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27 September 2017


I read the Samantha Irby book because I want to be with-it and she seems to be a spokesperson for her generation. I think the girl can write, but she is lacking material; she's not yet 30 and she repeats her stories. And she's not nice to her cat.

I liked that she wrote about having a 9-5 job that pays the bills. That voice from the working class is one you do not hear much. I can relate to that -- I spent many years in retail and in the service industry before I landed the cushy and prestigious job of being Author. (That's a joke. This is an awful time to be in the book biz.) I am fascinated by how people spend money, and she has so little of it but still orders groceries for delivery. DELIVERY.

Also, have you noticed that a lot of contemporary lady writers under the age of 35 make it a point to discuss their bodies? Specifically, they write about being fat. (Their word, not mine; maybe I should have used "the F-word instead.) But I could also do without all the other observations of bodily functions that these girls seem compelled to share.

I don't understand this desire in the culture to normalize fatness, in Irby's case: extreme fatness. I am not fat. I am thin. But I think that if I wrote about being thin I would have to use a pseudonym. I would write about how good it feels to not hate my body, how I have learned to tolerate a certain physical reality that might be called hunger (but might just be called living), and how I have created my own social reality in which I do not have to "eat my feelings". Hint: I am not terribly concerned about being "nice". I think I've already said too much.

Have you read John Waters' Role Models? He's 70 years old and still has a fresh and unexpected point of view, and he's a delightful writer. Also, Michael Lewis: Boomerang, Travels in the New Third World, is a hoot. He's the only travel writer I've come across who can't stand Icelanders. Or Greeks. Or the Irish. For very good and specific reasons.

I too enjoyed Irby's writing about her job at the animal hospital. It's an interesting working class voice--I couldn't decide if she was mocking the people at Whole Foods while she shopped at Whole Foods, or what was going on there. Many many articles have been written on how millennials spend money...groceries for delivery, paired with ancient nearly unworking cars. That seemed about right.

The body stuff. There is so much to talk about here I feel it should be a whole post, not a comment. But yes, in general, the pre-35 set spends a lot of time talking about the female body. And some of the hottest books lately have been by women noted for being "body-positive" (read: okay with being fat) like Lindy West and Irby. To some extent I salute that, as weight is, after all, only a part of a woman's exterior and health. And I was FASCINATED (the all caps thing really starts to become a habit) by the bit where she talked about a stick of "anti-thigh rub stuff" for her legs. I'm not really fat but I am perpetually warm and sweaty, so I just don't wear skirts in the summer. Hearing about "anti-chafe" stuff of any kind was all new to me, so then I had to go search for that and found out about bandalettes and all sorts of other fascinating things. I like it when reading opens a window on some new info, even if that new info doesn't seem fascinating to everyone else.

Okay. I got a bit off topic there. I am of pretty average weight but I sympathize with the urge to say "fuck it, this is the weight I am." I've always felt fat and periodically I use the fast diet, which is pretty painless, to slim down a bit. But it doesn't really make a difference to how I feel, healthwise. Mainly I want to stay in the clothes I have because shopping for new clothes is the seventh circle of hell. It is really very interesting how people are writing about bodies these days--both paying a lot more attention to them, and yet also so offhand. Ditto with their sex lives. I don't mind details, really, but I also didn't really NEED details of Irby's sex life that involved tongues and assholes. And they're just thrown in as asides! Fascinating.

Last but not least: Ye gods, there is a Michael Lewis book I haven't read? I'm getting it right now. I love Michael Lewis and have little fantasies where we know each other and talk about the stock market and he tells me his stock picks so I can bet on stocks like horses and then I also get rich. Two fantasies with one stone: friendship with Michael Lewis, and riches. Efficient, huh? Thanks for that suggestion, and also the John Waters. I'll look into it.

I actively seek out grief memoirs and stories by people who have difficult or unpleasant lives. Maybe I'm weird, but it beats cheerful/earth mother/happily-ever-after any day.

Related: I was hugely disappointed by Christa Parravani's memoir Her, about the loss of the author's twin sister. Toward the end of the book, Prince Charming magically appears and it's love at first sight and they get married basically immediately.

Puke. (About the Parravani.)
I shouldn't say that without reading it, but that's the mood I'm in. The same day I was telling Mr. CR that all happy narratives are making me weirdly angry, I was reading in the newspaper where they were interviewing some cute little high schooler who won a scholarship, and he listed some inspiring "do everything and do it well" as his go-to quote, and my sole thought was "Can it, twerp."

No wonder I'm pretty sure Mr. CR is starting to pretend like he doesn't know me when we're out together.

Read any good non-cheerful books lately you would recommend?

I haven't finished Helen McDonald's memoir H Is for Hawk, but she hasn't sneaked in much cheer. She's writing about a difficult period in her life, and she intersperses it with biographical stuff about T.H. White, whose life story is a total downer.

A few months ago I listened to The Sixth Extinction, which was grim even by my standards. There's a scene where the author describes a mother bat trying to nuzzle her dead baby bat, and I just lost it, full on blubbering while I was outside walking the dog. Not every scene tugs at the heartstrings like that, but the whole damn book is about how humans have ruined the planet.

Ha. I saw that you didn't love We Are Never Meeting in Real Life and I was like, YES! It wasn't just me! But then you hated How to Find Love in a Bookshop, which I just finished and loved. So...lol. Can't win 'em all. You better just stop reading anything you would normally want to read this Autumn... ;)

Isn't it always so great when you find someone who agrees with your dissenting opinion on a popular book? Best. Moments. EVER. (Still with the all caps, that stuff sank in.)

I wouldn't say I hated How To Find Love... It was set in a bookshop, after all, so I kind of had to like it. I'd put that one down more to mood problems.

I've put H is for Hawk on hold. Thank you!

Incidentally, Rachel,
Can you suggest any essays by millennials or young women or humorists that you have enjoyed more than the Irby? I am plowing through a lot of essay collections lately and would love suggestions for good ones. Thanks!

H is for Hawk is another book that everyone loved and I didn't. Helen McDonald's writing is so precious, and it takes so damn long for her to SAY anything. Which is what reviewers loved about it: they called it "contemplative". I found it mealy mouthed and heavy on descriptives.

I stopped reading when she got the hawk and then exchanged it for another one for which she had to pay extra, but she was coy, or too "artsy", about what she paid for it, as if mentioning money in detail was too trivial. Shit. I want to know what she paid for the damn hawk, not that she "threw a handful of 5 pound notes" at the seller.

J K Rowling once said, about a favorite author she read as a child (whose name I forget,) that the reason she loved reading that author's books was because the author told what was in every sandwich. I get that. Don't just have people eat a sandwich -- have them eat a cheddar cheese with pickles sandwich. Same for the hawk: how much does it cost to buy a damn hawk???

If you can't level with me about that, then I am not interested in reading further.


I interpreted her coyness about the price as discretion, like maybe she was trying not to boast about how much she paid.

I do wonder if I would have liked the book as much if I'd read it in print. I am currently listening to it. I typically dislike artsy books that everyone loves (i.e., Annie Dillard), but I tolerate certain things in audio that I don't in print. While listening, I'm distracted by picking up dog poo and looking at funny mushrooms and trying not to twist my ankle, so I'm less aware of overlong passages or stuffy descriptions.

Also, the author has an English accent, and is quite good as a narrator. I actually came here to leave a comment to Citizen Reader to consider reading the book as an audiobook (but instead find myself apologizing for it; I feel slightly uncomfortable, enjoying a book that got such good press).

God do I love it when the comments section takes on a life of its own.

Vivian, I have given a lot of thought to your thoughts about how much detail you need when. I always say I want detail, or at least I want honest straightforward reporting, but then sometimes I find that really gives me more info than I want. Take the Irby book. Some of her info was actually a bit too detailed for me, but that was primarily because I wasn't all that interested in what she was providing the detail for (her sex life). Now, on the other hand, one of my favorite books of the past year was "Avalanche," by Julia Leigh (http://www.citizenreader.com/citizen/2016/12/i-really-need-to-stop-reading-books-about-women-getting-pregnant-or-not.html). God love her, Julia Leigh FINALLY provided all the nitty gritty details of IVF, fertility drugs, the cost, EVERYTHING about trying to get pregnant in her 40s, that I wanted to hear.

But then, I am interested in that sort of stuff. (Too interested.) Is your demand that Helen McDonald tell you exactly what that hawk cost because you are very interested in birds, nature, what we pay for items we want or need? Or do you really demand that every writer tell you about every sandwich? Fascinating topic.

I used to love audio books and yes, it is sometimes easier to let what you don't like about a book drop when you are listening to it (rather than reading it). I used to listen to a lot of audio books and always tried to find poetry and classics and things I didn't read a lot of in print. Somehow it was easier to take that kind of stuff in while listening. Another fascinating topic to consider.

Sadly my audio time is even less my own than my reading time. I force my little boys to listen to "Marketplace" every night on NPR (more because I love Kai Ryssdal than because I have any money) while we eat supper, but other than that I never listen to audio books any more because I can't hear them; there is now always someone talking at me about something.

You know, sometimes you get to enjoy a book that was popular. We can't always be cantankerous swim-against-the-currenters. As Samantha Irby might say, that shit is tiring.

Yes, it's a truism that people who are having trouble conceiving are "bottomless pits" when it comes to buying books about the subject. They also say that about Civil War buffs: they will buy almost any new book about the War Between the States. Me, in a world that is heaving with beings who will be its destruction, I have absolutely zero interest in pregnancy. So there you go. To each her own.

I'm also not interested in other people's sex lives or their pooping functions. But I am fascinated by that last taboo, how they spend their money. And as Helen McDonald was writing about a searingly painful time in her life, and sharing the details of her grief and, uh, loneliness (? I didn't read the whole book) then I expect her to not cop out about a huge fact about the main character in her story. The damn hawk is in the title of her book!

And yes, we readers will make judgements about the cost of that hawk but so what? We readers are making judgements about every aspect of her life, that's the deal between memoirists and their readers. When a writer two-steps around something crucial, such as the cost of her hawk, that irritates me -- I didn't ask her to write about her hawk, after all, but since we're here, let's talk.

Falconry is not a lower class hobby, we all know that, so tell us how crazy you are by spending an ungodly amount of money on a bird. Are you 100 points crazy, or a thousand pounds crazy? Readers want to know.

We live in a world where people pay ridiculous money for a Birkin bag and god love him, there's a guy who wrote about buying and selling Birkin bags on the blackish market. (I forget the title, but it's awesome.) He had more guts than that wimp McDonald and I don't like wimps.

Bringing Home the Birkin, by Michael Tonello.

Oh definitely. I've been reading a lot of these types of books lately. Most of them are good; all of them are better than the Irby!
-Post Grad: Five Women and Their First Year Out of College
-One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays
-This Is Really Happening
-I Can't Believe it's Not Better: A Woman's Guide to Coping With Life
-All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers
-Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer
-The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl
-You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain
-"If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?": Questions and Thoughts for Loud, Smart Women in Turbulent Times
-I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual
-You'll Grow Out of It
-Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman
-How to Weep in Public: Feeble Offerings on Depression from One Who Knows
-How to Make White People Laugh
-I Know What I'm Doing -- and Other Lies I Tell Myself: Dispatches from a Life Under Construction
-Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting and Got a Life
-Let's Be Less Stupid: An Attempt to Maintain My Mental Faculties
-Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living
-Let's Pretend This Never Happened
-Why Not Me?
-Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things
-What Comes Next and How to Like It: A Memoir
-My Year With Eleanor
-Suck It, Wonder Woman!: The Misadventures of a Hollywood Geek
-My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me: And Other Stories I Shouldn't Share with Acquaintances, Coworkers, Taxi drivers, Assistants, Job Interviewers, ... and Ex/Current/Future Boyfriends but Have
-Unfriending My Ex: And Other Things I'll Never Do
-Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest
-Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

Not all of these quite fit the parameters. But still... :)

World War II is another subject for which there seems to be a perpetual audience.
Yes, largely, agreed. I like my memoirists to dish on the details. (Hence my love for "Avalanche," that woman didn't spare anything, even about her rocky relationship with her boyfriend/husband/ex.) And now I'm a bit curious how much that damn hawk cost myself.

p.s. read that Birkin book a million years ago and remember enjoying it in kind of a general way. Mainly in the way that a woman who owns one pair of jeans (for winter) and two pairs of shorts (for summer) can only kind of generally wonder at why anyone would pay what they pay for a Birkin bag.

Thanks for the list. It's going to take me a while. I've only read about four or five titles on that list, with mixed results, but I'm up for the rest. Because this is me, I'll probably have to start with either "Let's be less stupid" or "I'm Judging You." I also may pull this list out for a stand-alone post. Can I credit you?

Yes please! :) You may want to investigate and delete a few of the titles first. Like I said, they don't all quite fit the millennial essay format.
I'm a librarian in New Glarus, WI, so I love doing RA and making lists for people. I'll be thrilled if more folks can see this and find something to read.:D

It's the end of a long day, and your final paragraph just made me *laugh*... Thank you.

Ah, Unruly, we've all had those long days. Thanks for joining us here at the end of yours. Glad I could provide a laugh!

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