The Week in Books #13

Another week, another bundle of books! I’ve finished off a few new ones, plus have a few from this summer that still need sharing. I did a moderate about of reading on Sylvia Plath over the summer months, as well as some more on death and dying, and more recently a few titles on feminist views of motherhood. 

Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams by Sylvia Plath – This is a collection of early short stories, essays and diary excerpts written by Plath, with an introduction by the late Ted Hughes. The collection is wonderful in that it shows us how hard Plath worked at her writing. Not all pieces were necessarily strong or successful, but it makes Plath appear all the more human to us mere mortals. Her poetry is stunning, and I really enjoyed the glimpse into her other works as she found her strengths as a creative woman. Johnny Panic was excellent, and I would rate it up there with the Yellow Wallpaper as a creepy punch in the face short story. 

Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes – I’ve read everything Plath has to offer, but had not yet made time for the work of her husband Ted Hughes. Maybe because I don’t really like him as a person, I don’t know. I wanted to give it a try and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this collection, all poems being written to and about Sylvia. Towards the end the poems started to feel a bit repetitive, and in general actually a bit reductive to Sylvia and her talents. This was Hughes final publication, released in 1998 shortly before his death. I definitely have some stand out favourites from this collection, but quite a few others I felt ambivalent about. 

To greater understand the timeline of events Hughes documents in Birthday Letters, I followed it up with Ariel’s Gift by Erica Wagner. Wagner goes through the collection poem by poem and illustrates what the couple was up to at the time. This increased my understanding of the works by Hughes considerably and I definitely recommend reading both simultaneously to those who are interested in the Plath legacy. 

A few months ago I read Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty and liked it so much I immediately pre-ordered her upcoming book From Here to Eternity: Travelling the World to Find the Good Death. I promptly forgot about the order, so when it arrived in my mailbox I was surprised and thrilled to have something new to read about the topic of death and dying. Caitlin is a fabulous writer and I love how passionate she is about death and death customs. She is a mortician and funeral home owner based out of Los Angeles and, as the name of the book implies, visited different parts of the world to learn more about how humans treat their dead. This was a truly fascinating look at different cultures and traditions. Her writing style is accessible and easy going, informative and detailed but not morbid. There are also illustrations that I thought were an excellent addition to the writing. Definitely definitely recommend this one!! 

This past week I also made my way through the fairly dense but informative book The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How it Has Undermined All Women by Susan J. Douglas and Meredith W. Michaels. This book is an incredibly well researched analysis of media depictions of motherhood through the modern era that focuses on the unattainable standards set by television, magazines, news broadcasts, etc. It’s quite astounding to see how media has shaped what society believes to be a “good” mother (all sacrificing martyr that loves every second of stay-at-home motherhood and is 100% perfect and unflappable 24/7) and a “bad” mother (any woman receiving government support OR working a job outside the home, having babies with multiple men, suffering from mental illness, or WOC in general). It’s actually quite insane when you take a closer look at what is expected of women once they have given birth. How can we possibly maintain these standards, often set by celebrity moms who have endless resources at their disposal, and still hold on to some shred of ourselves in the process? Very interesting, if lengthy, read on what it means to be a mother in this modern age. 

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