where Atwood meets Mad Men

I'm reading The Edible Woman -- Margaret Atwood's first novel, published in 1969 -- and I'm utterly struck by her main character, Marian McAlpin. Specifically, how Marian, in her struggle to be feminine and not be feminine, to be a career girl and not to be a career girl, is something of a blueprint for Peggy Olson.

I know, it's a terribly shallow comparison. But just 100 pages into the first part of Atwood's novel, there's such an obvious disconnect between who Marian is and who she thinks she should be, that a person who is obsessed with Mad Men can't help but draw a parallel.

If you haven't read this book at all, or not in a few years, please do pick it up and let me know if I've drawn a horrifying or appropriate conclusion.

Meanwhile, the last bit of millennium poetry I'll offer from Chasing Shakespeares:

"History is a point of view, over the same city, perhaps, but from a thousand eyes, not one. Wait five minutes, the light has changed, a wall has been demolished, a new window set in place, and from the top of the wheel another set of eyes are looking out over a different city. There's no one map, one story, one way to get to one truth; there is no single London and no single Shakespeare, no fact as sure as a story." (p. 329)


where are you reading in Creston?

You'll find this picture's sister image here.

And you'll find great coffee in this small town here.


a sense of place

"London is a manuscript, a square mile scribbled over by two thousand years of Londoners; it is parchment scraped clean and used again. But around London Wall the streets still curve, and the Tower and Westminster Abbey still stand. And Shakespeare is as big as the London Wall. Shakespeare left traces." (p. 78)

A coworker once told me reading Dickens and other fictional works informed his mental map of London; he needed nothing at hand to know the city's streets or the way to the Thames.

I, on the other hand, very much need detailed, indexed maps. In fact, when reading a novel, I tend to skip over detailed descriptions of land and streets. At least, until I've been to the places being written about -- Elizabeth Hay's Late Nights on Air never made so much sense as after I had returned from Yellowknife. Now, on a second read of Chasing Shakespeares, I know all the places Sarah Smith writes of, and I appreciate how the main character, Joe Roper, wants so badly to see the the history of the city come to life.


"how Elizabeth Gilbert ruined Bali"

This Jezebel article is kind of a must-read -- I find the idea of Bali falling victim to an international obsession with Elizabeth Gilbert herself, a fictionalized version of her courtesy Eat, Pray, Love the book and movie, and Julia Roberts as Elizabeth Gilbert absolutely fascinating.

Which is weird, since I've not yet read the book and I am fairly certain I won't be able to find anyone to join me for the movie....

But one community getting sort of rich lady cougarized (pardon the sexist and inappropriate categorization) is interesting. And the idea the characters in Gilbert's book would become caricatures of themselves is all the more interesting -- could the same happen to any of us? And, as the author of the Jezebel post rightly points out, if you're following someone else's path to enlightenment -- or love or self-understanding or whatever it is Gilbert found -- can you really find anything at all?

Excerpt: With its Pilates classes and plentiful shops selling overpriced flowing clothing, Ubud has catered to women seeking spiritual harmony since long before Gilbert, but the book was a tipping point for the temple-strewn town. Gilbert's haunts here have become destinations of their own, stop-offs on an Eat, Pray, Love pilgrimage. Many of these places now have waitlists and, in some cases, have begun charging exorbitant prices. The prices are paid with due reverence by Gilbert's devotees, women wearing stylish resort wear and similar Buddha-like smiles.

(Image from this site.)


under the sun

I'm in full-out summer-read mode. You know? The kind of reading where you have options -- you could invest an entire afternoon in a story about hot summer nights in Florida, or you could read like two pages of a story before falling asleep.... The point is, this is the kind of reading where your brain is just not working too hard. I think of it as resting before all the reading I'll be doing this fall.

So on that note, I've just finished reading Alice Hoffman's Turtle Moon. First published in 1992, it's a classic Hoffman outing -- lots of passion, hitting the road, crime and crime-fighting, ghosts, mixed up kid logic, anthropomorphism.

I have a half-theory about Hoffman's writing in the 1990s versus the last decade. Frankly, her early works are a little more adventurous, a little more fun. Around the time she published The Blackbird House, it feels like she inserted a distance between herself and her characters. Does that make sense? I'm not sure if it's because her more recent books tend to break into shorter stories that are loosely connected versus following a string of characters through a plotted story. There's a chance this is merely a reflection of Hoffman's development, and I'm so shallow I can't fully embrace that.... For example, The Ice Queen and Turtle Moon both follow a small number of characters through stories with strong plots. But where Turtle Moon has characters you can believe in -- young, divorced mothers, lost children -- The Ice Queen was wonderfully fantastical and fairy tale-like, but the main characters are inherently unlikable.

In other notes....

You should read "Comic Sans," a short story in The Incongruous Quarterly. I admit to being particularly fond of this story because of my own time on a university student newspaper. But it's a really fun read.

I wouldn't say Jennifer Weiner's new book about the female members of a politician's family (after the politician publicly and grossly cheats on his wife) is getting the best reviews.... I fully plan to read Fly Away Home. While at the same time wondering why American writers are so obsessed with philandering politicos. (See: The success of The Good Wife.)

I'm re-reading Chasing Shakespeares. I first read this one while still at university, and I remember it being this adventurous romp through modern-day London in search of Shakespeare's true identity.... So you can see why I'd pick it up again. So far? I forgot how bogged down by neuroses the main character is. I mean, he's a master's student obsessed with writing a new and interesting biography of Shakespeare. But at the start of the book he's sort of disappointingly and depressingly combing through Elizabethan-era letters and transcripts, all of which are actually fake.

The startling thing I had forgotten about this book is that it reads like a story written by an academic. Which is not necessarily a bad thing (see: A.S. Byatt), except the novel is first set in the United States. And the main character, Joe, is a working-class sort of guy. In keeping with her idea of how such a person might speak, Smith sometimes assigns really weird style to his conversation. For example, describing his vehicle as a "pile-o'-shit truck." Or, one summer while working for a window-installing company, his coworkers apparently said, "Some book you got, Joe, ain't even got tits and ass on it, what's it good for?"

It strikes me as so odd, to be honest.

But then there's the good (if equally unbelievable) parts. Joe had the measles when he first read Macbeth. The part where Lady Macbeth has died, and Macbeth is grieving her, apparently elicited this response:

"That speech took me somewhere a nine-year-old kid had no business going. It was a place that could swallow me up and not even notice. Like the woods beyond where the roads go, where grownups get lost. I put my head down on my arms and cried, and it wasn't just I had the measles, I knew that place was out there. But I knew, when I got there, I'd recognize the place and I'd know a man who had been there too." (p. 4)