2016 Books, Part II

6. The Complete Persepolis (Pantheon, 2007, originally pub 2000-2003) – Marjane Sartrapi, trans.

I liked how this wasn’t a straightforward narrative of building a new life abroad after the political and social upheaval in Iran. There were difficult times and beautiful times in both places for the author, and ultimately, a sense of dislocation that has to be reckoned with no matter where she is. The tempestuousness and sometimes-shitty oblivious behavior of youth is all there, which I also appreciated. I liked the simplicity of the art, how much she does with black. Her family members are most vivid, visually – chic mother, gentle father, dashing uncle, feisty grandmother.

Origin: American Book Centre in The Hague

Fate: On the keeper shelf

7. Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor (2012?) – Lynda Barry

Second time reading this, one of my favorite books discovered last year. I enjoyed this book more visually this time, Barry’s monkeys, her renderings of herself as Chewbaca. The generosity of a real teacher comes through in the exercises here, the enthusiasm for sticking to something and the best wishes for a breakthrough in thinking, or style, or habits.

Origin: American Book centre in Amsterdam

Fate: On the “always keep” shelf

8. La fine dell’amore (2014) – Ed. Ilaria Bernardini 

An anthology of 13 “graphic short stories” about the end of love. A big range, from sinister, to realistic, to funny, to dreamy and surrealistic. Strong enough visually that I could understand with my intermediate Italian. A beautiful collection. I’m also happy that I stumped Amazon.com with this pick! Only available on Italian websites.  http://www.hopedizioni.com/la-fine-dellamore-graphic-short-stories/

Origin: A cool film-and-art-book store in Rome near Piazza Navona

Fate: On the “keeper” shelf

9. A Room of One’s Own (1929) – Virginia Woolf

I read this a long time ago in college. It made a big impression on my budding feminist self them, particularly the part about Shakespeare’s sister. This time I was struck by the depth and prescience of Woolf’s analysis, for example, her thoughts on the rarity of reading dialogue between two women, written to a woman, the novelty of it (Bechdel test anyone?); also her centering the argument on economic autonomy – the recognition of her own privilege and how that afforded her the freedom of time and space to create. I was also struck by her ability to view women as a separate economic class and in that sense assess their poverty and unpaid work at the time – such revolutionary thinking at the time (and still is, depending who you’re talking to). Also a pleasure to read, with her wit and balanced, intricate sentences.

Origin: The uninspired English bookstore full of remaindered titles in Leiden

Fate: Somewhere in the apartment? Just an easily replaced cheap paperback edition, so I’m not concerned

10. A Place of Greater Safety (2006) – Hilary Mantel

Mantel’s MASSIVE fictionalized account of the French Revolution, from the point of view of the revolutionaries. The characters really came alive, but I confess it became a bit of a slog in the last 200 pages.

11. A Little History of the World (1935, trans. 2005) – Erich Gombrich

 I think my whole feeling about this book would change with a change in the title to “A Little History of the West”. It’s intended for young readers, and it that sense it is refreshing and accessible, and comes from an art history perspective on European history, which always gives cause for hope. 

Notes on A Room of One’s Own

-The integrity of a writer – not the ethics of a narrative or its believability, but rather whether one will follow the writer anywhere, trust what is said, regardless of its place in the “real world.” 

– Forward-thinking in terms of: (1) conceiving of women as an economic class throughout time – living in poverty; (2) chastity as a barrier to women writers, composers, actors. Pinpointed still-ongoing conversations regarding the low value given to topics of “women’s concerns” (domestic) vs. “men’s concerns” (war, conquest, adventure).

– The beginning of Beauvoir’s Second Sex picks up on the theme of the vast amounts written about women, sociologically speaking, by men. It would seem too much to add more, but there is actually a fundamental mystery because women haven’t written about themselves.

– Lady Murasaki – mentioned in a list of writers – how did she come to be exposed to the Western world? Emily Bronte should have written poetic plays.

– Shakespeare as the androgynous, incandescent mind, one which surpasses private complaints and is therefore only the work, the plays, which exist in full integrity, the man as author unapparent. Jane Austen similar, but not Charlotte Bronte – because you an hear her private bitterness breaking into the narrative of Jane Eyre. (Though I think those complaints are important, and should have been set down… But the point is that it’s better to be in a place where you can move past them.)

Why Write

Thus when I ask you to write more books I am urging you to do what will be for your good and for the good of the world at large. How to justify this instinct or belief I do not know … What is meant by “reality”? It would seem to be something very erratic, very undependable – now to be found in a dusty road, now in a scrap of newspaper in the street, now a daffodil in the sun. It lights up a group in a room and stamps some casual saying. It overwhelms one walking home beneath the stars and make the silent world more real than the world of speech – and then there it is again in an omnibus in the uproar of Piccadilly. Sometimes, too, it seems to dwell in shapes too far away for us to discern what their nature is. But whatever it touches, it fixes and makes permanent. This is what remains over when the skin of the day has been cast into the hedge; that is what is left of past time and of our loves and hates. Now the writer, as I think, has the chance to live more than other people in the presence of this reality. It is his business to find it and collect it and communicate it to the rest of us. So at least I infer from reading Lear or Emma or La Recherche du temps perdu. For the reading of these books seems to perform a curious couching operation on the senses; one sees more intensely afterwards; the world seems bared of its covering and given an intenser life… So when I ask you to earn money and have a room of your own,  I am asking you to live in the presence of reality, an invigorating life, it would appear, whether one can impart it or not.

-Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Woolf anticipates the Bechdel test

She puts her fine finger on the issue here, analyzing a recently published book written by a woman:

“ ‘Chloe liked Olivia,’ I read. And then it struck me how immense a change was there. Chloe liked Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature. Cleopatra did not like Octavia. And how completely Antony and Cleopatra would have been altered had she done so! As it is, I thought …the whole thing is simplified, conventionalized, if one dared say it, absurdly. Cleopatra’s only feeling about Octavia is one of jealousy. Is she taller than I am? How does she do her hair? The play, perhaps, required no more. But how interesting it would have been if the relationship between the two women had been more complicated. All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple. So much has been left out, unattempted. And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends … They are confidantes, of course, in Racine and the Greek tragedies. They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen’s day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman’s life is that; and how little can a man know even of that when he observes it through the black or rosy spectacles which sex puts upon his nose. Hence, perhaps, the peculiar nature of woman in fiction; the astonishing extremes of her beauty and horror; her alternations between heavenly goodness and hellish depravity – for so a lover would see her as his love rose or sank, was prosperous or unhappy.” 

-Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own