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?