Tuesday, March 13, 2007

spring break

Other people go to Barcelona or Florida, but I'm spending my spring break reading, mainly. I am planning to walk around the garden and pick up sticks left from a winter of icy blasts assaulting the surrounding trees, but no serious gardening can be done yet because the snow-melted soil is too soggy. Perhaps a little pruning though.
The reading:
For Us the Living: Robert Heinlein's 1st book, unpublished when he wrote it (1939) and for very good reasons. The characters nearly talk you to death in their eagerness to explain what life is like in 2086. No one has to wear clothes! Marriage is optional and can be terminated at will! They haven't even been to the moon yet, for Christ's sake. It was moderately interesting to skim and skip through, looking for the seeds of RH's later works.
Stranger in a Strange Land: this is the uncut version, published in its entirety after RH died by his widow, to keep the RH flame burning brightly and probably for a little extra cash (but why not?). This I'm reading because I'm thinking of teaching a course that involves sci fi and anthropology, and it might fit in nicely. I'm happy to report that between 1939 and 1960 (when SiaSL was published), RH had learned a few things about writing, although not any more about women (his female characters are always the same girl, a term which I'm using on purpose). But the main character, the human who is also a Martian, is quite well done. RH has a number of stock male characters (as opposed to the one female character), so interchangeable that they could be transplanted from one book to another w/o any other change than a name, but Valentine Smith (the human-Martian) steps away from the stock character box.
Dream Mistress, by Jenny Diski: I got to know JD through her writing in the London Review of Books, and was thrilled to find out that she also wrote books. The first one I read was Skating to Antarctica, which is a kind of combination of travel writing and memoir--wonderfully readable. She reminds me sometimes of Joan Didion, with whom she shares not only initials, but a formidable intelligence and a spare, passionate writing style. Dream Mistress is a little surreal, but grounded in matter-of-factness, wonderful details, both disturbing and lovely. I haven't finished it yet--I'm savoring it. (She also has a blog.)
We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, by Joan Didion herself: this is her collected nonfiction, and I passed it up at the library the 1st time, saying to myself that probably I'd read it all when it was 1st published. But on the 2nd pass, I picked it up, because, I thought, maybe there's something I missed. So far I've only read things I'm familiar with, with the pleasure you feel in seeing old friends. "Slouching toward Bethlehem," the title essay of the book it appeared in, bespelled me again--it's like reading a particularly good Ann Beattie story, except more complex and layered and, of course, true, or as true as cnf can be. (Why, I often think, did other people have so much more fun in the '60s than I did? no wonder I can't write a memoir!)
The Faerie Queen, by Edmund Spenser: I never read this when I was in grad school--avoided it in fact, since it sounded very dull. But it's one of those duty reads that hangs over the heads of lit people, things you ought to have read so you can mark them on your life list: Proust, Cervantes, Moby Dick, etc. But D got it for me for my birthday, and his confidence that I would be interested in it, combined with the long guilt of calling myself an English teacher w/o having read it decided me to read it medicinally, a page or 2 at a time, which I liken to taking a few grains of arsenic so that over a period of months you will find yourself able to swallow a dose that would kill a normal person. I'm afraid that Spenser is no more enlightened that Heinlein in his treatment of women (although I suppose he has more excuse)--they're either evil seductresses or virginal maidens who love purely. I find myself sympathizing with Duessa, who besides being evil, represents false religion.
Julius Winsome, by Gerard Donovan: GD is an Irish writer, now living in the US. He's an amazing writer, one of the kind that you want to read even if you're not interested in what he's writing about. The 2 books of his I've read (the other is Schopenhauer's Telescope) are concerned with men and violence, why we kill, the bonds between killer and victim--not what I seek out usually. But his language is so beautiful (he's also a poet) and his storytelling voice is so compelling, that I don't mind. Julius Winsome is about a man whose dog is shot, and what happens as a result, and in the telling of the story his life is excavated as well as a slice of men-and-violence that goes back to the 1st World War. A lovely book.
To Everything There is a Season, by Thalassa Cruso: this is a late birthday present, a gardening book by one of the last-century gardening oracles. I'm reading it in place of actually gardening, which as I said, can't be done just yet. It's not so much a how-to book; it's more of a romance, the romance of the garden which takes place over the course of the year, and which waxes and wanes with the seasons, the sun, the rain, the frost. More beautiful writing, plus useful tips: remove winter mulch gradually; a lily should be planted as deeply as a tree; grapes should always be pruned before the sap begins to rise.


Anonymous sjgrimm@gmail.com said...

In defense of the Faerie Queen's women: First, I must admit I've only read canto 1 of the first book. But I've enjoyed it tremendously--he's so wonderfully graphic and descriptive. But I admit my knowledge of Una is limited. She is good, fair, clothed in white. But I don't think she's completely stereotypical. She goads the red cross night and contradicts him. She claims to know things he doesn't. She's not all mealy-mouthed and prissy.

3/13/2007 5:02 PM  
Anonymous jadepark said...

that sounds WONDERFUL! please let us (ahem, ME) know what you think of the Joan Didion, it sounds very good. have a wonderful break reading!!!!

3/14/2007 7:07 AM  
Blogger Voicegal said...

How coincidental... I will be in Barcelona next week! But I love "reading vacations."

3/15/2007 8:50 AM  
Blogger lucette said...

SJ--I'm going to give Una a fair chance, I promise.
Jadepark--I'm so far loving the Didion; I'll probably post on it later.
Voicegal: I do love reading vacations; although maybe I'd like it better if I was reading in Barcelona? or on a beach somewhere?

3/17/2007 3:05 PM  
Blogger MJN/NYC said...

Anyone going to Barcelona (or not) should read "The Shadow of the Wind," by a Spanish writer whose complete name I can't recall (Zafron?). The translation is by Lucia Graves (Robert's daughter, I believe), and it's fluid and it's a great story, very literary, with lots of atmosphere. I finished it in Barcelona.

3/22/2007 11:36 PM  
Blogger lucette said...

Yes--Carlos Zafon--I think Charles told me I should read it, but I haven't yet.

3/23/2007 9:51 AM  

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