Reading Lolita in Tehran–Azar Nafisi

I know, I know.  Every serious reader read this years ago.  I’ve had it on my to-do list for those same years and was recently pushed to move it to the top of the list.

And now was the right time to read it.  I’m in the throes of empty nesting, mid-life crisising, writing and suffering from the anxiety of what that means and does not mean, and thinking a lot about the globe.  Nafisi’s class project, to create an imaginary space where there is freedom, is similar in spirit to the project I began a year ago with this blog.  To recapture my joy of reading and to reclaim an act that had become a chore in the service of my work.

Reading about her “girls” is painful.  Reading about the deaths and the public celebrations of them is not as painful as hearing her scientific observation of them and of her own reactions.  I thank God in all his names that I have never had to live this way.

I love her magician, who helps her discover herself and her mind.  We all need one.

My one complaint is about the cover.  Nasifi is clear that it was an act of rebellion to let random hairs escape.  When the girls were together, they shed their veils.  Veils were for outside, prescribed and prescriptive.  So why do we see so much hair on the two women veiled on the cover?  These women exist nowhere in the book and every time I picked up the book I grimace before I began reading.  Are we, readers in the West, so soft or bigoted that we will not read or buy a book about the kind of repression that effaces/defaces one’s individuality?  We had to make these women individuals?  It’s a small complaint, however, that has more to do, I’m sure, with publishing and its business than the text the cover encloses.  But I can’t stop thinking of the book as a whole.  Its outside should reflect its inside or else it risks becoming itself a repressive veil.

Reading this book made me more conscious of my reading practice and of my freedom to walk through the streets as myself.  And to read uncensored.

Finished 9/14/12


The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice–Laurel Corona

After reading Marrying Mozart, I’m kind of into learning about famous composers through historical fiction, so I thought, why not Vivaldi?  I almost stopped reading after the third chapter.  The story just wasn’t grabbing me. There were two sisters, wards of the Pietà, who were taken from their village and brought to Venice, but I just wasn’t caring.  I’m so glad I kept going.  Maddalena and Chiaretta show great promise as a violinist and vocalist respectively and end up working at various times with Vivaldi, with whom Maddalena develops a deep and complicated relationship.  Chiaretta becomes famous for her voice and is eventually married to a member of the Congregazioné, which oversees the Pietà.

Corona probes the sad fate of women at the time and, although she begins painting a harsh picture of life in a religious institution, finally suggests that their fates are kinder than those of the women in the secular world.

Her historical notes at the end of the novel offer more food for thought about the role of women in this period.

Finished 8/31/12