Archive for January, 2010

Examination Passed

Shelf Discovery voted on of The Book Examiners 10 best books of 2009!

January 20th, 2010 at 1:35 pm

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Constant Comment

You would think that since I’ve been on the internet for 97 years I’d be accustomed to commenters — but sprung full-blown, as I was, from the serene foreheads of a literary blog and a women’s blog, I had no idea what it was to be subject to hundreds of people yelling at me aggressively in (sic).

HOWEVER. Thanks to the torrential traffic floods of the Daily Beast and Politics Daily, I have been yelled at for about a week and am starting to get the hang of it. (A friend who combs through to send me the best ones has been a particular help: “I MAKE NO EXCUSES, FOR BEING A MAN.”)

The following stories below are listed in order of appearance and, as it happens, rank abuse. The silent LAT story seems a little lonely and dreary in comparison, so feel free to rail away here.

In the LA Times, I explain why the movies Precious, The Lovely Bones and Twilight do better by their heroines than their literary counterparts:

In Today’s Movies, Girls in Peril Face Many Horrors

At first blush, the heroines of the films “Precious,” “New Moon” and “The Lovely Bones” seem to have little in common — except that they all started out as characters in novels.

Precious is an abused, teenage mother who can barely read. “New Moon’s” Bella is a vampire-in-waiting who lives to be courted by a glittering heartthrob of the undead. Susie, the narrator of “The Lovely Bones,” is the product of the kind of suburban idyll for which Kodachrome was invented.

Yet despite these diverging narratives, these girls are deeply, sweetly ordinary. All three want to feel comfortable with what they see in the mirror. All three want the boy they like to kiss them. All three would prefer not to be social outcasts, all three want happy family lives and all three will never, ever get any of these things.

In the Daily Beast, I explain why Elizabeth Gilbert is truly worried about her relationship with her readers, not her new husband. (If you have difficulty, as many, many did, there are capsule explanations here and, brilliantly faint-praisedly, here):

The End of Single Women

Given our culture’s fascination with getting to the happily ever after, why is it always so unsatisfying to hear from someone already there? Is it that details prized from the circumspect spouses are almost belligerent in their banality? (See Michelle Obama on Barack’s morning breath.) That the narratives themselves are so ludicrously one-gendered? (When’s the last time you saw a husband wrestle in print about a marital bed he still enjoys?) Or that a genuinely frank admission peskily seems always to herald a union’s complete demise? (Commence countdown on the wife half of the recent Times piece who admitted in the first paragraph to hating French kissing.)
Perhaps it’s the problem of writing about marriage at all—since there’s no greater act of hostility to a character than to saddle her with anything so tedious as a devoted spouse.

In Politics Daily, I wrote about how I wish famous wives would cool it with the marriage memoirs. Then AOL put it on the welcome screen. This–for me, at least–was fairly epic, but I have recovered. Sadly, avant le deluge,  the first and best comment was removed: “Another example how females ruin everything, it just never ends”. That would have set the tone, I know it.

Staying True?’ Most Marriage Memoirs do Anything But

Like Elizabeth Edwards’ “Resilience,” scorned-wife screeds are most pertinently a thinly veiled opportunity to bash an ex’s paramour. (Edwards’ book might as well have been illustrated by a photo of her giving Rielle Hunter the finger.) And, like many conjugal postmortems, “Resilience” also loses its authority by trafficking in a deeply implausible transcendence. You’d find it a lot easier to buy Claire Bloom’s “Leaving a Doll’s House” or Mia Farrow’s “What Falls Away” were those literary f-yous not directed entirely at the gentlemen in question.

But my biggest quarrel with the quickie marriage memoir (oh, the worst kind of quickie!) is that they suggest the most interesting thing that can happen to a woman is something a man does to her, not something she does.

Last, I would also like to draw your attention to an actually important, and very sad thing: the death of the wonderful poet Rachel Wetzsteon, author of a wonderful pantoum about Vertigo as well as many many other astounding works. (“Madeleine for a While” was so unfindable by Google and so on my mind for so many years, I finally wrote Threepenny Review‘s Wendy Lesser to tell me the author and poem.)

Wetzsteon’s most-cited poem after her death, it seems, is Sakura Park, the title poem of her eponymous collection.

Sakura Park
by Rachel Wetzsteon

The park admits the wind,
the petals lift and scatter

like versions of myself I was on the verge
of becoming; and ten years on

and ten blocks down I still can’t tell
whether this dispersal resembles

a fist unclenching or waving goodbye….

Read the rest — I’ve stopped on my favorite image of these many years — here.

January 15th, 2010 at 7:15 pm

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