My Latest Score
I just snagged a new paper agenda ($29). I’m a big fan of all things digital when it comes to keeping tabs on my daily to-dos, but there’s nothing like checking off tasks laid against a calendar, and using colorful pens (my new ones) to make it all look tidy and organized. You know what they say: a clean space is a clear mind. In light of the fact that many of you are apparent paper product geeks like myself (see the comments on this post!), I am sure that you’ll have additional recommendations for me on this front, but I am pretty particular about this purchase since I like to have lots of space for each day to write in my checklists. I had been a loyal devotee of Sugar Paper for Target’s calendars, but they’re not available currently, and these ones by Whitney English have a whole cult following around them. (As an aside, I’m not sure why they cost half as much on Amazon? Maybe a different version or diffusion line? We shall see.)
You’re Sooooo Popular
Most popular items on Le Blog this week:
+This white poplin dress, which is now marked down to $109 PLUS AN EXTRA 50% OFF. Grumble — in this case, the early bird did not catch the worm; those of you who waited to pounce on this lovely are in luck.
+Super versatile, super chic flats ($120).
+My must-have wireless earbuds ($89) — I swear they make ALL THE DIFFERENCE when running. Obsessed.
+Adorable gingham headband ($24).
+The best bra ever ($25+ depending on color).
Friends, I’ve read nearly four books in the first week and a half of owning my Kindle and, in the words of Gustave Flaubert: “Me and my books, in the same apartment: like a gherkin in its vinegar.” I hadn’t realized how ravenous I was for intellectual engagement.
Two of these books, Roxane Gay’s memoir-ish Hunger and Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost (she is the author of Men Explain Things to Me, which we’ve discussed here in the past — a slim collection of essays that touches upon mansplaining and gender inequality, contains some of the most strikingly precise prose I’ve ever encountered, and is worth a read for the impeccability of its writing alone, if I may be so bold as to negligently set aside, for a moment, its urgent and meaty substance) likely deserve multiple posts owing to their brilliance and depth, but I’ll approach Gay’s for now.
Oh man. Roxane Gay. I have written many posts about how much I loved her essays in Bad Feminist — they challenged me, enlightened me, left me alternately white-knuckled and smug, and ultimately made my list of 10 Books that Will Change Your Life. I was anxious to read her memoir, which, on the surface, serves as a chronicle of her lifelong struggle with morbid obesity, but is in fact a devastating trauma narrative exposing the contours of an anguished soul and a brilliant mind that belong to one and the same Roxane, grappling in their own ways with the effects of sexual abuse. It seethes with self-loathing. It ping pongs between her characteristically incisive, sardonic interpretations of American culture — much of it focused on our cultural norms around physical beauty, food, and health (one chapter ends: “What does it say about our culture that the desire for weight loss is considered a default feature of womanhood?” — KAPOW!) — and the unruliness of her emotions. She writes, early on: “What I know and what I feel are two very different things,” and this could well serve as shorthand for the book’s central drama, a showdown between her intellect understanding and explaining what has come to pass with her and her body, and her emotions grappling with the same. Over the course of her memoir, she creates a sort of intellectual gridlock for herself, at times acknowledging her own responsibility in her obesity and at other times pointing the finger at the sexual predators who took advantage of her as a child and, in turn, a culture that is cruel to those unwilling to conform to our cultural standards for beauty and fitness. In some chapters, she tells us she wants to be invisible, but her weight precludes such self-erasure. In other chapters, she writes that she wants to be seen and acknowledged, not ostracized.
Hers is a mind in torment.
It is tough reading.
It feels wanton to criticize any part of her book, honest and heart-wrenching and soul-laid-bare as it is, but I will say that the quality of the writing was a little less awe-inspiring than that of her previous works, and part of the reason I so ravenously turned to her book was a longing for good, rich prose. This work was simple, with little adornment and scant a paragraph that I longed to underline to later return to. In fact, I couldn’t help but question the editorial acumen standing behind it, as certain details and even phrasings reappear across multiple chapters. At first, I thought it might be artistically intentional — showcasing the recursion of her logic or even the mind-numbing and soul-killing repetitiveness of trauma’s after-effects — but it then dawned on me that several of these chapters had been published separately in different publications over time, and that perhaps there had been a decision to preserve each in its entirety without thinking about how they might all hang together and jangle against one another. Nit-picky, for sure, but a curious oversight (?) for such an academically-lauded writer. This foible, though, is not to be confused with an incredibly artful technique she uses to particular effect in her early chapters, where she layers the same or similar phrases and observations over one another, incanting them, almost willing herself towards a point of self-admission or perhaps soothing herself with their repetition. Similarly, she starts the book with a series of brief chapters attempting to broach the topic of her weight and her rape in various ways, only to stall out and make way for another chapter, approaching the subject from a different angle. It’s a quirky, sputtering start — a string of false alarms, of reformulations — and it’s heartbreaking to see this brilliant mind working so ceaselessly to make sense of the traumas in her life. It calls to mind the nimble negotiations of a spider, spinning its web in solitude, watching its handiwork dissolve with the errant swipe of a hand or a broomstick, restarting its web-making each day in Sisyphean limbo, in the hopes of one day catching something that sticks.
What are you reading? I’m in the last few chapters of the Solnit book, and then I’m onto Just Kids, which I’ve been saying I’m reading next for the last few weeks, but THIS TIME I MEAN IT. (Writing in all caps to convince myself to do so. And P.S. — I wrote a bit about its author and a magical essay she wrote recently here.)
Also, for the record, the other two books I tore through were:
Straub’s The Vacationers — an easy read with semi-decent writing (I want more for Straub! She has a lot of promise!) but an implausible ending and a mind-bogglingly stupid takeaway — basically, “Stay with your husband even when he cheats because one day he’ll come around and stalk you out of love and you will still love him! HURRAY!” (???????)
Puig’s A Wife of Noble Substance — A candidate for the worst book I’ve ever read in my life. Among its worst offenses: flabby, over-decadent, and imprecise Thesaurus writing. Her writing is full of les mots INjustes — meaning that she nearly always picks a word with such opacity and inexactness that I would puzzle over what the hell she meant. I think she was trying to be artful? It was so ridiculous that I read several passages aloud to Mr. Magpie and we took to texting each other in parody of her strange and overtaxed style. An actual exchange:
Me: Any new movies out for rent on iTunes?
Mr. Magpie: Nothing to rent. The nothingness of movie options is clean yet obtuse.
Me: My disappointment is sparse yet unfeeling.
Seriously, though, this book is an editorial nightmare. I found THREE grammatical errors. I assume at some point the copyeditor just gave up on the good battle of arguing with the author over diction and got sloppy.
But, adding insult to injury, the book is billed as a modern day “Edith Wharton” and the comparison is sickening. (I feel that Edith’s name should be cleared of this unfortunate connection.) The basic plot of this book is: “Girl is rich. Girl is part of a cruel, man-obsessed sorority-like Texan society. Girl turns poor. Society turns back on girl. Girl “makes it” when a pervy, wealthy benefactor buys her a store that she outfits as some sort of art gallery despite the fact that she has no background in this line of work. Girl marries man with whom she has a grand total of three interactions over the course of the book, yet is painted to be the love of her life.”
Arg, my head throbs. Wretched. Do not read.
+I’m dying over this dress by hot new line MISA. I love the bows at the sleeves.
+Speaking of bow adornment, how sweet is this $100 dress?
+Easy weekend dress for a girl on the go — and under $30?! I’m picturing myself in it at the farmer’s market, grabbing coffee, strolling with the babe, etc.
+Such a sweet, delicate ring — I ordered it with minimagpie’s initials and birth date on it and am anxiously awaiting its arrival.
+Fellow Biggie lovers will rejoice in this straw tote. LOVE.
+This tiered LWD ($121) is so sweet. The kinda thing I might wear on a lazy Saturday at home.
+Guys. Are rugby shirts, that vestige of the Abercrombie + Fitch early aughts preppy-frayed lifestyle, making a comeback?