What they’re reading: Susan Gubar

Posted by Lily, Associate Editor on November 26, 2018

In her warm, honest memoir Late-Life Love, Susan Gubar reflects on her life with her husband and the joys and trials of long-lasting love that are only found in the later years of life. Gubar also explores literary examples of old love, noting that while youthful love is perhaps a more popular, scintillating topic, love in old age provides a just as verdant, perhaps even more beautiful narrative. (Read the review.)

Gubar, whose book The Madwoman in the Attic (1979), co-authored with Sandra M. Gilbert, is a pivotal piece of criticism on women’s writing in the 20th century, has also penned a memoir about living with ovarian cancer, Memoir of a Debulked Woman, and she continues to write the monthly New York Times column Living with Cancer. She lives in Indiana, and here she tells us about what she’s been reading. Gubar writes, “Here are three books that I relished reading after completing Late-Life Love and before its publication. In an apprehensive pre-partum state, I was grateful that they provided such good company.”

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Sometimes it seems to me as if youngsters—with their Snapchat, Instagram, and FaceTime—have more trouble establishing loving partnerships than oldsters. The novelist Sally Rooney creates characters younger than my daughters in her novels Conversations with Friends and Normal People, funny and colloquial accounts about the messiness of love affairs in which partners discover their eroticism for the first time. Especially in Normal People, which recounts the bond between two schoolmates who move from a small town in the west of Ireland to Dublin, Rooney tenderly illuminates the need to acknowledge and be acknowledged, to appreciate and be appreciated, that propels all couples. Her protagonists’ complex dance of intimacy holds out the promise of healing early hurts and harms.

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

I found the worlds within worlds in The Weight of Ink compulsively readable, even though this novel is about a history I had never before considered: the pre-Holocaust persecutions, orthodoxies and heresies of European Jewry. An aging, ailing British historian and an American graduate student discover a cache of 17th-century letters under a staircase of an old house. The narrative moves back and forth between their contemporary quest to comprehend the significance of this archive and London in the 1660s, where a Jewish scribe named Ester Velasquez turns out to be its author. Ester remains connected to a community of Inquisition refugees in Amsterdam and especially to the teachings of the philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Taking a clue from Virginia Woolf, Kadish asks, what would have happened if Spinoza had had a talented female sister? In a deliciously thick tome about the weightiness and flimsiness of the documents through which we know the past, Kadish addresses the intensity of our abiding attachment to learning, to books and to counter-factual inquiries we could never have imagined.

Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister

Ever since Sandra Gilbert and I wrote The Madwoman in the Attic, I have been tracking women’s rage. Rebecca Traister describes the eruption of anger in the post-Trump era, in particular its offshoots in the #MeToo movement and the spate of female activists currently entering public discourse. She also demonstrates that furious women have shaped American history since the suffragists. From Thelma and Louise to Samantha Bee, popular culture furnishes her examples of renegade females venting, spouting off, letting loose. Insightful about how women’s fury has been delegitimized, Traister believes that “we cannot afford to dismiss or fetishize or marginalize or rear back from women’s anger any longer if we want this moment to be transformative.” Hers is a bracing voice, extending feminist thinking into the perilous period we now inhabit.

Author photo by Eli Setiya

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