Recent Reading Roundup

Once again, you wouldn’t know it from this blog but I have been reading a lot! Quite a bit of it, though, has been for writing projects — including both reviews I know will be published elsewhere and essays I hope will find good homes. It’s not so much that I don’t want to “scoop” myself; it’s that I have some concerns about repeating myself, particularly if I say something here that I then wish I could put the exact same way somewhere else. Would it matter if I did? Probably not if it was just a phrase here and there, but it is still an inhibiting factor. If there’s just a bit of overlap, surely nobody would care, but it’s something that I do try to keep in mind.

Anyway, I can at least report on some of what I’ve been reading, and why, and (more minimally) with what results. Last week, for instance, I read Gillian Best’s The Last Wave, which is coming out from House of Anansi in August. My review will be in the fall issue of Canadian Notes and Queries (my review of Lesley Krueger’s Mad Richard is in the current issue). Spoiler: I really liked this novel a lot! It’s not formally adventurous, but it is a smart, well-written, and touching story about families and ambition and identity.

Today I finished reading Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, which I will be writing up for the July issue of Open Letters Monthly. My initial impression is that it didn’t quite live up to my expectations, or to the hype, but I thought it had a lot of good ingredients — both stylistically and thematically — so my task over the next few days is to articulate what I think they added up to. Sometimes during this process my estimation of a book rises: it can take a little time to discover or understand the kind of whole the parts make. This was certainly my experience with Sarah Moss’s Signs for Lost Children, which I wrote about for Numero Cinq: I grew more interested as I thought more about it (and its ‘prequel,’ Bodies of Light).

I just reread Daphne Marlatt’s Ana Historic, a book that meant a great deal to me years ago when I was an undergraduate just discovering some of the questions it explores about women and history. Today some of the ideas Marlatt plays with seem much more commonplace than they did then, and there are other ways in which the book struck me as very much a product of its time (it was originally published in 1988), but it is still sharp and provocative and intensely evocative of B.C. I wrote a little bit about it at the very end of my monograph on 19th-century historical writing (1998), but I have never written about it since, and I would like to, with a bit of a personal angle about my own “awakening” as someone interested in feminism and historiography: this is one of the summer projects I have set myself, just because I want to do it.

Another rereading project is the complete Lymond Chronicles, which I have arranged to write about for the TLS on the occasion of the new editions being released this fall. I am both very excited and rather nervous about this project. For one thing, it is very odd reading books I have loved so passionately for so long with pencil in hand — one of my ambitions is not to let the reviewer get in the way of the lover too much, not to let the critic crush or even crowd out the fan. Of course, I also don’t want to just gush! I don’t have a lot of space, considering there are six long books in which a lot happens, so one of my biggest challenges will be choosing, from all the things I could say, which few things I will say. Although I do feel somewhat daunted at the prospect, I am absolutely loving having an excuse to reread the books.

Finally, last night, for no reason besides personal interest, I started reading Susan Bordo’s The Destruction of Hillary Clinton. I’m about two-thirds through and actually finding it a bit of a disappointment. It’s certainly lucid and, on its own terms, persuasive, but those terms are basically “here’s what the 2016 election looked like to a Hillary supporter.” Though of course I did not follow the election as closely as Bordo and also don’t have the background she does in following U.S. politics or Hillary’s career, what she describes is pretty much how it looked to me too; though the book goes over a lot of ground, it doesn’t seem to me to offer any particular revelations or any deep analysis. I think that’s deliberate (sometimes there’s more detail in footnotes, for instance, as if the aim was to keep the main narrative brisk and easy to go along with, which it is). It’s political commentary, which is fine, of course: I’m not really sure what else I expected.

I have been rereading Dunnett in the intervals I would usually be reading “just” for myself, to make sure I get through them in time and also because it’s such a treat! I do have a lot of books around that I want to get to, though. My book club will be meeting in a couple of weeks to discuss Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In the Castle, for one. I brought N. K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms back from the library yesterday on a whim: fantasy has never been my genre, but I was wondering if I might have learned something from watching Buffy about playing by different rules. And there’s my Vancouver book haul, most of which is still unread. Good thing it’s summer!

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