The Power of Beauty – Nancy Friday

2016eclecticreader_bookdout2016 Nonfiction Challenge

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Genre: Psychology, feminism

Narrative Style: Informal, first person

Rating: 2/5

Published: 1997

Format: Hardback

Synopsis: Friday analyses the way beauty effects female lives. She uses psychoanalysis to investigate events early in her own life that she feels have held her – and all women – back. She uses anecdote and fictional examples to support her ideas.

Challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge and Non Fiction Challenge

This book was a slog. I very nearly didn’t finish it. (It took me a month to read it, I was that irritated with it and it has gone straight on the charity pile.) The main problem is Friday’s tone. She sounds hard done by – especially in the early chapters. She blames a lot of her issues on problems with her early childhood. Her father abandoned their family and she felt her mother loved her sister more as she was prettier. This lack of loving gaze meant that Friday was lacking in confidence about her looks. This seems disingenuous when you look at the author picture and Friday is indeed a beautiful woman. She later says that by the time her looks came in, it was too late for her to believe that she was beautiful. She uses psychoanalysis to help her understand how her formative years were so important in making her the person she is. To a certain extent this is fine. I am happy to agree that psychoanalysis is a useful therapeutic tool but Friday takes this one step further. She then extrapolates from her personal experience to all women lacking the gaze from their mothers. My own experience of childhood was completely different from Friday’s. My father was very much involved in childrearing and my mother worked because she had to. How can Friday assume that my issues will be the same as hers?

Friday does seem to see all women as being the same as her. That is white, privileged, straight and American. She sees gender as the only issue affecting women and men. (And men are masculine and women are feminine in this little world.) All of the examples she gives are from the business world or from friends who are writers and artists. Hardly representative of the whole human race. Which is also fine but if you are going to talk about all women, perhaps you should think about what that really means.

At one point, Friday talks about sexual harassment in the office. Instead of blaming men, she says, we ought to think about how women have changed the atmosphere of the office by coming in to work dressed sexually and making it hard for men to understand the new rules of the office. There may be some truth to this. Undoubtedly more women being in the office has changed the dynamic between men and women but lets not let men completely off the hook. Harassment suggested a sustained campaign. Sexy clothes are no excuse for that sort of behaviour.

Similarly, when Friday talks about the media and its affect on women’s perception of beauty, she seems to let the media off the hook as well. She says that women aren’t so easily brainwashed. Well, true, women can think for themselves but there is also no doubt that the media influences how we feel about and see beauty around us. How Friday can discuss beauty for older women and not challenge the way beauty is seen in the media as a youthful characteristic, I do not know. Again, she puts the blame squarely at the feet of other women without stopping to think about what may make women act in this way.

Rightly, Friday says that we shouldn’t blame men for all of our ills. I remember being thoroughly depressed by some of the authors she mentions – Dworkin and McKinnon, for example. But instead of suggesting that patriarchy affects all of us, she goes on instead to blame other women. This is no more helpful that saying all men are evil. It is finding just another scapegoat instead of actually challenging any of patriarchy’s expectations.

Overall, I was disappointed with how personal this book was. I enjoy reading about others’ experiences, however, this was not an autobiography, this was supposed to be about men, women and beauty. Really it is just about Nancy Friday.

 

 

The Art of Fiction – David Lodge

2016eclecticreader_bookdout2016 Nonfiction Challenge

Genre: Literary Criticism

Narrative Style: A series of essays originally published as newspaper columns.Unknown-2

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1994

Format: Paperback

Reading Challenges: Non Fiction Reading Challenge, Eclectic Reader Challenge – Genre a book about books.

I have had this book on my shelf for about twenty years so it seemed a good place to start reading some long neglected non fiction. I do enjoy reading literary criticism and it is a long time since I have read any so I was looking forward to reading it.

Lodge has an easy to read style – probably because these were originally written for a non-expert audience. It is easy to grasp the concepts that he discusses even when they were quite complex ideas. Each chapter looks at a different aspect of literary criticism and is illustrated by extracts from texts which illustrate its use. This was good because it meant that you had carefully chosen extracts to ponder over if you found the ideas difficult to understand.

As always with literary criticism, there were times when I thought Lodge stretched things a bit but they were few and far between. It is the nature of reading that some things that seem obvious to one reader will seem far fetched to another so I would have been surprised had this not been the case.

My other criticism is really a matter of taste. Lodge favours writers such as Woolf , Beckett and Joyce which really don’t particularly appeal to my taste. He seems quite in thrall to this sort of writing – in fact, he does talk of the influence on his own fiction of such writers. Lodge mentions his own fiction fairly often and even uses it as an illustrative example for one of the chapters. While it would seem unlikely that he would manage to not mention his own fiction, it does seem rather conceited to put it up there as an example in amongst such writers as Austen, Joyce, Elliot, James and Poe. (I have never read any of his fiction so maybe I am being a bit harsh.)

The main thing I have  come away from this book with is a list of authors that I would now like to read that I might not have considered otherwise so thank you, David Lodge for expanding my already over burdened to read list.

Eclectic Reader Challenge 2016 – The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley.

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Genre: Steampunk

Narrative Style: Third person from various viewpoints. Some flashbacks but largely chronological.

Rating: 3/5Unknown

Published: 2015

Format: Kindle

Reading Challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge 2016

Synopsis: Thaniel Steepleton returns home to find that someone has broken in but instead of stealing anything, they have left him a watch. A watch which does not open. At least not straightaway. Six months later, the watch opens and starts to tell time. Later, that day, when its alarm goes of, it saves him from a bomb. When Thaniel goes to find the watchmaker, he meets Mori, a Japanese immigrant. He seems harmless enough but why do the police think he may be involved with the bomb makers? 

This is my first attempt at reading in the steampunk genre and it wasn’t entirely successful. There was a lot of promise in this book. The appearance of the watch was mysterious and when it saves Thaniel’s life, it becomes even more interesting. Certainly, the start of the book had promise and at first, I was keen to read on.

When Thaniel meets Mori, it is clear that he has been expected and straightaway, the reader is led to believe there is some mystery surrounding him. His mastery of clockwork is almost beyond imagining. (I really liked his clockwork octopus which was forever stealing Thaniel’s socks.) Thaniel takes to him straightaway so when the police ask him to spy on Mori as part of their investigation into the bombing, he is torn but he agrees to do it.

It is at this point that the narrative starts to fall apart. Enter Grace Carrow, who its studying physics at Oxford (and has had some narrative attention so far. It is clear that she and Thaniel are intended to meet.) Grace is in an awkward position. She has been left money and a house but she must marry to get them. If she does not get them, she will have to give up physics and become a school teacher. Almost immediately after meeting, Thaniel agrees to marry her so she can inherit, on the promise that his nephews can go to a good school. Grace and Mori are both suspicious of each other and it becomes a battle for Thaniel’s feelings.

I didn’t find the narrative very convincing from this point onwards . It seemed a waste of what could have been an interesting exploration into free will and predestination as it becomes apparent that Mori has some form of second sight.  The characters were somewhat flat and Thaniel was a bit colourless for a hero. Grace was more interesting but still woefully under drawn. Events stretched my willingness to believe to the absolute limit.

Having said all that, I think it is a genre I would like and I would be interested in reading more steampunk books. If anyone has any recommendations, I would like to hear them.

 

Eclectic Reader Challenge 2016

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This will be the fourth year I have participated in this challenge and it looks to be the most interesting yet. It is hosted by Book’d Out and involves having to read books in 12 different genres. This year there are a lot of genres that are completely new to me so that is exciting. I have some ideas about what to read for some of them but would welcome recommendations for any of the others. Below are the 12 genres. If you fancy having a go, follow the link above to sign up.

  1. A book about books (fiction or nonfiction) – The Art of Fiction by David Lodge
  2. Serial killer thriller – Joyland – Stephen King
  3. Paranormal romance – The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
  4. A novel set on an island – Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
  5. Investigative journalism (non-fiction) Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Classes – Owen Jones
  6. Disaster fiction – The Kraken Wakes – John Wyndham
  7. Steampunk sci-fi- The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley
  8. Any book shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize – Half Blood Blues – Esi Edugyan
  9. Psychology (non-fiction) The Power of Beauty – Nancy Friday
  10. Immigrant Experience fiction – Small Island – Andrea Levy
  11. YA historical fiction – Queenbreaker – Catherine McCarran
  12. A debut author in 2016 – Behind Closed Doors – B. A. Paris