Reading Plan: March 2015

14 comments

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews book cover
Spring is coming and the cosy nights in front of the (electric) fire are receding. Boo. Still, it’s almost warm enough to read outside and that I really like. But what to read? Well, I have been a bit more organised in my reading so far this year and reviews are actually happening. On my review site. Imagine that.

I’m mid-way through a few different books at the moment (ok, that’s the normal state of affairs but I think I am actually going to finish most of the current concerns) so there’s a few potential reviews in the pipeline. The main one I’d like to get out this month is All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, which is on the shortlist for the Folio Prize this year. It’s all about two sisters, one of whom is committed to dying and one who is committed to stopping her achieving this end. Cheerful, I know. But quite good (in a meandering sort of way) so far so I’m hopeful that it’ll turn into a really good read.

In another bid to shamelessly follow the crowd, I’m also reading one of Waterstones’ (how do you deal with the apostrophe now they’ve dropped it!?) book club books, The Restoration of Otto Laird. I was totally swayed by the blurb on this one – it’s about an aging architect and his fight to save one of the buildings he designed from demolition. A promising premise that could well yield a lot of good stuff about memory, legacy, etc. It’s going ok so far – easy enough to read, pretty clunky dialogue, but I’m optimistic here too.

My book club are reading Alice Munro at the moment, so I might well delve into one of her short story collections, but we shall see. Other than that, I’m thinking it might be time to pick up another Jane Austen. I keep thinking it would be good to polish off her novels – but which should I go for next: Emma, Mansfield Park, Persuasion? Someone help me out!

Have a beautiful March everyone.

Notable Posts from February
Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Review: Generation A by Douglas Coupland
Review: The Third Man by Graham Greene

14 comments:

Di said...

If I may recommend a Jane Austen novel, Mansfield Park then.
Reasons:
- It's her least popular and most misunderstood work.
- It's her most complicated novel in terms of characterisation and psychology.
- Nabokov lectured about it in his course. Note: he was prejudiced against women writers, also against Jane Austen, but changed his mind after reading Mansfield Park.
- Jane Austen's often associated with Pride and Prejudice, this one is a total opposite.
- It's not a comedy like some other books by Jane Austen.
- It destroys "the bad boy ideal" (in some way similar to Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall but more complex and better).
I'd also like to hear your thoughts on it.
Good blog, by the way.

Matthew Selwyn said...

Thanks for the advice, Di - really useful! I was leaning towards Persuasion but I thik you might just have swayed me. Of course, if it comes with a Nabokov-approved endorsement, that's a double reason to endorse it. The idea of dealing with the 'bad boy ideal' intrigues me too: when you actually read Jane Austen, so much of her writing challenges just about everything she is packaged up to be nowadays, so I'd like to see what she does with males here. I liked the way she pulled back from so many romantic ideals with Henry Tillney and made him a rather hollow character in a lot of ways, without the hidden depths that are normally revealed in a romantic lead. Mansfield Park sounds already, from your description, more sophisticated than this.

Di said...

Weird, I did tick the box but didn't receive the notification for your reply.

Personally, I think one should read all of her novels in a row, because while each is great, it's better to see them in relation to each other, see how they're all connected to each other.
I used to dislike Jane Austen, mostly because of the general association of her name with chicklit and romcom and the like, and it was Mansfield Park that converted me. As it also changed Nabokov's opinion. In the lecture, he once in a while reveals the streak of the sexist in himself, but overall he still uses the word "genius" for Jane Austen (note, he doesn't use this word for Turgenev) and adds that she handles what he calls the epigrammatic intonation "to perfection".
I think the unpopularity of this book has to do with the fact that Jane Austen appears to go against herself, in many people's eyes. I don't think so, but she creates a heroine that is an opposite of Elizabeth Bennet, and an anti-heroine that is superficially similar to Elizabeth, and a charming male character that is a douchebag- but she so successfully, convincingly makes him charming so lots of readers don't see what's beneath, and feel disappointed when Jane Austen doesn't have any illusion that such a man can change. Also, the films and the popular culture ruin it- the TV series with Colin Firth especially, people somehow think of Darcy as charming, which isn't true in the book, only because of Colin Firth.
Anyway, I've become a bit too excited. We can discuss this later. Who knows, you may disagree with me in the end.

Matthew Selwyn said...

Yes, I'm not convinced the comments work all the time!

I'd like to read the remainder of Austen's novels in a run, but someone cautioned me against doing this with Dickens for fear of whizzing through them and not really savouring them. It would be good to read the three of Austen's novels I have left to read by the end of the year though!

Oh, and good to be excited about literature - you enthusiasm is definitely getting me excited to pick up Mansfield Park! I'm really interested in how Austen is perceived and I think a lot of readers who grow up reading her books take them as the romances they're sold to be to a mainstream audience. It's a shame, because there's a lot of challenging, interesting dimensions to the novels I've read so far and by making a little more of those, the people who control Austen's legacy (publishers, media, etc.) could do a lot to turn people onto reading as something more than entertainment (not that there's anything wrong with that in itself). Men in Austen are really worth a deeper reading, and I think you're right, that often gets lost in the Colin Firth -type positioning of them as romantic leads.

Di said...

Are the 3 Jane Austen novels you haven't read her 3 last ones? I think there's a great gap between them and the previous 3.
I'm looking forward to your reviews. I'd like to write more, but should wait until you read the book and write about it.
And sorry for my late reply. I've been quite busy lately.

Matthew Selwyn said...

No problem at all - I flit in and out of online communications, so no rush at all - I'm enjoying your opinions though, so look forward to more of them :)

Mansfield Park, Persuasion, and Emma - these are the ones I've yet to read, although I suppose you kind of pick up the stories through one means or another before you get to them anyway. Are you counting Northanger Abbey as her first or last - that's a whole other debate, I suppose (I've read some interesting things about the level of re-working she did on this some 20 years after she first wrote it, I think).

Di said...

I count that one as her 1st. Even with the revisions and such, it still feels very much like a 1st novel, if you know what I mean.

Matthew Selwyn said...

I do, I like it a lot.

Austen update: Mansfield Park has been officially borrowed from the library now - reading is imminent.

Di said...

Goood!
I've just looked again at your review of Northanger Abbey and saw the comment "Nice explanation why the Brontës didn't like her much".
We don't know what Emily and Anne thought about Jane Austen, only what Charlotte said. On my part I think that Anne could have liked Austen, at least there are some similarities between Mansfield Park and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Anne's a realist, not a Gothic writer like her sisters.
Also, I think Charlotte could have appreciated Mansfield Park and Persuasion better. It's easy to see why Pride and Prejudice and Emma were not her thing.

Matthew Selwyn said...

Yep, creeping towards the big read!

I must admit, I had to flick back to the review to be reminded of that comment. I can't say I know too much about the opinions of any of them with regards to Austen, although Petra might be able to elaborate.

Anne seems to get left out of discussions a lot - there was a documentary on recently about them that started with something along the lines of 'In 1847, each of the Brontes had a novel published. Two were works of genius. The other was Agnes Grey.' Poor old Anne.

Also, Di, where is your blog, please? I thought I was reading it out my Google reader but then I wasn't sure if I had confused it with someone else's.

Di said...

Charlotte Bronte wrote in a letter to G. H. Lewes (who advised her to 'learn' from Jane Austen):
"You say I must familiarise my mind with the fact that 'Miss Austen is not a poetess, has no 'sentiment' (you scornfully enclose the word in inverted commas), has no eloquence, none of the ravishing enthusiasm of poetry'; and then you add, I must 'learn to acknowledge her as one of the greatest artists, of the greatest painters of human character, and one of the writers with the nicest sense of means to an end that ever lived'.
The last point only will I ever acknowledge. ... Miss Austen being, as you say, without 'sentiment', without poetry, maybe is sensible (more real than true), but she cannot be great.
With infinitely more relish can I sympathise with Miss Austen's clear common sense and subtle shrewdness. If you find no inspiration in Miss Austen's page, neither do you find mere windy wordiness; to use your words over again, she exquisitely adapts her means to her end; both are very subdued, a little contracted, but never absurd.''
2 years later she wrote to W. S. Williams:
"I have likewise read one of Miss Austen's works, 'Emma' -- read it with interest and with just the degree of admiration which Miss Austen herself would have thought sensible and suitable -- anything like warmth or enthusiasm, anything energetic, poignant, or heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstrations the authoress would have met with a well bred sneer, would have calmly scorned as outré and extravagant. She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well; there is a Chinese fidelity, a miniature delicacy in the painting: she ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasional graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress."
She mentioned Jane Austen again on another occasion, I'm not sure which:
"Whenever I do write another book, I think I will have nothing of what you call 'melodrama'. I think so, but I am not sure. I think, too, I will endeavour to follow the counsel which shines out of Miss Austen's 'mild eyes', to finish more, and be more subdued; but neither am I sure of that. When authors write best, or, at least, when they write most fluently, an influence seems to waken in them which becomes their master -- which will have its way -- putting out of view all behests but its own, dictating certain words, and insisting on their being used, whether vehement or measured in their nature, new moulding characters, giving unthought of turns to incidents, rejecting carefully elaborated old ideas, and suddenly creating and adopting new ones. Is it not so? And should we try to counteract this influence? Can we indeed counteract it?"

Di said...

I think, considering the 3 books being released together at the time, Anne was clearly at a disadvantage. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a lot better than Agnes Grey. I think it's so underrated. Not that I place it among my top 20 favourite novels or anything, but the book deserves more attention.
I haven't given you link to my blog, haha. It's here:
http://thelittlewhiteattic.blogspot.com/

Di said...

Where did my comment(s) go? :-s

Matthew Selwyn said...

Hey Di, don't worry - I have to approve all comments before they go live to combat all the spam that comes through! Fear not, your comments were safely tucked away waiting my approval. In fact, I was hanging on until I'd read Mansfield Park before I replied so I could have lifted at least some of my ignorance on the subject ;) It's pretty much top of my pile now, so will be picking it up in the next week or two. Really looking forward to seeing how it reads after hearing some of your thoughts on Austen. etc.