So Much to Read
"A man ought to read just as inclination leads him, for what he reads as a task will do him little good."—Samuel Johnson

23 January 2020
The Naked Truth
Leslie Morgan

She's been "boy-crazy since kindergarten," so after an ugly divorce from a husband who was never interested in her sexually her engine is revving. Not interested in getting married for the third time, she decides to "date like a man" and just enjoy sex. She sets the goal of finding five lovers in the next year; it helps that she embraces her MILF identity and is open to men in their twenties. She easily meets her goal, and declares her experiment a success. I have to admire her resilience and optimism: she had a lot of great sex, but every one of her boyfriends either ghosted her, turned out to have a girlfriend they neglected to mention, or, in the worst case, was a pathological narcissist with a mile-wide mean streak. A different writer would have made this a tragic tale. Morgan is a nimble storyteller and not shy about sharing details. On the down side, there's the usual "back on the dating scene after a long marriage" culture-shock jokes, which were always ageist and never that funny. Weirdly, she mistakes this :) or this ;) for a typo. That someone in her forties in 2016 who writes on a laptop for a living and has had a Twitter account since 2008 had never seen emoticons (or, as her friend calls them, "winky faces") is just impossible to believe. So what else isn't true here, what else is just phoned in?

10 March 2020
The Last Chance
Rona Jaffe

This is another variation of the time-honored Four Women archetype found in novels from Little Women to Sex and the City to Jaffe's own Class Reunion, among others. Here, as elsewhere, the women fill more or less the usual four roles: one traditional, one sexual, one ambitious, one doomed. And here the doom is literal, as we know from the start that one woman will die by the end of the year, we just don't find out who until the end. There's a lot of overlap in the their stories (the range of paths available to women was narrower then) and the voices are largely indistinguishable, so I had to do a little flipping around to remember who was who, but it was worth the bother. Jaffe knew how to hook a reader. And if you have any love for New York City, nostalgia for the 70s (though as this book reminds us, 70s NYC could be a scary place), or interest in women's lives and relationships, you'll want to give this one a chance.

Other People Are Just Stock Characters In Your Movie
I have been troubled by something I've seen in recent writing, something that I suspect has its roots in social media and the way it permits the dismissal of other people without experiencing them as fully human. I am disturbed by the use of the word "normie," which was popularized by the alt-right but I now see in wide use among progressives to mean people who aren't wrapped up in academia/politics in general and Twitter dialogue in particular. The implication is that people described this way aren't as enlightened, sophisticated, or informed as the speaker. The self-deprecating tone is bogus, in the same way that people call themselves "nerds" when it's clear it isn't themselves they are putting down at all. I was disappointed to see "normie" used this way in Antisocial, an otherwise thoughtful book. Similar is the use of "basic," also something I first noticed from the misogynist alt-right, now used, I guess, to mean a person who isn't as interesting as yourself. And then there is "rando," a name you call someone just because you don't know them. This sort of disturbing dismissal of others is something I felt throughout Jia Tolentino's Trick Mirror, particularly in her mocking of another woman in her yoga class. And I was troubled by Lori Gottlieb's blithe discussion in Maybe You Should Talk to Someone of how revolting it would be to have sex with an 80-year-old. One can call this lack of compassion, but beyond that it's also lack of perception. Do you not see others as human like yourself? If so, where does that leave you as a writer?

2019 reviews

"There was so much to read, for one thing, and so much fine health to be pulled down out of the young breathgiving air... I was rather literary in college—one year I wrote a series of very solemn and obvious editorials for the Yale News—and now I was going to bring back all such things into my life and become again that most limited of all specialists, the 'well-rounded man.' This isn't just an epigram— life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all." —F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby