rest:

4/20/15 discuss and tweet section 13
4/27/15 discuss and tweet section 14
(3 weeks to read the very long section 15 which we’ll spit into three chunks)
5/18/15 read, then discuss and tweet section 15
5/25/15 discuss and tweet section 16
(extra week to read the longer section 17)
6/8/15 read then discuss and tweet section 17
6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18
6/16/15 Bloomsday!

Past posts:

Ulysses readalong week 1, books 1 and 2
Ulysses readalong week 2, books 3 and 4
Ulysses readalong week 3, books 5 and 6
Ulysses readalong week 4: book 7
Ulysses readalong week 5: book 8

Ulysses readalong week 6: book 9
Ulysses readalong week 7: book 10

ULYSSES Readalong Book 10: The Wandering Rocks

March 30th, 2015

wanderingrocks

Image from Amanda Visconti’s site Literature Geek. Amanda is also the curator of Infinite Ulysses, which you should check out if you haven’t yet.

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Twin Cities Ulysses readalong, book 10: The Wandering Rocks.

EDITED TO ADD: I continue to find the reading process that works best for me is to read the chapter in one fell swoop, read Gifford’s notes, read the Schmoop summary and analysis, and then re-read. That makes for a lengthy process though, so I’ll add later thoughts and notes at the beginning of each post.

One thing I missed the first time that Gifford pointed out were the references to Bleak House by Dickens, which I read in a group a few winters ago. First, there’s the description of the professor of dancing:

Mr Denis J. Maginni, professor of dancing, &c., in silk hat, slate frockcoat with silk facings, white kerchief tie, tight lavender trousers, canary gloves and pointed patent boots, walking with grave deportment most respectfully took the curbstone as he passed lady Maxwell at the corner of Dignam’s Court. (220 Vintage)

This is a nod to the elder Mr. Turveydrop, the dancing teacher who is known for his deportment in Bleak House.

Later are allusions to the court system and to Miss Flite:

Lawyers of the past, haughty, pleading, beheld pass from the consolidated taxing office to Nisi Prius court Richie Goulding carrying the costbag of Goulding, Collis and Ward and heard rustling from the admiralty division of king’s bench to the court of appeal an elderly female with false teeth smiling incredulously and a black silk skirt of great amplitude. (232 Vintage)

And later:

An elderly female, no more young, left the building of the courts of chancery, king’s bench, exchequer and common pleas, having heard in the lord chancellor’s court the case in lunacy of Potterton… (Vintage 236)

And my favorite sentence of the section was this:

…and when we sallied forth it was blue o’clock the morning after the night before. (Vintage 234)

END of ADDITION

Initially this post will be brief. I have only read chapter 10 once, not yet notes, analysis, or re-read it, all of which I plan to do.

In book 10, the stream of consciousness jumps from character to connected character. I found this segment much more accessible than last week’s Book 9 (the post for which I have embiggened after re-reading 9 and appreciating it more). I also really loved getting to hear different character’s voices, and getting the Rashomon-like perspectives of the same scene from different views.

Because I couldn’t recall the Wandering Rocks episode from The Odyssey, I checked at Schmoop and found out there was a good reason:

It’s interesting to note that there isn’t actually a “Wandering Rocks” episode in the Odyssey. Circe warns Odysseus that no man has ever passed through the rocks alive and thus advises him to pass between Scylla and Charybdis. It’s almost as if Joyce, in his creative ebullience, refuses to take Circe’s advice.

My favorite line this week eludes me but I did like this even though I’m not a gin person:

Hot spirit of juniper juice warmed his vitals and his breath. Good drop of gin, that was. His frocktails winked in bright sunshine to his fat strut.

But, the following made me hungry and I might well make scones today:

Two melanges [a mixture of fruit in cream], Buck Mulligan said. And bring us some scones and butter and some cakes as well.

then:

He sank two lumps of sugar deftly longwise through the whipped cream. Buck Mulligan slit a steaming scone in two and plastered butter over its smoking pith. He bit off a soft piece hungrily…[Haines] tasted a spoonful from the creamy cone of his cup.

That’s all I’ve got thus far. As seems to be my MO, I will embiggen this post once I’ve done my due diligence for the book. But, in the meantime, what did everyone else think?

Add your thoughts in the comments, or come tweet them on Twitter with the hashtag #TCUlysses.

Join us next week on 4/6/15 for Book 11:Sirens. The schedule for the rest:

4/13/15 discuss and tweet section 12
4/20/15 discuss and tweet section 13
4/27/15 discuss and tweet section 14
(3 weeks to read the very long section 15 which we’ll spit into three chunks)
5/18/15 read, then discuss and tweet section 15
5/25/15 discuss and tweet section 16
(extra week to read the longer section 17)
6/8/15 read then discuss and tweet section 17
6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18
6/16/15 Bloomsday!

Past posts:

Ulysses readalong week 1, books 1 and 2
Ulysses readalong week 2, books 3 and 4
Ulysses readalong week 3, books 5 and 6
Ulysses readalong week 4: book 7
Ulysses readalong week 5: book 8

Ulysses readalong week 6: book 9

ULYSSES Readalong Book 9: Scylla and Charybdis

March 23rd, 2015

scylla

EDITED TO ADD: this was not a fine moment for me as a reader, or as a moderator. I resorted to one of the least mature reading criticisms of them all, one that I typically deplore: (whiny voice) *it was HARD. I didn’t LIKE it.*

Welcome to Ulysses, b1tch. Why do I think I’m doing this? For enjoyment? No, for pleasure, which is that complicated mix of enjoyment and almost pain when I am pushed to my limits and made to WORK, to think, to LEARN.

Also, because I told a lot of other people I would and it would be lame to quit.

I apologize for being so flip in the post below. BUT I’m going to leave it up, because it is a valid, if not valuable and if childish, response.

After going through the notes, and reading an online analysis, and re-reading, I was actually delighted by all the Hamlet talk, by Stephen’s comparison of Penelope and Ann Hathaway and by extension Will and Odysseus, and his theory that Shakespeare identified with the ghost because Ann had an affair with one of his brothers, both of whose names were villains in his plays. I also appreciated the contrast between the “don’t consider the context” school of criticism versus the “reading way too much biographical material into a work of art” rock and hard places.

And, in a clever turn of the “Titular Line” concept, Joyce calls out to his chapter Scylla and Charybdis:

Between the Saxon smile and yankee yawp. The devil and the deep sea.

END OF EDITED ADDITION

***

Soundtrack to today’s chapter: “Wrapped Around Your Finger” by the Police, since it names Scylla and Charybdis.

Comment here or on Twitter with the hashtag #TCUlysses

I feel like a bad moderator, but I did not enjoy this week’s reading. I felt good about last week’s book 8, felt like I understood it and enjoyed the time in Bloom’s head. This week, though, we’re back in Stephen Dedalus’ head, and I don’t like it there.

Stephen’s something of a self-satisfied intellectual ass, and he and the others spent the book discussing Shakespeare and Aristotle and Plato and the intellectual wanking exhausted me. I wanted to run into the room, kick them all in the shins and run out again in a childish bid to bring them back to earth.

I read book 9, then read SO MANY PAGES of Gifford’s notes on the book 9, then read the summary and analysis at Schmoop.com, and I’m not sure I have much more to offer you than:

Stephen and some of his friends sit around and pontificate on theories about Shakespeare.

I’m a Shakespeare geek. I love Shakespeare and enjoy nerdish discussions about who wrote the plays, and who was the model for which character. I did not enjoy them here, though. Stephen and the others lack a humor, lack the earthy realism of Shakespeare (and Bloom) that allows me to connect to the plays, their author, and dicussions about them.

What I believe we’re supposed to take away is that both intellectualism and earthy realism are important, that art can (and should?) be based from life, and that Stephen is trying to figure out how to make art based on life. (Hint: get out of your head.)

What did everyone else think?

Join us next week on 3/30/15 for Book 10: The Wandering Rocks. The schedule for the rest:

4/6/15 discuss and tweet section 11
4/13/15 discuss and tweet section 12
4/20/15 discuss and tweet section 13
4/27/15 discuss and tweet section 14
(3 weeks to read the very long section 15 which we’ll spit into three chunks)
5/18/15 read, then discuss and tweet section 15
5/25/15 discuss and tweet section 16
(extra week to read the longer section 17)
6/8/15 read then discuss and tweet section 17
6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18
6/16/15 Bloomsday!

For reference, here are the past posts:

Ulysses readalong week 1, books 1 and 2
Ulysses readalong week 2, books 3 and 4
Ulysses readalong week 3, books 5 and 6
Ulysses readalong week 4: book 7
Ulysses readalong week 5: book 8

EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU by Celeste Ng

March 21st, 2015

I read Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng just before its match in The Morning News Tournament of Books. I’d read great things about it, and was looking forward to it. It opens with the arresting sentence:

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

which put me immediately in mind of another famous first novel about a dead girl, The Lovely Bones. Like that book, this one is about how the family deals with the aftermath, and what they do and don’t know. As you can tell from the title, it’s about what isn’t said, and it was frustrating as this conflict escalated because of the number of times a characters almost said something, or thought about hugging someone and didn’t. That wasn’t what made me want to put the book down, though. It was the author’s decision to use an omniscient narrator, and how too often, that narrator intruded. Here, the father has just read the autopsy report. He’s a historian, so he isn’t the one who flowers up the prose, that’s the narrator, who distracted me here:

He learns the color and size of each of her organs, the weight of her brain. That a white foam had bubbled up through her trachea and covered her nostrils and mouth like a lace handkerchief. That her alveoli held a thin layer of silt as fine as sugar. (p. 69)

What I appreciated about the book, though, kept me going and I’m glad I did. I liked this insight into racially mixed family in the 70’s and the silent and not-so racism they endured on a regular basis. I also appreciated the dilemma of the mother, trapped by ongoing pregnancies in a pre-pill era into abandoning her plans to be a doctor.

And in the end, when the family does start talking and hugging, it was all the more satisfying for all the lack that went before.

BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO WEEP by Kristi Belcamino

March 19th, 2015

weep

Up front disclosure: Kristi is a friend so I would say lovely things about Blessed Are Those Who Weep no matter what. Fortunately, she creates engaging characters and is a spinner of ripping plots, so it is easy to say good things about the book.

I received a free advance review e-copy, but I think it evaporates in 30 days, which is fine because by then I’ll have my own copy that I pre-ordered from BN.com for my Nook reader. You can also pre-order it at Amazon for your Kindle or other reader. It will be available on April 7, 2015.

Blessed Are Those Who Weep: A Gabriella Giovanni Mystery is the third in the series, after Blessed Are the Dead, and Blessed Are The Meek. This book can stand alone, but I do recommend going back to read the first two in order to better get to know the characters, because they’re one of the many joys of this ongoing series. This book is set in 2003, several months after the previous one.

Gabriella is a crime reporter for a San Francisco newspaper, and has a hot Irish cop boyfriend named Sean Donovan. The two of them are having a rough patch, though, after some recent trouble I won’t divulge. We don’t get into that, though, until after the riveting opening scene, which I could describe but will quote instead because I think it’s terrific. When I heard Kristi read this aloud recently, the noisy bar became pin-drop quiet, and throughout there were gasps of horror.

At first I think she is a doll. Sitting there so still on the floor in her pink dress, chubby legs sticking out from her diaper, big black eyes unblinking, staring at something I can’t see. A ribbon hangs loose in her hair. Something that looks like chocolate is smeared around her mouth and one cheek.

The front door is only open wide enough to frame her small body in the dim light. I can’t see the rest of the room.

“Mrs. Martin?” The words echo in the silent apartment. At my voice, the baby turns her head toward me in what seems like slow motion. Even though the apartment door was ajar when I arrived, something stops me from pushing it open more. My hand hangs in the air, frozen. The rhythmic drip of a faucet is eerily loud. And something smells funny. Off. A smell I recognize but cannot place. A smell that increases my unease.

“Are you in there Mrs. Martin? It’s Gabriella Giovanni from the Bay Herald. We spoke yesterday.”

Silence.

As if my voice has flicked a switch, the child moves and talks, babbling. “Mamamama, Maaamamama.” She picks something up. Something floppy and pale and long. Something with short red fingernails. An arm.

A wave of panic rises in me as I figure out what I smell. (p. 1-2)

That baby, crawling among the dead bodies of her family, becomes a lifeline for Gabriella, who was already having a tough time emotionally before she stumbled on that crime scene. The baby’s father is in the army and deployed abroad. As Gabriella works to piece together what happened, she begins to suspect the father isn’t as far away as he seems. Those around her think she’s crazy, and given what she’s gone and going through, she might be. It’s an uphill fight for her to keep searching for answers to keep that baby safe, and one that builds until the very end. She goes up the chain of command in the military, into a sex club, a dojo, and by the end of the book has figured out how these all intersect.

One of the pleasures of this book and the ones that precede it, is that Gabriella is both endearingly and sometimes frustratingly real. This is no picture-perfect top model cruising around in her convertible, solving mysteries without breaking a nail. Gabriella, or Ella to her loved ones, stumbles in her heels, wears the wrong outfit to a crime scene, and (usually) eats baguettes and pastries with gusto. She has a day job and has to work for a living. Here, she’s also depressed and making bad personal decisions, the kind that make me want to give her a shake and yell, “Snap out of it!” She’s being passive-aggressive with her boyfriend, ducking calls from her mom, and cancelling her therapy appointments. Gabriella is realistically flawed and human, and I truly enjoy spending time with her, even when she’s in a sorry state, as she is for much of the book. As with all the books, we get to see Gabriella’s Catholic faith and symbols throughout, and spend time and eat vicariously at the bountiful table of her Italian grandmother.

I enjoyed the story as well as the characters, and tore through this book in under 24 hours. It has a tremendous need-to-know-what-happens factor, both for the baby and for Gabriella. I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series, and to seeing what Gabriella is up to in the future.

You can pre-order the book at Amazon here
At Barnes & Noble here
And find it on Goodreads here

You can find Kristi on her website, Facebook, or Twitter.

ULYSSES readalong week 5: book 8

March 16th, 2015

laestrygonians

Welcome back to the Ulysses readalong! You’re still here, right, reading along? Because that’s why I’m here, because I told a bunch of people I was going to do this and blog about it, and even though it’s really hard and sometimes boring, I know it’s really good for me, and I’d feel lame if I quit.

You can comment here, or on Twitter with the hashtag #TCUlysses.

So, here we are, book 8, subtitled in Joyce’s notes as The Laestrygonians, which is a really fun name to say. For those of you who read The Odyssey with me (and aren’t you glad you did? Me too.), the Laestrygonians were the giant cannibals that Odysseus and his men encountered. Appetite is echoed throughout this chapter in the theme of hunger, but was particularly explicit when Bloom goes in the first diner, The Burton, and is repulsed by all the eating.

Before that was one of my favorite passages, though:

A warm human plumpness settled down on his brain. His brain yielded. Perfume of embraces all him assailed. With hungered flesh obscurely, he mutely craved to adore. (168)

*whew* *fans self*

This section is mostly Bloom’s stream of consciousness, wandering around hungry, but then switches to the conversation of others as he leaves the pub towards the end. In this chapter we see again that Bloom has an enormous capacity for empathy. Given how earthy and randy his thoughts are, I was shocked and saddened to learn that he and Molly haven’t had sex since poor little Rudy died ten years ago.

Finally, I liked this insight about the chapter from the site Schmoop:

As Bloom wanders around town, his thoughts are constantly linked to his surroundings. Different storefronts in Dublin make his mind race from one thing to the next. When we read the scene where Bloom leads the blind stripling (young man) across the street by his elbow, we might think of this as what Joyce is doing for us. After all, most of us are not in Dublin. We can’t see what the words are referring to and have only the language to guide us: we’re blind. And Joyce, as he leads us on this grand tour of Dublin, is a great deal like Bloom, gently leading us – the blind stripling – through a city that we cannot see.

What did everyone else think?

Join us next week for Book 9: Scylla and Charybdis, the proverbial rock and a hard place. The schedule for the rest:

3/23/15 discuss and tweet section 9
3/30/15 discuss and tweet section 10
4/6/15 discuss and tweet section 11
4/13/15 discuss and tweet section 12
4/20/15 discuss and tweet section 13
4/27/15 discuss and tweet section 14
(3 weeks to read the very long section 15 which we’ll spit into three chunks)
5/18/15 read, then discuss and tweet section 15
5/25/15 discuss and tweet section 16
(extra week to read the longer section 17)
6/8/15 read then discuss and tweet section 17
6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18
6/16/15 Bloomsday!

For reference, here are the past posts:

Ulysses readalong week 1, books 1 and 2
Ulysses readalong week 2, books 3 and 4
Ulysses readalong week 3, books 5 and 6
Ulysses readalong week 4: book 7

REDEPLOYMENT by Phil Klay

March 14th, 2015

Redeployment by Phil Klay was last year’s National Book Award winner, and a contender in a match next week at The Morning News Tournament of Books–it goes up against Silence Once Begun on 3/17/15, and since I am apparently the only person who liked that book, I expect Redeployment to take the match handily.

I picked up Redepoyment after I stopped in the middle of All the Light We Cannot See. After I read several disappointing books in a row, especially ones that are gushed over elsewhere, I often doubt my book compass and if I will ever love again. I immediately engaged with Redeployment and its writing, so it was good to be back in a loving mood again. The emotion, dark humor, punch-y prose and immediacy of it all were such welcome contrasts to what didn’t work for me with All the Light We Cannot See that I felt like hugging Redeployment, which is odd since it’s hardly a warm, fuzzy book.

We shot dogs. Not by accident. We did it on purpose, and we called it Operation Scooby. I’m a dog person, so I thought about that a lot.

Instead, it’s a series of stories told by various narrators in Iraq. Some are stateside, some are in Iraq, some are soldiers, many are not. The multiplicity of views of war were one of my favorite things about the book.

For me, though, the momentum ran out at about 2/3 through the book during one of the longest stories, “Psychological Operations.” I can’t tell if it’s a criticism of the book, or simply my reading experience but by this point, the drama and immediacy of war had worn off, and I just wanted it to be over, yet I was in the midst of a long story, with 3 more shortish ones to go. At 288 pages, this is not a long book, but by the end it felt like it. I feel like an immature reader, one who whines that “it was too long.” Perhaps that’s one of the powers of the book, that it immerses you so much in the cloud of war that I was nauseated and exhausted and crabby by the end, which was the tip of the negative iceberg for most characters in the book.

DEPT. OF SPECULATION by Jenny Offill

March 13th, 2015

I read Jenny Offill’s slim, experimental novel Dept. of Speculation in one fell swoop. Immediately upon finishing, I read it again, and admired and enjoyed it even more.

The novel is written (mostly) from the perspective of a woman who is sometimes “I”, “she,” or “the wife” depending on how difficult or painful the memory is. It’s written in tiny bite-size morsels, so many of which are perfectly condensed gems of truth that my fingers twitched to underline them. I could probably simply underline the whole book.

I borrowed it from the library, though, so I restrained myself. But when (not if) I get my own copy of this book, I can’t guarantee I won’t, even though my husband G. Grod despises marking up books. But I am so unabashedly in love with some of the sentences in this book that I want to highlight them, quote them, put them up on a pedestal. This is the book I keep mentioning to people, made my husband read before I returned it, keep quoting from, like this:

But now it seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be.

I read this one aloud to my husband:

Also she signed away the right to self-destruct years ago. The fine print on the birth certificate, her friends call it.

And this one too:

Advice for wives circa 1896: The indiscriminate reading of novels is one of the most injurious habits to which a married woman can be subject. Besides the false views of human nature it will impart … it produces an indifference to the performance of domestic duties, and contempt for ordinary realities.

I could go on, but then I’d be quoting the whole book, and you should just go out and read it. Caution, though. It is weird. This is not a conventional book or easy read though you can finish in under two hours. The little bits, though, add up to a beautiful, if sometimes painful and sad, whole. I highly recommend it.

(So imagine my disappointment when Victor LaValle, an author I admire, and whose Big Machine is one of my all-time favorite Tournament of Books discoveries, picked another book over Dept. of Speculation in today’s match. Noooooo! All these books I didn’t care for win, and then the first book that comes up that I love goes down? So sad.)

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr

March 13th, 2015

Another top-ranked contender in this year’s Morning News Tournament of Books, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See seemed like a sure thing for me to like. It made most of last year’s Best-Of lists, was a National Book Award finalist as well as one of the New York Times 10 Best Books. It was historical fiction set in WWII, like one of my favorite books in recent years, the similarly lauded Life after Life by Kate Atkinson.

And yet. And yet. Not only did I not connect with this book, as I read more of it, I became increasingly annoyed and exasperated. It is told mostly from the alternating perspectives of Marie-Laure, a blind girl who leaves war-town Paris for the walled city of Saint-Malo, where her uncle lives, and Werner, a scrawny but brilliant German orphan whose savant-like facility with radios earns him a spot in a Nazi Youth prep school where he witnesses terrible brutality. Because, Nazis.

Scattered among the Marie and Werner chapters are some from other perspectives, including from the big bad Nazi guy who becomes obsessed with tracking down a legendary, allegedly curses diamond that Marie’s father (a museum security/lock expert) had been entrusted with.

The segments are short, so it was not a difficult book to read. Hindering me, though, we some sentences that completely threw me out of the narrative. Most critics and readers praise Doerr’s lovely prose, but sometimes for me I stumbled over what felt like “darlings”: overly crafted sentences that drew my attention to the sentence, and away from the story. For instance, after a bombing, blind Marie Laure has to make her way downstairs to the kitchen by herself:

A cookbook lies facedown in her path like a shotgunned bird. (101)

The simile felt clumsy–I had to think about it, and decided I didn’t care for it, then wondered why such a visual simile was in this section about the blind girl who couldn’t even see the book anyway, much less that it looked like a shotgunned bird. And, now that I’m thinking about it, no it didn’t, because the book would have been intact, where a shotgunned bird (as opposed to a wounded, dead, or stunned bird) would have been torn apart.

I maintain that I hate that simile even more, now.

Another:

Through three arched windows, dawn sends a sheaf of hallowed golden rays. (138)

Why hallowed? The adjective stopped me in my forward progress, wondering why it was there. I found no reason, other than it might sound pretty.

As I trudged on, I was struck by what I saw as the books complete lack of humor. The characters did love one another but they never joked, they never made humorous observations. Everyone was a serious character: the blind girl, the orphaned boy genius recruited into Nazi Youth even though he’s not evil, the evil Nazi obsessed with some object who IS evil. I didn’t connect with these characters, or find them compelling. They bored me, even as I surmised what the outcome would be for each of them.

I wondered whether to continue. As with The Paying Guests, I was not enjoying it. But did I want to finish it anyway, to see if it got better, or so I would have my own full-formed opinion of why I didn’t like it, when so many others have?

Reader, I put it down. Skipped ahead to the ending, which proved out the suspicions I’d had prior to the halfway mark–who lives, who dies, who succeeds, who fails, and what happens to the diamond.

At the Tournament of Books, All the Light We Cannot See won its first match, and is up against the similarly underwheming-to-me Paying Guests, and whichever wins will go up against David Mitchell’s Bone Clocks (which I didn’t love either.) or Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings. I’m tentatively rooting for the latter, because I haven’t yet read it, I already bought it, and it’s by a non-white author who happens to live in my city. He recently wrote about how he got to Minneapolis from Jamaica for The New York Times.

THE PAYING GUESTS by Sarah Waters

March 11th, 2015

Finally, I get to read Sarah Waters, I thought to myself when her latest, The Paying Guests, made the Morning News Tournament of Books shortlist this year, plus I had it in my library request list early enough that I could get it before the Tourney began. When I went away to a writing retreat last weekend, it was the only physical book I took with me.

Alas, I never connected with it. The novel is set in post WWI London, and about a daughter and mother whose genteel poverty forces them to take in merchant-class “paying guests” (not, gasp, lodgers) to their stately house in order to pay the bills. There is crossed loved, and forbidden romance, secrets and lies. Crime, and punishment. Yet somehow, the book never connected with me, never made me NEED to read it. I could easily have put it down, and didn’t because it was the only book I’d brought and I wanted to form my own opinion before it came up in the tourney, which is tomorrow.

The meticulous research, and even the carefully drawn characters and setting are all skilfully done. Yet I always felt a bit bored, and never cared as much as I wanted to about the characters, even when I thought I should. I do still hope to read her other books, which I’m assured by other readers are more fabulous than this one was.

Taking Real Breaks from Writing

March 10th, 2015

Another nugget that stayed with me from my writing workshop and retreat with Dani Shapiro at Kripalu last weekend was about the danger of taking fake breaks.

Shapiro recalled how earlier in her life, when she’d get hit a writing wall, she would stop writing and take a cigarette break, during which her mind would wander, and after which she’d go back to the page. She noted how one of her old teachers used to say she did some of her best writing in the bathtub, and how it took her a long time to realize she didn’t mean it literally, but in the sense of being away from the page or the ‘puter and letting the mind wander where it will.

The danger in our hyperconnected lives is that we no longer take real breaks. If we step away from the writing, it’s to check email, or Facebook, or Twitter, or something similar. We’re not taking a break and resting. We’re just doing something else.

As I wrote about in the post on a pre-writing meditation, the “trick” to focusing on writing is to write. Sit with the page, not hare off after this pretty shiny blinking beeping light or that one.

As Shapiro noted, often we are at our most distractible when we are on the verge of getting at some juicy, challenging bit of truth. If we don’t give ourselves the out, if we can practice being attentive, and leaving those other activities for other times, we are much more likely to write, and perhaps to write less suckily.

In the wake of the retreat, I’ve taken several apps off my phone, and have thus reduced my distractions a bit. I still am emailing on my phone, as well as getting on this or that other site online. Instead of those, today, I took breaks by doing laundry, which is a straightforward enough task that it allowed my mind to wander for a bit.

I have a lot of bad habits to break, and a lot of good ones to practice, slowly. Thinking of them as fake breaks, though, makes them easier to avoid. Or want to avoid. Progress, not perfection, right?

A Short Meditation Exercise for Writing

March 10th, 2015

Well, this morning I already messed up one of the things I “learned” at the writing retreat led by Dani Shapiro I attended last weekend at Kripalu.

The class was on meditation and writing, and was a good mix of both. One of the best meditations of the weekend I took away was one Shapiro said she’d gotten from cartoonist author Lynda Barry. Get a paper and pen. Set a timer for two minutes (Shapiro recommended and I agree that the Insight Timer app is great). Make a dot in the middle of the paper, then draw the tightest spiral you can around it, always trying to make it as close as possible to the earlier lines without touching, because it’s like the game Operation, you’ll get electrocuted. (side note, current versions of the game play laughter when you touch the sides, not a nasty buzz. I think I prefer the buzz rather than the mocking.)

When the timer goes off, set it for 5 minutes. Turn to a new piece of paper (Shapiro recommends keeping a journal to do this exercise every day, and doing facing pages for it). Make a four section grid. Label the sections: Did, Saw, Heard, and Doodle.

Think of seven things you did, saw or heard within some set of time (24 hours or the morning or whatever) and fill in those with words. Then, when you have seven of each, start to doodle in the final square. Stop when done, and go right to writing.

That last bit is the important part. GO RIGHT TO WRITING.

Do not check email, Facebook, twitter, etc. Do not make coffee, go to the bathroom. START TO WRITE.

That’s the part I didn’t manage this morning. But when I realized it, I came right here and started to write. (To my credit, my ego insists that I add that I did: have a proper brekkie, gets boys on bus, do yoga, chant, and meditate before doing the spiral/quadrant exercise.)

There are so many things I let distract me from writing. Email and twitter and facebook are seductive because they SEEM like writing. But they’re empty calories. Fine in moderation, but not good to snack on continually. I’ve taken Twitter and Facebook off my phone, so that’s a start.

ULYSSES readalong week 4: Book 7 Aeolus

March 9th, 2015

freeman

Welcome back to the Ulysses readalong! Just one long book this week rather than two short ones, and I enjoyed having only one style to manage, though this week’s style was a head turner. Remember, you can comment here or on Twitter with the hashtag #TCUlysses.

Book 7 is called Aeolus, a reference to the king in The Odyssey who gives Odysseus a bag of wind that gets him within spitting sight of Ithaca, at which point he takes one of a couple inconvenient naps. His men speculate on what’s in the bag, decide it’s treasure, and it blows them backwards to Aeolus’ place, who will no longer help them because they’re obviously cursed (or, stupid. Take your pick.)

In Ulysses, the bag(s) of wind are in the newspaper room, and can refer either to the shifting winds of news, or to the back and forth of the men who work there. This is a visually arresting chapter, interspersed with headlines taken from the men’s discussion rather than Bloom’s imagination. The book begins and ends with Nelson’s monument.

Bloomian aside: I may get myself a little bar of lemon soap and keep it in my purse to be periodically surprised by how lovely it smells.

Stephen, with new boots (the ones from Mulligan at the bottom of his pants?) comes into the office where he’s doted upon and puts forth Deasy’s foot and mouth letter, which the paper will publish. Not so the Keyes ad that Bloom is trying to get in. Once again, we see Bloom on the edge of a group, the excluded observer.

I was delighted many times by the words this week. A few of my favorites (pages from Vintage edition):

McHugh murmured softly, biscuitfully to the dusty windowpane. (123)

Hush, Lenehan said. I hear feetstoops. (128)

The loose flesh of his neck shook like a cock’s wattles. An illstarched dicky jutted up and with a rude gesture he thrust it back into his waistcoat. (136-7)

His mouth continued to twitch unspeaking in nervous curls of disdain. (138)

I have often thought since on looking back over that strange time that it was that small act, trivial in itself, that striking of that match, that determined the whole aftercourse of both our lives. (140)

The former is from Stephen’s inner monologue, not Bloom’s and is overdramatic in the style of Dickens and others (and not true).

Stephen, his blood wooed by grace of language and gesture, blushed. (140)

The book finishes with a long anecdote, “the parable of the plums” about two virgins climbing Nelson’s monument, eating plums and throwing down the pits. This, like much of the book, seems to be about how much English occupation of Ireland sucks. Stephen refers to Nelson as “the onehandled adulterer” which amuses the others.

I don’t quite get how people would climb this. Inside, like Statue of Liberty? Or, it’s a parable and didn’t really happen and important because it’s an English statue in the middle of Dublin, which would so upset people that the IRA would later blow it up?

97i/21/irnd/7088/36

Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated says that the epithet is because Lord Nelson lost an arm in an unsuccessful battle and later had an affair.

My favorite note from Gifford this week was on Antisthenes, from the amusingly titled section “SOPHIST WALLOPS HAUGHTY HELEN SQUARE ON PROBOSCIS. SPARTANS GNASH MOLARS. ITHACANS VOW PEN IS CHAMP.”

McHugh comments that Stephen reminds him of Antisthenes, who

wrote a book in which he took away the palm of beauty from Argive Helen and handed it to poor Penelope. (148-149)

According to Gifford, Antisthenes apparently argued (the work has been lost) that

Penelope’s virtue made her more beauitiful than Helen , whose virtue was somewhat less solidly demonstrated.

Snerk.

And that’s all I have for book 7. Sorry for the delay in posting. Had a little detour this morning to Urgent Care after 11yo Drake slipped and fell on ice that looked like a puddle, and earned the dubious distinction of the first broken bone in the family. He is doing well now, though, and insists that it sounds worse than it is. He hasn’t tried to sleep or remove his shirt, though. We’ll see how tonight goes.

Reminder: we meet back here, same bat time, same bat channel, on Monday 3/16/15 to discuss Book 8 Laestrygonians. For all you who didn’t read The Odyssey, the Laestrygonians are the giant cannibals, so it will probably not be boring, and starts off with these delicious words:

Pineapple rock, lemon platt, butter scotch. (151)

The schedule for the rest (never too late to join–we’re only at page 150!)

3/16/15 discuss and tweet section 8
3/23/15 discuss and tweet section 9
3/30/15 discuss and tweet section 10
4/6/15 discuss and tweet section 11
4/13/15 discuss and tweet section 12
4/20/15 discuss and tweet section 13
4/27/15 discuss and tweet section 14
(3 weeks to read the very long section 15 which we’ll spit into three chunks)
5/18/15 read, then discuss and tweet section 15
5/25/15 discuss and tweet section 16
(extra week to read the longer section 17)
6/8/15 read then discuss and tweet section 17
6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18
6/16/15 Bloomsday!

For reference, here are the past posts:

Ulysses readalong week 1, books 1 and 2
Ulysses readalong week 2, books 3 and 4
Ulysses readalong week 3, books 5 and 6

Imperfect Notebooks

March 6th, 2015

I began to write about the writing and meditation workshop/retreat I took at Kripalu Center last weekend, and realized I might have to edit it into bite-sized chunks. Such an unpleasant word, chunks, no?

I’ll start with the problem I made with which notebook to take with me on the retreat.

My husband asked what notebook I”m going to take because there was a really cool German Leuchtterm one that Warren Ellis tweeted about, here.

leuchtterm

Some commenters said it wasn’t good for fountain pens, which I use, because they bleed through the paper of the Leuchtterm. Those commenters instead liked the Rodia large webnotebook at Levenger, here

rodia

Ooh, orange, I thought. I love orange. I spent quite a lot of time shopping for journals, time I might otherwise have been reading, writing or keeping house. Eventually, I selflessly decided not to spend $35 or anything at all and I’d just take a regular pad of paper or the current journal I’m writing in and don’t love but it still has space.

Aren’t I a writing-retreat martyr, and selfless and frugal to boot?

Snerk.

But then I had a writing date at Barnes & Noble and thought I’d just take a quick peek at the journals and see if that had the one I’d passed on a couple times with the leather cover and labyrinth pattern. They didn’t, but while I “just peeked” I saw a super pretty one with green plaid.

I LOVE PLAID! I thought. IS THIS A SIGN?

Then, I saw the cherry blossom one, and I had to grab a stool to reach up and get it and oh, my, it was lovely with a leather cover made in Italy, and cherry blossoms which I love EVEN MORE THAN PLAID and that MUST certainly be a sign, right?

cherry_blossoms

I showed my friends, who said to buy it, and emailed my husband asking if he thought it was OK if I buy it for my birthday and he said:

“If you must.”

which of course means no, but I was going to do it anyway and my friends said, do it! You’re going on a retreat! Plus, I felt he was just being snarky because he wanted me to buy that one that Warren Ellis recommended.

On the way out of the store, something unexpected happened. I put the cherry blossoms back on the self, said goodbye and maybe someday but not that day, and walked out.

Once again I felt very proud and selfless and frugal. When I got home, my husband was not nearly impressed enough by my self sacrifice. He never is.

The next day I spelunked in the house and my office for what paper/notebooks I already had that would work beyond the one I’d already thought of. You know, just in case I had another.

I found eight. EIGHT. One unopened one would have been perfect, but instead I took another I was midway through, and didn’t take my fancy fountain pen, and just a cheap Field Notes ball point, and guess what?

IT WORKED OUT GREAT.

You totally guessed that, didn’t you? So did the retreat. But more on that later.

ULYSSES Readalong week 3, ch. 5 & 6

March 2nd, 2015

Welcome back, fellow fearless Ulysses readers!

I was away for a long weekend at a yoga/writing/meditation retreat, so while I read 5 & 6 once, I don’t yet feel up to commenting much on them.

Book 5: The Lotus Eaters. Leopold Bloom wanders around, gets mail under an assumed name, Henry Flowers, and sits in a church.

Book 6: Hades. Bloom and Dedalus and others are in a coach on the way to Dignam’s funeral and Bloom muses about death and dying.

I’m off to read the notes before giving them a second read. Wilson Varga also suggested on Twitter checking out Joseph Campbell’s commentary in this: https://t.co/ZQ4NT5Bgnc.

What did everyone else think? I like spending time with Bloom, and think Joyce tried to scare us off with the esoterica of book 3.

Edited later to add:

After re-reading, I was struck particularly by the number of allusions to flowers in ‘The Lotus Eaters’. The first time I read the chapter I thought Bloom was having an affair of the flesh, but he’s only exchanging naughty letters. I also thought that the bath at the end of the chapter was taking place, not something he was thinking about. I am glad for the notes to set me straight on what is actually happening versus what is only being thought about.

Poor Bloom, who is figuratively cock-blocked by McCoy, first from reading his sexy letter and then from ogling the woman across the street.

In ‘Hades’ I was most struck by the whiplash point-of-view shifts. We go from Bloom interacting with this friends, to his stream of consciousness, to people talking about him, and in and out again. This echoes Odysseus’ trip to Hades, when he was swarmed by ghosts of the dead, and finally had to run away from the many, many voices clamoring to tell their story. I wondered: why does Martin Cunningham always get referred to both by first and last name?

I find the last sentence curious. Taken out of context it sounds positive:

Thank you. How grand we are this morning.

But since Bloom is repeating John Henry Menton’s snubbing words of him (leaving Bloom ‘chapfallen’ rather than crestfallen, wonderful wordplay), it’s a sad, bitter twist of sarcasm to a chapter that had some humor, but a great deal of sadness for Bloom: thinking of his father’s suicide, his father’s dog Athos (a mirror of Odysseus’ dog Argos), his dead son Rudy, his friend’s anti-Semitism and exclusion of him. Yet Bloom, unlike Stephen Dedalus (who is seen in passing from the carriage window by the men including his father Simon), who seems more weighted with depression, though with far less baggage than Bloom has. Bloom, to me, seems as if he was float, like his languid floating flower at the end of ‘The Lotus Eaters’ and his memory of the image of a person floating in the Dead Sea.

For the reading of Ulysses in general, this approach is still working for me:

1. read chapters quickly for big chunks of events.
2. skim the notes in Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated in order to get a sense of the bigger picture but not the tiny bits of Dublin street furniture like who really existed where, and what things were actually in the paper.
3. read the summary of the chapters at schmoop.com
4. re-read the chapters more slowly.

This is time consuming and multi-stepped, but the read->research->re-read has me feeling as if I’m sorta kinda getting it which is actually pretty exhilarating.

How is everyone else feeling? Exhilarated and floating, or weighed down? What is your reading pattern and is it working for you?

THE BONE CLOCKS by David Mitchell

February 26th, 2015

I read David Mitchell’s latest, The Bone Clocks, for one of my books groups and for the Morning News Tournament of Books. I really enjoyed and was impressed by the other books of his I’ve read, Black Swan Green, Cloud Atlas, and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, so I was looking forward to it.

The beginning of the novel, featuring the narration of 15 year old Holly Sykes, drew me in immediately, and I was excited to be along for what felt like a wild ride.

Each segment was narrated by a different character as it moved forward in time. Also, for Mitchell fans, many of the characters from other books make appearances, some short, some long. The Vulture interview with Mitchell about the book contains a chart, which I enjoyed nerding out over.

mitchell-atlas

Alas, I felt it blew up in the penultimate section with over-the-top bizarrity that required way too much ’splaining. Then, exhausted from having made it through that section, I hoped for a relaxing denouement (say, the savasana to a difficult yoga class) and instead got a whole new section, whole new slew of characters, whole new world, with more ’splainin’. The last section could have been a book unto itself.

I felt very tired when I got to the end of the book, rather than satisfied. Still, glad I read it and I still intend to go back and read all his books. I love the universe he’s crafting.

PAIN, PARTIES, WORK: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder

February 26th, 2015

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder was a suggestion from my friend Amy at New Century Reading because we were reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath for one of our book groups.

It was a fast, interesting companion to The Bell Jar, the fictionalized account of Plath’s summer of ‘53, in which she interned at Mademoiselle during June, followed by a suicide attempt and hospitalization.

Winder contacted the other women who interned and worked with Plath that summer, interviewing them about their experience. She also gives background on the time.

Part of her intent was to show that Plath was not just a dour depressive, but also a young woman who enjoyed dating, makeup, fashion. Beyond this, though, what I appreciated was that the other women expressed the same insecurities and feelings of having to put up a front that Plath related in her novel, and hearing from the people who inspired the characters in the novel.

That none discussed their doubts, that they assumed everyone else was just having a grand time of it and felt at ease and enjoying the ride, was perhaps the most toxic element to this particular kind of noisy loneliness.

What didn’t work for me was the format of the book. It seems to ping pong between being a biography of Plath, but sometimes written in a breezy style of a women’s magazine with highlighted text boxes and lists. Also, she uses quotes from Plath’s journals to head chapters, and the quotes are out of time with the period she discusses, and her book jumps ahead and back in time.

The parts of the book, such as the interviews with the other guest editors, were detailed and helpful. The other parts, where Winder goes out on a limb with statements like that Plath would have made a great fashion editor, or the chapter with a “dictionary” of some of Plath’s favorite things, were less successful.

I would not take this as the only biography of Plath, but as a companion to the novel, I found it illuminating.

THE BELL JAR by Sylvia Plath

February 25th, 2015

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is another one of the books that I’m kicking myself for not reading earlier in life so I could have been re-reading it as I went along. It’s a thinly fictionalized account, in which bright but not wealthy Esther Greenwood goes to a magazine internship for a month, works and parties, returns to the suburbs of Connecticut, loses touch with reality, attempts suicide and is institutionalized.

Part of why I think I avoided it was a perception of it as a depressing book. While it is about depression, and there are many dark parts, I don’t think it’s so much depressing as honest. Brutally honest, at times, and with a nasty streak of racism and ignorance of privilege in it, but often funny and wise.

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.

Often dismissed as juvenilia, or an immature portrait of girlhood, I found it a fascinating work of art depicting struggles of class, sexism, and coming of age that continue to resonate all these decades later.