30 March 2016

Persuasion, by Jane Austen

I listened to this as an audiobook, which, despite the marvelous voice of Juliet Stevenson (who seems to have 18th and 19th century British literature on lockdown, along with plenty of contemporary fiction as well), was not really the best way to experience it. You want to see Austen's sentences on the page to properly appreciate them, and to re-read the good bits. But most of my leisure reading these days has to be done in audiobook form, unfortunately, so, that's what it is. Please, leave your recommendations for especially good ones in the comments.

I've been meaning to read Persuasion for awhile (mostly because I want to read D.A Miller's Jane Austen, or the Secret of Style and I've decided that I needed to get through all of Austen first). To be honest, I also barely remember Mansfield Park, and should maybe revisit it. There is something intriguing about these Austen B-list (Northanger Abbey, which I taught earlier this semester, seems to be back in vogue, so it's not necessarily a stable distinction). What really struck me this time around, in both Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, was just how boring and awful the heroines lives seemed to be. More so in Persuasion, and I suspect this is why people love it less -- it's a pretty misanthropic, pessimistic book. Most everyone in it is either straight-up awful or just sort of unimpressive, except for Anne of course. Even her love interest is a bit bland. Then again, novels that are about smart, interesting people trapped in a dull world, surrounded by idiots and bores, will probably always be loved by someone.

The other thing I found myself thinking about was how Austen's books seem really interested in delusion and misunderstanding, and especially in self-deception. Someone must have done a study on this? I am particularly intrigued by the connections between that, the representation of love, and the representation of literature (because Austen always has a few shout-outs to novels, or comments about what is good or bad about them). My next book, perhaps...

28 March 2016

A House of My Own, by Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros' Loose Woman was a major influence on me as a teenager. A voice I both identified with and aspired to be: a tough, smart, independent woman; one who enjoyed solitude but also relished a good time; who never defined herself by her relationships, despite being a romantic who seemed to fall in love fairly often; who seemed both rooted and cosmopolitan, an immigrant everywhere; who was alive to injustice and full of grievances for the wrongs suffered by women, but also treasured her femininity and saw it as a strength. I certainly read her other books, and am fairly sure that I enjoyed them -- but I confess that it is less her writing that I remember than some kind of sense of her as a person, someone whom I felt like I knew and understood and also wanted to be. So of course I was interested in reading this collection of essays. But what an additional treat I found -- not only does this book collect many wonderful pieces of hers in one place (and with gorgeous color photographs!), but each has a little introduction where she reflects briefly on the piece and the moment of writing it, and how she has grown and changed since. The result, for me, was this incredible palimpsest: as I read her, reflecting back on an earlier moment in her life, I found myself thinking back as well, to the moment in my life when I had read some of her earlier writings, and who I was then, and how I have changed, and how her writing has shaped me.

Not every reader can have such a wonderful experience with this book. But I nonetheless want to buy a copy for every woman I know (I already bought one for my partner's mother). Such wisdom, such grace, such strength. I could hardly love this book more if I tried.