Catching Up, Part 1
So, life has been real chaotic these past few months, and unfortunately this has led to a bit of blog neglect. I got behind in my reviews last spring break and have only continued to fall farther behind. Now that this semester is finally over, it’s time to put what’s passed in the past with some mini-reviews.
Without a Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class is a collection of stories/essays compiled by Michelle Tea, who writes in the introduction that she was fed up with reading about the working class from the upper-class perspective of popular journalists and the like. These first-hand accounts tell frightening, vindicating, difficult tales of what it’s like to grow up a poor girl in the United States. Inadequate access to healthcare, domestic violence, alienating educational institutions–these stories cover all that and so much more. The authors come from a wide range of backgrounds and give voice to a host of sexual and gender identities as well as callings; they are activists, mothers, poets, teachers, and many things besides. As is true of all collections, some of the stories/essays are better than others. But what I might consider the weakest in this collection sets the bar quite high. Haunting and powerful. Highly recommended to those interested in gender studies and social justice.
In fifth grade, I dressed as Amelia Earhart and gave a monologue to my classmates about my flying adventures to fulfill a project requirement. Like many others, I have remained fascinated with her into adulthood. Mary S. Lovell, who wrote the book about the Mitfords that I loved so much, is a skilled biographer and I was thrilled to find that she chose Earhart as one of her subjects. What she adds to the wealth of information about Earhart’s career in The Sound of Wings, she says, is an investigation into the role that her husband–publisher, writer, and one-man-media-machine–George Putnam played in making Amelia Earhart a household name. Earhart was courageous, stubborn, and determined as hell, but even her closest friends and biggest supporters readily admitted that she was not a “natural” flier in the way that many of her competitors were, both male and female (and there were a lot of women aviators at the time, I learned). She had the personality, but Putnam had the media in the palm of his hand. Together, they were an unstoppable force. I was a bit miffed at first that Putnam was getting so much credit for Earhart’s success, but eventually I was persuaded as to the impact of his work on her behalf. My only complaint, then, is that his name should have been included in the title. Without that inclusion, it did at first seem a little unfair to give so attention to him. I also wish that Lovell had spent more than half a page on Earhart’s friendship with fellow pilot Jackie Cochran, which seems to have consisted of psychic-seance type meetings in which they (correctly!!!) identified the locations of three crashed airplanes. Because, whoa. And yes, Jackie did make a detailed prediction about what happened to Amelia, and where…!
I owe the blogosphere a huge favor for this one, because I wouldn’t have tried it without a host of blogger recommendations. And I loved it. I’ve been on a scary movie kick for months now, but have always avoided scary stories in book form out of some misguided idea that scary stories in books are all hokey, or something (I know, I know…what a ridiculous prejudice for a book-lover to have!). Well, this book was downright creepy. It takes place in a crumbling post-war Mansion called Hundreds Hall in the English countryside (um, what more do you need to know?). The Ayres family is used to a bougeoise way of life which is becoming impossible as the make up of the country’s class structure starts to shift. They are haunted by their imcompetence to keep up the house without the aid of dozens of servants, and their past prestige…increasingly, though, it seems they must be haunted by something else, too. Something more sinister. I figured out what was going on about three-fourths of the way through the book and admit that I was expecting a bit more of a twist, or something, but I still had a great time racing straight through to the end of this one!
This book is incredibly hard to talk about. I’ve seen comparisons made between this book and works by Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges but as I haven’t actually read either of them, I can’t comment on that (I do have a huge collection of Borge’s works though which I really want to delve into this summer). This book is a Library of Tangents, and each “story” exhibits some marvelous thing, history, idea, or paradox that exists in the imaginative universe that Rose has created. It’s filled with small but detailed diagrams, charts, paintings, and maps that tell of all things from “Languages of Hidden Islands” to “Lost Horologies and Systems of Measures”. Sounds obscure, yes, and it is…but what’s so captivating about these fantastical tangents–whole societies incapable of forgetting anything, and who are therefore unable to reflect; isolated communities of people who see color on a spectrum only visible to them–is that they seem almost too strange and unlikely to be made up. Part of us wants to believe that they are true, that things we know to be real fill the void between fact and the imaginary. These bizarre fables, if you can call them that, are fun in that they challenge you to pick out the fact from the fiction, and a bit disconcerting in that you find you can’t always do it. A neat little book.
That’s it for now, but expect a second installment of catch-up reviews in the next few days 🙂