July wasn’t a particularly good reading month for me. I’ve had a virus for a couple of weeks now, which has kind of wiped out my sinuses, so what with the face ache and general body-blah feeling, I’ve been mostly fiddling around with my new website and not reading much at all. I’m now into the ‘coughing like a sixty-a-day-smoker’ phase, which is big fun!
Anyhow. I read Samantha Ellis’ How to be a Heroine and absolutely loved it. She wrote about many of the books I read as a youngster, and had many of the same reactions to them as I did. For instance, I could never understand why Laurie and Jo didn’t run away to Paris together, or something equally as exciting. All that Christian goodness in Little Women made me feel queasy, and still does, which is why I still have trouble with Gaskell and other Victorian novelists who lay the piety on too thick. But, yeah, novels did shape my way of thinking and being in the world, and I lived in those fictional worlds in my head more than I did in the real world, and still do, I guess. It felt very comforting to encounter a book that so closely mirrored my own thoughts about certain novels and I had a great time reading it.
Ellis wrote about Franny Glass and so, of course, I had to hunt down my copy of Franny and Zooey and give it another read. I love reading Salinger. His writing is just so beautifully crafted, every word in place, no fat, no fluff, just arrow-words that zing you straight in the heart. I loved Franny the first time I read about her, and although I thought I understood her distress, in actual fact I would have to be a bit older before I really understood her existential crisis. Lane’s arrogance made me burn, and Bessie’s annoying persistence made me laugh, but mostly I puzzled over what made Zooey tick. I should re-read the rest of the Glass stories because the members of that family are some of the best characters in fiction.
Next, I read Nightflower: The Life and Art of Vali Myers. There are not a whole lot of words in the book, but I spent a while looking at the artwork and having a ‘I wish I’d been part of the Bohemian thing in Paris’ moment. Why is it that some people can just strike out and do their own thing in life? Where would be be if it weren’t for people like Rimbaud, Van Gogh, and Vali Myers? She didn’t seem to care AT ALL what people thought of her, although she did enjoy attracting attention. I’d like to read a proper biography of her. Her long-time partner wrote a memoir that’s supposed to be good. I’ll have to see if I can track it down. Anyway, Myers’ art is amazingly wonderful. I’m posting a little thing about the book on my new blog, so I won’t go on about it here.
Andrew Stott’s treatment of John Polidori’s dealings with Byron & Co., The Vampyre Family, is engaging and thorough. I didn’t learn anything new, but Stott isn’t in awe of Byron, which is always a good thing. Poor John Polidori was always going to be out of his league around Byron and the Shelleys, and he got off to a bad start by asking for Byron’s opinion of his writing, which was one of LB’s pet peeves. So, the book covers the usual stuff, including the 1816 summer at Villa Diodati, where Frankenstein had its genesis. Polidori’s story is sad: he was clever and beautiful and had so much potential, but he also had a flawed personality and a chip on his shoulder, which made life hard for him and it all ended very badly.
Daisy Hay’s double portrait of Mary Anne and Benjamin Disraeli is proving to be very interesting, and I’m finding it a bit of a page turner. It always helps when a biographer genuinely likes her subject, and Hay seems to be rather fond of this unlikely couple. He married her for her money, and then learnt to love her, and she simply adored him. Mary Anne has been dismissed by others as being vacuous and crass, but Hay delved into Mary Anne’s papers in the Bodelian library and this original research has paid off: she gives us a fresh portrait of two intriguing people. I read Hay’s previous book about the second generation Romantic poets and their ‘tangled’ lives, and was left feeling a bit underwhelmed because it had all been done before and in a slightly less censorious tone, it seemed to me, but I think she hits the nail on the head with her second book.
Well, that’s about all I’ve been reading this past month. I hope to have my new site up soon and will be posting there about what I discover in my TBR book mountain. I intend to keep posting here to honour the fact that (it’s) still life, with books. I started this site in 2009 when I surfaced from yet another bout of clinical depression, and I’ve tried to keep it going since then, through all the ups and downs of living with official Crazy Brain. Sometimes I feel a bit sad that I haven’t been able to integrate more into the book blogging community, but I do appreciate the steadfast readers who comment here on my waffling posts. I know it’s often hard to keep up with my mercurial temperament – you should try it from this perspective! :)