Holidays + Challenges


I hope everyone had/is having lovely holidays (or, if you don't celebrate anything at this time of year, stress-free days off!) Personally, I am over the moon about the solstice being behind us and the days gradually lengthening again. Secular Christmas was also great, with some bookish gifts. Check out what my mother-in-law MADE for us:


An Evening All Afternoon accent pillow! Isn't that the coolest thing ever? Thanks, Anne!

I'm really looking forward to the New Year and new reading projects, and thought I would take a moment to join a few challenges (just a few, I promise!) and talk about what I'll be up to. First up:

The Women Unbound Reading Challenge

I'm almost done with my first book for this challenge, so I knew I had to get my official joiner post up! As I have more than five books currently on my shelves that would qualify, I'm going to go ahead and join at the Suffragette level: eight books, at least three of them nonfiction. Here's my list thus far:

  • Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America, by Elliott Gorn: This is the one I'm almost finished with. It's fascinating!

  • Ladies and Not-So-Gentlewomen: Elisabeth Marbury, Anne Morgan, Elsie de Wolfe, Anne Vanderbilt, and Their Times: I've somehow ended up with an area of specialization in upper-class, turn-of-the-century New York. I'm not sure how it happened, as I'm not particularly a Wharton or James fan, but there you go. Should be an interesting contrast to the militantly working-class philosophy of Mother Jones.

  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, by Mary Wollstonecraft: This is coming up in my Great Ideas series, but it's one of the abridged volumes. So I bought a trusty Norton Critical Edition for myself. Should be good.

  • A Natural History of the Romance Novel, by Pamela Regis: This is one of the books that helped initiate scholarly studies of the romance genre. I don't generally read romance (beyond Austen and the Bront√ęs), but the genre does tread a fascinating line between feminist and anti-feminist. It's also the single highest selling market in publishing, hugely female-dominated, and almost universally dismissed. Coincidence?

  • The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines, by Mike Madrid. Like romance novels, the sexually-charged, powerful-yet-marginalized female characters of classic American comic books walk an interesting line between throwing off and participating in oppression of women. This was a surprise Christmas present from my folks!

  • Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson: Does this have to do with womens' studies? Basically, I just love Robinson and this is the last book of hers I haven't read.

The GLBT Reading Challenge
Yup, I'm doing it: joining at the pink triangle level (eight books). I actually bought The Color Purple to read for this challenge, but then I got sucked in and, you know, finished it before the year ended. Before the DAY even ended, to tell the truth. But there's lots of relevant things I'd be interested to read for this one, such as:

  • Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides: I'm curious to read this family epic of intersexuality, especially since I didn't think Eugenides' earlier book, The Virgin Suicides, was very sexually enlightened.

  • The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters. Mmm, Sarah Waters. She's like literary crack, without the unhealthy connotations.

  • The Complete Fiction of Nella Larsen: Passing, Quicksand, and The Stories. I've heard a lot of talk around the blogosphere lately about Larsen's Passing, and confess myself intrigued.

  • The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood. The novels that were adapted into I Am A Camera and Cabaret: hedonistic inter-war Berlin during the fascists' rise to power.

  • Anything by Patricia Highsmith. I've never read The Price of Salt, The Talented Mr. Ripley, or anything else by Highsmith.

  • Anything by Jeanette Winterson. Again, a massive gap in my reading. I ended up reading just about all of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit while standing in a bookstore one gray afternoon, but I've never given her work the attention it deserves.

  • And, of course, I'll be reading Woolf in January and February, although I don't know whether I'll end up counting her toward this challenge or not.

Essay Project

This is just a little something I think I'll do on my own. I've had a book sitting around for years, entitled The Art of the Personal Essay (compiled by Phillip Lopate). I've been trying to think of a useful way to write about this book as I read it, since reviewing essay collections as a whole seems almost completely useless. Since there are 76 essays in the book, I've decided to start reading four a week starting in the New Year and extending over 19 weeks. Of the four I read each week, I'll pick the most interesting to write about, hopefully publishing those reviews on Fridays. Lopate's book is chronological, so my first four essays will all be the work of my old friend Seneca. After that, things will get more interesting: in a week composed of Carlos Fuentes, Wole Soyinka, Sara Suleri and Henry David Thoreau, who will I choose to write about? I hate Thoreau and quite like Soyinka, but how does that translate into "interestingness"? ONLY TIME WILL TELL. These entries might not be as long as my essays on full-length books, but hopefully the "battle royal" aspect will make for some fun times. Y'all can even place bets if you want to. :-)

Other than that, it's just Woolf in Winter in January and February, and continuing to write about the Great Ideas series as I finish them. Happy 2010, everyone!


  • Thanks for joining us, Emily! I love that pillow, btw.

  • The pillow is beautiful!

    I love Philip Lopate. I hope, for your reading pleasure, that he includes some of his own essays in his edited book!

  • I love essays and I love reading your thoughts about the Great Ideas series (which are mostly essays themselves, aren't they?)!

    I'll be keeping away from fixed "challenges" next year except from my favorites (Jap Lit IV, Lost in Translation...). But I'll be joining the Woolf read-along as I really want to read To The Lighthouse :)

    Hope you and your family are having a blessed long vacation (from anything stressful). Enjoy more wonderful moments before the year ends!

  • Amanda: Thanks for the welcome, and the nice words!

    Rhapsody: Oh, interesting! I'd never heard of Lopate and he doesn't include any of his own essays in the collection, but now that you've made that comment I'll definitely read his introduction and keep my eye out for his own collections. Thanks for the tip. :-)

    Mark David: Thank you so much for the kind words and good wishes! And I'll be eager to read your thoughts on To the Lighthouse!

  • Love that pillow!

    Patricia Highsmith rocks and you will absolutely love her! Was just chatting her up with others over the holiday. We are all taking a bye on the new biography (she really was a nasty type of person), and are going to concentrate on reading beyond Ripley this year instead. Hope our reading paths cross yet again!

  • It's those personal gifts, created especially for the recipient, which are the most lovely to open! I think that pillow is fabulous and it's not even for my blog! ;)

  • Frances: Awesome! I had a feeling Highsmith was an author I would dig, and I'm glad to hear you reinforcing that suspicion. I just read her Wikipedia page and can see why you would skip the bio, but it made me even more excited to start reading her novels.

    Bellezza: So true. Handmade presents, or ones that involve so much personalized thought, are truly special. Thanks for the nice words!

  • I read a big chunk of Lopate's Art of Personal Essay for a college course in the essay. I really enjoyed them! I know my professor supplemented it with others too. I think that sounds like a great project!

    Thanks for the reminder to get my own Women Unbound list up. Still haven't made it yet.

  • Thank you for joining Women Unbound. Both challenge lists here look terrific.
    Also, I liked Middlesex and want to read the Virgin Suicides - interesting comment you have only intrigues me more.

  • Rebecca: Cool! I'm now re-thinking whether I'll post these every Friday (Woolf in Winter posts are on Fridays; what was I thinking??), but I'm sure I'll figure out a way to do it regularly somehow. :-)

    Care: I read Virgin Suicides YEARS ago, well before the film came out, and my reactions could well have been off. It just seemed to me it less about critiquing the fetishization of this family of girls, and more participating in it. I'd be interested to read your reactions. :-)

  • I can't believe I didn't comment on this post because I LOVE essays and LOVE the Lopate book and I can't wait to read your posts on it. I'm doing my own essay project, a long-term one, where I read through a bunch of essay anthologies slowly and pick up books by the authors I like. I'm in the middle of Montaigne now and have been for over a year, but I'll get on to Francis Bacon soon!

  • Dorothy: Wow, I'm encouraged to be getting so much positive feedback about this SPECIFIC essay collection! Hot diggity. Also, I love Montaigne much more than Bacon; I'd be in no great hurry if I were you. :-)

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    link to Wolves 2011 reading list
    link to more disgust bibliography