I’d been meaning to read Nella Larsen for a long time and finally picked up my copy of Passing. What a good novel! Or novella, perhaps I should call it, as it’s very short. It’s about two women, Irene and Clare, although Irene is the one through whom the story is told. They are both of mixed race with light skin, but Clare is passing as white while Irene is not. The story is about Irene’s feelings about Clare, her bitterness towards Clare’s openly racist husband, and her uncertainties about her own marriage. There is so much packed into very few pages — so much about race in America, about friendship, about dealing with one’s life choices, about desire.
I liked Passing so much I went ahead and read Quicksand, Larsen’s other novel, which was bundled in my book with Passing. This novel (novella) is about Helga, a teacher in the novel’s beginning, who quits in search of a life that’s more suited to her personality and desires. She lives in various places, including Copenhagen where she has some relatives, and among various types of people, always in a quest for the contentment and fulfillment that she has found elusive. With a title like Quicksand, you might be able to make a guess as to where the novel is heading. This one was also good, satisfyingly complex. I wish Larsen had written more novels.
I also read My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart for my mystery book group, which was a disappointment. I was hoping for a fun, cozy mystery/romance, but I found it dull and implausible with characters that seemed too thin and with way too much landscape description that I found myself impatiently skimming. Although opinions on it differed in my book group, it generally was not a success. Our next read is Attica Locke’s Black Water Rising, and perhaps we will have better luck next time.
And now I’m in the middle of two very good nonfiction books, first of all, Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch, which makes me want to read the novel again (which, if I were to do it, would be my third time. I am no casual George Eliot fan and take my Eliot reading seriously!). Mead’s book is excellent. She weaves together biographical information on Eliot, her own experiences reading Middlemarch, and thoughts on the novel itself, and makes all these sections equally compelling. I’m also reading Kathryn Schulz’s Being Wrong, a book about … well, wrongness. She explores what it means to be wrong (and whether “rightness” is something we can even settle upon), how people have dealt with the idea of rightness and wrongness historically, the value of making mistakes, what it’s like to experience being wrong and changing one’s mind, and why acknowledging one’s own wrongness is such a hard thing to do. Schulz’s tone is light and always entertaining — this book will make you contemplate your own mistakes but Schulz makes this as painless as such a thing can possibly be.
And one final book: I had the urge to reread something by listening to it on audio, and my library had an audiobook version of Ian McEwan’s Atonement available, so I’ve been listening to that. It’s so good and at the same time so painful that I’m wondering why I wanted to put myself through listening to such a heartbreaking story. But it’s also so good! As it turns out, I won an audiobook version of McEwan’s latest novel from LibraryThing, so I’ll be listening to that one soon as well.
And now it’s time to dive back into my reading … I hope you’ve read some good things lately too!
7 responses to “Reading Round-up, 10/1/2014”
Atonement is one of my favourite books of all time but it is painful… Glad you are enjoying it!
Never heard of Nella Larsen before, but now I have to look her up!
I’m keen to read McEwan’s new one as well. I haven’t liked any others as much as I loved Atonement (so painful, yes, but so, so smart!) — but I know that at the very least it will be a book worth thinking about, and he has such a knack for putting every word in just the right place, somehow.
Ooh, Being Wrong sounds really interesting. Bookman and I always argue over who is right about something so perhaps we should both read this book!
McEwan’s latest is sitting on my shelf waiting for the middle of next week when I think I might just have the time to give it the attention it deserves.
Yours is the second review of Passing and Quicksand that I’ve read, the other just as positive. Passing makes me think of Mildred Taylor’s second novel, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, do you know it?
I tried reading Mead’s book, but I had just finished a re-read of Middlemarch. There was too much plot rehashing. Not that that is a bad thing, but I think it would be best to wait a year or so and read Mead (let Eliot rest a bit).
I adored Being Wrong – one of the best non-fiction books I read last year. I’m also determined to read Nella Larssen. I’ve been meaning to for ages, but… you know how that goes! I’m also keen to read the Rebecca Mead. Perhaps they’ll have cheap secondhand copies of it available online by now – what a thought! 🙂