Wait, that’s the title of a Dave Matthews song? Please note that my earworm right now is Roxy Music. In fact, where’s my iPod?
I loved Pamela’s post on “Romancelandia, Overthinking, and Balance,” as well as the discussion sparked by it and on the posts she links to as her inspirations. Like Pamela, I was struck by Olivia Waite’s comments kicking off her April-long discussions of intersectional feminism in romance:
I want something more about symbols/motifs/mechanics than the reviews at Dear Author and Smart Bitches, but something more accessible than the high-critical work being done by IASPR and academic journals. And nobody’s itching to write that kind of criticism except me.
Well, actually I am. Or I was. That was how I initially imagined my blogging: writing in the space between “professional” academic criticism (which I don’t do any more) and reviewing. Just as I think of myself as reading somewhere in the space between “fan” and “critic.” Writing with a love of books and of (over)thinking about them.
That kind of careful, thoughtful, in-depth writing (and reading) is a lot of work, and you may have noticed I haven’t been inspired to do much of it lately.
But I’ve noticed that a lot of comments and discussions on the state of romance blogging and reviewing today express the desire for more genuine enthusiasm about and deep discussion of books, less energy expended on analyzing The State of Romanceland and less buzz/hype. So I’m pledging to renew my original vision of my blog and find time for writing more book posts in that Space Between.
Tonight, however, it’s just under two weeks until my last class of the semester and I’m in the space between the beginning and the end of a handful of books. So I’m going to give you brief progress updates on them, but they will, I hope, be thoughtful ones.
1. Like Jessica, I’m reading Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch for the March Big Fat Book Readalong. I’m at 75%, so I won’t quite finish in March, but I’ve reached a point where I know I’ll finish–in fact, I’m racing through now–and I’m grateful for the push to pick up the fattest thing in my TBR.
The Goldfinch has gotten some comparison to Dickens for some of its subject matter and its sprawling nature. Structurally, it’s quite different (it doesn’t follow multiple plot lines), but there are similarities, too. The pleasure in language, particularly description, for instance. And the fearless use of “old-fashioned” techniques like foreshadowing. Somehow, Tartt makes lines like “I didn’t know then that this was the last time I’d see him” not sound corny.
This book also puts the lie to the idea that literary fiction lacks a plot. True, there are long stretches where nothing much seems to happen, or where what does happen doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, but Tartt is masterful at building tension through those sections. In the early going, I often put the book aside for several days at a time because I needed a break from the looming sense of dread. Then a big, unexpected event would stun me–despite the dread and foreshadowing, I wasn’t prepared for many of the plot turns.
This book feels very “now” in some ways. I’d say it captures a weird mix of paranoia and obliviously-going-on-just-like-before that’s one facet of post-9/11 American life. But it also reminded me of 80’s New York books like
Brett Easton Ellis’ Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City (ETA: thanks for correction, Janine. I confuse this and Ellis’ contemporaneous youthful drug use and anomie novel, Less Than Zero). I loved that book in college but have no interest in re-reading it now. Tartt, on the other hand, manages to make youthful drug-taking and anomie interesting to my middle-aged self.
2. I am listening to Juliet Stevenson read George Eliot’s Middlemarch. It’s a wonderful narration, and a good Big Fat Book on audio for me because I know it so well that I can dip in and out without losing the threads. Listening has made me more aware of how funny Eliot can be: in my mind, this is such a serious, sympathetic book, but there’s plenty of satire too.
I’ve always identified with Dorothea, but on this reading, I’m looking at her marriage to Casaubon in a new light. It’s unfair to him, her desire to be a devoted helpmeet and to be guided by his wisdom. She wants him to be saintly, super-human. A lot of their arguments have to do with his “failure” to welcome her devotion. Dorothea is pretty selfish in her own way, and her fantasy of marriage is no healthier than Rosamond’s more mercenary, status-conscious one. Both fail to understand the real needs of the men they are marrying, just as those men fail to understand them. So much blindness.
3. As my light/short audiobook, I’ve just started Michael Dibdin’s The Ratking, the first Aurelio Zen mystery, read by Michael Kitchen. Kitchen’s delivery is … idiosyncratic (not quite William Shatner level, but he has some odd pauses and emphases). I love him, though, and I like this style.
The prologue is incredible. It’s all dialogue (not even dialogue tags), a series of favor-trading phone calls in which, as one character says, “he leaned on you so now you’re leaning on me.” It perfectly establishes the back-scratching corruption that’s Dibdin’s vision of how Italy operates, but these are also brilliant character sketches, by both author and narrator. Each voice is clearly differentiated, and the way each person talks to the one leaning on him differs from his style when he’s the leaner. A police officer is deferential to his superior one minute, swearing at his underling the next. I am totally hooked.