What I’m Reading Now: June 2014 Edition

This has been a slow fiction reading month for me, what with hectic summer schedules at my house (husband out of town, mom in town, trying to catch friends as they come and go). I’ve also been doing a lot of online and print periodical reading. (I have new subscriptions to Booklist! And Horn Book! Exciting times!)

And it takes a lot of effort to be annoyed with out-of-town peeps (and in-town peeps I’m avoiding) asking awkward questions to try to figure out what my pregnant body looks like at six to seven months. I get that I am more sensitive to this than many people, but how the heck am I supposed to answer questions such as, “What do you look like?” I don’t know, what do you look like?

Seriously and no lie, someone came up to my husband at a public function while I was standing right next to him, looked me up and down, and said, “She’s not very big, is she? Well, I guess she’ll get bigger.” OMG, I AM IN THE ROOM, PEOPLE!

I don’t intend to turn this blog into an ongoing discussion of how obnoxious people are about pregnant women’s bodies, BUT since I’ve started speaking up, a lot of women have whispered to me that they didn’t like it, either. I hope by talking about it, I’m at least making it slightly more okay for us to say, “You know what? That’s really rude, and I bet you would never make personal remarks like that about a non-pregnant person’s body.” It’s okay with me if calling people out on this stuff is not “nice.” I could go on all day about the tyranny of “nice.” I don’t want my daughter to think she has to put up with sexist, misogynistic crap so people will think she’s “nice.”

But that really is not the main point of this post, so without further comment on comments on my body, three excellent books I’ve read this month. Speaking of sexist, misogynistic crap, the protagonists in these books all have to deal with their fair shares of it, and it’s inspiring to see how they overcome, despite historical contexts far more restrictive than our own.

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller (London, 1909)

A Mad, Wicked Folly CoverI had the very good fortune to meet and befriend Sharon at SCBWI-Illinois’s Prairie Writers’ and Illustrators’ Day in November 2013, where she introduced me to protagonist Victoria Darling. Vicky’s struggle to become an artist in an art world (and a world world) dominated by men is inspiring. The whole time I was reading, I was thinking, “I can’t believe my friend wrote this. This is amazing.” It’s also a great look at the suffragette movement in London in the early twentieth century, and it really made me interrogate my feelings about the intersections of art and motherhood and where those feelings come from. Excellent work, Sharon. You absolutely deserve the acclaim.

Gilt by Katherine Longshore (England, 1539-1542)

Gilt_CATKatherine is a blog sister of Sharon’s at Corsets, Cutlasses, and Candlesticks, which is how I encountered her Tudor-era novels. I’m usually more of a Plantagenet girl (I was Eleanor of Aquitaine for Halloween in sixth grade. Yeah, I got made fun of. Worth it.), but I was drawn to the jeweled covers of this set of companion novels, which continues in Tarnish and Brazen. Gilt is written from the perspective of Kitty Tylney, a friend of Henry VIII’s doomed fifth queen, Catherine Howard. Anne Boleyn usually gets all the press, so I was intrigued that a writer would choose to start with Catherine Howard. As I read, I kept thinking how interesting it was that I couldn’t put the book down, even though I technically knew the end. I think that’s a trick in historical fiction writing: keeping readers guessing even though we already know how certain things are going to play out.

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman (England, 1290)

cover_catherinecalledbirdyI missed Karen Cushman’s excellent middle grade novels as a kid because by the time they came out, I was already past the target age. I was inspired to read this one by the 20th Anniversary Twitter buzz, and I’m so glad I did. Catherine, the daughter of a minor knight with a small manor, must spend her fourteenth year avoiding potential suitors. I really appreciated the fact that the novel doesn’t gloss over the realities of Catherine’s world: she has to marry. She really has no other viable options for survival, but how she manages to make her own choices within the unfair confines of her world is the key to her story.

No doubt I’ll have much more time to read this summer, as I have no intention of giving all these people who “want to see me pregnant” (Seriously, that’s weird. Really, listen to it.) much satisfaction, and because I work at home, I don’t have to. Haha. Extended reading time on my treadmill and recumbent bike, here I come. Because, yep: I still love working out and getting in my reading time while I do it. Which is partly why, in our schadenfreude-based world, I don’t look nearly as awful as people seem to hope.

6 Comments

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6 Responses to What I’m Reading Now: June 2014 Edition

  1. Ginger Saxon

    Love reading your blogs Courtney. I love historical novels ( I tend to like the early American era), but really just about anything old. You’re such a bright and talented writer. I’m looking forward to your book being published.

    (I’m your mom’s college friend from SMC)…….

    • Courtney

      Thanks so much, Ginger! I also love early America (obviously, since I spend a lot of time writing about it).

  2. Oh. My. Goodness. Where do I begin?

    First. I look pretty damn good. How ’bout you?

    Second. Eleanor of Aquitaine rules. The fact that you knew this in 6th grade… why did I not know YOU in 6th grade? (Was it E.L. Konigsburg’s book that turned you on to her or were you already a history maven?)

    Third, I looooove Katherine Longshore’s books. All of them. Haven’t read “Brazen” yet, but I will. I have a “to read” pile like nobody’s business.

    Fourth, Sharon’s story intrigues me, especially after a recent trip to the Denver Art Museum’s “Passport To Paris” exhibition where I learned about a female artist (wish I could remember her name) who had one beautiful painting in the exhibit, but also lived with a man who refused to marry her, raised his children, finished the paintings he sketched and had to watch as he took credit — and payment — for those paintings. In that light, I’m even more intrigued to see how Sharon’s heroine handles herself.

    Fifth, go! Exercise, be brave, be yourself, don’t be nice. 🙂

    • Courtney

      I’m going to start telling people that, Maryanne!

      I think I discovered Eleanor of Aquitaine through Agatha Christie’s A POCKET FULL OF RYE, in which one of the characters was named after her. I didn’t encounter A PROUD TASTE FOR SCARLET AND MINIVER until grad school, when I absolutely loved it, of course.

  3. Pam Harrison

    I was so fortunate to be a middle grade teacher. Because I taught 6th grade, I was introduced to Karen Cushman’s books. Catherine, Called Birdy is an amazing novel. after reading your post, I’ll have to read the others you discussed. I can’t wait!

    And – I can’t believe how rude people can be!