Bookish Discussions

Reading Update #3:

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The last time I spoke to you I had just finished listening to the audiobook of Alone in Berlin. I was still reading William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (which, by the way, I still haven’t touched).

I’ve managed to read two books since then.

I started Halloween night with The Virago Book of Witches edited by Shahrukh Husain, which is an anthology of short folkloric stories from all over the world that examines the idea of a witch. From a woman who is passionate, caring and nurturing to a woman who is evil, cannibalistic and possessive. It has stories from all over the world, from varying centuries and decades, from various story-tellers.

I’m really interested in how different cultures and different times define the witch. There is no fixed definition of the witch, and beliefs/tradition take liberty with that, positioning the witch as something their culture should inspire to be like or to be the complete opposite of. It was a mixed bag of depictions and I learnt how different cultures view the figure.

I’m also really interested in how the witch has been passed on through the mode of story-telling. This book contributes to that by documenting how the witch has been told previously, through verbatim and through translation. It was interesting to see how Husain grouped the stories, and how the Irish, for example, saw the witch as a sort of blessing.

After that I moved onto Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. We follow Esther Greenwood’s life from her summer job in New York back through her days at New England’s largest school for women, and forward through her attempted suicide, her bad treatment at one asylum and her good treatment at another, to her final re-entry into the world.

I thought this was a moving and witty look into the life of an ordinary woman battling mental illness. The contrast between the day-to-day life and the internal struggle was very powerful, and I loved the metaphor of the bell jar, and how Esther is trapped in this glass case.

I found it quite hard to get into at first, but I slowly got sucked into the narrative, and found myself really connecting to Esther, despite not sharing her experiences. Plath is an excellent writer, and I’m eager to read some of her poetry now!

I’m currently making my way through Laura Purcell’s The Corset. Here we follow Dorothea Truelove, who is young, wealthy and beautiful, and Ruth Butterham, a young, poor woman awaiting the trial of murder. Dorothea, studying phrenology, takes an interest in Ruth and her story. But can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad or a murderer?

I’m really enjoying this one so far. I love stories that follow a member of the working class who has been accused of murder, like Alias Grace or Frannie Langton, as it explores the prejudices against this class and how they are often easy targets for the true criminals. I’m really excited to see how this one plays out!

…and that’s it for now. A very slow reading week, but I’m hoping I’ll get some time off soon to chill and read.

What are you currently reading? Let’s discuss it!

Thanks for reading, Lauren X

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