Tag Archives | reading

Read Anybody’s Life Lately?

A long time ago I was at a comedy show and the comic (whose name, I’m sorry to say, I can’t remember) made a joke that I’ve never forgotten: “I’ve just started therapy,” she said.  Long pause. “Because I come from a family.”

End of joke.  It’s a joke that’s a great wheat-from-the-chaff tool: those who laugh will probably be my friends. Those who don’t, or who look puzzled, we’re probably not destined to be BFF.

It’s a joke that reminds me of the essay in the  Times Book Review a few weeks ago, the one in which the reviewer claimed that most memoirs probably didn’t need to be written: just having a childhood or being related to a drunk (or being a drunk yourself) isn’t enough of a rationale for a memoir.

I’ve just read three memoirs–I’ve been on a non-fiction binge lately, which is odd for me.  I’m not generally interested in the actual actual, only the fictional actual.

I started with Adam Gopnik’s From Paris to the Moon, his collection of essays about living with his family in Paris.  I remembered loving the essays as they appeared in the New Yorker but reading them all at once in a collection? Loved them less.  Gopnik writes beautifully but the essays seem bloodless; they’re too tidy. And family life–whether in Paris or wherever–isn’t tidy.  The best essay in the bunch is about watching World Cup soccer matches, which initially he founds utterly dull: the quintessential complaint of an American: no one scores!  And then one day watching a basketball game he thinks that all the scoring seems…cheap, flashy, too easily earned.

From Gopnik’s Parisian world, I went to Long Island, to a bar that was home and hearth to J.R. Moehringer.  My friend Jan suggested The Tender Bar to me and while I was reading it, I existed simultaneously in my life and in Moehringer’s tumultuous life in Manhasset.  Maybe I liked this book more than I did Gopnik’s because it felt more like a novel—a man’s quest for a family, a father, a history. It’s a familiar story, as is the story of a drunk and disorderly family, but Moehringer’s prose and his willingness to accept the messiness of his life, and the lives of others, lifted the narrative out of cliché.

Claire Dederer lives worlds away from The Tender Bar, in an affluent suburb of Seattle where all the moms wear Dansko clogs and walk briskly around their neighborhood pushing expensive strollers. Dederer starts yoga after the birth of her first child and despite her initial disdain for the world that seems comprised entirely of twerpy lululemoned women,  yoga starts to make more and more sense.  In Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses, she organizes each chapter around a specific pose,  talking about how camel or eagle or even savasana sheds light on a particular aspect of her life—particularly her marriage.  This book is a bit like Eat Pray Love’s younger, hipper sister: the spiritual questing is turned down, the humor and irony are turned up.  I howled out loud when I read Dederer’s account of Date Night, where she and her husband sit in a Very Romantic restaurant, silent, except for exchanges of “what?” and “nothing.” “I could write an entire play about a marriage,” Dederer writes, “using nothing but the words ‘what’ and ‘nothing.”

Poser is a book I wish I’d written myself: it’s funny and smart; not the best book that’s ever been written about life, marriage, or motherhood, but it captures a certain moment in a certain demographic. The Tender Bar made me appreciate more fully the complicated relationship between sons and fathers, even absent fathers. And Gopnik’s book made me want to move to Paris—but then again, don’t we all want to move to Paris anyway?

Continue Reading · on March 12, 2011 in Books, NaBloPoMo

Reading

Inspired by the sidebar on Marinka’s MotherhoodinNYC (and by her witty writing, but I’ll save the gushing for if I ever meet her at a conference),  I’ve added my own sidebar, with a list of what’s being read chez moi these days. I’ve got mixed feelings about Amazon (remember how exciting it was when Amazon first started–and all you could get was, you know, books?), so  if you want to avoid the Amazonian hydra, you could find all these titles at my new favorite independent bookstore, McNally Jackson, on Prince Street.

There’s also a list of books on The Pile Next To The Bed (over there, next to the “About” link), but I’m feeling very proud of myself for figuring out all this widget stuff, so you should probably indulge me and click on at least one of those titles (even if you don’t buy anything). Domestic Tech Support (aka Husband) conceded to being impressed that I did all of this sidebarring on my own. Here’s to tech independence in 2011!

Continue Reading · on January 1, 2011 in Books, tech life

Show and Tell

Caleb has learned to read. Generally speaking, this is a great thing. He hasn’t quite crossed the line from reading-as-chore to reading-as-pleasure, but he’s getting there.  And that means he reads the signs–excited by his sense of mastery–as we walk along the street: PIZZA! ICE CREAM! SHOES!

Then we walk past this:

IMG_1349

Caleb says: SHOW AND TELL! 

Pause. Then: Why’s he showing us his tummy? Does he have a six-pack?  Liam says I have a four-pack. What’s that? Why does he look so angry?

Okay, so how would you answer those questions, all of which seem eminently reasonable: why is this vaguely sinister, carefully unshaven man showing us his sinewy chest, and what art editor okayed such a heavy-handed use of airbrushing? We can practically see the curve of this guy’s intestines.

I mumbled something about the picture being an ad for a gym and wanting people to exercise, and we walked on; I’m sure Caleb thought nothing of it. But this threatening guy is everywhere, it seems, flashing us his solitary nipple from just about every phone booth in a twenty block radius. Clearly, that’s why phone booths still exist: as sites for advertising. God knows, no one uses them anymore, not even superheroes.

Mr. One-Nipple Six-Pack is not, of course, trying to sell us gym memberships.  He’s selling us “manhunt,” an online chat room designed to let like-minded glowering six-pack owners discuss the finer points of…how to shave until there’s only a rind of stubble, or how to take off an undershirt using only your fist?  What’s he going to show in this chat room? The other nipple? 

This ad disturbs me for lots of the usual reasons: the confusion of sex with love, the commodification of desire, an unreal (and thus unattainable) body portrayed as the object of desire; the list goes on and on.

I’m pretty sure this ad isn’t aimed at my. . . demographic, let’s call it, and that’s fine.  To each his own. I’ve got the World Cup players to look at, and some of the vamps on True Blood–oh, and Husband, of course of course–so I’m all set.

So why does this guy bug me so much? Do I really care if someone wants to “cruise.chat.connect”?  (It’s the manhunt slogan. Truly, it is. I checked. Never let it be said that this blog is not a veritable fountain of information).  Sure, I wish that everyone could find his or her soul mate and enjoy the totally blissful experience of raising kids in Manhattan, but I realize that for some folks, trying to get to the soccer field at 930AM on a Saturday via the 14D bus with two kids and a bag of gear may not be their life goal, and that’s okay.

But this guy and his solitary nipple bug me.  Bugs me for the same reason that I’m bothered by the sprawling oiled lovelies selling Victoria’s Secrets, or just about any other underwear/swimsuit brand, and by the BIG TITS magazines on the newstand… Aren’t we tired, as a society, of looking at yet another almost-naked person? Does a twenty-foot billboard of a man in his underpants really sell more underpants? (And isn’t it curious that for all the hoopla, the word “underpants” is about as sexy as “waffle iron”? )

More and more often I wonder what my kids make of all these hotsy-totsy images. Maybe they don’t see it all yet, but they will, soon enough. How do we help them understand that even though images of sexuality are everywhere, those images have nothing to do with real life–real straight life, real gay life, real whatever kind of life.

Perhaps it’s not a surprise for a writer to say that she wants her kids to be good readers, but I think that’s what I mean. I want them to be good readers–to learn not just the words but the meanings between the words; to learn that the image is not necessarily the reality and that reality is not usually found in an online chat room.

 

*after I wrote this post, I saw that Forefront Church, in NYC, is talking about this same picture as part of their 1000 words series. Guess Mr. Six Pack is bugging a lot of people this week!

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Continue Reading · on June 19, 2010 in sex, street notes

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