The second book in my reading challenge was written in the year of my birth, and won the National Book Award the following year, 1980. I should start by saying that I’ve never (to my knowledge) seen the film but somehow, perhaps through that strange way that the fact of having lived for a while gives you, I already knew what Sophie’s terrible choice had been. But this book is about so much more than that one moment… it would have to be: it’s nearly 600 pages long.
The beauty of an eBook is that you can carry it around with you without worrying about how heavy the book is. The danger is that you can start a book without really knowing how long it will take you to read. My eBook kindly pointed out, as I started page 1, that the average reading time for this book was nearly 13 hours. I haven’t timed how long it actually took, but there were at least two day-long reading marathons, where I forgot to eat.
It’s not an easy read. The characters, whilst magnetic and seductive, aren’t really very likeable. The writing is dense, and sometimes veers off into pages of historical non-fiction that is depressing and dark. In one chapter, alone, I noted down all the words I didn’t recognise, or couldn’t quite place: mucilaginous, vermiform, badinage, coprolalia, probity, … not to mention a reference to a “doughty love-muscle”. At 34% into the book, my Kindle tells me I still have nine hours to go…
It’s worth it, though. A fantastic insight into the North-South divide in America, the social situation in the 194os (particularly in regard to what one should or shouldn’t say in front of the ladies), the universal, timeless horror of what humans can do to people they see as different, and therefore inferior. It’s also beautifully evocative of what it is to be young, in a new city, with dreams of becoming a writer while you realise you really know nothing about the world at all.
The first book in my 2016 reading challenge turns out to be one I have read before. I suppose it isn’t surprising that, having read as much as I have, and having such a poor memory, I would end up rereading some books. I don’t regret it: this one’s worth reading again.
The Robber Bridegroom is a fairytale I wasn’t really aware of, collected by the Brothers Grimm. I’ll confess I’ve only read the wiki page, but maybe I’ll scout it out later this year. How much Atwood’s book is ‘based on’ this fairytale, I’m not sure. But it’s still a damn good read.
I don’t intend to write book reports on all of these – it feels too much like holiday homework… but I want to jot down a few things that I learned. Firstly, all those ‘How to Write’ books I’ve read are wrong when they lay out how a story should be plotted. As Atwood proves time and time again with her books. Second, I’d like to grow old with a small group of women around me, who have held me though some tough times, and who I know how to laugh with. (Maybe my NY resolution should be to cultivate the relationships I already have to this end). Thirdly, I want to grow old and dotty and have chickens, and believe in crystals and all that stuff The Husband hates. I went to yoga for the first time this morning and, already, I can feel my aura growing stronger and all that.
I’ve read a few of Margaret Atwood’s books and I recommend them all. Along with Doris Lessing and Iris Murdoch, she makes me prouder to be a woman… and more intent on writing one day.
I hate New Year’s resolutions. I find it almost impossible to believe I can make lasting change (especially when I wake with a pretty nasty hangover) just by writing down a few well-intentioned cliches. That said, I do have a few – though I’m not going to share them here.
One thing I do intend to do in 2016, however, is to read more. So, I’ve signed up to Goodreads and printed off a copy of the popsugar reading challenge. Perhaps I’ll add a few book reports here on my blog.
Any recommendations for books that relate to ideas on the list will be most welcome!
Happy New Year, all.