Caffeine, Books, and “Fireflood”

It’s 10 a.m. and I’m back from the coffeehouse. My “I’D RATHER BE READING” mug overflows with cappuccino. And I’m wearing a Charlotte Bronte sweatshirt (for bookish inspiration) with my jeans and reading socks.

The clock is ticking.

The reading clock, not the biological clock.

It’s time.

It’s reading time!

Does anyone ever have enough time to read?   Whether the books on the TBR are ancient classics or 20th-century best-sellers, all are significant, and I do long to read them. And so I’ve given myself  fifteen  extra minutes a day to read.  And I’m quite happy to find time to finish some disappointing new books, which I shall mention no more.

IN THE DAYS when I was an accomplished woman in a traditional workplace,  all I wanted to do was read.  I never wanted to break the glass ceiling or anything.   I’d come home from work, peel off my nylons, and read my book.

If you read a lot, people resent you. Divorced friends are annoyed if you aren’t available to go to a bar on Saturday night and help them pick up men. (There is never anyone suitable anyway.)  Friends in the mothering stage of life cry because they don’t get to read and you do. All you can do is sympathize.  And everybody thinks you’re a nerd if you attend poetry readings.

All my life I’ve been told reading is a “waste of time and talent.” “If only you would read less…” I wonder how many reading women have been told the same.   What activities are we expected to do instead?

As for wasting…  Talent isn’t everything, nor are awards. I’ve won awards  (plaques, certificates, in a couple of instances money). With the exception of a few women friends, no one has congratulated me on my achievements.  In a competitive world, people are not always happy for your success. Many of us duck out of the most intense competition so we can have  better personal lives.  So isn’t reading just as important as foolish competition?

Right now I’m reading a 1979 science fiction book, Vonda N. McIntyre’s Fireflood and Other Stories.   McIntyre, whose work has been compared to that of Ursula K. Le Guin, died on April 5. Most of McIntyre’s work is out-of-print, but I have a copy of Fireflood.

II am most impressed by the story, “Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand,” which was later expanded into a novel, Dreamsnake. McIntyre’s prose is measured and clear, good enough to tell a story, though not elegant. “Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand” is exceptionally well-plotted, with twists you don’t see coming.  The heroine, Snake, a healer who uses the venom of her snakes to cure illness, must deal with ignorance and fear as she treats a sick child in a remote tribe. The terrified parents kill Grass, the smallest snake, when it wanders out of the tent.  Snake dominates the situation as it spirals out of control.   Even today’s women SF writers aren’t usually this free of gender bias.  There is absolutely nothing feminine about her characters!

Would I be reading this collection of stories if McIntyre hadn’t died?  Well, probably not. She  has excellent ideas, though, and is much lauded by SF writers.  And her background is in biology and genetics.  I’m impressed!

Do You Write Your Name in Books? On Rereading Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair”

The other day, while I was reading William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, I had an irresistible urge to write my name on the flyleaf.  I hadn’t done that in years.  At 12, I scribbled my name in Jane Eyre.  I also wrote it in  my Latin dictionary.

Then I broke the habit. Some years ago, I was irritated when a librarian wrote my name in a  novel I’d lent her.  It seemed impudent, because it wasn’t her book.

Perhaps I wrote my name in Vanity Fair because I was enjoying it less than I hoped. When I first read it at 17, I  found Becky Sharp hilarious and Dobbins charming, but I was disappointed in the book.   I was a Victorian novel nut, but I  preferred Dickens’s  pyrotechnics and Trollope’s plain style to Thackeray’s pointed wit and stylistic bibelots.  In  the introduction to the Penguin, John Carey compares Vanity Fair to War and Peace.  I do not see the similarities.

I enjoyed Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon and The Newcomes.  So why  does the clever, nimble prose of Vanity Fair not delight me?

I wrote my name in the book, so now I have to like it.

Do you write your name in books?