There’s an essay rolling around in my head that will some day unite these articles. For now, I’ll just post them here:
All parts of this somewhat meandering essay are great and important, but I especially love On Invisibility and this seciton in particular:
It was Toni Morrison who pointed out that Tolstoy was not writing for her, who said she was writing toward black women. It makes you wonder, Who am I writing for? Who am I writing toward?
Myself, I have been writing to impress old white men. Countless decisions I’ve made about what to write and how to write it have been in acquiescence to the opinions of the white male literati. Not only acquiescence but a beseeching, approval seeking, people pleasing.
But whom do I mean when I say white male literati? Sounds like a conspiracy theory, one of my favorite genres of American storytelling. I mean the people and voices real and imagined in the positions of power (or at least influence) in writing and publishing, but mostly I mean the man in my mind. James Baldwin wrote of the “little white man deep inside of all of us” but mine is tall. He’s a white-haired chain smoker from New Mexico, the short story writer called “Cheever’s true heir.
One of the best literary decisions I made in the past year is purchasing Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me from Arcadia, a small and beautifully curated bookstore in Spring Green. Much of the essay is tongue-in-cheek, but it relates, I think, to an idea I’ve been mulling on for awhile — how do you find reading that’s good for you? What does it mean to read as a woman when the canon is shaped like a dick (this was a tag for this post and it is perfect and my favorite). Some excerpts:
The list made me think there should be another, with some of the same books, called 80 Books No Woman Should Read, though of course I believe everyone should read anything they want. I just think some books are instructions on why women are dirt or hardly exist at all except as accessories or are inherently evil and empty. Or they’re instructions in the version of masculinity that means being unkind and unaware, that set of values that expands out into violence at home, in war, and by economic means.
There are good and great books on the Esquire list, though even Moby-Dick, which I love, reminds me that a book without women is often said to be about humanity but a book with women in the foreground is a woman’s book. And that list would have you learn about women from James M. Cain and Philip Roth, who just aren’t the experts you should go to, not when the great oeuvres of Doris Lessing and Louise Erdrich and Elena Ferrante exist. I look over at my hero shelf and see Philip Levine, Rainer Maria Rilke, Virginia Woolf, Shunryu Suzuki, Adrienne Rich, Pablo Neruda, Subcomandante Marcos, Eduardo Galeano, Li Young Lee, Gary Snyder, James Baldwin, Annie Dillard, Barry Lopez. These books are, if they are instructions at all, instructions in extending our identities out into the world, human and nonhuman, in imagination as a great act of empathy that lifts you out of yourself, not locks you down into your gender
And the obligatory Franzen dig:
Also, I understand that there is a writer named Jonathan Franzen, but I have not read him, except for his recurrent attacks on Jennifer Weiner in interviews.
Catherine Nichols sends her novel out under a pseudonym and the responses are more 19th century Currer Bell than you’d think:
I wanted to know more of how the Georges of the world live, so I sent more. Total data: George sent out 50 queries, and had his manuscript requested 17 times. He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book. Fully a third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in 25.
This is also the essay that made me deeply suspicious of any review that refers to writing by a woman as “lyrical.” And the one that made me resolved to never pay money for a book by a living a male author. Library fines are a different story. And maybe I’ll buy your book if I know you. Otherwise, sorry dudes, you’ve had your turn.