I thought I could just roll into the new calendar page and forget about my loose ends. Then, I remembered who I am: a bona fide neurotic with just enough OCD for that to be impossible. So, here’s a post that belongs to 2014, but has been written and posted in 2015 because I am who I am.
My last post extolled the virtues (and flaws) of the 54 books I read in 2014. But, before that crystal ball fell on Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper (who should totally have a love child), I read three more. Now it seems I can’t move on with my life without discussing them here.
I ended the year with three books by women I would love to be friends with. I think they would really like me– if not the real me, then the me I would be to try to get them to like me. That Christie they would most definitely put on their Christmas card list for next year, if not their speed dial.
Book 55: This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett. This is one of my desert island books, as it’s definitely in my top five. Prospective writers should get this for her article, The Getaway Car, alone. After reading this, I adore Patchett even more than I did before, which is weird, because, really, I should hate her. Not because she’s so talented at telling stories, but because she’s also so damn good-hearted. She washed her grandmother’s hair in the sink and took her to lunch regularly. She befriended a mean old nun who taught her to read. She has deep connections to the animal kingdom through her pet dog(s), whom she writes about with more tenderness and loyalty than I write about my offspring. She assisted elderly hitchhikers. For god’s sakes, she taught herself to scale walls so she could join the Los Angeles police academy, so she’s also a complete bad ass. She mentions her childhood without self-pity or resentment even though writers with less familial upheaval have made careers on attempting to heal those early, primal wounds. So, I take it back: Ann and I can’t be friends. I like to be better than my friends at (at least) one thing, and I can’t think of no realm where I could best her. She’s even helped me be a better parent. Case in point: My daughter is in kindergarten and not yet reading– which is fine, I mean, I am totally, 100% FINE with it. Wait. No, I’m not. I’m dying to get my helicopter hands on a phonics book and get her reading by the time the snow thaws (even though her perfectly good school determined that formal reading should be taught in first grade). Oh, how I want to push, push, push my daughter to read, read, read. But every time lick my Tiger Mom chops and prepare to pounce, I remember that Ann Patchett didn’t read until third grade, and she’s the queen of arts and letters as far as I’m concerned. So, I’ll make peace with Ann not being a friend; she can be a hero. And some far off future day when she passes from this realm to the next, I will get into my car and drive to her memorial service to pay my respects just as she did to Eudora Welty. If you read this book, you’ll want to join me.
Book 56: Yes, Please, Amy Poehler. I’m in the habit of reading reviews of the books I’m reading. I start with the NYT (because if this is high school, the NYT is the most popular boy in school, then I’m the slightly overweight, pimply drama dork who would give him a blow job for free any time, no strings attached, if only he would look at me), then I move on to The Washington Post and The Guardian and NPR.org. Before I read Yes, Please, I read the NYT review that positioned Poehler’s memoir on a continuum that included Tina Fey’s Bossypants and Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, as well as Rachel Dratch’s Girl Walks Into A Bar (actually, I may have added that myself) and Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl. The reviewer, Dwight Garner, posits that unlike Fey and Dunham, Poehler can’t write. “Even smart, hilarious people, the ones you wish were your great friends, sometimes can’t write. The world isn’t fair that way.” Harsh, Dwight, harsh. He went on to “rake” into a “small pile” the things he liked about Yes, Please. Anyway, enough about Dwight, whom I happen to disagree with. It’s not the case that Poehler cannot write. Is she Ann Patchett? No, she’s not. But she can tell stories about living in rat-infested Chicago apartments and the genesis of the her comedy troupe, Upright Citizens Brigade. She writes with way more honesty than her counterparts (save Dunham, but that’s a whole other story) about the messy parts of life: divorce (she talks around this), depression, baby weight that will not burn off. Her thesis that being ambivalent about your art (i.e., not wanting it too much) was both surprising, brilliant and immensely insightful and practical. Like her counterparts, I sense in Poehler a compulsion to make her childhood more idyllic than it actually was– in all of these books there’s an aversion to being critical of parents across the board, which feels like a whitewash of sorts. But, as a mother who often wonders: How the HELL do mothers like Amy Poehler make it work with their hours on the set and their two small children and the book deal? Poehler gives us a peek behind the curtain, as she praises her children’s nannies and admits to loving her job. So, Dwight, I’ll take honesty and mess and imperfect storytelling any day. (Confidential to Amy: Don’t listen to Dwight.)
Book 57: All the Things I Never Told You, Celeste Ng. Women in my office with IQ’s higher than mine loved this book. They’re part of the cool kids crowd at work, whereas I’m only part of the “new kids, coolness not yet determined” crowd. Naturally, as a needy social climber, I wanted to love the book as much as they did. Alas, readers, I didn’t. The trope of The Joy of Cooking as the Bible of oppression for women before the Women’s Movement seems overdone to me. It’s very Anna Quindlen. It bores me. I also had a hard time relating to the parents in the story who cared more about fitting in to their respective societies than loving their children. Believe me, I want to fit in too. Maybe because I’m not an ethnic minority it’s harder for me to relate to how it feels to be stared at (echoes of Wonder) and to understand all the ways a good-intentioned parent might try to steer his or her child away from those experiences of “other-ness.” And the mother who didn’t get to go to medical school and then pushed her daughter ruthlessly (to suicide, ya’ll) in some fucked up vicarious way to heal that dream deferred? I just couldn’t buy it. Or I did, but I didn’t like it. Who sells their children out like that? I know, I know, easy for me to say with my infinity choices and access to The Pill and my graduate school and law degree and my white skin.
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Speaking of dreams deferred, one of the literary agents to whom I pitched, sent a lovely rejection email. She wanted to love it, she said, but she found two problems: the voice and the plot. The way I see it, I’ve nailed the font size, title and length. Now if I could just nail character and plot, I’d have myself a book. Maybe one day Dwight Garner will review my book and proclaim that I cannot write. If that’s what the future holds, bring it on.