Women Upstairs: On Claire Messud’s The Burning Girl

“My mother assures me that it happens to everyone, sooner or later,” says Julia, the narrator of Claire Messud’s new novel The Burning Girl; “…everyone loses a best friend at some point.”

Julia is quiet, cautious, and sensitive; her soon-to-be-lost best friend is Cassie, a fragile-looking, “troubled” girl, much more daring and eventually more popular. As Dwight Garner observed in The New York Times, “This pairing is a familiar one”–so many other novels about female friendships, from my favorite YA novel Someone Like You to recent literary phenom My Brilliant Friend, seem to feature the same general contrast. And it seems to be the universal inclination of writers (many of whom are quiet and sensitive) to narrate from the point of view of the less daring, the less dynamic friend—the friend with less story to tell. The narrator then spends so much time looking at her friend, watching her, resisting her stories rather than driving forward her own, that the novel’s center of gravity rests between narrator and friend, rather than centering on the narrator.

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Links We Loved This Week — 8/11/17

Vulture has a list of Taylor Swift’s best comebacks from her testimony in a sexual assault trial (for those who missed it, she is accusing a man of reaching under her skirt and groping her butt during a photo shoot). I think my favorite is when someone asked her why the front of the skirt doesn’t look mussed: “Because my ass is located in the back of my body,” she answered.

Here’s an interesting article in the Washington Post about the culture of songwriting, competition, and collaboration in real-life Nashville. Makes you wonder what might happen if Scarlett and Gunnar’s best early songs had been put on hold by Rayna or Juliette in the first season and never released!

The New York Times has a long, in-depth profile of one of my very favorite living authors, Claire Messud, who writes about angry and disappointed women in a beautiful and precise prose style. I learned that like me, she’s never learned to cook, which just makes me more sure that she is my hero.

The new season of Rick and Morty is shaping up to be truly incredible, and Film Crit Hulk has a wonderful meditation on/appreciation of the devastating third episode.

For Earth Day, Read This Beautiful Icelandic Book

When Bjork blurbs a book using fully 8 exclamation points (“A true pioneer!!!!!!!!”), that’s probably all the motivation you need to read it. But I’m going to add my two cents: this Earth Day, you should read Oddny Eir’s slim, inventive feminist-environmentalist hybrid novel/journal/essay collection, Land of Love and Ruins.

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Links We Loved This Week — 4/7/17

Netflix has been so busy tugging at my damn heartstrings… first it resurrects Gilmore Girls and now there’s this absolutely lovely trailer for their new Anne of Green Gables adaptation!!! (Yes, the three exclamation points are absolutely deserved. If I were Emily of New Moon there would be italics, too.)

I recently read George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, and woke up the very next day to find The Millions had published an amazing parody: Trump in the Bardo. (For those not familiar with the concept, Saunders’ novel consists mostly of dialogues among the ghosts living in the graveyard where Lincoln is visiting his dead son.)

The New York Times reports that bookstores are instrumental in galvanizing people to direct political action.

At a bookshop in Massachusetts, a manager privately asked his senior staff members how the store should respond to the Trump presidency.

“Go hard,” they told him.

Links We Loved This Week — 2/24/17

This week seems to be the week that male pop culture figures do surprising things.

  • Tom Hanks is publishing a book of short stories … about typewriters (via AV Club). Which kind of makes me think he played the wrong part in You’ve Got Mail.
  • Chuck Palahniuk has published a coloring book (via Paste). This interview also reveals another famous-man-doing-surprising-things factoid: Stephen King privately distributes a small novel as a Christmas gift each year.

Critics are really liking The Good Fight–possibly more than we did. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 100% so far!

  • Pop Matters writes, “The Good Fight is great. It’s not good, friends. It’s great.” This one’s really interesting because it sees the whole “you can only get it if you pay CBS $6 a month for their shitty streaming service” not as a perverse form of self-sabotage on the part of the network (which is how I saw it) but as a signal of glass-ceiling breaking: a female-led, racially diverse drama being used as the draw for a premium service. A really good point!
  • The Hollywood Reporter writes that the show has “above-average brains, structure and humor, the kind of strong mainstream network drama that’s always welcome, only with cursing.” Ahh, the cursing!
  • Michael Ausiello gives it only a B+ but writes, “Baranski makes a helluva leading lady.”

Links We Loved This Week — 1/27/17

Let’s be real. There’s only one thing we’re reading about this week, and it has nothing to do with books or movies or TV. In fact, this creature we are obsessively reading about doesn’t even READ books. A fascinating specimen, isn’t he? (Just ask him!)

Here, inspired by the magic of Google’s auto-complete search box, is a giant collection of listicles: books that the world WISHES Trump would read. Taken together, it is a grand list of books about social justice, science, history, civics, logic, and morality. You know, all those niche topics that he hasn’t really had time to grasp the basics of yet.

Elle has some great, surprising choices, including one about Japanese internment camps. And who knew Ta-Nehisi Coates had written a graphic novel? Not me!

Book Riot has a list of seven, including several great books on racism and, oddly, How to Win Friends and Influence People, like, I think he’s got more influence than he deserves already, mk?

Washington Post went basic (but all strong choices), with Washington, King, and Roosevelt. And the Constitution, though we all know Trump’s not interested in THAT.

NPR went scientific, wishing that Mr. “Let’s just Build Up Our Arsenal” would educate himself on the history and science of nuclear weaponry.

The Washington Independent Review of Books has really good stuff on its list, with War and Peace alongside The Once and Future King, though it’s noticeably short on the “educate Trump about how racism is bad” thing.

Inc.com, somewhat surprisingly, put together a totally legit reading list for our fearless illiterate, including The New Jim Crow, which is amazing and was also on Book Riot’s list.

 

 

Links We Loved This Week – 1/20/17

It may be 2017, but the internet, including us, is not done talking about the Gilmore Girls revival:

McSweeney’s published a hilarious rejection letter of Rory’s memoir.

The Millions has an essay on how Rory’s changes reflected the changed political mood of the new millennium. It’s quite brilliant, even though it woefully misquotes a scene, attributing one of Lorelai’s funniest lines to the undeserving Rory.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the Internet:

The NYT wrote about the books that got Obama through the presidency. Among them are Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, which I liked a lot but perhaps didn’t love, and The Three-Body Problem, which Keets definitely loved.

In Bitch Magazine, there’s an insightful exploration of the vastness of Jane Eyre‘s influence on feminist and female literature.