My Latest Snag: Where the Crawdads Sing.
Did anyone else finish the February book club pick already? I am sticking to my new year’s resolutions and turning in early to read most nights of the week, so I’ve plowed through about a book a week so far this year. I’m nearly done with Where the Crawdads Sing and while I find the quality of the writing erratic (some chapters are lyrical and captivating; others are cloyingly saccharine, as when the narrator is reunited with her brother — the dialogue was absurdly stilted and mawkish), I think it’s an important read. I’m maybe 80% done with it and I keep thinking about Circe and the Brett Kavanaugh hearings and — it feels like an important, topical thing to read, as so much of it has to do with a woman in exile whose story is at odds with the interpretations of those around her. There are also interesting inflections to contemplate when holding it alongside Lauren Groff’s Florida, another Magpie book club pick from earlier this year, as both claim the wild marshlands of the coastal Southern U.S. as their settings, and both interrogate the relationship between nature and (wo-)man many times over. A stirring read, though not without its faults.
You’re Sooooo Popular: The UES Mom Jacket.
The most popular items on le blog this week:
+Such a cute sundress! (Under $100.)
+For the second week running: my new favorite tinted moisturizer. More pigmented and concentrated than the Laura Mercier fan favorite. LOVE the way it blends into my skin!
+An incredible product for delivering volume to even the limpest, finest of hair (ahem, mine). I’m hooked!
+Speaking of haircare, many of you are hooked on this! Still have not pulled the trigger…
+The best mittens for a cold snap. (Lined in fleece!)
+This tea is like catnip for me. I cannot get enough of it. So, so smooth — almost chocolatey!? I can’t explain it, but try it once and see how you feel.
#Turbothot: A Problem of Authorship.
When I finished the February book club pick, I immediately assigned it a high score within the context of my own personal rubric (1-5). Then I read the afterword by the author and did a little recon on him and found myself docking the book several points. Now I can scarcely think of it without cringing. I’ll write a full review explaining why and how my opinion of the work changed as I learned more about the author at the end of this month, but the evolution of my perspective on the book has sat uncomfortably with me over the past few weeks.
A couple of you had written in to mention that Sherman Alexie had been embroiled in multiple complaints of sexual harassment, and that his book (which is written from the perspective of a fourteen-year-old boy and is often assigned as high school reading) had been pulled from many school book lists as a result. My initial reaction was, “Well, that will provide some interesting context for conversation at book club, but it won’t — and shouldn’t — preclude me from reading and discussing it.” My initial thinking was that the evaluation of book club candidates from the perspective of whether or not the author was a good person was a slippery slope. That exercise might exclude half of the best-loved, most important books of the past few centuries. And where would I draw lines around what makes an author “good” or not? For example, would I cut the work of Thomas Jefferson because he owned slaves? Would I avoid Hemingway because he was a known philanderer? These authors led deeply morally troubling lives and yet — and yet — and yet. How do we reconcile the quality and importance of their work with the facts of their authorship?
There is also a danger of running too far afield, of censoring too much, of too heavily imposing my own values in the selection of books, in turn heading off healthy cognitive dissonance and debate.
There is also a more erudite angle to contend with, and it has to do with my training in the study of literature. For years, I tried on the various lenses of my professors: a gender studies/queer theory lens here, a post-colonial lens there, a new historicist take from this professor, a structuralist take from that one. Gradually, I realized that none of these professors had the entire picture of a work when choosing to favor just one approach to the text, and that there was fallibility and a very human kind of personal preference in their interpretations of the books we were reading. And so I consciously reflected on which of the many critical apparatuses I’d learned about appealed most to me on an intuitive level. I found that close textualist / formalist readings were my wheelhouse: I was at home thinking about narrative design, analyzing the various plot points and devices to understand the inner workings of a text. I preferred to think of each book as a kind of universe unto itself, with its own logic and rules and symmetries and patterns. I looked for repetitions and echoes. I was drawn to formulas and sequences. I made much of these things, all the while knowing that in choosing to look at texts through this one particular lens, I was silencing other, equally yielding perspectives.
And so, there’s a kind of academic rootedness when I say that I tend to prefer to approach a book as if it has dropped from a tree straight into my lap, and I often consciously choose not think about its provenance too carefully. I opt to consider it on its own, understand it on its own terms, react to it almost in a vacuum, guided by the underpinning assumption that readers are active participants in the creation of artistic meaning.
But — this Alexie book and its surrounding controversies came along and, man!, it’s made me re-think everything. I find myself entirely unable to — and indeed morally blocked from — disambiguating the work from the context of its authorship.
Where do you fall on this spectrum of readership? Do you find you need to understand the historical and social context of a book, or are you able to separate a book from the potentially troubling conditions of its creation?
(How’s that for casual Saturday morning fare?)
#Shopaholic: The Tailored Dress.
+Many of you asked about the shift dress I wore with Gucci tights to a baby shower (shown in Instastories) last weekend. Sadly, the dress is several years old (from Banana Republic), but this sweet dress is markedly similar owing to that cuff detail! I’d order in the pink.
+This rash guard is BEYOND for a mini.
+I am actually obsessed with this skirt. LOVE. The length, the fabric, the pleats! I need this!
+A really good price on a wear-with-everything Prada sandal.
+Have been living in robes lately. Love this one.