I'm a lifelong fan of bestselling mystery writer Laura Lippman, whose character Tess Monaghan stars in stories that are often critical of pop culture. Bitch last talked to Lippman—who's on our National Advisory Board—to mark the release of her book I'd Know You Anywherein 2010. Since then, she has called attention to the lack of media coverage of female writers and I figured it was high time to check in with Lippman, given the release of our Pulp issue. I talked to Lippman the day after she had turned in the manuscript for her new book, about a cop who loves TV.
I'm curious to know: you are obviously a writer and a reader of crime fiction but have you been a lifelong reader of crime fiction? And what are some of the first books you remember reading?
LAURA LIPPMAN: If you say "lifelong reader," that goes back to Encyclopedia Brown and The Happy Hollisters. I was not a big Nancy Drew fan because I have a really low tolerance for perfect people and Nancy is pretty perfect. She's not only perfect, but there are these two other girls, Beth and George, who do nothing but talk about how perfect she is.
I don't identify with someone like that and so I liked Encyclopedia Brown because he was smart but he had to have a girl be his muscle. Do you remember that part?
And for some reason, I liked The Happy Hollisters and Trixie Belden. So, I was always a crime reader. It was something that gave me a lot of pleasure, and it was something about which I was never the ironic —I don't think of it as a guilty pleasure. I don't even really recognize the term "guilty pleasure."
There's a difficult scene in toward the beginning of Candace Walsh's memoir, Licking The Spoon, where five-year-old Walsh is essentially force-fed her dinner amidst tears, gagging, and vomit. This particularly heartbreaking image propelled me back to my own memories of sitting at my childhood dinner table, locked in a fierce battle between myself, my father, and food. Walsh's tantalizing descriptions of both the recipes and people in her life help pull the reader into a story that's a perfect mix of memoir and indulgent foodie read. I spoke with Walsh about the challenges of writing a memoir, the notion of choosing our own families, and the erotic potential of food.
What compelled you to write a memoir in your forties? It's a relatively young age.
CANDACE WALSH: I was very influenced by Anais Nin, who kept a diary her entire life. I also kept a diary from childhood through my early twenties. I saw that I had lots of material. I had a consciousness of the narrative as it unfolded. It seemed to have an arc. I also didn't want to wait because I felt like the story elements were fresh in my mind now, in a way that they wouldn't be when I was, say, 65.
There's that axiom that can be seen as a curse: "May you live in interesting times." I had to overcome a lot of challenges. My parents were young and didn't have their acts together. There was a lot of addiction, rage, dysfunction, sadness and pain in my family during my childhood. But at the same time, as I grew up, the culture was shifting. People started telling the truth about their experiences, instead of keeping silent and perpetuating them. There have also been so many epic civil rights gains for gay people in the last 20 years. So I felt that I had a personal story to tell which highlights the relationship between those dynamics.
It's not about a smell, or a particular shade of yellow the pages become. I like a musty paperback as much as the next girl, but I will read Persuasion on a tablet or Jane Eyre in a spare browser tab. The dirty secret of old books—the ones you've heard of, the one's you may cringe at the thought of reading—is that they are often dirty too. And if they are skimpy on sex, they are brim-full with melodrama. This is what I can't get enough of: a crazy-ass plot buried beneath the prim patina of age. Madame Bovary: lots of carriage sex. Ulysses: actually mostly farts. Moby-Dick: a "sperm squeezing" scene that is even more masturbatory than you can imagine. Obviously these works are also rich and complicated and subtle, too, but that's no reason not to enjoy their crassness, their buffoonery, their animal charm. (And why deny yourself the bragging rights?)
I recently read a book I've been meaning to devour forever: Dracula.
What all vampire stories are about, ultimately, is sex. Full of nighttime assignations, penetration, the exchange of fluids, visceral desire and latent shame, and the fear of contagion, of contamination, of death—Dracula is no different.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of Marion Zimmer Bradley's massively popular Arthurian fantasy The Mists of Avalon. Alas, I was unable to read this iconic novel when it was first released, due to being about two years old at the time.
A decade later, however, I found The Mists of Avalon and fell head over heels. I was a twelve-year-old Catholic girl. My best friend's mom called my mom to get her okay before lending me this novel, and no wonder. Sibling incest! Pagan orgies around bonfires! Extramarital sex before a husband's very eyes, nay, at his request! I read it—all 876 pages—several times during the next couple years.
I was not alone: Mists has stayed in print for three decades and inspired passionate devotion. It has also triggered plenty of ironic eye-rolling. Now that I'm not twelve anymore, I find myself deeply sympathetic to both reactions.
For those of you who haven't read the book or whose memories of it have receded into the appropriately misty past, here's a quick overview: Mists retells the legend of King Arthur, considering the familiar plot from the perspectives of its female characters. nstead of placing kings, knights, and war at the heart of the story, Mists fleshes out Morgaine (in this version, Arthur's sister), Gwenhwyfar (aka Guinevere), and three sisters: Igraine (Morgaine and Arthur's mother), Morgause (an intelligent and sexually liberated queen), and Vivian (high priestess of Avalon).
This is a long book with a complicated plot. Essentially, though, it's about queens and priestesses, mothers and sisters and aunts, and sex and birth and death.
Today is Valentine's Day, which is usually considered the most romantic of holidays, a day when our society celebrates monogamous, often heterosexual, love. It is no surprise, then, that romance novels become a topic of conversation this time of year. They are read by women, the recipients of most Valentine's Day gifts and the people our society believes are obsessed with romantic love.
It is only "news" that Spence is the mind behind Jessica Blair's novels because we assume that only women can write for women and that men would not want to.
Spence says that while writing these romance novels, "I have got to think in a female way" and "I just love doing it." Both of these statements fly in the face of our assumptions about men and the heavily gendered rendering of the romance genre.
In the Daily Mail article on Spence, the author explains why he adopted the pseudonym two decades ago: "You do not say no to publishers. I was just very glad I had found someone who wanted to print my books, and it didn't bother me at all that I'd been given a female name." Why would it bother him? "I suppose some men may suppose their masculinity had been questioned, but it has never bothered me."
It's hard to find smart books for kids that are heavy on the good female characters but light on the Disney princesses. A part of the American Library Association called the Amelia Bloomer Project tackled the tough job of sorting through all the young adult books published in 2012 and naming their ten favorite picks.
The books were selected based on their feminist themes, excellence in writing, appealing format, and age appropriateness. The full list is below the cut, but here's a snapshot:
Anyone have any additions to the list or opinions on these? We covered Code Name Verity in December, with BiblioBitch Katie Presley declaring it like the Hunger Games, but much better. As someone without kids, the only one I've flipped through is the Rookie yearbook, which I found surprisingly great. It's a collection of photo essays, interviews, and diaries that my 12-year-old self would have found engrossing, inspring, and comforting.
I do like a close, confidential voice. It's very much like having an imaginary friend. Of course, I also love big 19th-century novels where God narrates from on high, dipping in and out of people's interior lives. But that was before movies—I really think film has changed fiction more than anything in the past fifty years. I'm not a fan of cinematic fiction writing, where we "see" everything, but we never really get inside a character's head. What's the point of writing a novel, then? Why not make a film? I love that visceral sense of being in someone's skin, along with all the secret shames and conflicts and fears and sensations and memories.
Here are a few key words regarding Jim C. Hines's The Stepsister Scheme. Snow White, promiscuous mirror witch. Sleeping Beauty, Middle Eastern assassin. Cinderella, Pregnant Prince-rescuer. Intrigued? I was, and also by the statement given me that this was "Feminist YA fantasy! Written by a DUDE!" when it was given to me. I was not disappointed. C'mon! Princesses with weapons, spells, and babies on board? I'M IN.
Feminist book-lovers will already be long familiar with novels depicting the rollback of reproductive rights, such as The Handmaid's Tale, The Misconceiver, and Woman on The Edge of Time. So is there room for another book looking at a the consequences of criminalizing abortion? Yes, there is—perhaps more than ever.
Let me start by saying that I'm a Hunger Games gal. I thought that series was the end for me; the top of the bold, brave mountain of perfect Young Adult (YA) literature. I would keep reading YA, I figured, but I would be standing at the top of Everest looking down to do it. How would it get better than Suzanne Collins' frenetic pacing, allusion to contemporary politics, consice, brutal descriptions, gasp-inducing action, and the name Katniss Everdeen? Let me tell you, friends. It could be about a war that has ALREADY HAPPENED IN REAL LIFE, equally terrible to Panem's child slaughter. It could have a female protaginist infinitely more invested in directing her own fate than Katniss was, Collins forgive me. It could still be as tightly wound as a top, as intricately plotted as any good twist-ending requires, and equally stupefying in violence and intrigue. It could contain the names of monarchs and spies, Nazis and codes. It could be Code Name Verity, the best book I've read this year, and the new YA Everest.