7 continents, 7 books, the next step: from Europe to America, and to #readwomen
My global reading journey started in Antarctica, and moved to Europe from there. In one of those nice coincidences, the first book I read for Europe took me both back to age of Enlightment, and back to a reading initiative from 2014:
"Reading Almqvist also reminded me of the "Readwomen"-initiative, and my own resolution to read more books written by female authors."So instead of moving on to move on to the next continent, to a book I had ordered already but arrived too late to take along (Laurence Bergreen's "Over the Edge of the World", which tells the story of Magellan's circumnaviagation of the globe - a journey that also included the Canary Islands, and the idea was to read the book there.)
So instead of following Bergreen's account of Magellan's journey, I browsed books again ... and arrived in the US, with 2 female authors who probably are well-known there, but not so much here in Europe: Edith Wharton and Zora Neale Hurston.
"Ethan Frome" by Edith Warthon
Edith Warthon was the first woman who won the Pulitzer Prize for literature, in 1921, for her novel "The Age of Innocence". "Ethan Frome" is an earlier work, published in 1911. The story is set in the fictitious town of Starkfield, Massachusetts.
Interesting detail: Wharton was always careful to label "Ethan Frome" as a tale rather than a novel. It's a dark story to read, and unlike fairy tales, there isn't exactly a happy end waiting for the characters. Here's more: Wikipedia/Ethan Frome
The story has two timelines, the one of the narrator, and the time of the earlier happenings. Here are two quotes that give an idea of the atmosphere (I was touched by the second one, the butterfly in winter):
"It seemed to be a part of the thickening darkness, to be the winter night itself descending on us layer by layer.”*
“They seemed to come suddenly upon happiness as if they had surprised a butterfly in the winter woods.”
Their eyes were watching.. - Zora Neale Hurston
The second novel also reaches back in time, to 1937. Here's the book description, from wiki: "Their Eyes Were Watching God" is a 1937 novel and the best known work by African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston. Set in central and southern Florida in the early 20th century, the novel was initially poorly received for its rejection of racial uplift literary prescriptions. Today, it has come to be regarded as a seminal work in both African-American literature and women's literature. TIME included the novel in its 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923." - more: Wikipedia / Their Eyes...
The copy I read included a longer foreword, which reads like a tale story itself: that the book for a longer time was on the verge to go out of print, even when the first discussion panels included it. Back then, there were "reading lists" for panel visitors, to get a borrowed copy for 2 hours. And that at one point, Alice Walker went looking for Hurston's grave, and learned that it was unmarked, on the way to be almost forgotten. She couldn't bear this neglect, and took care of the grave, ordering a gravemarker with the inscription: "Zora Neale Hurston - Genius of the South - Novelist, Folklorist, Anthropologist (1891-1960). Both the story itself, and the story about the book is touching. Just like this quote from the book:
"There are years that ask questions and years that answer."Another tale-like moment: the story leads to a particular place in Florida - to Lake Okeechobee. I was there, at that lake, once. Now I wish I had known about the book back then, and read it there.
So the timing didn't work for the read-at-the-same place, but instead something else worked out in a nice parallel of themes: while I thought about #readwomen, a message from Canada reached me - written by Mary Duffy: "Hello Dorothee thought you might want to see this as I mention your blog and book challenge"... and the link lead straight to Room Magazine, to an interview about Reading habits and resolutions:
Are you aware of your reading habits? - Reading Resolutions with Nikki Reimer and Mary Duffy
Such a good surprise. And how beautiful that my world reading challenge inspired a book group to read around the world, and now form a part of those reflections, which again might make other readers look at their reads from this different viewpoint.
The next reading challenge stop... won't be a continent, but an event: it's Leipzig Book Fair upcoming. Really looking forward.
Here are some additional links:
- The reading challenge - it's open to join: 7 Continents, 7 Billion People, 7 Books
- The readwomen-initiative, which started in 2014: #readwomen2014 - can a hashtah change reading habits?
- Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist 2016
- World books I read so far, listed by country: Book list by country
- The previous global reading book blog post: New places and where to start + global reading: Ice Bound (or: penguins, Antarctica, Endurance + how to count life)