I've been lugging The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader around the last few weeks, and it's amazing. I've also been reading the Oxford Classics collection of her short stories, but all the best ones are in the Reader.
I already rambled a bit about discovering Gilman (here) , but seriously I have a lot of feelings on the topic. I like to think we pick up the things we do when it's right time for us to do so, but I am a bit sad that I didn't discover Gilman sooner. That being said, this /is/ the right time for me. I want to use her writing in my MA work, and this is also the time for me to start thinking of putting PhD proposals together. So, meant to be? Maybe.
In any case, Gilman's fantastic. I've also been reading her Women and Economics and, though it's quite racist, it's an interesting look into her (obviously very first wave) feminism. She applies a lot of it to her short stories (thankfully, without references to "savages" on every other page) and I feel it comes across more strongly in her fiction. Her theory hasn't aged well, but her fiction has. I mean one short story I read had a woman who marries late because she got a PhD and spent time in academia (in 1911!), another had a woman who runs away from home to become a doctor. Most of them have women helping women and setting up lives without men. It's all inspiring and forward for the era, and I absolutely love reading them. Mostly, I love feeling really excited over literature again!
Here's to hoping the rest of the short stories in the Oxford collection that I haven't read yet prove to be as great!
I've had In Other Words sitting on my dresser since April. Having loved Jhumpa Lahiri's work ever since we studied The Namesake in high school, I picked up the book the second I saw it... Why I didn't read it before now is beyond me, but I'm glad that I've finally done so.
My favorite thing about Lahiri's writing is that she understands the cultural split that defines my life. Born to Indian parents from Calcutta and raised in the US, she is open about feeling alienated from every culture she's belonged to. This makes its way into most of her writing, and I have always been grateful for it. My cultural alienation has different origins –– Turkish mother, American father, French education –– but it is very much the same. I don't feel fully at home in any of my childhood cultures, and that feeling is alienating in a way that never goes away. You grow up and create your own culture, but you always feel your lack of roots. Lahiri fights this in In Other Words by discussing how she's adopted a third language, a third culture, and that spoke to me even more, making me think of how I've tried to make my home in a fourth, in Switzerland.
Personal feeling aside, In Other Words is a fascinating, moving read on Lahiri's journey through the Italian language. In a series of essays, it follows her from her first trip to Italy to her decision to relocate and willingly step away from the English language in order to connect to a tongue she chooses and loves. Though decidedly different from her fiction and written in another language, it still reads in her marked voice –– fluidly and personally. I read the book in three short sittings and felt rejuvenated after doing so. I've been a bit down this week, and reading an effortless but powerful book made a difference.
You can find a few passages that spoke to me in my tumblr tag for the book, here. Though I've read The Namesake and Lahiri's two short story collections many times, I still haven't gotten to reading The Lowland. I think that's going to change very soon...
This post can now be found at The Attic on Eighth.
My time on the internet has brought me lots of different friends over the years who specialize in a great variety of fields. It's allowed me to follow different budding careers and academic paths, and this year, it's allowed me to learn about the publishing process as one of these friends is having her debut novel, If We Were Villains, published later this year.
I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy over the past few days, and it was quite the experience. M. L. Rio has has a theatrical background –– both as an actor and Shakespeare scholar –– and this plays an important role in her novel. Following a group of seven theater students at an elite college, If We We Villains is a story of crime and obsession and Shakespeare. The novel begins with Oliver Marks, the novel's protagonist, finishing a ten year prison term "for a murder he may or may not have committed." The story quickly goes back ten years in time and turns to drama Oliver faces on and off stage with his friends and classmates.
If We Were Villains is a murder mystery at heart, but I'd say it's first and foremost a novel about the theater. Its plot revolves around the stage, but it also innovatively uses aspects of drama to form itself: without becoming a play in prose, it's shaped like a play and makes theatrical use of speech and action. It also works a /lot/ of Shakespeare into different quotations throughout the novel. No doubt this added layers of complexity to the story, but I'll admit that I'm impatient to get along with the action, and I was especially so in this case... so I may have skimmed a few quotations.
It should come as no surprise then that my favorite thing about If We Were Villains was the story. It had a lot in common with both Donna Tartt's The Secret History and John Knowles's A Separate Peace in that it takes place at a prestigious but very small liberal arts school in a very small town and centers around a group of very tightly knit friends who study their craft –– and each other –– obsessively. It fits into a very specific type of campus novel, and for that I'm glad because I've always been at a loss as to what to recommend to people who love The Secret History other than A Separate Peace. Now we have a third novel in the mix! That though isn't to say that the novel is too like the other two. The settings and themes may be similar, but the action is all its own. If We Were Villains is a darkly enthralling read from the beginning. It sucks you in and makes you want to know what happens next –– or rather makes you want to know how things came to be. It's been a long time since I've stayed up reading because I couldn't put a book down, and IWWV did just that to me last night.
Part campus novel, part literary thriller, If We Were Villains is a great read, and I look forward to seeing what M. L. Rio writes next!
You can pre-order If We Were Villains here and read the prologue here.
Finishing with exams last week meant that I got to go back to reading "for fun" last week. That meant finishing Zadie Smith's Swing Time, starting M. L. Rio's debut If We Were Villains, and going back to reading for my thesis. Right now, thesis reading consists of reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman and is consequently great fun. I've read some of her short stories in the past and this week, I had the pleasure of reading her feminist utopia, Herland.
Gilman doesn't get discussed very frequently – I only really picked up on her existence via my supervisor's chapter on "The Yellow Wallpaper" in a book of feminist criticism. She'd never come up in any of my classes at university or in high school, and I can't even say that's from a lack of female authors on any of the curriculums – I've luckily avoided the whole "my professors worship the great male authors" ordeal. Still, no Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Thankfully, that's changing now.
Herland was a delightful read. It tells the story of three male explorers who go on an expedition to South America and find a lost country inhabited only by women. These women live in a sort of utopia where they peacefully coexist in a society that is clearly so much better off than early 20th century America. The novella does a great job at addressing and dismantling sexist hypotheses of the era, proving that women are perfectly capable of not only existing but thriving without men. It's very much a product of its time in some ways – racist comments and horror re: abortion make their way into the text, but it's also ahead in some. For instance, it separates "femininity" from "womanhood" and begins to hint at the fact that sex and gender are not tied together and that what we know as "femininity" is highly indebted to patriarchal society. It's not Judith Butler, but it's still both nice and surprising to see in something written in 1915.
Feminist issues aside, the book is also wonderfully narrated. At first you may wonder why a book about a feminist utopia is narrated by a male character, but that it is is a gift. The narration reads almost like a parody. The narrator is the most likable of the three men, but you still find yourself commenting on and rolling your eyes at the stupidity of men as you read. It's highly entertaining,
I'm very happy my supervisor recommended I read Herland and I will now be recommending it to anyone interested in the era and will be adding it to my "intro to feminism" reading list.
I did a thing that always makes me feel guilty and dropped a class today. Usually, I love following as many as I can handle because there are so many interesting things to learn about. Sometimes, though, too much is too much, and the thing with grad school is that less is more and you need to know how to strategize. I'm planning on writing my new thesis in the spring, and to do that, I need to do my research /now/. And that means /not/ filling all of my time with classes, especially since I've validated most of my modules and don't need that many credits.
So I dropped a class.
And I refuse to feel bad. It was on Indigenous Feminisms and women's poetry and the reading was fascinating and I was already learning a lot. But it wasn't feasible and it made me deal with the fact that though the topic was important and the critical reading was engaging, I actually hate dissecting poetry. Poetry is wonderful to read and discuss, but start picking it apart into metrical feet and set genres and it becomes too scientific. I know it's an art form, but I find tend to find that actually thinking about its technical aspects kills it.
But then, sometimes looking at how a poem /doesn't/ follow set structure or genre gives it so, so, so much more meaning. One of the essays I read yesterday, Elizabeth Archuleta's "'I Give You Back': Indigenous Women Writing to Survive", was discussing the ways in which the English language is seen as the "enemy" to Indigenous peoples, and Archuleta argued that adopting the language and spinning it in new ways was a way to master it and "write to survive." It was a beautiful point and made so much sense as I was looking at a set of poems later on (Paula Gunn Allen's "The One Who Skins Cats," Christos's "White Girl Don't," and Cheryl Savage's "graduate school first semester"). But then I looked at our preparation sheet, asking us to identify meter (none), genre (none), rhyme schemes (none), and I looked at the poems again, and I didn't want to give them meaning through the way they /weren't/ following Western poetic rules. Because doesn't giving them meaning through such means – even if that meaning has beauty and strength – still define them by what they supposedly lack rather than what they have?
So I'm not going to let myself feel bad for dropping the class. I've learned from it, and I've opened the door to a new field of literature that I can pursue on my own, in my own way, with the time that it deserves. I've also prioritized my own writing. It's strategically for the best, and it'll keep me from thinking of meter for another few months.
Academic Olivia is back! I've had a few moments in the last few weeks where I've had the stray "I miss writing essays?" thought or where I've reached for a highlighter or post-it while reading, but I didn't really feel the need to act on them until today.
I'm presenting at (my first ever) conference with a friend next month, and while we have most of what we need mapped out, I decided it was time I start doing extra readings. So I printed out Laura Mulvey's now-classic "Visual Pleasure and Narrative cinema" this morning and headed to the coffee shop for a study session. The article was only eighteen pages long and didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know, but it was still a good read. It's fascinating how things like "the male gaze" start out as groundbreaking claims when they're first conceptualized and then become part of our collective intelligence, isn't it? Who now doesn't know all about and criticize (at least in our circles) the way in which women are objectified in popular media to satisfy the male gaze? I do love reading articles that confirm things we already know though because yay citations. Plus, the article had the bonus of rewaking my anger towards 1980s psychoanalytical theory. All around win!
(If you're interested in reading the article, you can access it here.)
I was hesitating over whether I should keep The Cursed Child to write about for my department's literary magazine, but honestly, I don't think I'm capable of expressing myself with anything more elaborate than ?!!?!!! when it comes to this book. With that in mind, I'm going to present the rest of my thoughts in bullet point form:
Anne of Green Gables was a defining book of my childhood. I don't remember how I got my hands on the first volume of the series, but I remember obsessing over it and cherishing a copy of Anne's House of Dreams that I got at our yearly visit to After Words in Ann Arbor on a drive from Chicago to Detroit. I remember reading it in the car and shipping Anne and Gilbert so hard that they helped define my view of romance at a very young age. I remember writing fan fiction about Rilla of Ingleside (before I even knew that fan fiction was a thing that existed) and tuning into PBS every weekend hoping that they would, yet again, be screening the Anne of Green Gables films. I was a fangirl, and I barely knew it.
Despite all of that, I don't think I'd reread a single one of the novels since I was maybe twelve years old. I left the books Stateside when I moved to Europe six years ago, not yet knowing that I would come to regret the decision. I've since made friends who similarly loved the books and made me want to reread them.
Because he's the absolute sweetest and because I've told him about my childhood love of Anne of Green Gables so many times (and because he somehow remembered that I also love Rifle Paper Co. a ridiculous amount), A came home from England with a gorgeous, Anna Bond-illustrated copy of the first book. I hadn't been planning on rereading it this summer, but I couldn't resist the book and stuck it in my suitcase to Italy this week.
With all the darkness in the world lately, the book's proved to be just what I needed. I'd forgotten just how cheerful it is and just how preciously (and naively) positive Anne is as a character. Every page is making me smile, and though I'm only halfway through my reread so far, I already feel much better for having revisited the book. It's everything that's wonderful and right with the world, and I'm going to need to find a way to get my hands on my copies of the rest of the series once I'm through with it. I'm falling in love with Avonlea and Prince Edward Island all over again, and I understand why – now, as an adult – why Anne of Green Gables has been so beloved over time. It's fluffy but substantial, and it's inspirational not just to children but to all with its cheerful attitude. Plus, with all the importance it gives to imagination and friendship, I'm not at all surprised that I fell for the world as a child.
So if you still have your copy of the book and are feeling blue these days, I'd highly recommend diving back into L.M. Montgomery's world and being reminded of the innocent pleasures hidden in reality.
My hand slipped and I bought two new books the other day. I'm already a third of the way through Jessie Burton's The Muse, and I'm having trouble putting it down. It's everything I want from a leisure read – a multi-era historical novel, a story of writers and painters and a somewhat more literary take on the Kate Morton-esque genre I enjoy so much. I'm looking forward to having more time to read this weekend and seeing how the rest of the novel goes!
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I'm Olivia, a twenty-six year old grad student studying in Switzerland. This is where I share my thoughts on the academic journey, culture, travels, baking, and my daily life abroad. Read More.