Friday, March 28, 2014

The Provincial Lady

E.M. Delafield's "Provincial Lady" novels have long been on my radar time thanks to seeing them praised by various book bloggers. I found a copy of the second in the series at a used book sale last year, but had it to put it on hold until I could get my hands on the first in the series. I finally did that last month when Persephone had a special preview sale of their new edition of The Diary of a Provincial Lady.  I didn't intend to read both books back to back, but a few days after finishing the first I found myself missing the narrator's witty take on life so much that I just couldn't help myself from reading it sequel, The Provincial Lady in London. Both are utterly charming books.

Both novels take the form of continuous diary entries of the unnamed narrator who writes about her life between the Wars. Her self-deprecating, shorthand style might be said to be a forerunner of Helen Fielding's work. Unlike Bridget Jones's diary, however, the Provincial Lady's diary feels more true to life as it focuses on the minor absurdities found in everyday events. The novels aren't structured around one overarching plot arc. Instead, they ebb and flow with the tedious and the exciting sides of the narrator's life, all presented through the lens of her keen eye. We see her deal with disgruntled servants, mischievous children, an aloof husband, and tedious neighbors. While her life has that cozy English feel that I enjoy so much in books, it's not too cozy. The Provincial Lady is actually quite modern. She's a feminist and a writer with an active social life. She travels abroad on her own and, eventually, publishes a novel and rents a pied a terre in London. The point of view and sense of humor that the Provincial Lady brings to both her family life and her individual intellectual pursuits feels refreshingly relevant, even today.

E.M. Delafield wrote several other installments of the Provincial Lady--she apparently goes to America, visits Russia, and survives wartime. After reading these two, I'm now eager to see how she handles all of those adventures.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Little Rant

Since I'm in the middle of three different books right now and don't have any that I'm ready to write about, I thought I'd indulge in a little rant about a new reading app I saw in a blog post today. The app is called Spritz and it's intended to improve reading speed based on the theory that 80% of reading time is spent on the time it takes your eyes to move across a page. To cut down on this time, Spritz flashes one word at a time on screen, allowing the reader to keep their eyes fixed on one point as they absorb a string of words. Not only does this allow you to read more words per minute, but Spritz also claims that it increases reading comprehension....and it's that idea that I take issue with. 

Spritz's method may indeed allow readers to quickly comprehend something they're reading since they have to force themselves to stay focused on the screen in order to not miss a word. But doesn't that also suggest that reading is something to be gotten through as quickly as possible? There may be some kinds of reading where that's the case, like an instruction manual, but for most forms of literature, I think there's more to reading comprehension that just getting through the words and remembering what happened. To truly comprehend and appreciate a book, I think you need to allow time to pause when you come to an idea that stops you in your tracks, or to go back an reread a beautifully written passage. There's something to be said for building some breathing room into your reading, allowing time for your mind to wander, to daydream and really absorb what it is you're reading. The concept behind Spritz seems to totally negate that kind of reading experience.

And don't even get me started on the eye strain it must cause!

(image via here)

What do you think? Are you a slow or fast reader? Would you consider reading with Spritz?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Circle

I've written before about the fact that Dave Eggers seems to be a "love him or hate him" kind of author. While he might not be quite that polarizing, I think it's at least safe to say that there are a lot of skeptics when it comes to his work. It's also safe to say that I'm not one of them. I'm always eager to see what he will do next, which it why I was glad when I finally had the chance to read his latest novel, The Circle. In it, as in his past novels, Eggers creates a world and commits to it, giving the impression that its one he's intimately familiar with. This time around, that world is the corporate landscape of The Circle, a technology company that's the successor to Facebook and Google in the not-too-distant future. We're brought into that world through Mae Holland, a young woman who leverages a college friendship to gain a sought after entry level job at The Circle. Through her eyes we see all of the amenities of The Circle's idyllic campus: free food, state of the art offices, sprawling grounds where free concerts and activities are held for employees. Gradually, other details with more sinister undertones emerge about life at The Circle, like when additional computer screens appear at Meg's workstation (she gets up to seven or eight) so that she can devote more time to mandated participation on the company's social media streams, or when she's reprimanded for leaving The Circle's campus to spend time with her family. The ominous goals of The Circle soon become clear to the reader, who's left to wonder whether or not Mae will realize them for herself before the novel's end.


 The Circle presents an interesting concept overall, but works better as a fictional cautionary tale rather than as an effective novel. There isn't much of a story arc and the ending seemed particularly dissatisfying. Various details about the world of The Circle and about the new products they create do provide Eggers with a platform for thought-provoking commentary on what the boundaries of social media should be and on the potential absurdities of a world in which people are too busy "liking" things online to actually like anything in real life. His arguments are engaging, but could have easily been conveyed through a short story rather than a 500-page novel. 


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