Anna Cowan has a great lineup of people (I seriously have no idea how I got on the list) guest posting to launch her beautiful new blog design. My post, which is a reflection on my reading style, should be up sometime next week; definitely go check the rest out! The ones up so far are great.
What I’ve Been Reading/Listening To
Carolyn Jewel’s Not Wicked Enough and Not Proper Enough. I really enjoyed both of these, particularly the second (here are my comments from Goodreads). I described the first one as “theatrical” and the second as “dreamy,” and in both cases I meant it as a compliment. I thought Jewel captured the importance of style and appearances in Regency society, and also a secret emotional, passionate life behind the façade. There’s the slightest touch of magic realism in these novels, and it suited the style and themes. I have to be in the right mood for Jewel’s dense, rich artifices, but when I am I really enjoy them.
Like many, many other people, I read Loretta Chase’s just re-released Regency Knave’s Wager. I felt like it took bits and pieces of Heyer plots and shook them in a kaleidoscope, creating something that owed some allegiance to the foremother of the Regency romance but wasn’t derivative. The “bet you can’t seduce her” plot is used in a really interesting way: I think it’s obvious that Lilith is not “real” to the people who wager on her, and that their feelings about the wager change when she becomes a real person, not just an object, to them. The characters are far more than the types they represent, too–the rake, the cold widow, the ingenue. In that sense, it reminded me of Cecilia Grant’s A Lady Awakened (perhaps also in its heroine, who really wants to do the right thing but sometimes goes about it the wrong way).
I’m listening to a couple of books that seem oddly related to me:
I’m just about done with Amanda Foreman’s biography of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. It’s a brilliant, partisan but clear-sighted portrait that really brings its subject to life. Reading about this woman who was so talented and charismatic, but who was often unhappy, it’s hard not to think of her contemporary relative Diana, Princess of Wales. Georgiana’s marriage was mostly unhappy, and both she and the Duke had affairs; she was wealthy but plagued for most of her adult life by an addiction to gambling and spending that created debts she lied to cover up; she was also a successful hostess, a force in Whig politics, and a leader of fashion. Her own mistakes contributed to her unhappiness, but so did the constraints placed on women of her time and class. It would have taken me forever to read this in print, so I was delighted to find the audio, ably narrated by Wanda McCaddon, available from my library.
I am also listening to E. Lockhart’s The Boyfriend List: 15 Guys, 11 Shrink Appointments, 4 Ceramic Frogs and Me, Ruby Oliver. I absolutely loved Lockhart’s brilliant, funny and feminist Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (here’s the Booksmugglers’ review). But I admit, the title made me dubious about this one. I’m not keen on YA that’s all angsting about boys. What made me try it was Jackie’s “Feminism, YA Style” post on the book. This book is full of teen angst about boys and friends, no doubt. Ruby does stupid things, she hurts herself and others, they hurt her. Her mistakes, like Georgiana’s, are partly shaped by the expectations and restrictions her culture places on women and girls, and Ruby’s pretty astute about that. Her intelligence and growing self-awareness save the book from being a maudlin angst-fest.
The Boyfriend List is, at times, painful to read, especially when it reminds me of the stupid, hurtful, deeply regretted things I did in my own teens. So yeah, if that retrospective pain is why you avoid reading YA, you’ll find it here. But that pain is part of human experience, and as the mother of a teen and an angsty tween, I think I need to be reminded of it. They’re going to require my patience, compassion and understanding in the years ahead.
I also think that for many people (though certainly not everyone) the teen years mark the beginning of a shift from the time when our deepest, most passionate attachments are to friends (usually of our own sex) to a time when the strongest attachment is to a romantic partner (for most of us, of the opposite sex). That shift is hard to make, as is striking a balance between the two kinds of attachment. The book depicts the start of this shift brilliantly. Hard as it sometime is to bear, I think I’ll go on to listen to the rest of the series.
How I Picked My Next Book
I finished Carolyn Jewel and I wasn’t sure what to read next. I was daunted, as usual, by the size of my TBR. How to pick when overwhelmed by choice? I went for a method Rohan tweeted about: choose a handful of possibles, read the first sentence of each, decide which sounds most interesting. Rohan got her daughter to help, which would work even better, but I did it on my own. Narrowing it down to a handful was actually pretty easy. I wanted a break from romance, and at the time of choosing I was about to climb into the tub so it had to be a dead tree book (I know some of you are brave enough to bathe with your e-readers, but I’m not). I grabbed a few from the shelf in my bedroom. Here are the first sentences:
1. The fat sun stalls by the phone masts.
2. Last year, at the hot end of spring, in the small town of Hanmouth on the Hain estuary, a rowing boat floated in the middle of the muddy stream.
These two reflect my taste for literary fiction about a place and community. They start with setting. I really want to read both of them, just not in yesterday’s bath.
3. This morning Rino telephoned.
4. I am Polly Flint.
5. It was apparent to Miss Foster within one minute of her arrival at the Grange that her host was not in the best of tempers.
I chose 5, which is the lightest book in every sense, no small consideration when you have to hold it above bathwater. But also, the acerbic edge suited my mood. Some cruelly witty observations on one’s fellow humans? I’m in! It’s Georgette Heyer’s mystery An Unfinished Clue, and it’s living up to its promise. The omniscient narrator has patience for only a handful of the characters, the sensible, practical ones. The rest we get to despise and laugh at. I’m not sure what this says about my mood, but I’m enjoying the heck out of it.
This was a good way to pick a book. I think next time I try it, I’ll enlist my daughter’s help. She’d love that. I may have skewed the results this time, and should probably have admitted to myself from the start that the Heyer was what I felt like.