Currently Reading: My Life on the Road

A few weeks ago I saw something online about Emma Watson beginning a book club through Good Reads, and immediately wanted to be a part of it. I’d also been wanting to read Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road, the first scheduled read, for a while so was really excited to begin. I love that she frames her book within the long tradition of the travel narrative so rarely taken up by women. Perhaps especially because in many ways I am on my own adventure, and so want to experience all the world has to offer.

I was shocked to read that the dictionary defines as adventurer “as a person who has, enjoys, or seeks adventures” and and adventuress as “a woman who uses unscrupulous means in order to gain wealth or social position.” It’s a highly visible reminder of the subtle language that leads to inequality. Whether you already identify as a feminist, or find yourself on the fence for whatever reason, this book should be on your must-read list.

I’ve had the book for about a week, and find it difficult to put down. Not only is it densely packed with stories from Steinem’s life which are absolutely wonderful, but also full of amassing stories from her time as an organiser– including the organising of the National Women’s Conference in Houston in 1977. Her descriptions of the conference are amazing and inspiring. In her reflection she says that “before Houston, I had known that women in small groups could be courageous an loyal to each other and respect each others differences. After Houston, I’d learned that women could do this in Large numbers, across chasms of difference, and for serious purpose.”

Hopeful, energising statements like these make me excited for the future of feminism, and for equality overall. Reading her book, it’s encouraging to see how far we’ve come in some areas, but also staggering how much further we have to go. The fact that “studies show that women’s intellectual self-esteem tends to go down as years of education go up,” and that a world that sees such high levels of violence toward women around the globe has lead to “a world with fewer females than males, a first in recorded history” is staggering. As a someone in the process of getting her MA, with a plan to one day go for her PhD, the decreasing self-esteem is something I’ve already encountered, and is so common among women especially that it even has it’s own name– impostor syndrome. A world with less confident women, and especially with fewer women, means that everyone loses out.

The descriptions of her vast involvement with political campaigns of all sizes, and for both sides of the aisle seems particularly relevant today, as not only is it an election year, but with so many candidates in the race it often seems a bit overwhelming. The advice she once gave to women when on the campaign trail, resonated to much with me that I think everyone should take it to heart– “forget about party labels. Just vote on the issues and for candidates who support equality.” What a lovely message this is, and a powerful way to look past party distinctions and put the focus back on people.

I’ll stop going on about how much I love this book now, how much I find it empowering, and how much I hope it can galvanise people, both male and female, to move toward a world with greater equality. What I will keep with me long after I’ve forgotten the statistics and policy initiatives described, is the hope for a better future you can feel on every page,  the reminder that if you want people to listen to you, you have to listen to them, and most importantly, “people are people.”

Everything is Happening

Both the title of the book I’m reading, and a fairly accurate description of life generally right now. Even with all of my readings for my courses, I still love finding time to read for fun. It also happens to be a rather nice way to stay engaged with art history, at least in this instance– a bit like coming up for air when many of my course readings involve discourses on management, and the idea of creativity.

Everything is Happening, Journey into a Painting by Michael Jacobs (available here) is a personal journey of discovery about Velasquez’s Las Meninas, a painting that occupied Jacobs’s thoughts for much of his life. His descriptions of the painting, and of Spain are lovely. His knowledge of, combined with his true love of the painting are wonderful to read– creating commentary that is both entertaining and insightful. In many ways it reminded me of why I fell in love with Art History– the prospect that “in studying a work of art I would be following a detective trail that might lead to some ultimate illumination”. The end of the book was finished by his friend Ed Vulliamy, who wrote about his experience here, and is definitely worth a read.

Velasquez's Las Meninas

Velasquez’s Las Meninas

As well as wonderful descriptions of the painting, and of Jacobs’s many encounters with it and different theories about it’s meaning, I love the personal stories of his that surround the work, and even more the description of the the paintings protection during the Spanish Civil War. For such a wonderful book, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness as I near toward the end. Jacobs didn’t manage to finish his book, as he died unexpectedly just a few months after beginning it.

Even if you don’t generally like art history, or Spanish painting, or even Velasquez, it’ s a wonderful read, and may even change your mind about about at least one of them. It’s written written with a true love that’s genuine, and almost infectious, and makes you feel the painting, and Jacobs are both old friends you hope to visit soon.

I found it at a fantastic bookshop down the street from my flat (and just off of Portobello Road), in Notting Hill, called Lutyens & Rubinstein. A smaller bookshop, it has a fabulous selection of both fiction and nonfiction, and an impressive array of art books and cookbooks that I can’t wait to go back and look through. If you find yourself in the area its definitely worth checking out!

Currently Reading: The Opposite of Loneliness

I first heard about Marina Keegan, her essay “The Opposite of Loneliness,” and her book last spring as I was preparing to graduate from college. Her essay, and the excerpts I’d read in reviews seemed to capture so well how I was feeling at the time- excited to be graduating, but terrified of what was going to come next.

This month marks one year since I’ve graduated, and many of the same emotions remain. The feeling that I’m not doing enough, that I’m not as far in my career, or relationships as I should be, that I’m not accomplishing what I want to accomplish. Perhaps it’s a sort of quarter-life crisis. I’m not sure. What I do know is that Keegan’s words capture my feelings one year ago, and also my feelings today. Most notably, I often find myself missing the “web” of friends I so enjoyed at school, the “elusive, indefinable, opposite of loneliness” she so accurately describes. I can so identify too with her hope for the future. Like Marina, “I plan on having parties when I’m thirty. I plan of having fun when I’m old.” I know that there is so much life ahead of me to be excited about, it’s just a matter of getting there.

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Her fiction is is just as powerful. I’ve found myself both laughing out loud and welling up with tears. There’s this energy to her stories I can’t quite explain that makes them nearly impossible to put down. Her nonfiction is honest and thoughtful. In various ways she captures my fears, my thoughts, my hope for a life filled with purpose, connection, and who knows what else. And then there’s the strangeness of reading her writing knowing she passed away only a few days after her own college graduation. I find myself both incredibly thankful to read her writing, and sad that she passed away so soon, that she will write no more.

If you can’t tell already tell, I definitely think you should read this book. I hope you enjoy it even half as much as I did. That it reminds you you are not the only person feeling what you’re feeling. That the opposite of loneliness is something attainable. That there’s so much life ahead to be excited about, and it’s okay to be scared, to feel overwhelmed, to feel like you aren’t doing enough.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? You took all of my free time with you.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for several months, but I kept forgetting about it until recently. My boyfriend read it when it first came out an loved it. This, combined with the time it took me to finally read it, and the overwhelmingly high praise by critics and readers alike, left me with fairly high expectations. Maria Semple’s character’s, full of eccentricity and snappy dialogue, are enthralling. If you’re in the market for a “summer book” but are searching for something with substance and wit, I think this makes a lovely choice. It toes the line between humorous and serious with remarkable agility, and is truly a pleasure to read.

The story, told in a construction of emails, notes, and various other “evidence” took me a page or two to adjust to, but soon had me hooked. In a matter of two days I was already 2/3 of the way through. As much as I wanted to know about what exactly happened to Bernadette, and how her family coped with her disappearance, I couldn’t help but try to wait. The sooner I picked the book back up, the sooner I would finish reading.

Of course I had to pick the book back up, not only to unravel the mystery, but to check in on characters I’d quickly become quite fond of. In a recent conversation with Cameron, I remarked  that it’s really a shame that one is able to see or read something for the first time only once. Some things that came to mind were the Harry Potter series I read through my childhood, and the magic of watching a classic movie like How to Catch a Thief for the first time. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? may very well make the list.

The ending was as perfectly unexpected as the rest of the book, and left me wishing there were more, but without any unresolved plot lines. I will miss this book and all of its wonderfully eccentric, creative characters.

The Marriage Plot

No, this is not post about an elaborate plan to get my boyfriend to propose, rather, it is a great book I’ve been reading by Jeffrey Eugenides

The besides the title, which references the trope used by many of the great English novels (think about those by Jane Austen), it was the author who drew me in. I first read Jeffrey Eugenides The Virgin Suicides when I was in high school, and found myself wrapped up in the mystery that was the  Lisbon sisters,, and being left with more questions than answers, which left me with a sort of melancholy I hadn’t yet experienced.

I was told by the woman at the checkout of Parnassus Books that The Marriage Plot was a bit lighter than his others, which has proved to be true.

The three protagonists, who graduate from college within the first few hundred pages and spend the rest of the book trying to navigate the “real world” while working through a sort of contemporary love story. Parts of Eugenides’s book seem to bridge the gap between fiction and real-life,  for example the rather anticlimactic sensation after one’s commencement ceremony has ended, and she must go pack up her room and newly gained diploma to drive back home. But I suppose this is why is books are so engaging- they allow the reader to see bits of him or herself, even in characters one might not be comfortable identifying with.

The ending, which was not what I’d expected, was just the resolution I’d been hoping without actually realizing it.

At any rate, I sincerely hope you take the time to read this book, and that you enjoy it.

marriage plot.