Monthly Archives: May 2010

Bad Blood

I still feel in the middle of a blogging break instead of at the end of one, but I did want to post at least a short review of Lorna Sage’s memoir Bad Blood, the latest Slaves of Golconda read. Sage grew up in the 1940s and 50s in northern Wales in a very odd family. Her grandparents, with whom she spent much of her childhood, hated each other, her grandmother hated all men with a passion, her grandfather was a philandering vicar, her father was absent at the war in her early years, and her mother was miserable as a housewife and never quite grew up. Sage lived at first in a vicarage with her grandparents, a dirty, falling-down, mysterious kind of place, and then after her father returned from the war in an open-plan council house that made her miserable. It was fascinating to read about what life was like at the time: how awful the schools were, with no intention of teaching the pupils anything at all except keeping them in their place, how strict the class divisions were, and how closed off and constricted were the lives people led. Young people did what their parents did, and that was that. The Sage family were outsiders, originating as they did from southern instead of northern Wales and having an uncertain class status, as well as a quietly scandalous grandfather. Sage spent much of her childhood alone, wandering around the countryside, a countryside that some might see as picturesque, but which she knew was really harsh and wild.

And changes were underway, although they showed themselves slowly. New agricultural technology meant that young people who expected to labor on farms would find themselves without work and would have to leave their hometowns to become laborers elsewhere. New educational ideas would challenge the indifference and cruelty of a school system that refused to teach its children, and, of course, the 60s were on the way. But these changes came slowly, and for most of her childhood, Sage has to battle her circumstances all on her own.

She is certainly capable of waging battles, though. She’s a tough, smart, independent young person, and she is lucky that her grandfather taught her to read at a young age. Reading provides her with an escape, in a number of ways — an escape from the family craziness as she buries herself in books for hours and hours, and eventually an escape in the form of educational opportunities that take her to university and on to an academic career.

I enjoyed the book because I found Sage interesting as a person, because the time period and place were fascinating to learn about, and because I enjoyed Sage’s writing, which is vivid and powerful. At the same time as she tells her particular story, she captures what life was like for people in her time and place, and it’s a picture that makes me feel very grateful to live when and where I do.


Filed under Books

Recent Reading

A very quick update post on what’s going on in my reading world:

  • I finished The Bhagavad Gita a while back. I read it twice, actually, once quickly and another time at a slower pace. It’s short (maybe 80 pages), so it wasn’t a challenge to do this. What is there to say about this book? Lots, of course, but not in a brief summary. I didn’t understand everything I read, but much of it is a very lucid introduction to some of the core beliefs in Hinduism.
  • Last night I finished Mary McCarthy’s collection of linked stories The Company She Keeps. I love McCarthy and am happy reading pretty much anything she’s written. This book was great: her main character is fascinating (and seemed very much like McCarthy herself — who is fascinating), and what I liked about it in particular is the amount of analysis it contains, analysis of ideas, social situations, people, politics, psychology, relationships, and love affairs. Often in these stories not a whole lot happens, but I was pulled along by the forcefulness of the author’s mind at work.
  • Yesterday I also finished Ben Yagoda’s book Memoir: A History. I was disappointed, although that may not be the book’s fault. I’m not a huge memoir reader, but there are some I absolutely love (including those by Mary McCarthy), and I was hoping to be able to add to my list. There were very, very few that Yagoda inspired me to read, however. It was a good overview of the genre, but it turns out that an overview is not really what I wanted.
  • I just picked up Elif Batuman’s The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. I’m only 40 or so pages in, but so far I’m liking it a lot. She’s a very smart writer with an interesting voice and the ability to move smoothly among various modes of writing — personal narrative, literary history, intellectual contemplation. It’s the kind of nonfiction I like very much, and I have high hopes for the rest of the book.

As for cycling, I’m riding like mad. I rode 170 miles this week — on three rides. There was the cupcake ride with two others on Tuesday for 50 miles, a 30-mile loop with my cycling BFF on Thursday, and today a 90-mile ride with a group of six. I’m getting used to long rides, and although I began to get tired toward the end today, I was able to push hard right up until we returned.

I raced last Saturday in my first Pro123 race. My results reflected this lack of experience — 23rd out of 31 starters — but I rode hard and felt fine about it (I averaged 19.6 mph for 48 miles and 2,500 feet of climbing, which for me is fast, even if most of the others were faster). I have no idea when I’ll race next, excluding the Wednesday night training races, which don’t feel much like a race for me, as I’m not in contention to win. I like this uncertainty about racing, and instead of anticipating a race, I’m looking forward to another long ride next weekend, perhaps 100+ miles.


Filed under Books

Final Thoughts on Emma

I wrote last time about Emma and the accuracy of the most recent BBC adaptation, and after finishing the book I decided that it only went wrong in a couple small places. These places have nothing to do with plot but are more about capturing my sense of how people would have behaved at the time, or at least how they behaved in Jane Austen novels. I found the physical closeness of Emma and Frank Churchill during the Box Hill scene to be too much, and Emma does not run tearfully into Donwell Abbey to tell Mr. Knightley she can’t marry him because she can’t leave her father, but except for those two moments, I think the movie got it exactly right. I think I’ll have to watch it again some time.

Now that I think about it, though, I’m remembering something else that struck me upon finishing the novel: the ending of the movie is very romantic, as one would expect from an Austen adaptation, but the novel is much more prosaic and practical. There are romantic moments in the book when Emma and Mr. Knightly finally get together, but very, very quickly we are past that and on to the details of how they will live after the wedding. The book goes on for a surprisingly long time after the romantic revelations. I know some critics have written about the way that the marriages in Austen aren’t always as ideal as they might seem or as we might like and that Austen is perhaps being more critical of the institution than we generally think. I’m not sure what I think of that claim, really, but certainly in Emma attention is as much on practical logistics as it is on romance. Rather than storming into Donwell Abbey in tears telling Mr. Knightley she can’t marry him because of her father only to have him comfort her and assure her that she can, in the novel she calmly thinks to herself that they won’t be able to marry while her father is alive. She’s willing to accept this. She’s happy when Mr. Knightley figures out a way to care for her father, but it’s not a particularly dramatic scene.

But, of course, it’s too much to ask of a movie that it acknowledge this prosaic aspect of the novel, and, frankly, I would have been disappointed if it had.


Filed under Books


I’ve been a bad blogger lately, and I’m this close to saying I’m going to take a blogging break so I can stop thinking about it for a while, but then I think, oh, I can manage to write something short, an updating kind of post, and maybe that will keep me going until I get some time and motivation back? Perhaps. We’ll see.

So, updates. I went on a lovely, 90-mile ride today with Hobgoblin, my cycling BFF, and two other guys, both good riders. Actually, it’s amazing anybody showed up for the ride at all, because this is how Hobgoblin advertised it in an email to our cycling club:

Terrible, ugly ride.  Five hours of pain, misery, and horror.  Expect bad attitudes, elitist snobbery, and open mockery of your bike-handling abilities.  Lots of climbing, bad roads filled with potholes, and strict pacelines.  We’re heading north to Lake Waramaug and Kent, so no sniveling about the route.   If you want to put yourself through this torture, be ready to roll from the shop at 8:30 on Sunday, May 2.

Would you show up for that ride? I certainly wouldn’t, if I weren’t married to the writer. Even knowing the tone was joking, I’d be afraid. But the “terrible” ride was really great, and we weren’t mean to each other at all. There was, as it turns out, lots of climbing, tons of potholes, and we did ride in a paceline, but our attitudes stayed upbeat. Any mockery aimed at each other was of the affectionate sort.

I’ve talked a lot in the past about giving up bike racing, haven’t I? Yeah, I have. But … it hasn’t happened yet. In fact, I recently applied for and got an upgrade to Category 3 (racers start in Category 4 for women and Category 5 for men, and work their way up the categories as they do well in races). This upgrade is both exciting and frightening — exciting because it’s an acknowledgment that I’ve done well as a racer, and frightening because my races will now be faster and longer. For example, next weekend’s race has the Women Cat 4 riders racing 24 miles, while all other women (Cat 1-3 and pro riders) race 48 miles. So not only will I be racing with Cat 3 riders, but also with 1s, 2s, and pros, and I’ll be racing twice as long. Let’s just say I’ll probably be hanging on to the pack for dear life.

I have no idea what will happen in the race, but I do know I’m riding farther and faster this year than I ever have before. So far this year I’ve ridden 2,165 miles, probably 500-600 more miles than usual, and in April alone I rode 640 miles. I didn’t plan on riding this much; it just sort of happened. And it’s fun.

As for reading, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and if I get my act together this week, I’d like to post on it. My mystery book group met yesterday and had a great discussion, as usual. Right now I’m eagerly awaiting hearing what our next book will be.

This past week I’ve been working my way through Jane Austen’s Emma. I got inspired to pick it up after watching the new BBC miniseries and enjoying it greatly. What happened is that while I liked the liveliness of the interaction between Emma and Mr. Knightley in the film, I wasn’t sure it was an accurate adaptation of the text, so I decided to reread the book and see (I’ve read the book multiple times — so many times I’ve lost count). It turns out the film is pretty accurate, and I’m beginning to think that my idea of Mr. Knightley has always been too serious and solemn. He is definitely fatherly in a way that seems a little odd in a romantic hero, but he’s also very sociable, witty, and amusing.

I’m not sure about the film’s portrayal of the flirtation between Emma and Frank Churchill, but I’ll withhold judgment until I get to that part in the book.

And that’s about it. You can see why I’m not blogging much, as it’s often a matter of deciding between reading and blogging, and I desperately need to read.


Filed under Books, Cycling