Thursday, October 16, 2014

Reading a variety of authors

Philosophically I want to prefer books written by women.  But, from childhood, I found the conversations of men more interesting than that of women.  Not that, in childhood, any family conversation was very interesting to me: women about garden, cooking and canning, men about crops and weather but occasionally about politics. Ours was not a story telling family; really, I found most family conversation uninteresting.

Studying literature, of course, most of the writers were men, probably 99% of them. Then came Feminism and books by women that told me about the world I lived in.  Mostly nonfiction but I found some wonderful women writing fiction too, Doris Lessing, Iris Murdock, Eudora Welty, Mary Lee Settle, not so many as there were men.  But things have changed and now women seem to take up about half the space on the new books tables.  A good thing.

In the past couple of weeks I've read two novels by women, Tracy Chevalier's Virgin Blue and Anita Desai's Zigzag. Strangely their essential plot line is the same: aimless mate in a foreign country where husband/wife are deep into their own career so the aimless one begins researching his/her family's connection to the area only to find unpleasant facts. Strange to hit upon the same plot in a random way!  At the same time I've picked up a fat book containing six of Jim Harrison'a Brown Dog (title story) novellas. I had read the first Brown Dog story and never forgot it's strongest image, a drowned and frozen Indian deep in Lake Superior.

It bothers me a little that the two books by well respected women with wonderful adjectives on the book's jackets, are frail and superficially imagined compared to Jim Harrison's extremely rich details of the life. B.D. may be part Chippewa, certainly has an affinity with various Natives.  Of course Harrison is twice the age of each of the women, he's honed his craft much longer.  But the truth is he's not only a far better writer, his world is far more interesting. While I can imagine myself in the Provence or Yucatan of the women's books, I find myself transported to the forests and small towns of the UP. And I believe B.D. as a person (one I would actually not like if I met him even though he has various redeeming qualities). Through Harrison's writing I enter a world.  Through the women's writing, I see characters who are familiar with some historical background that is interesting, their psychology is superficial, I don't care about them much as people.


barbara judge said...

I agree that there are some weakly written books by women out there. I have bought a few much to my dismay. Now I am much more careful about my selections -- I'm glad there are lots of women writers now but just like many books by men I find the classic word is caveat emptor -- let the buyer beware. -- barbara

June Calender said...

I totally agree Barbara, but then every now and then I'm very happily surprised.