29 October, 2006

Good sex, bad sex

Two books about sex - one excellent and one mediocre. The good one was Linda Grant's Sexing the millenium, her history and feminist analysis of the sexual revolution. I love Linda Grant - her novel When I lived in modern times was wonderful and I always like her articles for the Guardian. She's a very moral, political person, but incredibly human as well - I've particularly enjoyed some of the things she's written about fashion: serious, but with a particular joy in clothes and dress. Sexing the millenium was wonderful - witty and profound, an acknowledgment that although contraception has freed a lot of women to have more sex (outside marriage, without commitment) the basic sexual roles and models for sexuality have not really been fundamentally changed. [64]

The other book was Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist pigs: women and raunch culture, an examination of the way that women have bought into the 'porno-isation' of popular culture. I actually read this a month ago for my women's group. It's a polemical work, looking at phenomena like the way that pole-dancing and stripping classes are being marketed as leisure activities for middle-class women, Nuts and Zoo magazine, and so on. It was interesting, but I thought was probably more relevant to American feminists than British ones. It also suffered from a lack of analysis and a rather dubious anecdotal basis - she didn't really offer any serious data to back up her claims except interviews with various women, so it seemed rather more like a list of sexual behaviour that was making her uneasy than an attempt to explain why society might be becoming more 'porno-ised'. I also felt her chapter on lesbian culture seemed like a rather desperate attempt to tie her concerns about a pervasive macho culture on to what is actually quite an open and accepting part of society, and I had serious doubts about her attempts to prove anything by interviewing teenage girls - I really don't think it's reasonable to draw any conclusions about adult female sexuality by talking to fifteen-year-olds. Still, her intent was admirable, and it generated a good discussion at my group, so it can't have been all bad. [65]

23 October, 2006

Four French plays

Boring course-work reading: Lesage's Turcaret and three plays by Marivaux: Harlequin poli par l'amour, La double inconstance, and Le jeu de l'amour et du hasard. Well, I say boring, but I don't mean that - the course is great and the plays are witty and fast-paced and fun, but I just can't get very excited about early 18th century sparkling wit. The unreality of it pisses me off: perhaps airlessness is a better word. Much like the rest of the rococo, I can admire the beautifully pacey dialogue and the intricacy of the plots, intrigue on intrigue, deception on deception, but it doesn't grab me, it doesn't move me (I know it's not supposed to be moving, but it doesn't particularly delight me either). Roll on next year and Hugo and Zola... [60] [61] [62] [63]

19 October, 2006

History blog

Interesting project asking volunteers to write a blog detailing what they did on Tuesday - a bit like the Mass Observation project. You can still post to it here.

18 October, 2006

A small chain of books

Reading Margery Fisher's Intent upon reading, her study of mid-20th century children's literature, reminded me how good Rosemary Sutcliff is, so I read The lantern bearers, her story about Ambrosius (Arthur's uncle) and the end of Roman Britain. Reading that made me want more good historical fiction so I got Bernard Cornwell's novels about Alfred the Great out of the library, The pale horseman and Lords of the north. Fantastic meaty stuff. [57] [58] [59]

Incidentally, here's a fascinating
collection of interviews with authors who have used Arthurian themes in their work.

13 October, 2006

Book awards

Orham Pamuk has been awarded the Nobel prize for literature.

Kiran Desai's novel The Inheritance of Loss has won the Booker Prize.

Because I like lists, here's the list of Nobel laureates whose work I have read:

2006 - Orhan Pamuk
2005 -
Harold Pinter
2002 -
Imre Kertész
1999 -
Günter Grass
1998 -
José Saramago
1995 -
Seamus Heaney
1993 -
Toni Morrison
1992 -
Derek Walcott
1983 -
William Golding
1982 -
Gabriel García Márquez
1978 -
Isaac Bashevis Singer
1972 -
Heinrich Böll
1971 -
Pablo Neruda
1970 -
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
1969 -
Samuel Beckett
1966 -
Nelly Sachs
1964 -
Jean-Paul Sartre
1962 -
John Steinbeck
1958 -
Boris Pasternak
1957 -
Albert Camus
1954 -
Ernest Hemingway
1950 -
Bertrand Russell
1948 -
T.S. Eliot
1946 -
Hermann Hesse
1936 -
Eugene O'Neill
1934 -
Luigi Pirandello
1929 -
Thomas Mann
1925 - George Bernard Shaw
1923 -
William Butler Yeats
1907 -
Rudyard Kipling

01 October, 2006

...and books to read

- Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the rise of raunch culture
- Grossman's Life and Fate
- Peter Weiss's The aesthetics of resistance (might try this in German since the English translation appears to be very small print on very large pages. Also, I should probably attempt either this or Life and Fate, and not both.)
- Peter Linebaugh's The London hanged, on recommendation from my friend S. A history of those hanged at Tyburn and the phenomenon of public executions.
- Martin Walker's The Cold War (still not getting very far with this, despite it seeming quite readable.)
- Joe Sacco's Notes from a defeatist (graphical reportage)
- Christa Wolf's Musterkindheit and Medea
- Christopher Booker's massive The seven basic plots: why we tell stories, about the history and reasons for human storytelling.

Books read...

Speedy round-up of books I've finished recently. I haven't been updating enough recently.

Dorothy L Sayers's Gaudy Night which was light and very enjoyable, but had some surprisingly deep musings on independence and marriage. It's set in Harriet Vane's Oxford college, where some unpleasant attacks are taking place, and while attempting to solve the problem of who is committing them and why, Harriet is also making a decision on whether she should marry Peter Wimsey or not. The atmosphere is delightful, charming between-wars cosy Englishness combined with a lovely portrait of first wave feminist academia, and though I'm not fond of the whodunnit form (I looked at the end when I was about half way through to see who had done it) I thoroughly enjoyed it as a light read. (50)

Edward Said's
Peace and its discontents, which was a collection of essays on the Oslo peace agreement. Interesting to read a criticism of Arafat and the Palestinian side from a Palestinian point of view: he is very critical of the incompetence and corruption of the PLO. Have forgotten a lot about this, though (it was weeks ago!) (51)

George Szirtes's collection of poetry
Reel, which I enjoyed but again can't remember much about, and a perfect bus book, Ruth Padel's 52 ways to look at a poem which was Padel's choice of poems by 52 different contemporary poets and a short essay analysing each one. Made me realise how poetry-literate I am, which is good, but also taught me a few things about sounds and rhythm which I was unconsciously aware of and am pleased to have brought to the surface. (52) (53)

Barbara Ehrenreich's
Nickel and dimed, which was incredibly depressing but pacey and incredibly readable. Ehrenreich took a series of minimum wage jobs in the USA to see whether life was actually sustainable on 6 dollars an hour, and found that, essentially, it wasn't: she had to take two jobs just to pay the rent. Shocking, but not surprising, but she writes very well about her experiences - her descriptions of the way management treated her and the conditions she had to live in to keep her rent bill down burn with a clear fury. (54)

John le Carré's
Mission song, which was excellent although still not as good as the early Cold War ones (nothing is). It hinges around a planned coup in Congo, rather like the planned coup in Equatorial Guinea a couple of years back. The narrative voice is a joy: a half Irish, half Congolese translator in west African languages named Bruno Salvador, or Salvo. The setting is unusually restricted for a le Carré novel: most of the action takes place in the house where the coup is planned, then in London, but the book is huge with anger at corrupt politicians, Western and African, warlords, the interference of British governments and the hypocrisy of western attitudes towards Africa. I find it strange that as he gets older, le Carré gets angrier, but I suppose his anger also reflects the growing injustices in the world where a power imbalance has become more and more evident since the end of the Cold War. (55)

And still on an African theme, Conrad's
Heart of darkness which I enjoyed for the clever strength of the story-telling, and found interesting for the ideas about colonialism. I came away not sure whether the book meant what I thought it meant, it would certainly bear rereading. (56)