Sunday, April 16, 2023

A Room of One's Own or 114 Pages of Excuses Concerning Why I Can't Write Today

(The most objective book description I could find online):

A Room of One's Own is an extended essay by Virginia Woolf. First published on 24 October 1929, the essay was based on a series of lectures she delivered at Newnham College and Girton College, two women's colleges at Cambridge University in October 1928. While this extended essay in fact employs a fictional narrator and narrative to explore women both as writers of and characters in fiction, the manuscript for the delivery of the series of lectures, titled "Women and Fiction", and hence the essay, are considered non-fiction. The essay is generally seen as a feminist text, and is noted in its argument for both a literal and figural space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by patriarchy.

I have so many thoughts and mixed feelings about this essay. While I don't think stream of consciousness is really my thing when it comes to preferred reading; I find myself writing this way often, so I've come to understand a couple things. Firstly, when one is writing in this sort of way, one tends to contradict oneself. Secondly, the reader is required to pay a good amount of attention a good deal of the time---and that can be difficult. 

If Woolf is allowed to write in such an eruption of thoughts, I will feel free to respond in kind. 

Concerning the "Feminism" of this piece: I believe that if today’s feminists read the whole thing, instead of a few snippets in a college anthology, they’d find that Woolf is not necessarily pleading their case here. Her narrator might be a sort of whiny entitled one at times, but I think Woolf's point of view is clear at the end. While she lays out a good case for the difficulties formerly faced by women writers, and points out how there's still work to be done, she also lists quite a few reforms that have been made since long before her audience came of age. She’s not complaining about the lack of opportunity for women so much as she’s upset about the lack of women taking the opportunity.

What constitutes opportunity is a matter of opinion. Some say the opportunity lies in the freedom a childless, single woman has to do what she wants with her time---in this case, writing; while others say opportunity is being taken care of by a doting husband while raising a family. I’ve been blessed with both a doting husband/family and the freedom to do what I want with my time. 

I do have means and a room of my own---this book stirs in me the feeling of obligation to make more use of it for the sake of all the other women who didn’t and don't.

In today's society, I don't think our options are either singleness and freedom or being strapped to a family schedule. There’s a third option: marry a man who values your brain, creativity, and time. Train your children to respect your creative time and, better yet, make some of their own. A large amount of children are not the problem. Mismanaged time, selfish husbands, lousy parenting, these might be the problem. So ladies, choose wisely. When my husband is off work, he occupies the children so I can write or film. He values my mind, ministry, and interests. I value them, too, and I'm not afraid to make my needs known. Women of a century ago may not have had this choice, but the women of today do and using this essay as a rant for today is silly, entitled, and difficult to take seriously.

She alluded to men who go to the office at ten and come home at half past four to do what they want. This is not impossible, ladies. Train your children! Establish a schedule! Take control over your time so you can do this too. Obviously these men “trained” those around them---do the same!

In Woolf’s day it may have been a lack of opportunity, but today it's apathy. But, maybe then too.

Without thinkers like Woolf, both men and women, we wouldn’t have opportunities now. But one must have the desire and see the value to think those thoughts. Some didn’t fight then because they didn’t care. Some don’t utilize opportunities now because they have other opportunities to care about. The more time I spend on eternal things, the less I care about these “scholarly” things that once seemed so important to me. Still, the need for quiet writing time is one I struggle to suppress. The guilt of taking time from my family battles with the guilt of taking time from myself, no matter how well trained anyone is.

In my opinion, writing (or any other creative pursuit) is a privilege to be enjoyed after your work is done. If you are provided for, you probably have children to care for. If you provide for yourself, you must do that work first. Who provided for Virginia Woolf? It sounds like she and her husband worked together on their publishing company and didn’t make a whole lot of money. She might have been "poor" in her own eyes, but the woman literally had her own writing cottage. Please.  

I think if you want to write, you make time to write. No excuses. Woolf mentions Jane Austen several times. Jane Austen had neither 500 pounds a year nor a room of her own to write in. She wrote at a lap desk in her family's sitting room and listened for the creaking door to alert her to hide what she was working on. 

Rather than some kind of amazing bit of, "let's free women" literature, I see this more as, “114 pages of excuses concerning why I can’t write today." A writer writes for herself, regardless of where that piece of writing ends up after she's completed it.

Still, if one wants to make money off it nowadays, there are no excuses. I'm a homeschooling mother of nine and have made good money off my writing when I desired to. I have several friends who are doing the same.

While I'm annoyed with modern young college women who read this and somehow feel they relate with Mary Beton/Seton/Carmichael, I feel like I want to read this once a year to try to be more relatable to women who do not have the opportunities that I and they do.

Favorite quote: “It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.”

This book meets the following challenges: Alphabet Soup Challenge for "R" and The Classics Club.

Monday, January 23, 2023

What I Read Last Week: Dickens and Prince, Beyond the Bright Sea, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, The Last Bookshop in London

It's been a week of reading for me---and not a lot else. Haha! Can't complain...but probably shouldn't brag either. Besides all this reading this week, I've also been going through a chronological Bible study with friends. Too bad the rest of my physique isn't getting the same work out as my eyes...

But on to the books... First up, Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk:
This was a truly beautiful story.

I don't usually read a lot of children's or teen fiction, but lately I've kind of been on a kick. Part of me wants to show myself that not all fiction written for kids lately is demonic indoctrination as I often hear, left and right, from some conservative sources.

Beyond the Bright Sea is simply the story of a confident and wise young girl who is looking for information on her birth parents. Crow was adopted as an infant and, as a young teen, discovers clues about her origins. She begins a search for information, rather than identity, and that's what makes this story so sweet. She already knows who she is and what she finds out further cements her good character, rather than changing it. With a little adventure and a little perilous action thrown in, this is the perfect story for my middle grade kids.

This book meets the following challenges: TBR Challenge, The Children's Book ChallengeThe Alphabet Soup Challenge for the letter "B",  The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, and the Brighter Winter Reading Challenge for "read a new-to-you middle grade book". 

Book Description: "A.J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore, its unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over -- and see everything anew."

One afternoon last week, I purchased this book, came home and changed into pajamas, went straight to bed, and read the whole thing through without stopping. Wow, three “full star ratings” in a row—am I getting soft?

My initial thoughts of A.J. 10 pages in is that he doesn’t necessarily want to be right in a conversation, just understood. I've discovered this about myself lately and recognize it in him. If he doesn't feel like he will be understood, he doesn't think the relationship is worth the time.

Almost 20 pages in, he is bitingly sarcastic with an officer after the death of his wife. What strikes me is that, in the middle of the conversation about his "grand saga", he realizes the officer also has a life outside of the role he's playing at the moment. He says maybe he is, instead, a part of the “grander saga” of the officer's life. Yes! We’ve got to get outside ourselves and see that some of our experiences, good and bad, are not about us but about the growth of others.

43 pages in, I thought: Who is this author? He/she really gets people. (looks to the bio info in the back) Oh, it’s a she. A young she. Very impressive.

The book was a gut check for me in a few ways. Here's one that had me stopping to choke back tears for a minute: "It's the secret fear that we are unlovable that isolates us, but it is only because we are isolated that we think we are unlovable."

Another good quote: “Sometimes books don’t find us until the right time.”

If there's any fault in the story line, it's that A.J.'s transition from crochety, difficult person to gentle, soft person seems too instantaneous. There doesn't seem to be a growing stage and no real change after moving to that new stage. However, this would have made for a longer book and I enjoyed the brevity of this one. Still, being the main point of the whole story, it seems surprising that he flips like a switch.

Content warning: strong but scattered profanities; non-descriptive sex scenes

This book meets the following challenges: The Alphabet Soup Challenge for the letter "S", and the Brighter Winter Reading Challenge for "read a book outside your comfort zone". (This book was outside my comfort zone because I normally would have stopped after the above-mentioned content warnings---but I went ahead and finished because I thought there was some good writing underneath.) 

A protagonist in a bookshop who doesn’t love books…that’s new…

When Grace and her friend Viv set out for London, they could never have imagined they were about to live through one of the most devastating experiences in the city's history. Viv works her dream job while Grace is hired in a position that is not necessarily her cup of tea. However, she finds out it's exactly where she needed to be at the time.

I usually avoid stories that take place during war time because I have three sons ages 18-21 and the thought of them all getting drafted up in the near future freaks me right out. This was a difficult story to read in that sense, but it had some pretty amazing parts too and I learned a lot about this time in history. (Downside of my fearful avoidance is that I don't know much about the history of modern wars...)

I felt like the writing fell short more often than not as the author struggled to write natural sentences that people would speak naturally. I don't know how to really describe what I'm getting at but so much of it had that Victorian flowery formality---like Louisa May Alcott (is it for kids? is it for adults?)---that made it hard to really relate to anyone. I think part of it was that it was obviously an American trying to write about a culture she's probably mostly experienced through TV and movies. I would have really loved to have read more about the books Grace was reading and selling---rather than just mentions of the same obvious classics. Like American bookstores, British bookstores are packed with lots of different books from lots of different authors and eras, and classics make up a tiny minority of the offerings. Clunky dialogue clashed with some pretty vivid descriptive writing of scenes and situations to make something I'm glad I read but probably wouldn't read again.

This book meets the following challenges: TBR Challenge,  The Alphabet Soup Challenge for authors for the letter "M",  The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, and the Brighter Winter Reading Challenge for "read a book in which a main character is 60+". 

Someone else's jaded fan-boy description: "Every so often, a pairing comes along that seems completely unlikely--until it's not. Peanut butter and jelly, Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un, ducks and puppies, and now: Dickens and Prince. Equipped with a fan's admiration and his trademark humor and wit, Nick Hornby invites us into his latest obsession: the cosmic link between two unlikely artists, geniuses in their own rights, spanning race, class, and centuries--each of whom electrified their different disciplines and whose legacy resounded far beyond their own time."

I can appreciate the sentiment that the author has for these two artists, but I can't say that he made a special case for unique similarities between the two. Both were prolific, both were poor...and? The author is quick to point out many other artists share these similarities—-so the point of the book is??? The truth is, there’s nothing significantly unique that links these two together that couldn’t be said of zillions of other celebrities that could be inserted into place instead.

I also get annoyed when an author spends too many words quoting the words of others---especially in such a short work. And speaking of words, the comparison between the two artists’ contribution of words falls flat when you ask the question, what did their words actually contribute to society? In short, Dickens’ words sparked permanent social reform, including child labor laws, in both England and the US. Prince gave us the recorded orgasms of his ex-girlfriend.
Not a fan.

This book meets the following challenges: The Alphabet Soup Challenge for the letter "D", and the Brighter Winter Reading Challenge for "read a library book" and "read a book published in 2022". 

That's a wrap---what are you reading?

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne -- Book Review


From Amazon: Around the World in Eighty Days is a classic adventure novel by the French writer Jules Verne, published in 1873. In the story, Phileas Fogg of London and his newly employed French valet Passepartout attempt to circumnavigate the world in 80 days on a £20,000 wager (equal to about £2 million in 2016) set by his friends at the Reform Club. It is one of Verne's most acclaimed works. The story starts in London on Tuesday, October 1, 1872. Phileas Fogg is a rich British gentleman living in solitude. 
At the Reform Club, Fogg gets involved in an argument over an article in The Daily Telegraph stating that with the opening of a new railway section in India, it is now possible to travel around the world in 80 days. He accepts a wager for £20,000, from his fellow club members to complete such a journey within this time period. Accompanied by Passepartout, Fogg departs from London by train at 8:45 P.M. on October 2; in order to win the wager, he must return to the club by this same time on December 21, 80 days later.

My Review: I first read this in 2014 and it was really fun to revisit this one this week, almost nine years later. Now that I've seen a little of the world myself, it was even more enjoyable. I loved all the lessons in culture and geography and, of course recognized some places once they hit the US. It was a treat to read about them at the Green River station as my family and I went through there in April on our way to Oregon. I remember standing at a gas station and looking toward the railyard/station and thinking what a very large and complicated interchange that was for what seemed like a remote place. The "Victorian-ness" of it intrigued me, so it was especially fun to see it mentioned in the story.

The portion of the story taking place in America was pretty wild and unbelievable but I suppose that’s always how the British have seen us—-a little unstable and uncivilized. haha! What an adventure---I'm proud to see the most perilous part took place right here in America.

It was also interesting to see how so many things are different now. I love it when old stories reveal facts. For instance, the population of India then: 180 million; and now: 1.4 billion. It was mentioned that 50,000 people were already settled in Denver… now there are 2.9 million in the metro area. Bananas and mangoes were uncommon fruits and the description of mangoes was completely different than what I purchase in local stores. It was also sad to think of them having to stop for 12,000 buffalo that took hours to cross the path. The only buffalo here now are those on preserves.

This is truly one of my very favorite stories. I wonder when I'll pick it up again?

This book meets the following challenges: TBR ChallengeVictorian Reading ChallengeThe Alphabet Soup Challenge for the letter "A",  The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, and the Brighter Winter Reading Challenge for "read a book while waiting" and "read a book in a place where you don't normally do so".