Not much of an introduction to offer this month, except to note that my reading continues to be slow – though part of that may be because I caved and bought myself a Marvel Unlimited subscription and now have started on a new reading project in terms of comics.
A sidebar that if anyone would like to follow my reading, including the books I don’t highlight here, my Goodreads profile is public and I periodically write reviews over there (that don’t always end up on here).
Loot by Sharon Waxman. I picked this book up on a bit of a whim. A few years ago I remember visiting the British Museum and having the peculiar experience of looking at a number of the artifacts – the Elgin Marbles, most famously, but also a great deal of the Indian art – and having to wonder how much of this was stolen? Sharon Waxman explores the restitution debates as it relates to great museums like the Met, the Louvre, and the British Museum, tracing the development of the antiquities trade through colonialism to the modern day.
Her lucid, engaging writing style drew me in, and her complex portrait of what can seem a simple, black and white issue (on either side!) seeks to navigate a way forward that preserves art while also offering a chance at justice for countries that suffered, and continue to suffer, extensive looting for their antiquities.
It will make your next visit to a museum a little weird, though. I know I plan to examine the notes about provenance more closely next time I visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar. I reviewed the first book in this couplet, which takes place in the same universe, shares one character, and is loosely connected in terms of events, a few months ago. I emphasized the language as one of the best things about it, and that remains true in this book, which is less a single narrative than a collection of four perspectives on one war, with four different women. Samatar has a unique way with words that makes her writing a pleasure to read – it’s like basking in the sun, a thoroughly pleasurable experience but not necessarily a quick or engrossing one. The way she writes about narratives, though, and her stylistic shifts between the four characters, is a fascinating show of writerly dexterity.
And none of this is to dismiss the plot – the story of a struggle for rebellion, both within and without, and how it reverberates through the life of four differently placed women, is a beautifully told one.
Heroines by Kate Zambreno. My feelings about this book are more complicated than a straightforward recommendation – there were things about it that set my teeth on edge. Sometimes it felt needlessly elaborate, the writing a little too self-conscious, the style a little too flourishing, and Zambreno’s anti-psychiatry stance made me ever so slightly twitchy. However, all told it was a book that got me fired up, got me thinking, and resonated with me in a lot of ways.
Both a history of the neglected wives of famous modernists – Vivienne Eliot, Zelda Fitzgerald, Jane Bowles, and others – and a self-reflection on her own life as a writer and a woman, Zambreno’s book takes a tour through the confluence of madness and femininity, and the pathologization of women writers.
We glorify our male literary hysterics who often channel women and condemn our female literary hysterics. They can play women, fetishize her excesses. Make fun of her frivolity. They don’t have to be women. A colonizing or appropriating of the feminine.
A worthwhile read for any student of the literary, any writer (especially the women) and honestly anyone to whom anything at all of this sounds interesting.
I am currently reading The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and plan to pick up The Twelve Kings of Sharakhai next, though I’m also feeling a bit of a hankering for some young adult fiction and have heard that Marie Lu wrote a series featuring a female villain in the making, which sounds very much up my alley.