A Woman of Excess, of Zeal and Greed

I'm a bit scattered today, so here's a bunch of almost point-form bits and pieces that have a vague theme. Not so much on the witty commentary.

Picked up Lost Girls and Love Hotels after reading a review on That Shakespeherian Rag, and tore through it in about two days. Excellent debut novel about hopelessness, and the hedonism that arises from it. There is a "love" story in the novel, but it doesn't seem tacked on in an effort to conform with expected female narratives. Rather it seemed to be an extension of the free-fall the protagonist is in. Love, too, is a drug, and the more illicit, the better the high.
The American cover is hideous, and I'd have never given this novel a chance if it looked like that. Yeah yeah, book by its cover, but Lost Girls and Love Hotels isn't miso-flavoured chick-lit, and the U.S. cover leads you there. I just looked at the reader reviews on Amazon, and the first one complains about the cover too.

Laura Albert, of J.T. LeRoy infamy, is profiled in the New York Times.
"[...]I never really thought of it in terms of right or wrong, truth or lie. It was more like two computer programs running in my head. There was him, and there was me."

In the last post, I wondered where I could smoke that cigarette indoors. Turns out smoking bans might be killing English literature. (The comments are also worth a look.) I know the bans killed a lot of pool halls and sketchy bars, but literature? Hey, I'll go for that.

Bookninja linked to this footage of Anne Sexton reading her poetry. Anne's been with me through some of the craziest times, though I was warned against reading her during those times ("Don't feed your crazy!").
No one was crazy like Anne, bless her art.

The title of this post is a line from "Cigarettes And Whiskey And Wild, Wild Women".

Schadenfreude Pie

I've already admitted that I'm a bit addicted to stories of domestic distress. I'm also a capital-F Feminist. The "mommy wars" is where these two things meet up, rather uncomfortably. See, while I'm child-free, a lot of very important people in my life are mothers. Many of them stay-at-home mothers. So I've become very interested in this whole "mommy war" thing, which we know now is very much a product of the media, used to sell papers and magazines. More importantly, it's a product of the patriarchy, which has always used "divide and conquer" as a means of making sure the underclasses ─ in this case, women ─ don't rise up. Who has time to fight the real enemy, when you're fighting each other, right?

A couple years ago I read The Mommy Myth, more as a backup to my child-free choice; I needed something to stablise my mind, in the midst of the "You just got married, when are you having kids?" chorus. At the time, my cohort was mostly child-free as well, but when I started meeting some mamas and their kids, I started noticing the "mommy wars" articles. That's when I got a hold of the excellently researched The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars. A couple months back, someone in a feminist forum (perhaps it was the comments section of my favourite radical Feminist, Twisty Faster) recommended Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety. Not only does this book tackle the "mommy wars," but it takes a very serious look at how mothers are expected to be superhuman, even if they're part of the "opt-out" set. There's more than a hint of the post-feminist *cough* in here. Feminism seems to get the blame for making women take on too much, since we (those of us born in the 70s) were told that we could be mothers and career people growing up, and when that doesn't work, we still channel all that super person work ethic into raising children. The concession is made a couple times, far too briefly, that if things were just equal, if men were able to be full co-parents, then perhaps mothers would get a break, get a nap for crying out loud. However, the overriding impression is a bit defeatist: you were lied to; you can't have it all. It's the impression I got anyway. Overall though, there's some really good stuff about how hyper-parenting isn't good for kids, and that mamas need to take it easier on themselves.

And here's the uncomfortable alliance, and full confession: I read, and sympathise, and disseminate, and support mothers. And yet, and yet... I read these books and I still have to breathe a sigh of relief, because I've got it so, so easy. I'm not sure if that makes me a total asshole or not. I suppose the blog world will have to tell me. At any rate, I've been wanting to share the following link forever now, and because the aforementioned sigh of relief just might be bordering on Schadenfreude, I bring you:
How to Make a Schadenfreude Pie.

The problem with all these books, is they focus on a very specific group: middle to upper-middle class (mostly) white women. They almost always miss the people who are struggling to get by, the people who don't have a choice about working, the people who don't have a choice about staying home. They miss the working poor and the single mamas. That's why I was glad to see this article the other day:
The Working Wounded.
The debate over whether mothers of young children should opt out of full-time work, and instead stay home with their kids, has important implications for all mothers, but the vast majority of those mothers are being excluded from the conversation. The vocabulary of the discussion -- opt out, choose to stay home -- reveals its bias: It assumes that all mothers can make a choice that, in actuality, very few mothers are in a position to make.
Because not everyone is Rebecca Eckler (annoying).

* * *

In the least shocking news ever, it turns out Americans don't read a lot.
One in four adults say they read no books at all in the past year, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Tuesday.[...]The typical person claimed to have read four books in the last year -- half read more and half read fewer. Excluding those who hadn't read any, the usual number read was seven.
I wouldn't mind seeing some Canadian numbers on this sort of thing. I assume they'd be higher, but I have absolutely nothing to base that on. More important than the statistics in that article, is the picture: where is this bar that I can still smoke in!? Tell me! I will go to it! Bah, it's probably a wretchedly old stock photo.

By the way, if you're curious how many books this Canadian reads per year, check out the "2006 Book List" and "2007 Book List" links on the sidebar there.

Do You Think These Lyrics Are Heartless?

I'm currently about 150 pages into Girlfriend in Coma. Given my love of Coupland, and my love of Morrissey, you'd think I'd have hit this one sooner. I have to say, I'm completely creeped out when I'm reading it. Far more so than when reading Winterwood or any horror genre stuff. I'm not sure if it's because Coupland is hitting some deep-seeded fears in my brain (vegetative states, Armageddon), or because he's just that good. While I haven't loved everything he's written, there are books of his that can completely alter my mood, and tinge everything around me. Eleanor Rigby made me quiet, and small, and vaguely depressed, like I was walking through mist all the time. It didn't get great reviews, but I feel it's one of his finest. All Families are Psychotic, on the other hand, had me thinking "Franzen did it better." And let's not even get into the absurdity of the China sequence in JPod. Far too meta, and you know how I feel about meta*! But Girlfriend is Coupland at his mood-altering best. I can't put the thing down, till my eyes close by themselves to sleep. At the same time, I'm repelled, knowing something pretty awful is coming. It may not sound like it, given my one-line reviews, but I have a deep, deep respect for Coupland, and a love of his writing, even when it's pissing me off.

I also love Penguin, the publishing house. When used book shopping, I'll always take a look at the orange spines first. It's how I discovered A.S. Byatt. The orange spine has always had such a calming effect on me. So you can imagine how excited I was to learn that Coupland had an exhibit up, using Penguin covers. I went to the Distillery District on Sunday to check it out, and was completely blown away. One of the things I love about Coupland, is his ease with, and reverence for, pop culture, and the sly references to it (Girlfriend has Smiths' lyrics all through it, but if you didn't know The Smiths, you'd have no idea). While it's interesting to look close up at the covers, and the words attached to them, the exhibit works best from ten feet away. I stood in the middle of that room, and turned slowly. A helpful gallery person came up to talk to me, and I asked what the pieces were going for. "$800 for a single, $1550 for the diptych." Most things had been sold, but there was one diptych left, and it read, vertically, "Dazzle Ships." The gallery person didn't know the reference. But I did. And it was still available. I really did wrestle with this. Three things I love, all together. In the end though, I'd have to go into debt to do it, and my miserly Capricorn nature stopped me. But I'll dream about it, and cry here and there. If only, if only, if only.

*Funny that the review of Girlfriend in a Coma I link to above says: "Mr. Coupland has become the first popular mainstream author in America to publicly declare that postmodernism is dead." Though one wonders how good a review this can be, when they get the author's nationality wrong. C'mon, 99% of his writing is set in Vancouver! This is not difficult.