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Category - Book Reviews
November 14, 2016
Sylvia Plath’s poetry has been recommended to me by nearly every professor or teacher of poetry I have ever had. Now, having read The Colossus and Other Poems, I can see why. Plath’s modern voice–free verse and ripe-to-splitting with evocative imagery and metaphor–feels very similar to my own poetic voice.
Despite this, I am left with an overall sense of disappointment with her poetry. The Colossus and Other Poems seems like a half-baked collection of poetry a college student might hastily put together for an undergraduate thesis. What didn’t I like? In particular, many of her poems followed the simplistic structure of: describe a scene (perhaps a field, a shipyard, or the view out the window) in beautiful detail. Find something dead in it or related to it, and end with a macabre flourish. In general, I disliked that her poetry felt like getting hit with overhead repeatedly with a morbid sledgehammer. After a few poems I felt a creeping sense of “I get it” when each poem circled around to a stanza or set of lines that presented death on a silver platter in a burnt, ochre-hued landscape. I get that collections of poetry need to be thematic, I just like when that theme is woven into the collection with a bit more nuance and subtlety.
My life, as I have lived it so far, has been largely enabled by feminists. I can vote, read, write, choose not to have children, play sports, wear pants, am not the property of my husband, and can even use an honorific that doesn’t depend on my marital status. That honorific–Ms.–was famously used by Gloria Steinem as the title of the feminist magazine she helped found in the ’70s. Steinem, a leader and spokeswoman for the feminist movement of the late ’60s and ’70s, has spent her entire adult life campaigning for equality. This campaign has led her all over the world giving lectures, leading discussions, and writing, and it is these travels that she uses as the structure for her most recent book My Life on the Road. Something of a memoir, the book chronicles Steinem’s life as it pertains to the physical journey, from her meandering cross-country trips with her family as a child to her time spent in India–at times traveling village-to-village helping those displaced by violence–to criss-crossing the United States covering and giving speeches for equality.
My Life on the Road provides a fascinating glimpse into the events of Steinem’s life. Personally, I think of the movements for social justice in the 1960s and ’70s as a sort of renaissance with heroes like Martin Luther King Junior and, well, Steinem herself leading the charge. Given that Steinem was a journalist as well as an orator she is able to provide a brilliant view-from-the-ground of everything from King’s “I have a dream” speech to the National Women’s Conference of 1977, an event which Steinem found so profound that it literally divided her life into two halves: the half before the conference, and the half after it.
The Silmarillion is widely known as the book that separates the men from the boys amongst Tolkien fans. It is, in essence, the creation story of Middle Earth–the Old Testament to the Lord of the Ring’s New Testament. In it, a pantheon of gods create the world out of song, strange and fell beasts roam the land, elves and demigods fall in love in starlit glades, dwarves build the mines through which Frodo and his party wander, and humans are seduced by the evil charms of Sauron. And that is only the most basic of overviews of this book.
In college, I dated a graduate student in aerospace engineering. We didn’t have much in common, but we both could agree that Apollo 13 was a fantastic movie. I remember he once told me that he fantasized about the moment in the movie in which the NASA engineering team is charged with discovering a way to fit together the command module’s square CO2 scrubber with the Lunar Module’s circular scrubbing apparatus before the CO2 rose to toxic levels. He would have loved, he told me, to be part of that team. If you have similar feelings, then I have the book for you.
The Lord of the Rings is the paragon of fantasy literature. Written in 1937 by professor of linguistics J.R.R. Tolkien, it is a high-fantasy epic that is one of the most recognizable works of fantasy in the world–something that the recent Academy Award-winning film series did much to cement in popular culture.
Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar has long sat on my reading list waiting for me–a well-matched reader given my feminist and literary leanings–to pull it from the shelf and crack it open–so to speak, given that I read it on my Kindle. I found it both fascinating and not at all what I expected after reading its boastful feminist reviews. It is a book about mental illness. The fact that the author happens to also be a feminist in a deeply unequal world is simply a fact of the narrative, or window dressing for feminist scholars.
I don’t mean, by declaring that The Bell Jar is not about feminism, to say that there is no feministic elements in it. To me, the novel can clearly be divided into three acts: the New York act, the Bell Jar act, and the Lifting act (in which the Bell Jar elevates and lets her go free). The New York act certainly has many feminist elements, and they are enjoyably waspish and acute. As a feminist reader I delighted in despising Marco and Buddy Willard. I enjoyed Esther’s imaginings of her future in Europe as an unmarried bohemian poet. I, along with Esther, admired Doreen’s wildness in the face of 1950s feminine propriety.