Adenture-ing: Play It As It Lays and Penelopiad

I finished the latest Didion in my quest to read every single thing every written by both Atwood and Didion, many many months ago. But I just haven’t gotten around to talking about it. Play It As It Lays is a short read, but a complicated, messy read. It’s about what happens when you don’t know who you are, but you get famous anyway. And that celebrity and success occurs for no particular reason. And all of your self worth and understanding of who you are has to do with how others see you. So when you finally wake up from the sort of dreamworld you’ve been living in, it’s all suddenly very real, too real, and suddenly surreal. It’s about other things too, the infantilizing of women, the constant double standard that women must forever be young and beautiful, and men get to just be. It’s about motherhood and sexuality and a loss of self. But mostly, I think, it’s about identity. This kind of book leaves me feeling woozy. I get too caught up in the characters and I start feeling crazy. I feel this way with Hemingway as well. I get a kind of mental illness while reading these books, a fog starts to from around my brain and it’s as if I’ve woken prematurely from a nap that was too deep. I have a hard time shaking it all off.

There’s also a very bad abortion scene that spans many many pages in Play It As It Lays. And if you know me in real life, you know that blood, especially a lot of blood or injury to any aspect of the lady parts, pretty much sends me straight to the floor. Or squirming in bed next to Kamel while reading at night and begging him to talk to me so I can stop thinking about it and not pass out. Yes. This life of mine is quite glamorous.

I read Penelopiad in about 2 days on the train. It’s Atwood’s totally modern and amazing take on the Odyssey, from his wife’s perspective. One of you had mentioned I should read it in the big books suggestion post (and little did you know I was already reading it!). This is one of those books that definitely makes you think, that questions the myths we take for granted, that is poetic and thoughtful and all of that. But! It’s also entertaining and funny and irreverent.

There is something so incredibly satisfying when we treat myths like gossip. I feel like it breaths new life into old stories, it gives them a little bit of edge. And tell me it’s not totally satisfying to call Helen of Troy a total bitch. In literature. I mean… what more could a true word nerd want out of life? Really.

Now then, as I am busting through the awesome reading list I gathered from all of you well read, lovely people (currently on the Goon Squad and already finished America Pacifica). Now, I want to know: What are you reading currently? Are you reading anything from my list that you all created? How is the world of books? Make sure to take notes on anything you enjoy – in a few months I promise there will be a big pay-off from me if you do (hint hint, giveaway forthcoming, hint). So read! Gobble it all up! How are you finding time (or not finding time!) to read?

I call the Better In Real Life book club to order. Let’s discuss.

35 thoughts on “Adenture-ing: Play It As It Lays and Penelopiad”

  1. Oh, man. My favorite line in the Penelopiad, which I don’t have handy to quote verbatim, is the part about her faithfulness being a stick with which to beat other women. I read it to my husband, but he wasn’t nearly excited about it as me. I’m like that line was magic, why. don’t. you. get. it?

    I am ashamed to admit, and then recall that I am practically anonymous, that I have been reading Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic books. I hate comic books-kinda, I’ve always avoided them anyway-but we watched Buffy and Angel start to finish and I’m invested in the story. Next on my night stand is The Plague. We recently watched The Seventh Seal in our friend’s “movie club” and I got a fresh round of suggestions to read it, because I won’t shut up about Existentialism.

  2. P.S. I love how snide and snarky Margaret Atwood is. I’ve only read Penelopiad and some poetry, but that seems to be her voice. Are you including poetry in your Atwood odyssey? That might lengthen it considerably. I really love “Ava Gardener Reincarnated as a Magnolia” and “Helen of Troy Does Counter Dancing.”

  3. Sorry, I’m obnoxious. I won’t shut up. “Helen of Troy…” is nice, but the only I was thinking of was “Miss July Grows Older.” For this line: “But after a while these flesh arpeggios get boring,/like Bach over and over;/too much of one kind of glory.”

    Okay. Comment hijacking over.

  4. Oh, books. I love them so much. I just read ‘An Echo in the Bone’ by Diana Gabaldon– the most recent book in the Outlander series, of which ‘Outlander’ (on your list) is the first. Also, I just finished ‘Riding Lessons’ by Sara Gruen (another novel by the author who wrote ‘Water For Elephants’) yesterday and now I’m re-reading one of the Dreseden Files books.

    I haven’t read a huge amount of Atwood’s work– I’ve read a bunch of her poetry, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘Oryx and Crake.’ How much do you have left?

    1. Was Echo in the Bone any good? I’m going through the series again (on book 4) and it’s getting a little too silly for me. Not sure if I’m going to continue.

      1. I would wait another 6 months or so til the next book after Echo in the Bone is due to come out.

        All my friends who have read it (including myself) have gotten to the end and gone “WTF?!? She cant leave it like that! What if she dies before she releases the next book” Its the only one where she has left us with a serious cliff-hanger, the series cant end here ending… And I didnt like that!

        Other than that? Its like all long series. Every now and then it gets rather silly and could do with better editing and less superfluous details. At least it didnt feel as long for a short time covered as some of the earlier books.

    2. I love Margaret Atwood and wanted to say that if you liked Oryx and Crake (which, incidentally, is one of my least favorite books that she’s written) you MUST go read The Year of the Flood. It’s set during the same time/world but from a very different perspective. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

      And to Lauren – I totes approve of your quest for reading in general and specifically these authors. (So now you can rest easier at night, since I know you were waiting on my random approval. šŸ™‚

    3. I have A LOT left. She is so incredibly prolific, it’s going to take me years. I’m including all of her poetry and her childrens’ books as well. It’s a marathon versus a sprint. šŸ™‚

      I’m also really excited to eventually OWN Atwood’s body of work. I’ll have my own (not so little) library eventually.

  5. Atwood & Didion are two of my all-time favorite authors! I love this epic quest you have undertaken. I’m just starting “The Marriage Plot” by Jeffrey Eugenides.

    Totally creeping on all of the book talk posts so I can add new titles to my goodreads lists.

  6. I have to confess that for the first time in my life, I am not enjoying reading. So, I’m taking all of these suggestions and heading to the library. Stat. Because that is a situation that cannot endure!

    1. I went through that a couple years ago. What worked for me? Giving up the idea that I had to read Literature all the time, and just grabbing/enjoying some trashy quick reads. Got me back into the swing of things!

  7. i read play it as it lays when i was almost seven years ago and i’m still not over it. every time i finish it, i feel like i’ve been drugged. and that abortion scene. i still can’t process it. i enjoyed your take on the book, though, because i think you took things out of it that i didn’t when i read it at 20, and again at 23.

    re the penelopiad — is that a good place to start if i’ve never read atwood?

    re the book club — yes.

    1. I would suggest reading one of her novels. This is more like a mixed genre book. Using chorus style greek poetry and mythology. For me, after reading a lot of Atwood so far (and so much more to go!!) I would give Handmaids Tale, Moral Disorder, and Cat’s Eye a go. I would start with something a bit more MEATY.

  8. So, I’m putting Play It As It Lays on my list. Something real and gritty sounds just right. I’m right in the middle of a silly faux-historical nonesense series right now, and it’s getting too silly for my tastes.

    I’m always a fan of getting wrapped up in a book. Even books that make me shudder and get queasy. I’ll just have to remember to read it with someone else around. =)

  9. BIRL Book Club!!! Yeah!!! Ive been hesitant to comment on the book related blogs, because I feel like im going to dumb it down with the streamline books & books to movies that I read. All the books that your ridiculously intelligent followers throw out there overwhelm me, I dont even know if I could comprehend such deep books, lol. Baby steps. Ive been reading The Host and I absolutely love it. I love the internal conflict, and was quickly reminded of why I liked the Twilight series so much, Stephanie Meyer just makes you get it. She has a way of making you feel what the characters are feeling and get inside their head. BUT, im also the organizer of the “West Sac Women’s Book Club”, so Ill try to get through that book as quickly as I can, then go back to the Host, OR Ill read the book club book on my kindle during the day on my lunch break, then keep the Host on my nightstand and read it in bed. Our next book club book is called The Peach Keeper. And im really excited about it šŸ™‚

    1. Do not even feel a LITTLE intimidated by the the list!!! One of them is about a witch, one of them is about the future involving an ice age, and one of them is about the life of bunnies!

      1. The life of bunnies?! What?! Im all over that šŸ˜‰ Speaking of witch, ive heard so much about Ann Rice, Id really like to read some of her books.

  10. I feel like a bad Canadian … I’ve never read Atwood. Ever. I’ve been getting very tempted by the Handmaid’s Tale though. I think my mom might have a copy somewhere that I need to snag.

    Right now I’m reading Bloodsucking Fiend by Christopher Moore. This man is killing me. I just read two of his others – Lamb and A Dirty Job – and his writing has me literally LOLing in the most awkward places.

    Next on the list is called the Concubine’s Daughter, which was an impulse purchase. Although I’m pretty sure I’ve picked it up, considered it, and put it down before … so I have good feelings.

  11. Since I’m back in school, I always feel guilty for reading since I could be studying instead. And now you’ve got me excited about Penelopiad. Rarg. I also just picked up The Red Umbrella (Cristina Diaz Gonzalez) in the vain hopes that I’ll be able to make it to my physical book club meeting next month. I also have The Tigers Wife (Tea something) on my waiting shelf. Somewhere in between the biology, chemistry and math those will get done. OH. I just read Coraline for my english class. It was good, a nice, slightly creepy, compact kids book.

  12. boooook cluuuub! Oh I really love this idea – especially because I have been trying my best to tear myself away from my habit of watching one or two netflix shows (ie say yes to the dress and intervention) before bed – as opposed to the classic “get tired while reading bc its the best feeling in the word” traditions of my youth. I have recently dived back into Continental Drift, by Russel Banks (from you, my dear) that I started last year – but its incredibly dense and has several different plots going on at once and I’m having a hard time staying attached. I keep it in my bag, as a reminder, and giving it a go šŸ™‚ This has given me more motivation to get on POINT with the reading, though, so THANK YOU!!

  13. I have yet to read ANY Atwood. Oh, the shame. I LOVE the Odyssey though, especially modern takes on it…will have to check that one out!

    I’m breezing through the Hunger Games right now. Halfway through the second book. I’ve stayed up too late many a night working on these ones…

    And my reading time? Generally on the bus. There are so many distractions at home…

  14. I’m currently slowly (painstakingly so) working my way through Dracula. I dont think I remember it being so long! I’m sure it was only a small book when I owned it, but I’ve been reading it for a short burst most days now for nearly 2 months and have only hit half way on my kindle. I’m hoping its a study version that has questions at the end or something, but it has no chapter markers across the bottom, so I’m not at all confident of it.

    1. I love Dracula! It’s been a while since I’ve read it though.

      Right now I’m re-reading Harry Potter (yes, all of them) and The Mark of the Golden Dragon (the latest in a YA adult series by L.A. Meyer about a girl in the early 19th century who sails around the world having adventures. It’s wonderful.) I’m also listening to the Temptation of the Night Jasmine one in a series of books again in the early 19th century about spies and romance during the Napoleonic Wars.

      Next I need to start my book club book, which is Virga: Cities of the Air. I don’t really know much about it but it sounds interesting.

      I’ve never commented before, but I love these posts about books. It gives me so many more books I want to read.

  15. Snap! I’m re-reading Harry Potter too at the moment. I am one of those people who constantly re-reads books. I know a lot of people think I’m crazy, but I love reading a very familiar book, I find it comforting and more relaxing than reading something new.

    Trying to think what my last new book was…hmm…it might have been How To Be a Woman (Caitlin Moran) thanks to A Practical Wedding’s book club!

    Haven’t read any Atwood, I might have to give it a go. Though my next book(s) was going to be the A Game of Thrones series. I’ve seen the TV series (somewhat sneakily as it hasn’t aired in Australia yet) and I think I might want to read the books. I’m a snob about fantasy though, and I maintain anything that isn’t Lord of the Rings is crap, but I might have to expand my horizons, haha!

  16. I have been reading and really enjoying some non-fiction lately which I don’t often read. The Happiness Project you probably know about, a wonderful autobiography called Personal History by Katherine Graham about her life publishing the Washington Post which is fascinating on politics and personalities (she owned it through Watergate) but also on overcoming huge personal tragedy and on being an essentially untrained woman in what was very much a professional mans world – properly inspiring. And The 52 Seductions about marriage and sex and sex in marriage. And on the fiction side, I loved The Children’s Book by AS Byattt who writes wonderfully about relationships and fiction and myth and puppets/fairies/supernatural (Possession more famous and also excellent) – so much so I read it three times. Also Open City by a Nigerian called Teju Cole which is very evocative about New York and family. Best books of the year to date is no question the first two books in the Sea of Poppies trilogy by Amitav Ghost – incredibly evocative about tirn of the (20th) century India and then China. Detailed, historically reasonbly accurate i think and also compelling story telling. Much like The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet which is excellent novel set in Dutch controlled Japan.

    Sorry for mammoth rambling comment – I love recommending and being recommended books and looks like will have lots of new ones to seek out following this thread

  17. PS I completely loved The Year of Magical Thinking (and wanted to have a reading from it At my wedding where Joan and JGD work together all morning, then go to Central Park and walk different routes, but always go home together – I love togetherness in independence) but felt like Blue Nights was both more personal, contrary to reviewers who focused on the name dropping, but also emptier. Perhaps because she had lost so much by then and was so focused on her own failings as a mother. Interested to know what others think.

    1. Blue Nights is a GREAT suggestion!! Thank you for that. It will for sure be my next Didion. Sometimes her stuff is so raw I need space between her books before diving in head first again. But her use of repetition is genius. Her writing style is one I hope to emulate in my work.

  18. One of my favorite moments in undergrad was going to a Margaret Atwood talk on campus about The Penelopiad (I think it was part of her book tour?) the same semester I was reading Homer in Greek class. She was funny and snarky and exuded an aura of your-favorite-spinster-aunt, and held this giant auditorium full of people RAPT for the entirety of her talk/reading. She did a book signing afterward, and I stood in line for an hour and a half, reading my copy of the book by streetlamps, until it was my turn. After she had scrawled her name on the flyleaf of my book, she looked up and passed it back to me, with a wry smile and a wink. It felt like meeting a kindred spirit. I grinned back. Ever since then, I’ve been convinced that Margaret Atwood is part magic. šŸ™‚

  19. Ooh, talking about books is my favorite thing. I’ve only read a few books by Atwood, but my favorite so far is Surfacing, have you read that one yet?

    I haven’t read anything by Didion yet. Is there a book you’d recommend to start with? I’ve been avoiding the Year of Magical Thinking because I’m scared it will be too sad.

    I just finished The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje (sp?) – author of the English Patient, which I loved and I also really enjoyed The Tiger’s Wife, which someone has already mentioned. I would definitely recommend both.

  20. I’m reading By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham and it’s sooo good. It’s about a man in his mid-forties who is starting to question the way he sees everything. He’s an art dealer so he’s always been active in perception, but someone comes into his life that reminds him of his youth in every way–of his wife when she was younger and they were first falling in love, of himself at his prime, and of his brother who died young and unfulfilled. It’s beautifully written and the copy I have is just as beautifully bound–hardback cover, heavy creamy paper, the perfect font, extra pages in the back for notes, just perfection. I’m obsessed with it.


  21. I just finished two drastically different books: The Art of Racing in the Rain, and Catch-22. The first I sped through in two days, cried like a baby, loved it, done. The latter I slogged through over months. And it was funny and brilliant but such a sad, depressing kind of funny that I just couldn’t take too much of it at once. I’d recommend both though! I’m now on the first few pages of The Art of Fielding. Apparently I’m in a “The Art of…” phase.

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