No. 13 >> The Lit Crush Issue: All Roxane Gay.

MAKING THE WORK // The Literary Crush

I’m currently in the throes of a literary crush on Roxane Gay. I first came across her on Twitter a few months back and started following her. I didn’t even know who she was other than a writer who, as per her Twitter bio, loves Ina Garten and wants “a tiny baby elephant.” 

My adoration started because Roxane live Tweets Ina Garten’s cooking show. My feelings proceeded to a full-blown literary crush once I got my hands on her new book of essays, Bad Feminist. I’ve told you before that I myself am a feminist who likes to stuff a mushroom, so the appeal factor was high.

My crush is a little embarrassing. I’ve been daydreaming about how I might ask Roxane to sign my book for me when she’s at the International Festival of Authors in October and how I’d take her a gift. Like, maybe I'd Nijilla up some handcrafted salted caramels (but not the recipe that uses honey, because she doesn’t like honey). I’d give her 33 of them because that’s her magic number. But then I found out that people are already taking all kinds of gifts to her at books signings—cupcakes, little elephants—and then I just felt like a silly girl groupie and that kind of killed the daydream for me. I have to figure out how to be more mature and confident about my crushes.

On the bright side, I love a literary crush. Literary crushes make me want to be a better writer, which is why, when they stick, those writers often end up on my Literary Family Tree. Austin Kleon, in Steal Like An Artist, talks about the “genealogy of ideas” and says that we are the sum of our influences. “Seeing yourself as part of a creative lineage,” he says, “will help you feel less alone.” One can also hope to share certain qualities with those on their Literary Family Tree. For instance, I might like to have the literary version of Lorrie Moore’s eyebrows, or Annie Dillard’s legs, or David Sedaris’ metabolism.

So what is it about Roxane Gay that makes me want to add her to my Literary Family Tree? I’m an essay lover and I admire how she writes hers. She speaks plainly, like her reader is a friend. She’s smart and funny. She mixes high and low culture. She’s got a lot of opinions, but she’s never didactic. Her essays often start in one place and end, surprisingly and elegantly, in another. And because when she talks about her broken places, it feels like she is practicing a form of literary, but unpretentious, Kintsugi—the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with gold, silver or platinum, that, as a philosophy, speaks to breakage and repair becoming part of the history of a thing, rather than something to disguise. 

READING // Bad Feminist

Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay’s new book of essays, covers everything from being a professor in a small college-town and Scrabble tournaments, to The Hunger Games and Sweet Valley High books, to Wendy Davis’ filibuster and the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant.

Bad Feminist was originally a tongue in cheek title, but Gay says that the more she thought about it the more she wanted to acknowledge her own feminism, but also acknowledge that she’s not perfect at it. For example, she listens to “thuggish rap” with lyrics that are degrading to women. Her favourite colour is pink. She shaves her legs. And so on and so forth—all things that might not fit an “essential” version of feminism with a prescribed set of rules. Gay’s favourite definition of feminism, rather, is “just women who don’t want to be treated like shit.”

In an interview with Time, Gay was asked what her ultimate goal was for the book. She responded: “When I started to look at this body of work I had created over the past several years, there was a common thread. How do we question the world we live in and question the popular culture that we consume while also admitting to our humanity and enjoying sometimes inappropriate things? And having inconsistent ideas? This is a manual on how to be a human.”

CULTURE // Down the Hall Book Club 

David Gilmour is back teaching at the University of Toronto after the shitstorm he caused last year when he was quoted by the online literary magazine Hazlitt as saying: “I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Very serious heterosexual guys. Elmore Leonard. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy guys.”

A year later, Gilmour’s comments are still mocked. Monday night marked the first session of the new Down the Hall Book Club, a group for reading fiction by women (and non-binary identifying) writers that’s hosted in Toronto’s Queen West neighbourhood at Type Books. (Remember the stop-animation YouTube film called The Joy of Books? That’s Type Books.)

I’ve always wanted to be in a book club and it seemed synchronistic that the first selection was Roxane Gay’s debut novel, An Untamed State, since I’d just fallen in love with her book of essays. 

It was raining when I arrived and there were only a few of us there—though our number eventually swelled to twelve or thirteen. We unfolded chairs and sat at a little wooden table in the middle of the shop. The club’s founder put a communal bag of jalapeno potato chips on the table. Another woman rooted around in her bag and came up with a pack of gum and a bottle of Tylenol. She told us to help ourselves. 

I’ll be honest: I found our discussion to be a little lukewarm. Maybe because most of us were strangers and almost none of us had been in a book club before. Or maybe because we were tired and soggy from the rain. It was still good to be there though and at the end of our chat, we agreed that the next time there’d be more snacks—and wine, which seems like a true sign of commitment.