I've always liked Eleanor Roosevelt because, unlike a lot of other first ladies, even in my dude-heavy history textbooks she was portrayed as having an identity beyond political wifehood. Why, then, did I decide to read a biography that is specifically not about Eleanor on her own, but instead focuses her relationship with that other important person she was married to? A biography that doesn't even list her name first? To be totally honest, I was convinced by the advertising. I heard a review that hailed Hazel Rowley's Franklin and Eleanor as a "crackling" account of the Roosevelts' "radical" marriage, written by an author who'd detailed other unconventional partnerships in the past. I never knew much about the Roosevelts' marriage before I read this book (other than the fact that the two were distant cousins who were both related in some way to Teddy) so the idea that their relationship was somehow "radical" was intriguing to me.
The reality of the book is a little disappointing.
Because I'm a slightly perverse creature, I'm going to start this series about feminist literary icons with a one you've probably never heard of. Written by a man. Featuring a woman who dies of longing when her dreamed-of lover doesn't materialize.
Hello, gentle readers. The good people at Bitch have made a terrible and now, I fear, irrevocable mistake, having hired me to write for you for the next eight weeks. There is an upside, however. I'm going to be writing about the greatest thing in the whole world: literature!
So, welcome to this here series called Iconography. We're going to look at the formation and celebration of feminist literary icons, both characters and creators.
A lot of complaints about MFA programs start with the assertion that writers should be "living," instead of going to school….If going to graduate school was supposed to provide me with some kind of injunction against "real life," against emergency phone calls from friends and family, physical and financial threats and challenges faced by people I love, money worries, racism, heartbreak, and the uncertainty of living in a world that seems constantly on the brink of large scale disaster, then the Iowa Writers' Workshop has some serious explaining to do, because I never got my exemption paperwork.
Evans doesn't spare the characters of her debut short story collection, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self (Riverhead), from these problems either.
As a big fan of the strange short work by writers like Gary Lutz and Lydia Davis, I was drawn to Lindsay Hunter's new book, Daddy's, nestled next to an anticipated Lutz rerelease in the small press section of Powell's Books. Many of the writers in this section are faithful upholders of the short story, a form that can be hard to market and is often thought of by more commercial writers and publishers as practice on the way to a novel. But the writers I love, the ones who choose the short story as their primary form, use carefully chosen words to place their characters in unexpected, sometimes disturbing situations. Then they leave you to make your own conclusions about what you've encountered. I hoped that this was the kind of thing I'd find in Hunter's Daddy's, and the jacket blurbs bolstered my hope. Kyle Minor wrote, "Lindsay Hunter won't be caught lie-telling in the name of nice. The miniature stories in Daddy's are fierce and unapologetic." I'm happy to report that Hunter's book did not disappoint.
Books that use food as a gateway to emotion can be pretty unbearable (hi again, Eat, Pray, Love). Thankfully, Aimee Bender's new novel is more like one of the fairy tale rewrites I wrote about a few weeks ago than one of those self-indulgent food memoirs.
The story follows Rose Edelstein, who discovers on her ninth birthday that she can taste feelings. When Rose takes a bite of food, it tastes like all the emotions of whoever made it. And not just "happy" and "sad": as she ages and her palate develops, she can sense desires, regrets, hesitations, and many other subtleties hidden inside everything she eats. She knows where every ingredient came from: she can taste the metallic coldness of factories and the specific locations of farms.
Did someone say 120 perfect-bound pages of comics by queer artists? Gay Genius, an anthology of comics and graphic art is edited by small-press superstar Annie Murphy (featured on our blog here) and will be published by Sparkplug Comics--but it needs your help before it gets there.
In keeping with our current Make-Believe issue this week's BiblioBitch features A Child's Life and Other Stories by Phoebe Gloeckner. A Child's Life is a riveting collection of illustrated stories (or comics or comix or graphic novel depending on who you talk to) that merge the fantastical with the realistic.
Once upon a time, in an era that feminists called the "second wave," there was a group of women writers who thought that Western European fairy tales were pretty fucked up. Fascinated by this fucked-up-ness, the women decided to retell the stories in order to explore and combat the ancient -isms that lay deep, deep (actually not so deep) inside. Using fairy tales as their starting point, the women created awesome and super weird novels, poems, and short stories that would delight, perplex, and frustrate feminists forever after. In honor of the Make-Believe issue of Bitch (available now!), here are a few of my favorites.
Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a lecture given by Mary Roach. Many of you have probably read her books Bonk and Stiff, and thus you know she is a thorough researcher whose tastes run a bit on the weird side. As she put it, she likes to cover topics that combine "history, science, and some gross stuff." The lecture I attended was on her latest book, Packing for Mars, and the subject matter definitely fits the bill. Pooping in space, anyone?