Tuesday, June 29, 2010


As evidenced by the list on the left, I brought books to read. It was a somewhat haphazard process, motivated in main part by my desire not to have very heavy bags, and also a bit by the fact that I was carting quite a few books to my parents for their purposes, and has resulted in that somewhat haphazard list. I have been reading Fortress of Solitude, by Jonathan Lethem, but am finding it rather long and dark and possibly without redemptive ending in sight. I have broken into its reading with Blessings, a much lighter, much more trivial novel about redemption and family that was given to me by Drew's mom for my birthday. This is wryly amusing because Drew and I had a conversation about books before I left, one which touches on this experience I am having. We talked about the difference between "guys books" and "girls books", how there are books that seem to have been written for male audiences and books which have been written for female audiences, and how few people seem to be able to stomach reading both.
We didn't talk about it but I think we acknowledged in our "not saying" that there are novels which obviously reject and surpass this assumption. There are novels like Giliad, Anna Karenina, The Moon and Sixpence, Brideshead Revisited, and Jurassic Park, novels from everywhere, written about everything, with varying levels of skill and style and movement made apparent in them, that are novels for everyone and recognized as novels for everyone. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is one such book.
However there are other authors who only seem to be able to write one way or another. I am finding Lethem to be a pervasively masculine author. He writes about classically male things; sex, drugs, rites of passage, comic books, music, etc. and he writes well, but is, frankly, grosser than I can comfortably handle. I have only read a novel and a half at this point, and feel a little vulnerable making him my example, but by comparison to "neutral" novels or "feminine" novels, he stands as firmly male in my mind.
In contrast, Blessings is a feminine novel, a novel to which I can retreat when Lethem's crass realism is too much. Blessings is about an old lady regretting her past, a young man given a chance to be better than his circumstances, and a baby. This sounds like a woman's novel to me. Unfortunately, Blessings is also kind of crappy, definitely inferior to Fortress of Solitude in quality.
I get frustrated occasionally as a person who reads and reads avidly when my friends refuse to consider a book based on its gender leaning. Friends of both genders do it, though more examples of male refusal spring readily to mind, perhaps because I am a woman. Jane Austin is my best example. A wonderful author who wrote funny, insightful books that should be considered gender neutral, but are not. I don't understand how it is acceptable even within our friendships for a novel by a woman, perceived to be about women, insightfully full of anecdotes of a certain time and a certain society, gets treated like something not worth men's time. Doesn't that seem insulting to you? I understand that there is a lot of total trash written with women as their intended audience. Nicolas Sparks springs to mind, as do the thousands upon thousands of romance authors. But this doesn't make the things that appeal to women trash.
As I read, I have been made aware of the myriad reasons I do read. I read to be entertained, to be comforted, to be moved. But I also read to be changed, to be informed, or adjusted, or enlightened. I will persevere through Lethem because he writes well and with feeling, even if it is darker than I would like, or crasser than I would have felt to need to be if I were him. And in the end, I will be different for the reading.
Isn't that the point?


Donnell said...

I am going to read Jonathan Strange ASAP. I think that Chris has it on his Kindle.

I once knew a man who informed me that he did not read books in which a woman was the main character. Period. I don't speak to him anymore.

Chris read Eat, Pray, Love even though it was decidedly woman leaning. He enjoyed it but while he reads books like that he is not fond of movies made for women. But, I'm not either. Thus we don't watch the Oxygen channel. Go figure.

I hope that you are really enjoying your vacation.

Heidi said...

I think sci-fi/fantasy has become the portion of "men's literature" that many women reject straightaway. But, as in any genre, there are books in those categories that will change your life and your way of thinking. The 'His Dark Materials' series, The Sparrow, Ender's Game, Dune, etc. Good thoughts. Reminds me of integrating our bookshelves when we fist got married...

The Coles said...

we finished battlestar. it was awesome. starbuck is an angel!

just thought you would want to know

glad you are having fun!