South and West by Joan Didion

I love Joan Didion’s writing style.

I’m going to preface this by saying non-fiction is not usually my jam unless it is a memoir written by a hilarious women (Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Anna Kendrick, etc..). Reality is pretty bleak most of the time so I prefer to escape into a book that stretches my imagination and pushes me out of the normal day to day. But, I made an exception because Joan Didion is a literary goddess.

If you have not had the pleasure of reading one of Didion’s novels I’ll give you the cliff notes intro to Joan. She writes in a direct yet lyrical manner. She can make the mundane sound beautiful without removing the fact that it is still mundane. I’ll give you a little excerpt from the West section of the book:

“I am at home in the West. The hills of the coastal ranges look “right” to me, the particular flat expanse of the Central Valley comforts my eye. The place names have the ring of real places to me. I can pronounce the names of the rivers, and recognize the common trees and snakes. I am easy here in a way that I am not easy in other places.”

How gorgeous is that prose? It gives me chills and makes me feel at home at the same time.

Now that we are all caught up let’s dig into the book. South and West is a collection of journal entries from when Joan traveled to the Gulf Coast in 1970 and to San Francisco in 1976. The portion on the South is well over ⅔ of the book and it is mesmerizing. As a rebel by nature she commentates from the perspective of a baffled but genuinely curious Californian. Her commentary on the Gulf is heart wrenching, upsetting and wildly uncomfortable for me to read because there’s a level of acceptance at cultural stagnation.

What I loved about the South section was that she was able to observe the culture and people of this new geographic location while being true to herself. She does not give into the patriarchal society that constantly asks about her husband. Her husband is rarely mentioned in these notes; she aims her focus at the places they travel and conversations she overhears. At the end of South she has painted the picture that the Gulf is a tragic marshland, filled with creatures that would terrify tourists if they weren’t on display and with people who hold tightly to their status quo even if it is to their detriment.

The portion on the West is much shorter. It’s like a love letter to the state Didion called home for her formative years. Didion’s notes are speckled with self-awareness. She includes details on what her normal was as a child which juxtaposes the idyllic childhood of the South through access to cultures alone. California is painted as a place deep with history but without the same reverence behind it. Cultural trends come and go without much consideration for who they leave behind.

I absolutely loved reading through these notes for two pieces she never wrote. Her succinct tone in combination with her ability to identify the toxic symptoms of two cultures without coming off as callous is pure magic. The sections unintentionally explain America as a whole. The South is tied so deeply to their roots they are willing to sink in to the marsh with them and the West is untethered, willing to float off with the next exciting idea. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys stories from the view of an observer with heavy social commentary.

Have you ready any Didion? If so, what do you think of her style?

But Really Though Reads- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Have you read a book as an adult that you wish you had read as a child? The Golden Compass made me envious of anyone under 12 picking it up for the first time. I distinctly remember wanting to see the movie after seeing the preview in theaters but luckily, from the looks of its 42% on Rotten Tomatoes, I never did.

Oddly enough, after loving that preview this bookworm never picked up the trilogy. I must have written it off as a children’s series in my HS days and stuck to rereading the Harry Potter series until the books began falling apart. I honestly never thought about the series again.

Recently Brenton and I were in one of our favorite bookstores and he picked up the first book. The moment he finished the book he looked at me and asked if we could go buy him the next one; it was a book emergency. The next day we bought him the rest of the series. Once we got him settled in the second book I decided to pick up the first one to see how valid his book emergency was.

IT WAS VERY VALID.

I’ve had friends refer to the trilogy as the atheist kid’s Narnia or a girl centric Harry Potter but after reading the first book I think what makes it special is that the first novel is a girls journey to independence. Harry and Lucy et al survive with the help of their friends and family. For Lyra, our heroine, all she can trust is herself and her daemon (physical form of soul/conscience), Pantamilion.

Another factor that differentiates this series from others is that there is an immediate rejection of the church and religion. Lyra learns rather quickly that almost everyone under the guise of being part of the church has an ulterior motive. Lyra has a fairly accurate bullshit meter from the beginning of the novel and it only gets stronger as she acquires more skills and tools throughout her semi-solo travels.

A fault of the series is that it is a novel about a wild girl that was obviously written by a man. The way Lyra rejects all things feminine is written as a differentiator instead of a casual personality trait. It comes off tone deaf in our current culture. 

In an attempt to not give anything else away, and also because I immediately want to start book two after finishing this one, I am going to wrap this up here. Sound off in the comments if you have read the series and what your thoughts are! I’ll be back with feedback on the rest of the series soon.

But Really Though Reads – Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

I’ve been in a  ~ sp0oKy~ fantasy reading mood lately and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books are hitting the spot.

None of the Discworld books are even remotely close to horror but they scratch the itch of light and dark magic emotions that come up during autumn (aka spook season). I picked Wyrd Sisters as my introduction to Discworld on a whim. I’m under the impression that the characters overlap but it is not necessary to read the history of the planet that travels on the back of the sky turtle in order.

Wyrd Sisters is the story of three witches and how willing they are to break their own rules of magic to help their kingdom. The three witches are only a coven by definition; they have more differences in agreement than their alignment to each other. Our three leading ladies are Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat. Granny is the eldest witch and the least willing to participate in anything showy or fluffy. Nanny is promiscuous and life of the party. Magrat is the youngest and an idealist about the state of her coven.

The three women venture through time and space, which is much out of Granny’s comfort zone, to assist the Kingdom (personified not as individuals) in removing an awful king from power. The story is witty, hilarious and alludes to the showy witches of fairytales (Cinderella’s fairy godmother makes a cameo).

I highly recommend Wyrd Sisters to anyone who loves a magical world with a sarcastic twist. I will definitely be visiting Discworld again.  

But Really Though Reads – The Female Persuasion

I finished another book and I can’t stop thinking about it. I gobbled through Meg Wolitzer’s newest book The Female Persuasion over the last two weeks and it has left me in the strangest emotional place.

If you have not read anything by Wolitzer please do yourself a favor and pick up one of her novels now. Her stories are what I imagine we would have gotten if Sylvia Plath had access to Prozac (and her YA novel Belzhar is proof). Wolitzer creates her characters from all angles meaning that the reader gets to see them through multiple perspectives (themselves and others) in the book. Just like in reality, the character has no idea and no control over what others think of them. The feelings are raw and the strings don’t tie up neatly, but her writing encompasses the human emotional scale.

With this prior experience in Wolitzer’s worlds I picked up The Female Persuasion thinking I was prepared for the uncomfortable moments and the characters that make me squirm. I was not ready for the journey we take through Greer Kadesky and Faith Frank’s lives. Greer meets Frank when Frank speaks at Greer’s college. Wolitzer carries us lovingly through the beginning of the professional relationship between the second and third wave feminist duo. The novel touches on intersectionality, the recognition of privilege and the importance of a feminist boyfriend. Wolitzer also highlights where the animosity between second and third wave feminism stems from through anecdotes from Faith and Greer’s lives.

I’m going to stop here before I ruin the novel for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. Wolitzer’s novel is filled with triumph, heartbreak, deceit, confusion, tragedy and ends on the importance of everyone using their power for good until they cannot anymore.

Have you read The Female Persuasion yet? If so, what did you think of it?