Biography: Simone de Beauvoir by Ursula Tidd

book cover for Ursula Tidd's study of de BeauvoirI absolutely loved this study of one of the twentieth century’s most brilliant and famous women writers and activists. It is the single most trenchant and insightful of the intellectual biographical studies of de Beauvoir.

Nothing of value in de Beauvoir’s life is overlooked. Context and circumstances are fully considered and the widest range of resources and key relationships are thought through: the influence of her parents, sister, lovers, friends and, of course, Sartre. Besides which you’re made aware of her serious reading of intellectual writers and philosophers such as Levis-Strauss, Hegel, Heidegger, Aquinas, Marx, Husserl, Leibniz, Kant, and the existential phenomenologists. A lengthier work would of course have had the space to consider the reading she did for The Second Sex alone, that included hundreds of historians, anthropologists, biologists and sociologists, but this is meant to be a brief study and its success as such is not diminished by this.

Tidd also sheds light on some of the influences on her growing sense of intersectional feminism and the lesser known yet critical influences for her magnum opus on women, The Second Sex, by reference, for example, to her strong interest in Gunnar Myrdal’s classic 1944 study American Dilemma, on race in America.

She doesn’t shy away from the complex and often troubling relationship Beauvoir had with Sartre: namely the ways in which it was supportive of each other, while often exploiting the affection of other lovers and writing about them and betraying their lovers’ confidences to each other.

Importantly, she quotes well from all Beauvoir’s work, so you get to appreciate her strengths as a memoirist, diarist, philosopher, essayist and polemicist, novelist, travel and letter writer, feminist and political activist.

I’ve read the full-length biographies by Deirdre Blair and Toril Moi, and this short study says everything of value while missing nothing of significance.

The highest praise I can think of for a biography of a writer is to say that it excites and compels you to want to go and read or reread the writer’s work. This brilliant study merits that accolade.

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Audrey Niffenegger, H.G. Wells’ Giant Brain and Speculative Fiction

NPG x16751; Herbert George Wells by BassanoNiffenegger - photo 2Audrey Niffenegger was among the many great women authors and artists attending this year’s Loncon 3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention. On 15 August 2014, the author, teacher, visual and graphic novelist and artist gave the inaugural speech for the annual English PEN/H.G. Wells Lecture.

She first spoke of Wells’ anticipation of the world of the future, including the ‘Giant Brain,’ as he prophesied it, and that all of us now recognise as the World Wide Web. She wondered if Wells would be disappointed in its proliferation and amassing not only of knowledge, but also of its relentless porn, spam and – with her characteristic and engaging humour – its “videos of cats and goats, and goats and cats.” No surprise she thought Wells’ epitaph could be “I told you so, you damn fools!”

Continuing the theme of speculation, Niffenegger focused on a story of his that impressed her, The Door in the Wall, which she first discovered in Black Water, an anthology of fantastic/speculative fiction, edited by Alberto Manguel, the prolific Argentinian writer.

The Door tells the tale of Lionel Wallace, who throughout numerous times in his life encounters the recurring presence of a green door in a long white wall, which is a portal to a garden and place “full of the quality and promise of heart’s desire,” and that acts as an escape from our “our world fair and common, the hoarding and the pit.”

And yet, apart from one time in his childhood and perhaps once late in his life – you will have to read the story to decide for yourself – when barely five-years-old, he resists going through it again because of the relentless call upon his time of the inconsequential busy-ness of his life and the pursuit of his career.

Niffenegger gracefully spoke of how the story captures for us all the mystery and importance of the imagination and of how speculative fiction is most “valuable when it tells the truth.”

The story and her speech also consider the dangers of our resisting the call to pursue – at least potentially – a better and truer, more beautiful world for ourselves. She questioned, as with the story, the pursuit too often of mundane, inconsequential successes in one’s life that, just as with the character of Mr Wallace, accumulate only as a body of regrets for actions not taken, because they do not speak to our “heart’s desire.”

Despite the fact “the world may still be messed up,” Niffenegger movingly concluded her lecture with a call to us that echoed both the story and its meaning, to “make art, make a garden, let them [the desires of your heart] in.”

Q&A
Following her speech, there was time for questions from the audience. She said she was writing two novels – including one no doubt especially anticipated by her many fans – a sequel to The Time Traveller’s Wife, her 2004 novel that launched her to literary stardom. The other, already titled, Chinchilla Girl in Exile, is about a “nine-year-old girl with hypertrichosis.”

Asked about her writing process, she said she was “completely chaotic and silly and bad.” Yet when she spoke of her teaching – on top of everything else, she’s also taught for 28 years – for a creative writing workshop at a community arts centre in Lake Michigan, it was abundantly clear in that pursuit she is as wonderfully caring, rigorous and thoroughly dedicated as in her own creative work.

She ensures that her 10-12 students get to experience a working relationship with them as authors and she as their editor, which is “intensive, attentive and focused.” This approach, she informs us, is precisely the relationship she has valued and benefited from as a result of the editors in her own life and that inspired her to become a teacher in the first place. (Two of her former workshop students are already publishing fiction.)

Anticipating the Future: “What’s the biggest threat to the arts?”
This was the last question she answered. Fittingly, because it concluded her thoughtful lecture in honour of PEN and Wells, their shared history of campaigning for human rights, the importance of the freedom to write and publish, and on science fiction and imagining future possibilities.

Appropriate, too, because in her speech she called upon the audience to resist the decline of democracy and values by, among other things, voting in elections and speaking up for those of us who “don’t follow the well-worn path.”

Her answer?

“Oh, there are so many … But I would say the biggest is Amazon.”

Let’s hope her speculation remains a fiction, rather than a prediction of the shape of things to come.

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Let’s Celebrate! The Magic Wagon – A Classic Joe R. Lansdale Tale is Available Once Again

The Magic Wagon by Joe R. Lansdale - Kindle edition cover

Click on the book cover to buy this Kindle edition for $2.99

This new edition is a cause for celebration. First published in 1986 when Joe R. Lansdale was little known, and re-issued in 2001 by Subterranean Press, the wonderful US indie publisher, The Magic Wagon has sadly been unavailable since then.  Well, not only is it now easily available because it’s a Kindle edition, the price is a mere $2.99. It’d be worth it at triple the price.  And, even better, this early Lansdale fiction remains one of his very best.  In fact, it’s worthy of the title classic: a funny, quirky and utterly charming literary fiction, brilliantly told.

Set in Texas at the turn of the 20th century, The Magic Wagon is the tale of Buster Fogg’s life as well as other eccentric characters that he encounters. By the time he’s 17, his life has been pock-marked by tragedy, yet Buster tells you about each sad event in such a way as to make them Candide-like – tragic-comic, even farcical.

It reads like a combination of an S. E. Hinton novel (Rumblefish, The Outsiders), in its convincing account of a boy’s youth and, throughout, a feeling that if Jorge Luis Borges had ever written a literary, magical Western, I think he’d have been proud to have the result that is The Magic Wagon.

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Ignorance is bliss – Mayer, Sandberg & the attack on feminism

So the gist of this article in Slate is that white privileged, successful middle class women don’t like the word ‘feminism’, and they’re successful and those not informed or educated about the history of feminism think it’s unnecessary or negative and man-hating.

And if successful women like Mayer at Yahoo dislikes feminism and being called a feminist, and Sandberg thinks mentoring younger women is “therapy” and excludes, ignores and rejects the value of feminism because of these flimsy excuses, should we accept it just because they’re female CEOs? (What’s the difference between an ignorant/sexist statement coming from a woman instead of a guy? Answer: no difference at all.) To accept their arguably anti-feminist and frankly sexist and stereotypical characterisation of feminism and feminists would not only be blindly ignorant but self-loathing of women as a whole class of people.

It is precisely only thanks to the countless women over hundreds of years who have fought for women’s rights that Sandberg and Mayer are able to be in the privileged, elite position they are at now. Without feminism they wouldn’t have had access to education (and their white, privileged, middle class backgrounds must surely have enabled an easier route to elite education) and no path to such power as they have now.

The other irritating thing about the article is that its author as well as Mayer and Sandberg seem to think equality of the sexes is a given. There’s also no mention of impact of those in poverty, on impact of the double bind of racism coupled with gender, of challenges to access quality education, of violence against women everywhere (irrespective of class, sexuality, race or views; and of all types: physical and sexual and racist assault, psychological, and killing), of the everyday sexism women and girls face everywhere: home, at work, school, travelling, on public transport. There’s no reflection in the article or by Mayer or Sandberg of women having to deal with and fight against the pressures of right wing, conservative sexist politics that deny all women full health care choices and the many challenges that involves and – well, the list goes on.

Ignorance is bliss, clearly, for those too privileged to care about the majority of women not having equality compared to men with regard to freedom of choice, politics, class, gender, race, sexuality, environment, geography or economic circumstances — or a conflation of these dynamics.

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A List of Top 100 Novels: stats and trivia

bobbygw:

Always fun to see a top # list of authors and check who you’ve read and who you may have missed it like to add. Some fascinating stats here, too.

Originally posted on News from the Boston Becks:

Before I put up the full Top 100 list (and do the post for #1), I am tossing up this bit of various trivia and statistics about the novels on my Top 100 list and on the 101-200 list.

Please note that none of the lists involving 101-200 have numbers attached because I didn’t rank them.

  • Longest Top 100 Novel:  In Search of Lost Time  (4651 pages)
  • Shortest Top 100 Novel:  Heart of Darkness  (96 pages)
  • Earliest Top 100 Novel:  Gulliver’s Travels  (1726)
  • Latest Top 100 Novel:  Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel  (2004)
  • Latest Top 200 Novel:  The Night Circus / The Tiger’s Wife  (2011)

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The battle of the sexes in fiction – Lawrence Naumoff’s Taller Women

Click on the image to buy this book for a penny, excluding postage & packing.

Occasionally a novel comes along that swallows you whole, making you sigh with pleasure, think deep thoughts, and blink with a delighted astonishment. Taller Women is just such a novel. Following hot on the heels of Naumoff’s previous novel, Rootie Kazootie (Harvest Book), it continues the theme of wise women, filled with hope and sadness, and near-silent men afraid of the truth in their hearts and the questions from their lovers.

In manic Lydia and whimsical Monroe, Naumoff portrays a tangled relationship that steers off the road into emotional territory for which neither has prepared. Like the shifting plates beneath the earth’s surface, they bump and grind, facing mutual confusion and a hope for something better around the corner. With off-beat humour and genuine insight, Naumoff recognises the sad, funny, scary and absurd battles that occur between the sexes.  He is a wonderful novelist and, absurdly, not well-known or appreciated enough.  Try him, he’s marvellous and I don’t believe you will be disappointed if you like the view above.

 

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Tony Rudt: A brilliant mind in a great collection of essays

Absolutely terrific. This collection of amazing political essays will provoke, stimulate and engage you, whether or not you agree with the insights that unfold herein.  These are insightful critical appreciations of keynote thinkers in the 20th century, including brilliant essays on Hannah Arendt, Leszek Kolowkowski [that incorporates a deliciously scathing attack on the historian Eric Hobsbawm‘s blind allegiance to communist regimes and communist thinking] and Primo Levi. Also compelling critiques relating to Israel, Tony Blair and others. Wonderful writing, provocative and well worth the read. Highly recommended. Obviously (if it is not clear already!), you will hate this collection of essays if you are at all: right-wing, homophobic, evangelistic (politically), ignorant, hateful, hate minorities, hate full stop, hate everything, etc. But, if you are open-minded, passionate about everyone having the right to decency, to the ideas and principles of care, reciprocity, universal education, social justice… Well, you will – like meLOVE this wonderful collection of essays from one of the most wonderful, passionate, caring, decent, clever minds of the 20th-21st century. You decide.

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