Saturday, December 29, 2007

Catching up and books half read

I haven't been in a book-reading mood lately, which is odd for me. I think it has something to do with my being beyond tired by the time I collapse into bed at night. I manage to read for about 15 minutes before I pass out, book on my chest, bed-side light still on.

I've also been catching up on articles in the pile of New Yorker magazines I have next to my bed. Work and knitting have kept me from reading the magazines when they arrive. This week I read an interesting article on the former director of antiquities at the Getty in Los Angeles, an article on how simple check lists are saving thousands of lives in ICU units around the country, and a review of Led Zeppelin's recent concert at the Millennium Dome in London. Last week's New Yorker was the winter fiction issue, and since I'm not a big fan of the short story form, I just skimmed through.

But now I'm caught up, and I can finish reading Nature Girl, by Carl Hiasson, and Yes Man, by some British author. I borrowed the book from my sister while she was here for Christmas. My father-in-law gave me cash for Christmas, and I think I may use part of it to go book shopping. I don't have anything in my bookshelves that is really jumping out at me, despite a stack of unread books. I think it's time for something new. Plus, I have more yarn than I know what to do with right now.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Marie Antionette

This is the book, by Antonia Fraser, that Sophia Coppola based her movie on. I, for one, loved both the book and the movie. I think the people who had problems with the movie should read the book, because Coppola nailed it.

What amazed me the most about Marie Antoinette is that she wasn't the person we've learned about in our history books. She never said, "Let them eat cake," for one. She was actually a devoted wife and mother - she insisted on nursing her babies in an era when wealthy women, especially royal women, sent their babies off to wet nurses. She also personally supervised her daughter's education. When things started going really wrong for the royals, Marie Antoinette was offered the chance to flee the country, but she refused, saying her place was with her husband - which sealed her fate.

Yes, she spent lavishly. Yes, she had lots of parties. But those things were expected of the women at court. She had seen how other queens had been relegated to minor positions in the court while their husbands carried on with mistresses and decided that she wanted nothing to do with that. Antionette carried on as if she was her husband's mistress, making sure to entertain him and keep him interested.

Much has been made of her building the Petit Trianon, when in fact the palace already existed. She just refurbished it. Antionette used it as her escape from the intensely public life at Versaille, where people were allowed to wander through as the King and Queen ate their meals. While at the Petit Trianon, she was also able to dispense with the rigid formaily of the court, where she couldn't get dressed in the morning without having 10 different women hand her various pieces of her clothing.

And while she was queen, with the resultant priveleges, she didn't always have it easy. Her one job was to produce an heir to the throne, but her husband went more than 8 years without consumating their marriage, despite Antionette's best efforts. Not only did she have all of France waiting for her to get pregnant, Antionette had a constant stream of letters from her mother and brother, the Empress and Emporer of Austria, castigating her for failing in her one job.

Marie Antoinette's end was incredibly tragic. She was separated from her husband and her children. She was put on trial and accused of horrible, and very untrue, crimes against the nation. But throughout, she behaved with dignity.

Fraser's book really was a revelation. It entirely changed my perception of one of the most loathed women in history.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Other Boleyn Girl

I've read several biographies of Henry 8 and his wives, all of them, so I figured I'd read a "historical novel" about them all. The author, Philippa Gregory, is known as the "Queen of Historical Novels." I'm not sure that's a title I'd want.

The book was very frustrating at first, because, silly me, I expected it to conform to ummm, history. But no. Gregory takes a few theories about the lives of Mary and Anne Boleyn and runs with them. Like the theory that Anne surrounded herself with gay courtiers, including her brother George, and this was one of the reasons she was executed.

And while I knew that Henry had had a daliance with Anne's younger sister Mary, I'd never read anywhere that Mary gave birth to two bastard children by Henry.

Finally, I gave up trying to reconcile myself to the history and just read it at trashy fiction. As soon as I read it that way, I started having a lot more fun with the book, because boy is it trashy. It was the perfect thing for me to read this weekend when I was awake in the middle of the night with asthma-induced insomnia.

The cover of the book claims that it is now a major motion picture starring Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansen and Eric Bana. I haven't heard about the movie yet, so I'm wondering if it is so bad that it went straight to video.