I am so happy that I managed to read a couple of books this month! I am really missing my hobbies, and it feels like a big accomplishment to have learned to read one-handed while feeding Mabel. Finishing a book feels even more amazing! Both of my reads this month (okay, since November) are popular recent (by my standards) titles centering around women’s relationships and roles in society.
Women and Power: A Manifesto, Mary Beard
I’ve not read anything by Beard before, but was looking forward to this after a friend recommended it. In the end, though, I gave it only 3 stars on Goodreads. The subtitle of this book is <em>A Manifesto</em> and for me that’s where it fell short. To be fair, this book is based on a series of oral lectures, and I find this often doesn’t translate well into written books. The intention/purpose is different, and so inherently are the means used to achieve those. More on this later in the post. The upshot is, I judged this book as a manifesto and to me, it wasn’t a good one.
Beard is a classicist, so I guess it’s no surprise that the parallels she drew between Greek and Roman civilization/literature and today’s society were compelling. It was frankly depressing to read about how the same stereotypes about women that were established so long ago continue, though – think the Medusa figure, women speaking in public being shrill, etc. I found these discussions fascinating, but to me the book never really went further than this into the territory of being a manifesto. Beard does pose questions about what we can do to change the situation and says the only way to change things is to change the structure and how society perceives what power is. The ideas were interesting but I found them underdeveloped; I would have loved to see Beard cite some modern feminist theory, perhaps. I think this is where the lecture/book difference comes in. For me it’s acceptable for lectures/speeches to be a little off the cuff and have fewer sources in a way that I’m not happy for books to be. The notes/bibliography at the end were great, though! Overall I’m glad I read it; I would recommend it to others, and it was thought-provoking at the time. I’m not yet convinced that I’ll find it memorable or worth rereading yet, though. If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante
This novel is much acclaimed, both critically and amongst my friends, so it’s another one I was looking forward to reading. It tells the story of two girls growing up in a poor part of Sicily and is set in the 1950s; it’s also the first in a quartet. I really enjoyed it! I’m not sure it 100% lived up to the hype, but it was an excellent, engrossing book that I would probably read again. I am a sucker for <em>bildungsroman</em>, and this novel is pretty good as an example of the genre. The writing is clear and precise, and the character development is excellent. I also found it a realistic portrayal of childhood & often made me think of moments from my own. I wasn’t absolutely sold on the beginning (it felt forced, particularly when the rest flowed so well), but am looking forward to seeing if that short narrative is further developed in the rest of the quartet.
I’m continuing the theme of female authors by reading Louise Erdrich at the moment. I’ve also got Knitlandia on the go. I bought the latter to read in hospital when I had Mabel. How naive! I’m enjoying it, though, and should be able to finish it this week.
Have you read either of these books? Any other female authors I should be reading this month? I’d love your thoughts.