Bad Essayist; SPELLINGS and RANTS

I’m just going to plop this here to get something else up onto my poor godforsaken page.

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Okay. I feel like everyone knows about Bad Feminist. But, like, did y’all read it? Did you enjoy it? I’m not sure what exactly I was anticipating… insightful feminist essays, maybe? Instead I found a collection of pop culture essays with an eye to feminism and race. I was not really into it. Even feminist/race-aware pop culture essays would have been enjoyable for me if there had been some depth to them. Instead, with each essay I got the feeling that we were just getting comfortable with the subject, were just passing the introductory points, just settling in, when suddenly the essay would be over. Like, there was no exposition. Every subject got the lightest skimming, a few platitudes maybe, and then our attention passed. (Meaning the author’s attention; I was hanging back like, “Wait, whaat? There’s so much to talk about here!”)

This strategy was not saved by stunning prose.

“It makes perfect sense that many of us obsess over our bodies. There is nothing more inescapable. Our bodies moves us [sic] through our lives. They bring pleasure and pain. Sometimes our bodies serve us well, and other times our bodies become terribly inconvenient.”

If you find that to be incisive writing then I would like you to explain why, please. To me it seems insipid.

And she commits the most grievous of sins:

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“We are lead to believe”? … “WE ARE LEAD TO BELIEVE”? Is this the new thing, is this English now?? Because I feel like I see it everywhere and nobody cares anymore that THE PAST TENSE OF LEAD (V) IS LED AND NOT LEAD AND I’M ALL FOR THE FLUIDITY OF LANGUAGE AND ALLOWING FOR NEW VOCABULARY AND CONSTRUCTIONS ETCETERA BUT THIS IS NOT OKAY this is a stupid mistake that is not innovative it’s just a MISTAKE, like spelling LOSE like LOOSE, or using DISCRETE for DISCREET, these are SEPARATE TERMS, and everybody’s illiterate and the world’s going to shit and goddamnit if I don’t feel like I need to go angrily suck on a peppermint right now.

However. I will say. I found Roxane Gay’s personal essays (those focusing on her life as a teacher or her history) to be well done and not frustrating at all. She tried this unfortunate David Foster Wallace style (meaning: unnecessary footnotes) with her essay about competitive Scrabble, which wasn’t great, but otherwise her pop culture-less, angry platitude-less essays were likable and probably more instructive or revealing than her agendaed essays.

That said, I will reiterate that woman is not a natural essay writer, so I would discourage myself from reading her stuff in the future if it’s about anything but her personal life. Like, she has an entire essay on “green girls” that, as far as I can recall, doesn’t even go ahead and describe what a “green girl” is. For most of it I thought she meant that a girl in fiction is literally green, and I thought it was a metaphor for something. To be clear, a “green girl” is, per Megan Milks of LARB, “young, fresh, not fully formed.” Apparently it was used to describe Ophelia in Hamlet. So there ya go. She’s not green.

Reading Now:

(This blog will consist solely of endless posts of “Reading Now”, as I am such an infamous book abandoner. Oh, I’m the worst.)

Whatevs!

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The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt: I am not necessarily the intended audience for this book, as I have a vague self-enforced interest in history and politics but absolutely zero aptitude for the subjects. I am pulling my sloggy feet through the mire of European political history here, made the worse because Arendt thinks I know what she’s talking about. The Dreyfus Affair has been mentioned so often & so casually that I know FOR SURE I am going to have to break down and skim this thing’s Wikipedia page finally. Everyone knows about this thing, yes? Yes. On the other hand, I really enjoy Arendt’s sharp writing style. I feel like she can contradict herself or dismiss reality very occasionally, but she says it with such authority that it’s still just so pleasant to read! (And furthermore I can never be entirely sure that I’m not misinterpreting her, as there are large and basic chunks of this subject — so far: the interplay of antisemitism and Euro-politics — just totally missing from my rotten little mind.)

Next! Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins: I have been anti-Robbins for quite some time, after I read Still Life With Woodpecker five or so years ago and was left with the feeling that I’d just consumed something incredibly insubstantial, and then I also realized that Tom Robbins is highly lauded by people who don’t actually like to read but think they do. (Lord does that sound judgey. It is. But that’s definitely my impression, that T. Robbins is patron saint for the non-reader who fancies themselves a reader. Which is fine, I think that non-reading is fine, but I don’t think deluding yourself is fine.) (God, so judgey. I shall work on this.) Soo, anyway, the Beloved has maintained that I didn’t necessarily give T. Robbins a fair chance, which is probably true, so I thought I’d use him as a nice, fluffy escape from the impending Holocaust in Hannah Arendt. And I thought that I could see the movie version of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues when I finished this, because it had been on my radar during my River Phoenix stage in high school, and I never saw it, and we have now nearly entered a Joaquin Phoenix stage (Inherent Vice, y’all!!), and a Phoenix is a Phoenix. Very, very, very sadly, I now discover that River Phoenix isn’t in the ECGB movie, it was only dedicated to him. GodDAMNit.

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Let’s go ahead and not google “sad River Phoenix”, because a picture of him in his casket will be one of the first things to pop up.

Things I hope to get out of reading ECGB: Elimination of the reflexive sneer that peeps out when we mention going to this awesome bar in town that’s probably named after a Tom Robbins book; Significant Other’s fiction tastes falling into greater coherence for me (I could not reconcile this… could not…); less fiction snobbishness, most importantly.

And! The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing: I’m having trouble with this so far because I feel like the dialogue is written in a very… stage-y way, like it’s come straight from a play, and theater writing is just not my thing, unfortunately. I can’t help but imagine the scene as if it’s being acted out, and it’s just pretty unenjoyable for me in that way. I will definitely keep on because it’s still early and I think the novel will soon go off in a different direction. At least, I was promised five notebooks (or four?), and I imagine this wouldn’t be a classic work if it just referenced a few “brilliant” notebooks and didn’t deliver, you know?

I just looked ahead and I’m two pages away from a long, long section titled “The Notebooks”. Hoorah!

Welp, that’s about it. I finished one or two books from the library recently, but I didn’t take pictures of them and we need some rules in life, right?

Current Days

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Read about 1/3 of Matt Stossel’s My Age of Anxiety. Really I thought (for whatever reason, as I could have just *glanced* at the blurb) that this was going to be some kind of meditation on our Western society and how it’s all wrong and unnatural and causes people to experience terrible woes of the psyche and dark nights of the soul — I love these types of books — but in fact, as it turns out, it is an account of the author’s lifelong anxiety disorder. So HUH. It’s also about anxiety disorders in general, and some cultural factors are discussed of course (I imagine these were really fleshed out in the chapter on medication that I didn’t read), but it truly is more of a dip into the sweaty and nauseated life of Stossel. And actually that’s the only thing that kept me reading for as long as I did, because though I recognize the undesirable kind of self-indulgence that keeps someone minutely analyzing themselves for dozens and dozens of pages (uh, see Nin quotes below), I also find it really charming when they acknowledge that self-indulgence and then GO INTO SELF-DEPRECATION, self-deprecation is the best. It’s a full admission of your flaws and a heads-up that you know they’re socially unacceptable, but then a nice little bout of staunchness, wherein the admission replaces any actual intention of changing. “I see that people don’t like this about me, but — I’m going to continue this behavior because I want to.” I love that. No regrets!! I definitely think that self-deprecation can glide over into the land of sad-sacking, and sad-sacking is one of the worst qualities human beings can have, but in any case Stossel doesn’t often sad-sack.

I also probably found Stossel’s anxiety interesting because I had quite a few anxious tendencies as a child and it definitely seemed like I was going to grow up to be an overly cautious, prudish, unhappy adult. I used to be extreeemely socially dependent, not really wanting to leave the house and not having many friends and being very uptight and germ-obsessed…. And I’m not even necessarily knocking these qualities, whatever makes you happy really, but I was miserably these things. I was always worried, and always with this sick feeling from being alone — at least that’s how I remember it. Not peacefully myself. Anyway, I’m not quite sure what happened to me except that I saw my life, was unhappy with it and ashamed of myself, and began to force myself into these dramatic situations, to kind of break myself of my anxiety. Like, I took a solo road trip around the country when I’m not sure I’d ever driven on the highway before (I was SO anxious!), to break my too-strong ties with home, and I began getting extremely confrontational and picking fights with strangers to get over my terror of people not liking me…. Talked aggressively about my pooping habits to get over my painful avoidance of anyone knowing anything about the fact that I poop (seriously, a huge issue at one time). And it worked for me! And I’ve turned out to now be totally happy and straightforward and, like, full steam ahead with doing the things that I want and the things that I think are right. Instead of mousing around in the corner while wishing for something different. (It’s the wishing for something different that’s so sad.)

So yeah, anxiety. I do believe the point was that it was interesting for me to read about Stossel’s anxiety and to realize that I’m reading about it from afar right now. When it was so, so close for so long.

Next:

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I heard this was quite good but could not bring myself to deal with the cover right now. Back to the library.

And then:

I won’t even tell you what I’m reading right now because it’ll be really embarrassing when it’s weeks later and I still haven’t finished it. And so here I was going to segue into Anais Nin quotes (referenced above) because I’d saved them in a draft weeks ago and always intended to put them up, but my browser is too outdated and I can’t get to my drafts page! I don’t think — still getting used to WordPress. But yes, the site doesn’t agree with 2008. So: maybe later, and I guess I’ll have to tell you what I’m reading. The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, and it is going to take me for-ev-er.

Anais Ninny

Phwoooo, after having a friend in town for a week and a couple other things here and there that made for full life-out-in-the-world living (but not a full life in reading, which is sometimes more important to me) — a morning to myself! And a chance to read for a nice, solid block yesterday, and so some contentment.

Actually, this will be tragically brief. I have to run off to work soon. But to update: All but Nin have been abandoned for the moment, and she is soon done herself.

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That photo does not demonstrate her “doneness”. It demonstrates how far along I was in the book when I took that photo a week and a half ago, with the intention of immediately blogging about it. In any case, Anais Nin and I are somewhat reconciled. Quite soon after I posted about her narcissism and other faults, she began, in the diary, to acknowledge her narcissism and other faults. She continues to make excuses for herself and bathe herself in the light of a martyr, but she has these little pops of awareness and self-criticism, and she is now open (to her diary and very occasionally to others) about her lying, and the reasons for it: she doesn’t want to hurt people, or she’s worried about her image, she wants to appear a certain way. I guess really it’s a combination, a misguided attempt to preserve others’ happiness and also to preserve their faith in her (which, in her self-absorption, she equates with their happiness).

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So I intended, with Nin, to read some of the poet Ted Berrigan’s letters to his new wife (and at once new acquaintance!) Sandy, as a kind of foil to the letters between Anais and Henry Miller, excerpts of which Anais sometimes puts into the diary. But I didn’t. But I took this picture, so I’ll use it anyway! I’d read most of the Ted-Sandy letters a year ago, when BF was across the country and I was miserable and neeeeeded some cathartic support from seeing other couples go through a long-distance separation and — get through it, basically. So I thought Dear Sandy would be perfect, because I knew that they were letters from when Ted was in New York and Sandy was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital in Florida, the couple newly married. Pining, perfect! But I didn’t realize until later on that Ted & Sandy had known each other for something like three days when they got married, like a week or ten days total when she was confined to the institution (by her parents, for just this sort of behavior), and so they really barely knew each other at all when Ted was writing things like he couldn’t live without her, etc. Not to say there was no pain involved there, or that it wasn’t a scary situation, because I know it was. But it was not exactly what I had been imagining. Nevertheless, they’re interesting letters! Sandy seems like kind of a dull rock, but Ted is fascinating. The bulk of the correspondence is dedicated to, you know, getting to know each other… describing their days, describing their pasts and themselves. Ted seems to have wanted a marriage where he acted as a mentor to a clever and beautiful girl, someone who would gaze up at him, awed, and so he pretends that this relationship fits that ideal rather than acknowledging that he married someone who is… really, very dull.

In any case! I thought Ted was very Henry Miller-ish. The disregard for others, the insistence that they are stretched to the limits of their capabilities when what they mean, deep down, is “I don’t want to go further.” The poverty and moving around and mad writing & reading. A very charismatic person, a hopeless case.

How quickly we are overwhelmed — soon I will actually go to others’ blogs and read and comment on them.

Reading Now:

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A bunch of white people! I’m not a very conscious reader yet (you know… conscious — or mindful, rather — of the race/gender of the authors I pick up), but I know it’s something most bloggers are very aware of and so we’ll see what happens. I’ll have to move along to greener pastures soon anyway because I am very close to running out of 19th- and 20th-century tortured Russian males to discover.

In any case, Incest by Anais Nin: I fell in looove with her when I read Henry & June at… 22? Yes. And I felt such a kinship with her, like she was a more ethereal, more brilliant and nymph-like version of myself. She wrote so beautifully about her sexual awakening, and she inspired me to be savage and have affairs (love affairs, not extramarital) and to carry flasks and handkerchiefs with me and wear lots of bracelets. Nothing like a bunch of bracelets to make you feel like an empowered woman, right? I felt such a kinship. And then I remember reading a little about her life and discovering that in her middle age she took a second husband, quite young, in the United States, while also keeping her husband Hugh overseas, and telling neither of them about the other and eventually keeping index cards that she’d study on transatlantic flights to keep track of the lies she’d told to each husband and each life…. And I was like, Huh, that makes me feel very uneasy. It was like she had severed that strong connection I felt to her. I had faith that she somehow explained it all in the journals, that the double life somehow made sense, came organically from her mind and experiences. But I didn’t read much further into her journals, so I wasn’t sure.

And so now, in contrast, is my experience reading Incest. This comes from the journals right directly after the Henry & June journals, and both are the unexpurgated versions — so they detail her affairs, and particularly her affair with Henry Miller as he was writing Tropic of Cancer. So this is Nin right where I left her, and I find her to be In.Sufferable. I guess I’m glad that I’ve gotten to a point in life where I’m not thrilled by someone’s narcissism, compulsive lying, and cheating on their spouse. The journal is entirely a record of ego padding: what famous man said she was fascinating, which lover she’s joyfully deceiving at the moment, how genius and artistic she is, oy vey. She does still write wonderfully sometimes. Quotes to be pulled at some point. And some slow and stupid part of me still gives a tug and shakes itself proudly and says, “Yes. That is me,” at some dummmb pronouncement of hers about how she’s volcanic, she’s fire, she’s one of Dostoevsky’s insane, &c. blah blah. I used to (and very rarely still do) look at what she’d write, particularly what she’d write about men praising her power over them and her power as a person, and I would relate it to myself and the very similar things men had told me. I’d see Anais and myself as twins, twin warriors and succubi who were going to drain the world and eke every moment of pleasure we could from it. (To my credit, I no longer do the succubi comparison, I’m not still that bad off.) I think in reality, she and I both wanted a romantic life. We wanted a romantic world, and we wanted it directed all toward us. And in a certain mindset, that can look like reality. You can really see yourself as a sorceress or a femme fatale. But damn if it doesn’t just look like obnoxious posturing and solipsism to everyone else around you.

I am sort of looking forward to her seducing her dad; that part is coming up soon and can’t not be interesting, right?

I am further into and more emotionally involved in Incest than in my other reads —

Sentimental Education by Flaubert: I read Madame Bovary (obviously) and loved his style — “the perfect phrase” or whatever, right? And expected the same here, but it’s not quite the same here. Actually, it’s kind of jarring and distancing at once. Is he not a fan of proper nouns? Is it just a bad translation? We will be introduced to several dudes. And then “he” does something. What? Who? WHO ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, FLAUBERT? The basic storyline appeals to me — love from afar for a beautiful, untouchable woman (I am clearly still not immune to Anais Syndrome). But, not being too clear on French history, the pointed moments of A(n) Historical Event Happening are lost on me. Probably will not finish today (meaning: this time).

The Russian Folktale by Vladimir Yakovlevich Propp: I really wanted his Morphology of the Folktale, wherein he lays out the general folk/fairytale formulas and tropes, but couldn’t get ahold of it. I happily settle for Russians. I’m not very far in (like… maybe still at the introduction?), but he seems sweet and personable so far. Perhaps that’s because the book was compiled from his lectures, which I *think* it was. (I merely skimmed the foreword, of course.)

The Aeneid by Virgil. Full disclosure, I just typed “Homer”. Whew, time for breakfast. I read Dante’s Inferno last year around Easter for a class, and since I read it then and it takes place then, I thought it would be a wonderful Easter tradition to read The Divine Comedy every year. I’m reading The Aeneid again to refamiliarize myself with Virgil — it’s been about 10 years and I have a very poor book memory. Oh, and because Virgil acts as Dante’s guide through the underworld — is this something people know? I think so. I’m a little excited for this, as the Greek epics and plays have taken on a strange new appeal for me in the last year. I’m sure a Latin epic will be the same thing.

I Shout into the Void

So, there were a few things that inspired this blog creation:

First, my boyfriend and I were visiting some friends who are in academia and we wondered if we should get them a copy of The Master and Margarita for their house. (This is a common houseguest and holiday-gifting ploy of ours.) One of the house members said, “Oh no, we have at least one copy. People were really into it when I was in high school and I read it then.” And I just had this little internal sigh because, like, that was not my high school experience at all. I didn’t really grow up with peers who read for fun, and I haven’t befriended many book lovers in my adult life, either. I find very lovely, warm, genuine people — but readers they’re not.

This kind of transitioned into a tiny grief when I came up with a great reading plan. It will go unrealized, but listen: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. In Search of Lost Time. My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard. And maybe to round it out, Hitler’s Mein Kampf (a very critical reading). Like, the graphomaniacal, uber-minutiated epic memoir. Oh, my heart flutters. And I really wished I had someone to share this with besides my boyfriend (who is a great book talker but will not keep me on track should I ever decide to read any item of this list). I’m under no illusion that this is what the greater book-blogging community reads or is interested in. But from my long-term and far-away gazing in at the community, it seems like people are so supportive of others, no matter the reading material. And damnit, that looks so nice.

And yes, so I had those thoughts and then went on a blog binge last night aand here we are! In reality I probably don’t need to keep up with a blog, as it will just eat into the reading time I already limit by doodling around the house and watching TV shows from my childhood on YouTube.

Ah well, in we go.