Obligatory Blague

que sera sera

This Is Not Chick Lit


This book leapt out at me one day as I trawled the stacks at beloved BAPL (Bethlehem Area Public Library), for the BAPL has that magical property of certain used bookstores, where you find the book you need that you were not looking for if you meander in just the right way or if it wants to be found. So, this book proposed itself as the best entrée to a year of women’s literature and it was not wrong. It is a solid collection with contributions from:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie • Aimee Bender • Judy Budnitz • Jennifer S. Davis • Jennifer Egan • Carolyn Ferrell • Mary Gordon • Cristina Henríquez • Samantha Hunt •Binnie Kirshenbaum • Dika Lam • Caitlin Macy • Francine Prose • Holiday Reinhorn • Roxana Robinson • Curtis Sittenfeld • Lynne Tillman • Martha Witt

While reading, I had always at the back of my mind this question: Could this story only have been written by a woman? In some cases the answer was an emphatic yes, as in Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Volunteers Are Shining Stars,” where all of the major characters are women and the tone of their interactions could only have been captured by an insider.

“Documents of Passion Love” had to be written not only by a woman, but by a black woman steeped in academia and capable of constructing an epistolary story in the form of a graduate dissertation. Let’s face it, she probably had to be Carolyn Ferrell. That’s how it is with the best stories—you get the sense that only this person could tell this story in this way. Such is the case with Lynne Tillman’s idiosyncratic “The Recipe,” though it is written from the perspective of a man. I have a soft spot for him because he’s a poet/language geek—

Clay wouldn’t ever want to relinquish internal rhyme; rhyming was a mnemonic device, too, and venerable for a reason, and, along with that, he relied on the beautiful histories meshed inside the roofs of words.

—though he uses the modern plural of roof, which is not my favorite.

In my sketchbook, I used images from several stories. Two had green cars in them, one a red coat, and one ends up at the World Trade Center. For the thread poem, I chose a page from “Volunteers Are Shining Stars,” the misanthropic narrator of which I identified with perhaps too much.

Not Chick Lit



The Prestige

It is easy enough to make a lady vanish, but bringing her back—that is the prestige. So abracadabra, here come all those women authors disappeared from the canon. Nothing up my sleeve…Presto!

Beginning with my birthday (start of my physical year) I will be reading only books by women for at least one year. At 52, having already absorbed a great chunk of the male-centric Western canon, it occurs to me I would probably need to read women authors exclusively for the rest of my days to balance the scales and that seems extreme even to me, a female author. Why? Well, it is unreasonable to tune into one narrow band of communications to the exclusion of everything else, isn’t it? And yet that is what you do when you follow the canon. It only feels reasonable because it is the default. You didn’t actively choose to exclude anybody; this is just how it is. And there is variation within the sample so you don’t perceive it as monoculture, but clearly it leaves huge swaths of human experience unaccounted for. Why wouldn’t I want to fill in those gaps? Why wouldn’t anyone? Although gender is my primary focus for this project, I recognize that it is only one axis and will bear that in mind in making selections.

So, thinking about erasure, I decided the creative piece of the project would be a thread poem taken from the work I am reading. (I think I made this form up, though it is possible someone else made it up first.) The thread poem is a kind of erasure where you identify the thread of a poem within a block of prose and carve away the surrounding text. This requires the words of the poem to be contiguous in the text so that the poem can be carved out as a single piece. These thread poems will be incorporated into a sketchbook I’m making for the Brooklyn Art Library about these books. That project is due in March 2018, but I expect I’ll keep making thread poems and posting them here for the duration of the year.