Non-School Books I Want to Read This Semester

I’m an English major, so I always end up reading quite a few novels over the course of a semester. Next up is my final semester, so I decided to fill my last credits with classes I haven’t had the chance to take while I was doing my major requirements. I’m taking an art history class, a human rights class, a history class, and two creative writing classes. I just looked over my reading list, and it’s much smaller than usual, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to read more novels as entertainment this year. Usually I’m lucky if I have time to read more than 2 just-for-fun books over the semester, but this semester will be different (I’ll see to it.) I made a list of 10 books available at the library that I want to read before I graduate:

1. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Both The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex are two of my favorite books, and I’ve been meaning to check this out since it was released a couple of years ago. Hopefully I’ll enjoy this one as much as his others!

2. Beloved by Toni Morrison
This one is pretty obvious. It’s a classic, and I’ve never read any Morrison, which is a shame.

3. Ripley Under Ground, Patricia Highsmith
I read The Talented Mr. Ripley during the fall of 2011, and because I’m terrible at reading series (what in the heck is the plural of ‘series’? serieses?), I still haven’t read the rest of the Ripley books. I find Highsmith as a writer fascinating  and I’m intrigued by Ripley’s weird sexual hang-ups–who doesn’t love a homicidal latent homosexual?

4. The Stand, Stephen King
I’ve been interested in reading this since I read On Writing, where it’s mentioned. All I know about it is that it’s a really long book about the end of the world by Stephen King, which is probably enough to know that it might be an entertaining read.

5. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
I haven’t seen the movie version of this, but I’d like to, and because I have an obsessive read-it-first mentality, this one is going on the list. Plus, it seems like an okay place to start with Capote, although I do want to read In Cold Blood soon, too.

6. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
I’ve already seen the movie version of this. Damn it.

7. I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe
I vaguely recall hearing controversy about characterization in this book, so I’m interested to see how I react to it. Also, it’s a college-y book, so I should read it before I graduate.

8. The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith
If you know me, you need no explanation for this one. I adore Zadie Smith. I think she’s a genius, but so far I’ve only read On Beauty and White Teeth. I of course want to read her latest, NW, but since it’s a new release it’s harder to come by at the library, and it’s harder to find it used (which is how I buy most of my books), so I figure I’ll read an older one first.

9. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
I swear, Persepolis is one of those books I’ve taken out over and over again from the library since I was a freshman only to return it because I’ve had no time to read it. I was actually introduced to the title in my freshman English class, because we did a unit on graphic novels, but I was never able to read it. I did read, like, half of Maus, though.

10. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Another classic. I read a lot of Lawrence when I took a class on modernist literature, but I haven’t gotten to this one yet. It has a history of being banned for indecency, which is a big draw for me, but then again, Lawrence was kind of a misogynist jack-off so we’ll see about this one.

And that’s it! I hope I can get to them all, but if I can only read a few of them, I’ll be happy. A lot of these are books that have been on my to-read list since I was in high school. Finally getting around to reading them all would make me feel maybe a little bit more ready to graduate.

I’ll probably go to the library as soon as I’m back on campus this weekend, so which of these do you think I should check out first?

Review: Remaking Love: The Feminization of Sex by Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess, & Gloria Jacobs

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Every once in a while I like to go to my university’s “sexuality” area, which coincidentally is the poorest lit area of the library. I admit it, I’m kind of a nerd for this stuff. I like looking at sex from an intellectual stand-point, and my intellect is fiercely feminist, so I usually do end up reading books like Remaking Love, a feminist analysis of female gains in the sexual revolution.

The book was written in 1986, so there are obviously some things that make it dated in the field of feminist research, namely that it assumes white, heterosexual women as the female norm, making it feel a little incomplete. But, besides that, it’s interesting in a sort of snap-shot sort of way, and gives historical perspective as to what  we would now call sex-positive feminists were writing about sex in the 80s. It also gives insight to the dramatic changes in attitudes on and practice of female sexuality, from the original sexual conservatism of the 1950s to the newer, backlash-fueled conservatism of the 80s with modern fears of promiscuity and HIV.

Although it’s dated, the overall message of the book is still relevant: male sexuality didn’t change all that much in the 20th century, but female sexuality did a whole lot. I’d be interested in a more recent take on this subject, especially dealing with the question of the stagnancy of male sexuality. The feminization of sex here is more the appearance of female voices in the sexual conversation (as a result of the demystification of the conversation in the first place), but sex as a whole remains unchanged for most men, except for maybe the minor inconvenience of gender equity in the bedroom. I’d argue that the next sexual revolution should be a re-imagining of what heterosexual male sexuality can be, in order to turn it into something less socially toxic. A truer feminization, perhaps.

Until then, I’m grateful to live in a post-sexual revolution world where women at least have some agency in their sexual lives. This wasn’t something my mother’s generation always had and it’s definitely something my grandmother’s generation went without. This book is a good reminder of that, as well as a reminder that conservatism comes in waves, and progress is ongoing.

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Book Challenge Progress: 2/70
Currently Reading: Still working on Wuthering Heights.

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Review: Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

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Luckily, the first book I chose to read for 2013 turned out to be everything a good book should be: equally funny and sad, socially poignant, and pleasantly surprising. Super Sad True Love Story was released in 2010 and went on to be one of the books everyone was talking about that year, and I’ve wanted to read it since then. I actually didn’t realize it was a dystopian novel until I started reading–which is why it was surprising. The title/cover combination gives nothing away, really, and since I hardly ever pay much attention to  blurbs, I really didn’t know what this book was about until I was in it.

I wouldn’t call myself a fan of dystopian novels, but I wouldn’t say I’m not a fan, either. I love the classics, you know, the three everyone is always talking about– Fahrenheit 451, 1984Brave New World. I think elements of all three of these books are present in Super Sad True Love Story, if only as small reflections. There’s the plot element of ‘in the future, everybody fucking hates books’ that’s present in Fahrenheit 451 especially, and maybe because Fahrenheit 451 is the most recent dystopian novel I’ve read, Super Sad True Love Story reminded me most of that one. But, really, it’s a book of its own: more clever, self-aware, and modernly relevant than any classic dystopian, and much more meaningful and interesting (at least, to me) than any of the YA dystopians that are most popular nowadays. I guess that’s why I was pleasantly surprised that Super Sad True Love Story was a dystopian–I associate that genre much more with young adult, with books like The Hunger Games, the Uglies series, etc, and I didn’t think that there were many adult books out there predicting the end of all things anymore. I love young adult, but I do mainly read adult fiction and what’s the end of America without awkwardly explicit sex scenes? Nothin’.

Super Sad True Love Story is futurisitc, but the actual date is never truly revealed, most likely to keep with the sense that this is the near future, somewhere still in the 21st century. Everyone is more or less required to carry around what they call “äppärät”–basically smaller and more powerful iPhones–and youth culture is all-powerful. The main character, Lenny, is in his late thirties, and he still remembers a time when books were, like, a thing, and he’s totally nostalgic but he’s equally wanting to be accepted in the (mean and gross but darkly funny) youth-obsessed culture. He works in “life extension” (adding another sort of sci-fi element to the book. Will people in the future be trying to live forever? Probs.) So, basically he starts a relationship with Eunice, who is in her 20s. That’s the “love story” part, although I wouldn’t call this a love story by any means. (The title only makes sense once you read the entire book, but basically it’s more tongue-in-cheek than anything.) The narrative is split between Lenny’s old-fashioned wordy diary entires and Eunice’s online correspondence. Although every character in this book is sometimes cringe-worthy, by the end I really liked the characters and I felt the ending, especially, was spot-on.

I’ve scanned some goodreads reviews of this book last night, and I saw a lot of people calling this a work of speculative fiction, which basically means, instead of being a plain dystopian about all the crazy ways in which a world can go to shit, it’s saying, “This is where we’re headed.” In a way, I think a lot of the elements of this book rang true to me in that sense, but Shteyngart’s writing never felt preachy to me. The first half of the book felt wholly comic, and the second half felt heartwrenchingly real, so much so that I could hardly put it down. Overall, the book is the perfect combination of funny and sad, and maybe a little bit true. It’s a really smart book that deals with a lot of stuff: family, immigration, youth, aging and death, literature, the end of America, and the struggle for Fuckability. Totes five out of five stars.

Also, last night I stumbled upon this book trailer, which is hilarious and worth watching. James Franco and Jeffrey Eugenides are both in it?

Until the next one,
Catherine

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Reading Challenge Progress: 1/70
Currently Reading: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

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Shelvez, and To Be Read: January

I spent New Year’s Eve “organizing” my book collection. Right now there’s no real way to organize it, though. There’s too many and not enough space. I’m sure a lot of book nerds can relate. I really need to get a kindle.

I had the idea that I was going to go through all my books and choose some to give away, but I think I’ll hang on to them all for the time being. I haven’t actually read all of them and I’d like to before I start giving them away. So, okay, mine isn’t the most organized book shelf in the world, but I now have my personal library cataloged and accounted for. (285 is the final count, by the way!)

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[Before, After. Not pictured: a whole ‘nother pile I couldn’t fit anywhere.]

Anyway, enough pictures. They’re going to put me on an episode of hoarders if I keep this up. The real reason for this post is to share what books I plan on reading in January.

To Be Read: January

1. Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart
2. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
3. The Golden Age of Promiscuity, Brad Gooch
4. Remaking Love: The Feminization of Sex, Barbara Ehrenreich

I’d like to read these before the 20th, when I move back to school, and then hopefully read a couple more before the end of the month, too. I’d like to review all of them, but we’ll see if they move me enough either way for that.

I hope you all have good books to read this month! Let me know what you’re reading, I’m curious.

Catherine