The Dangerous Age: book review

Last year I discovered a Spanish publisher called Alba. They publish classics and they do it beautifully. When I saw the prompt of A classic by an author that’s new to you for the Back to Classics 2018 challenge, I knew I had to choose one from Alba’s catalogue. I wanted more women and more non-English works, so I found Karin Michaëlis. She was a prolific Danish author, whose most famous work was an epistolary novel called The Dangerous Age.

The Dangerous Age, published in 1910, tells the story of Elsie Lindtner, a woman in her forties who goes to a house she built for herself in a remote island after divorcing from her husband. She goes there pursuing a love interest, but things don’t go her way in the end.

This is a very intimate book, dealing with subjects that are still current: Divorce, pre-menopause, solitude, female friendships, social class and injustice… It is so beautifully written, with a wonderful metaphor of the house Elsie built (so bright, cozy, just the way she wanted) with the life she lead.

I love epistolary novels, I wish I had more on my bookshelf, and The Dangerous Age is an amazing example.

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No one likes Emma, everybody loves Emma

I have a confession to make: I haven’t read Jane Austen. I mean… I have. But not much. I read Pride and Prejudice in Spanish when I was a teenager. And I just reread it in English last year. And this year I read Emma.

I chose this book for the prompt of a Classic in Translation of the Back to the Classics 2018 challenge. Emma was translated into Spanish by Sergio Pitol, one of the most important Mexican writers (he actually died in April) who has an amazing translation work. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read Jane Austen in Spanish, but when I saw this book, I was instantly sold. Sergio Pitol has translated from Chinese, English, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, and Russian… so it had to be an amazing translation. And it definitely was.

There’s nothing much to say about Emma. There are academic careers based on this book (and Jane Austen’s work), so there’s really nothing I could say to add to the conversation.

Emma is a novel by Jane Austen, published in 1815 that tells the story of a not so likeable young lady who likes to read named Emma Woodhouse. She thinks she’s a good matchmaker, but she really isn’t. And she always confuses feelings and actions and tries to manipulate everyone around her. But in the end you can’t but love her.

I loved the journey Jane Austen made me take. Her portrayal of life in rural England with Highbury was just amazing. Centuries later you can actually *feel* you’re there. And the characters… woah… so complex and thick. Of course, something everyone talks about is Emma’s feminist views and agency. She doesn’t want to get married because she actually can… she can afford it. And that’s amazing.

I love Jane Austen and I will read all her books soon.

The Haunting of Hill House: A review

For my Classic by a woman author prompt for the Back to the Classics 2018 challenge I had planned to read The Dream, by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a Mexican writer. It’s probably the most important poem by a woman writer in the Spanish language, written in 1692. I actually started reading it, but I wanted to be more absorbed by it and I just wasn’t there. And then, The Haunting of Hill House came to Netflix, so I decided to go for that book instead.

I was incredibly surprised. I read the novel before watching the show. It was scary and surprising. I loved how Shirley Jackson built the characters and the setting. Of course it’s the foundation for so many books and films…

The Haunting of Hill House, written by Shirley Jackson in 1959, is a gothic horror novel. It tells the story of four main characters —Dr. John Montague, Eleanor Vance, Theodora, and Luke Sanderson—who go to Hill House, a supposedly haunted mansion, to investigate supernatural occurrences.

What I loved the most about this amazing book was how the terror is built within you, the reader. Everything that happens is so, so subtle. You don’t actually know anything for real. Everything could be a ghost, a possession, or just inside the minds of the characters. But in the end it is YOU who construct everything.

This was definitely one of my favorite books of the year and I’m so happy I changed it.

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Bonus: Netflix’s show review.

If you are one of the few people who haven’t watched  on Netflix, and if you enjoy horror films and/or Shirley Jackson, go watch it. It isn’t a direct adaptation. It actually takes some of the most important elements of the book (names, events, character traits…) and mixes them into a very well constructed mini series. I loved it. Especially after reading the book.

Book Review: Heart Berries

Love is tactile learning, always, first and foremost.

Back in February I intended to write about how the Slate Audio Book Club basically went on a hiatus. The podcast was hosted by Katy Waldman, and she moved from Slate to The New Yorker. I think they didn’t find anyone else who wanted to do it. If I’m honest I’ll say that I really didn’t like Katy Waldman’s tone, I found it boring most of the time, but I agreed with her almost always, and I admired her clarity and her evident passion for books and literature. Also, Slate’s ABC Podcast was very important for me, during my reading recovery, so when she said she was gone and then there were just two other episodes before they stating officially that the book club would be on a hiatus, I was crushed.

Fortunately, almost synchronically I found out about another book club. I’ve been following Guerrilla Feminism account on Instagram for years. I love how Lachrista Greco just says it as it is. No bullshit. And I love how many things she’s made me learn, especially about my own privilege. She started a feminist book club in her Patreon, and when I found out about it I wanted in. Unfortunately the first book they read was Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge, and there was absolutely no way for me to get it at a reasonable price in time to read it. Amazon Mexico didn’t have it, it always said “out of stock”, Amazon.com charged me half the price of the book just for shipping, Book Depository has always taken +6 weeks to get me books, Gandhi almost doubled the price for “importing fees”… So I decided to wait until the next book.

And it was Heart Berries, by Terese Marie Mailhot. It’s such an amazing little book. I feel bad for using positive adjectives, because reading it was a harrowing experience, but I loved it. Mailhot is a writer from an indian reservation and in Heart Berries she wrote a coming of age memoir with such lyricism and imagery… Of course the book deals with “white women”, but not in a way to “make them realize”, I actually don’t think it’s written for white people. But it’s painful to think on all that discrimination, that is the same that indigenous people live in Mexico. Systemic, bureaucratic, permanent. Even if we don’t want to face it.

The book is incredibly sad, incredibly lonely. But in the sadness and loneliness it founds beauty, an excruciating beauty.

What I must say, though, is that as much as I marked passages and underlined sentences, I also kept looking how many pages were left until the end of the chapter. I’m not sure if it was because it talked about things hard to read (death, suicidal thoughts, rape, infidelity…) or just the language was heavy. In the GF discussion I compared it to honey, so dense and even painfully slow moving, but delicious. But it definitely isn’t a sweet book. I wish I had a better analogy.

Self-esteem is a white invention to further separate one person from another. It asks people to assess their value and implies people have worth. It seems like identity capitalism.

A girl reading Jules Verne in the 21st Century

So I remember reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea when I was a little girl. I probably read it a couple times before I was 12. I also read Journey to the Center of the Earth, Around the World in Eighty Days, and School for Crusoes (I refuse to use the title Godfrey Morgan, because I read it in Spanish under the title Escuela de Robinsones). Of course, back then, twenty years ago, I wasn’t thinking of feminism or intersectionality, and I was amazed by the extraordinary deeds of these extraordinary men without even noticing that there wasn’t even the mention of a girl. Ever.

So now, I’m 34… with the goal of reading more diversily, at least 50% women authors. And I find myself reading Five Weeks in a Balloon for two reading challenges.

It was painful.

There was actually a mention to a woman: Madame Blanchard. She was the first woman to work as a professional balloonist, and also the first woman to be killed in an aviation accident.

But that was it.

Throughout the book I could read terrible examples of colonialism, of toxic masculinity, of discrimination, of exploitation of resources… That was how the 19th Century [male] mind worked, and that’s what brought us where we are: still fighting gun violence against black people (who were brought by the kind of guys portrayed in Jules Verne’s books as slaves), losing our last male northern white rhino (Sudan died just a few days ago, and there’s basically no hope in recovering the species), and with women still struggling for equality.

It was especially painful to read Five Weeks in a Balloon in March, just after seeing (twice) Black Panther. The fictionalized portrayal of what could have happened if people like Samuel Fergusson, Dick Kennedy, and Joe Wilson hadn’t destroyed Africa was such a pleasure to watch.

Anyway… I finished Five Weeks in a Balloon, and as much as I [think I] love Jules Verne, I will keep away from him for a while. A long, long while.

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This is my entry post for the Monthly Motif reading Challenge: Travel the World, and also for the Back to the Classics Challenge: A classic travel or journey narrative.

February wrap-up and why is it okay to not read much sometimes

I almost decided not to write this. In a way I find it shameful that I was only able to read ONE book this month… But the truth is that February was a hectic month. And I’m not trying to make excuses or justify myself. A lot of things happened that maybe didn’t take lots of time, but they occupied space in my mind in a way that was impossible for me to concentrate enough to read.

First of all was the #RiotGrams challenge in Instagram… I almost completed it. You can see my posts here. I had so much fun looking for books and setting them up in various places. And there’s something worth mentioning: I was featured in Book Riot’s feed!!! OMG!!! You can see the post here… it has +900 likes so far…

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Also, at the beginning of the month I went to a homage made to an uncle, Ángel Gaviño Iglesias… he worked with Louis Pasteur and was one of the first scientists in Mexico to talk about bacteriology, so he was a cardinal figure in Mexican Public Health. I got very curious about my ancestors because this guy was the great grand son of one of the most recognized —female— figures in the Mexican Independence (Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez), so I started reading a bit about them, but I couldn’t find much online. Fortunately, an uncle has material about our family and I hope I can get over to his library soon. The event was a couple hours long, the ceremony and the unveiling of an obelisk, but before and after I was just thinking about that. It was in a cemetery where a lot of historic figures lay… I saw Rosario Castellanos’s tombstone, for example. She’s one of the few female writers known by everyone, and seeing all those important people there, you can just wish for the day when there will be an equal number of women and men…

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And that’s it about nice things. On the 16th we had another strong earthquake, magnitude 7.2. It wasn’t as devastating as the one we had last September, but I was alone, driving home… and as I’m still trying to recover from the one I just mentioned, I just couldn’t calm down for days. I did nothing except reading the news, twitter, and just being nervous… On Sunday night, just three days later, the earthquake alarm went off again. It’s terrible to just live waiting for another earthquake to hit 😦

And then, on the 22nd my dad had a rollover crash in the highway. Fortunately (and fucking surprisingly) he didn’t have a scratch, he’s perfect, as if nothing had happened… but you can imagine how I felt when he called me, and hours later when I saw the pictures of his car.

So, yes… this month I only read Middlemarch and heard The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Return of Sherlock Holmes. I usually read/listen to audiobooks or podcasts while I do the dishes or drive by myself, so that’s how I managed to advance so much on the Canon this month.

I was a little ashamed, but I think you just have to accept and acknowledge when your brain is busy with other things (especially when it is trying to survive thinking that any alarm is the earthquake alarm). Of course I would want to be like those booktubers or instagram book celebrities who read 30 books a month… But my reality is different, and I’m just glad I actually finished a book that I loved.

The good thing is that with Middlemarch I covered THREE prompts (for +800 pages, that’s only fair!) for my challenges. I won’t do a statistical analysis of my readings this month hehehe, just this:

Challenges prompts completed: 3/107

Total: 9/107

Middlemarch, by George Eliot

February was a weird and hectic month and I will write more about it tomorrow, but this is my review post of an amazing book I read this month: Middlemarch, by George Eliot.

I chose this book (without knowing its extension: 785 pages +25 pages of explanatory notes, plus the introduction!) because it ticked off three different reading challenge prompts: PopSugar’s: A book with a female author who uses a male pseudonym, as it was written by Mary Anne Evans, whose pen name was George Eliot; Back to the Classics: A classic with a single-word title; and the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge: One Word.

If I had known that I had to read +800 pages I would probably have changed my decision, but Middlemarch arrived in the mail just a couple days before the end of January and I really felt I had no choice. And I’m glad I managed to get through it.

I hadn’t heard of Middlemarch before and now I have this feeling of longing for more books like this, written by women in times when male dominance was prevalent. I fell in love with Dorothea since the first lines I read. She is like my new role model. She’s such a feminist, born before her time (of course with numerous aspects of the age she was living…).

Middlemarch was published in 1871-1872, in a tumultuous time for humanity, and it’s incredible to read the struggle between modern and reactionary views. I was amazed at how many things that we are living now were portrayed by Eliot. You might disagree, but what about, a depiction of what we now know as “echo chambers,” when Will says: “do you think the public reads with a view to their own conversion?” Just after that, Eliot describes an election, and it seems to me that she was describing the elections that are taking place this year in Mexico. Outstanding.

I’m surprised about how much I marked and wrote and underlined… Eliot writes a romantic story, gossip, politics, religion, philosophy, art, medicine, even grammar! And she’s so insightful… I’m sure I’ll fill quite a few pages of my commonplace book.

While I was reading I felt as if I was watching a TV Show (has anyone thought of adapting it!?) like Downtown Abbey, but better, and the feeling of emptiness after finishing it is still with me.

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Have you read Middlemarch? Do you love it as I do? Have you read any other book by George Eliot?

Will we ever be able to have an equitable world?

So I just finished reading The Power, by Naomi Alderman. It’s such an interesting book. It happens in a world were women have acquired a “power” that makes them superior to men in a way. The story inside the story (of a male writer emailing a female writer for input on this new book he wrote, and it is what we read) happens in a familiar world, dare I say the early 21st century? And then is when “the power” wakes up in young women first, and then all…

What I find the most interesting of this Margaret Atwood endorsed book is the questions it makes you formulate. I basically disagree with its portrayal of the feminine world because I fundamentally believe that if something like this were to happen to women, we wouldn’t turn crazy and men-like… But I’m not even sure if this is what Alderman is proposing… Is it that this book is more intended for men to read and compare? Is it a cautionary tale? Are we really inferior/superior?

I found the parts were rolls are reversed incredibly well written. Like, how did you do it Naomi!? I imagined myself writing them “normally” (the power character as male, and the dominated one as female) and then just changing the names… what a great exercise in writing! Especially in the email exchange between the authors (Neil Adam Armon ―the male writer, an anagram of Naomi Alderman’s own name― and Naomi, the female writer who suggests the book to be published under a woman’s name hehehe) you can read exactly the tones we use in a correspondence between a female who is under a male counterpart, even if it’s just a perceived hierarchy…

There were some difficult parts to read. The violence, the rapes, the blood, the war crimes… and also the more subtle (and exactly because of that the more hurtful?) inequality: “Every book you write is assessed as part of ‘men’s literature’”, or “I’ll ask my assistant if he’ll sort out some dates for us to have lunch.” We are still living in a world where this actually happens, just the other way around. Is there a way out of it? Will there ever be?

The Power, by Naomi Alderman, was the winner of the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Alderman is also the cocreator and lead writer of the fantastic app: Zombies, Run! How cool is that!?

What a f***ing amazing book is Her Body and Other Parties

He Body and other Parties

I read Her Body and other Parties for the Slate Audio Book Club. What an amazing trip it was. I have been busy so I couldn’t read as much as I wanted, but I’m sure that if I had had the chance, I would have read it in one sitting.

Her Body and other Parties is a collection of eight stories, one just as amazing as the next. All of them have a feminist (profoundly feminist) voice, and are so weird and bizarre… I’m not sure if they could be catalogued as science fiction, but I while I was reading I felt that this book and its characters could perfectly coexist in the Black Mirror’s universe. There are even gory episodes, described masterfully, and violence so feminine that is eerie.

This book was also my entry for the January Monthly Motif Reading Challenge: Diversify your reading. Carmen Maria Machado is an American writer whose father was Cuban, so I guess you could say we’re the same race. But I chose her for the diversify your reading prompt, because she lives with her wife in Philadelphia, so she has a sexual orientation different to mine (I’m a straight cis… I know… boriiing).

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Her Body and other Parties will definitely be in my favorites for years and years to come, I’m sure (so, if anyone wants to gift me the hardcover, it’d be very very welcome). And I’m super excited about her next book to be published in 2019: House in Indiana: A Memoir.

 

Have you read Carmen Maria Machado? Do you love her like I do?