this is Ruth’s introduction to our November pick, The Terrible Girls, also available (along with an exclusive interview with author Rebecca Brown) in our iOS 7 app.
A few weeks ago at a dinner party I (Ruth) accidentally started an argument with a stranger over Mortals, a novel by Norman Rush, which I confessed to “hate-reading.” Jonathan (the stranger) happens to be a Norman Rush expert—this sort of bad luck is mine and mine alone, I feel—and so I found myself in the awkward position of having to logically and instantly defend an opinion I had formed slowly and emotionally.
Mortals (spoiler alert!) is about the dissolution of a long, loving, and—it grosses me out to type this, but it’s a central concern—sexually satisfying marriage. We argued vocabulary, themes, prose style, were the sex scenes repulsive, Y/N (the phrase “His penis was dripping” was memorably incorporated), to no conclusion. I could tell Jonathan was dying to say something else, but feared doing so would be rude, so I said it for him: “I haven’t felt strongly about someone in a long time, so maybe there’s no way I’d find this relatable right now… ”
Unfortunately the dinner we had been waiting three hours to eat was served at precisely that moment, so I didn’t get the opportunity to finish, “… but ultimately that shouldn’t matter, because good literature should easily bridge the gap between personal experience and the universal, the general, or the specifically foreign experience.” At least that’s what I would have said if I hadn’t been ravenously devouring whatever food I could get my hands on.
I believe that, but I also believe that some books are more compelling at certain times in one’s life than at others, and our November book, The Terrible Girls by Rebecca Brown, is perhaps one of them. In an interview with Brown, included here, Emily asks, “Is this a book for the heartbroken?”
Ami Greko: I’ve noticed at readings that you seem to have some pretty epic tattoos—are there any that you’d be willing to share the story behind?
Tamora Pierce: Oh, not epic. I have cat tracks (my cats walk all over me), a badger paw print, and crow tracks (I love crows, and I cared for a baby before I handed him over to rehabilitators one year). I had the 1970s feminist symbol that seems to be coming back in style, the Venus symbol with a clenched fist in the circle. I have the Egyptian feather of truth, which is weighed against your heart to determine if your soul is too heavy with bad deeds to go on to the afterworld. I have a spiral, both for Winding Circle and for the journey: from birth to death, from darkness to light, and from ignorance to knowledge.
And I have Mr. Fear, who’s a big screamy face in profile with a yellow eyeball and a spiky thing around his ear to the top of his head and under his chin back and up over his head. He’s for all the loudmouths in the media who want you to be afraid of everything, so when I get tired of their yammering I just mash his face against the table and say, “Shut up.” Or he’s all of my fears, and I do the same thing. Or if somebody drives past me when I’m driving, honking at me and flipping me off, I just show that person Mr. Fear. Usually they just go away after that.
While it’s still fresh: V. and I were sitting at a bar just now when a man came up behind us and started asking questions. He put a hand on each of our backs, briefly, to get our attention, and I was instantly on my guard. Not that it matters— not that it would be okay if this wasn’t true— but I…
I tend to skip straight to just wanting these dudes dead, but I did yoga teacher training way less recently than Zan did.
“Other than that fear and the constant feeling of loss of an essential part of the self, life turns out to be so much easier when you’ve turned off the part of your brain that does writing! I have a job now where I work during the weeks and for the first couple of months of it I was in the library each weekend working on the book, but now my weekends are weekends. I experienced the feeling of “TGIF” for the first time in years on 10/11 and I probably don’t have to tell you that TGIF is A GREAT FEELING. I’ve had so much time these past few weeks to hang out and have fun and organize and clean and budget and transfer balances from one credit card to another and make obsessive plans for the future. Does that not sound fun? It has been GREAT. One of the things about working on a book, at least for me — and probably it doesn’t have to be this way! — is that you spend a lot of time in “finals week mode.” Like, years on end. Neglecting your body, your friendships, your family and your finances because nothing is more important than your book. Some of that damage will take years to undo (financial, mostly), but my skin already looks better. Not writing a novel is a beauty treatment. Not writing a novel is a spa vacation. Not writing a novel is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, except the nagging terror that this happiness is temporary and fake and could shade into misery the minute I try to start another one.”—A blog post! On the not-writing life, and an eventful October.
“Left Bank Books announces its new program whereby Amazon.com buys its books from us at a fifty percent markup over list price. They will also be charged shipping. We believe this will allow Amazon to be a part of the bricks and mortar experience that they can’t do without. Prior to this program Amazon was forced to make do with warehouses in tax free environments that did not leave their customers with that satisfied, ’I supported my local economy’ feeling they increasingly want. Now with the innovative Left Bank Books program they are easily able to stay relevant in a world that demands more integrity from its retail experience.”—
Tonight I had to kick a homeless man out of the carport at work. We’ve had problems with people sleeping in the carport and also masturbating in the carport. The dog hotel isn’t in a bad neighborhood. It’s just located in an almost safe-zone for homeless people. It’s far enough away from where…
“She could have established herself as the comic woman novelist of her period. I had no doubt that she had the equipment for it except for being crippled by her neuroses. She was intelligent enough, shrewd enough, self-composed enough, and talented enough, just lewd enough, that it could have happened.”—Stephen Koch on Iris Owens’s self-sabotage. Read After Claude!
“So she decided to have an abortion, which was still then illegal. I went with her by train to Florida. The guy, I think, was not quite interested in the decision, and not interested in paternity, but I think he was financially quite sound and undertook the cost of all this. She took a train with me going to Florida to have the abortion with a respectable, needless to say, good physician. Then we took the train back, and the emotions coming back were even more complicated than going down. It took a day and a half, or something. One of us started talking about the book she was never going to write. And, I think it was on the train, I’m not sure of this, but she said, “At least I have a first line.” And I said, “Really? What is it?” And she said, “Claude left me, the French rat.”—Stephen Koch on how an abortion led to the birth of After Claude by Iris Owens, our October pick. Buy .epub or .mobi here, or download it via our iOS app to your phone or iPad! (via emilybooks)
“But in the Sunday Review, they picked a guy who had come on to me and been rejected. Maybe the editor didn’t know that. But he wanted to review the book. He said, “Another whiny feminist novel. The heroine doesn’t change at all in the course of the book.”—The Believer Logger: The Believer Interview with Erica Jong
One time I was sitting in an almost-empty café in Asbury Park, typing on my old laptop which has a “Fleetwood MacBook" decal on the back. I had headphones on. Two middle-aged guys in suits came into the café, got their lattes, and sat down a few tables away from me. After a few minutes I noticed that they were staring at me and trying to get my attention, so I popped one of my earbuds out and made a "Yes?" face.
"You like Fleetwood Mac?" one of the dudes asked.
"Yeah, I love them. I especially love Stevie Nicks."
I was in Asbury Park for a “writing retreat” in my friend Sarah’s beach house and hadn’t talked to anyone but cashiers for a few days, so I was in a friendly enough mood to not mind having my work interrupted. Also, I’m always happy to meet a fellow fan of Fleetwood Mac. Unfortunately this guy was not one. He was also, as we shall see, a complete toolbox.
"Oh, I like her. She has that song, like, (sings) ‘I’ve been afraid of changing, ‘cause I built my life around you ..’"
"Landslide. Yeah, That’s a great song," I said.
"What’s that song called? the guy asked his friend, who shrugged.
"It’s called ‘Landslide," I said, slightly louder, in case he hadn’t heard me.
"No, it’s something else, like … ‘I’m Getting Older Too,’ or like … ‘The Landslide Brought it Down.’"
"The song’s called Landslide," I said.
"Nah," he said. "It’s a great song, though. She’s a very talented singer."
I’m telling this story now because it has recently come to my attention this is what life is like for women who work in tech
“It was, for all intents and purposes, a “harmless observation.” (Let’s pretend for a moment that that is a real thing that can happen.) Okay, a harmless observation made while I was still vulnerable and naked and super self-conscious about maybe having grossly snored for eight-plus hours next to a dude who’d just said he didn’t want to be in a relationship with me. Why, thank you for noticing, kind sir! Aghast, I glanced down at the crinkly chocolate chips at the bottoms (because they point down, because they graze my ankles, because they get rug burns) of my real woman tits in horror before snatching the sheet away from him and securing it snugly around my miniaturized shame, turning to face the wall and contemplate whether or not that observation was evidence of some sort of disappointment on his part. “Yeah, totally weird, right?” I managed feebly, then took back my mental apology for pretending he was someone else while he fucked me from behind.”—
Like Daum, I was on the verge of realizing that certain aesthetic signifiers made me feel “that I had betrayed a basic premise of my existence.” But like Daum, I was condemned by my own unrealistic choices and youthful willed ignorance to stay for a while in a situation that made me “feel ‘other’ to my own self,” and this turned out to be a way of determining the boundaries of that self. Ultimately it was good for me in the way that only very unpleasant experiences can be. I remember lying on that carpet—well, on a yoga mat, but still—chanting the mantra “हं haṃ,” the seed mantra of the throat chakra, in the hopes that it would empower me, enable me, to “tell the truth.” I was in, as I am pretty sure I’ve written elsewhere, a very bad place.
But the essays I read during that time in this book showed me that it is possible to transmute that kind of bad experience into writing. And not only that: it is possible to do so without being self-indulgent or apologetic, or seeming to indulge in some kind of public therapy. Even when I disagreed with Daum, I found her extreme forthrightness and her steely prose inspiring.
I posted my introduction to the MY MISSPENT YOUTH issue of the Emily Books Reader, which contains the full text of Meghan Daum’s book plus an interview with Meghan and two bonus essays. You can find it exclusively in the Emily Books Reader iOS 7 app.
“Unlike the BSC, we haven’t had members move away, deal with diabetes or become dangerously boy-crazy, and no one has yet prank-called us. It’s a little goofy to compare what we’re doing to a babysitting collective founded by a group of fictional 12-year-olds in fictional Stoneybrook, CT in the 1990s. But like them, I hope we’ll make it through many years, hundreds of books, and various Super-Specials. Without them, we probably wouldn’t exist.”—Emily Books: more like The Baby-Sitters Club than you may have guessed.
“But “platform” is a buzzword now for publications. Medium, for instance, really is a platform: it has no dedicated writing staff, though it has assigning editors. BuzzFeed is sometimes a platform, such as when it throws up its hands at its inability to keep contributing “authors” such as The Heritage Foundation from publishing lies on its website. These publications have open publication technology. Elite Daily does not. It is a traditional publication where writers send stories which are published by an editor. Using the descriptor of “platform” is common now because it makes media companies sound more valuable and more like a technology startup. The phrase has the useful byproduct of distancing both the owners and the editorial staff from its most objectionable content, which remains, in the end, objectionable.”—
I’ve been thinking about this paragraph a lot. It’s from near the end of The Awl’s thorough yet bloodless evisceration of a TechCrunch article that was itself a response to an Awl exposé of a strange and frightening website whose existence and semi/seeming popularity I have a hard time holding in my mind for too long without becoming depressed.
The definitions of both “publisher” and “platform” are shifting around, and this description is as good as any I’ve seen of exactly where we stand right now. But what are the responsibilities of a publisher, and what are those of a platform— and what ought each to be? What could a hybrid that isn’t a hybrid of both models’ worst tendencies look like? Figuring that out is, you know, OUR ONLY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE.
“These were the sort of epicly gross parties where you wake up early the next morning on the floor of an apartment you don’t recognize, sticky and barefoot, with the knowledge that your best friend is behind one of the bedroom doors and that is somehow why you are there.”—ruth curry: Chevy Caprice
just tag them “Chris Kraus” and I’ll find them, or email them to me at emily AT emilybooks.com if you don’t have a tumblr. Don’t worry, I also stay on the lookout for “naturally occurring” ILD Selfies.
“the sheer fact of women talking, being, paradoxical, inexplicable, flip, self-destructive but above all else public is the most revolutionary thing in the world.” — CK
I sent the most recent and I hope last (before copyediting) draft of my book to my editor at 12:10 am then fell asleep and dreamed.
In my dream, I was at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, waiting to go onstage for some kind of a reading event. There were a few people to go still before it was my turn and I was sitting in the front row when I became aware that somehow, without knowing it, I had pooped out a giant turd, which had fallen out of my butt and onto the floor beneath my chair, somehow escaping everyone else’s notice. I reached down and quietly slipped it into my bag. I figured I would sneak to the bathroom and flush it, so I got up (it would be my turn soon, but that was ok, this would only take a second) and went over to the bathroom area, but there was a long line. I began to panic. Then I remembered that you could use the downstairs bathroom if you were reading so I went downstairs, but instead of the congenial large book-sorting room that’s downstairs at Housing Works in reality, in my dream there was a maze of half-built walls and windowed doors. Shadowy figured lurked behind some of the doors. I tried to remember where the bathroom had been and began running towards it — my turn would come soon! I had to get rid of the piece of shit! — but I got hopelessly lost, and the figures behind the doors started moving around, moving closer to the doors, and I knew that if they found me I’d be in trouble.
Now that I’ve written that all down it seems like I should have titled this “my subconscious is some kind of poop freak weirdo,” but it’s very clear that the poop is the book, right?
“Actually it’s like being one of those people who put a photo up on eBay of some stupid furniture and then everyone figures out they can see you in some reflection and you’re REALLY NAKED AND NOT PRETTY.”—Choire Sicha on exactly what publishing a book is like.
“What women have endured is not only the history of men, but also their own specific oppression. Extraordinarily violent. Hence this simple suggestion: you can all go and get fucked, with your condescension towards us, your ridiculous shows of group strength, of limited protection and your manipulative whining about how hard it is to be a guy around emancipated women. What is really hard is to actually be a woman and to have to listen to your shit.”—King Kong Theoryby Virginie Despentes is our July pick. (via emilybooks)
“There have been a lot of conversations lately online about the obvious and pervasive sexism in all our culture industries, including book publishing. We tally up numbers of women’s books reviewed and decry the lack of female reviewers; we point out the sexist ways women’s books are marketed and sold — all those headless women, all those “[man]‘s mother, sister, daughter” titles. It’s important and good to name the problem, but it’s more important not to stop there. The root of the issue is as simple as this fact: women, research shows, buy and read books by both women and men, while men predominantly read books by men. The solution? We think it’s to read books by women, especially women outside the literary establishment. Talk about them. Share them with your friends. Representation is important. It’s not a solution on its own, but together with more direct action to end inequality, representation can and will change our world.”—There’s an Emily Books book club on The Toast now! Check it out and get the discount code here. (via emilybooks)