Okay, here’s what I forgot — if you’ve been writing and editing on a computer screen all day, it is very difficult to read anything else in the evening. It was a long week in the trenches — life at the Big Corporation is kind of hectic, and I was finishing a freelance copyediting job at the same time. Taking on all these freelance jobs while working full time might not have been the smartest idea I every had, but at least I’ll have enough money to renovate my shameful bathroom when I get to the other side (there wasn’t ever a shower in there before, and so 100 years of paint is peeling off the walls, to say nothing of the plywood patch under the toilet where the floor was all rotten — like I said, needs help).
However, I did manage to finish one book this week, Julia Briggs’ Virginia Woolf : An Inner Life. I know, I know, you’re thinking another Virginia Woolf biography? My favorite of the Woolf bios is the one by Hermione Lee, but what I loved about the Julia Briggs book is that it focuses on Woolf’s work. Too often the events of her life take over consideration of the work but Briggs, a British Woolf scholar, moves from book to book outlining the artistic and intellectual problems at hand, and how Woolf addressed them. Probably not the bio to start with if you don’t already know Woolf, but if you’re familiar with the novels, or with Woolf’s diaries and the delightfully witty (and sometimes bitchy) letters, then I think you’ll really enjoy this in-depth discussion of how Woolf’s artistic project developed and grew across a lifetime.
I’m also about half way through Dawn Powell’s A Time to Be Born and I’m loving it. I had a meltdown at Border’s a few weeks ago. I was standing in the fiction section (don’t get me started on the essays and biographies shelved erroneously in fiction) when I realized that it now seems women are only allowed to write books with hot pink covers featuring high-heeled shoes. What is the deal? Are women now only allowed to write chick lit? I couldn’t find one serious book by a woman shelved face out — not Gordimer, not Didion’s astonishing new memoir (which was shelved in fiction, much to my annoyance) not even any younger women writes like A.L. Kennedy or Mary Gaitskill. Now, it’s not that I don’t enjoy a light read once in a while, I do — but the overwhelming impression I got standing in the stacks that day was that if you’re a woman, you’d better be writing light social comedies that all end (as a true comedy should) with a wedding. Gack. What I’m loving about the Powell is that it’s a portrait of an unredeemed social climber — what seems so revolutionary at the moment is that Powell isn’t comdemning Amanda, nor is she redeeming her. Would a writer be able to publish a book these days that neither condemns nor redeems a character who isn’t “nice” to begin with? The curse of the writing programs — the notion that every work of fiction must have an “epiphany” — that every character must have a moment or “realization” in which clarity is bestowed on him or her. What I love about Powell, and Elizabeth Bowen, and Graham Greene is that their goal seems to be to portray human complexity, not to flatten it out.