March Reading Plans

International Women’s Day seems like a fitting occasion to declare that I have had enough of the intensely masculine atmosphere of police procedurals for a while. I have now read 5 of the Martin Beck books and while I think they are very good of their kind, it is still not the kind that best suits my own personal taste and I’m ready to read something different. I don’t even want to finish the attempt at a properly nuanced commentary on the role and depiction of women in them that I started to write just now and then deleted! There’s plenty to be said about it, I’m sure, and I’m not calling the books sexist. I just want to take my mental life somewhere else for a while–which means I’m also not keen on reading more Henning Mankell just yet either. Reading Danielle’s nice post at A Work in Progress about her own March reading plans made me think about what I have to look forward to or might choose to focus on for the rest of this month. One of the great luxuries of being on sabbatical, after all, is exactly that choice!

I think it’s going to be a pretty intense month for women writers–which is not unusual for me, of course. In fact, prompted by the flap about the VIDA statistics, I did a quick tally of the contemporary books I’ve written up on Novel Readings and came up with around 72% women authors. (This may in itself be one tiny piece of anecdotal evidence for the difference it might make having more women involved in editorial roles at the major periodicals: if their own reading skewed at all towards women writers, that would inevitably shift the sense of what books deserve attention.) Like Danielle, I’m reading Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus for the Slaves of Golconda reading group. I’m also determined to finish Margaret Kennedy’s Together and Apart. I’m going to reread Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and also, maybe, Agnes Grey, as I’m hoping to write something about AB for Open Letters Monthly. First, though, I’ve just begun Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children, because after all the detective novels with their mostly pedestrian prose I really wanted to dive into something where the writing really mattered–and the first two chapters have already convinced me that an extraordinary (if not altogether pleasant) reading experience lies ahead. Here’s her description, for instance, of Henny Pollit’s family home:

She had the calm of frequentation; she belonged to this house and it to her. Though she was a prisoner in it, she possessed it. She and it were her marriage. She was indwelling in every board and stone of it: every fold in the curtains had a meaning (perhaps they were so folded to hide a darn or stain); every room was a phial of revelation to be poured out some feverish night in the secret laboratories of her decisions, full of living cancers of insult, leprosies of disillusion, abscesses of grudge, gangrene of nevermore, quintan fevers of divorce, and all the proliferating miseries, the running sores and thick scabs, for which (and not for its heavenly joys) the flesh of marriage is so heavily veiled and conventually interned.

The passage starts out calmly enough, but that riff on marriage as a diseased body wrapped in the veils of domesticity lacerates the imagination. I’ve also already had to look two words up in the dictionary: “desquamating” and “crepitations.” (I’m sure you all already knew just what these mean.)

The other two books I’m planning to get through are Trollope’s La Vendée, which one of my PhD students is writing a chapter on (I’m about three chapters into that one, and as she and I were discussing today, it reads more like Scott–though not, perhaps, Scott at his best!–than like Trollope) and, for my other reading group, Brian Moore’s The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. I haven’t started that one yet, but I will say that the NYRB Classics edition has a gorgeous cover:

It sounds like a great month, actually. If I do get through all of these, I’ll be pretty proud of myself! But if I don’t, that’s OK too, because there’s always April…

So what about you? Anything on your TBR pile that you are especially looking forward to?

9 thoughts on “March Reading Plans

  1. Colleen March 9, 2011 / 1:07 am

    God only knows; I am a disaster of distraction and lack of discipline these days (more so than usual). I’m four books behind in my blogging and can bear to sit in front of the computer for no more than approx. 10 minutes at a time these days…Know where I might find a dictaphone that will translate directly into Blogger?

    I long for the structured days of grad school, particularly to my comps reading. I can’t believe I just wrote that, and that it’s true. Am I insane to consider 1) getting a Victorian lit comps list and just reading it top to bottom? 2) Re-reading Shakespeare, all of it, from chronological beginning to end? Am I crazy? Is it a good kind of crazy? I thought I wanted a reading life without structure but it doesn’t seem to be working for me. Why am I telling you this sob story straight out of BooHooville? Oh right, you asked about TBR piles. Gah!

    This is, in part, my way of saying I admire your focus.

  2. litlove March 9, 2011 / 5:25 am

    Lovely reading plans and will be interested in how you find the Christina Stead. I own it, but have heard so many mixed reviews I have not yet been moved to pick it up. I’m looking forward to the Shirley Hazzard, and I must get on with books I got from the university library that will need to go back soon – I’m reading up on the lives of Melanie Klein (who analysed her own children, alarmingly) and janet Flanner (American correspondent in Paris) and Margaret Oliphant (whose autobiography was in fact recommended by your good self). So I’m definitely on board for celebrating pioneering women this month.

  3. Susan Messer March 9, 2011 / 11:45 am

    I’ll be very interested in hearing your responses to Transit of Venus. Read it a few years back, spent a lot of time talking about it with friends, thinking about it. Some of those thoughts have faded now. I hope you’ll revive them here (not sure if that was part of your plan, but just in case . . . ). I’m now reading Jaimy Gordon’s Lord of Misrule, and I have Wolf Hall waiting on my shelf. Also will be continuing on with Lydia Davis’s translation of Swann’s Way. I read the Moncrieff trans, years ago but think I prefer the Davis. Interesting to think that the woman’s hand in it might make some of the difference. I also want to reread Tillie Olsen. Have had “I Stand Here Ironing” on my mind the past couple days as I think about that VIDA report and the gender bias in literature and the claim that women’s writing might not have the muscular subject matter that men’s does.

  4. Amateur Reader March 9, 2011 / 12:32 pm

    An advantage of amateur reading – if I ain’t looking forward to it, it ain’t on the list!

  5. Stalky March 9, 2011 / 1:40 pm

    Two Aussie women authors?!?! In the same month?!?! That is reason enough for excitement. I will be interested to read your thoughts on Hazzard’s text. I find her life as interesting as her novels, by the by.

  6. Rohan Maitzen March 9, 2011 / 2:30 pm

    Colleen: Good crazy, I think, mostly, but also still showing the lingering effects of academic disorder in feeling guilty about your reading life and your blogging! But I do understand the challenges of a lack of structure if you really do want reading to be a priority. That’s one reason I did the small exercise of putting this post together: not just to sort out my priorities but to externalize my conscience just a little.

    Litlove, I read some Melanie Klein for grad school and that was enough of that for me! I’ll be watching for your thoughts about Oliphant’s autobiography. Such a weird, self-conscious, artless but heartbreaking little book.

    Susan, interesting point about Tillie Olsen. Wolf Hall seems to polarize people. I was riveted, but my husband couldn’t get past about page 10, for instance.

    AR: Yes. I think that’s actually one of my psychological obstacles regarding academic criticism–I resist being forced to read. And yet I am a firm believer in the value of being pushed outside your reader’s comfort zone, which enables discovery. So, I am inconsistent!

    Stalky: That’s true! Maybe it’s an instinctive reaching out from one colony to another. 🙂 I don’t know anything about Hazzard’s life, but now I’m curious.

  7. Dorothea23 March 10, 2011 / 3:12 am

    I’m really liking my TBR pile, which consists of: The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (a lovely NYRB copy), Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, A Town like Alice by Nevil Shute and The Crowded Street by Winifred Holtby (a beautiful Persephone paperback). I’m currently reading Stella Gibbons’s comic novel Cold Comfort Farm. All of this is in addition to biology journal articles for grad school classes I’m taking now and my qualifying exams later this year, so realistically it will take me several months to get through the TBR pile.

    I love 19th century literature but as you can probably tell, I am going through an early-to-mid 20th century literature phase at the moment. Not sure why, except that they’re both ‘period’ (hence a window into another time and place), and recognizably ‘modern.’ My reading list for 2011 happens to be evenly split between female and male authors (and not by design), though in years past my reading tastes have been skewed toward women writers.

  8. Rohan Maitzen March 10, 2011 / 8:22 pm

    Dorothea, that sounds like a great TBR pile! I’ve read the first two but none of the others. The Winifred Holtby especially tempts me … but no! I have my own TBR pile! Biology, eh? I have worked with a couple of students at Dalhousie who did combined degrees in English and biology (you aren’t one of them, by any chance?)–a challenging combination, but they also always seemed, somehow, nicely complementary. Anyway, happy reading, whether it’s for your exams or for yourself.

  9. Dorothea23 March 14, 2011 / 7:58 pm

    Thank you, Rohan. No, I did not study at Dalhousie and did not do a combined degree in English and biology, though I would have loved to do so. Happy reading to you, too!

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