Friday, November 20, 2009

Book News, with Occasional Ranting

First News Tidbit: Colum McCann has been declared the National Book Award winner for fiction this year. I'd never heard of him, although scrolling through his publication credits, I admit that I should have. I'm more excited about a few of the runner-ups: Jayne Anne Phillips' Lark & Termite; American Salvage, by Bonnie Jo Campbell; and In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin.

Phillips is a provocative, lyrical writer, as evidenced by her early collection, Black Tickets, which I found alternately frustrating and thrilling. Buzz on the current novel is quite laudatory. As for Campbell, I know little, but I am happy the jury chose to make a nod towards a short story collection, and one from a small press, no less. That doesn't seem to happen often. Finally, Mueenuddin lives on a farm in Pakistan and apparently also writes lovely short stories. Yay discovering new voices! More books to add to my towering "to-read" list!

As for the nonfiction winners, I have only one question: why do the choices always have to be so "safe"? Never any lyric essays, experimental memoirs, collage pieces, daring reportage, etc. Just pieces about famous people and cultures and time periods we've already heard about a lot. Okay, so maybe I'm being unfair (probably). I just rarely skim over a list of the finalists for the nonfiction prize and think, "Wow! I can't wait to read that!" Admittedly, I don't read a great deal of nonfiction, full stop. Cards on the table.

Second News Tidbit (and rant): I really hate Martin Amis. His writing is masturbatory, self-congratulatory, dullingly long-winded, and totally misogynist. Further reminding me of why I dislike him and his litany of "-ory" faults, here he is, discussing his newest novel in The Guardian's Review of Books and why it might "upset the feminists." Apparently, Amis is of the camp that women, much like Icarus and his waxen wings, have been burned by the freedoms of the sexual revolution. His sister, he claims, was "used up" by her liberation, succumbing to an early death...I guess, because having a lot of sex is akin to being an overdriven car or something. "Not even the Taliban could have protected her," he opines. Yeah, not even the Taliban could have stopped her from leaving her home, doused her face with acid should she have tried to attend school, or reigned with terror in a campaign to limit her personal freedoms. Wait...

As my friend (and eminently intelligent reader) Elizabeth pointed out, when would you ever see such a sentiment reversed? There is a well-documented link between the rates of extremism and violence in nations where women are routinely silenced and kept from public life, for example. And yet, no one truly talks of infringing on male freedom in these countries and keeping men in their homes, where, ostensibly, they would be less of a threat to others. Indeed, such a suggestion would be ridiculous and offensive. On the other hand, if a woman encounters problems and misjudgments in her life, it is indeed her freedoms that are to blame -- better to stay in the kitchen than risk the possible pitfalls of sexual liberation. What this kind of hypocrisy underlines is that women and men are judged as individuals to differing degrees. Men who suck at life? Well, that's just one guy. Women who suck at life? Well, that's just because she represents all women, and all women have been led down a dangerous path since the advent of feminism.

In the same breath, Amis insists that he is a feminist, and in fact, would love to see women ruling the world. First order of business when I become High Queen of the World? Condescending to Martin Amis. Let's see how he likes it.


  1. Hear, hear!! I am honored to be mentioned in your blog.

  2. Re non-fiction wins: Hmmm sounds like someone needs to submit a few Kirsten Rue walks in the snow? Maybe an Elissa Washuta memoir? Perhaps a Simone Sachs blended fiction-non-fiction hybrid?

    Re Martin Amis: I loved Time's Arrow, but now he's officially ruined for me. Dammit! Why must he be an ass! If only I were kept caged and away from all electronic media sources e.g. blogs of one's own, I could ignorantly continue to like him! Damn these freedoms of mine!