Reading Summary March 2023

Two themes emerged this month. One was planned and deliberate, namely the Northern Climes reading, although I ended up with only four books from that part of the world, two Swedish, one Finnish and one Canadian.

The second theme developed accidentally, as all best reading does. I’ve been diligently practising my ballet (and other dance steps) pretty much every day this year, but I had a few days of enforced rest when I hurt my neck and waited to see an orthopedist to figure out how serious it was. So I had to get my ‘ballet fix’ in some other way, which meant reading books about ballet or set in the highly-strung world of professional ballet dancers.

Two of those books were by Meg Howrey, featuring tricky family dynamics as well as the pain and self-absorption of ballet dancers and choreographers.

The best of me is in my work. Not that I’m selfless there. I use my dancers. I use their talent, their devotion, their endless training and ambition, their desire for approval from the mirror and from me. I mine it all and polish the gems. I make them do what I want, and I try to give them something that says, ‘You are seen. There is only one of you in th eworld. I have never seen anyone exactly like you. Thake this movement, it’s yours alone.’

Meg Howrey: They’re Going to Love You

The Cranes Dance is both more dramatic (with themes of mental illness and suicide), but also funnier, with the protagonist Kate Crane’s acerbic wit bringing the highfaluting ballet vocabulary right down to earth. The synopsis of Swan Lake early on in the book is absolutely hilarious.

The Queen reminds Siegfried with some incomprehensible ballet mime that tomorrow is his twenty-first birthday and he’s got obligations, like choosing a bride and getting married. The Prince sulks a bit at this, and makes the gesture for True Love: one hand to the breast, the other held aloft with the first two fingers extended. (You’re gonna want to scootch down and get that program for the explanatory notes on this action, because otherwise you might think that the Queen is telling her son that he needs to get a manicure and that Siegfried is responding by trying to hail a cab, or test current wind conditions.)

The third ballet book this month is probably the most frightening of them all and is non-fiction, written by a ballet journalist. It examines all of the inequities, dangers, outmoded traditions and cruelties of traditional ballet and asks if things could be done better, without endless injuries (and having to dance through them), starvation, pink tights, male ballet princes and submissive female dancers.

Aside from these two themes, I also managed to squeeze in several entertaining but not memorable crime novels (set in Cornwall, northern Greece and the French Alps), a reinterpretation of the Passion by a Welsh poet, and a book about practising art and writing which I found really inspiring (sometimes you need to hear the obvious but presented far more eloquently than you could do it yourself).

All in all, a quieter reading month, perhaps reflective of the worries I have had about my health and about my job (so far all seems to be trugging along as usual): twelve books, seven by women writers, two non-fiction, three in translation.

For April I will be reading some books published in 1940. Although the #1940Club hosted by Simon and Karen only runs for one week, from 10th to 16th April 2023, I have four books planned (Miss Hargreaves, Darkness at Noon, The Invention of Morel and The Secret of Dr Honigberger), so will probably need the whole month to read them all. Especially if I alternate between these and other random reads!

13 thoughts on “Reading Summary March 2023”

  1. I love ballet books and flew through the two Howrey novels recently. I’ll have to check out the non fiction book you mention.

    1. They were fun, weren’t they, I especially loved the description of choreography. I was so obsessed with dancing, I used to create my own little dances to favourite pieces of music, but I never thought about it in a more systematic way.

  2. I love ballet, Marina Sofia! I can remember going to my first ballet when I was twelve. At one point I even wanted to be a dancer – that never happened. At any rate, I do love the theme here. At some point I ought to do a post about ballet in crime fiction. It’s there…

    1. Yes, I too wanted to be a dancer. But my mother was always against me doing ballet (I was too tall anyway, would have been happy with other forms of dancing too). That’s why I read about it as much as I can, both in the past and now.

  3. It seems like ballet has become a popular theme in literary fiction. (Also thinking of The Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale and, from further ago, Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead.)

  4. Extremely entertained by the description of ballet mime—I ended up seeing Giselle three times in February (it’s complicated) and the mime was by far the most incomprehensible part of the show. Watching it three times actually helped me understand what the gestures were about; if I’d only seen it once, I’d have lost the sense of them completely.

    1. There are such standardised expressions in mime! I love the way the author pokes fun at some of the ballet traditions (although I love those traditions too)

  5. Looks like an interesting month! I too had a ballet phase but was no good at it, so probably a good thing I dropped it when I did… And some great titles there for 1940 – very much looking forward on your thoughts!! 😀

  6. When I first started out as a specialist teaching music in high school half a century ago (!) we used to be able to hire educational cine films to show classes. In order to overcome students’ prejudice against ballet-dancing as somehow namby-pamby I’d show them a film about the training of male and female dancers to emphasise that the regime was as brutal as that for top-class athletes. I think they were impressed but also appalled at the toll it took on bodies (and now we’d consider on their mental health).

    I confess I’d forgotten about the #1940Club, but as I keep meaning to return to Borges I think I’ll at least revisit the first story in his Ficciones, ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’. I had at one time considered the Koestler title but haven’t yet got round to locating a copy.

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