Friday, January 20, 2017

Wishing You A Lovely Weekend.

Berthe Morisot, The Artist's Sister at a Window, 1869
National Gallery of Art
Washington, DC

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall

Last year, I participated in Reading New England over at Emerald City Book Review. Two of the books I read for the challenge, Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne and American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever, had a connection to Margaret Fuller  (1810-1850) that made me want to know more about this writer and early women's' rights activist. Megan Marshall's Pulitzer Prize winning biography, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life (2013) took me right into Fuller's tumultuous, complex and ultimately tragic life.

Margaret Fuller had an unconventional childhood. Her father, an attorney, wanted Margaret to have the same education as a man. She spoke Latin at the age of 6. Her brilliant mind made her different from other people, and Megan Marshall does a great job of illustrating throughout the book the many ways in which Fuller tried to find her place in a society that didn't really value her contribution as an intelligent woman. 

Not wanting to take the traditional route to marriage, Fuller wanted to be a writer. To finance this endeavor, she worked for a time as a teacher at one of Bronson Alcott's schools. She was a confidante of Ralph Waldo Emerson and served as editor for his journal, The Dial, which showcased many of her writings. She also edited some of Henry David Thoreau's early work. She supported her mother and her siblings after her father died.  

What interested her was the role of women, and she hosted several events for women in which she led discussions about the plight of women. This led to Fuller's writing of her famous yet controversial work about equality for women, Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1846).

Fuller didn't make the best decisions when it came to her love life. Although she moved to New York City and had a successful career as a newspaper reporter, she decided to follow a man who was her love interest to Europe. The love affair didn't last, but Fuller found the intellectual fulfillment she wanted in the artists and writers that she met. She felt a freedom she'd never known to live the artist's life that she wanted. 

In 1847, Fuller, now 37 years old, went to Rome where she became the first woman reporter to cover a war when she wrote about the conflict between Italy and Austria. It was in Rome that she met a handsome younger man, Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, and became pregnant. With Ossoli involved in the war, Fuller moved to a village in the mountains away from the war where she awaited the birth of the baby. She had a boy, Nino, but left him in the care of a village woman and soon returned to the action to cover the end of the war.

Fuller decided to return to America in 1850 with Ossoli and Nino. She brought a manuscript about the Italian Republic which she deemed to be her best work. Emerson along with her other friends and family were not happy about Fuller's return because of her unconventional lifestyle. Unfortunately, Fuller, Ossoli, and Nino died in a shipwreck during a violent storm off the shore of Fire Island, New York, on July 19, 1850. Her manuscript was never found.

Megan Marshall uses Margaret Fuller's letters, journals and writings to bring Fuller to life. I loved Marshall's writing and Fuller's writing as well. Fuller had a dynamic, larger than life personality and was so much more than one of the Transcendentalists. 

I find myself wondering sometimes what Fuller's life would have been like if she'd lived. Would she have been accepted back into the fold of her friends and family? Would she have stayed with Ossoli, described by friends as a charming man but one who'd never read a book? Was the manuscript she brought back her best writing? 

I highly recommend Margaret Fuller: A New American Life.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: This Sweet Sickness

Happy Tuesday to you! I'm taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, in which bloggers share a bit about what they're reading or planning to read soon. 

Over the weekend, I picked up This Sweet Sickness by Patricia Highsmith and found this psychological thriller hard to put down.

From the back cover:

"David Kelsey has an unswerving conviction that life is going to work out exactly as he planned it. He just needs to fix 'the Situation': his one true love, Annabelle, is married to another man. Under an alias, David sets up a dream home for the two of them in a nearby town. Even though she is pregnant with her husband's child, Annabelle will take him back, of that he is certain. David will win her over--whatever it takes."

The opening:

"It was jealousy that kept David from sleeping, drove him from a tousled bed out of the dark and silent boardinghouse to walk the streets.

He had so long lived with his jealousy, however, that the usual images and words, with their direct and obvious impact on the heart, no longer came to the surface of his mind. It was now just the Situation. The Situation was the way it was and had been for nearly two years No use bothering with the details. The Situation was like a rock, say a five-pound rock, that he carried around around in his chest day and night. The evenings and the nights, when he wasn't working, were a little bit worse than the daytime, that was all."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Happy New Year! Today, I'm taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, in which bloggers share the first paragraph of a book they're reading or thinking of reading soon.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith (2015) was a Christmas present and a book that I'm planning to read soon.

First paragraph of the Prologue:

"It was the first day of my humiliation. Put on a plane, sent back home, to England, set up with a temporary rental in St. John's Wood. The flat was on the eighth floor, the windows looked over the cricket ground. It had been chosen, I think, because of the doorman, who blocked all inquiries. I stayed indoors. The phone on the kitchen wall rang and rang, but I was warned not to answer it and to keep my own phone switched off. I watched the cricket being  played, a game I don't understand, it offered no real distraction, but still it was better than looking at the interior of the that apartment, a luxury condo, in which everything had been designed to be perfectly neutral, with all significant corners rounded, like an iPhone. When the cricket finished I stared at the sleek coffee machine embedded in the wall, and at two photos of the Buddha--one a brass Buddha, the other wood--and at a photo of an elephant kneeling next to a little Indian boy, who was also kneeling. The rooms were tasteful and gray, linked by a pristine hallway of tan wool cord. I stared at the ridges in the cord."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Friday, December 23, 2016

Remarks on Recent Reads: The End of Year Edition

Happy holidays to you!

My reading lately has been a bit eclectic--mysteries, thrillers, literary fiction. There are few new authors to me, and then the tried and true with Agatha Christie and two of my favorite writers of crime, Sophie Hannah and Elizabeth Haynes.

With world events and the season, I wanted something this past week that wouldn't tax my brain too much. That's what led me to Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie. There's  something comforting about Miss Marple, and Christie's stories are fun. Several of the tales take place with a dinner group where each person shares a story of a mystery, and the group tries to solve the mystery. Of course, no one is a match for Miss Marple. Other stories are stand alone stories. While some characters are skeptical of Miss Marple's abilities, she's able to solve each mystery relying on her knowledge of human nature and her eye for seemingly meaningless details. I loved all these stories. 

Penelope Fitzgerald is a new author to me. I picked up a volume of three of her novels and read two novels--The Bookshop and The Gate of Angels. In The Bookshop, Fitzgerald takes the reader to a small English sea village in 1959 where middle aged widow Florence Green buys an old building, known as The Old House, where she plans to open a book shop. Florence faces challenges with the aging building and running a bookshop. The village is full of eccentric people, but there are the forces at work that don't want the bookshop to succeed. This is a quick read and one I enjoyed. 

The Gate of Angels (also by Penelope Fitzgerald) takes place in Cambridge of 1912. Fred Fairly, a Cambridge student of physics at the fictional St. Angelicus College, finds himself riding his bicycle on a dark road when a farm cart pulls into the road. To avoid hitting the cart, he collides with another bicyclist, Daisy. Fred and Daisy, both unconscious, are taken to a nearby farm to recuperate. The family that helps them assumes that the Fred and Daisy are married since Daisy wears a wedding ring. Fred awakes in a bed with Daisy and immediately falls in love her before she disappears. As a student of St. Angelicus, Fred has pledged to live a life of celibacy, but he can't forget Daisy. Gate of Angels has lots of twists and turns along with Fitzgerald's lovely writing. 

A Room Swept White by Sophie Hannah is the fifth novel in the series featuring detectives Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer. Fliss Benson receives a card at work which has sixteen numbers arranged in four rows made up of four numbers. The numbers seem meaningless at first, but when Fliss finds out that her new project will be a documentary about three mothers who've been falsely accused of killing their infant children, things become more clear. I was a bit ambivalent about the subject matter of the book, but I've loved each book I've read by Sophie Hannah, and A Room Swept White did not disappoint.

The setting for Never Alone by Elizabeth Haynes is an isolated Yorkshire farm, the last place you want to be in a blizzard with no electricity, no telephone, and a killer on the loose. The story begins with Sarah Carpenter who lives alone on her farm. Her husband died several years ago, and her children have left the nest. Two men from her past come back into her life. One rents her guest cottage, while the other one pops up at odd times. Sarah's best friend, Sophie, disappears, and Sarah soon finds out which one of these men she can trust. I enjoyed Never Alone, but it took me about fifty pages to connect with the book. After that, I found Never Alone hard to put down.

How It All Began is the first novel I've read by Penelope Lively, and it won't be the last. The story begins with the mugging of Charlotte, an elderly woman. She breaks her hip and must move in with her daughter and son-in-law. Charlotte's circumstances set in motion a chain of events that affect numerous people. I loved the character of Charlotte and the fact that she's a voracious reader. With a distinctive narrative voice and lots of interesting characters, I really loved this book. 

I recall the hype surrounding Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. Maybe that's what took me so long to read it, but I'm glad I finally got around to giving Rules of Civility a try. The novel reminded me of one of those old 1930s films that has beautiful women, handsome men and snappy yet sophisticated dialogue. In the novel, Katey Kontent, Eve Ross, and Tinker Grey are fantastic characters. Thanks to that fateful night in 1930s New York City when the milk truck hit Tinker's roadster, their lives are intertwined. The novel begins with an older Katey looking back on her life, and it's quite a story.  

I would love to know what you're reading.