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text 2018-11-11 19:15
Not a formal status report, but . . . . .
The Tulip Tree - Howard Rigsby

I knew I wouldn't be able to stay up and read very long because I was really, really tired when I went to bed.  I did, however, want to start this book.

 

There's no question that this is a gothic romance.  The publisher put it right on the cover!  It's compared to Du Maurier's classic Rebecca. The artwork is almost typical gothic, with the spooky house and single lighted window.  The young woman, however, is in close-up portrait rather than full-length with windblown hair and gown.

 

And the author is male.

 

There are also quotes from a number of reviews published in real newspapers.  Hmmmmmm.  Gothic romances did not get reviewed in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner in the 1960s.

 

I only read 12 pages, not quite the first whole chapter, before I just couldn't keep my eyes open any longer, but that was enough to confirm my suspicions that I had read this book before, decades ago.  One small incident ticked my memory, something I would not have consciously remembered but that came back to me the instant I read it. 

 

There were only two ways I could have read this book in the 1960s.  It was either condensed by Reader's Digest, or it was a Doubleday Book Club selection.  My parents subscribed to both for a number of years at that time.  I read the condensed version of The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant by Douglas Wallop as well as his later novel, Ocean Front, though I don't know if that was book club or condensed.  I do remember the cover, however, so maybe it was a book club edition.  I also read two other book club offerings, The Daughter of the Pangaran and Summer Doctor.  I remember details of both those books, and they were published about the same time as The Tulip Tree, so I'm more comfortable guessing I read a book club edition.

 

So in 1963, a gothic romance written by a man would be published in hardcover by Doubleday and be reviewed numerous newspapers, be selected for their subscription book club, and later be republished in paperback.  No doubt Howard Rigsby earned a great deal more for his gothic romance novel than most of the women writing paperback gothics.

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review 2018-11-10 18:42
The Everyday World as Problematic . . . and a problem
The Everyday World As Problematic (Northeastern Series on Feminist Theory) - Dorothy E. Smith

This is a superb analysis of the intertwined issues of gender, gender roles, and power.

 

One of the most interesting graduate classes I took at ASU was "Sociology of Everyday Life," for which this was one of the texts. 

 

Sadly, much of our time in class was flat-out ruined by a trio of middle-school teachers who were more interested in chatting (loudly) than in listening to any discussion.  They became an informal example of how "ruling relations" affect our everyday lives: Accustomed to being in charge in a classroom, they transferred their sense of authority to our classroom.  The professor, being only an adjunct and therefore lacking in authority, hesitated to demand their attention or call them out for their disruptive behavior.

 

I had no such reticence.  I got sick and tired of it one evening (it was a night class) and told them to shut up.  They were sooooo insulted!  Who was I to tell them to shut up when the professor himself hadn't said anything?  Well damn it, I was paying for that class and I wanted to get something out of it beyond hearing their problems with their students.

 

We were treated to a special Saturday session for which Dorothy Smith and another sociologist were brought in.  One of the things I remembered most about her presentation was a diagram showing how texts -- meaning books, magazines, movies, advertisements, etc. -- are never static because they get interpreted by those who consume them.  Therefore it's virtually impossible to evaluate any text solely on its own merits without considering the context of both the producer of the text and the consumer.

 

Needless to say, this applies to the reviewing of books: Regardless what the author may have intended the book to be or to mean or to do, the reader's reaction is an independent and valid context.

 

 

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review 2018-11-09 18:11
All the Happy Endings - and the power of popular culture
All the Happy Endings - Helen Papashvily All the Happy Endings - Helen Papashvily

If popular culture weren't so politically powerful, we wouldn't have so much of it.

 

I read All the Happy Endings as part of the research for my master's thesis, and it was one of those old books that I could never find a copy of for myself.  So I brazenly photocopied it.  Now that I'm scanning these photocopies into PDF format, I'm taking another look at some of my notes, too.

 

Papashvily focuses on the "domestic novels" of the 19th century, but also on the writers and the readers.  She sees enormous social and -- more important -- political impact from these seemingly harmless tales.  She claims they were in essence guidelines for domestic revolution.

 

If indeed they were, but if their influence only went as far as a revolution confined to the private space of hearth and home, did they encourage women to become independent, or did they instead reinforce the patriarchal status quo by making women believe in an illusion of domestic - and therefore matrimonial -- power?

 

There has been so much talk lately about why women -- and yes specifically white women -- so often vote against their own best interests.  It may in fact be that they aren't, because those women have a very different definition of their own best interests.  And that definition may lie in some -- but not necessarily all -- of those happy endings.

 

Shelved for a re-read.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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review 2018-11-02 21:17
The Motion of Puppets by Keith Donohue
The Motion of Puppets - Keith Donohue

I could have saved myself a lot of time if I had known from the start of this that 'The Motion of Puppets' was a retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice.

 

This was a bizarre novel, Kay falls in love with a puppet standing in a closed-up Antique Doll store she passes on her way home every day. One night, returning home by herself she sees a light in the window and investigates. She awakens in the body of a puppet and must abide by the strange rules and customs of the other puppets she meets there.

 

Meanwhile, Kay's husband is frantic to find out where she's been. His work, a translation of a biography of a pioneering photographer, is put aside and in the face of increase suspician from the police and estrangement from old friends and colleagues, he tries to find her.

 

There were interesting character studies here, and a decidedly creepy aesthetic with the use of the puppets and the mythological elements. I hated the ending, however. It cut short the momentum of the story and left little room for resolution. I can handle a 'bad' or a 'sad' ending, but I need more than what Donohue was offering.

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review 2018-11-02 18:28
Melmouth by Sarah Perry
Melmoth - Sarah Perry

I'm sorry things got so hectic for me these last two months, I would have liked to follow through with Halloween Bingo, but I'm glad it inspired me to read a few more books like this one.

 

'Melmoth' by Sarah Perry is self-consciously layered with atmosphere, following Helen, a grey, self-punishing woman getting by making translations of technical manuals. and living in Prague, that most atmospheric of cities. Her brooding is interrupted by a man named Karel. He is clearly spooked and, after some mutterings and a brief conference in a bar, leaves Helen with a manuscript describing encounters with an obscure folk figure known as Melmoth the Witness. She watches the worst sins of mankind and, occasionally, asks lonely sinners to join her and they are never seen again.

 

Helen is concerned for Karel. He is the only one who has, with his wife Thea, penetrated Helen's gloom. Thea's recent debilitating stroke has put a strain on the marriage, but cannot account for his strange behavior. Helen begins reading the manuscript, and later learns of Karel's disappearance.

 

The novel follows Helen's reading of the manuscript, what led to its creation, and the responses it provokes from herself, Karel, and Thea. Traces of Melmoth are found around the greatest horrors mankind has produced in the 20th century, and in more personal, individual failings of the human spirit.

 

Perry has created something powerful here. I love reworkings of myth and subversion of what's expected. This is a novel about guilt, human tragedy, and the best and worst that we are capable of. This was the perfect read for the fall season.

 

 

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