Tuesday, 1 March 2011


After the monumental slog of Wolf Hall, I decided to tuck into a bit of comfort reading.

The Other Boleyn Girl, by Phillipa Gregory is another re-read for me, and, since I have already (and most likely will do again) extolled the virtues of Gregory's prose - she is, after all, one of my favourite authors - I shall merely say: Great book, will read again, recommend, and pass round to all and sundry as a Christmas present. Don't watch the film though - it's awful. (Unless you can find the BBC version with Jodhi May and Natascha McElhone, which is still too short, but captures the spirit of the book a lot better.)

Half way through that, I took a break, and picked up a copy of Delusions of Gender, by Cordelia Fine. It's a fascinating - if slightly saddening at times - book about how, what we often think of as biological diferences between the genders are actually socially conditioned, and how these, so-thought-of "Biological differences" are actually making it far more difficult for women to succeed; narrowing their choices, until often they aren't choices at all.
This theme of biologically based sexism is becoming far more prevalent these days - and is often hailed as someone speaking the unpalatable truth in the face of political correctness - and I believe that it's going to be one of the next major battles that women are going to have to win.
It is similar to Natasha Walters' Living Dolls (which I strongly recommend), the second part of which also deals with this phenomenon - though Fine, having devoted an entire book to it, manages to cover more, and with a touch more insight and cohesion.

I seem to have been reading a lot of science (and pop science) lately - as evidenced by another book that I picked up, entitled Elephants on Acid, by Alex Boese, detailing some of the wierd things that people have done in the name of science. It's a bit sensationalist and silly, but there's one or two interesting factoids in there. The only problem I can see with it is that it just doesn't provide enough depth or detail. It's light and fluffy - and I'd actually like to know more about some of the things that Boese just touches on, because it feels like the science has been dumbed down too far.

Back to fiction then, and to an offering from the wonderful Gregory Maguire: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. It's a brilliant read, taking the classic Cinderella story and setting it in 17th century Holland. Maguire - who is probably better known as the author of Wicked; The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West - has a real talent for making the traditional antagonists of a story sympathetic, complex characters with understandable motivations, rather than flat figures of unfathomnable malevolence. So even though you know the story, you don't, and you find by the end that it makes better sense this way, and you probably even prefer Maguire's version.

My final book of February is Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger. It's a chilling ghost story, by another favourite author, set in post-war rural Warwickshire. The book is posessed of a creeping kind of horror - I stayed up till about 3AM reading it: not a good idea if you want to sleep ever again - but it's a powerfuly evocative book in other ways as well. I do have a vague familiarity with the county, but I didn't need it for the place to come alive on the pages. The descriptions in particular of the old country house, Hundreds, will put you right at the scene - though whether that's where you want to be as the book goes on...

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