Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Another week's reading

I've been neglecting this blog shamefully of late, largely due to a pinched nerve flareup. I'm trying to save my best computer time for my writing. But I never stop reading, and here are books 7-9 toward my goal of reading 75 books in 2012:

7) Margarita, by Joan Wolf. This is a traditional Regency romance--i.e. a subgenre with less sex and often a bit more history than you generally find in historical romance. They're rare in print publishing nowadays, but more and more trad authors are reviving their backlists as ebooks, as is the case with this book, originally released in 1982.

Wolf delves deeply into the actual history of the time period even by the standards of the subgenre. In this case the heroine is the daughter of a Venezuelan man and an English woman, and she loses all her family fighting in Bolivar's revolution. She goes to her English grandfather for lack of any other options, and after he dies she finds herself married to the cousin who inherited his title and estates. It contains multiple elements that would be a tough sell in today's market--very young heroine (17 when she marries), a rather distant omniscient POV, a hero who doesn't give up his mistresses until long after marrying the heroine, and a hero and heroine who are cousins (anathema to your typical American reader, though I've read Mansfield Park and Rose in Bloom often enough that I can put on a 19th century brain for the duration of the read and not be bothered by it). I enjoyed it, though I don't think I'd want omniscient POV in most of my romance reading.

8) Cinderella Ate my Daughter, by Peggy Orenstein. I heard Orenstein interviewed on Fresh Air a few weeks ago and knew I had to read this book. She's a few years older than I am, and her daughter is about the same age as mine, so we're both experiencing a certain disconnect in seeing the very pink, princessy, and girlie-girl culture our daughters are pushed to conform to--one that's in many ways more constricting than what we knew in the 70's despite all the strides women have made in the past 30-40 years.

It's a quick read, and one that doesn't pretend to have all the answers, either to why the cultural shift happened or how to raise a confident, true-to-herself daughter in the midst of it. (For the former, she points to similar moves to shelter and cherish daughters during previous economic and cultural crises.) Speaking from personal experience, one of the persistent and unexpected challenges of parenting Miss Fraser has been the fact she DOESN'T embrace her surrounding culture. She's a tomboy--not unusually so, but she reminds me of myself at the same age, more interested in animals and animal stories than dolls or fairy tales, and she doesn't like pastels or fussy, dressy clothes. One day when she was barely 2 and just starting to get really verbal, she pushed away a pink floral-print set of overalls I was trying to dress her in and said, "No flow-flers! No pink!" And she has stuck to that line ever since, though she'll wear fuchsia or raspberry shades. When her grandmother or aunts and uncles try to call her princess, she frowns and says, "I'm NOT a PRINCESS!" I wouldn't have her any other way, but it makes her surprisingly hard to shop for, given how gender-coded and branded so much children's merchandise is these days.

Obviously, this isn't a major problem. My daughter is happy and has plenty of friends at school. It just bugs me that this pattern exists and is so strong. Miss Fraser is fully aware that the mold exists and she doesn't quite fit it. We've talked a lot, at her initiation, about the different ways of being a girl, and how it's fine for her to be, as she puts it, "a little bit girlie," because she enjoys Littlest Pet Shop and My Little Pony and the like, but that above all she needs to be herself and accept other people for being themselves.

9) The Hundred Days, by Antony Brett-James. More Waterloo research, this one a compilation of various eyewitness accounts. In many cases I wished I could know more--e.g. the young Prussian volunteer who talked in a matter-of-fact way about his female sergeant, who was so brave that when she married another sergeant after the war she had three military honors pinned to her gown. And I was flabbergasted by the account of the woman hosting the ball where the Prince Regent was when the officer bringing the victory dispatches and captured French eagles caught up with him--she called it a dreadful night because everyone deserted her ball to either celebrate or try to get hold of a casualty list. She actually said she thought it would've been better for the messenger to wait quietly until the morning!

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