Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

A slightly belated Happy New Year! My entire family has been visiting from the US since the 21st of December and they just left today, so I haven’t had much time for sharing bookish news. We had a lovely holiday, spending both Christmas and New Year’s in the small town of Colmar in Alsace. Colmar has quite a big Christmas market every year so we spent our days eating pretzels and beignets and drinking mulled wine. Not a bad way at all to spend a week – despite the slushy weather and the somewhat eccentric apartment we rented.

The only reading I did over the holiday was to start a long overdue reread of Little Women. It has probably been twenty to twenty-five years since I first read Little Women and it is quite fun to revisit the story, especially now that I know a little bit more about that period of American history and about the Alcott family (mostly thanks to Susan Cheever’s American Bloomsbury). But this reread is also interesting because I read and enjoyed Geraldine Brooks’s March a few years ago. I find myself reading for the parts of the novel Brooks would have used to help imagine the untold story of Mr. March at war and of Marmee and March’s relationship. Finally, I’m not there yet, but I’m pretty sure I will be just as upset as I was at thirteen to read the part when Jo turns Laurie down. I’m curious whether most readers disapprove of Alcott’s decision on this point, or is it only pre-teen girls?

I didn’t choose Little Women completely by accident – this book is also kicking off my year of reading and reviewing women writers. I spent a few days before the holidays putting together a list of about 100 books that I’d like to read this year. Many of the writers on the list I’ve heard of and even read before, but many are new to me. I’ll be covering about three centuries and jumping continents as often as I can – although the list is definitely weighted toward American writers. I’m very excited about this project!

And finally, I started reading Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women yesterday. What a fun book! I love the way Pym has written Miss Lathbury—she’s such an excellent combination of pitiful and snarky. It’s funny to think of this book coming out right about the same time as Under the Net by Iris Murdoch, they feel very different. I am slowly working my way through Murdoch from start to finish and already have a great admiration for the depth of her writing, but I like the way Pym satirizes her characters. It seems harmless at first but cuts sharply.

So that’s how my reading year has begun – how about everyone else?

14 Responses to “starting the new year”

  1. Anthony

    Happy new year, Michelle; I began the year utterly consumed by Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s The Melancholy of Resistance. It is entirely possible that my first could be my best book of the year.

    • Michelle

      Wow, I have just added that book to my list. I hope the rest of the year isn’t a total disappointment after such a great start!

  2. Lilian Nattel

    Happy New Year! I remembering being upset that Jo turned him down too. But I read Little Men first and I was taken with the whole idea of Plumfield.

    • Michelle

      I’ve been meaning to read Little Men and since Jo is my favorite character of all the March’s, I’m quite happy that Alcott wrote another book about her.

  3. litlove

    Happy New Year to you and yours! I hope it will be a splendid one! I couldn’t get on with Little Women when I tried it (was probably trying to read it at the wrong emotional moment), but I am a fan of Barbara Pym, who is brilliant at social comedy. I’m definitely with Larkin in thinking that she has been dreadfully underrated. I can’t wait to see your list of women writers – oh, that is, if you’re going to reveal it? Anyway, I’m very excited about your project.

    • Michelle

      I’m keen to read more Pym after this work experience – she is quite brilliant, as you say. I haven’t laughed out loud so often while reading in a very long time. I dare say she is underrated, and I wonder why?

      I should post my list for the women writers project, thank you for the idea!

  4. Helen

    Happy new year Michelle! Looks as if you had a wonderful time over the holidays. Thanks again so much for The Stinging Fly, which I am enjoying very much. I hope that my card and package have reached you.

    Yes yes, post your list please! Pym and Murdoch are quite a combination, I love both though. Aren’t comic writers often underrated (and a woman too, to boot)? Although the first Pym I read was Quartet in Autumn, which depressed me so much it was years before I picked up another.

    I too was horrified when Jo turned Laurie down, and I don’t think that even rereading it since I’ve become an adult can dispel that horror, although I’m sure that psychologically it makes sense.

    • Michelle

      I am so glad you are enjoying The Stinging Fly – I look forward to their latest issue! I completely agree that comic writers are often underrated, and Pym’s comedy is quite sharp. I would like to read Quartet in Autumn, but it appears to be a difficult and depressing novel so I might save it for another month.

  5. Stefanie

    Happy New Year! It sounds like you had a wonderful holiday. Will you be sharing you book list or are you going to hold us in suspense the whole year, waiting to see what women writers you will read and what books? Barbara Pym is a gem. Excellent Women was the first book of hers I read and I loved it. I must say, inspired by you, I will be reading women science writers this year when nonfictional urges call.

    • Michelle

      I should put together a post on my book list, but I need to finish it first! I am so excited to read more about the science writers you’ll be reading this year. What a great idea – and I’m sure I will get a lot of titles to look into.

  6. びっくり

    “My entire family has been visiting… we spent our days eating pretzels and beignets and drinking mulled wine.”

    A fine way to spend the holidays! Far better than tied to a keyboard, blogging away.

    My New Year has been profoundly changed by my discovery of Amazon.co.jp and their amazing service. For several years I have suffered through a painful dilemma. Many English books are hard to find, even with a long trek into a major city, and are horribly expensive as well. Alternatively, I have waited until trips to America to buy books, but have been limited by souvenir purchases and luggage limits. Also, I haven’t had a trip with shopping flexibility since August 2010 and have no forseeable plans.

    Quickly checking Amazon, I found that virtually everything I could want is there at cheap prices and they deliver anywhere in the country for free. Delivery has been amazing as well – less than 48 hours each time. One order was placed at 2am and arrived just after 10pm, 40 hours later, by a Sagawa deliveryman apologizing profusely for the late hour. I didn’t kiss him, but I smiled, reassured him, and thanked him.

    Now, I worry about my bookshelves.

  7. smithereens

    Happy new year to you and your family! It looks like you all had a great time. If you ever make it still a bit further away from Colmar to Paris, make sure to drop me a line! My reading this January is very scattered between classics, Viennese mysteries and even a funny TV memoir.

  8. Care

    Happy New Year! I look forward to seeing your list of women writers. I was just about to start my list (post) on authors I really hope to experience this year when I thought of you – I had a comment from someone who blogs entirely in French. 🙂

  9. Annie

    Hello ! I’m the “someone who blogs entirely in French”. Care, give me your adress and I am very happy to find a new blog to read. I saw you spent Christmas in Colmar. I lived during twenty years just near in Mulhouse and now in the southern Alps (in EMBRUN). I was happy to know you reread “Little women” : I like a lot this book and Louisa May Alcott.
    Happy to read you again soon. Annie

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