Monday, February 01, 2010
Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Alice Steinbach takes an extended leave from her job with the Baltimore Sun to travel around Europe in Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman. She is upfront about the uncertainty she feels about leaving a perfectly good job for travel, to be out of the loop for so long. She writes about the occasional bouts of loneliness, frustration, and irritation that come with traveling. The irritation and frustration often come with my travels and make me long for home and a book; I was glad to read that a well-seasoned traveler experienced the same.
I liked best the description of the people she met - these vibrant people who she befriended and they these great little friendships and then she'd travel to the next destination where she'd meet more fascinating people.
"For Steinbach, traveling is an exercise in reconnecting with a more independent and uninhibited side of her personality. Her not-quite-spontaneous adventure begins in Paris, where she finds a kindred spirit in a worldly Japanese businessman. .. Though the descriptions of each locale are thin, they are not really the purpose of this memoir; rather, the author's intent is to connect emotionally with each city and to learn "to take chances. To have adventures [and] to see if I could still hack it on my own, away from the security of work, friends and an established identity." Supplying more finely observed details might have made this a richer book, but the writing is generally optimistic, warm and genuine in a Chicken-Soup-for-Travelers kind of way."
I started a new policy a few months ago wherein if I can't find something nice to say about a book I won't mention it at all. I'm having to sit on my hands to tell you about not one, but two, two terribly bad books. One was by a New York Times bestselling author. I've read one of her other books and quite liked it. I think she was angry at her publisher when she wrote this one; it's the only thing that makes sense, that she must have deliberately set out to write a bad book.
The other book was a a howler. It was so bad it was almost good. If it had been a movie, it would be a cult classic.
But I wasn't going to talk about them.
I have a crush on academia. I love school, I love college classes, and taking notes, and campuses. Three ring binders, wide-ruled paper, and lots of black ink pens make me happy. College libraries, professors, learning, teaching: love it.
When I came across a novel that combines all that, I had to snatch it up.
In Lady of the Snakes, the lead character struggles with work, the challenges of academia – preparing lectures, presenting to students, office hours, and advising – and being a parent to a demanding two-year old. She struggles with these dual pulls: career and family.
A reviewer called it “high brow chick lit," which I disagree with. To me, chick lit is about a twenty-something woman who is single, shops a lot, and is actively searching for a man. The cover must have legs, purses, and or shoes on it. Maybe a tube of lipstick. If I was the author of this book, I wouldn’t appreciate it being called high brow chick lit.
From Publishers Weekly:
"The woes of being a scholarly mom are highlighted in this highbrow chick lit entry from Pastan (This Side of Married). Jane Levitsky's research concerns Maria (Masha) Karkova, the fictional, gifted wife of the fictional philandering genius of 19th-century Russian literature, Grigory Karkov. Jane is in her first year of a tenure-track job at the competitive University of Wisconsin–Madison as she struggles to untangle the web of intrigue surrounding Masha and Grigory. Husband Billy has moved with her from California along with toddler daughter Maisie, but Jane doesn't have much time for either of them, a fact of which live-in nanny Felicia is well aware...Fast-paced, well-written and entertaining, Pastan's latest has a winning feminist twist and should turn up in more than a few faculty lounges."
Finally, I am reading Anna Karenina.
I don't know where to start about it, and how amazing and wonderful it is. I rather want to read every Tolstoy novel and short story now. I first became interested in Tolstoy, not in a college lit class, but this fall when I read The Poet of Tolstoy Park. Before, I shied away from Tolstoy, thinking his works would be dreary, weighty, and hard to read, which is not at all the case. Now I want to see the movie about Tolstoy that came out last year, The Last Station.
Favorite Book I've Read This Month: Of the two I've finished this month, Lady of the Snakes.
Character Who I'd Most Like to Have a Drink With: Konstantin Levin, no doubt. What a thinker, that one! (Apparently, that character was Tolstoy's alter ego.)