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#poppyreads

Welcome to #poppyreads
I have far too many unread books on my shelves, and it makes me sad. So I am going to read them. All of them. One a week, every week. And I am not allowed to buy another book until I have. How will I cope? But it must be done. Sunday to Sunday, one book. Each Sunday I will go on the Twitter account and talk about that weeks book, and say what I’m reading next. It would be wonderful if people wanted to join in, but I understand that a book a week isn’t always manageable. So I thought maybe every 4 weeks, one of the 4 books could be an Official Book Club Read. So you get a month to read it, and I will read it in the last week of the 4, so it’s fresh in my mind for discussion on this blog. Please feel very welcome to join in with as many or as few of the weekly or monthly reads as you like. I will be charting my challenge on @feministbc using #poppyreads.
So here is my list of all the sad, lonely, unread books that I will work my way through. They are in no particular order, but I have tried to put a book that I think people would find enjoyable or interesting for the Official Read in each group.

#poppyreads

1. may we be forgiven by a m holmes on p103 of 480

2. Fear of Flying by Erica Jong on pg 108 of 227

3. Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell on pg 33 of 277

4. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood on pg 87 of 528

Fear of Flying as the first Official Read, on the 14th of September

5. Wrecked by Charlotte Roche on pg 171 of 289

6. Turtle Moon

7. Blackbird House

8. Local Girls

Local Girls as an Official Read, to be discussed on the 12th of October

9. The Group by Mary McCarthy

10. The Travelling Hornplayer by Barbara Trapido 

11. The Llama Parlour by Kathy Lette

12. Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson

Official read is The Group, to be discussed on the 9th November

13. Ted and Sylvia by Emma Tennant

14. The Bride Hunter by Amy Appleton

15. Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

16. A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

Official read is number 16, to be discussed on the 7th December

17. The Bride Stripped Bare by anonymous

18. The Glamorous (Double) Life of Isabel Bookbinder by Holly McQueen

19. The New Woman’s Hour: Book Of Short Stories Edited By Di Speirs

20. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

Official read is number 20, discussion on the 4th January 2015

21. The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant

22. The Republic of Love by Carol Shields

23. The Believers by Zoë Heller

24. Notes On A Scandal by Zoe Heller

Official read is number 24, on the 1st February 2015

25. The Daughters of Egalia by Gerd Brantenberg

26. The Misconceiver by Lucy Ferriss

27. The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S Tepper

28. The Wild by Esther Freud

Official read is number 28, on the 1st of March

29. The Secrets She Keeps by Helen Cross

30. The Chocolate Run by Dorothy Koomson

31. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

32. A Recipe For Bees by Gail Anderson-Dargatz

Official read is number 32, on (approx) the 29th March 2015

33. Every Little Thing by Pamela Klaffke

34. Octavia by Jilly Cooper

35. The Blindfold by Siri Hustvedt

36. The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt

Official read is number 36, on (approx) 3rd May 2015

37. Happy Accidents by Tiffany Murray

38. Mister Sandman by Barbara Gowdy

39. A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

40. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriaty

These all seem like good contenders for the official read, and it’s a long way off, so I (we) will decide closer to the time!

41. Where Rainbows End by Cecelia Ahern

42. My Soul To Keep by Rachel Vincent

43. Poppy Shakespeare by Clare Allan

44. The Womens Room by Marilyn French

Offcial read is number 44 some time in July

45. House Rules by Jodi Picoult

46. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

47. Selected Stories by Alice Munro

That’s pretty much all! There’s a few on my shelves that I really don’t want to read, why on earth did I buy them?

I have almost a years worth of reading here, especially since the last few are big books so I think they’ll take more than a week. I’m really looking forward to taking on this challenge (apart from the whole ‘no new books’ part – I think I might fail at that) and really hope you can join in with as few or as many as you like.

Follow the challenge over at @feministbc and on #poppyreads

The Bell Jar – Discussion Post

Before we start, just a quick reminder that ‘The Bell Jar’ discusses, very honestly, in depth, mental illness. Remember your own self-care comes first when we’re discussing the book, and if you feel any of us (i.e. me) are being ignorant in how we discuss it, if you can, please tell us. On that note, here goes….!

 

I first read the Bell Jar in my final year of university. Despite being really interested in women’s history, and gender history, I would never have called myself a feminist and knew embarrassingly little about the issues I think are so important today. All I had was a vague sense of unease about my future as a woman, unable to explain it any further than that. Then I found a copy of the Bell Jar in a dusty library while revising for my finals and was immediately hooked. This was my feminist awakening, putting my fears into words.

 

I really related to Esther Greenwood. As a disclaimer, I don’t have mental health issues so I will leave it to others to talk about that part of the book much more eloquently than I ever could. But Esther’s descent into mental illness, her fears and thoughts in that summer in New York and then when she returned home really resonated with me. It was this idea of academic achievement as a sense of identity that resonated with me – of having these ambitions that just are going to happen, and not really thinking about what might happen if it all fell through. Added to this, the feeling that no matter what you want, what you aim for, you are working within this oppressive atmosphere of the way women were / are expected to behave, the ambitions they are meant to have. So for me, the Bell Jar was this jar of sexual oppression, this stifling atmosphere. I have heard others say that for them, it represented depression and despair.

 

It’s a fantastically written book, in my opinion, really making the reader identify with the characters – it is so real, like the words just flowed onto the page. And yet it is so cleverly written – I didn’t notice this myself but just had someone point out that the very first sentence contains a reference to electricity: ‘It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs’. And the themes of confinement and imprisonment run through the whole book, even before she is sectioned.

 

When I re-read the book, I was 100% a feminist. And, three years on from my finals at university, I had a job offer, I had a concrete path in life. The book didn’t resonate quite so deeply with me as it did on that first read. But I also knew more about Sylvia Plath’s life, and a little bit more about mental illness, and so perhaps I was reading from a less selfish perspective. I found it devastating, but I still loved it.

 

I am really interested in learning what other readers think about the mental illness aspect to the book. Is it as true to life as I think it is? Did it resonate with you? And if you don’t have mental health problems, did you, as I did, still associate yourself with Esther Greenwood? Do you think it is more devastating, that it has more impact, when you know it was written by Sylvia Plath? (As it was first published under a pseudonym). What do you think the ‘Bell Jar’ of the title represents? And as always, if you didn’t like the book, tell us why not! 

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Is an introduction needed? Well, I’m writing one. Written in 1963, The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath’s only novel, originally published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. The novel is semi-autobiographical with the names of places and people changed. It’s a shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity, charting the story of Esther Greenwood as she struggles with problems of morality, behaviour and identity, and relationships, self image and her role in life. I found it a moving read, with many topics that are still very relevant today. I read it for the first time only last month, but am very glad to be reading it again, and am really looking forward to discussing it. As always, please put your own selfcare first when reading. Our discussion will be on the 9th of July from 7.30, we hope you join in.

Disgrace – J.M. Coetzee

Hi everyone.

 So we’ve been thinking about doing this for a while but what with one thing and another, haven’t got round to it yet. The aim is for the book club to also have a blog element, so that when we read a book we love & want to chat about, we can blog about it! And anyone who also wants to talk about that book can do so in the comments. My aim is not to contain any spoilers in the blog, although there may well be spoilers in the comments. So any details of plot line in the blog will go no further than what is contained in the blurb on the back cover.

The idea is to allow a wider range of discussion, and more often, without requiring everyone to read several books a month! It will be on an ad hoc basis, on when we read books that give us the ‘I MUST TALK ABOUT THIS’ feeling. Please tweet us / comment if you have any suggestions or comments on us doing this!

 

So, without further ado, I’ve just finished reading ‘Disgrace’ by J.M Coetzee. I’ve read the ‘Life and Times of Mr K’ before (which I’d also recommend) and was tweeting about a review of Coetzee’s new book when several of you recommended ‘Disgrace’.

 

It’s the story of a Professor of Romantic Literature in South Africa, a story of sexual need and desire, of love, of hate, of family and of race. It’s a story (I think) of how nothing is ever simple, of how we all have motives that we can’t explain to anyone else in ways that make sense. Sex and disgrace are linked throughout the book in very different ways, along with an examination of what it means to be a parent to a grown-up child. It’s also (I think) about how far we can sympathise with a character.

 

David is dismissed from his job as a professor after an affair with a student; he is disgraced and leaves Cape Town to stay with his daughter, Lucy, on an isolated farm, where they are the victims of a horrific attack.

 

The first portion of the book deals with the affair, the last portion concerns the aftermath of the attack. The whole book was so difficult, so beautifully and wonderfully disturbing and horrific that I read it in one afternoon. Coetzee writes in such a beautiful way that you are fully drawn in, even as you disagree with the protagonist, even as his actions and thoughts make you feel profoundly uncomfortable. This is not an easy book to read, especially as a woman. I felt especially uncomfortable reading David’s descriptions of the affair, especially as to me it didn’t seem so much of an ‘affair’ and more of a man taking advantage.

 

The easiest part of the book for me was the rekindling of the father-daughter relationship, with the daughter, Lucy, a grown-up woman living alone and making her own living. The father having to learn to let go of his child, and his struggles in doing so. I don’t have children but I can see how this would be. I often think when I’m talking politics with my parents, telling them things I’ve read which they don’t know, that they must find it so strange that their little girl not only has opinions of her own but is teaching them things!! I loved this: ‘he is aware of her eyes on him as he eats. He must be careful: nothing so distasteful to a child as the workings of a parent’s body”. This really resonated as I often comment on how loudly my mum chews when I go home!

 

Then there is the ‘savage and disturbing attack’ (quote from the blurb) and the rest of the novel deals with David’s attempt to come to terms with what has happened to him and Lucy, and to deal with the different way Lucy wants to handle it and move on. Lucy’s way made me so utterly sad and so completely angry at the same time. I wanted to shake her, to scream at her, to scream at the other characters. But a refrain that runs through this part of the book is “you don’t understand, you weren’t there”. 

 

This book is not about race until the second half, when its significance begins to build. For most of the book, characters are not described by their skin colour. It is never specifically mentioned until after the attack and then the differences between blacks and white in Africa as a result of what the black population suffered is thrown into harsh light. I am not sure what Coetzee is trying to say here; I wouldn’t even hazard a guess at his point. I would love it if someone else did.

 

I am still working out how I feel about this book. I loved it as it has left me conflicted, it has left me thinking and with the need to write about it! But I am still trying to work out what the underlying message is for the reader, what Coetzee is telling us, what it all means. 

 

I would welcome anyone’s thoughts on it!!!

The Bluest Eye – Discussion Post

As a disclaimer, the 3 of us who run this book club are white, and will be speaking from a place of privilege. We understand this, and will try our best to not be ignorant or assume anything. 

I didn’t enjoy this book. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to. I found it moving, upsetting and distressing, but it made me think. 

The main theme, I thought, was whiteness as beauty. Whiteness as the ideal of beauty, as it being the standard against beauty is measured, as if not being white meant not being beautiful. And for Pecola, it did. Her desperation for blue eyes is a symbol of her unhappiness at the way she looks, how she feels that if she looked different, better, whiter, with all those things that go along with being white, she would be better, and be able to be loved. But in reality it’s not her skin colour or eye colour that stop her being loved by her family, it’s their own personal dysfunction. However it is her skin colour that stops her being loved by others, society, the world. Her unhappiness at her image is racial self loathing, Morrison says in her afterword ‘how something as grotesque as the demonisation of an entire race could take root inside the most delicate member of society’. It made me think about how whiteness is perhaps still seen as the ideal (type beauty into google images and you get white women), and about how children, girls especially, from an early age absorb all of the words and images around them and understand beauty, what constitutes it, how they ‘ought’ to look, the power it holds. All of this focus on beauty can be really harmful, and we see in the novel how unhappy it makes Pecola.

I found the book really disjointed , jumping from time to place to person, but found it gave me a good insight into each person, their life, their history, how the events they went through shaped them. Reading the afterword, Morrison said it was written like that to do that, and so that the reader could assemble the pieces for themselves, and not pity Pecola, as ‘the weight of the novels inquiry on such a delicate and vulnerable a character could smash her and lead readers into the comfort of pitying her, rather than into an interrogation of themselves for the smashing’. I’m not sure I understand this. I do pity her. Is it that we ought to be questioning ourselves, our cultures and societies, our emphasis on beauty, our emphasis on whiteness, rather than just reading a piece of fiction and then forgetting it? Did you think the novel was fragmented, and did you like the way it was written, enjoy piecing it together for yourself, or not?

There were a lot of things in this book that made me think, but as always with me, it’s simply my thoughts and feeling, rather than a deep educational analysis. I’m looking forward to discussing this with you all, but as always please put your own selfcare first.  

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

For our third book we have chosen The Bluest Eye. It was a choice between this and The Colour Purple by Alice Walker, but we know most people have read The Colour Purple before, and it has been done at a lot of book clubs, so we went for The Bluest Eye. It is Toni Morissons first book, written in 1970 while she was teaching at Howard University and raising two sons. The book covers a year in the life of Pecola , a poor, black girl who believes that she is ugly, but is told from the perspective of Claudia Macteer , a resilient, self-determined pre-teenager, and also a third person viewpoint. The story covers a lot of difficult subjects, so when reading, and when we are having the discussion please put your own selfcare first. We really hope you’ll join us here at 7pm on Tuesday 28th May for our chat.

The Bloody Chamber: Discussion Post

Hi everyone! Welcome to our second book club. So our book this month was Angela Carter’s book of short stories, the ‘Bloody Chamber’. I was unsure how I would enjoy them at first as I’m not a big short story reader… I still think I prefer entire books but with not much time this month I found it a much easier read! It was great to be able to finish a story on a tube journey, completely lose myself within her fairy tale world.

 

I really enjoyed the collection. There were a few stories I didn’t like so much, and I’ll discuss those below. But in the main, I really enjoyed reading it. Interestingly, Poppy has said she really didn’t … so I can’t wait to find out why!

 

Overall there were a few things that jumped out at me from the collection as a whole. The first thing I noticed was flowers. They are everywhere! Especially lilies, but in the Lady of the House of Love I think its roses. I have no idea what flowers ‘mean’ or symbolise in a novel but I thought the fact that this imagery ran through every novel had to mean something? What do you think?

 The most important thing for me was this idea of animals that runs throughout the novels – of change, from animal to human or the reverse (as in the Tiger’s Bride). I loved the licking bit that began the transformation of the heroine into the Tiger. I think this idea of change is really important in the collection – but what I couldn’t work out was whether it is a positive representation of all of us having the power to change, for good or bad, within us, or whether it is darker, more about everyone having something animalistic, something ‘beast-like’ within them. That we are both man and beast (or woman and beast!) and the spaces between the two are much more transmutable than we may think. I actually really like that idea. I think it’s not just about the idea that men have this capacity, because of the Tiger’s Bride, because of Wolf-Alice, because many of her female characters are also flawed.

 

In case you have only read a few of the stories, here are a few short summaries of my thoughts on the stories that stood out for me, both in a good way and a bad way!

 

The Bloody Chamber:

Having never read Bluebeard I had no idea what this story was based on. I really enjoyed it. I liked the juxtaposition of the girl constantly talking about her innocence and then using the word “cunt”. It really stood out for me, a suggestion that things are more complicated than they seem. It had a slightly Daphne-du-Maurier-esque feel for me, especially with the housekeeper and the mysteriously dead previous wives! Also, (and this shows an embarrassing fact about me), it reminded me slightly of 50 Shades of Grey. You have this supposedly innocent heroine and a ‘dark’ man – but it was the loving descriptions of his wealth and his beautiful house that really reminded me of 50 Shades. Except just hugely better in about every way!

 

The Courtship of Mr Lyon

This too had some lovely descriptions of luxury, I read somewhere that Angela Carter is interesting in writing about ‘the trappings of luxury’ – I wonder if this is the case in her other books?

 

The Tiger’s Bride

 

I loved the ending of this book! The gentle licking turning her into a Tiger was just beautiful. Love and agency.

 

Puss-in-boots

This was my favourite! Puss just reminded me of my cat, although I think my cat is much more of a gentleman 🙂 “tonguing my arsehole with the impeccable hygienic integrity of cats, one leg stuck in the air like a ham bone” made me laugh out loud on the tube which was slightly embarrassing!

 

The Snow Child

This was my least favourite. I just didn’t understand it. The ending was so abrupt and shocking that I just didn’t get it. I just didn’t see the point of the Count penetrating the dead girl unless it is just to shock? And I’d like to think better of Angela Carter!

 

The werewolf

This was the first in a series of stories based around Little Red Riding Hood. I really enjoyed all three of them actually, I liked seeing all the different versions. This one especially as the werewolf is in fact the grandmother was a great twist to it! And the child not as an innocent child but taking advantage so she can have all of her grandmother’s belongings. I’m really interested in the history of persecution of witches anyway so found this really interesting.

 

The company of wolves

I loved the beginning to this story – the different stories about werewolves. I found the ending really difficult though – the girl accepting oppression and allowing the wolf to have power over her, deciding not to be scared as if she wasn’t scared, nothing bad would happen. It made me think of fear, about how I experience fear, and it made me realise that I have become more scared, more aware of my own vulnerability as a woman since I’ve become involved with feminism. Feminism hasn’t made me a strong independent woman (I was that already) – it has made me more aware of my weaknesses. That’s worrying.

 

Wolf-Alice

This story was about the journey towards self-awareness from a child with no concept of self. Self-awareness begins with menstruation, and seeing your reflection in a mirror. I think there’s probably a lot of really intelligent things to be said about this story but I don’t know what all that means. Self-awareness begins with menstruation? Or the journey towards self-awareness does. Is that related to the specifically female? Or is menstruation just an example of the growing up process? Also, the heroine had my name, therefore I liked the story. Sorry, I’m simple like that. 🙂

 

What was your favourite story? Which ones did you hate? What jumped out at you from them? They definitely made me think, which is important, and they made me smile, and the beauty of the writing meant I could see the world she was describing. That is why I really enjoyed the collection.

 

But what did you think?

The Bloody Chamber

Hello all! Thank you so much to everyone who participated (and those who were reading along and not saying anything – you know who you are!) in our discussion of The Handmaid’s Tale last month. Remember that if you missed it, or just have more to say, the comments on that post are still open, so feel free to keep talking.
For our second book, we decided we wanted to read something by Angela Carter. None of us have read anything of hers before, and we struggled to choose from among her extensive catalogue, but when we opened the question to twitter The Bloody Chamber was mentioned most often, so here we are.
Angela Carter (1940-1992) was an English novelist, journalist, and critic known for her magical-realism style. Her stories incorporated Gothic themes, as well as eroticism, violence, and of course feminism. She studied English Literature at Bristol, and throughout her life lived all over the world, studying tales and stories from a variety of different countries and cultures; this influence can be seen clearly through her work.
She was an extremely prolific author, writing everything from novels to poems, short stories to scripts, essays to children’s books. Her novels and short stories – especially this collection – are often described as traditional fairytales with a feminist twist, but Carter said that her stories were neither retellings nor adult fairytales; rather, they were new stories based on the latent content in the original tales, which was frequently violently sexual.
I haven’t read much of this book yet, just the shortest story: The Snow Child. I found it vividly, dramatically, descriptively sexual; and interesting, thought-provoking, and just a little unsettling. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though; I’m interested to read more, and I think it’ll give us a lot to discuss. But do be aware that these themes run throughout her book; remember to put your self-care first.
I’m interested to see which fairytales I’ll recognise as I read; I think Puss-in-Boots might possibly be based on Puss-in-Boots (!), but most of the others aren’t obvious from the title. They could well be tales I’ve never even heard of; as a new reader, I’m curious to see which tales I’m familiar with and which are new for me.
There are ten stories in this collection, varying in length from a single page (The Snow Child) to 42 (The Bloody Chamber); we’re planning on focussing our discussion around the titular story, but there’s scope for separate discussion posts for individual stories if we have lots to say. Let us know which you’d prefer!
I know this collection has been used as A-Level material in some schools. While there’s no faster way to ruin a book for some people than to study in school, there is usually a good reason books are chosen for study material. Hopefully this won’t put you off and you’ll come along to our (hopefully much more fun than school!) discussion anyway.
I’m really pleased we’re reading this; I love fairytales, folklore, magic, and myths, and I think a lot of you lot do, too. I really hope you read with us, enjoy it, and come for a chat about it on the 9th of April from 7.30pm (GMT) onwards.