Wednesday, May 4, 2016

2016: The Women's Classic Literature Event: Check-In 2

So this check-in for the Classics Club's Women's Literature Event was supposed to be in April, but then April was messy so now I'm putting up in early May. That's okay! Here's my check-in post from January if you want to see what I'm talking about.

I habitually check the Stockholm library system for the remaining books off my list; I also check every time I go return a book because who can just go to a library and return a book without checking out a new one? Not me, that's for sure. In those cases, I just plug whatever random names or titles I remember off the top of my head and the first one that turns up in the branch I'm at wins.

That's how I came home with A. S. Byatt's Possession.

The Beguiling of Merlin, Edward Burne-Jones
Which, conveniently for me, is by a female author!

It's very weird; in 2014 I started work on a novel. This is really embarrassing to admit in an age of independent publishing and NaNoWriMo because it seems like "working on a novel" is a thing that pretentious navel-gazers do. But if I'm a pretentious navel-gazer, so be it.

Now, I was already inspired by a couple of books when I started—one I loved and one I hate-loved, if that makes sense—but a weird thing happened after I finished the first draft of this novel. The books I was reading were, completely unintentionally, a reflection of what I was trying to work on. As in, I wasn't seeking out books in this particular format or on this particular subject matter. A Tale for the Time Being was one. So is Possession, with its focus on letters from inaccessible people—in this case, inaccessible because they're long dead.

I'm not far enough along that I know what Byatt is really planning to do with it, though the fact that it's called Possession: A Romance makes it kind of clear. The prose so far is the kind of complicated and heady stuff that I like, though that makes it slow going. (I like taking it slow, sometimes.) What's perhaps the most impressive about the book is the sheer amount of material Byatt created for her fictional 19th century poets. Whenever someone goes that extra mile, I always have to appreciate it.

As for my womanly reading so far this year: I've finished 11 books by now, and 5 of them have been by women. Not all of them are classics, though, so take that as you will. But I'm working on this, and I'm working on (still) a Swedish version of The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, which will tilt things towards gender parity. The "classics" so far this year have been Mrs Dalloway in January (thank you book club!) and Giovanni's Room in April (thank you again book club!). So when it comes to canonical authors my focus on women is going pretty well. I think Byatt and Allende both firmly belong in the "classics" camp.

Do I rank The Price of Salt as a classic? That's a tough call. On the one hand, the book feels like pot boiler noir novel, while Giovanni's Room feels more ~~literary. But am I really being fair in that distinction? There are certainly beautiful, poetic moments in Highsmith's writing which feels above and beyond just a trashy dime store novel.

But back when I signed up for this project, I said I also wanted to read more graphic novels. I still haven't cracked open Nimona. That might be the perfect reading after I finish The House of the Spirits and Possession; it's nice to alternate between quick reads and slow ones.

Now, onto the actual question for this second check-in:
Share an interesting fact about the life of the author you’re currently reading for this event. This might take some research. You can share below or write up a pretty post for your blog, if you’re feeling creative.

So, I'm currently reading Allende and Byatt for this challenge, two women I know nothing about. But apparently The House of the Spirits began life as a letter Allende wrote to her dying grandfather in an attempt to "keep him alive, at least in spirit." Now I wonder which parts I've read so far were part of the original letter she wrote, and which ones she added later.

I'm also rolling my eyes at all of the people complaining that she's ruining the Latin magical realism tradition of Gabriel Garcia Marquez et al. The House of the Spirits >>>>>> 100 Years of Solitude. Deal with it.


  1. Oh, god, "100 Years of Solitude" was insufferable.

    1. Ugh, thank you! I always feel like I'm alone in being underwhelmed by that book.