MAKING THE WORK // Reading Is Part of the Job
Fran Lebowitz famously said, “If you feel the urge to write, just lie down and read a book: it will pass.” Up until recently—mostly because I’d been feeling meh—I’d been following that advice (thus the missing issue in May). Reading took about all the energy I’d had to spare after doing paid work. Also, I finally got a library card and I’d put a schwack of books on hold that all came in at once and bulged out my ugly backpack on the way home.
So, I'd like to say that I've been bookworming, only I take exception to the term “bookworm”. Its etymology has to do with maggots munching through musty book pages—presumably due to a lack of corpses—not cute little green worms in glasses and graduation caps, as some bookmarks have led us to believe. Anyway, when you’re a writer, reading is part of the job, so I tried not to feel bad about it.
So, what have I been reading? Let me break it down for you.
Celebrity Funny Women Books
Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham, I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron, Bossypants by Tina Fey, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling, and Yes Please by Amy Poehler.
A few months back I read an article at Salon by Lydia Kiesling called “The Gospel of Ephron” about books that share “one artistic inheritance... an inheritance over which, for better or worse, the ghost of Nora Ephron confidently presides.” I’ve been working my way through them all, keeping in mind the question Kiesling raises: “How did the female celebrity memoir turn into feminist self-help?” I’ve been pondering the question myself, but mostly I've been analyzing how these smart women set up their jokes.
Down the Hall Book Club Novels
N.B.: This book club is run out of Type Books on Queen West and is dedicated to reading fiction by women. The name comes from that unfortunate quote (“I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall.”) from the unfortunate David Gilmour, who really should stick to music (just kidding, I know he’s not that David Gilmour.)
Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles
This was April’s selection. It’s an absurdist, modernist tale about two ladies’ separate descents into debauchery in the 1930s. Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote were both huge fans of the book and of Bowles, who liked to refer to herself as “Crippie, the Kyke Dyke” (on account of her bum leg, her ethnicity, and her sexual preference—the latter despite being married to writer Paul Bowles, who was gay and is probably most famous for The Sheltering Sky). Want to know more? Read this fascinating article in The New Yorker.
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
This was the March selection. Honestly, I don’t know why some folks have such a hate-on for July. She’s a hell of a writer and this book is strange and super-effecting. Sidenote: July’s work is often described as “quirky”. Here’s a Guardian article that calls out that word, positing that it’s female writers who get dismissed as “quirky”, while male writers get called things like “funny” and “wry”.
The Pull of the Moon by Julie Paul
I had the privilege of reading some of the stories in this collection during workshop stages (as part of a former writing group named The Lit Bitches). When the book came out and started getting nice press I got verklempt, the same way I do when I watch clips from Britian’s Got Talent. The stories are good, and true to the title, they’ve got that quality of lunar tug that makes one feel a little under the influence of somethig bigger than themselves.
The Splendid Things We Planned by Blake Bailey
This book is David Sedaris’ recommended spring read. I preferred Anne Patchett’s This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, which he recommended last fall. (He recommends a book in his newsletter at the start of every book tour.) Splendid Things is a sturdy book and I got through it easily, it was just a little too traditional in form for my taste, with a queasily familiar (culturally speaking) dysfunctional family storyline. I don’t mean for that to sound dismissive though, and I’m sure there are plenty of folks who’d think this book is swell.
Pulphead by Jeremiah John Sullivan
This collection of essays put me into a textual frenzy. I wanted to rub my brain on Sullivan’s brain. I found out about this book from a Roxane Gay Tweet. I wish I’d known about Sullivan before. His writing is sublime, plus, I love long form literary/narrative journalism, which is what he does. Everything he writes about (mostly culture and music) is interesting even though I wouldn’t have thought I’d be interested in all his topics (e.g. Axl Rose). You can read many of his essays online. The book’s opener, “Upon This Rock”, about a Christian music festival, is over at GQ.
URBAN ENCOUNTERS // Finder’s Weepers
I’m sitting in the front window of a Starbucks when I look up and see a young woman outside that looks like a cross between my friend Glennie and Drew Barrymore. That’s why I notice her—because of the resemblances—so I take a moment to study her face while she pauses outside by the planter. She enters the Starbucks from the west with another woman (whose face I don’t register at all) and goes right upstairs. Maybe they use the bathroom. I don’t know, but a couple minutes later they come back down just as I’m packing up to leave. I go out the door ahead of them and head east.
I take a few steps before I notice a five dollar bill lying on the sidewalk. It’s scrunched up in a way that looks like it had aspirations to be an origami crane but got discouraged. Free money! Come to Mama! My luck’s a-chagin’! Those are some of the things I think, which probably tells you a lot about my relationship with money and the state of things in my first year as a freelancer.
I pick up the fiver and have a quick look around to see if anyone dropped it because that’s what polite people do. Glennie Barrymore, as she’ll henceforth be known, and her friend are the only people in close proximity. Even though I already know they’d come from the other direction earlier and that they’d just come out of the Starbucks behind me, I still say, ‘You didn’t drop a five dollar bill did you?”
Of course they’ll say no, but they’ll get to witness my good fortune and maybe make a joke about how it’s too bad it’s a Laurier and not a Borden.
“Oh, that might’ve been me,” GB says.
She makes a show of patting herself down and digging around for her wallet while I stand there impatiently. “Was it all folded up, this five dollars of yours, because this one is,” I say, as accusingly as possible, holding the bill by a corner like it’s a limp bird tempting a cat.
“Yeah, it was,” GB says in all seriousness, rambling on about her pockets, or maybe her lack of pockets.
“Seriously?” I want to say.
When she finally opens her wallet it’s empty, which apparently confirms that it is, indeed, her five bucks. I hand it over because what else am I going to do? She doesn’t even say thanks. She’s still justifying how it’s hers—maybe to me, or to her friend, or to herself—when I walk away.
As I trudge home, I’m down in the dumps from the encounter. I pass a large, thuggy woman panhandling outside of Tim Horton’s. “Spare some change?” she drones.
I might’ve given her the five dollars. Normally, I can’t spare five dollars, but found money I could’ve spared. That would’ve felt good, plus I like winning over thugs. Instead, I say: “Sorry. All the best.”
“FUCK YOU,” she yells. “WHY ARE YOU PRETENDING YOU DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH?”
Had I not enunciated properly?
“FUCK YOU, MOTHERFUCKER. I KNOW YOU SPEAK ENGLISH,” she screams as I try to pretend she’s not talking to me.
Now, fast forward a week.
I’m scrolling through Facebook when I scroll past GB’s face! I stop scrolling and go back. I’m sure it’s her, staring at me from within a status update from the National Post. She’s a public figure! And I’d caught her doing something kind of bad. Not Rob Ford with hookers and crack bad, but how many of us reach those levels?
I learn from the article that she’s a comedian and a writer, which explains why she wanted the free sidewalk cash as much as I did. For a moment, I feel pleased that I looked put together enough that she at least didn’t think I was more hard up than she was.
The Post article also includes a cover of her new book. Funnily enough, I’d noticed the book the day before in Type Books. I took a quick photo of it beause I liked the title and wanted to remember to look it up later. The coincidences are just too weird. I feel like I’m in a Seinfeld episode.
I look GB up on Twitter, hoping to find evidence, or a confession of some kind. No such luck. I consider instigating a Twitter war. I’d Tweet something passive-aggressive like, “Hey! I’m curious....how did you spend that $5 I found for you?” She’d Tweet back “???” because people never remember their lies. The war would fizzle out before it got started.
Next, I Google GB. There are enough results for an in-depth investigation. She actually seems quite appealing—funny, smart, and talented. I’d tell you more about her accomplishments, but I feel that, for reasons of propriety, I should be discreet. Also, what if I’m wrong—that the comedian/writer isn’t GB? Or, that it was her, but there was a legitimate reason why her five dollars somehow managed to slip through the time-space continuum and ended up in the opposite direction she’d come from. That’d be awkward. Or maybe she’d think it was funny. She could work it up into a comedic piece—maybe a listicle called “Five Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Accuse Strangers of Doing Things They Didn’t Do”.
If it was her though and she’s guilty as charged, maybe if she finds out about this, she could be magnanimous and apologize by offering to give me back the five bucks. I’d be equally magnanimous and tell her to keep it. Maybe she’d suggest then that we spend it together. We could put it toward a manicure, each of us getting one pinkie done. Or, we could get a scoop of fancy ice cream that we’d share out of a little paper container with two cute bamboo spoons.
CULTURE // Amy Schumer Goes Viral
I’ve already been verbose, so I’m going to keep this short, but I want to talk about Amy Schumer. She’s gone viral lately, so she’s been in a lot of newsfeeds. I almost didn’t click on the first link that introduced me to her in which she’s on Ellen and Ellen is cracking up and looks so smitten that she’s glowing like she does in her glossy CoverGirl ads. I’m so glad I did click through because now I can steal Schumer’s line and joke about how my “arms register as legs”.
Other links to clips from Schumer’s Comedy Central show, Inside Amy Schumer, keep appearing. Like the one about Hollywood’s double standards where Schumer runs into Patricia Arquette, Julia Louis Dreyfuss and Tina Fey, all celebrating Dreyfuss’ “Last Fuckable Day”. Or the mock birth control commercial in which Schumer has to ask a whole bunch of men if they think birth control is right for her.
Schumer is funny, feminist, and subversive (she could’ve helped Elizabeth May nail her press gallery speech). She’s having a breakout moment and I hope it lasts because, while she does comedy with a message, it’s not didactic and we need more voices championing things like reproductive rights and equal pay. Having said that, maybe one day the only thing we’ll need from female comedians is to have a good yuk.