Saturday, March 16, 2013

Let's have a book on a Saturday; why not

Who can resist a Persephone book? Not me, obviously. In my jetlagged state I bought myself a handful of books (yes I know), including this one: High Wages, by Dorothy Whipple.

The inside cover is the important cover
If you've looked into Persephone Books at all, you'll quickly realize that Dorothy Whipple is a kind of crown jewel of their lineup. A female author popular in her own day but overlooked more recently, she and her work are great examples of the value of republishing the kind of titles Persephone does.

Although I have previously fallen victim to Proserpinian charms, I had not bought anything by Dorothy Whipple, so when I decided that, yes, I definitely needed something grey-covered right now, I thought it was as good a time as any to give her a spin.

High Wages is a great read: entertaining, interesting, and not entirely predictable. It's a story about an ambitious and hard-working young woman who gets some -- but not all -- of the things she wants. The romantic side of the story is in some ways a little bland and unconventional -- one romantic interest is the posh and popular Golden Boy of the town, the other is bookish and sensitive -- but the way it plays out is, I thought, not conventional at all. This is not a book that ends with an unambiguous romantic triumph by any means.

Jane, the main character, is a shop girl with a particular genius for women's clothes, so the story follows her from working in a well-established shop for an insecure and stubbornly old-fashioned businessman to opening her own shop, filled with modern ready-made clothing. There's a lot that's interesting here, in relation to the history of women's clothing as well as women's work (more on this note below). By the end of the novel, though, Jane is questioning the way her life has been devoted to women's clothes: is this all so important, really? Granted, she has a lot else on her mind by then to make her feel a little weary, and she doesn't suddenly become some sort of anti-fashion radical or anything (thank goodness), but I thought this little note of ambivalence was great. It's just an example of how Whipple is able to portray a thoughtful character, not to mention the way people change their thinking over time in subtle and sometimes imperceptible ways.

This is an unmistakably feminist novel which succeeds nevertheless in not beating the reader over the head with feminism (a point which is nicely made in the introduction). Whipple is maybe a touch more subtle than Winifred Holtby but both authors successfully show rather than tell what's wrong. Jane is not only mistreated by her employer, but she encounters some really gross salesmen when she sets up on her own. Just as in another novel you might be really angry along with the main character when someone insults her, here you can just feel the ickyness of some of the situations Jane gets into.

My only minor complaint was that the writing seemed a little "simple" and straightforward at times, like being told a bedtime story. But then I read it when I was jetlagged so maybe it was just my ability to process language that was simplified...

Overall, it was a very enjoyable book and absolutely cram-packed with period detail, some more intentional than others. If you want a good representation of some of the new ideas about love and sex between the wars, here you go. This is another one for my theoretical list of books that could be assigned to a class.

Oh crap, there's only one image in this post. Uh, uh, uh.... Amy, help me!

Monday, March 4, 2013

I got yer GIFs right here

*phoo*phoo* Huh, I guess no one comes and dusts in here when I don't do it...

I always thought it was a wise rule not to start posts with "sorry it's been so long" but it's been months, so: yeah. The good news is, it's not like I was ever much of a book blogger to begin with. Low standards save the day!

Learn from teacher, kids.

I'd like to say that I've been reading, just not blogging, but the fact is that I haven't been doing much reading at all except spiritual reading and work reading. Work reading definitely doesn't get a post here, not least because "reading" is kind of an exaggeration in most cases.

"Right, the sooner I can bulk up this footnote, the sooner I can go take a nap"
Spiritual reading is a mild temptation because I do a fair amount of it, and I do love me some Catholic books, but then again I realize that's a limited audience (LOL, as if I had any audience). The thing is, spiritual reading is so personal: I like things because they help me with whatever I'm struggling with. Plus, I tend to dip in and out of things, and/or read three or four pages at a time. So really, bottom line, spiritual reading does not help me here and it would need its own blog.

Yeah, that's right: I need two blogs.
Anyway, the bottom line is: I feel like my fiction-reading is on its way back, and this blog with it, now that the Worst Time of the Year is almost behind us.

I'm not just saying that: just as crocuses suggest the changing seasons, I have had signs and portents indicating a revitalization of my reading habit. Namely: feeling stuck about what to read. I have a lot of unread books hanging around, however I am leaving the country (yes, again) in a week and I don't want to take up room in my luggage for what will be deadweight coming back (unless a book is really awful I want to keep it, for hoarding purposes).

We all come back!
"That's easy," you say, "buy ebooks." YOU THINK YOU'RE REALLY SMART, HUH. Last time I used my Kindle, I felt like its age was starting to show and the whole thing was feeling kind of buggy. The magic is gone there, I'm afraid, and I'm honest and shallow enough to acknowledge that I just don't wanna. And what puts the kibosh on basically any solution to this problem is that I've given up buying books for Lent.

Second Catholic reference in the post: I'm not sorry
"Well that was stupid," you say, and I ignore your sarcasm because I had a very good reason. I was giving up buying clothes and makeup and shoes, since those are my usual mindless frittering purchases, and it struck me that books were also a problem. In fact, possibly even more of a problem because while at least I know I'm mindlessly frittering when I buy a new blush on a whim, when I books I tend to justify it as... well... it's a book, of course I need it! When in fact I not infrequently spend sums on books as a way of scratching that spending itch in just as mindless a fashion. So it seemed like a very good candidate, in itself, but also as a way of closing a loophole.

Now I just cut checks for charities, which is better for all concerned.
So anyway, the bottom line is, I'm sort of weirdly between various things at the moment, but I'm fairly sure things will be moving again shortly.

And hey! I've just used up almost an hour I was supposed to be spending dissertating on this post! Ah, blog, I forgot just how great you are.