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May. 27th, 2015

reading tiger

Reading Wednesday Makes Music History

"The title of this book is not entirely accurate. There's Ellen Willis' Beginning to See the Light, though it wasn't all music writing, and then her posthumous collection that was. Of course Lillian Roxon's Rock Encyclopedia from 1969, Caroline Coon's crucial 1988: The New Wave Punk Rock Explosion and the collective, life-changing Rock She Wrote. We should be able to list a few dozen more -- but those books don't exist. Yet.

The title of this book is about planting a flag; it is for those whose dreams (and manuscripts) languished due to lack of formal precedence, support and permission. This title is not meant to erase our history but rather to help mark the path.

This book is dedicated to those that came before, those that should of been first, and all the ones that will come after."

Ladies and gentlemen, Jessica Hopper.

I am 3/4 through the gilt-edged pages of this book. (I know I mentioned this last week, but again: gilt edges! One of the things I like about this book is that it's making a bold statement not just in its title but right down to its design, which is why I included a picture of the cover.) It opens, after a short essay from 2002 that stands as an introduction, with the essay that turned me into a Jessica Hopper fangirl, "Emo: Where the Girls Aren't." Then we get several intriguing sections titled geographically ("Chicago," "California) and thematically ("Real/Fake," "Bad Reviews," "Faith," "Strictly Business"). I like that they are organized this way rather than, say, chronologically, because the added interest from, say, following up the emo article with a profile of Chance the Rapper (in the first section, "Chicago") is tasty and worthwhile.

One of the things I like most about Hopper is her casual style. It's not sloppy exactly; but it is strikingly warm. There's been a lot of talk swirling around this book (see above as to how this book, published by a small press, is designed -- literally -- to provoke a lot of talk) in regards to the fact that women music writers do not get to do gonzo Lester Bangs-style self-centered hangin' with the band writing, because among other things, girls hanging with the band are groupies not writers, amirite? All of which is just to say that Hopper manages to have a loose, warm, casual tone (some of my favorite pieces here are from her blog tinyluckygenius, see also the Tumblr version) while still maintaining critical rigor. A lot of ladycritics, myself probably included insofar as I get to be considered in the same sentence as La Hopper, tend more toward a detached analytic tone because being cool and detached and analytic shows that we're serious, see?* It's a way of claiming authority. "Fuck you, I'm no groupie, I am a braniac who just happens to love pop music in that postmodern 'everything is a text so here's my book report on the latest vinyl reissue' way. I am too cool for school, and I mean that in the emotional barometer way -- I'm no screaming fangirl and my pulse is always steady, Freddy."

I like that Hopper manages to claim authority just by showing up and not even bothering to hear that maybe she shouldn't be there, much less why. And I like even more that she's now doing so in explicit solidarity with other women writing about popular music. We all belong here, she says. This might be the first book, maybe, kinda, sorta, by a living female rock critic, but now that the door's open, let's get this party started.

Also I think she wrote the Lana del Rey article that I kept trying and failing to pitch a while ago there.

And she wrote the very best non best-of article in existence, "Old Year's End," which should really be required reading for aspirational music writers everywhere. "This year, almost all of the money I made writing was in blurbs, charticles and show previews that are between 300 and 80 words instead of essays. I had to write way more stuff, but with not much space to extrapolate on big ideas (if the band even has them) or theories (if I can even conjure them)., and what I write is more about the "good vs. bad," interesting vs. not, and then make a joke or two."

P.S. Once upon a time an editor said to me, "you come across more like a fan than a critic [in this particular column]. Can you rewrite?" No.

* Just to be clear, this style is also for me personally my native tongue. I am a grammarific nerd who has learned to speak the vernacular when needed; for me Hopperesque styling would be a put-on. I am not cool.

May. 20th, 2015

reading tiger

Reading Wednesday Belatedly Celebrates Mother's Day

I bought Ayelet Waldman's Bad Mother because of a case of mistaken identity. I mistook her for a different mom-writer with a vaguely similar name, located on the other coast. Ayelet Waldman is local; she is the wife of Michael Chabon and, thus, located at Ground Zero of the Berkeley Parent phenomenon. Even more so, she was briefly Internet-famous for writing an essay saying she loved her husband more than her kids and publishing it in Salon. Heaps of concern-trollish scorn ensued. And so this book was born.

When I purchased Bad Mother, then, I was not one of the folks who was consciously aware of this backstory and hoping for some more juicy bits. I was expecting a light and snarky book that maybe inappropriately wallowed in being a "bad mother" in the way that I express glee at forfeiting Berkeley Parent Points by feeding my kids French fries. You know, bad but not too bad. A mild protest against the impossible social expectations of capital-M (liberal, white, middle-class) motherhood.

I got a lot more than that. Right out of the box, Waldman challenges exactly that kind of Bad Mother Lite posture as the guilt trip coping mechanism it is, and then wrestles with where exactly that guilt trip comes from in the first place. This book is not a structural critique of the institution of motherhood, but it is aware that there *is* a critique and that it is much-needed, and that informs the personal essays that make up the book. In other words, I came for the snark and instead I got a fairly meaty, thoughtful meditation on some personal dimensions to contemporary motherhood. Overall, I was surprised and pleased.

My favorite Berkeley Parent moment in the book was when someone leaned over while in line at somewhere like Arizmendi Pizza and said to Waldman, who was bottle-feeding her infant, "you know, breast is best." And got a weeping meltdown about how her baby was born with a palate defect and *couldn't* nurse in return. Me, I would not have wept. I would have screamed the same content, spittle flying, until someone called the cops.

I particularly appreciated her completely frank discussion of the medical abortion she sought out between her second and third kid, thanks to an amniocentesis that turned up a rare trisomy. It wasn't clear whether the trisomy would cause any problems or not. She aborted anyway. But it wasn't an easy decision and, in a book called "Bad Mother," you can guess the emotions it stirred up.

There is one essay, near the end, that fell flat for me. It was a naive discussion of patriotism and kids from a liberal, post-Obama, pre-Ferguson POV, filled with optimism for the best of what America could be. In the wake of Black Lives Matter et al, it was a little painful and I imagine Waldman probably knows it and regrets it now. That's OK. She was smart enough not to end the book there, so between you and me and the author we'll just pretend it never happened. Or await her follow-up essay. Either way is good.

Meanwhile, my copy of Jessica Hopper's book arrived a day or two ago. It has *gilt edges*. This tickles me enormously.

May. 15th, 2015

reading tiger

(no subject)

Someday I want to write a humorous essay on why so many Mediterranean cookbooks follow the same "ingredient plus ingredient" formula when formulating their title: Rose Water and Orange Blossoms. Olive Trees and Honey. The Olive and the Caper. Olives and Oranges. Pomegranate and Roses. Crazy Water and Preserved Lemons. Cardamom and Lime. And that's just from a quick scan of my bookshelves.

May. 13th, 2015

reading tiger

Reading Wednesday Takes a Breather

I told you it was hard to figure out what I was reading next. I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of Jessica Hopper's The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic and will surely dive into that the moment it hits my front porch. In the meantime, though, I dither.

May. 6th, 2015

reading tiger

Wednesday Reading

So here we are again and I still haven't talked about Lavie Tidhar's A Man Lies Dreaming. OK, fine.

At first, when I heard about this book, I thought I didn't want to read it: "Oh no, another Holocaust book," I said to myself. Then I poked around a little further and discovered that it involved Shomer, an author of Yiddish trash literature, dreaming his way out of Auschwitz. His dream may or may not be the other parallel story in the book: Hitler as a down-on-his-luck P.I. in 1940s London after the Communists have taken over Germany, hired by a rich Jewish woman to find her missing sister.

At this point I knew I had to read it immediately. And I am so glad I did. I haven't purely enjoyed a book like this in ages. I ate it up. I want to read it again and again, and I never re-read. It's delicious.

So. Like trash fiction in general, this book takes well-worn subject matter and thematic material and, unlike trash fiction, turns it inside-out. So we are presented with new and interesting answers to questions like "how can one write about the Holocaust?" and "what is the value of trash fiction?" Which, answered singly, aren't all that interesting any more. Answered together, and you get this sublime book.

I feel a small need to warn readers that the book ends with Hitler, with a forged Jewish passport, on a boat to Palestine. If you can't handle this, don't read this book.

So, after I read A Man Lies Dreaming I found my copy of Rip It Up and spent some quality time with that again. I also read the graphic novel memoir Tomboy by Liz Prince. I wasn't especially impressed -- it wasn't bad, but the memoir was too straightforward for my taste and I didn't learn anything new. Simone, however, wants to read it right away, so I gave it to her once I was through. (Simone is presently identifying as a "tomgirl," that is, a boy who likes girl things. Her gender inspiration, a young person named Jackie, just came out as a girl rather than a boy who likes dresses, and it will be interesting to see how that affects Simone's sense of gender, because she was clearly and comfortably inhabiting "I'm a boy who likes dresses too!" space for most of this year.)

It's going to be difficult to figure out what to read next.

Apr. 30th, 2015

reading tiger

(no subject)

I have an idea that venture capitalists should get their asses in gear to throw money at me for. The problem with and and other sites of this type is that basically, nobody wants to trust their kids to a stranger they hooked up with over the Internet. To oversimplify horribly and all.

So instead of matchmaking strangers, they should repurpose the friendship-network model used by Friendster, FetLife, etc., except specifically for care providers. Because people love that friend-of-a-friend networking for these kinds of things. They love it because it works and it eases their anxieties. You're already vouched for, and there's social pressure to provide good service, and social pressure not to be an asshole boss.

Now where's my check?
reading tiger

(no subject)

P.S. I found Rip It Up. As I noted to a friend, anyone who has been to my house will be unsurprised to hear that it was hanging out in a stack of cookbooks.
reading tiger

Reading Wednesday is Late and Unapologetic

I have stuff to say about Lavie Tidhar's A Man Lies Dreaming, which I read in its entirely this week, but I just haven't been able to sit down and write anything up. This might have something to do with the fact that this week is the kids' school Talent Share, plus I am on deadline and in mild RSI flare. Or I could just be lazy. You decide.

Apr. 22nd, 2015

reading tiger

(no subject)

Because I am naive and also because I don't watch shows like CSI, I have only today stumbled across the police slang acronym "NHI" and what it means. I think "nauseated" mostly covers it.
reading tiger

Reading Wednesday

Finishing up "Rip It Up." Actually it's missing right now, which I find frustrating. Back to fiction shortly.

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