Posts Tagged ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’

Reading list for my imaginary book club

November 18, 2013 @ 7:57 pm | Filed under:

The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt The Signature of All Things
I’m not in a book club at present, but I’ve been entertaining myself with thoughts of what books I would suggest to my book club if I belonged to one. This is because I finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s sweeping, sad, thoughtful The Signature of All Things, and naturally I’m yearning for a nice long discussion of it, preferably involving baked goods. (I’m also wanting to start a moss garden, which in San Diego would be no mean feat.)

Other books I would throw into the ring:

1) The Diamond Age, Or: A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson. I read it a year or two before the advent of the iPad, and when that magical device appeared, all I could think of was the Primer. I enjoyed the book’s exploration of a ‘best’ education—what that might look like, what its aims might be, and the unpredictability of outcomes. And the mind-stretching nanotechnology permeating and altering society: this is a richly layered and sometimes difficult book, with much that made me uncomfortable (something I appreciate in a book), but also a compelling page-turner of a narrative. It’s one of those books I think about in the context of daily life quite often (and not just in connection to the iPad). It would be fun to dig into with a really lively, argumentative group of readers.

2) The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt. I’ll be drummed out of my own imaginary book club if I keep suggesting these mammoth tomes, but there it is. I’ve read The Children’s Book twice (three times? I’m losing track) in four or five years (also losing track; can’t be bothered to check my log now) and like The Diamond Age (and, I suspect, The Signature of All Things), it’s a book I find myself pondering in many a stray moment. A curling fern frond, a strand of seaweed, a beautifully glazed pot, the Nesbit books on my shelf, a reference to William Morris, a pre-Raphaelite painting, a sinister undercurrent in a fairy tale—any number of things send me straight back into the pulsing green world of this Fabian family and their troubled, talented, struggling circle of artist-friends. Downton Abbey was full of reminders (Lavinia’s clothes, Sybil’s causes, Branson’s political activism, the devastation and radical shifting of relationships and ways of life during and after WWI). No work of fiction in recent years has sent me on more rabbit trails, nor hounded my thoughts so relentlessly.

3) Feed by M. T. Anderson. It’s been several years; I’m due for a reread. Every year this book feels more prescient. We may not have the Feed implanted in our brains quite yet, but we’re closer than we were the first time I read it. Won’t it be fun to fumble for words about how alarming we found the notion of a society so dependent on an advertising-driven stream of information piped directly into their minds that people can barely form a coherent thought anymore, much less an original one? And then we can all post photos of our desserts to Instagram.

4) Hmm, we’ll need something by Muriel Spark. A Far Cry from Kensington, I think, but perhaps I’m leaning too much on my own favorites. Certainly The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie would provide fodder for hours of discussion. Actually, Miss Brodie would make a tremendous follow-up to Feed and The Diamond Age: all of them exploring ways of educating (even shaping) young minds. Oh, what am I talking about—Signature and The Children’s Book fall right into that category as well. Education isn’t by any means the only theme of these books, but it’s a dominant thread in each, one way or another. You’d almost think this was a pet topic of mine, or something.

5) Well then, let me throw something entirely different into the mix: how about American Terroir: Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods, Waters, and Fields by Rowan Jacobsen. I can brag about how he’s a friend and former classmate of mine, and of course we’ll have to have a tasting party to accompany our discussion of this book, a fascinating exploration of how terrain affects flavor (in many subtle ways), and why certain regions are famous for specific foods. I’ll bring the chocolate, you bring the maple syrup.

6) Now here I go reverting back to favorite books about unconventional upbringings, but when’s the last time you read Midnight Hour Encores? It’s one of my favorite YA novels, right up there with Emily of Deep Valley (though utterly unlike) and…hmm, that’s a different list, my favorite YA. Anyway: Encores features one of my favorite dads in all of literature, and an ending that takes my breath away every time.

7) But it isn’t quite fair of me to stack the deck with books I’ve already read, most of them more than twice. How about something new? I’ve got Donna Tartt’s latest, The Goldfinch, on hold at the library. I’m #70 in the queue, but since this is an imaginary book club, I’ll just imagine myself next in line.

How about you? What’s up next in your book club—real or imagined?

If books are frigates, I’ve got an armada

January 4, 2013 @ 8:32 pm | Filed under:

This time of year, my book gluttony swells to impossible dimensions—everyone sharing their last year’s reading lists, all the Best Of lists floating around. Stop looking, I tell myself: stop until you’ve finished even half, even a tenth of the books you’ve already got queued in the TBR stacks. It’s no use my vowing to acquire no new books until I’ve read all (or a tenth) of the ones I have waiting here in these crowded quarters—I’m too greedy, too eager to read them all, all, all.

Books make billionaires of all of us—such a wealth of stories left to read; we’re all rich in this way, even the most dogged bookworms. There are always millions of stories left to read. We’ll never spend all this splendid capital, none of us.

When I make lists of the books I Absolutely Intend to Read in the Near Future, I never do. Not until years later when I’ve drawn up Yet Another List full of entirely different titles. So I won’t make a list right now, despite the persistent urge to do exactly that. This year I’m reading with complete abandon, no plan, no agenda, no sense of obligation. I’ve got at least half a dozen books going this very minute. And that’s not counting read-alouds (and read-alongs) I’ve got in the works, or planned, with kids.

I enjoy writing about books I’m in the thick of more than writing about them after I’ve finished. By then I’m on to the next tome, and that’s where my thoughts are. I had heaps of things to say about The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie last month, five pages in, but when I’d finished, I wanted to sit quietly with it for a bit. Scott got on earful on our walk that first morning—how amused/amazed I was at Muriel Spark’s skill, her curious repetitions of phrase in describing the girls of Miss Brodie’s set: Rose, who was famous for sex; Sandy with her little eyes. In anyone less masterful, this intrusive technique would have been annoying at best, groanworthy at worst, but Spark’s control of language is exquisite and precise. I tried to explain to Scott how manipulated I felt, not in a negative sense (though that word nearly always carries a negative connotation) but in the sense of being subtly directed to form certain impressions of the characters, as an accomplished rider might invisibly direct a horse with gentle pressures and nudges. And there’s Miss Brodie nudging and directing her girls, shaping their minds toward her preferred vision—Spark’s structure is brilliant; “She’s Miss-Brodying me!” I told Scott. And then gradually, gradually, you’re allowed to step back and think your own thoughts, alongside mutinous, insightful Sandy with her little eyes. I know Sandy is insightful because Miss Brodie said so. Oh, Muriel Spark, you wicked genius you. Please manipulate the world in such a way that I might have a week alone with your body of work, won’t you?