Cheers to the start of summer and now is the time to find a great summer book! Spence alumnae participated in a book club with the beloved Ms. Jewett throughout the year and below are the books that they read and discussed throughout the year, in case you wanted to follow along on your own from home, the beach or wherever your summer adventures take you! See the selected books below:
Fall 2017 - LIFE REDUX
Lives are reimagined, revisited and revived in the novels we read this fall.
Michael Cunningham, The Hours (1998)
I suspect many of you may have read Cunningham’s novel when it came out, but I think it’s worth revisiting. It is best known for its reworking of Mrs. Dalloway, but you don’t need to have read Virginia Woolf’s 1923 novel to appreciate the way a single day in the lives of three women–a writer, a reader and Mrs. Dalloway herself–fit together like the pieces of a kaleidoscope and are, in the process, reimagined and relived.
Philip Roth, The Counterlife
One of Philip Roth’s preoccupations as a writer has been the relation between “his life as a man” and “his life as a character,” between life in the world and life in his fictions. Here’s what he said about this novel: “Normally there is a contract between the author and the reader that only gets torn up at the end of the book. In this book the contract gets torn up at the end of each chapter; a character who is dead and buried is suddenly alive, a character who is assumed to be alive is in fact dead, and so on.” Roth also described this novel as “a book where you never get to the bottom of things.” So, duly warned, we’ll try to do just that.
Paul Auster, 4321
I will freely confess that I chose the first two choices for our fall reading to take us to this big, bewildering, enthralling novel. The premise of Auster’s novel is simple (though the structure is not): from his one beginning, as the only child of Stanley and Rose Ferguson, born (as Auster was) in 1947, the hero quadruples. His four selves go their separate ways, each with his own experience of childhood, adolescence, friendship, love, sport and school. His parents likewise have fourfold lives, while retaining their names and professions. Navigating these four different narratives is often bewildering, but the interweavings and disjunctions are part of the fun.
Winter 2018 - (RE)VISITING THE CLASSICS
This semester we read three canonical works by women. They are generally described as Classics, a label that can be daunting. Whether you are discovering Anne Elliott or Jane Eyre for the first time or viewing them through adult eyes, they are well worth the time. And if you’ve never encountered Antoinette Cosway, you have surprises in store.
Jane Austen, Persuasion
It’s hard to believe we haven’t read Austen in all our years together. Austen’s light touch and gentle comic sense sometimes obscure the acuity with which she skewers the social milieu in all of her novels, but her sharp eye is most evident in Persuasion, maybe because Anne Elliott is the only Austen heroine who is a grown up. Austen’s final novel is less popular than Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, not because it is any less good (it’s not) but because it is more nuanced, more troubling.
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
I would guess most of you have read Jane Eyre. I hope you’ll trust me when I say it is worth revisiting as an adult (especially if you read it in middle school!). More experience of life and literature make for a more complex and challenging understanding of this groundbreaking novel.
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
The “madwoman in the attic” takes center stage in Rhys’ novel, but the novel isn’t a simple take-off on or prequel to Jane Eyre. This landmark novel by Rhys illuminates and confronts Bronte’s, challenging the well-known narrative and forcing us to read it with changed eyes. As a critic has noted, “Rhys took one of the works of genius of the 19th century and turned it inside-out to create one of the works of genius of the 20th century.”