Thursday, May 28, 2015

What I Read: April 2015

The Blazing World - Siri Hustvedt

So this is very late... But at least I got it in before the end of May? Also, April was a busy month so things are a little sparse.
  • The Book of Life – Deborah Harkness: Given the limited time I have available for reading and the length of my To Read List, I don’t really understand how I ended up consuming this entire trilogy. It was mostly accidental, I certainly never paid for any of these; the pulp shelf, a library book, a loaned copy… The second one is quite fun but I didn't love any of them and the finale is a slog. It is/feels very long and the more enjoyable characters are largely absent. I am keen for bad ass witches in a mostly contemporary environment (although the Elizabethan time travel was the best part of this series – wish I got to say that more often) but I can’t recommend these in good faith.
  • Vivian Versus the Apocalypse – Katie Coyle: The internet (Tumblr especially) love Katie Coyle and I do too. She seems like a good, fun, interesting human and I'm psyched that she got picked up by a US publisher and is becoming a big deal. I have been meaning to read her first book, which won the Wattpad/Hot Key Books writing prize and was published in the UK a few years ago, forever and I'm glad I finally got around to it. The Rapture comes and there are holes in the roof of Vivian Apple’s family home, her parents are gone and she has to decide how to live without them. I think the concept is really smart, I love the Church of America and the zealous, conservatism of religious cults. I am thrilled that Vivian is neither a damsel in distress nor a goddess – she’s a confused, well behaved teenager trying to work out wtf is going on. Admittedly, this book didn't click with me emotionally but I'm happy that it exists and is being read.
  • Hons and Rebels – Jessica Mitford: I am a big Mitford family fan and I had owned this book for years and just, somehow, not got around to actually picking it up. This isn't a starter Mitford text (generally speaking I would recommend The Mitford Girls or The Pursuit of Love to newbies) but it is interesting to see Decca’s perspective. Like many of her sisters, she is an excellent writer and it is always fun to read about their lives. My own political affiliations are probably closest to Decca’s and I enjoyed her historical insights but, even in her own memoir, she is not always a sympathetic figure. Of course, if my sister was hanging out with Hitler I would probably be unforgiving but I did sometimes wish for a little more generosity. Also, the book closes shortly after the outbreak of WW2 and I wanted so much more. Still, always a pleasure to spend time with the Mitfords.
  • The Blazing World – Siri Hustvedt: It has been weeks and I am still processing this. It was a fascinating and frustrating reading experience and I struggled to finish the book but it made me think so much. It wasn't really an enjoyable read and there’s no one in my real life I would recommend it to but I'm glad I powered through. A female artist has not received the recognition that she believes she deserves so, after her art dealer husband’s death, she exhibits her work behind the mask of three male artists. The story is told through her journals and news articles and art world essays and interviews with the characters around her. There is a fictional editor – one of my least favourite tropes ever ever. The author smugly name-drops one of her own books at one point; for a lot of the book it feels like she is having more fun than the reader. The satire of the New York art world is amazingly acidic. The book could be a straight polemic against sexism, and ageism to a lesser degree, but Hustvedt resists the urge to simplify. Reality is complicated and there are a thousand factors to any outcome and I really respected the book’s unwillingness to be obvious or binary. I didn't find it comfortable but it made me really consider art and commerce and success and personality and media and gender and our own and cultural blind spots… It’s not nice but it is a deeply interesting book.

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