Saturday, January 12, 2013

Gigi and the Cat

As I am sure you can tell I am a huge Colette fan and picked up Gigi and the Cat while I was on holiday in Texas.

Gigi is one of Colette's best known pieces, what with that movie that won 9 Oscars and all. I haven't seen the movie but I clearly I need to. Gigi is a beautiful short story of a young woman (emphasis on young) who is brought up by her two aunts to be a woman of the world. She learns how to become a desirable mistress to a rich man. But Gigi decides to play by her own rules when it comes to the dashing Gaston Lachaille.

The Cat had my full attention in a way that Gigi did not. The title character in this piece is Saha, a Russian Blue cat that has a creepy soul-connection with her own Alain. Alain's new wife has grown jealous over the cat, while Alain wonders who his heart really belongs to. All three are living in a 9th floor apartment while their new home in renovated and the close quarters lead to dramatic outbursts.

"But at the age when he might have coveted a car, a journey abroad, a rare binding, a pair of skis, Alain nevertheless remained the young-man-who-has-bought-a-little-cat."

I think what detached me from Gigi was the lack of insight into Gigi's motives. Colette is at her best when she is in a character's mind, which she does well with Alain in the Cat. But all and all this book was lovely read that finished off my 2012 year of reading.

Other Colette works I have blogged about:
The Pure and the Impure
The Innocent Libertine

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


From what I can tell, Caitlin Moran is the loudest feminist from the UK writing at the moment. She writes for The Times and tweets constantly. Her first book, How to be a Woman, was a New York Times Bestseller. It was also much loved by me, as seen here.

So for Christmas I was thrilled to open Moranthology up. A collection of Moran's articles from The Times about all sorts of things, from the importance of libraries, the awkwardness of growing up poor, the absence of women writers featured in the news media, and two pieces about Downton Abbey. Hitting all of my buttons there, Moran.

I tore through the book in less than twenty-four hours. The pieces are all short and pithy and very often made me almost pee from laughing. I think this would be a great book for anyone to read. It's very current in that I  feel weird reading a book uses the word Tumblr and discusses events like Micheal Jackson's funeral and the latest royal wedding.

Moran is the kind of woman I want to be. She's funny, smart, stupid, dorky, and has great hair. And, because I too was a chunky poor kid who spent a lot of time at libraries, I think we'd get on pretty well over a bottle of wine.

"I think that, at the time, I thought that if I looked at people - particularly boys - long enough, I would somehow work "it" out. That I had no idea what "it"was, of course, is one of the hallmarks of adolescence. If I'd been forced to put money on what "it"might be, it sadly would not have been, "Whether my life would be immeasurably improved if I stopped wearing a bathrobe, tried to be normal, and bought a cost, instead." I was, as you can see, quite hopeless."

There is a lot of drama over Moran in the internet world. She seems to talk fast and loose about her view of the world and has a huge following of people who pick over what she says. And sometimes she says things very poorly or even just wrong. But she seems like a normal person in that she (usually) knows when this happens and does her best to make amends. Most of my knowledge of any of this comes from Helen Lewis.

This book would be a great gift for any mom, sister, friend, or stranger with an interest in pop culture and a sense of humor.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Wide Sargasso Sea

I love re-tellings of classic stories, especially when they have a different point of view than the original. Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books and spoiler alert - crazy Bertha Rochester really needed her story told. Wide Sargasso Sea is told mostly through Anoinette's point of view, growing up in the Caribbean in the years before Rochester comes and sweeps her right up into his attic.

She lives in Jamaica, where she and her family do not fit in with anyone. Her mother's husband is dead and leaves Anoinette , her mother, and her infant brother alone in a mansion. The freed slaves do not respect her family and the white colonials avoid them. Eventually, after another marriage, the house is burnt to the ground and the little brother dies. The mother, who always favored the son over Anoinette, is driven into grief and locked away from society. CAN YOU TASTE THE FORESHADOWING?

"(My father, visitors, horses, feeling safe in bed - all belonged to the past.)"

Antoinette is under constant fear and relentless stress in her young life and is given a brief respite in a convent until her family arranges a marriage for her. We switch to some point of view from Rochester himself, that dreamy hunk of a man. He marries Antoinette because as a second (poor) son, he needs to marry someone with money. However, this is not a great match as we know. Rochester finds out about Antoinette's mental illness background and turns into a giant drunken jerk who for no real explained reason, starts calling his new wife "Bertha". Antoinette, who is so deeply connected to her homeland is dragged away to England and shut out from the world by a man who outright hates her.

"Above all I hated her for she belonged to the magic and the loveliness  She had left me thirsty and all my life would be thirst and longing for what I had lost before."

I'd go crazy too.

I found the book a bit confusing at times with the switching of the point of view and was left wanting more from Antoinette and less of Rochester. But the writing style is lovely and I am interested to read some of Rhys other works.

Side note - HAPPY NEW YEAR! Has anyone set any reading goals for this year? I plan on trying for 105 this year. One down and 104 to go! Wheeee!

Monday, December 31, 2012

My Berlin Kitchen

I love me a good book on cooking/baking. My Berlin Kitchen is a new memoir by the blogger behind the Wednesday Chef. Luisa chronicles her post college years of trying to figure her life, career, and relationships with her parents and her boyfriends. All while also trying to discover where exactly in the world she belongs (having grown up between America and Germany).

Each chapter is a really easy read, very much the style I have come to expect by lady food bloggers who have cranked out memoirs. There is a certain recipe to these books I think. 

1 girl who doesn't quite fit in anywhere but the kitchen
1/4 of a life crisis
2.5 trips to Paris
-1 job
2 or more relationships going wrong
3 cookie recipes

Mix the above. Blog until frothy. Garnish with wedding. 

And as one who stress-bakes cookies like a bandit, I can relate to them easily, even if my family cooking/baking traditions rely heavily on gravy/Crisco. At the end of almost every chapter there is a recipe or two that had been featured. I dutifully copied several into my kitchen binder and even managed to make one of the easier ones, Omelette Confiture. Whisked egg cooked and rolled up like a crepe with tart jam and a sprinkle of powdered sugar. It was such a big hit between Geoff and I that I think it might be the only way I want eggs from now on. I am excited to try a few other recipes. 

Weiss' life is spent in many parts of the world, and the book makes me long to see more of Europe. Europeans clearly still have a much better sense of community than most of America, Weiss talks about how neighbors would have large parties for each other and the delight in cooking and eating with her different family members. It being the holidays now, I found myself drawn to her descriptions of varied holiday traditions she has experienced. I'm really planning on recreating the German Doughnut one where a plate full of jam-filled doughnuts is served and everyone bites to discover who got the doughnut full of mustard. 

This isn't a very heavy book (despite all of the German cooking) but rather a nice read that goes where you expect it will. I do want to state that while I understand the publishing appeal for these lady blogging books to end almost immediately after the woman gets married, it really gets my goat. Sometimes it's best to make substitutions.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

the slang of poets

In my quest to read all of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die (yes even my nemesis Coetzee) there are a lot of large books that I'm not necessarily chomping at the bit to read. Middlemarch, inexplicably, was one of them.

Even English majors miss things sometimes and I have to admit that for most of my life I thought George Eliot was a man. I knew nothing about her and only new passingly that Middlemarch was in fact, a book. But after finding out that Eliot was in face a woman, and hearing that Middlemarch was like Tolstoy writing with Austen themes, I went out and grabbed it.

"The fact is unalterable, that a fellow-mortal with those nature you are acquainted solely through the brief entrances and exits of a few imaginative weeks called courtship, may, when seen in the continuity of married companionship  be disclosed as something better or worse than what you have preconceived, but will certainly not appear altogether the same."

Middlemarch is set in 1830-1832 and deals with the people of this provincial town. Primarily on three(ish) couples and how they navigate issues of status, religion, education, reform, and finical woes to name a few.
Dorothea is a upper class lady who marries an old cranky man in a misplaced idea that marrying him would give her more opportunity to do good deeds. She, surprise, does not get fulfillment out of this relationship but keeps up her duty because hello, it is her duty. But then there is her husband's dashing, penniless cousin,Will Ladislaw, running around...

"There is hardly any contract more depressing to a young ardent creature than that of a mind in which years full of knowledge seem to have issued in a blank absence of interest or sympathy. "

A new idealist Doctor comes to Middlemarch and sweeps the most beautiful girl in town off her feet, despite his determination not to marry until he makes a world-wide breakthrough in medical reform. But Rosamond is the most spoiled pretty thing that she cries and gets her way. Good luck curing typhoid fever when your wife thinks doctors are icky and neither of you can stop spending money.And she has been seeing a lot of that Will Ladislaw lately...

"And Rosamond could say the right thing; for she was clever with that sort of cleverness which catches every tone except the humorous. Happily she never attempted to joke, and this perhaps was the most decisive mark of her cleverness."

Mary I-Don't-Want-No-Scrubs Garth has the short straw in status and wealth compared to the other two gals, but she knows exactly what she wants in a man and is not going to settle. Rosamond's brother Fred has been in love with Mary since they were children, but his family would not want him to marry so beneath them and Mary doesn't want to marry some idle guy who she cannot respect. Apparently she doesn't have time for Ladislaw.

"Our passions do not live apart in locked chambers, but, dressed in their small wardrobe of notions, bring their provisions to a common table and mess together, feeding out of the common store according to their appetite."

There is so much more to this book (murder? blackmail! bankruptcy!), but I love the three relationships. I guess there is a fourth since Dorothea's sister Ceclia also gets married and quickly turns into the 1800's version of a facebook mom. I'm not too up the history of the British political system so that wasn't really the big draw for me. But Eliot addresses so many things with this book without really going off on a tyrade at any point. It felt at times very similar to reading Austin, but broader. Austin only really ever gives us the women's side of things, but Eliot shows scenes of men without any women around and captures them very well. Austen might work on her two inches of ivory but Eliot uses the whole china cupboard.

All in all, worth being on all of the best book lists that it is on.

Friday, December 28, 2012

We need distance, it is essential

Tove Jansson was a Finish artist best known for her Moomin cartoons. They are adorable little hippo-like creatures that I am fascinated with. Jansson also wrote fiction both for children and adults. Not all of her works are available in English (yet I hope) but I have read The Summer Book before. I always check for her at the used bookstores and was thrilled to find Fair Play while holiday shopping.

Fair Play is a collection of stories about two women who live in connected apartments and work on their own artistic projects. It explores how their lives intersect, how their relationship nurtures each other's creativity, and how they spend their lives together while maintaining their own solitude.

"There are empty spaces that must be respected - those often long periods when a person can't see the pictures or find the words and needs to be left alone."

Not much happens in the way of action, different characters come to visit and the two do take a trip to Arizona, but the beauty of Jansson's writing is just in the detailed picture of place and characters she paints. The way the two women talk to each other is captured so well, you can feel the tension when things are not right with only a few sparse sentences.

"'This happens all the time,' said Jonna. 'Again and again. Now, once and for all, try to write down the meaning of life and then take a photocopy so you can use it again next time.'"

Fair Play has interesting pieces on how difficult it can be for two artists to function together. They each so desperately need space to create on their own but love each other very much. "The Letter", the final story is so perfect to me. They know each other so well that tiny shifts in behavior are noticed quickly and agonized over. Their distance is necessary but also difficult to handle at times. But the women love each other enough that they can respect the need to not always be together physically, without the worry that the other will drift away emotionally.

"She began to anticipate a solitude of her own, peaceful and full of possibility. She felt something close to exhilaration, of a kind that people can permit themselves when they are blessed with love." 

I'm not certain that I can describe this book well enough to do it justice, but let me just say that I want to curl up and live inside Jansson's writing. Highly recommend.

Friday, November 30, 2012

My beloved and I went on a delicious walk...

I'm on a major Colette kick this year (see my previous post on the Innocent Libertine). The latest in my readings was The Pure and the Impure, which Colette herself thought of as her greatest work.

"They allow us to be their master in the sex act, but never their equal. That is why I cannot forgive them."

This novel is a difficult one to follow at times as the plot is fairly non-existent as far as I could tell. We follow a woman who relates the many different ways that couples search for love and the difficulties they have at being fulfilled. The biography of Colette that I just finished, Secrets of the Flesh, has a pretty great sum up of this book, "the loves in the Pure and the Impure, who give pleasure but can't receive it, or take it but can't give it, who are mismatched in age, appetite, egoism, and experience - who all feel obscurely cheated."

There are some very memorable characters in this novel that stood out to me. In this book she writes one of the first modern pieces on anorexia with the character Renee Vivien who would walk for miles for days only drinking tea to keep herself thin. There is also a really beautiful tale of two Ladies of Llangollen, young women from the 18th century who fell in love and ran off to live together. I could read a novel about those two.

"In short, what did they want? Almost nothing. Everything."

There is something so alluring to Colette. She talks about love of all kinds with equal seriousness, examines lesbianism, homosexuality, and heterosexuality, along with the relationships we have that are platonic. Even if I am not sure what Colette is trying to tell me at times, I could listen to her go on forever.

"Some people become transformed by riches, others acquire a real life only by impoverishment, their very destitution giving them life."

The characters are even more intriguing after reading a biography of Colette because so many of them are based on very fascinating people that she knew and walked around in the real world. I think I might have to give this one a reread after finishing the biography to try to pick this work apart more.

Side note, I have bought most of my Colette books at Frugal Muse, a little book store in Madison, and they are always surprised that anyone reads Colette anymore. Am I the only one out there?