Ali Smith’s 2014 publication, How to Be Both,  is a novel written around a novel, and is one of the strangest, yet best written books I have read.  It’s theme (This is a guess.) is androgyny. The beginning reads like poetry and is even placed on the page as such.  If there is a “story” it is that of a young girl who disguises herself as a boy to study under and apprentice herself to a fresco painter in Italy during the Renaissance.  Her characters in her paintings, like herself, are androgynous. The novel is also the “story” of a modern day  girl whose mother has just died.

The girl in the second novel, George, (named after the song “Georgie Girl” by her raised-in-the-sixties mom) takes a trip to Italy with her mother and young brother to view the tower where the artist from the first novel has painted some of the walls.  It is a present day museum. The mother and daughter “experience” the frescoes and share intimate thoughts/musings not often shared by a teenager and her mom.

After the mother dies, George visits a nearby museum where parts of the fresco details by the artist she and her mother admired are displayed.  She visits frequently which brings comfort and revelations about herself.  The one person who seems to understand George’s grief and deals with it along with her, a girl from school, is scheduled to move to Denmark shortly after she and Georgie begin to be friends just as they have begun to question whether they may be interested in becoming more than friends.

It is a strange book because it has no chapters, not even any sections, no barriers or boundaries between novels/stories, and thus becomes a challenge to read. It is a prize winning novel, definitely real literature, and perhaps a message to readers who explore its layers and depths.

I probably will need to and want to read this book again at a future date.



Author: Rae Longest

This year marks my fiftieth year in AAUW (American Association of University Women). The Alvin chapter was begun in 1947, and as a new, green teacher to Alvin Independent School District, I joined in 1968. In the 80's we began a book group to share our love of reading, books,and fellowship with other women and girls who loved the same. We resurrected the group on-line in September of 2015. Eventually Powerful Women Readers folded as an on-line book club, but I kept the title and turned it into a blog. (See "Introduction,"first blog). This is my first experience at blogging or publishing anything and is becomes more fun with each blog posted. I am currently teaching as an adjunct at The University of Houston Clear Lake. This makes my 28th year there after three years at Alvin Community College and an almost-twenty year career as a classroom teacher with Alvin Independent School District. Reading and writing are "in my blood" just like teaching is. I hope you enjoy the blog.

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