Reading round-up March 2018

photo of The Gurugu Pledge and a chocolate egg

I am currently halfway through my Easter read-a-thon and bang on schedule: I’ve finished three of the six books I’m hoping to read before the end of Monday. But I am also full of cold and feeling a little rubbish, so the Netflix and Youtube breaks have been getting longer…

Much like this bank holiday weekend, March as a whole has been a mixed bag. It snowed twice, which was pretty but the one time we went out in it further than the local park I twisted my ankle. And that meant I didn’t run for almost a whole month, which makes me worry a little bit about that pesky 10k race in six weeks’ time.

On the plus side we did an awesome gyoza cooking class arranged by a local cafe called Eatchu last weekend and now our freezer is full of tofu, mushroom and spinach dumplings. Surprisingly it seems to be the cooking them part that is defeating us so far but that might be because they require a 100% non-stick pan, not ones where not only the non-stick but all the materials appear to be peeling off in places. I think we need new frying pans.

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Hypocrisy was the sole explanation she could find

The GroupThe Group
by Mary McCarthy

This is often mentioned as a feminist classic alongside the likes of The Awakening and Herland, so it should have been right up my street. The thing is, the other word thrown around about this book is “satirical”, which I have no problem with in theory, but in practice I have often taken a dislike to satirical books (for every Scoop there’s also an Emma). Humour is a tricky thing.

This is the story of a group of eight women, friends who graduate from Vassar College in 1933, and follows the next few years of their lives. Each chapter centres around a different member of “the group”, some with more crossover between the friends than others. It opens at the wedding of Kay and Harald one week after graduation. Kay is the first of the group to get married, though not the only one to have a fiancé before finishing college. The others are fascinated by her low-rent, friends-not-family wedding and its indication of her bohemian life to come (Harald is a playwright).

“To Elinor, this wedding was torture. Everything was so jaggedly ill-at-ease…Intelligent and morbidly sensitive, she was inwardly screaming with pity for the principals and vicarious mortification. Hypocrisy was the sole explanation she could find for the antiphonal bird twitter of ‘Terribly nice’ and ‘Isn’t this exciting?’ that had risen to greet the couple in lieu of a wedding march. Elinor was always firmly convinced of other people’s hypocrisy since she could not believe that they noticed less than she did.”

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Given a legitimate reason to be cruel, we jump at it

Awakening by S J BoltonAwakening
by S J Bolton

I really enjoy Sharon Bolton’s thrillers, even if I am beginning to spot recurring themes and tropes. They’re easy and quick to read but still well and intelligently written.

Clara is a vet in a small village on the border of Devon and Dorset. She is more comfortable with animals than people, but her colleagues and neighbours recognise her competency and call on it whenever needed. Her background includes studying reptiles, so when snakes start turning up in people’s homes, and a man even dies from a snake bite, at first the locals and the police turn to her for help, but they soon start to suspect her instead.

“Sleep was a long time in coming. And when it did arrive it was restless, filled with dreams and shivery half-wakings. Towards dawn I had the recurring dream that I most dread. I am in a hall of mirrors. Everywhere I turn I see reflections of myself. As the dream goes on, the reflections become more and more distorted. No longer is it just my face that’s scarred, but the rest of me as well.”

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I prefer to think that women are human

Are Women Human? by Dorothy L SayersAre Women Human? Astute and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society
by Dorothy L Sayers

I thought this would be an appropriate review to publish on International Women’s Day. As the title suggests, this tiny volume is a pair of pieces by Sayers on women’s rights – an address given to a women’s society in 1938, and an essay first published in 1947.

I was a little frustrated by Sayers dismissing feminists as too extreme while arguing the case for women being individuals. But in general she finds smart, astute ways to explain how men, and society in general, treat men as human individuals and women as identical members of a stereotype.

“Are women really not human, that they should be expected to toddle along all in a flock like sheep? I think that people should be allowed to drink as much wine and beer as they can afford and is good for them; Lady Astor thinks nobody should be allowed to drink anything of the sort. Where is the “woman’s point of view”? Or is one or the other of us unsexed? If the unsexed one is myself, then I am unsexed in very good company. But I prefer to think that women are human and differ in opinion like other human beings.

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She wonders how much the pain could increase

Magda by Meike Ziervogel

Magda
by Meike Ziervogel

This novella follows the final days of Magda Goebbels. Knowing the bare bones of her story, I knew where this book would go, and expected something powerful. It’s a good book, but I didn’t experience the big reaction I thought I would.

Magda Goebbels was the wife of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, and herself a prominent Party member. The couple had six children and were both very close to Hitler. In April 1945 they moved, with their children, to Hitler’s bunker in Berlin.

Ziervogel has fictionalized the facts a little, and fleshed out the tale of Magda’s last days by adding Magda’s childhood and first marriage. Which is a lot to fit into a small space, but does give some context and humanity to this woman who is widely considered a little (or a lot) less than human.

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Sunday Salon: Bristol in the snow

Untitled

It’s almost gone already, but we had a couple of proper snow days here for the first time in years. For those of us who don’t need to drive and can work from home, it wasn’t especially disruptive, and was fun and beautiful. I particularly enjoyed walking around our local park and seeing it packed with people having fun sledging, building snowmen, generally enjoying the holiday atmosphere.

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He doesn’t seem to have any room in his throat or his chest or in his belly

My Name is Leon
by Kit de Waal

Wow. I tore through this book in one day. I laughed, I cried and I closed the book feeling informed, entertained and warmed inside.

Leon is eight when his little brother Jake is born. Their mother is struggling to support them on her own, but it’s okay because Leon loves his brother so much that he wants to help any way he can, and their neighbour helps when she can. Until it’s not okay anymore and social services have to step in. At which point, the difference in the two brothers’ ages and skin colour threatens to have very real consequences for their futures.

“The first day when Carol brings the baby home…she puts the baby on the floor in the living room and Leon tiptoes over…They watch the baby turn his head and open his lips. They watch the baby move one of his miniature hands and when the baby yawns they both open their mouths and yawn with him…All that day and the next day, the baby is like the television. Leon can’t stop watching him and all his baby movements.”

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Reading round-up February 2018

book fanned open
CC0 Pixabay/Cocoparisienne

Brrr. Storm Emma has well and truly hit Bristol and I am cold, even huddled on the sofa under a blanket. The snow has been falling non-stop all day and is expected to keep it up all through tomorrow as well. We’ve changed our weekend plans from going away and seeing to art to hunkering down and maybe venturing out to take some photos – making our own art.

February was a pretty good reading month for me. I finished Anna Karenina and followed that up with a few short books to give myself a refresh. And then I read one of the best books I’ve found in a few years: My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal. I loved that book so much. Eventually I will write a proper review, but you can see my initial thoughts below.

Thankfully our local chippy is still open so we have loaded up on fat and carbs to see us through the frozen night. Any excuse gladly taken!

Stay safe and warm, folks.

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