Reading (March 2023)

personal reading, university

March has been another good reading month, relatively speaking.

I finished the first half of my module, focused on realism, and moved onto the second, titled ‘The Fantastic’. I’ve actually still got to finish off some of the books for the first half — as they weren’t needed for essays, they were lower priority for me.

This half of the module has begun with a study of fairy tales, and I read Angela Carter’s collection The Bloody Chamber as part of that — quite dark and twisted. A lot of Goodreads reviewers seemed quite critical of it: how can this be feminist when it’s depicting violent men, abuse, murder, rape, and so on? But I think that’s missing the point: perhaps the point of feminism is not to invent a fantasy world where patriarchy doesn’t exist and women are always happy and successful and treated as equals (though that’s not to suggest that there isn’t a place for stories like that). Carter’s goal, she said, was to find the ‘latent content’; so her interpretations are just making plain what is already there, that has been taken for granted or normalised (or bowdlerised, perhaps).

Next was Simon Armitage’s translation into modern English of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a 14th-century poem based on Arthurian legend. I was expecting to hate this (but couldn’t just skip it, since it’s required for an essay), but it was a surprisingly easy read — a reminder not to pre-judge, I suppose.

In terms of reading for pleasure: Punishment by Anne Holt was a fairly unmemorable Scandinavian crime novel — we’d watched a TV adaptation of it a few years back, which I found more enjoyable than the book. There was nothing particularly wrong with it, it just didn’t really grab me or inspire me to read the rest of the series.

Next was Agatha Christie: 4:50 from Paddington. I’ve read a few before (the first Poirot and Marple), but this one I found particularly enjoyable. She seems to get the balance just right in terms of pace and tone and so on: it’s not precisely whimsical or anything but manages to be serious without being brutally gory. I think there’s a tendency recently to interpret anything that’s not showing dismembered corpses in gleeful detail as ‘cosy’, which to me implies something a little less serious. There’s nothing wrong with ‘cosy’, either, but there’s space for something between the two extremes.

After that I started Stardust by Neil Gaiman — this is actually reading for university, but it’s also one I’d read before anyway.