Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Books I Read in February and March

I not only didn't post the Feb list, I even forgot to keep notes on what I've read. So this is going to be an incomplete list. Also, a lot of the reading I did was for the English literature course I'm taking. I've put off posting this forever, so I'm only doing really brief impressions instead of paragraph-long ones. 18 books in two months.

Plays

Tara by Mahesh Dattani
About a girl who's discriminated against by her family, and narrated by her twin brother who carries that guilt, this play was more nuanced and interesting than I'd expected from the description.

The Hairy Ape by Eugene O'Neill
Ugh. The white working class man is the worst victim ever. Women are upper class and bitchy and weirdly delicate, fainting at the sight of hairy sweaty topless men who work. 

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
I'd always loved Miller, but my favorites are All My Sons and The Crucible; Salesman, I've always felt, is less nuanced and interesting. I am older now, and have more sympathy, and recognised and appreciated the "capitalism is bad" bits, but the cardboard cutout of the devoted wife annoys me.

Rereads

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
I found this much more grownup and difficult than I had remembered. I'd read it just as an adventure story earlier and found it less fun than Tom Sawyer (don't judge me) and more boring. This time I read it carefully, and read about it, and wow. If Twain was going for satire, the end is brilliant, though I found it painful to read through - but I suppose it is about making us uncomfortable. (A couple of links if you're interested.)

The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald
I had dismissed the book the first time I'd read it as frivolous and sexist. It is both those things, but this time I appreciated the beauty of the language and the tightness of the plot. Still totally misogynistic and classist, though. (I really liked this scathing piece.)

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
I was less traumatised by this novel this time around, and enjoyed it even more. I didn't even mind the ending, which I'd earlier felt betrayed by as a cop out.

The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
I've become a more careful and kind reader. My impression of this book was that it was boring and very boy-centric; this time I was less dismissive and more appreciative. I can understand the appeal to teenage geeky boys, but it's not something that speaks to me, or was ever meant for me. The writing is also a bit ineffective, maybe? It's not clear how smart the protagonist is (he seems really stupid sometimes, and I don't get whether we're supposed to agree with everything he thinks or not), and we never see anyone else's PoV.

Non-Fiction

Sexual Politics by Kate Millett
Brilliant. An incisive look at sexuality and misogyny in literature and society. Trigger warning: some of it, especially the opening chapters, is difficult to read because of the long excerpts from misogynist books, including graphic descriptions of rape and violence.

The Cambridge Introduction to Scott Fitzgerald 
by Kirk Curnutt

This was interesting, especially if you're a fan of Fitzgerald. If not, don't bother.


Other Classics

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dresier
For a nineteenth century novel, this was surprisingly liberal and feminist. The protagonist leaves her lower middle class family to find herself in the growing city of Chicago, and immediately "loses herself" (that is, her chastity). The novel foreshadows deep doom for her, which never materialises. What's waiting for her at the end of the novel is (spoiler warning!) independence and success, while she rejects the lover who had patronised her and the one who had abducted her kills himself in poverty and despair.

Kanthapura by Raja Rao
There are so many brilliant Indian authors I hadn't read. I was afraid this book would be stodgy and boring; it definitely wasn't. The most wonderful thing about it was the narratorial voice: the old conservative grandmother telling a tale about the struggle against colonialism and casteism shaking up her little village, and the courage the villagers found.


Fantasy and YA

The Gameworld Trilogy by Samit Basu
For some reason, I'd only read the first of these years ago, and I knew I had to remedy this. I enjoyed it even more this time around, because I've read more of the fiction it's referencing and satirising and mocking. It's delicious, especially the first and second books, and Basu is laugh-out-loud funny. I need to find more of his work.

Unfriended by Rachel Vail
One reason I love young adult books is that they are so hormonal. Full of angst and emotion: reminds me of my passionate teenage feels without the despair. This one is typical and very good.

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller
A seventeen year old girl who is a pirate captain, and allows herself to be captured by an enemy ship because she wants to spy on them. Our heroine is much fun, even without her magical abilities.

First Class Murder and Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens
Love this series; will read every book. (I don't think they'll hold up that well on a reread somehow, but they are really fun schoolgirls-solving-murder books.)

Monday, February 06, 2017

Attending the Jaipur Lit Fest

Some self promotion, for those of you who are not on Twitter. I made it to the Jaipur Lit Fest for two days--I was supposed to go for four, but had some misadventures. I wrote about it for Women's Web.

I attended the mansplaining and manels session which had Suhel Seth (just to troll us, I suspect):
Suhel Seth was asked a question on the HeForShe campaign and said, “I have no opinion.” Everyone wishes he would say that to all questions. (“Do you want sugar in your tea?” “I have no opinion.”)
I interviewed Ruchira Gupta on her work towards ending human trafficking, her views on the feminist movement, and on building a feminist workplace:
We have tried to have over-representation of women in our organisation, so more women are employed than men. We have also tried to feminise the workplace itself; in most of the offices there’s a bed with nice colourful rugs and cushions, so that women can bring their children and children can play there. Our work hours have become more flexible based on the needs of the women working there.
And my most personal piece, about listening to women:
Almost everyone I met or talked to at any depth (barring volunteers, service workers, and so on) was a woman. Most of the people I heard from on stage were women (not that there were more women speakers — on the festival website, I counted around 130 women and over 200 men, including six men called David). But I was amazed at the number of feminist voices around me.
Women warn women about skeevy men. There are things you don’t say in a larger audience, but are murmured to each other when women meet. Men of power and privilege who are sexual predators. Women warn each other with stories: this happened to a friend.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Books I read in late December and in January


I took a month long holiday in Jan and traveled to four states. (It was more sedentary than it sounds: I focused on people rather than places and didn't travel a lot within the states. But it was an amazing break.) Pictures, if you are interested, are on Instagram.

Anyway, reading. Since I was staying at friends' and family's homes, most of these books were borrowed. (Very grateful for my friends' well-stocked libraries.) I read a lot, so am categorizing the books into literary, romance, and children/YA.