So, school has begun. I’m on top of things so far, but starting school every year requires quite the transition — from having loads of time to all the sudden having to fight for time to read. I love my job and won’t complain, but the transitions are my least favorite aspect of it. This semester feels different to me, though, since I know I won’t be returning to teach in the spring. I normally have an image in my mind of the teaching year running from September to May, but now it’s only September to December, and then … everything changes, as people keep telling me.
Last weekend Hobgoblin and I had the pleasure of seeing our book-buying friends (here and here) and visiting the fabulous Book Barn in Niantic. The store is awesome, partly because it’s HUGE — it has three different locations around town, and each one is sizeable. We visited all three, of course, with a break for dinner. Here’s what I found:
- Michael Holroyd’s A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers. The kind of nontraditional biography I like.
- Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, a book discussed by a number of bloggers, but most especially Rohan.
- Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story, to add to my memoir collection.
- Frank Baker’s Miss Hargreaves, for when I’m in the mood for something lighter, possibly post-childbirth.
- Willa Cather’s O Pioneers, for when I’m in the mood for another classic-type book.
- Theodor Fontane’s Effi Briest, ditto, or I should say, for when I’m in the mood for a classic in translation.
- Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery, for when I want something more philosophical.
As for reading, last week I finished Kate Zambreno’s novel Green Girl, and liked it a lot. I heard about it through the Tournament of Books where it got eliminated immediately (by The Marriage Plot, which got so, so, so much more attention, but which wasn’t as intriguing as Green Girl was). Apparently a lot of readers found the main character, Ruth, unlikeable. She IS unlikeable, in some ways at least, although I found myself getting fond of her and certainly sympathizing with her, but that unlikeableness is part of the point. She’s a young American living in London, trying to scrape by on low-paying jobs. She’s isolated and bored and unhappy. She doesn’t have what I can only think of as internal resources to get her through — she’s not interested in much beyond pop culture and fashion, movies and boys and parties. She doesn’t know much about the world and doesn’t know how to reach for anything more meaningful, or even that anything more meaningful exists. She’s a depressed and depressing creation of modern media, consuming as much as she can but never finding any satisfaction in it. She’s full of surface-level images of what girls should be and she does her best to live up to these images while finding the entire enterprise horribly empty.
It’s the critique of fashion, celebrity, party-girl culture that I liked. There is a sense, if only a vague one, that Ruth will eventually move on and grow up, but for right now, she’s trapped. There is also an interesting narrator who in the beginning of the book self-consciously conjures Ruth up and then continues to comment directly on her throughout — a commentary that is both critical and sympathetic and is a pretty good guide for figuring out what to make of the character.
I’ve been reading Zambreno’s blog for a while now and am looking forward to reading her new nonfiction book Heroines. She is a writer I plan to follow.
Then I started Zadie Smith’s new novel NW, which I was lucky to be able to get quickly from the library. I haven’t finished it yet — I’m about 70 pages from the end and hope to finish it today — so I won’t write much about it now. But so far I’m enjoying it. Having a lean, tight structure is not exactly Smith’s thing — the book feels a bit all over the place — but it’s never been my thing either, and I like the book’s different sections with different writing styles. I’m liking the characters and the way Smith conjures up a particular part of London. More on that one soon (hopefully).
Finally, here is another pregnancy picture. I’m going to give you the 19-week one instead of the 20-week, which I wasn’t happy with. I’m past halfway now!