Sylvia Plath – The Bell Jar
The March theme for my ONTD reading challenge was to read a book by a female author who is considered to be influential and has had a significant influence in literature, culture and/or society. Some of the other participants had been planning to read The Bell Jar and, since I had never read it, I thought it might be a good choice. Unfortunately, due to the new puppy, I read the book over quite a long span of time, which I find often diminishes my enthusiasm a little bit.
I’ve always thought that The Bell Jar was a bit like The Catcher in the Rye: it’s a book that you should probably read before you reach a certain age or you won’t get the most out of it. I read The Catcher in the Rye when I was 15 years old, which was perfect. I was an angry, angsty little shit and all of the talk of phonies was something I could identify with. Having read The Bell Jar now, at 37 years old, I’m glad I didn’t read it as a teenager: there’s no way I would have or could have understood it at that time.
The Bell Jar is generally regarded as a roman a clef (a novel that depicts real life events overlaid with the facade of fiction) and depicts the decline of the protagonist’s mental health. The events in the book are said to be similar to events in the life of Plath. At the beginning of the novel Esther Greenwood, a 19-year-old college student, is working on an internship at a famous women’s magazine based in New York city. Once she returns home after the internship, she receives the news that she was not accepted to a famous writing seminar. From there, Esther’s condition takes a downward turn and we see her experiences with electroshock therapy and institutionalization.
The Bell Jar is one of those great books where it’s possible to dislike the main character and still like the book. Esther is difficult and not particularly likeable, but there’s a great deal to admire in her rejection of the men who try to oppress her. The writing style is fantastic: raw, simple and easy to read. The tone of The Bell Jar is definitely dark, particularly knowing how Plath ended her own life, but I found that it was easy to identify with Esther’s experiences, even though my own struggles with depression aren’t nearly as severe. While I wish I had been able to finish it more quickly, as I feel that the emotional weight of the novel would have hit me a bit harder, I am glad to have read The Bell Jar.
Netflix original series have been a bit hit-or-miss for me. Some I love and others I don’t and, in my opinion, their offerings aren’t consistent in terms of quality. Where they seem to be hitting it out of the park recently for me is with documentaries. I love The Chef’s Table, Strong Island, The Keepers, Joan Didion: the Center Will Not Hold, Audrie and Daisy, and Amanda Knox. It wasn’t as exciting as I had imagined it would be, but I even enjoyed Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two. Dirty Money continues this trend of quality Netflix documentaries: it’s well-produced and fascinating.
Dirty Money has six episodes (all the episodes are all a little over an hour long). Each episode is a different story about corporate greed and corruption. The featured corporations/phenomena are:
- the Volkswagen emissions scandal
- Scott Tucker and Payday loans
- Valeant Pharmaceuticals
- HSBC money laundering for drug cartels
- the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers
- Donald Trump
All of the episodes are great, but for me the Payday loans and Valeant Pharmaceuticals episodes were the most interesting. I had always known that payday loan companies were sketchy, but I didn’t realize how many folks out there were relying on them for day-to-day survival and how easily the companies could take advantage of that. The Valeant Pharmaceuticals episode also showed me how insane the market can be for prescription drugs. I’m not sure how the actions of Valeant affected Canadian customers, but I was astonished at how easy it was for them to markedly increase drug prices for consumers with so little regulation and oversight. This is doubly interesting when considering the recent Martin Shkreli conviction: he has gone to jail only because he pissed off a bunch of rich people and not because he cheated sick folks out of life-saving medication.
If you haven’t watched Dirty Money yet, you might want to check it out soon. There’s a lot to learn and it’s very entertaining. I loved it.