Monday, April 22, 2013

many books, most of which are troubling regarding women

Things my boyfriend has said to me lately:

"Want to go to a museum with me?"

"I want to see 'The Magic Flute'."

"I was offered the part of Captain Von Trapp once."

"I love it" [where "it" is brushing my excessively hairy, molting dog for half an hour a day].

I don't know where the Dr. Awesomestein lab that cooked him up is, but someone should give it a large grant. (It may well be in Maine.)


Regarding the situation in Boston: I'm glad they caught him. As in caught, not killed. This week would not have been improved if it had ended with a nineteen-year-old shot down in the street, no matter what that nineteen-year-old has done. I don't know what happens now, and don't have the energy to articulate my feelings after the last post, but... I'm glad he's alive. And not in a "so they can torture him" way. As the manhunt went on, I kept hoping no one else died, including the hunted. 


Oh my, I have read a lot since last posting about books. So, as quickly as I can:

Breaking Point, by C.J. Box. This was my Early Reviewers book and the latest in a mystery series I enjoy very much, about a hero who is a game warden in Wyoming. As always, the mystery is solid and intriguing (and occasionally very graphic) and the depiction of life in Wyoming very evocative. Our hero's constant conflicts with those above him in the chain of command, and the way bureaucrats who can't ride horses are always untimigatedly evil, are getting a little repetitive, but I still didn't stir from the couch until I finished this book. 

The Round House, by Louise Erdrich. Oh wow. OH WOW. Take To Kill A Mockingbird, change the narrator to a thirteen-year-old Native American boy, and add a vicious rape and the (very real) fact that crimes by non-Natives on reservation land cannot be prosecuted by tribal authorities, and you have an absolutely incredible book that I could barely stand to put down because I was so invested in the story, and from which I had to take prolonged trashy-mystery breaks because it is so wrenching. I wasn't sure at first that Erdrich was going to pull off the narrative voice, but she does. This book is fantastic. 

Several Inspector Lynley books by Elizabeth George. I... well, I am interested in the mysteries, and in the secondary characters, and in Lynley's working-class sergeant, Barbara Havers. But Lynley himself and his equally upper-class best friend and the upper-class women in their lives are immensely boring and objectionable. They all swan around whining about their feelings while spending money and flitting between their many homes, and the women in particular are depicted as adorable in their inability to function without the aid of servants. One book's non-mystery side plot consists of Lynley and his friend, both in their mid-thirties, fighting over a twenty-year-old girl who has zilch to recommend her other than youth and red hair and extreme, obnoxious propensity for drama (which is, even more obnoxiously, presented as a universal feminine trait and something you just have to deal with if you marry a woman). And there is an episode in that book which had me snapping my head back from the Kindle like a turtle (trigger warning for violence against women): while three people watch, a man punches his girlfriend in the face repeatedly, and then throws her down on the ground and prepares to rape her. One of the people watching is said girlfriend's brother. The two women with him do nothing, waiting for him to do something (because only men can defend women), and only when he points out (fairly calmly, too) that due to his disability he can't reach the place where this is happening do the women rush over to the scene and drag the would-be rapist off the victim. And THEN, when the would-be rapist appears at dinner that night (it's a weekend at Lynley's family estate), NO ONE SAYS ANYTHING OR TREATS HIM ANY DIFFERENTLY. AND NO ONE HAS CALLED THE POLICE ABOUT THIS. BECAUSE THAT WOULD RUIN THE WEEKEND FOR THE HOSTESS. I don't care how fucking upper-class British you are, you don't exchange SMALL TALK over COCKTAILS with the man you just saw TRYING TO RAPE YOUR SISTER. NO ONE EVEN ASKS HIM TO LEAVE. And these three people are our recurring protagonists.  

George, in general: not great with women. Every female character we meet is appraised based on her appearance; apparently the most disgusting thing a woman can do is "let herself go". It's very frustrating to read, because it has nothing to do with the mysteries. P.D. James unfortunately does this too, and in her case as well it's offensively class-based: the wealthy women, in their soft fabrics, slim figures, and expensive haircuts, are described approvingly, while the working-class women who are raising three children on a limited income are shredded by the authors for wearing a stained top or being heavy around the hips. I don't know what to do with this misogyny thrown into books that I might otherwise enjoy. It makes me quite unhappy. 

(That wasn't quick, was it? Had to get that off my chest. Sorry.) 

I also read a couple more mysteries by Tess Gerritsen, which are very like Faye Kellerman's books: attempting to shock but without the depth of character required for me to be invested enough to be shocked. They were good distractions during this last week and while taking breaks from Erdrich. 

The Pursuit of Love, by Nancy Mitford. A sweet hilarious little novel about eccentric British aristocracy in the 1920's and 30's. I have read Jessica Mitford's letters, and knew her sister was supposed to be a good writer, but had never read any of her books before. This was absolutely charming and I laughed out loud very often. I will be reading more of her stuff, I think. 

Ada, by Vladimir Nabokov. Yes, I finished it. And wow, but not the same kind of wow as Erdrich provoked. A whole lot of this book is pedophiliac incest porn, between a fourteen-year-old boy and his eleven-year-old supposed-to-be-cousin-but-actually-sister (Ada). (There is also incest between Ada and her sister.) I had something of the same feeling as I did when, flush from the wonder that is A Hundred Years of Solitude, I started reading more Garcia Márquez and found that the rape-makes-women-nymphomaniacs thing, which was a one-off in Solitude, was showing up everywhere (Garcia Márquez likes the little girls as well, and between that and the rape I stopped reading his new books about fifteen years ago). Nabokov, for this book, has created an alternate nineteenth-century earth in which Russia owns North America and there are briefly-mentioned steampunky devices and other weird and potentially fascinating stuff, but I eventually decided all this was just in the service of the author wanting a world in which pedophilia and incest are acceptable. There are entirely too many mentions of ten-year-old girls as pouty, seductive nymphets with whom it's perfectly normal for a sixty-year-old man to have sex. So disgusting and infuriating, because, fuck, that man could write. Why, why, if you had that talent, would you use it in the service of six hundred pages about incest and little girls? 

(Notable while reading Nabokov in hard copy: I have become way too used to reading on the Kindle. When you tap a word on the Kindle screen, it pulls up the dictionary definition. Nabokov's vocabulary is way beyond mine, and on possibly more than five occasions I found myself tapping an actual, physical page and expecting something to happen. Not my proudest moments.) 

The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War, by Lynn H. Nicolas. This was very dense. I found it interesting in fits and starts, but the amount of information often overwhelmed me. It made me want to re-read Stealing the Mystic Lamb, and not in a good way. Books that make me want to re-read something afterwards are good; books that make me wish, while I am reading them, that I was re-reading something I liked better, are less good. So I can't honestly recommend this. 


  1. Well, regarding books which are jubilatory regarding women, I have almost finished Caitlin Moran's How To Be A Woman, on your recommendation, and you were RIGHT. Gawd, I love it (though I really wish I had trusted Moran and not given into my morbid curiosity as to whether Katie Price was really that bad. She is).

    1. Yay! I'm so glad you're reading that.