Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Once again not impressed by Larson’s writing. His attempt at historical writing falls flat (sinks?) and feels like a cobbled together patchwork of an amateur historian. The topic was the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. By scouring passenger records, correspondence, and interviews, he puts together what seems like an extensive, well-rounded account of the events leading up to the sinking (including painting a portrait of the U-boat commander who sunk the ship). But for me, the effort felt thin, he tries to make mountains out of molehills, like the huge build-up of the guy who died that was a stranger to most on the boat but who was well-liked and remembered. A big yawn closed this book for me.

The Passion

I have a new passion for Venice after reading this, my other Venice exposures via Mann et al fading away under Winterson’s gloomy light. The passions evoked in this book are for Napoleon, God, gambling, and of the romantic sort. Henri is a young French lad swept up in the hysteria of Bonaparte, becomes his chicken-strangling server on the battlefield, eventually tromping back from Russia with Villanelle, the web-footed Venice-native card-shark cross-dresser whose husband coincidentally turns out to be the cook who despised Henri on the war front. A book in four sections, we first meet Henri, then Villanelle, then their intermingling, then their separation as he admits to killing the cook/husband and is installed on the island for the insane. Despite her attempts to free him, he prefers to remain imprisoned.
Some great words on what comes after love is over:

Disgust is close and dignity is far away. The hate is not only for the once loved, it’s for yourself too; how could you ever have loved him?

The Handmaid’s Tale

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I can’t say I was particularly fond of this one, I’m not sure if I’m just not a dystopian fantasy type reader or if there was something else that didn’t engage me. Vivid, striking descriptions of life in Gilead (hello Marilynn Robinson!) of a tortuous life led by people in their roles of mating, producing offspring. Handmaids are dressed in red with crisp white hats that don’t allow them to see much, and they’re used for breeding. The tale limps from the remembered past to the pale and timid present. She finds fellow bemoaners, codeword Mayday. She is supposedly freed at the end, and then we are subjected to an uninteresting recounting of the facts around her narrative, as if via dry academic conference. I’m not quite sure why everyone is in love with this book and why on earth it’s considered a feminist work by some.

Home

I’m convinced of Robinson’s talent now, and appear to be reading her oeuvre in reverse order. Amazing to pick up threads of the narrative of Lila lain down in this book published 6 years prior. Home deals with the homecoming (to Gilead, natch) of two middle-aged children, Glory to come take care of her ailing and aged father, Jack to find refuge from his life/despair/drinking. Robinson’s chapterless tales undulate in sections, beckoning you onward with soft words, soothing. Their father is the Reverend Boughton, nearly incapacitated by age but utterly delighted to see Jack again after an absence of 20 years. Glory’s struggles to ease her father’s pains are largely unsung, the daily drumbeat of care she provides not of heroic quality but necessary. Her pain stems from having found herself in this situation, in her late 30s, unmarried with no prospects, back in her hometown in Iowa, having broken things off finally with a married scoundrel who led her on for years and borrowed a large sum of money from her. Jack slips away from the family under a cloud of scandal (knocking up a young girl, fleeing town), never heard from again until his sudden return, not even descending upon the town for his mother’s funeral 10 years prior, for which his father sent traveling money that Jack spent on a suit after he got out of prison. He shows up after a few weeks delay, hungover, desperately polite to his sister Glory. The two hit it off and achieve whatever closeness is possible between them, but Jack still struggles to soothe his father’s grief over him. His interest in the burgeoning Civil Rights movement is further explained when Della, Jack’s wife, shows up with son in tow a few days after Jack leaves Gilead. Della and son can’t linger long, they have to head back to Missouri where black people were allowed a place to sleep.
Great words uncovered within: deracinated, puissance, louche.

Citizen: An American Lyric

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The power of this book is unmatched in anything I’ve read. After each section, I had to close the pages, toss it from me like it was aflame, and sit smoldering as I thought through what I’d read. I’m not sure I’ve lingered so long over so few pages before. This excellent work is categorized as poetry, the only class of work whose boundaries are fluid and expansive enough to contain it. **** Interlude wherein I go down a rabbit hole to research who the dedication is to, which leads me to John Lucas’ film Cooler Bandits, that follows a group of 4 boys who grow up in prison, one of whom receiving a 500 year sentence for a series of armed robberies in Akron, OH area in the early 90s.**** Every page has an impact and she intersperses her words with images from other artists, coaxing stories out of friends, family, self to expose the reality of omnipresent racism in our culture. Paraphrasing one of the stories: A friend is babysitting for you and your neighbor calls to complain that a menacing black man is walking back and forth between the houses talking to himself; you explain that your friend (whom the neighbor has met) is babystting and the neighbor claims it’s not him, that he’s called the police. You call your friend to ask if there’s anyone walking back and forth in front of your house and your friend says if anyone were, he’d see him because he’s standing outside. “You hear sirens through the speakerphone.” She details these thousand tiny (and large, significant) acts, how they build and build and yet there is no release, blacks are supposed to fade into the white culture to behave and act proper. She introduces me to Hennessey Youngman, mentioning his YouTube video about how to become a successful black artist, a terrifically ironic video suggesting that blacks cultivate anger and repackage slavery to sell it back to the bourgeois white folk who love anything exotic. Rankine calls attention to the unforgettable racism experienced by the Williams sisters on the whitest of white backdrops, the tennis court. “She has grown up, another (announcer) decides, as if responding to the injustice of racism is childish and her previous demonstration of emotion was free-floating and detached from any external actions of others.”

And when the woman with multiple degrees says, I didn’t know black women could get cancer, instinctively you take two steps back though all urgency leaves the possibility of any kind of relationship as you realize nowhere is where you will get from here.

In her script for Situation video about Zidane’s 2006 World Cup incident, she layers in quotes from Ellison, Baldwin, Blanchot, Franz Fannon, Shakespeare, Frederick Douglass, Homi Bhabha, and accounts of lip readers responding to the transcript of the World Cup. I identified most strongly with the Baldwin quote in trying to understand the rage I feel at confronting the oppression of sexism:

And there is no (Black) who has not felt, briefly or for long periods, with anguish sharp or dull, in varying degrees and to varying effect, simple, naked and unanswerable hatred; who has not wanted to smash any white face he may encounter in a day, to violate, out of motives of the cruelest vengeance… to break the bodies of all white people and bring them low, as low as the dust into which he himself has been and is being trampled; no black who has not had to make his own precarious adjustment… yet the adjustment must be made – rather it must be attempted.

Companion piece: great interview with Rankine in the Believer, where I learned that the cover is a hoodie that the conceptual artist David Hammons made in 1993, 2 years post-Rodney King but pre-dating Treyvon Martin by over a decade.

Dombey and Son

I could use this 1,000 page book as a weapon of self-defense if need be. This brick has dogged me for the past week, I reluctantly tucking it into backpack (all 1000 pages) in case of a spare few minutes. Today, 400 pages from the finish line, I knew I’d create enough time to Dombey on through the end, et voila! here I am. Described by Kate Millett as a “nearly perfect indictment of both patriarchy and capitalism,” I had to read the story. Dombey runs a prosperous trading company, and we encounter him eagerly facing his newborn son as his first wife fades from the face of the earth. Son Paul follow suit after a few years, and older daughter Florence is cruelly ignored by her father. All the intricate Dickensian plot twists are here, with the old woman Brown who steals young Florence’s dress, sending her into Walter’s arms for refuge (they end up marrying), second wife Edith haughty but inexplicably melting and tender toward Florence (the first affection F has received since her mother died soon after Paul’s birth). A very strange relationship with Mr. Carker (and his older brother/sister who end up inheriting his wealth after Evil Carker is mown down by a train. I can’t possibly cram all 1000 pages of plot here. Let us not forget the incomparable Cap’n Cuttle, black-eyed Susan (the maid who marries Mr. Toots), Walter and his uncle, Miss Tox (hankering for Dombey’s widowed hand in marriage), Mrs Pipchin the schoolmarm turned housekeeper, Polly Tootles (inexplicably named Richards by the family when she comes to nurse Paul), and the bug-eyed Major. Only thin/unbelievable part was the running away of Mrs. Dombey #2 (Edith) with Evil Carker – why would he think that he’d beguiled her?

Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center

More wisdom from the master, so powerful that it must be locked up behind the Page Desk at the library. Again, I truly appreciate the way hooks serves you notice of your own privilege, tearing apart those/us bourgeoisie white women for the dumb things done along the way during feminist revolution, like the asinine demand to be allowed to work which ignored the millions of poor women who’d been in the workforce for years out of necessity. These lower class women know that men in their social strata lack social/political/economic power, so why would they want to strive for equality with these poor saps? Other mistakes made – to paint a picture of male domination that made feminism a declaration of war between the sexes rather than “a political struggle to end sexist oppression, a struggle that would imply change on the part of women and men.” And to ignore the evils of racism and classism, calling sexism “the oldest oppression” suggests a hierarchy of oppression with sexism more important than racism and classism. She argues that sexist oppression is of primary importance because it’s the domination most people experience, either as exploiter or exploited. “It’s the practice of domination most people are socialized to accept before they even know that other forms of group oppression exist.” And men are victims, too; like women, men “have been socialized to passively accept sexist ideology.” More mistakes – the thought that getting women into “power” would actually change anything; you’ve got to change the culture/society to get real change. Otherwise women are just gaining power and privilege within the existing social structure and will continue to oppress other people (women/men). Domination of one person by another is what must be eradicated, capitalism torn apart, communities striving to exist for the benefit of the whole.
Let me start with her final rallying cry:

(The) basis for feminist revolution in this society… must be cultural transformation: destroying dualism, eradicating systems of domination. Our struggle will be gradual and protracted… The formation of an oppositional world view is necessary for feminist struggle. This means that the world we have most intimately known, the world in which we feel “safe,” (even if such feelings are based on illusions) must be radically challenged. Perhaps it is the knowledge that everyone must change, not just those we label enemies or oppressors, that has so far served to check our revolutionary impulses. Those revolutionary impulses must freely inform our theory and practice if feminist movement to end existing opposition is to progress, if we are to transform our present reality.

hooks quotes from Powers of the Weak, by Elizabeth Janeway, to describe forms of power held by those considered weak, primarily “the refusal to accept the definition of oneself that is put forward by the powerful…. the ordered use of the power to disbelieve.” More:

It is true that one may not have a coherent self-definition to set against the status assigned by the established social mythology, and that is not necessary for dissent. By disbelieving, one will be led toward doubting prescribed codes of behavior, and as one begins to act in ways that can deviate from the norm in any degree, it becomes clear that in fact there is not just one right way to handle or understand events.

Benjamin Barber’s Liberating Feminism looks worth reading, critiquing the women’s movement and tearing apart the myth that work is the end goal:

When large numbers of relatively well-educated women enter a rigid labor market in which large numbers of relatively unskilled workers are already unemployed, their employment will probably spell joblessness for many at the bottom… Sexism exists with and not in the place of racism and economic exploitation. Liberationists cannot expect the poor to look appreciatively on what appears to be a middle class campaign to wrest still more jobs away from them.

Other books to consider, based on hooks’ referencing them:
* Paying Your Own Way – Vivian Gornick’s essay that is collected in Essays in Feminism
* Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Freire – I’m due for a re-read.

Lila

A beautifully written book, worthy of all the attention it’s getting and the months of waiting for it to filter through the list of other library patrons to arrive in my lap. Lila Dahl, a young girl named by a teacher who mistakes her last name as a Norwegian name instead of Doll, the woman who plucked her from neglect and raised her; Lila unaware that she’d been missing a name (last) until asked for it. Doll saves Lila from hunger and cold, stealing her from the cabin with her kinfolk who’ve banished her to the stoop and forgotten her. She’s named Lila by the old woman she and Doll first stay with before being chased away by the woman’s son. Doll and Lila hit the road, joining up with Doane’s ragtag group of migrant workers, getting paid in apples for the apple picking children are well-suited for, tramping along dusty roads that get worse during the dust storms of the 30s. Doll ends up covered in blood after fighting/killing a man who claims to be Lila’s father, Lila finds her way to a St. Louis whorehouse for awhile before saving herself, escaping, working in a hotel, then hitchhiking to nowheresville, Iowa (aka Gilead). She finds an abandoned shack, gets work in town doing laundry and weeding, and stumbles into a church during a rainstorm. Eventually she marries the old reverend, pops out a baby during a snowstorm (he’s first baptized by melted snow). The relationship between Lila and the preacher is quite sweet, he’s delighted by her unconventional thoughts and questions, she’s a tamed wild animal who comes to trust him and enjoy the safety of his arms.

A Little Original Sin: The Life and Work of Jane Bowles

I was curious to learn more about Jane Bowles after being reminded of her in Zambreno’s Heroines. I read her mysteriously wonderful Two Serious Ladies a year ago and realize I’m due for a refresher. Zambreno’s work uncovers her as one of the broken, “mad” wives of writers; interestingly, Jane published Two Serious Ladies before Paul started writing fiction (he’d been focused on writing music but could not get enough quiet/silence to concentrate, and the bio claims that his involvement in helping Jane with Ladies led him to write). As for the biography, it’s sadly mediocre in terms of what current audiences expect. There is extensive quoting (pages upon pages) directly from Jane’s letters instead of parsing out bits and leading to a conclusive thought. A lot of the info seemed gleaned from conversations and interviews Dillon had had with old friends of Jane’s (and with Paul), which makes me wonder the truthiness of what lay within. Clearly this was a talented woman. Clearly she was an artistic, unconventional soul. She had trouble making decisions, this is echoed throughout everyone’s recollection. She didn’t want to limit herself to the wrong choice, so was frozen. Her stroke at age 40 leaves her more fragile than ever, damaging her vision and speech centers. A decade later, she’s in a psychiatric hospital in Malaga, Spain. A few years later, dead.
In response to a request for a short biography for World Authors in 1967:

I started to “write” when I was about fifteen and was obliged to do composition in school. I always thought it the most loathsome of all activities, and still do. At the same time I felt even then that I had to do it.
It was only after the end of World War II that I came to Morocco. Paul had come ahead of me and bought a house in Tangier. From the first day, Morocco seemed more dreamlike than real. I felt cut off from what I knew. In the twenty years that I have lived here I have written only two short stories, and nothing else. It’s good for Paul, but not for me.

Who Are You?

A gripping tale of a young woman ripped out of her university education and married off to a monster twice her age who lives in the unspecified tropics (and who’s nickname is Dog Head because of the way he eats). She ignores him and tries to read and survive the heat, listening to the incessant chatter of the birds whose cries sound like “Who Are You?”. One day, she’s saved from terminal boredom by a visitor her own age, Suede Boots, a young man who brings her to life again. He drops by every day for tea, until suddenly her husband comes home and throws him out. Dog Head is supplied with her secret letter inviting her back to university, rapes her, and tells her she’s going to have his son. She escapes out into the monsoon. Dog Head gets drunk and fights rats with a racquet (his favorite pastime), succumbing to a biting rat and a piece of furniture that falls on him. Things get odd in the book about this point. Instead of dying and she lives happily ever after, we’re jerked back in time to Suede Boots having tea and the husband coming in again. Details change slightly in the retelling of events, but not enough to merit a retelling. Was this an unfinished work of Kavan’s that the gravediggers thought to cash in on? Aside from the weird dual ending, terrific writing, strong yet ambivalent heroine, and a clear pronouncement against marriage.

Flaubert’s Parrot

A very sneaky pseudo-biography of Flaubert, which I mean in the best way possible. You’re slipped bits of information without fully realizing that you’ve got a Flaubert biography in your hands, cleverly disguised within the story of Geoffrey Braithwaite’s amateur literary sleuthing for undiscovered nuggets about the writer (he goes into near ecstasy when his friend mentions a packet of previously unknown letters to the English nanny, Juliet Herbert, envisioning the academic paper he’ll present). Parrots pepper the pages, apparently Flaubert borrowed one from a Rouen museum in order to write the part of Loulou in Un coeur simple. A cottage-industry of Flaubert tourism has sprung up in Rouen, and there are two competing institutions claiming to have THE Flaubert parrot. Barnes takes us on an entertaining joyride through GF’s life, clambering up the pyramids to discover the business card pinned atop, debunking the scholarly attack by Dr. Enid Starkie on “mistakes” in Madame Bovary about the color of Emma’s eyes, showcasing the wittiest and most piercing phrases from GF’s letters. Along the way, we fall in love with Braithwaite’s crankiness (and discover his wife’s suicide). Sadly, there’s an undertone of hostility to women throughout, but that’s to be expected with late 20th century white British males. Despite that, it’s worth sucking it up and reading this, letting yourself be aware of the misogyny but not letting it stop you from delighting in phrases like, “The moral of it all, I suppose, is: Never take fright at a footnote.” The only exception to the misogyny is the chapter that gives voice to Louise Colet’s version of their affair, but still this has ringing overtones of disgust, “‘I fired five shots into her,’ he would boast to me.” Perhaps the source of the negative perspective is that Braithwaite’s wife cheated on him consistently over the years, and then suicided?
After deriding the dinner party where he discovered that the seven other people present had all just finished reading A Dance to the Music of Time, he diatribes about coincidences:

And as for coincidences in books–there’s something cheap and sentimental about the device; it can’t help always seeming aesthetically gimcrack. That troubadour who passes by just in time to rescue the girl from a hedgerow scuffle; the sudden but convenient Dickensian benefactors; the neat shipwreck on a foreign shore which reunites siblings and lovers… I’d ban coincidences if I were a dictator of fiction… I don’t know what Flaubert thought about coincidence… his love of irony is plain; it’s one of the most modern things about him. In Egypt he was delighted to discover that almeh, the word for “bluestocking”, had gradually lost this original meaning and come to signify “whore”.

Another roundabout story dealing with coincidences– one of GF’s early attachments was to Gertrude Collier, and they kept in touch across the decades. She ended up marrying and her daughter Dorothy married explorer Henry Morton Stanley. This leads GB into a digression about one of Stanley’s trips to Africa where he had to divest himself of things in order to survive.

Books were obviously supernumerary, and he began jettisoning them until he got down to those two which every guest on ‘Desert Island Discs’ is furnished with as a bare, civilised minimum: the Bible and Shakespeare. Stanley’s third book, the one he threw out before reducing himself to this final minimum, was Salammbo.

Railing against the critics:

I must confess that in all the times I read Madame Bovary, I never noticed the heroine’s rainbow eyes. Should I have? Would you? Was I perhaps too busy noticing things that Dr Starkie was missing…? Put it another way: is there a perfect reader somewhere, a total reader?… My reading might be pointless in terms of the history of literary criticism; but it’s not pointless in terms of pleasure. I can’t prove that lay readers enjoy books more than professional critics; but I can tell you one advantage we have over them. We can forget. Dr Starkie and her kind are cursed with memory: the books they teach and write about can never fade from their brains. They become family. Perhaps this is why some critics develop a faintly patronising tone toward their subjects. They act as if Flaubert, or Milton, or Wordsworth were some tedious old aunt in a rocking chair, who smelt of stale powder, was only interested in the past, and hadn’t said anything new for years… Whereas the common but passionate reader is allowed to forget; he can go away, be unfaithful with other writers, come back and be entranced again. Domesticity need never intrude on the relationship; it may be sporadic, but when there it is always intense. There’s none of the daily rancour which develops when people live bovinely together. I never find myself, fatigue in the voice, reminding Flaubert to hang up the bathmat or use the lavatory brush.

On the joy of being older:

I like these out-of-season crossings. When you’re young you prefer the vulgar months, the fullness of the seasons. As you grow older you learn to like the in-between times, the months that can’t make up their minds. Perhaps it’s a way of admitting that things can’t ever bear the same certainty again. Or perhaps it’s just a way of admitting a preference for empty ferries.

Defending Flaubert against the charge that he hated humanity:

First, let’s start with the basics. He loved his mother: doesn’t that warm your silly, sentimental, twentieth-century heart? He loved his father. He loved his sister. He loved his niece. He loved his friends. He admired certain individuals. But his affections were always specific; they were not given away to all comers. This seems enough to me. You want him to do more? You want him to ‘love humanity’, to goose the human race? But that means nothing. Loving humanity means as much and as little as loving raindrops, or loving the Milky Way… Secondly, even if he did hate humanity – or was profoundly unimpressed by it, as I would prefer to say – was he wrong? ‘In the depths of my heart I can’t help being convinced that my dear fellow-men, with a few exceptions, are worthless.’ This from the man that most people, for most of this century, believed most thoroughly understood the human heart.

In a faux examination paper section, Barnes does bring to light interesting coincidences in the Psychology section:

E1 was born in 1855.
E2 was partly born in 1855.
E1 had an unclouded childhood but emerged into adulthood inclined to nervous crisis.
E2 had an unclouded childhood but emerged into adulthood inclined to nervous crisis.
E1 led a life of sexual irregularity in the eyes of right-thinking people.
E2 led a life of sexual irregularity in the eyes of right-thinking people.
E1 imagined herself to be in financial difficulties.
E2 knew herself to be in financial difficulties.
E1 committed suicide by swallowing prussic acid.
E2 committed suicide by swallowing arsenic.
E1 was Eleanor Marx.
E2 was Emma Bovary.
The first English translation of Madame Bovary to be published was by Eleanor Marx.
Discuss.

The importance and annoyance of railways springs an entire chapter on Flaubert’s relationship and feeling about trains (The Trainspotters Guide to Flaubert):

Gustave belonged to the first railway generation in France; and he hated the invention… Conversation on the topic gave Flaubert a colique des wagons; in June 1843 he pronounced the railways to be the third most boring subject imaginable after Mme Lafarge (an arsenic poisoner) and the death of the Duc d’Orleans (killed in his carriage the previous year)… he didn’t just hate the railway as such; he hated the way it flattered people with the illusion of progress. What was the point of scientific advance without moral advance? The railway would merely permit more people to move about, meet and be stupid together. In one of his earliest letters, written when he was fifteen, he lists the misdeeds of modern civilisation: ‘Railways, poisons, enema pumps, cream tarts, royalty and the guillotine.’ Two years later, in his essay on Rabelais, the list of enemies has altered–all except the first item: ‘Railways, factories, chemists and mathematicians.’ He never changed.

Heroines

Brilliant bursts of rage on behalf of all the poets/geniuses/authors’ wives who were relegated to second place, told that they (the wives) could not create, could not be artists, could only be fused with their talent by being characters in the males’ work. “Mr. Fitzgerald is a novelist, Mrs. Fitzgerald is a novelty.” Virginia Woolf’s workday whittled down to a few hours at the demands of Leonard, to keep her sane. Zelda’s life lifted from her letters and journals and made Scott’s work sparkle. Through all this, Zambreno’s own story is woven, the wife of a special collections librarian who uproots her life to follow him from job to job. “The chattering woman is the muse of modernism. Her talk that is represented as unconscious and intuitive and associative. He always accompanies her with a notepad. He copies down her ‘disordered’ speech, and later he will use it to convict her.” Snippets of shoutouts to all the ladies, Jane Bowles, Jean Rhys, Simone de Beauvoir, Vivienne Eliot, Anais Nin and June Miller, Djuna Barnes, Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf, Anna Kavan. Sylvia Plath’s journal from the final 3 months of her life, burned by husband, censored.

T.S. Eliot’s wife, Viv, abandoned, banned, divorce impossible, communicated with only through lawyers, placing an advertisement in The Times, “Will T.S. Eliot please return to his home, 68 Clarence Gate Gardens, which he abandoned Sept 17, 1932.” Showing up at a performance of Murder in the Cathedral with a sign (allegedly) that said: “I am the wife he abandoned.” Eventually Viv is locked away in an asylum. Zambreno is unable to receive permission from the T.S. Eliot estate to read

Viv’s unpublished texts. Suppressed even after death.
She describes running into a guy she used to know/was friends with briefly who brags about his one thousand page novel coming out (compared to Zambreno’s “slim nervous novella”), his work will be the longest first-person novel EVER:

We discuss the respective length of Tristam Shandy, Ulysses, Infinite Jest, War and Peace, etc. He is pulling out his cock and comparing it with those writers whom he will be compared. (I will be compared to nobody, I think, I am sent into an existential crisis when I get home, and for weeks afterwards.)
Canon actually comes from a Greek work for “measuring rod.”

An author loves his or her character if he or she has ever, really, cried for her, not what she represents, but for her, for her sad, lost life, this LOST GENERATION of brilliant girls, all the sad young girls. I who am bellowing for my heroines. (p 156)

It’s infuriating to think how coming-of-age novels about the feminine experience are read and dismissed as chick lit or schoolgirl books or YA, etc., when Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, surely also a very unformed Bildungsroman, is still considered great literature. Carson McCullers, Shirley Jackson, Plath, all lumped into young adult. As if the female coming-of-age experience is somehow more frivolous or less rending than the male one. And how these works are seldom read as existential novels about girls who want to realize themselves, who want to be artists, and the desire not to have their future decided for them. (p 193)

It drives me absolutely bonkers that the mythology of Zelda, as endlessly repeated by Scott’s biographers, by even her biographer, by her daughter, dictates some narrative that she was not disciplined enough, and that is why she did not succeed as an artist. She was absolutely disciplined. My god, she twisted and contorted herself into a dancer within years. She made paintings for decades that she only showed in a gallery a few times. She worked steadily on her stories, and then later graduated to novels. (p 214)

The notion of the Great American Novel seems to be almost exclusively male. It seemed for a while The New York Times was under the impression that David Foster Wallace’s posthumously published, unfinished The Pale King was the only recently published novel–it was constantly covered and reviewed, an endless documentation. A canonization–with that book he was raised to the literary heavens. In reviews DFW was compared to Melville and other Great Men just like that boy I knew was compared to DFW. Much has been said lately about how women are reviewed less in big literary sections, but not about HOW they are reviewed, or HOW they are not reviewed, and who women writers are or are not compared to in the body of their occasional reviews. We are considered outside the conversation of Great Books, a male-dominated tradition. (p 229)

There’s also a great section (p 260) sending up golden boy Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station, “my god though the novel is being feted as the tale of our times, written about rapturously… I mean, it’s a beautiful book, but I don’t get all the adulation. The narrative of the nervous girl would never receive that treatment.”