Michelle here, former Book Monogamist. See, these days I have any number of fairly wildly different* books in progress at roundabout the same time, so, occasionally I’ll post an annotated list here on Read This. (And if you’re pages-deep in the middle of one or more books, please share the titles and your thoughts in the comments. We’d love to know what you’re reading.)
Positive pre-publication buzz swarmed Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch, dropping the book onto my radar (and TBR list) well before its release date. Funny that, because for all that my curiosity had been piqued, I hesitated once it was finally available. Then came the deliberate swerve, when I’d look the other way whenever I walked by its shelf. I imagined that, having never read Eliot’s Middlemarch, some if not all of Mead’s narrative would be lost on me. (Best to steer clear.) It seemed a reasonable assumption to make; it was also incorrect. Threaded throughout the book are biographical details of Eliot’s life, mostly those experiences that were thought to have shaped her fiction; here and there, running parallel to Eliot’s story, Mead talks about her own life and how her experiences shaped her reading of Middlemarch and vice versa. (To be sure, the book is about so much more than that, but trying to summarize it all here would do it an injustice.) For me, My Life in Middlemarch has been Resonance City, and I’ve reached for my notebook countless times to jot down striking lines (paragraphs) and other sundry notes. For me, it’s been that kind of rewarding experience.
Between the title–Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War–and that cover, I was helpless against the high appeal of Karen Abbott’s new book. The first mark in its favor, I think, is the execution of the four women’s stories: like a braid, each woman’s personal narrative is interwoven with the others’. You get to know each of the women but having their stories repeatedly start and pause accomplishes two things of note: already thick due to the fraught time the book is rooted in, the tension heightens still, and the pace quickly becomes inexorable. The group of four represents both the Union and the Confederacy, with each woman supporting her cause in a different manner: one assumes a male identity to enlist, for example, while another uses her status as a wealthy widow to draw well-informed men into her home and confidence. The whole of it is, so far (and I don’t foresee this changing), fascinating. (I have to confess, at one point I put the book down, too worried about one of the women in particular to continue reading just then.) If non-fiction is not typically your cup of tea but the subject matter intrigues you, give Liar, Temptress a try. More than once I’ve forgotten it’s not a novel I’m reading.
Belzhar is Meg Wolitzer’s first young adult novel, set in Vermont at a “therapeutic boarding school” called The Wooden Barn. After a traumatic event causes Jam Gallahue to withdraw from the world, her parents send her to The Wooden Barn, where she is selected for enrollment in Special Topics in English. The class is small, in fact it consists of just five students, and the curriculum even moreso, as the students study one writer only throughout the semester. That writer is Sylvia Plath, and the book is The Bell Jar. With their assignment being to write in it twice a week, each student is given a red journal. Jam is initially reluctant but once she begins to write she’s immediately transported to an otherworldly place the students dub Belzhar. (Despite that otherworldly bit, this is not a fantasy novel.) I was immediately sucked into the story, curious and hungry for explanations. (And maybe wanting a red journal of my own, because I’m fairly certain I know what my personal Belzhar would look like and what I’d find there.) As with My Life in Middlemarch, if you’re worried about having never encountered Plath’s work, be it The Bell Jar or her poetry, that won’t pose a problem here. Plath doesn’t factor into the story as much as I was expecting, and where she does, background is provided. I’m not sold on Belzhar in its entirety, at least not yet, but I have no intention of putting it down either.
*Usually this is true, no matter that the theme above suggests otherwise.`
[Links point to the NOBLE catalog.]