Nicole Hollander’s Humor & a Trip to the Library

I used to pore over Nicole Hollander’s Sylvia cartoons.  Her eccentric character Sylvia lived with cats, was politically radical, and spent a lot of time reading in the bathtub.  She was the only  comic-strip heroine I identified with, besides Cathy Guisewite’s Cathy.  I read Sylvia in an alternative paper.  Hollander introduced Sylvia as a character in The Feminist Funnies in the ’70s, and the Sylvia strip was syndicated in 1981.  Alas, Hollander retired Sylvia in 2012.

We still miss her!

Fortunately at the library I recently found Hollander’s 2007 book,  Tales of Graceful Aging on the Planet Denial, a collection of comic essays.  I had no idea she’d written a book.

She begins,

The two girlfriends and I are going to the movies.  Someone who looks about twelve is selling tickets.  She looks at me and I prepare to be complimented on my earrings, scarf, any number of things because I know I look adorable.

She says, “Will that be senior citizen, ma’am?”  Behind me the girlfriends suck in their breath.  They are happy they made me leave that cute little revolver that I bought in case some man proposed to me and wouldn’t take no for an answer at home.  They fear another traumatic event like the one when that kid tried to give me his seat on the bus.  Big deal…He’s young, his scars will heal.

lf that hasn’t happened to you yet…just wait!  I’m not a “senior” yet,  but at the hair salon they’ve started asking if I want the discount.  I burst out laughing when I realized I looked ancient to them with my gray hair. And then I looked in the mirror and I do look ancient.  I’m not sure exactly when I get those senior benefits–I vaguely think it’s 65. But everybody ages at a different pace.  Viva la age!

These essays are witty.  I’m chortling on every page.  Some are better than other, but it’s so much fun!

A TRIP TO THE LIBRARY.   It’s a warm day in autumn, the lake is blue and ruffled by wind, and we popped into the library on impulse:  well, mainly because I wanted a D. E. Stevenson book.

And I did check out one Stevenson book.  No idea if I’ve read Mrs. Rochester’s Wife or not!  I’ll find out.  I also was happy to find a novel by the Southern writer  Lee Smith.  I’ve been a fan since Black Mountain Breakdown but I’ve never seen Something in the Wind, her second novel.  A good find.

We filled our huge shopping bag with books. Am so glad I remembered to bring it, or I would have had to put some books back.  (Well, I did put a few back.)

My husband is a nonfiction fan, and we found…

…a short biography of Buddha, Czeslaw Milosz’s Selected and Last Poems, and Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live:  Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer.  

I spent most of my time in fiction, starting  in the S’s and slowly went back to the M’s. I didn’t have time to go back to the A’s.  I checked out Him Her Him Again The End of Him by Patricia Marx, whom I know as a humorist for The New Yorker.  And I hope it’s humorous because that’s what I’m in themood for.

I’ve never heard of Jane McCaffrey, but First You Try Everything looks intriguing.  Perhaps I’ll get around to it, perhaps not.

And, last but not least, how could I resist The Art of the Wasted Day by Patricia Hampl, a book that, according to Maureen Corrigan at NPR, celebrates daydreaming?

A satisfying hour at the library:  a good haul, and I hope I get around to some of these!

Have You Read Publishers Weekly’s “Best of”? & Musings on #MeToo

It is  too early for us readers to contemplate the Best Books of the Year, but it is not too early for booksellers.  As a bookstore groupie I pored over The Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2018, which will undoubtedly be in bookstores this Christmas. I’ve read only one:  Rena Rossner’s The Sisters of the Winter Wood, a clever retelling of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market.

So let me now promote my own favorite book of the year:

 Conscience by Alice Mattison.  Told from three points-of-view, this counter-culture classic focuses on the consequences of reading, or rereading, a Vietnam-era novel about a terrorist.  Olive Grossman, a biographer of women writers, has agreed to write an introduction to a new edition of Bright Morning of Pain, which was based on the life of Olive’s best friend, Helen, a conscience-stricken anti-war activist who became a terrorist and died in a robbery.  Olive’s husband Griff, an African-American high-school principal, is portrayed in the novel as a militant with a gun. (Both Olive and Griff knew the author.)  Griff reads the novel for the first time, and the circle of readers opens when Griff leaves the book in the office of the director of a drop-in center.  Complicated politics, complicated emotions.  Fascinating, labyrinthine, and psychologically pitch-perfect.  And here is a link to an excellent review in The Washington Post.

MUSINGS ON #METOO.

Hollywood actresses are not my role models, but the #MeToo movement has had a powerful  impact on society.  Harvey Weinberg is gone, whoever he was, and several other entertainment icons.

But the trickle-down effect has triggered hysteria among women who complain of having been touched on the butt in bars.  Are we 19th-century women on the fainting couch?

Sarah Silverman and Louis C.K.

The comedian Sarah Silverman has enraged both women and men by talking about her friendship with Louis C.K., a comedian accused of sexual harassment and misconduct.   This week on Howard Stern’s SiriusXM show she said, “I’ve known Louis forever, I’m not making excuses for him, so please don’t take this that way.  We are peers. We are equals. When we were kids, and he asked if he could masturbate in front of me, sometimes I’d go, ‘Fuck yeah I want to see that!’”

If you are outraged, don’t read on.  Because Kat Rosenfeld at Tablet writes,

What Silverman’s critics condemn as “muddying the waters” might better be described as a useful reintroduction into the public realm of a forgotten version of femininity: one in which a man asks a woman, who is also a colleague, if he can masturbate in front of her, and her response is not horrified silence or reluctant assent, but an enthusiastic yes (or “fuck yeah”). …She made a choice, as was her right—and it should continue to be her right to do so, even if her choices are not ones that someone else might prefer, and even if they are inconvenient to certain facile narratives about How All Women Are.

That’s a powerful thing in a year where second-wave notions of resilient womanhood have been eclipsed by a more fearful, breakable brand of femininity. The new story, told in Twitter moments and viral videos, is that women are scared—and should be, considering how fragile they are. Teetering on the precipice of trauma, trapped at the wrong end of a power dynamic that puts them at a permanent disadvantage, unable to advocate for themselves, women are always on the verge of being victimized—not just by rape and assault, but by nonconsensual ghosting and fake male feminists and dates that just don’t go as they’d hoped.

I don’t know what “nonconsensual ghosting” is–thank God for that!

Ovid in the News & “Odyssey” Groupies

OVID IS IN THE NEWS, AND NOT IN A GOOD WAY.  The classicist Donna Zuckerberg, Mark Zuckerberg’s sister, has noted a disturbing trend among the online Red Pill communities, a group of conservative alt.right men who resent women and say that men have been disenfranchised.  They are using Ovid’s comic didactic poem, Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love), as a serious pick-up guide.  You can read more about this at The Atlantic.

Ovid may not be a feminist, but he was a bohemian and a free spirit.  The  Greek and Roman models of poetry were far from prudish, yet his writing is bold:  think Henry Miller or D. H. Lawrence, only comic.  He may be sexist but he is not a Red Pill Casanova. In Amores (The Loves), the narrator woos Corinna, a strong, sexy woman who is not always available to him. And in his poems he describes Roman women’s lives:  their beauty regimens, going to the games, dinner parties, their relationships with men, and even almost dying of an abortion.

Ovid’s erotic writing is said to have offended Augustus.  He was exiled for carmen et error (a poem and an error), and scholars conjecture that the  carmen  was his outrageous early poem, Ars Amatoria (Art of Love).

In The Art of Love, a parody of didactic poetry, Ovid  devoted two books to instructions on how to pick up women, and the third to instructing women so they would be in bella pares (equal in war).

The opening lines of  Book I are light and frivolous.  (And, by the way, this is my literal translation–sorry, I don’t write poetry–and the Latin lines are at the end of this post.)

If anyone does not know the art of loving,
let him read this, and by these lines let him love learnedly.
By art the swift vessels with sail and oars are moved,
By art the light chariots; by art Love must be ruled.

The  opening of Book III, the women’s guide, shows that Ovid is not a woman hater.  Parodying the Greek and Roman war epics,  he explains women must also know the art.  He has already “armed” the Greeks (the men) with advice, now he “arms” the Amazons (the women).

I gave arms to the Greeks against the Amazons;  arms remain
for you and your troop, Penthesialea.
Go evenly matched into war; let them conquer whom nurturing
Venus favors, and her son who flies around the whole world.
It would be unfair for unarmed women to fight armed men.
It would be shameful thus for you to conquer them, men.

It’s a very silly early poem, far from Ovid’s best.  And if the alt.right misconstrue Ovid, there’s nothing we can do.

ARE YOU A HOMER FAN?  The Odyssey has groupies.

Everybody loves a hero’s journey, a witch, monsters, sirens, and shipwrecks, but English translations of the Odyssey don’t always capture the tone and mood.  Last year a new translation  by Emily Wilson, the first woman  to translate the Odyssey into English, became fashionable. 

It may not be a best-seller, but it has gotten much attention. Wilson was profiled last year in  The New York Times Magazine.  A few weeks ago the TLS published “Beginning Our Odyssey,” in which Mary Beard and other contributors wrote about their first encounters with the Odyssey.  And then there was a reading of Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey  as part of the London Literature Festival.

Homer’s poem was meant to be recited, not read, and certainly Wilson’s lucid, simple verse is perfect for that.  Here is her  translation of the opening lines.

Tell me about a complicated man.
Muse, tell me how he wandered and was lost
when he had wrecked the holy town of Troy.

There are many translations of  the Odyssey, something for everybody.  I grew up on  the Richmond Lattimore, which is very close to the Greek.  Only after I read it in Greek did I appreciate its brilliance.  He manages to correlate the number of English lines with the Greek–and since Greek is more economical than English, this is quite a task.

Lattimore’s opening lines:

Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven
far journeys, after he had sacked Troy’s sacred citadel.

The  paperback of Wilson’s translation will be released in November, so  we can treat ourselves to a new book!

NOTES ON OVID:  HERE are the Latin lines from The Art of Love, Book III, vv. 1-6.

Arma dedi Danais in Amazonas; arma supersunt,
Quae tibi dem et turmae, Penthesilea, tuae.
Ite in bella pares; vincant, quibus alma Dione
Faverit et toto qui volat orbe puer.
Non erat armatis aequum concurrere nudas;               5
Sic etiam vobis vincere turpe, viri.

Here are the Latin lines from Book I, vv. 1-4:

Siquis in hoc artem populo non novit amandi,
Hoc legat et lecto carmine doctus amet.
Arte citae veloque rates remoque moventur,
Arte leves currus: arte regendus amor.

Why I Don’t Work in a Bookstore

Meg Ryan as a bookstore owner in “You’ve Got Mail.”

I don’t work in a bookstore. It is probably what I was meant to do.

“You’re a natural teacher,” my mother said.  Then why was I so tired?

Teachers were all tired.  As the only Latin teacher I had three preparations (most had two)  and taught five classes a day (most taught four). I went home and took a nap, or zoomed off to aerobics class to work out the tension.  And then I prepared. And then I got up at 5 a.m.to grade homework and quizzes.

Here I am teaching Ovid in the “Big Glasses” era.

According to Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a study  in 2012 called Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession found that the average teacher works 53 hours a week.   That sounds about right.

Eventually I found a more creative job with flex-time.  I enjoyed it more, but I admit I worked  on my wedding day.  “I just have to finish this up…”

Why didn’t I work in a bookstore?  Wouldn’t the hours have been more reasonable?

I love books.  I sold them without meaning to.  I would go to a bookstore, chat about books, and sometimes a bookseller would come over beaming to say I’d sold a book.

I also amused myself by doing the “first sentence test.” I read a lot of first sentences.  The first sentence test isn’t too bad, really.  And other people started reading first sentences… and I sold books that way, too.

I did work at a bookstore briefly in Iowa City when I took a year off from college.  The men got to work on the floor with the books; we women had to be cashiers.   Hard to believe it was so sexist back then, but it was.  And we women all loved books:  there was one college graduate among us, one student, another woman on a gap year, and a smart head cashier.

My copy of The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence

The good thing about working in the bookstore was that we got to borrow books. The bad thing  was that I used to buy the books.  Madness! Here is my copy of The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence. It cost $12.50. I made $1.60 an hour.  I put my money back into the store!  And so I had to leave.

If I had been allowed to work with the books,  I would have stayed and had a different fate!

A Retelling of Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” & Cover Art of Classics

I am reading Rena Rossner’s  brilliant fantasy novel, The Sisters of the Winter Wood, a retelling of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market.   It also has elements of fairy tales, myths, and Jewish stories and folktales.

Naturally I must reread Goblin Market.  Finally I found my copy: a tiny used Everyman’s Library Pocket edition which does fit in your pocket.

And so, on this lovely Indian summer day, I sat on a bench and read Rossetti.  The book is so tiny that I was confident no one would see what I was reading.  (I only see people reading phones; I wonder if books are outlawed.) Fascinating to note Rossner’s mimicry of Rossetti’s style and content:  she alternates chapters from the two sisters’ perspectives,  Liba’s in prose, Layla’s in poetry. (They are Lizzie and Laura in the poem.)  And Rossetti’s and Rossner’s fruit-sellers are equally seductive.   Rossner is not primarily a poet, but it is a very clever undertaking.

I never seek out the pocket classics editions of classics, but they are quite nice.  Though they don’t have intros or footnotes, they are handy and sturdy.

I recommend the Everyman’s Library pocket copy of John Updike’s The Maples Stories, a slim collection of interwoven stories–some of Updike’s best.  They delineate a young couple’s relationship through the early married years,  adultery, divorce, and post-divorce. Fascinating and moving!

WHAT OTHER EDITIONS OF CLASSICS SHOULD WE CONSIDER?  Madeline Raynor reveals in her article,”These Book Covers Are So Terrible You Won’t Believe They’re Real” at Electric Literature, that she is not a fan of Wordsworth Classics. She writes,

They’re known for their cheap price: one of these paperbacks costs a mere £2.50 (they’re available in the U.S. for a comparable sum). They’re a great option if you love the classics but live on a tight budget, but there are sacrifices. The paper quality isn’t great. The introductions and supplemental essays don’t exactly pass muster. But worst of all are the covers, which are so offensively terrible that it makes you question whether the cheap price is worth it.

I thought, What’s so bad about the covers?  I’d never seen anything untoward.  But there has been a redesign.  Fortunately, these redesigns are not available in the U.S.

Here are three different Wordsworth editions of Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, starting with the new redesign.

Ye gods!  Who are these women?

Here’s the edition I now see at Half Price Books.

Not great, but not terrible.

I actually prefer an earlier Wordsworth edition with a blue background.

Sometimes a publisher goes to hell with redesigns.  For instance, I prefer older  incarnations of Penguins and Oxford paperbacks.When did they change? In the early 2000s?  All that black on Penguins  can be gloomy, and the white on the Oxfords too pretty-pretty.   That said, I especially love Penguins.   But the print size is absolutely perfect in the Oxfords.

Look at the cover art.  Here are  new and old Penguins of Daniel Deronda.  Which do you prefer?

Here are the new and old Oxford editions.  Which do you like?

And, let me add, I see nothing wrong with snapping up cheap Wordsworth copies.  The cover is not the main factor, and the text is all there.  I have a used 2012 Wordsworth edition of Selected  Works of Virginia Woolf I bought for a trip. Yes, it was long enough to last for a week (or more).   F— art!  (Except for the portraits of Woolf and friends at the National Portrait Gallery. )  Well, I don’t mean that, but this cover is fine with me!

How important is cover art to you?  And are there covers that put you off ?  And, most important, does price matter?

Two Books for Fall: Zola’s “Germinal” and Stanley Middleton’s “Valley of Decision”

I retire early to bed with books these days.  What do I recommend?  Zola’s Germinal and Stanley Middleton’s  Valley of Decision.

Zola’s Germinal is not for everybody.  I was perusing James Mustich’s new reference book, 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die, and surprised to find Germinal named as Zola’s masterpiece. IT IS the most over-the-top book ever written!   When I read it at 21, I found it so depressing I raced through it just to be done.  And I’m a Zola fan.

What do I think many, many years later?  Well, it is gloomy. Set in a coal-mining town in France, it details the harshness of the work and everyday life.  People  live like animals, they sleep in shifts in crowded houses, they beg, they starve, they fornicate practically in public.  The main character is Etienne, the son of the alcoholics in Zola’s L’Assommoir (The Drinking Den). He arrives at loose ends and takes a job in the mines.  The focus is largely on Etienne and the Maheu family.  All of the Maheus, except the wife and youngest children, work in the mine, and the conditions  are horrendous.  Etienne preaches radical ideas and organizes a strike.  And the strike is a disaster, because the miners have no power.

Everybody dies.   Almost everybody.

I kept exclaiming out loud, “Poor horse!”  “Poor Catherine!”  Did I weep?  I think so.

I prefer Nana, The Ladies’ Paradise, and The Conquest of PassansGerminal is brilliant, but I can’t survive it every day.

Stanley Middleton’s Valley of Decision is melancholy but upbeat after  Germinal Middleton won the Booker Prize in 1974 for Holiday.  Set in the Midlands, Valley of Decision is a beautifully-written novel about musical careers and a marriage on the rocks.  David and his wife Mary are happy.  They have a lot in common:  David teaches music and is an amateur cellist; Mary is a former opera singer.  When she  is offered a gig in the U.S. singing opera on a two-months’ university tour, David and Mary agree she should do it.  It is an opportunity for Mary, though she doesn’t want a professional career.

While she is away, David begins to perform with a prestigious quartet.  It takes up time, and he loves it. Middleton’s descriptions of the rehearsals, conversations about music,  and the concerts are fascinating.  I’m not even musical.

Mary is a hit in Handel’s  Semele.  But suddenly she stops writing to David and won’t answer his phone calls. She is not in touch with her parents or David’s parents, either.  David  is worried.  He continues with his music, and that is a saving grace, but he becomes depressed.

Where is Mary?  we wonder.

A brilliant little novel, the kind of thing that might get overlooked now.  Personally I wish there were more short, pitch-perfect (no pun intended) novels like this.

AND NOW WHAT WILL I READ NEXT? 

Book Sales & Crumbling Paperbacks

My new book bag.

Every year we go to the Planned Parenthood Book Sale.

The books had been plundered and pillaged by the time we got there on the second night.  The  classics were down to a few Dickens and Brontes.  This is a slight exaggeration.

I had a sinking feeling I’d gone to the sale too many times.  We filled a book bag instead of a box.  I’m happy to have bought fewer books, though, because I have FINALLY shelved all my books and don’t want clutter.  But why go if there is nothing unusual?  I found a few in the trade paperback section.  I haven’t read this novel by Julia Glass, who won the National Book Award in 2002 for Three Junes.  And who doesn’t like David Lodge’s satires?

But, really, we have to find more book sales in the midwest.  Where have all the good books gone?

 REPLACING CRUMBLING PAPERBACKS!

Some of my  paperbacks have fallen apart.  Not surprisingly, my Washington Square paperback of Jane Eyre (the first I had) is no longer readable.

Traditionally I’ve been a paperback person, but in 2017 I got hooked on Folio Society books.  A group of friends and I purchased some FS books for a round robin.  We were co-owners and traded them back and forth.

We logged our reading time.  No reason.

My friend’s daughter, who had just gotten out of rehab,  kept a journal because she was supposed to try to change her behavior.  And she said she read enough to cut  half an hour to forty-five minutes from her phone time. Pretty good for anyone!

The Folio Society books were overall a good influence. Who needs to read the latest Booker Prize winner when we’re busy with the FS edition of Jude the Obscure?   My discovery?  I started rereading the classics because the books were so attractive.. I especially recommend the beautiful edition of Wuthering Heights, with an introduction by Patti Smith and illustrations by Rovina Cai.

A Penguin Hardcover Classic of “Bleak House” and coffee.

The FS books will last, but I’ve been musing:  how long will my other hardbacks?  Will my cute affordable Penguin hardback classics last for 50 years?  I am a fan of Coralie Bickford’s  cover designs, especially the birdcages on the cover of Bleak House (think of Miss Flite). And these  books are good value:  usually under $20.  The print is a nice size and the paper is sturdy.

But perhaps we are not meant to sit in bed and hold Bleak House in one hand while we slurp coffee.  The cover of Bleak House took a beating!  And, oops, a coffee stain on one of the pages.

Has anyone bought Knickerbocker flexibound classics?  They’re on sale at Barnes and Noble for $10.  They look very cute, with a flexible cover and a strap that closes it like  a Moleskine notebook.  I have read most of the titles, though.

I buy strictly reading copies. (Well, except for the FS splurge.)   Should we buy paperbacks or hardbacks for replacements?  Or do you buy first editions?

What’s Twee & What’s Not?

I’ve been thinking about the kind of books I read.  Classics, pop fiction, poetry, biography–anything except romances.

Ten years ago I collected and perused many out-of-print British novels by Rumer Godden, Dodie Smith, D. E. Stevenson,  Rachel Ferguson, and Pamela Frankau.

It’s been a while since I’ve read these authors, but I  wonder:  is my taste twee?

What’s twee and what’s not?   The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says it is “affectedly or excessively dainty, delicate, cute, or quaint.”

Can writers be great and twee?  I love Rachel Ferguson’s Alas, Poor Lady, a brilliant novel about a distressed gentlewoman.  But an earlier book, The Brontes Went to Woolworths, is so fanciful that I conclude it is twee. As the book description at Goodreads says, the Carne sisters “live a life unchecked by their mother in their bohemian town house. Irrepressibly imaginative, the sisters cannot resist making up stories as they have done since childhood; from their talking nursery toys, Ironface the Doll and Dion Saffyn the pierrot, to their fulsomely-imagined friendship with real high-court Judge Toddington…”

What about the brilliant, underrated writer, Rumer Godden?  She is usually delegated to the rank of dead pop writers, but  I adore  Kingfishers Catch Fire, a kind of pre-hippie novel about a single mother and two children who move to Kashmir to live cheaply.  But there is occasionally something mannered about her voice, her rhetorical repetition, and chronological jumping around.  I happen to like that myself.   Twee or not twee?

George Eliot:  never twee.  Max Beerbohm:  always twee.  I am definite about those two.

On Chic Blogging & Margaret Drabble’s “The Waterfall”

Some family members are happy for one’s success; others suffer from Schadenfreude.

Recently a relative expressed concern about my starting  Thornfield Hall when my old blog, Mirabile Dictu, was booming.  Living in X City  was a huge drag already, she said, about as exciting as a glass of milk.  Where would I be without my blog?

“Milk is kind of a chic thing,” I wrote back. “And we writers like to move on. Think of Colette bored out of her mind writing the Claudine books.   She went on to write better books, like The Vagabond and Break of Day.”

And perhaps we don’t like to “boom.”

drabble the waterfall 6774807224WHAT I’VE LOVED READING THIS WEEK.   Margaret Drabble’s novel, The Waterfall, published in 1969, is a beautifully-written, if challenging short novel.  In part that is because Jane, an agoraphobic poet, is not as appealing as the typical Drabble heroine.  Separated from her musician husband and pregnant with their second child, Jane lives alone in run-down house in London. Housekeeping is beyond her.  She has no energy.  When her water breaks, she reluctantly calls her cousin Lucy because there is no one else she can bear to tell.

And so Lucy and her husband James alternate staying the night to care for Jane.  And Jane and James are weirdly attracted:  the two begin a semi-incestuous affair.  Or are they in love?

I’ve never given birth, so I don’t understand the new mommy attraction, but James falls head over heels.  And since Jane is Lucy’s double, there’s a perverse logic to it.  Both women are literary–Lucy is an editor–and they resemble each other.  Lucy, however, was the sexy one at Cambridge. James has little in common with either, but it doesn’t matter. He proves to be excellent with children and can do a gorgeous card trick called the Waterfall.  He owns a garage and drives fast cars.

Drabble’s real strength here is in her account of Jane’s state of mind. Jane loathes Jane Austen and loves passionate Jane Eyre, and that in a way defines her.  Every encounter is painful for Jane; sometimes the only person she talks to for days is a shop clerk.  Finally she decides she needs to make life more normal for her son Laurie.

And in the end she made it. She decided to send Laurie to the local nursery group. She had had his name down for a year, but she had never thought she would get round to sending him. It was not losing him that she feared: it was the confrontation with the other mothers, the daily task of delivering and collecting the child, the daily greetings, the daily partings. Such a trivial decision became to her something momentous, terrifying, impossibly difficult.

The structure of this novel is gorgeously symmetrical and literary.  The first-person narrator even brilliantly dissects her own literary third-person narrative.

IT WON’T, OF course, do: as an account, I mean, of what took place. I tried, I tried for so long to reconcile, to find a style that would express it, to find a system that would excuse me, to construct a new meaning, having kicked the old one out, but I couldn’t do it, so here I am, resorting to that old broken medium. Don’t let me deceive myself, I see no virtue in confusion, I see true virtue in clarity, in consistency, in communication, in honesty. Or is that too no longer true? Do I stand judged by that sentence? I cannot judge myself, I cannot condemn myself, so what can I make that will admit me and encompass me? Nothing, it seems, but a broken and fragmented piece: an event seen from angles, where there used to be one event, and one way only of enduring it.

The Waterfall is one of Drabble’s more challenging novels, but well worth reading.  A post-modern Jane Eyre?

A Perfect Day: Not Crossing Anything off My To-Do List!

I did not cross anything off my to-do list today.  Is that why it was a perfect day?

Since it was gorgeous, I rode my bike and then sat in in an urban park.  I attempted to read a library book, a light comic novel by Elizabeth Cadell, which turned out, alas, not to be my thing.  And I was distracted by the leaves falling.  Eventually I just watched the leaves.

SIGHT OF THE DAY:  the toppled No Smoking sign in the park. Was it deliberately toppled?  “Power to the people–smash the state!”  A motley crowd of people hang out here, from Kum and Go corporate executives to secretaries on breaks to the homeless.  So, yes, there are smokers in the park.  I hate the smell of cigarette smoke but honestly–are smokers criminals?  Where are they supposed to smoke?

CURRENTLY READING: A Winter’s Promise: Book One of The Mirror Visitor Quartet by Christelle Dabos.  This French fantasy novel, just published by Europa Editions, is one of the most absorbing books of the year.  The heroine is a museum curator who reads the history of objects by touching them. She can also travel through mirrors.   When her family arranges a marriage for her to a chilly man in an alien sexist country at the Pole, she is horrified.  And her explorations of the city  prove dangerous:   a flirtatious ambassador  picks her up (literally) when she wanders into a masked ball.  She has no more sexual interest in him than she does in her fiance.  Dabos writes, “She’d once read a romantic novel lent by her sister. All those amorous outpourings had done nothing for her and the book had bored her to death. Was this abnormal? Would her body and heart be forever deaf to that call?”

Now how am I going to wait til April for Book 2? Should I just learn French?

More on this remarkable book later!

CURRENTLY WONDERING:  how the organizers of Victober, a charming event that entails reading Victorian novels in October, can keep up with their busy schedules.  They are devoted to reading multiple Victorian book, have group reads, buddy reads, a Goodreads group, and cross off the number of pages read per day  on spreadsheets. It’s a lot of work.  I do think private schools would happily recruit them to teach English.

CROSSED OFF ON MY TBR TODAY:  cooking dinner!