Generally, I like memoir (despite all the hullabaloo lately for and against*). Not as much as I tend to like well-written biography, but still. It’s all right by me.
So I’m unsettled by the immediate dislike, and not just dislike, but revulsion, I feel upon starting Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water. I read a few pages and thought, “Oh, wow. What is my problem? I hate this. I HATE this.” So I thought maybe it would be better if I didn’t start with the nakedly manipulative opening and came back to that after I read some other pages further in. Nope. No good. Still hating it. My initial reaction, which so far is holding up, was, “I’m on to you, lady. I know what you’re trying to do here, and I’m not falling for it.” I mean, damn. What kind of bitch has that sort of reaction to an opening sequence featuring a stillborn daughter? The kind of bitch I am, I guess.
I don’t trust this sort of extreme reaction in myself. Something about this book repulses me, which means this might be more about me than about the book. So I’m going to have to examine that before I try to articulate my thoughts.
But not tonight, because seriously, it’s making me feel foul. Which means I need to find something else to read in the tub tonight… .
*I want to take a bath and go to bed, so I’m not going to rummage around and find the links to said hullabaloo.
Embattled Public Radio by Bill McKibben
As usual, Ira Glass, host of the remarkable This American Life, put it best. As he told the public radio program On The Media, NPR should have defended its newscast: “I feel like public radio should address this directly, because I think anybody who listens to our stations understands that what they’re hearing is mainstream media reporting,” Glass said. “We have nothing to fear from a discussion of what is the news coverage we’re doing. As somebody who works in public radio, it is killing me that people on the right are going around trying to basically rebrand us, saying that it’s biased news, it’s left wing news, when I feel like anybody who listens to the shows knows that it’s not. And we are not fighting back, we are not saying anything back. I find it completely annoying, and I don’t understand it.”
The King in Yellow — a new album from The Dead Milkmen (wait, what?)
I just don’t get Norah Jones …
Brian Leli writes Quickly: A Letter to My Current Self
Dear Brian, Goddamn you are angry. Sweet Jesus, man, you are mad at the whole world. And more so at yourself. But why? Why? I mean, I know why. But before all of this, why?
and Quickly: A Letter in Reponse to My Former Current Self
You are angry at all the books you will never read or understand. At all the foreign soil you will never walk on. You are angry at the slow and tedious days. And at all the wasted time that they engender. You are angry at the things you are willing to die for, because they just aren’t that interested in you. You are angry because of all the years you’ve spent trying to figure out something that changes by the day, by the minute. Anyway, don’t ever lose this. You’re going to need it. Thanks. Brian
Yes, I will pay for the New York Times. I will pay for quality. And if the Senate loses their damn minds (to paraphrase Charles Barkley) and makes me pay more for NPR, I’ll pay more for NPR.
Also, I’m all in favor of paying writers for their goddamn work. And yeah, I’m less likely to trust anything I read that was written for free.
I mean, Jesus—have you tried to read HuffPo? With the too-rare exception, it’s laughably awful.
Lisa Falkenberg at the Houston Chronicle talks about the insanely wrong-headed defense offered by James D. Evans III, attorney for three of the men accused in the Cleveland, TX gang rape case. “This is not a case of a child who was enslaved or taken advantage of,” Evans told the Chronicle. “She wants to be a porn star.”
Not only is “she wanted it” a morally reprehensible defense strategy, but in a case like this one, where the victim is eleven years old, it’s not a defense strategy at all. In fact, it’s the exact opposite: it’s an admission of guilt. Legally, an 11 year old girl can’t “want it.” Mark Bennett, a Houston criminal defense attorney, makes that clear: “[S]uch a child can never consent to sex—not even with a child his own age. If two 13-year-olds have sex, they’re both committing the first-degree felony of aggravated sexual assault, and either or both of them could be hauled into juvenile court.” All Evans is saying, by offering this defense, is that it happened.
And, as Susan at the Texas gender & feminism blog Hay Ladies wrote yesterday, in East Texas, where race is a huge factor in the way cases are prosecuted, a defense attorney saying “it happened” is dangerous. (“It happened” at the Minneola Swinger’s Club, until it may not have; “It happened” at Little Rascals, until it didn’t.) If you’ve got 17 men, all of whom are African-American, accused in this case, there is a possibility that they are not all guilty. Maybe even one of Evans’ clients.
The narrative of “she was asking for it” is really dangerous, for a bunch of reasons. The fact that it’s the default narrative — even by attorneys who should know better! — is especially so. It’s vile and dangerous to act like a woman’s clothing or demeanor supersedes her right to consent, of course — and it’s also dehumanizing to men to treat them as though they lack the restraint and self-control to not rape a woman just because she’s in heels and a skirt. In this case, where it is possible that the story as reported may not be what ended up happening, and that there may have been other forces at work in this small East Texas town that resulted in 17 black men being accused of raping a girl who is not black, blaming the victim is obscene not just because of what it says about how we treat women, but of what it says about how we see the men who’ve been accused. And those two things aren’t unrelated. The culture that sees women (or girls) who dress a certain way or talk about sex as probable conspirators in their own rapes — that’s the same culture that sees these men as controlled by their basest impulses, unable to help themselves. You have to accept the latter to believe the former — and when it’s tied into race and small-town Texas in this way, it’s very clear that it’s all part of the same problem.
A dark story from Granta’s New Voices series. The ending is all the more stunning for its inevitability. A brief interview with the author is translated here.
So good, Ms. Yu. So good. I know that a lot of its goodness is because the original (by which I mean Goodnight Moon) is unbreakably, unassailably good, but I think that part of its goodness is unique. The wee Muad’Dib, for example, elicits a wavery smile and a tight throat, perhaps because Frank Herbert was as much a part of my childhood as Margaret Wise Brown.
I remember being very little, still in grade school, and reading the Dune trilogy because it was on the bookshelves in my father’s study. I read everything on the bookshelves in my father’s study because I was allowed to—I had been explicitly told I was allowed to—and I knew somehow that this invitation was a sign of respect. My father secretly hoped I would want to read everything on his bookshelves.* So I did. We didn’t talk about the books, but he knew I read them. Every now and then new books would appear, strategically positioned on a low shelf at a kid-friendly height. I read them all. Heinlein, Vonnegut, Asimov, Herbert, lots of history books, the occasional novel (though for those I knew to raid my mother’s stash, which was not gathered neatly in one place, as she had no study, no room of her own, but was scattered about the shelves in the den, the living room, the kitchen).
I had to go back and reread everything once I grew up to see what I had and had not understood. This somehow made me into the kind of reader—and the kind of person—I am. Dune stuck with my little eight-year-old brain surprisingly well, and so now it has the sort of aching melancholic association with my childhood enjoyed by Polaroid pictures, certain kinds of Christmas lights, and the smell of Big Chief tablets.
*My father also once, shyly, and it breaks my heart to even remember this, showed me some poetry he had written “as a young man” (he was a young man when he showed it to me). But that is something to think about another time.