West with the Night by Beryl Markham

This post is the first in a series exploring women’s use of memoir and autobiography to tell their stories throughout the 20th century. Stay tuned for reviews of further remarkable, mundane, beautiful, and ordinary stories of womanhood in the last century.

wwtnBeryl Markham’s West with the Night was one of those books that stalked me for about three years before I eventually bought, read, and loved it. It seemed every used book store I went into had a copy, all with the same green and white cover prominently featuring Markham in her aviatrix best, staring intrepidly off into the distance and daring you to buy the book.

Alas, I did not. I cannot emphasize enough how you should not follow my example. Hie thee hence to your nearest used book store and buy this book. The shop will undoubtedly have a copy—they all seem to for some reason. (more…)

April 16, 2014 at 2:08 am Leave a comment

Becoming a visual reader: Where to begin with graphic novels and comic books


About two years ago, I decided that it was high time I became a better visual reader. As I’ve written about here before, I was the absolute worst at reading graphic novels and comics—not only was I unable to enjoy them, I was singularly inept at reading them. Constantly, I found myself either blasting through the words while ignoring the art or focusing at the art and getting so lost in admiration that I forgot about the words. It was a mess.

But I decided to change that a couple of years ago by going back to the basics and, essentially, teaching myself to read all over again, but this time in a whole new way. I aimed to appreciate not just the words or just the art, but the synthesis between the two. More often than not, the great thing about graphic novels or comic books is that combination—the words and the art can heighten each other, providing emotional and visual aspects of the story (or even an extra joke) that would have been entirely missing otherwise. Graphic novels and comics had something special to offer, I was sure of it, and I was sick of missing out.

To that end, I dove right in and was happy to discover a whole new world of literature on the other side. In fact, graphic novels have come to fill a much-missed gap in my literature experience—what Neil Gaiman calls “imaginative fiction.” These are generally stories for adults, but with a heavy dose of magic, beauty, and quirk (i.e. imagination!). I’ve found that, while there are some straight-up novels in this genre (most written by Gaiman himself), there is simply much more of it in graphic novel form.

Thus, to help others wishing to dip a toe in the pool of graphic novels and comic books, I put together a list of the ones I’ve particularly enjoyed over the last few years. I’m by no means an expert, or even fluent yet, but I think these are good starting points.  (more…)

April 9, 2014 at 12:00 am 1 comment

Savage Girl by Jean Zimmerman

I am a sucker for feral children stories. I really am totally fascinated by the question of children raised by animals, how there’s an age after which a human unexposed to language can never learn it, how humans actually can, if raised in the wild, walk on four legs and move almost as stealthily as animals.

That’s what drew me to Savage Girl initially, but that’s not what made me enjoy it. Despite the title, Bronwyn — the titular character — is not actually a feral child. She’s a child who was taken by Comanches as a toddler, who then ended up living with two jaguars and almost dying before being picked up and put in a sideshow.

The entire book is narrated by Hugo Delegate, the oldest son in a wealthy family that has adopted Bronwyn. The premise is that Hugo’s father, Freddie, will settle once and for all the question of nature versus nurture by presenting Bronwyn, a supposedly feral child, in 1890s New York society and passing her off as a debutante. Meanwhile, every man Bronwyn even looks at sideways is being murdered, possibly by Hugo, who has a rather disturbing tendency to not recall where he is or what he was doing at any given time.

But those facts are just trimmings on this Jungian thriller. (more…)

April 7, 2014 at 12:33 am Leave a comment

LT Book Club: ‘The Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes

senseendingSecond book up for the LT Book Club is Julian Barnes’ Booker-winning The Sense of an Ending. Ending, narrated by a fairly ordinary middle-aged English man named Tony, explores the ways in which we perceive our pasts and how a sliver of new light on old paths can change everything.

The book alternates between contemporary London, where Tony struggles with new information about long-past events, and England in the 1960s, where most of the action of the story actually takes place. Despite its revelations and a clever framing structure that suggests a mystery paperback more than a philosophical novel, it is an almost placid read with Tony’s middle-aged, vaguely content tone downplaying even the highest of revealed drama.

For such a read, you can go two routes when it comes to feeding your fellow readers: comfort food which echoes the familiar story Tony thinks he knows from the first part of the book or something spicy and unexpected, reflecting the shocks provided by Tony’s angry erstwhile girlfriend, Veronica, in the second half of the novel.

Comfort Food

  • Cottage pie (recipe via the BBC) – Nothing says warm, English comfort like a steaming cottage pie. A variant on the more common shepherd’s pie, cottage pie features beef instead of lamb and can be flexibly stuffed with a variety of seasonal vegetables.
  • “Rocket” salad – To offset the heaviness of the pie, serve with a crisp side salad. Toss arugula (aka: rocket) with olive oil and top with freshly ground pepper, cubed pears or apples, and thinly shaved Parmesan cheese.
  • Jam thumbprint cookie (recipe via Ina Garten) – Top off the meal with this simple and light cookie. Perfect with a cup of tea and a reminisce.

Spicy and Unexpected

  • Chicken and onion curry (recipe via Almond Butter Binge) – Time-tested by our very own Kate, the kicky blend of spices in this curry mirror the shock Tony receives upon learning of his surprising inheritance from Veronica’s mother. It also very nicely brings us into 21st-century England and out of the mid-century past of cottage pies and puddings.
  • Garlic naan (recipe via Big Flavors Tiny Kitchen) – You simply can’t have curry without naan. I mean really.
  • Ginger cookies with cardamom and black pepper (recipe via Serious Eats) – One more taste surprise before closing up discussion shop for the day. These cookies pack a surprising punch and will keep you on your toes until the very last taste (and Tony’s very last realization).

April 2, 2014 at 9:50 am 2 comments

The Twelve Rooms of the Nile by Enid Shomer

twelveroomsWhere to begin about Enid Shomer’s debut novel, The Twelve Rooms of the Nile! I feel hopelessly biased when it comes to this book—I wrote my dissertation about British travel narratives of Egypt in the 1840s—and I have been chomping at the bit to read it since it came out. In short, Twelve Rooms imagines what would have happened if Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert had met during their respective holidays in Egypt in 1849-50. Sparks fly, meaningful exchanges are shared, friendship (and maybe more) blossoms, all against the historic backdrop I love best—Victorians in Egypt. Where, oh where, to begin? (more…)

March 27, 2014 at 6:46 am Leave a comment

“The best moments in reading”


“The best moments in reading are when you come across something — a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things — that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”

- From The History Boys by Alan Bennett

March 26, 2014 at 12:59 pm 2 comments

Zadie Smith and “comeuppance stories”

schadenfreudeA few years ago, author Zadie Smith gave an interview about NW where she noted that “The question of whether people ‘get what they deserve’” is a central and serious question for all readers. She continued, “…in the end it’s a very serious ethical question. Whether you believe that or not creates all kind of political difference and moral difference so I don’t want to enter into it. The book was written exactly for that reason, to create a little problem you enter and solve for yourself.”

Personally, I’ve always been huge comeuppance reader—I love schadenfreude and I love when characters “get what they deserve.” It’s tidy and it lets you walk away from a story feeling like everything went according to plan.

That said, the more I thought about Zadie Smith’s words, the more I realized how boring comeuppance stories (if you will) can be. If you can tell who the bad character is and who the good character is so easily that their just desserts are completely satisfying, how simple and how mundane was the story?  (more…)

March 20, 2014 at 6:11 am 4 comments

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