Monday, January 31, 2005

Girls in Pants (by Ann Brashears)

I cannot believe I am writing about the magical pants book in my book blog. But as you may notice, I have gone back and added all the books I've read this year so far that aren't on one of my reading lists, and this is one of them.

As a long time Baby-sitters Club reader, I have a soft spot for cheesy series about teenage girls, and so there you have it. I snuck into Barnes & Noble and read this book sitting in an overstuffed chair. Maybe this is unethical? But I really have no need to own the pants books, just an overwhelming need to find out what happens next.

It's cheesy, not that well written, and I'm still holding a grudge against Book Two in the series, where the chubby girl loses weight and dyes her hair blonde and then gets the guy. I mean COME ON, people. Also, wash the damn pants! Because that's gross. (Although my friend Bruce, who is such an expert on jeans that he has gone to a conference on the subject, says that jeans are designed not to be washed.)

I am going to go retreat to the Fametracker thread on the subject of these books. Fametracker is also where my fellow BSC refugees are. (Speaking of which, if you ever read that series, this Fametracker-sponsored fanfic is hysterically funny.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

More Alice B. Toklas

As a Henry James fan, I wanted to also mention this quote (page 74):

"In the same way she contends that Henry James was the first person in literature to find the way to the literary methods of the twentieth century. But oddly enough in all of her formative period she did not read him and was not interested in him. But as she often says one is always naturally antagonistic to one's parents and sympathetic to one's grandparents. The parents are too close, they hamper you, one must be a lone. So perhaps that is the reason why only very lately Gertrude Stein reads Henry James."

I love her ideas about writing. She also talks later on in Autobiography about how good poetry or prose is not based in emotion, but in "an exact reproduction of either an outer or inner reality." I can see this principle at work in both Gertrude Stein and Henry James. It is the source of what some readers might call their sterility. I would call it objectivity, myself.

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (by Gertrude Stein)

I am of two minds about this book. One the one hand, Gertrude Stein was undeniably a genius in every sense. There are nuggets of wisdom in this book that make me want to read everything she's ever written. And her sense of rhythm is so true to itself, the way it gets inside your brain. (At one point the narrator says that she, Stein, learned the difference between sentences and paragraphs by listening to the rhythm of her dog drinking water.)

And on the other hand, this book gets tiresome. It is the most name-droppy book I've ever read. It's basically an account of every single person Stein met during the time period of 1903-1932. "And then she met so-and-so, whom she didn't like. But through so-and-so she met other person, and she liked other person very much and they became friends. Here is an anecdote that may or may not be interesting. And now let me name some other people..."

On the third hand, I think this might be my own failing as a reader. Because she mentions many people in whom I am intensely interested-- from T.S. Eliot to Ford Madox Ford to Picasso of course-- and her opinions about them and anecdotes about them are interesting. And some of the anecdotes are interesting even if you don't know who the person is. But she doesn't take a lot of time to describe any one person; it's like a diary, where the reader is assumed to be familiar with the Stein social circle. If you don't have a sense of who the people are, you sort of wish she'd slow down and help you understand.

Also, there's almost nothing in this autobiography about Alice B. Toklas or about their relationship. It's unclear how she ended up living with Gertrude Stein; it's not even addressed obliquely. Suddenly she's just there. The reader doesn't really catch a glimpse of the love between them, or even the personality of Alice B. Toklas. Which, given the title of the book, is a little disconcerting to one's sense of expectation!

"Bruce, Patrick Henry Bruce, was one of the early and most ardent Matisse pupils and soon he made little Matisses, but he was not happy. In explaining the unhappiness he told Gertrude Stein, they talk about the sorrows of great artists, the tragic unhappiness of great artists but after all they are great artists. A little artist has all the tragic unhappiness and the sorrows of a great artist and he is not a great artist." (Page 107-8)

Friday, January 21, 2005

Lady Chatterley's Lover (by D. H. Lawrence)

Usually when books are banned for being "obscene" there's not much true obscenity in them. But hooray for D.H. Lawrence, because his book actually delivers on the promise of obscenity. We've got the ass fondling, the flowers decorating the pubic hair, and many paragraphs devoted to the majesty of the penis and the sexual act. Perhaps not coincidentally, this is the only D.H. Lawrence book I've read that I don't actively hate.

It does hit at some type of fundamental truth about sex and love, with lovely and beautiful imagery. (The last page is a crescendo of sorts.) Something about it reverberated, reminded me of Lawrence's wonderful poem, "Whales Weep Not" in that it provoked an emotional and sensual response. Lady Chatterley is also a good character and I liked her and thought she was portrayed well; nice to know D.H. doesn't necessarily write women badly.

But still, there is an entire chapter of this book where a guy talks about women who don't have an orgasm exactly when he has one, which means they are all "Lesbians." And every woman in this book has an orgasm by waiting until the guy is done, then "writhing their loins till they bring themselves off" instead of A) being helped out a little, or B) coming at the exact proper moment that their partner would like them to.

In conclusion, this book was written by a man.

"Yet in some curious way it was a visionary experience: it had hit her in the middle of the body. She saw the clumsy breeches slipping down over the pure, delicate, white loins, the bones showing a little, and the sense of aloneness, of a creature purely alone, overwhelmed her. Perfect, white, solitary nudity of a creature that lives alone, and inwardly alone. And beyond that, a certain beauty of a pure creature. Not the stuff of beauty, not even the body of beauty, but a lambency, the warm, white flame of a single life, revealing itself in contours that one might touch: a body!" (p. 51)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The War of the Worlds (by H.G. Wells)

A very well-written and compelling science fiction story. Something that is, I think, famous more for its groundbreaking aspects than for any other reason, but it's a damn fun and quick read nonetheless. The writing is compelling, vivid and smart. I love how the word "war" becomes more and more ironic as the book progresses. I love the 19th century perspective on an extraterrestrial invasion. I mean, for its time, it's quite an astonishing achievement.

Speaking of The War of the Worlds, I wonder if Orson Wells was related to H.G. Wells?

Quote: "At most, terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment." (p. 1)

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Life of Pi (by Yann Martel)

I read this for my book group. Our group review isn't up yet, but basically we spent a lot of time talking about which story was "real" and which one wasn't. This interview with Yann Martel, as far as I'm concerned, settles the question. I guess Martel would consider me less capable of making a leap of faith, or less transcendant. But I think the twist of having the story not be true is the more transcendant experience. For me, anyway.


Monday, January 10, 2005

The Pleasure of My Company (by Steve Martin)*

I loved listening to this as an Audiobook. It was like Steve Martin reading me a bedtime story. I love his prose; so delicate and subtle, and he has a real gift for simile. I love the story; so simple and charming. I love what he does with the semi-unreliable narrator. I don't know if its a realistic portrayal of an obsessive-compulsive person, but it felt plausible to me.

Strangely, I went and peeked at the pages of this book in the booksstore and found that it didn't evoke the same mood or feeling to me as it did when I listened to it. My experience of listening to a book is so different from my experience of reading it on the printed page.

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