Sunday, December 27, 2015

November-December Reads

Blood Harvest by Terence Dicks
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
Strange England by Simon Messingham
First Frontier by David A. McIntee
Alien Bodies by Lawrence Miles
Victorian People and Ideas by Richard T. Altick

Well, according to Goodreads (which I use only for tracking purposes), I've read 60 books in 2015. Not a huge number for me, but then again, more than many people will read in their entire lifetimes. Through November and December, I managed to write pieces on almost every book I read. I had forgotten the pleasure of writing, it seemed, so I found it very enjoyable to return to articulating my thoughts, even if they were on the subject of Doctor Who or Star Wars.

I did not write a piece on Altick's history book because I have not much to say about it. The 1973 history text is billed as a "companion to the modern reader of Victorian literature," in that Altick provides literary analogues or references when delivering historical facts or concepts, eg. when speaking of say the Second Reform Act, he refers to Trollope's Phineas Finn (which I have not read). Altick organizes the book into concepts, rather than a linear historical narrative (similarly to Andy McSmith's No Such Thing as Society), moving from how the Victorians administrated economic policy to how religion marshalled their lives, all the while, providing clear examples from Victorian literature. In his preface, Altick explicitly notes that his book contains no original ideas but is instead of synthesis of Victorian ideas gleaned through research; in this way, the book is less mired in the famous who's and what's and more focused on an intellectual history, which for me, makes for a more compelling read. Altick's narrative voice and prose are light enough that I could read huge swaths in one sitting, but scholarly enough that I didn't feel like I was skimming a Wikipedia article.

I've decided to simply admit to myself that I am an Anglophile. I love reading about the Victorians; I love reading and watching British cultural objects. I know more about British painting than any other country's output. I can recognize famous accents. I've read two different books on the history of England in the 1980s. I may as well be honest with myself: I can't get enough of Britain and its history. But this poses a quandary for somebody such as myself. How do I reconcile my pleasure with reading of the Victorians with the knowledge that their time on Earth was oppressive for marginalized people, hyperbolically capitalist, anti-feminist, religious, and fervently convinced of their own superiority. Their science and medicine was both atrocious (they found "scientific" rationale for racism) and stupendously progressive. The Victorians essentially invented how we conceptualize "culture" (ie as something to enrich and to consume). And yet, no matter how many positives I can find, the net result is that the Victorians and Empire, with all that implies, are inextricably connected.

How do I look myself in the mirror when I enjoy reading about these people? Well, I suppose I can console myself that a vast majority of Victorians were regular folk just like me trying to make ends meet in a system that was economically oppressive, that these same people, thanks to this oppression, were able to create modern unions, child labour laws, and proto-feminism. If it were not for the Victorians, modern conveniences I enjoy probably would have not existed. But again, I stumble into the same attempt at justifying or rationalizing their abhorrent behaviour. It's a quandary that I cannot solve with the minuscule training in ethics that I have.

In terms of a year end, I can identify some novels I thought were superlatively good, but I don't know if I could rank them. Here, then, is a bland list of novels wherein my experience reading them was cartoonishly positive:
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Of the total number of books I read in 2015, 16 were by women (26%), 11 were by folks under the LGBTT umbrella (18%), and 2 were by writers of colour (3.33%). In other words, 2015 was not a diverse year for books for me—certainly not to the extent that 2014 was. I hope to reach gender, sexual orientation, and racial parity for 2016, but who knows what the year will bring. Every year I make these proclamations or promises and never follow through; case in point, I meant to read Moby-Dick this year. Perhaps 2016 will be the year I tackle that and Infinite Jest. Perhaps not.

I finish the year with 60 books as the novel I'm currently reading is 800 pages and I don't foresee finishing it in 4 days. I'm not overjoyed with this number or my stats on how many white dudes I read, but on the other hand, I can't control where my fickle tastes will take me.

Here's to 2015. It wasn't a great year, but it wasn't awful either. Check back later, as I'll do a long piece on my favourite films of 2015 (and I saw a fucking ton of movies this year).

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