writereaderly

writing of readerly reviews of writings

Tag: :Bookshop:

Review: Sandy Balfour’s “Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8): A Memoir of Love, Exile and Crosswords”

sandy balfour pretty girl in crimson roseA memoir of travels and family interspersed with crossword clues, history and personalities (especially UK crosswordage for the die-hard fan). It’s quite charming as a memoir, Balfour’s style is dry and wryly entertaining, and for a while at least I put in a concerted effort to solve every clue as it appeared. The rarefication of the crosswording milieu started to get to me, however – although that may really mean that I was outsmarted more frequently and more resoundingly than I can stand – but I did enjoy the book and I’m looking forward to sharing it with my crosswording mentor. I did buy it thinking of her.

P.S. Oh, that’s right — whyfor no exploration of the fact that all the crossword setters, except a dead one, were blokes? Quite the patriarchal institution, the crossword page, classic Oxbridge Britishness controlling the grid.

Where it came from: Another lovely secondhand bookshop in these parts
Time and manner of reading:
Assorted bed and armchair reads
Where it went: Keeper Shelf via MR
Best line of the book: “the much-quoted wish of Louis MacNeice: ‘I would have a poet able-bodied, fond of talking, a reader of the newspapers, capable of pity and laughter, informed in economics, appreciative of women, involved in personal relationships, actively interested in politics, susceptible to physical impressions…’” (p.75)
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to: Devoted crossword “solvers”, and perhaps other passionate word nerds
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac; The Pea-Pickers by Eve Langley; When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön

Advertisements

Review: Grace Paley’s “The Little Disturbances of Man: Stories of Men and Women at Love”

grace paley the little disturbances of manBought with treat money, and because she’s so highly beloved of the New Yorker set, I thought Paley would be good for my breadth of reading experience. Paley wrote only short stories, and this was her first published book in the late 1940s: tight, wry, smart-arsey snapshots of relationships. Much more enjoyable to me than most short stories I read, which I find tend to being perfect literary artifacts rather than powerful pieces of art; I think it was Paley’s distinctive, witty, curious voice that did it. Recommended.

Where it came from: Current favourite secondhand bookshop
Time and manner of reading:
Armchair and bed reads
Where it went: SJD
Best line of the book: There’s many, but I’ll pick: “Then easy and impervious, in full control, he cartwheeled eastward into the source of the night.” (p.52)
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Short story fans
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac; The Pea-Pickers by Eve Langley; Collapse by Jared Diamond

Review: Monica Hejaiej’s “Behind Closed Doors: Women’s Oral Narratives in Tunis”

monia hejaeiej behind closed doorsI wouldn’t say I enjoyed this book but I found parts of it most interesting. Hejaiej, Tunis born and bred, returns to her home city as a Western-trained ethnologist to study the Beldi women’s oral storytelling tradition and its cultural role. (The Beldi are the old-world rich, educated upperclass of the city of Tunis, proud of their culture and refinement.) Hejaiej got access to three mistress storytellers, recorded their performed stories – that’s the bit that readers really miss out on – then conducted an ethnographic analysis of the content, meaning, linguistics, audience, etc. The ~100pp analysis which introduces the book I found fascinating, but the stories (like most written folktales divorced from their true, oral ambiance) I found dull and repetitive – not to mention horrifying, what with all those long-suffering women doing the right thing and letting their husbands kill their children to test the women’s fortitude. Etc. Culturally interesting and terrible, probably particularly useful for researchers.

Where it came from: Market book stall
Time and manner of reading:
A few days of armchair, waiting, bed and train reads
Where it went: Keeper Shelf
Best line of the book:
Reminds me of/that: Ana Castillo’s theory that women’s repression in Mexican culture can be traced to Muslim Arabic traditions in the Spanish colonisers’ culture
Who I’d recommend it to:
Culturally curious
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass

Review: Elizabeth Ridley’s “The Remarkable Journey of Miss Tranby Quirke”

elizabeth ridley  remarkable journey of miss tranby quirkeI nearly *didn’t* buy this because it looked like a piece of period lezzie fluff (and surely my mind deserves better than that?!), so when I brought myself to read it* I was initially enthusiastic, then started sighing/snorting out loud as it just got a wee bit silly. So the ladies got it on. But then of course Tranby’s lover’s husband killed his wife. And it’s not likely that middle-class bluestockings, no matter if they are suffragettes, would know and openly use the then-novel terminology “invert” and “lesbian” – this was set nearly 20 years before The Well of Loneliness, and von Krafft-Ebbing’s landmark study had only been published three years before. *And* the 19y.o. wifey came out of the closet as if it were an American boarding school romance from the 1980s, not an improbable novel set 70 years earlier. Anyway. Enough ranting. Read it if you need suffragette lezzie foof, cos that’s exactly what you’re gonna get.

*Let’s note that my high horse only took ten days to sink back to ground level.

And PS I don’t reckon the writer is of the sisterhood, and she only fakes it so-so. Although, there is no Wikipedia page for her, so either she’s not as famous as she likes to make out on her own website, or it’s been deleted …? Could Ridley be hiding something …? I love a good identity conspiracy theory, for about three seconds until it bores me.

Where it came from: Market bookstall
Time and manner of reading:
An evening’s armchair read
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book:
Reminds me of/that: If it looks like a fish, and smells like a fish…
Who I’d recommend it to:
Lint hunters
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Life on Earth by David Attenborough; City of God  by E.L. Doctorow

Review: Kathryn Harrison’s “The Seal Wife: A Novel”

kathryn harrison the seal wifeI kept seeing this novel EVERYWHERE, couldn’t remember if I’d read it, would read the back and grimace at the prospect – “a man’s obsession with a mute Inuit woman” – but eventually I picked it up and I’m so glad I did. It’s bleak and poetic, creating silence and space and anonymity, to explore silence and space and identity and purpose. Quite beautiful. Highly recommended.

Where it came from: UPB
Time and manner of reading:
Armchair, bed, dentist and back-of-the-con reads
Where it went: Not telling
Best line of the book: [Oh, there’s a book of lovely lines here]
Reminds me of/that: Very similar in tone to Frederick Busch’s The Night Inspector
Who I’d recommend it to:
Those seeking beautiful, poetic arctic bleakness
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Life on Earth by David Attenborough

Review: John Perkins’ “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”

john perkins confessions economic hit manJohn Perkins was explicitly trained to act as an economic hit man, whose role was to work for major multinational consultancy firms on behalf of the US government. His task: to publish bolstered and falsified economic predictions that would “convince” the governments of underdeveloped nations to accept enormous World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans for engineering and construction projects, in full knowledge that the claims were false, the loans too big, and the country would be unable to repay – thus putting them right into the US government’s pocket. Ta-da. This memoir tells of his decade or two of shame, spiced up by the odd interlude with a gorgeous woman. It’s not fabulously written, and the last chapters are utterly skimmable (Woe is me! To write the book? To not write? I’ll do it, I’m doing it for The Future of The World!), but it was quite absorbing all up and it’s always nice to have validation of a good conspiracy theory. Recommended and significant.

PS Ah, but his Colombia chapter was very weak: since when is Colombia a “democracy” rather than a US-funded narco-paramilitary state?

Where it came from: UPB
Time and manner of reading:
Armchair reads
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book:
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Politically interested
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Life on Earth by David Attenborough

Review: Violet Trefusis’ “Echo”

violet trefusis echoViolet Trefusis was most infamous for her youthful love affair with Vita Sackville-West, later a one-time lover of Virginia Woolf. This slim little novel tells not of that affair, but of the lethal charm of Parisian belle Sauge on her visit to and seduction of her wild and beautiful Scots cousins at the family estate. Apparently, Sauge represents how VT liked to see herself and her androgynous/bisexual conquests. Some interesting passages of description fall amid this literary worship of Scotland, although the plot is thin and sadly predictably sad. Good but not really for the general reader.

Where it came from: UPB
Time and manner of reading:
Armchair and creekside reads
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book:
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Literary historians and the curious
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Life on Earth by David Attenborough; Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins