Monday, April 30, 2012

What I'm Reading

This weekend we had the perfect stay in bed and read all day weather. It poured and it's still pouring. Of course, I have a toddler now so I won't be able to stay in bed all day and read for several years. I wish I hadn't taken this privilege for granted back when I was childless. I still manage to read though and thankfully I read fast. I usually read for a couple hours every night after I put the baby to bed and over the weekend I was lucky enough to have my husband babysit a few times so I could actually get in bed and read or write or wash my hair or other luxuries like that. It was a good weekend and I got a lot of reading done.

I finished my latest Anne Lamott book  Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith and I of course liked it, because I love her, but I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the last ones I read. It was more political and in your face politics tend to make me take a step back, even if I may agree with them. Still, there were some good lessons for me in the book, especially the story about how she lost some good friends and then wrote them years later and they refused to write her back. I think I needed to read that because I've been pretty hard on myself for losing a friend and look! It happened to Anne Lamott too. So maybe I'm not so awful and this is fairly normal.

I like to support fellow bloggers who get lucky and get book deals because I hope one day this will somehow bring me some good karma in that direction. Or something. I don't know. Maybe I'm just curious. What I don't like is trying to review those books, because if you say ANYTHING negative or dare to dislike the book, legions of crazed fans will descend upon you and call you names and say you're jealous and evil and it's just not pleasant and if you're really in trouble you might find your words copied and pasted on another site full of ads, which has, thank God, not happened to me.

Not liking someone's writing, or even a part of someone's writing, is not the equivalent of not liking the person. It doesn't mean that I wish them ill, because I don't. It just means the writing's not my taste for whatever reason. Got it?

Thank goodness I mostly enjoyed The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson's new memoir   Let's Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir) which is a collection of essays about her often gory upbringing in rural Texas. Her dad was a taxidermist. The book is supposed to be funny, but some of it is so disturbing, at least to me, that I couldn't laugh even though I knew I was supposed to. Still, there were some very funny parts. I especially liked the turkey story, which was worth the price of the whole book alone. I also loved the story about when she was little visiting her grandparents. I genuinely laughed really hard at this part because I love stories about children getting into mischief out in the country at the expense of adults. Reminds me of my own life.

Here is the one caveat about this book: the author's voice can be irritating and excessive. I don't mean her actual voice. I'm talking about her writing voice, which feels exaggerated to me and frankly, not original. I'm tired of hearing women speak and write this way and to me at least, the voice has become code for "anxious, educated, upper-middle class, quirky, cute white woman." It feels to me like a form of self-deprecation which is ok, but also of dumbing down, which is not ok. It's a voice full of "totally" and "seriously" and long run-ons, tangents, hyperbole and self-conscious rants in the middle of stories that interrupt the stories unnecessarily in an attempt to be humorous. I wish she would have let the stories stand on their own without that because the stories were good and her writing is good. They didn't need anything extra. The self-consciousness bothered me and I found myself skipping those parts and it's important to explain that self-consciousness in writing isn't the same as self-consciousness at a party. Self-conscious writing is writing that knows it's writing. In this case there are lots of notes to her editor and agent, references to the next book and things like that. It takes me out of the story and reminds me that I'm reading, which I don't like because I like to stay lost in the world of the story so that everything else around me dissolves and I'm caught up in my own imagination.

But back to that voice. Lawson isn't the only blogger/author who writes this way. It's a very popular voice. Heather Armstrong and Amy Storch write this way too, as do many others. People seem to like it because the bloggers who do it best are famous and I guess it reflects the way a certain demographic of women speak and therefore their readers, who are of this same demographic, feel the voice is authentic and familiar because I guess it's what they know. I'm not entirely innocent. This manner of speaking can be infectious and I catch myself doing it sometimes, but I try not to, especially when I write and even more especially when I'm writing my own memoir. You want to have a sincere voice when you write memoir and you want to sound like yourself, but the voice shouldn't distract from the story it's telling. When you're trying to be funny, don't lean on the quirky-seeming voice as your comedic crutch. Let the events and the way you frame them bring the laughs.

But that aside, yeah, I liked the book. Lawson lived a life unique enough to make good reading and I was genuinely entertained and occasionally horrified (I like being horrified) and she writes honestly. Support her, buy the book. I can pretty much guarantee that the stuff that distracted me probably won't bother you.

And if you've read it, did you notice the running theme throughout about humans inside of animals? I know there's a metaphor somewhere but my grad school brain is in hibernation at the moment and I can't articulate the meaning of this very well.

Yesterday afternoon I started Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton based on reading this interview  in which she compares writing a memoir to putting out a plate of food at a restaurant. Loved that metaphor. The book is incredible. I'm not done, but it's richly written, instantly sucked me into its world and made me reluctant to leave it and get back to my normal life. As a chef, Hamilton is very attuned to sensory experiences and details and this translates well into her writing. It's literary, extraordinary and I can't believe she wrote this while trying to care for a baby. Good Lord. It shames me. So read this book immediately, especially if you love food and books as much as I do. You won't be disappointed.

You won't be disappointed in any of these books. Get to reading and have fun.

What are you reading this week? Any fiction recommendations? I haven't read much fiction lately.


Diary of Why said...

Thank you for so succinctly pointing out exactly what often irks me about these bloggers. The worst is when they point it out themselves, like, "Oh, here I am doing my run-on CAPS LOCK rambling thing again and everyone is like WTF?" Well, yes, you are. And yes, we are. So stop doing it!

greyspasm said...

I checked out Lawson's book on Amazon and, yes, it does appear to be written self-consciously. I can see how that would be annoying, drawing attention to the prose itself rather than the story. ("Wow! That last sentence was one long parenthetical!")

Magpie said...

Hamilton's book made me drool. Luckily I got to eat at Prune shortly after reading it.

Pickyknitter said...

Fathers don't "babysit". Do you "babysit"?

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