A Year in Reading: Kate Harding

December 22, 2015 | 15 books mentioned 29 5 min read

Nothing triggers my raging Impostor Syndrome quite like being asked to account for my year in reading by a fancy literary website. What did I read this year that was good — both in the sense that I liked it, and the sense that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to admit I liked it? Did I read anything good this year? Did I read anything at all? What is a book?

I have receipts that prove I bought a lot of books this year, at least, so let’s start with a sampling of 2015 purchases, separated according to my two main reasons for reading at the moment.

1. Because I’m Writing a Work of “Historiographic Metafiction” about 19th-Century Feminists, Plus a Critical Companion Piece, and if I Don’t Screw It up, I’ll Get a Ph.D. at the End of It

coverA Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction by Linda Hutcheon
Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 by Eric Foner
Trial and Triumph by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Vol. II: Against an Aristocracy of Sex, 1866-1873 edited by Ann D. Gordon
The Humbugs of the World by P.T. Barnum
Twelve Causes of Dishonesty by Henry Ward Beecher
Traps for the Young by Anthony Comstock
The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age by Myra MacPherson
coverAlias GraceThe Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Possession by A.S. Byatt
Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter
The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru

2. Because, Occasionally, I Stop Working on My Dissertation/Checking Twitter Long Enough to Read for Pleasure

coverBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
We Believe the Children: A Moral Panic in the 1980s by Richard Beck
Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Petite Mort by Beatrice Hitchman
Music for Wartime by Rebecca Makkai
Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty, and Mad-Doctors in Victorian England by Sarah Wise
coverLoving Day by Mat Johnson
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton

If I had actually read all those books, I would feel I’d made a respectable enough showing, but the ratio of books I buy to books I read all the way through has always been about 10 to one. I’ve dipped into most of them, and I can’t imagine eventually finishing any of these books and being mortified that I once mentioned it near my own name in a post at a fancy literary website. But if I’m going to speak honestly about my year in reading — beyond just submitting “the entire fucking internet, front to back, endlessly” — then I should probably focus on books that I a) finished and b) remember well. Right?

covercovercoverSo I started thinking back month by month. In January, I spent my 40th birthday reading an ARC of Saint Mazie on the beach in Miami, falling in love with Jami Attenberg’s brave, witty, sexy, generous, heartbreaking heroine. In February, I reread Possession for the first time since college in the ’90s, marveling again at Byatt’s erudition, ambition, and perfectly calibrated storytelling. In March, I read Petite Mort, shortly after meeting Bea Hitchman and hearing her read from this twisty, brainy thriller that made me care about early cinematic techniques nearly as much as the central characters. In May, my preorder of Loving Day arrived, and in June, so did Music for Wartime; Mat Johnson and Rebecca Makkai have become drop-everything authors for me in the last few years, the kind who irresistibly combine intellectual seriousness with a total lack of self-seriousness. In July, on a rocky Canadian beach, I read Luckiest Girl Alive, which I honestly don’t remember much of now, but I remember enjoying it and thinking that, unlike Girl on the Train, it was not too unreasonably compared to Gone Girl. (Oh, right, I guess I also read Girl on the Train this year.) In August, my first solo book came out, and I started a tour that severely cut into my time for reading anything else, but I read a lot of fragments for school and blew through Step Aside, Pops in one highly satisfying hour.

There were other books I finished in 2015 — more keep coming back to me — but those are the ones that came immediately to mind, a fact that now gives me pause (and should have much earlier). A large portion of my novel deals with the way white men in power play men of color and white women off against each other, encouraging us to fight each other for scraps, while even those are kept out of reach of women of color. It happened during the fight over the 15th Amendment, during the Civil Rights Movement, during the 2008 Democratic primaries, and it’s been happening in the academy and the literary world ever since it occurred to folks in charge, about 15 minutes ago, that reading lists composed entirely of white men are perhaps too narrow in scope. As a 21st-century ranty feminist, I like to think I’m above all that, and yet there’s my actual reading list from the past year: A bunch of white women, and one mixed-race man.

As I write this, people who care about writing, literary gossip, and the publishing industry are all abuzz over Claire Vaye Watkins’s essay “On Pandering,” which has become a sort of Rorschach blot for everyone’s writerly grievances. Me, I was so enraged by Stephen Elliott’s behavior toward Watkins (and lack of shame in writing about it publicly), I blocked out nearly everything else she wrote. But other writers I admire, from The Toast’s Nicole Chung to Booker winner Marlon James, swiftly noted that in addition to the white-guy pandering Watkins describes, there’s a whole lot of pandering to white ladies going on in the book world. Do those of us sharing the post so widely and enthusiastically even realize that?

Um.

As I said to Nicole on Twitter, I came out of my M.F.A. program 10 years ago well over being impressed by the Serious White Men Everyone Loves — I believe my exact words were “Fuck Denis Johnson and Cormac McCarthy” — but all I did was sub in writers who look more like me. When I write a new syllabus, I told her, I always think of 40 white women I love right away, then have to cut most of them to add writers of color — maybe even, when it’s a slow misandry day, a couple of men. I do make a point of diversifying every syllabus beyond a token author or two, but why is that always Step Two?

Because, although I buy work by writers of color, it seems I’m still far more likely to read and retain work by white women — especially ones I know in real life. I knew I leaned that way, but I wouldn’t have guessed the imbalance was so extreme before I sat down and took stock. (And that’s without even counting my failed attempt to read Elena Ferrante because fancy literary people are so bonkers for her.)

I can understand why it happens: books written by people similar to me absorb my attention most easily, and are thus the ones I resist countless distractions to finish. But a zillion years of white men feeling that way about books written by and for white men is, of course, how so many of us ended up feeling like they were the only audience worth writing for. It was bullshit when they did it, and it’s bullshit I need to consciously interrupt in my 2016 reading. My account of next year’s reading may not be any fancier than this, but it will probably be a lot more interesting.

More from A Year in Reading 2015

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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29 comments:

  1. “Because, although I buy work by writers of color, it seems I’m still far more likely to read and retain work by white women — especially ones I know in real life. I knew I leaned that way, but I wouldn’t have guessed the imbalance was so extreme before I sat down and took stock.”

    On the other hand, we should be free to read exactly what we enjoy reading, unless we are professionally obligated to eat literary spinach because it’s good for us and to set a good example. How we come to our reading preferences is very similar to how we come to our romantic preferences, in that it’s A) nobody’s business B) usually a matter of what we are exposed to at a young age C) impossible, beyond a certain age (21? 15? 12?) to rectify. A novel about a white male stockbroker from Idaho may or may not seduce and engage my imagination… also a novel set among 19th century Eskimos… should either leave me cold, in any case, should I feel guilty? I don’t belong to either demographic. So?

    A book will grab me if it’s good by my standards, not if its protag resembles me. Any author who rests the weight of the book’s writerly argument on the protag’s social coordinates (and the respective target demo) is gambling. This is not the reader’s problem. We readers need to give ourselves a break and read exclusively for pleasure (unless we are in school, or, again, being paid to do otherwise).

    I suspect that the books you keep in your heart are there because their authors share enough of your sensibilities to press your buttons just right and that they would press your buttons just right irrespective of their books’ settings. You can try to stretch your sensibilities to include a wider range of buttons but if you fail at this, blame the limited time and physical resources of the mind itself. Which is to say, don’t blame at all.

    “But a zillion years of white men feeling that way about books written by and for white men is, of course, how so many of us ended up feeling like they were the only audience worth writing for.”

    Well, we won’t fix this lingering imbalance by blaming DWMs or harrying their spiritual descendants about something as private and blameless as their reading habits. I encourage POT (people of talent) to overrun whatever barriers remain and flood the market with genius.

    And, honestly, can you really imagine a brilliant book *not* grabbing your imagination by its pigtails simply because the protag doesn’t resemble you or the protag’s story is “alien” to your experience…? Anyone who writes a genuinely brilliant book that I am made aware of (and can afford) has my promise that I’ll get to it, sooner or later!

  2. O bless you, QC, whoever you are!

    I truly appreciate Kate Harding’s honest and self-flagellating attempt to reckon with her own deeply personal reading preferences — me, too! But how right on is this:

    “How we come to our reading preferences is very similar to how we come to our romantic preferences, in that it’s A) nobody’s business B) usually a matter of what we are exposed to a young age . . .” My heart leaps up!

    Might take issue with: “C) impossible beyond a certain age to rectify” since I do believe people grow and change, as do their tastes. I can no longer eat cotton candy or stomach cheap gothic romance novels (yeah, I was 13). Hopefully, every thoughtful reader attempts to grow his or herself up by widening the scope of their reading and thinking. So, while “rectify” may be a bit strong, maybe we can say that we do try to widen the aperture by reading beyond our comfort zones, Sometimes it feels like spinach and sometimes sky rockets go off, just like love.

    But QC’s central point — that a brilliant book will grab the attention of any true reader, regardless of provenance, is — true, true, true. Is there really anything else to say? Thank god we have expanded the canon, may we continue to do so, may all the voices of every stamp be heard. And may we continue, like DWM Dr. Johnson, to “read at will.”

    Thank you for this great piece and commentary!

  3. Forgot to add, I really enjoyed this essay and will be looking for many of the suggestions. Especially appreciated your honesty!

  4. Queenie, hear hear! I can’t understand why the modern literati can’t grasp your simple concept. I’ve said it before on these pages: gay,straight, male, female, black, white, Asian. I don’t give a fuck. I have been enamoured of the Russians (the Big Green Tent most recently); Africans (Wizard of the Crow killed me, Soyinka); Indian (Kunzu’s The Impressionist and the Ms. Desai mom and daughter, Tagore); Americans (oh Richard Yates, ); the English (Gardam, Fitzgerald, Lively, Mantel); Australians (The Merry Go Round in the Sea, The Tree of Man). Could go on and on forever and a day. Oh man the Irish (William Trevor, Edna O’Brien). AM Holmes, Jennifer Egan – I love you!!! Susan Minot – you too! Thirty Girls was incredible. Just read. Read indiscriminately. Browse and pull off the shelf what appeals. No rules and no judgement. Nonfiction – history, war, literary biography. Take a big bite of everything and just read. Thank you Melissa Harrison and Pauline Holdstock and Anne Enright for my best novels of 2015. And TC Boyle you never let me down, thank you for The Harder they Come which has the best first chapter of any novel I read this year.

  5. Oops I meant AM Homes, not Holmes. Sorry! But while I am back here, thank you to all writers who give me such enjoyment. And Amy Rowland, when are you going to write another one? I am dying here! The Transcription is – sheer beauty. OK I am done! Thank you The Millions for this awesome website.

  6. Thanks for the love, and the thoughtful responses!

    For the record, I wasn’t going for self-flagellation so much as self-awareness. I agree in principle that everyone’s reading habits are their own business, but since I made a public post about mine, a little soul-searching seems in order. This is something I want to change about my own habits, and it’s apparently going to have to be a conscious change. That’s not a bad thing, and I certainly don’t think my reading life will be any poorer for it!

  7. What I find especially wonderful is a comment thread with different points of view and no hostility, no anger, no stomping about… isn’t this what Teh Internets should/could/ may one day be?

    @priskill: “Might take issue with: “C) impossible beyond a certain age to rectify” since I do believe people grow and change, as do their tastes.”

    I absolutely agree! If I’d had a couple of days to write and re-write my original comment, I think I’d change that statement to read something to the effect that your literary preferences (just like your romantic feelings) won’t change just because you think they ought to, or in an externally-prescribed (or proscribed) direction. They’ll change, yes, and you’ll follow!

    @Heather Curan: the breadth of your reading list put me to shame! I’ve never even read anything from TC Boyle… I’m going to fix that! I’ve been concentrating on science fiction for so long now…! And THIS has to be the best t-shirt I’ve imagined all week:

    “gay,straight, male, female, black, white, Asian. I don’t give a fuck.”

    @Kate

    “For the record, I wasn’t going for self-flagellation so much as self-awareness.”

    I totally get that and you have no idea how much I admire you! My own angle is just that I love the work of quite a few DWMs… this comes with the Science Fiction addiction (even though my favorite DWM is a biological woman, Alice Sheldon). If I sat down and tallied my reading list by race and gender, maybe (beyond my Octavia Butler habit) it wouldn’t look so ideologically correct. Which is why I could never seriously sit down and do that. I want more women of color to write science fiction novels and stories that will drive me nuts with love, like Octavia did, and I seek them out, but the burden is on the writer(s), I feel, not the reader! “Blow my mind and I am yours forever, despite your physical appearance!” is my readerly credo!

    PS Actually, Alice Sheldon is an interesting case: her fiction got me early (thanks to Teh Internets) and she was sexy and masterful and I had a HUGE crush. If others of my age had Harry Styles (or Harry Potter) posters on their bedroom walls, I had an (imaginary) Alice Sheldon (aka James Tiptree) poster up. Which became a little weird when I learned that Alice killed her husband (murder/suicide)! But my love for Alice’s fiction… as much as I tried to black-list it from my soul… remained. What can you do? I still read her. I still, in fact, LOVE her.

  8. I’ve been busy this week. With the help of my AIC, I’ve been scouring my KGB file. It’s astounding, everything is in there: ZAGS applications, OVIR appeals, even the DTP I had where I was compelled to sign a ZH-17 even though I wasn’t driving. I mean, with a trunkful of DSP, the DAI’s reaction should have been predictable. What VUZ could possibly need so much of the stuff? You’ve probably been asking yourself the same.

    So, imagine my chagrin to discover as I read this fine discussion of this encouraging and confessional post that I have no clue what a DWM is. Thank goodness for Google. Yet, as Marilynne Robinson – who, I’ve been reassured is female – once wrote: “Oh, the power of metaphor.”

    I am undoubtedly sensitized by the socio-political surroundings I’ve been living in for the past 25ish years, but acronyms make me a little jumpy, even those intended as affectionate diminutive and which are as potentially harmless as DWM. They possess a sneakily stifling character, one – intentionally or not – that tends to cut off all discussion by shoving everything into a category. Adolf Hitler and Marcel Proust become the same creature – dead white male authors and facilitators of the patriarchy. My utterly non-phallic and gender-neutral antennae go way, way up whenever any phenomenon that lies outside the binomial nomenclature of the natural sciences gets shoved into a genus, let alone a species.

    If one were to compile a simple aggregate of the 2015 YIR (it’s irresistible!) posts, one would not necessarily, reasonably conclude that there is, in fact, anything resembling white male dominance in the American belletristic. One might readily conclude the opposite. I don’t know if this indicates any kind of meaningful cultural shift. If it does, well, that’s the way biology works, doesn’t it? But when the acronyms start coming out, again, given my experience, I start to squirm at the *intentionality* of it all; there’s something not entirely organic in this process. It would take Stendhal’s observation in the particular – ‘politics in work of literature is like a gunshot in the middle of a concert’ – and would have it obtain in the universal.

    The fine admonitions offered both by the author “I’m learning to examine my bias” and the commenters “we need to be free in our choices, without fear of reprisal or other coercion” are of particular importance in what is growing into an increasingly strident, prescriptive era. The antidote is right here, in forums like this one, advocating a non-constrained literature and the freedom to engage soul to soul. These are at the heart of any progressive society.

    So, whaddya say, let’s allow the DWM and the KGB, and the political baggage they carry go to the same dustbin? As historical realities, we’ll never be shed of them, as acronyms, we need to be.

    And if you gals are done here, could one of you head into the kitchen and make me a sandwich?

  9. ” But when the acronyms start coming out, again, given my experience, I start to squirm at the *intentionality* of it all”

    il’ja, what squirm-inducing memories do you have of an acronym used, without rancour, in a discussion about reading choices? Context being everything, I think it’s important to remain rooted in the here and now of this discussion, in which “DWM” refers to “The Cannon” and nothing more sinister than that. Unless we want to exaggerate for effect… which writers, of course, are known to do! Laugh

    Also, to be honest in a friendly way: I can’t say I care for your “joke” at the end of your comment. What is its purpose? Surely not to make any of us laugh? “Jokes” like that are jarring.

    I think we should all be temporary, well-meaning, good-faith friends in this conversation… this isn’t one of those brawling threads. There’s definitely a place in the world for brawling threads but this one is lovely, helpful, serene… join us in the Serenity, il’ja!

    What is your birthplace? How many languages do you speak? (for some reason I’m thinking “four”). Have you read Nabokov in the original?

  10. Il’ja being from eastern Europe it is easy to see why acronyms grate. I think you are saying DWM demeans a group and categorises great writers and kind of makes them disappear, somehow dehumanises and trivialises their work. And Queenie his joke is definitely ironic. Il’ja is a regular contributor and is pretty wise. I believe I still have a date with il’ja somewhere near Kiev if I can ever get my rowboat onto the Atlantic then come up with the bus fare.

  11. We are in perfect agreement: context is everything – both broad and narrow context. Indeed, this is “a discussion about reading choices”, but unless I’m mistaken, it’s about more than that.

    It’s a post by a writer who is expressing her need to examine her own bias. The *fundamentum dividendi* of that bias – again, unless I’m mistaken, and that is certainly possible – is that in the mere existence of “the canon”, a widespread literary preference has been promoted, tolerated, promulgated, taught before, with far-reaching social implications. She felt a certain ethos – as manifested in DWM lit – was forced on her. It is her desire not to replicate that flawed insistence on “canon” with her own similarly, albeit personal, exclusionary practice. A practice in which personal preference is allowed to cloud one’s objective critique of the work.

    That could have been clearer: I’m thinking, given Ms. Harding’s stated willingness to re-examine her biases, she feels she’s progressed since her “f**k Cormac McCarthy” days (No, I could not bring myself to type the sentence) and it is resulting in a more fulfilling TBR pile. If that’s a right conclusion, excellent – everybody wins.

    But DWM – yes, even an acronym – could be construed as a step backward. The designation implies a weighty cultural stance, to be either confirmed or rejected. It carries particular weight when circulated by a person who possesses some degree of cultural authority – a published author, a social critic, a priest, etc. That stance may be well documented (backed up by research) or it might just be “a feeling I have”, but repeated often enough, it takes on a kind of normative gravitas. All of this despite the fact that it points to a less-than-thorough dismissal of certain vital artifacts of cultural exposition, i.e., books, because of some arbitrarily arrived at markers of personal relevance.

    Simply: should I read Cormac McCarthy if I am not Irish, American, male, white? I think Ms. Harding – and you – answered it well.

    KGB is an acronym. That “B” stands for “security”, which was, of course, an awful joke, much more insidious, much more exclusionary than “make me a sandwich”. The difference between them – and I know you see it – is that only one of these clearly announces itself as a joke, albeit a cornball joke.

    I do have a personal file in the SBU (KGB) archive here – like Ferris says, “that wasn’t bullshit”. Every public word I’ve ever released – every essay, every text, every speech, every radio utterance, my entire visa and travel schedule, and lots more fun stuff – for 23 years is preserved by an organization that oversaw the embitterment and death – the ultimate dismissal of relevance – of millions. To me, “Dead White Males” loses most of its rib-tickling character because of the existence of this acronym. As does DWF and DBM and, well, the rest.

    I intend no ill will, Queenie, and I do – like you – take my lit pretty seriously. We both believe, clearly, that books do matter, maybe more than anything. Even those in the canons, ancient and//or modern.

    Please take this in the spirit in which it is intended: certainly somewhat darker than you might be accustomed to, but otherwise with utter serenity.

    Nabokov’s English work – only my opinion – is preferable to his Russian novels, which I’ve read. For what it’s worth, and for lots of reasons, I am also not convinced his English novels are exclusively his own work.

    I am lucky with languages, both the quick and the dead. This post is embarrassing enough already without resorting to crude numbers. :)

    I am grateful for your – and that of all the others here – thoughtfulness.

  12. See. What takes me an hour to write Heather says in about 5 sentences.

    Heather! Get that boat in the water, just take a left at the Bosporus, and do NOT land in Crimea.

    Plus, yeah, pretty much exactly. Thanks.

  13. @Queenie:
    Love it, since you are the queen of this thread! And no disrespect to your real and lovely name intended. By “Whoever you are” I think I meant “Whence come you, bold thinker, with your refreshing take?!” I tend to use acronym monikers on line, affectionately, but also lazily, but that’s no excuse. So thank you, Queenie Chiasitiwe!

    Love “your literary tastes won’t change just because you think they ought to . . in an externally prescribed (proscribed) direction.” Yes! Exactly! The point of this whole discussion in a sentence.

    @Heather Curran
    Yes to everything! Your comments are right on and your list is shaming me! Don’t know how I skipped TC Boyle all these years. Thanks for the kick start, and I want that tee-shirt. Hope your rowboat fetches up east, way east, of Crimea.

    @Kate Harding
    Now I am cringing – “self-flagellating” sounds flippant and dismissive when I meant to be thankful and admiring of your great, honest, and thought-provoking piece. Your
    attempts to read outside your comfort zone are very familiar to me. I so appreciate your rigorous self-examination (not to say your excellent reading list). Your willingness to bare all make me want to be that better, wider reader, too, without being a slave to genre or category. So thank you and keep the challenges coming for all of us. Great piece!

    @Il’ja
    Well, I think is was me who introduced DWM into the thread, and I think I meant it ironically, much like your sandwich request, since the whole point of my tirade was to ignore such labels and just get on with the reading. I then undercut my first point by admitting to also obsessing over those very labels, too, because, hey, I contain multitudes.

    But, you invite us to reconsider things from the view of someone with an official file in a KGB drawer. (Your deconstruction of KGB alone is chilling Acronyms here are an annoying and generally bureaucratic shorthand (IRS, etc), often subject to derision. But not all of them — TSA, NRA, ICE — the agendas implicit in such alphabet jumbles are not so innocent. Using them I can quickly assign — am encouraged to assign — people and events into simple, reductive categories (aliens, illegals, patriots, etc.) I no longer have to think and isn’t that the Orwellian goal here? You have lived in that Brave New World and, as Heather pointed out and are likely more sensitive to the implications of vague, official sounding language — how the lies and half truths gain sinister traction behind seemingly inoffensive acronyms and titles (Ministry of Culture, Committee for Morals, etc.)

    Queenie’s point about using acronyms in a discussion about reading choices is really interesting. She’s right — here such discussions are pretty harmless. As far as I know no one is looking over our shoulders. But — if we truck in too much shorthand, what are we missing? what are we really saying? What thinking are we not actually doing and what messages are we telegraphing? I think I am being flippant but words matter. So I may retire the use, even in jest, of DWM from my lexicon. And may reset the flippancy button.

    Hey are you saying Vera . . . No! Really? No Cheers!

  14. Forgot to say — thank you ALLfor making me think, once again! That’s why I come here. Hope your holidays are merry and the new year brings you peace and joy and great reading. Cheers!

  15. Oh Oh one last thing — Il’ja, the scary thing about overuse of acronyms and reductive terms here is that WE do it to ourselves — no fascist overlord except the one in my own head. Shorthand un-frees us from the need to think. Maybe that is what you are responding to, as well. Thanks, as always, and Happy New Year!

  16. Wow! Our fleeting little thread family reminds me of Vonnegut’s word “Karass”:

    “A karass is a spontaneously forming group, joined by unpredictable links, that actually gets stuff done— as Vonnegut describes it, ‘a team that do[es] God’s Will without ever discovering what they are doing.'” (bearing in mind that KV was a confirmed atheist)

    @priskill, I’m waiting for il’ja to come back so we can find out if he’s saying what we think he’s saying about Vera (possibly)… I’m running through the other possibles in my mind… Edmund Wilson? Nah! (my money is on Quilty)

    Oh, and, you are incredibly sweet to take the blame for “DWM” in this thread but I started it (and I used it more than once) and would (and will), I admit, do it again! Wink. I just don’t see any problem with “DWM” or “GAN” or even one I heard from my mother, once, that had me rolling around on the floor when I was about nine years old: “VPL”!

    But I’m more than happy to play the brat in this fleeting and golden little family!

    Group Hug in the photobooth…?

    PS priskill, I like flippancy, too!

  17. Ok group hug. Now I am going to make me a sandwich! And Kate, for putting up with us I am going to my local indie book store and buying your book in the New Year, it does sound interesting and I am looking forward to cracking the cover (gently though, books are jewels).

  18. This is a fine thread despite my fumblings, and you’re all into the spirit of things with far greater generosity than I am capable of mustering at this late hour. For my part, suffice it to say

    queenie – there exist other possibilities beyond Vera and Mr. Wilson. Nabokov considered himself to be displaced aristocracy: your task, should you choose to accept it, is to put everything you know about 19th century Russia (through the prism of lit) to work and offer me a speculation of greater substance. Who was helping him? To whom would an old St. Petersburg artistocrat slide some troubling pages to ‘for a quick look to see what you think’? The answer is out there.

    heather – I’m lighting a candle for you that you never lose the gusto you have for the written word. I tend to read in groups: Americans at one time, Scandinavian crime at another, nothing but Japan for six months, BOOK REPORT recommmendations, and so on. When I feel personally disatisfied by what I encounter there, it can put a serious dent into my belief that there is no finer life than a life in letters. And then you come along and remind me what it’s all about, restoring faith, and the world grows brighter. Your gift of encouragement is a good and rare thing.

    priskill – the fault is in the medium, this internet thing: it leads us to water but only allows us to wet the tip of a finger. The ebb and flow of a good, loud discussion is difficult to maintain when I can’t hear the twinkle in your eye as you rail on! about the DWM or grow as flippant as a TV-serial dolphin. This conversation, conducted in person, would be a riot. And you may take as your warrant that I would be the one running to the kitchen just to be sure you all had a break from the LWM from time to time. Of note: the keeper of the gate at the SBU archives is a woman a good ten-years my senior. She looks like she could chew ten-penny nails and spit out cupcake sprinkles and they’d be tasty. I’m considering hiring her to walk me home at night.

    And yes, it IS precisely why this shorthand is so dangerous: it is self-inflicted. It is we who are performing a voluntary shutdown of the apparatus when the complex and decidedly uncomfy answers we uncover in our examinations of questions of privilege become apparent to us. This very question came up on Ekho Moskvy (kind of like Russian NPR, and incentive enough to learn Russian) the other night, raised by the brilliant and hugely self-contradictory Dmitry Bykov (what do you expect from a Russian writer?). A big tyrant in Moscow pelting you with his acronyms is much easier to resist than a little tyrant in Poughkeepsie pelting himself. And with that mildly suggestive metaphor which I lack the energy to edit, I’ll say to all a good night. And thanks.

  19. Can’t. Stop.Typing. Definitely, group hug in the Photo Booth. I AM the flippant brat, Queenie, but will gladly share my designation with you — really enjoyed your input!

    Heather, Sandwiches all around and thanks for the rallying cry!

    And Il’ya, you never fumble and your kindness and erudition are apparent throughout The Millions. You’re keep reminding us what the dark side of the 20th century was all about — specifically the misuses of language and power — and I don’t ever want to forget that. And I am also very happy to be likened to a tv dolphin! Since this is not Myspace I will not slap a big smiley emoticon here but know that it’s dominating my thought bubble in a good way! Please, do write that Nabokov piece . . .

    Cheers to all!

  20. @priskill, heather, il’ja and Kate: a very merry (possibly more-than-semi-pagan) Christmas!!!

    (puts virtual soy-turkey in oven, tightens “gay,straight, male, female, black, white, Asian. I don’t give a fuck” apron)

  21. “… maybe even, when it’s a slow misandry day, a couple of men.”

    All hail the great career-making sisterhood. Love to see sexism like this normalized though!

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