an update on my recent cultural education (books + movie)

I’ve been on a reading binge lately, ever since I started keeping a list of titles I want to read. Whenever I hear an interesting interview on the radio, or see a good review, or get a recommendation from a friend, I write it down so I don’t forget. That way, I’m constantly inspired to start a new book and get regular nudges from the library when they call to say my book has arrived via inter-library loan. I have to keep up with them in order to avoid late fines, although I have plenty of those anyways. The list is also helping me with reading newer books, because I tend to get stuck in the past; my automatic go-to period is 19th-century British lit, so I’m wanting to expand more into modern times. Here’s what I’ve ben reading recently:

“Secret Daughter” by Shilpi Somaya Gowdi (2010)

secret-daughterThis book was good, not fantastically written — I can tell it’s a first novel because there’s a slight awkwardness to the character development — but the storyline was fascinating and sad. Gowdi tells the story of a woman in India who gives away her second newborn daughter to an orphanage, after her first daughter was killed by her family for not being a boy. The baby is adopted by an American couple who struggled with infertility for years. The book traces the girl’s growth and her trip to India as a university student. I find that any stories about birth, adoption, infertility, etc., are emotional reads for me. I finished “Secret Daughter” and proceeded to sob for a good fifteen minutes, after which my husband asked me why I read books that make me feel so awful. Ironically, those are the ones I consider the best.

“The Midwife of Venice” by Roberta Rich (2011)

97803856682791I was excited about this book because I love midwifery and I love Venice. Unfortunately, it proved to be a disappointment and that was mostly because of the writing. It’s a quick, short novel that I finished in a couple of days, but had an awkward, contrived feeling. It tells the story of Hannah, a Jewish midwife, who is recruited to deliver a baby for a Christian woman in 16th-century Venice. All the action is way overdone, I thought. The story resolves itself too nicely; there are far too many convenient, random occurrences and unrealistically perfect resolutions to problems that I started to feel irritated: “As if that would happen,” I kept saying to myself. Oh well, I liked reading a book set in Venice because I never have and our recent trip there in September made it more exciting.

“The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain (2011)

pw1I’m in the middle of this one, about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife Hadley Richardson. They marry in the 1920s and move to Paris. So far, I think it’s better written than either of the other books mentioned above and portrays that idealized golden period of the Paris art and literary scene in a lovely way. Hadley, though, is a frustrating woman. I want to shake her and say, “Get a life, woman!” She gets so depressed whenever Hemingway travels for journalism work throughout post-WW1 Europe and spends her days drinking, playing piano, and pining for her husband. Even when he’s around, she seems irritated by his devotion to writing. Still, her imperfections, I suppose, are what makes the book more interesting.

“How To Be A Woman” by Caitlin Moran (2011)

how-to-be-a-womanAlso in the middle of this one and loving it. Moran is a fierce feminist who talks about the struggles of womanhood in a sassy, hilarious, shocking, and entertaining way, tackling everything from porn and masturbation to periods and waxing (so far). I can tell it’s a good book when, every other page, I’m hollering for J. to come listen to a certain paragraph or sentence that cracks us both up. For example, while discussing what to call her breasts as a teenager, Moran writes:

‘The English language has yet to get its head convincingly around the problem of the average woman’s bristols. Indeed, given what alarmed, ignorant, giggling fools we are, there’s every chance that this is a problem that could hang around for a while. Maybe we should give up on spoken language during the interregnum and just refer to them as “(.)(.).”‘

I have to admit, I’m dangerously tempted to bring up the topic of personal nicknames for female genitalia during family Christmas dinner to see if what Moran says — that it’s a coming-of-age for teenage girls — is actually true. I think my entire extended family would die of embarrassment, and of course I wouldn’t want that to happen, but I’m genuinely curious!

Other recent reads are “Bring Up The Bodies” (see my review here; I’m still basking in the wondrousness of that one) and “The Forgotten Garden” (reviewed here).

Speaking of literary adventures of sorts, we went to see The Hobbit last night. Ahh, how I love peeking into Tolkien’s mind. As terrifying as a world with dragons and orcs would actually be, I love imagining a life filled with myths, lore, and magic. Two things that struck me most:

1) The reverence for history that the characters exhibit. They can identify a single sword blade by name, knows where it came from, who made it, who used it, etc. There’s a deeply rooted respect for the past that I, as a history major, love myself but don’t see often.

2) Watching the tentative, quiet, homebody Bilbo get his mind blown by a larger world beyond the Shire. He’s never dreamed such wonders and horrors exist, and suddenly he’s seeing them with his own eyes. I want to take that as a lesson for my own life.

Thoughts, anyone?? What have you been reading/watching lately?

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10 thoughts on “an update on my recent cultural education (books + movie)

  1. Just finally done exams/the term meaning it’s finally time for me to read – for fun!!!

    Last Child in the Woods is currently being re-read – it’s been a few years since I read it and I feel the need to remind myself of all that it holds so to never forget the lessons and values it offers and apply them in my own life and raising my kids!

    The Boy in the Moon – a true story written by a Canadian author about his son who lives with a extremely rare,chronic, and severely disability disorder. It has been on my “to read” list for over a year after having met the author! Just got an email from the library and it’s in!!!

    Just finished reading Anne of Green Gables with my kids – it’s taken us a while to get through it all! And at the beginning of December I started reading the original Dicken’s version of A Christmas Carol. I absolutely love reading books to them written in “old fashioned” English. My 4 year old doesn’t care what is being read, as long as he’s on my lap he’s content. My 7 year old on the other hand will clearly state, “I didn’t understand any of that!” Which makes is really fun for me to interpret it for her and break it down into common day language. I’m hoping to finish the book before Christmas and enjoy watching the newer Disney version film where the classic story can actually come alive for them!

    Got any reviews for which books you’ve been reading with your kids lately?!! We’re always looking for new books to read together!

    1. Thanks for reminding me that I have an original “A Christmas Carol” somewhere that I meant to read before Christmas this year. I’ll have to dig it out, though I doubt my kids are ready to hear it. As for recommendations for reading with them, that’s tough because mine are still only 1 and 3. The older one, though, loves older kids’ picture books and some top favourites are Chris Van Allsburg (Polar Express, Wreck of the Zephyr, The Sweetest Fig) and those are great reads for parents because they always have an eery twist to them. He also LOVES Bill Peet and William Steig. Your library will definitely have some of those books. They’re old but hilarious and delightful. I really can’t wait to read the Narnia books to him in a couple of years. Have you tried those yet?

      1. We have!! And they both LOVED them! We spent 4 hours one Saturday morning on the couch reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe from cover to cover! It is definitely one of my favourite days of my entire life! I was completely shocked at how well they listened and soaked the story up. Although it is so beautifully written, it is near impossible not to get sucked in and become captivated…we have since read each story and then borrowed them in audio form to listen to during long car rides.

        We still have to read The Last Battle to finish up the series, but part of me is holding off. Once it is done, they are all done and that is the only thing I hate about books – when they are finished!!!

  2. I read the Secret Daughter too and loved it. Hubby just got me a digital copy of How To Be A Woman – which I requested on your advice. Likely start reading it next week.

    1. Oooh, nice! Moran’s a bit intense, so be forewarned, but her message is an important one and she certainly delivers it with a punch of British humour that I love.

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