Women Writers Reading Challenge #54: Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde by Franny Moyle

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I was really eager to read the story of a woman whose accomplishments and failures were totally overshadowed by those of her husband. While that was not necessarily unusual for women of the period, it seems a bit strange that we should do so for Constance Wilde if only because of the scrutiny her husband has received over the years. And it’s really too bad because Constance was an interesting writer and activist in her own right.

While I really enjoyed reading about Constance, I wasn’t really enamored with this particular book. I think that Franny Moyle has an excellent eye for research, but I wish she had condensed her quotes. Some of the long passages from various letters are really interesting, but most of them could easily have been summarized to a similar effect or at least shortened. I also felt that Moyle was really quick to label certain incidents as “the biggest mistake s/he would make,” as if they should have definitely known better. Sometimes, of course, that’s true, but I felt she was a little judgmental of Oscar and Constance, or that she wished they had done things differently. Both of these might be true, but I don’t feel like a biography is about those opinions. I think with better editing, this book could have been more moving–because their lives really are sad and tragic. I didn’t really connect with this book, though I’m still glad I read it in order to have a better understanding of Constance, who I’d never spared much thought for before this. If you’re a Wilde fanatic, you’ll probably like this book, but if you’re just in search of an interesting piece of nonfiction reading with a slightly feminist bent, I’d recommend Jill Lepore’s history of Wonder Woman instead.

Has there been a book lately that’s slightly disappointed you?

Women Writers Reading Challenge #25: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

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I don’t know what I expected this book to be when I picked it up. I read part of the New York Times book review, enough to be interested, and I added it to my to-read list. I never expected to be so enchanted with this book. Twenty pages in, and I still had no idea where this book was going, another twenty pages and I knew I wouldn’t be able to put the book down. It’s a long book, but that simply doesn’t matter. It defies conventions, as it’s sort of a mystery and it’s definitely historical fiction, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a wonderful example of what fiction can do, how a web can be untangled or a thread unraveled. It’s a book about greed, betrayal, luck, destiny, and fellowship. The best way I can explain this book is an untangling like when all your jewelry clumps together and you have to separate each piece. Catton juggles her many characters deftly and with grace–each is carefully drawn and looked at objectively and each has a significant role to play. I never thought that I would be so in love with a book about the 1860s gold rush in New Zealand, but I did, and I think you will too.

Women Writers Reading Challenge Book #19: Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

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They call this book a graphic novel, which is somewhat disingenuous as its more of a collection of various comics on various subjects. Some of the comics are absolutely hilarious, and it’s clear that Kate Beaton has quite a gift for them, especially ones involving history and literature. However, I really disliked this book’s lack of organization and structure and some of the jokes went over my head, which is to be expected I suppose but it’s one of those books that makes you feel pretty badly read if you don’t get stuff. Overall it’s a fun book to peruse (and there’s a section on 15th century peasant love that is absolutely hilarious) and a good way to spend an hour or two.

My Literature Blind Date from the Library

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I think it goes without saying that I love books and any place with books, or talks about books, or sells books… All leading me to say that I love my library. Libraries of all kinds are amazing wonderful creatures that deserve to be preserved. In Corvallis, we’re lucky to have an awesome library. The building itself is very nice and fairly new, they have lots of nice well-lit places to read, the librarians are helpful and well-informed, and they have lots of great library programs and little things they do.

Yesterday when I walked through the library, Paul pointed out a small display of books to me. These books, labeled Blind Dates with Literature, were covered in butcher paper and had a small “dating profile” on top. The idea was you could choose one as a blind date for Valentine’s Day. Maybe it would be love and maybe it wouldn’t be.

I absolutely fell in love with this idea (and talk about a great gift idea for a Valentine’s exchange–especially for a girl’s night or a hopeless romantic). Of course, I had to get one. The problem was, I knew I wouldn’t be able to read the book if it wasn’t written by a woman. I don’t really think you could tell from the blurb if something was written by either sex, and I just chose one that I wanted to cuddle up with. I figured if nothing else, I’d have a book to add to my to-read list for next year.

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But as you can see, I lucked out. This book wasn’t written by one female author, it was written by two. I’m very excited to read my book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society¬†by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Shaffer is Barrows’ aunt). I love books with long titles (and poems and movies…just about anything really).

You’ll see it on an upcoming post very soon, well two, I peeked inside and already I know it’ll be featured on Baking for Bookworms!

Ever had a blind date with literature (you know–your friends set you up and dove in no questions asked)? How did it turn out?