Friday Fluff: Kiddie lit

In honor of Pippi: who were your kid’s-book role models growing up? Who made you feel like you could do anything? Do you remember fat or unconventional-looking protagonists whose non-beautiful looks were portrayed in a positive (or at least neutral) light?

On the flip side, who disappointed or hurt you? There’s some discussion on Manolo for the Big Girl right now about the book Me and Fat Glenda, in which the protagonist apparently loses weight and suddenly becomes attractive. Personally I remember feeling bitterly let down by Meg Murry, who suddenly became stunningly gorgeous and shed all her endearing and identifiable teenage awkwardness. (Mad love to Madeleine L’Engle, of course, but that always struck a sour note with me.)

Friday fluff: ‘Fess up

So in the always scintillating world of literary academia, people occasionally play a game that goes like this: you name the book you’re most embarrassed about not having read. Whoever names the most important/seminal/all-around classic book wins — the joy of winning is, of course, mitigated by the mocking that ensues. (There are two absolute trump cards for this game, by the way: if you study American literature but you have not read Huck Finn, congratulations: you’re a winner! If you study English literature but you have not read Hamlet, you too are already a winner!)

Now, we’re not into shame here at SP, so we’ll play this game in a happier manner: what’s the book you can’t believe you haven’t read yet? The movie that you just know you should have seen? I’ll start: I haven’t seen Apocalypse Now. This despite the fact that I’ve read Heart of Darkness at least half a dozen times, have seen parts of the Hearts of Darkness documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now, and have blithely answered student questions about the movie (whose content I’m very familiar with). I know a ton about the movie, but I’ve just never sat down and watched the damn thing. I will one day, I swear!

If books and movies aren’t your thing, what’s your secret weak spot in your hobby/career/passion? There will be no mockery here — just some giggling solidarity.

And she wrote some pretty good novels, too

Greetings, Shapelings! As the resident grad student here at SP, I don’t have the time to post as often as Kate or Fillyjonk because I am too busy trying to read all of 20th-century literature in English in one go. (It’s taking a bit longer than I had hoped). At the moment, I’m reading Virginia Woolf’s outstanding anti-war treatise, Three Guineas, and I ran across something in a footnote that I thought y’all might enjoy, especially given some recent conversations we’ve had about portion sizes. Shapeling Spacedcowgirl wittily described what she calls “fake lady lunches“:

I don’t usually look at someone’s plate and comment on the portion size but I can’t resist saying something when my friend (for example) says something like “I had a [diet] yogurt and a banana for lunch, tee hee!” Even a “whole” Lean Cuisine is too little food for me so I don’t see how anyone can survive on a yogurt and a banana. I call it a “fake lady lunch.” (This is related to my view of unpleasant sales-pressure “parties” like scrapbooking, jewelry, Mary Kay, etc., and things like mother-daughter banquets–most of which are conducted while the men hang out at home and do actual fun stuff and/or whatever they please–as “fake lady fun.”)

Virginia Woolf actually has something to say on fake lady lunches (as she does on so many other topics), but what’s most interesting to me is how different the idea of what constitutes an appropriate lunch is. In a footnote to a discussion of problems facing working women in Three Guineas, Woolf gives evidence that professional women cannot afford to eat properly:

“It is a common thing to see the business girl contenting herself with a bun or a sandwich for her midday meal; and though there are theories that this is from choice… the truth is that they often cannot afford to eat properly.” (Careers and Openings for Women, by Ray Strachey, p. 74.) Compare also Miss E. Turner: “…many offices had been wondering why they were unable to get through their work as smoothly as formerly. It had been found that junior typists were fagged out in the afternoons because they could afford only an apple and a sandwich for lunch. Employers should meet the increased cost of living by increased salaries.” (The Times, March 28th, 1938).*

Woolf brings this up mostly to illustrate the injustices perpetrated against women, who are paid less for their work than men, and thus seem less competent because they’re, you know, ready to pass out by mid-afternoon because they can’t afford lunch. But what struck me most, having been a “business girl” in the 21st century, is that lunch itself: a sandwich and an apple. For Woolf, this fact stands on its own: that this is not enough food is meant to be self-evident. For many women I’ve known, in grad school or in the corporate world, that would be a fairly large lunch, if not an extravagant one. How many women do you know who just eat a microwaveable Lean Cuisine meal, or a diet yogurt, and nothing else for lunch? I used to share an office with a woman who ate a Lean Cuisine meal every single day for lunch. And every single day, she would look at my meal, whatever it was, and comment on how good it smelled or how awesome it looked. Why? Because I was eating something that was desirable to eat, and not just something I thought I should eat. And every day I felt so sad that my colleague and friend was depriving herself at each meal just because she thought there was a proper or a virtuous amount to eat. Meanwhile, the men we worked with were constantly running across the street for burgers and fries, constantly snacking to keep their energy up or because they just plain wanted to.

Women have gained a lot of power since 1938. We are, for the most part, no longer as dependent on our status as daughters as Woolf’s audience was. But there is still a pay gap. There is still widespread and insidious sexism. And even those of us who can afford more have been convinced not to eat more than a sandwich and an apple at lunchtime, even though our grandmothers were fainting away on that when they were our age. Not getting enough to eat is an injustice, whether it is because of poverty or because of the extraordinary disciplinary machine of fatphobia and sexism. Virginia Woolf knew this when she wrote Three Guineas, and she knew this when she wrote A Room of One’s Own in 1929:

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.

Dine well tonight, Shapelings. And have a delicious lunch tomorrow.

*Woolf, Three Guineas, p. 179, n. 20. Harcourt, 1966.

Friday Fluff: Books that get better and better

So for various grad schooly purposes, I’m reading Heart of Darkness for the, oh, seventh time (and teaching it for the first time). The first time I read this book, way back in high school, I totally hated it. Every time since then, I hate it a little bit less, and now I’m at the point where, though I can’t say I enjoy it, I genuinely appreciate it. It’ll never be one of my favorites, but damn if it doesn’t get better and better.

My favorite books are like that too, of course; basically anything by Italo Calvino (but especially Invisible Cities and If on a winter’s night a traveler) gets even more mind-blowing and beautiful each time.

So that’s your Friday Fluff question, Shapelings: what book just keeps getting better and better? Did it start bad? Did it start awesome and then just get awesomer? Give us your recommendations!

Did You Know…

… that Allison Titus won the Bateau Press Boom Chapbook Contest, with Instructions from the Narwhal?

… and that, while you’re waiting for that to be published, you can read her poetry here, here, here, here, and in about a billion other lit mags?

… and that she is made of awesome?

Because it’s important that you know these things, and tell your friends.

And if you see her today, tell her happy birthday.

I Got Nuthin’

So, I finished The End of Faith and remain in love with Sam Harris, but I cannot for the life of me collect my thoughts about all of it. I wouldn’t say I agree with every word, but I very much admire his thinking. And the older I get the more I realize that’s what really matters to me. Spent half the day poking through Salon’s archives and reading interviews with the likes of Karen Armstrong, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, none of whom really agree with each other or Harris or me, but all of whom take questions that fascinate me very, very seriously. And so I love them all.

And instead of trying to force my own thoughts to cohere, I’ll just share a few quotes of the day: Continue reading

Ran Across My Baby Book While Unpacking

It has virtually nothing in it (fourth kid), but I was amused by these tidbits:

The Expected:
16 months: Loves to look at books. Eats everything we eat.
At 19 months: Repeats all words and speaks in two-three word phrases.

The Much Less Expected:
16 months: Loves babies of all kinds.
19 months: Can definitely put an idea across with only a few words.

Damn. How different would my life be right now if the love for children or the talent for economical self-expression had stuck?