writing of readerly reviews of writings

Tag: :My Bookshelf:

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


Review: “The Girls from La Vie Parisienne”

the girls from la vie parisienneFrom the sublime to the frivolous. A 1960s item that proclaims itself “a superb scintillating album of endearing beauties designed for the collector-connoisseur” – aka a selection of drawings of ladies in various states of undress and precoital abandon, taken from editions of the magazine La Vie Parisienne from the 1870s through the 1920s. Apparently it was terribly popular porn in WWI, and some of the drawings are quite winning; also bizarre: watering one’s indoor plant dressed only in a hat, apron and stockings? A very fine slice of life, and (given the attention paid to clothes in states of removal) fabulous for historic costume parties.

Where it came from: Birthday gift from DC
Time and manner of reading:
A bedtime read
Where it went: Keeper Shelf
Best line of the book: DC’s favourite caption: “Suzy, why this fuss at an insect’s buzzing? Did you not this morning give in to your cousin?”
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
You know who you are
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass

Review: Lorna Sage’s “Moments of Truth: Twelve Twentieth-Century Women Writers”

lorna sage moments of truthI read this book faster than it deserved and I just couldn’t help myself. Lorna Sage selected these essays on seminal twentieth-century women writers from among her writings; they’d been previously published as introductions, reviews, obituaries. Her subjects: Djuna Barnes, Simone de Beauvoir, Jane Bowles, Christine Brooke-Rose, Angela Carter, Katherine Mansfield, Iris Murdoch, Jean Rhys, Christina Stead, Violet Trefusis, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf. There’s an awful lot of big names there, and Sage does them such shining justice: her nuanced, informed, vastly read reading of these writers’ work – particularly to examine the concept of vocation for a woman writer – is insightful, witty, intimidating. What a joy it must be to be read with such intellectual aplomb. I’d read most of the writers included, and those I’ve missed have just been jotted up the to-read list by several notches. A fabulous book, and I will have to reread it in a few years to see if I can bring more reading and understanding to it. Highly recommended.

Where it came from: Birthday gift from MOD
Time and manner of reading:
A few days of bed, train, café and writers’ centre reads
Where it went: Keeper Shelf
Best line of the book: “Reflection here is a kind of pun on thought and mirrors: mirrors flatter our delusions but most of us probably can’t think without them. We know ourselves best as images that are ambiguous, hypothetical, provisional.” (p.215)
Reminds me of/that: How much more – and more wisely – there is to re/read
Who I’d recommend it to:
Literary readers
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass

Review: Sylvia Brownrigg’s “Pages for You: A Novel”

sylvia brownrigg pages for youA luscious literary lady-lovers’ literary love affair. Lovely and lived in. Loved it.

Where it came from: Women’s Library booksales shelf
Time and manner of reading:
Devoted reads at the beach and the writers’ festival
Where it went: Keeper Shelf
Best line of the book: [There’s a whole book of them, you’ll have to pick your own]
Reminds me of/that: Life
Who I’d recommend it to:
Literary lady-lovers, of course
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Stella Miles Franklin by Jill Roe; Life on Earth by David Attenborough

Review: Kate Brandt’s “Happy Endings: Lesbian Writers Talk about their Lives and Work”

kate brandt happy endingsWhat a fabulous book: interviews with dyke writers, publishers, mavens, archivists and booksellers, conducted in the early 1990s, to catalogue the lesbian passion for publishing in the USA. Just great. All these women so passionate about words, books and their community, I loved them all – especially the book publishers, of course, since that’s my great wordy love. Among those interviewed were Asian, Black, Chicana and Hispanic women, and women from different classes, cultural backgrounds, political identities and historical eras, quite a few of whom were on my radar already.

The subjects of this delightfully subjective book: Dorothy Allison, Kitty Tsui, Cherríe Moraga, Valerie Taylor, Lee Lynch, Ann Bannon, Katherine V. Forrest, Barbara Grier, Barbara Smith, SDiane Bogus, Jewelle Gomez, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Sarah Schulman, Lisa Ben, Franco, Toni Armstrong Jr., Lisbet, Willyce Kim, Lesléa Newman, Terri de la Peña, Joan Nestle and Carol Seajay.

It made me wish we were still in that 80s-90s heyday of lesbian/feminist/women’s publishing, that there weren’t so few publishers/bookshops still in existence (in Australia and o/s), that the queer/women’s community still gathered around the beauty that is the printed word. Sigh. And sigh again. This review is dedicated to ladies of letters: live and love long!

Where it came from: ACON’s abandoned book box
Time and manner of reading:
One enthusiastic lie-in
Where it went: Keeper Shelf
Best line of the book: “If you only read books by people who look exactly like you, and who have the same identities that you do, then you are participating in intellectual or literary segregation.” (Barbara Smith, p.112)
Reminds me of/that: Shari Benstock’s wonderful Women of the Left Bank
Who I’d recommend it to:
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Stella Miles Franklin by Jill Roe; Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan

Review: Annamarie Jagose’s “In Translation”

annamarie jagose in translationI was pretty sure this was a reread, but there was no way I’d resist a novel that involved both dykes and translation. The novel tells, sort of, of New Zealander Helena, her liaison with remote translator Navaz and relationship with Navaz’s partner Lillian, and her dalliance with Japanese Professor Mody. Sort of. It’s also about translation, and living other people’s lives, and has a good dose of gender-queer sexuality finagling. Written in a stately but fine style, it’s not a book you can devour – but then, you want time to appreciate the fine phrasing. Recommended.

Where it came from: The Women’s Library bookshop
Time and manner of reading:
Assorted train, bed, armchair, beanbag reads
Where it went: Keeper Shelf
Best line of the book: Too many to choose from
Who I’d recommend it to:
Wordly (sic) readers
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

Review: Munya Andrews’ “The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades: Stories from Around the World”

munya andrews seven sisters of the pleiadesThis is a difficult book to review. I had seen this book on Spinifex’s shelves years ago and had it on my mental TBR shelf, so I selected it when my blog-name was drawn out of the GWC hat a couple of months ago. Written by a woman from Australia’s Western Deserts (the Kimberley), it is a comparison of stellar lore and behaviours from various global cultures (Australian indigenous, Ainu Japanese, Maori and Pacific Islander, Native North American, etc.) as they relate to myths, astronomy, theosophy, and the beginnings of the world.

On the one hand, I really appreciated the scope of the scholarship put into this book. It must have been years of researching odd translations of ancient astronomy books, modern New Age theory, myth dictionaries and compilations. Some of the information on sacred landforms, spiritual practices, and the connections between “myths” and astronomical reality [sic] were truly fascinating, as were the inklings of the writer’s own cultural experiences with the Pleiades as a sacred constellation.

On the other, it was a hard book to read: well researched but just badly written enough and confusing enough to annoy. Some shoddy scholarship, e.g. “Bandaiyan = Australia in indigenous language” (according to who? Which one? All / some / the author’s?). Some *very* long bows drawn to connect world mythology with theosophical ideas of the history of the world, Atlantis, extraterrestrial visitors. A litte too far over the hippy-woo-woo line, a little too often.

However, reading this book made me think about privileged modes of communication and investigation, privileged holders of knowledge. In my head, I was comparing it to Daniel J. Boorstin’s magisterial The Discoverers: A History of Man’s [sic] Search to Know his World and Himself. Boorstin, if I remember correctly, was the Libarian of Congress, had studied at Harvard, Oxford and Yale, and wrote this astonishing work in his spare time (!). It is a hefty investigation into the technologies and learnings which allowed man [sic] to understand time, distance, longitude, etc., researched in documents and manuscripts of X number of languages, bristling with so many facts that every paragraph put me into somewhat of a daze. So – the complete opposite of the Andrews book. Ensconced in the Euro-Anglo academic tradition, based on documentary evidence in objective, rational, style – and likewise trying to explain the global connections that made humanity what it is today.

But I must remind myself that with all the privileges Boorstin held and cashed in on to write his book, it doesn’t mean his amazing story is any more believable, honest, true, well-founded than the one Andrews has put forward. It is good to remember that they are both stories, just stories, based on traditions of knowledge, access and process which are themselves based on cultural stories. So, I’m keeping both the Andrews and the Boorstin on my shelf, because this little lesson in who has the power of knowledge should be revisited and held close to one’s shelf.

Where it came from: Won in a draw from the Global Women of Colour Challenge and Spinifex Press
Time and manner of reading:
Assorted brief, dense reads leading to sleep, interspersed by genuinely interested reads
Where it went: Keeper Shelf
Reminds me of/that: How little one knows of the world – e.g. the techniques of ancient Polynesian sea-navigation, in ocean-going canoes longer than the European ships of the 18th century
Who I’d recommend it to: MG, CC, JH, KG
Also reading: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Politics of Ecstasy by Timothy Leary