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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


96/100: Here All Dwell Free - Stories to Heal the Wounded Feminine by Gertrude Mueller Nelson

Here All Dwell Free: Stories to Heal the Wounded Feminine - Gertrud Mueller Nelson

This is one of the many books on feminist/religious/fairy tale theory that I snatch up at used booksales and then put off actually reading for, um, years.

In this book, Nelson examines two fairy tales in depth, with the theme that fairy tales show us the key to attaining "balance" in our lives between our feminine and masculine selves, for both women and men. The first half of the book is devoted to "The Handless Maiden" and the second half examines "Brier Rose," both from the Brothers Grimm versions. The book grew out of a sort of "book club" the author had with other women that centered around fairy tales.

Although I think Nelson's intent was to bring that "book group" feeling of intimacy and insight to the wider world, there were places when I felt revelations that may have been groundbreaking in a discussion fell a little more flat on the page. It's pretty amazing to be able to write 150 pages on a single three-page tale, and Nelson definitely unpacks EVERYTHING. There are places where it feels tangential, but it also does a good job of laying down a template for doing a deeper reading of other tales. While none of the insights were totally earth-shattering, she does do some interesting things with the stories, including reading feminist themes into "Brier Rose," which is one of the fairy tales most criticized for glamorizing women's passivity.

I think I would have enjoyed the book more if it had reflected on a wider variety of stories rather than going into such depth on just two, and the chapter at the end inviting the reader to write the "myth" of her own life felt a little out of place to me. I was like, "What, I wasn't prepared for this book to ask me to work!!" I only briefly considered doing the exercise, before setting it aside so that I didn't have to invest even more hours into what ended up being just an average book.