09 March 2008

Book update: N. Ireland, gender, and persuasion

I haven't done the book-a-week thus far; my February writing got in the way a bit, but I'm close. So an update on some of the books I've finished over the past few weeks.

Persuasion, Jane Austen, on the ipod (audible)
I can recommend 'reading' the 'classics' such as this one on audiobook. Rather than a daunting, thick tome, you're faced with a file that has a delimited time (8 hours in this case). Plus, for books like those of the Austen variety, it's nice to rely on an actor to interpret the tone of various banal statements such that you easily and seamlessly understand snootiness, sarcasm, 'well I declare' naivete, and gruff embarrassment. Persuasion itself is an interesting book in terms of its depiction of the tiny spaces women have to maneuver within, whether they are persuaders or persuadees. It is a book about how to convince others and oneself of the proper path to take through sometimes treacherous social interrelations. On one level it's about relations among women, whether an aunt-like mentor, an older confidante, a sister, a cousin, or a rival. And it's about the emotional and physical harm done in the minutiae of social interactions. I find it very much like the original psychological novel: The Tale of Genji. Everything happens with one phrase, one note, one letter. Lives are saved or shattered on the backs of these tiny turns. I recommend reading it on audio book--it makes these nuances easier to absorb.

Northern Ireland: A Very Short Introduction, Marc Mulholland, OUP, in the loo
This book was demoted (promoted?) from 'plane reading' to 'loo reading' and as a result I actually got through the thing. 150 pages of utter lack of persuasion, wrapped up in terrible writing and capped by the assumption that the reader already knows everything about northern Ireland. Which is unfortunate for a book with its subtitle. The author takes no clear path through the confusing material, instead assuming we're following him: mentioning Stormont several pages before he actually explains what it is, casually noting the killing of 10 people on a bus on one page and then three pages later labelling it a 'massacre', failing utterly to define terms or provide necessary background for understanding party affiliations. I realise these little books are often tossed together in a week or two. And perhaps they should merely remain what the marketing seems to wish for them: books you buy as gifts at the checkout with no expectation the recipient will read them. If you would like to understand the northern Ireland conflict, do not read this book. It did, however, make me feel better about my own writing ability. Read it if you need that kind of contrast.

Written on the Body, Jeannette Winterson, on the sofa (link)
Omigod is this book soooo 1992. In a good way. But it made me realise how literature comes out of a particular context, and that by 'particular' we mean 'the 23rd week of 1992'. This is my first Winterson, and may be my last; I find it a bit too clever in the lack of gendered identification of the narrator, which is intellectually interesting but I'm not sure how much it adds to the overarching point of the narrative. That is, interesting trick, but what does it bring to the story? I enjoy the anti-cliche attitude of the text, and the writing is compelling, evocative and expressive. But I wasn't sure I liked being in the head of the narrator, not because of the a-gendered quality of the narration but because I wanted different perspectives. In that sense, the book succeeds in producing a feeling of being inside a body and wanting out, or wanting to connect--the interiority of the narration produces that extremely well. But I was reminded of heady days in grad school reading Butler and out-there lesbian/transgender literature, and it made me crave the coffee and whole-grain vegan cookies at Dunn Brothers across from Macalester. Perhaps not the kind of craving Winterson was going for!

Other books read recently:
Anthony Smith, The Ethnic Origins of Nations
Christopher Pinney, Camera Indica
Lisa Trivedi, Clothing Gandhi's Nation
Rabindranath Tagore, Fireflies

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