Thursday, May 29, 2014

Weekly Book Post: The House of Mirth


I've decided to switch up a few of the categories for my 14 x 14 in 2014 Reading Challenge, and one of the new categories is based on a "Best Books by Women Authors" list I found online.  I'm not sure if I'm going to stick strictly to that list or branch out, so for now I've named that category "Women's Studies".  It shouldn't be an issue, since women make up more than half the world population, but it is still easy when picking "serious" books to read to fall into a pattern of reading all dead white male authors.  No thank you!

So far I've read three books for this new category:

1.  The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
2.  The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
3.  Bossypants by Tina Fey

House on Mango Street was a surprisingly small and simple book, so much so that I read it in only about a day.  But the simplicity is only skin (or page) deep, as the prose, ideas, and images linger much longer than the book itself.  Cisneros taps into her own childhood and experience growing up Latina, and paints a picture of her neighborhood and the people living in it, ultimately also pointing to how trapped many of them are in generational poverty and underprivileged status.  It's a must-read - ignore the reviews that call it confusing or over-rated.  I loved it.

House of Mirth (why are the titles so similar - coincidence) is a very different animal, except that it once again is the work of a woman who was looking back to the milieu she was raised in and using literature to point out how trapped people can be by that environment.  In this case, Wharton grew up in affluent New York society during the Gilded Age, and here writes a tragic novel about how that world can destroy a woman who just couldn't quite conform and wouldn't compromise what she wanted.  Although the heroine might be easy to dismiss as foolish and vain (like Madame Bovary), Wharton paints such a thoroughly human picture of her that the reader must still like her and sympathize with her plight, rather than blaming her for her own misfortunes.

I listened to Bossypants as an audiobook on my phone (with my new Audible membership - so far this is a wonderful thing), having Tina Fey's voice in my ear as I did chores around the house or garden.  Although the book is funny, it is also very much about sexism and the pressure on women today.  I particularly liked the parts about Fey's childhood and early start in comedy.

My plan for the next books in this category involves Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf.  Any others I shouldn't miss?

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