Re: Modern Love Roundup

1

Hey, when did Emily Gould leave Gawker?


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 12:18 PM
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"...while out of the spotlight, dangling unnoticed in the rigging, is the incredible shrinking spouse."

My head asplode.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 12:26 PM
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Yeah, there were several sentences in that ML column that I had to read several times, and then wished I hadn't. This one, for example:

But when it comes to tales from my fellow midlifers, I most often find myself reading about regret and claustrophobia, fantasies surreptitiously indulged, old flames cyberstalked (including the agony of whether to hit "send" on that "Hey, you won't believe who this is!" e-mail message), children occupying center stage as our ailing parents wait in the wings for our care ... while out of the spotlight, dangling unnoticed in the rigging, is the incredible shrinking spouse.

As usual, the ellipsis makes its appearance to mark the place where the writer forgot where the sentence was going and then just decided to finish it off some goddamn way.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 12:27 PM
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I kept thinking he meant literally shrinking, as with scoliosis or impotence, but that seemed too cruel. Does he just mean that all the bourgeois self-involved hetero assholes who write ML columns forget they have a spouse when they're middle-aged?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 12:30 PM
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And dangling... by the neck?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 12:30 PM
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More puzzling than that is why the spouse is dangling in the rigging. Perhaps the spouse's suicide, by hanging, went unnoticed by the otherwise occupied MLer? A sad story indeed.


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 12:32 PM
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6 before I saw 5.


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 12:33 PM
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I love how the second half is like a very special episode of Golden Girls where they pretend there's a point, but really they just want to replay old footage. And in case that Love Train image didn't get choked down the first time through, here it is again! Classic.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 12:36 PM
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Presumably if the spouse were to shrink enough it would slip the rig and tumble down onto the heads of the aging parents?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 12:40 PM
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S/B .... while out of the spotlight, dangling unnoticed in the rigging ^ like a veritable Billy Budd ^, is the incredible shrinking spouse.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 12:58 PM
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Sometimes I am baffled by the popular taste in writing. It's like my issue with Franzen. I read him and think, "Wow, that is terrible writing. People must like something else about him that I just don't see or care about," and they respond, "The thing about Franzen is what an undeniably great writer he is." So what I learn is that the very same things that send up red flags of disgust for me stimulate the awe-and-delight-centers of other readers' brains. ML is like one eternally long exercise in this kind of bafflement.

The fact that the ML editor would highlight that Love Train thing just floors me. Isn't that exactly the kind of crime against the craft that any sane editor would desperately try to pretend was never committed on his watch? Is this actually "good" writing and I am, once again, in hopelessly bad taste?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 12:59 PM
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Whenever I can't find my wife, the first place I look is up on the mizzenmast.


Posted by: My Alter Ego | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:05 PM
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From Becks' Observer link:

"It's a short column, but you can feel a lot emotionally from it," said Rakesh Satyal, an editor at HarperCollins who bought a book last June that was based on a Modern Love column by Angela Balcita, 33, whose boyfriend had donated his kidney to her. [...]


Many of the Modern Love contributors, for example, hail not from Manhattan or Brooklyn but from fly-over country, at times lending the column a skin-crawling credulity that is responsible for the groans from the city's Pinot Noir-and-pilates crowd.

Staggering!


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:10 PM
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I assume the Modern Love column is expected to be cotton candy, a quick read on a Sunday (or whenever it comes out) morning; so it's written that way, in both style and content. No mystery, really, except for the sadness that a subject that should be treated more substantially winds up sounding more like a discussion of interior design. It's mysterious, given what we know about the postmodern attention span, that this should be saddening.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:13 PM
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Many of the Modern Love contributors, for example, hail not from Manhattan or Brooklyn but from fly-over country, at times lending the column a skin-crawling credulity that is responsible for the groans from the city's Pinot Noir-and-pilates crowd.

Oh, so that's what the problem is! How good to have this explicated for me.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:13 PM
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Yes, that's it. I'm just too pretentious to realize how wonderful the spouse dangling in the rigging really is.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:19 PM
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What on earth does "skin-crawling credulity" even mean?


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:19 PM
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but from fly-over country, at times lending the column a skin-crawling credulity

Jesus. This kind of thing shouldn't make me so mad any more, but it still does.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:19 PM
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I'd think combining Pinot Noir with pilates would be groan-inducing, yes.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:21 PM
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I thought we hated ML for hating on fat midwesterners, not for having been written by fat midwesterners. Then again, I'm drunk and late for Pilates down the street from my three-bedroom Park Slope apartment, so what do I know?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:22 PM
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"responsible for the groans from &c" is also unhappy and would be better put "responsible for groans from &c" or "responsible for the groans heard from &c".

Skin-crawling credulity is credulity pertaining mostly to diseases or disorders like eczema and insects like bot flies.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:23 PM
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17: I'm picturing kind of a j-horror scenario where everybody who reads a certain modern love column gets so credulous that they start walking like insects and hallucinating faceless babies and so on.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:25 PM
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21: pinot-noir-pilatist groan-inducing flyover-sourced skin-crawling credulity-lendings.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:27 PM
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While out of the spotlight, dangling unnoticed in the rigging ^ like a creepy New Guinea souvenir ^, is the incredible shrinking spouse.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:30 PM
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What on earth does "skin-crawling credulity" even mean?

Dude, it's supposed to mean that the people who write these things seem to really feel and mean what they're saying -- they're authentic -- which makes the skin of the sophisticated set crawl, because they themselves have gone meta.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:31 PM
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25 is discussed in a recent paper written about Standpipe's blog.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:32 PM
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Angela Balcita, 33, whose boyfriend had donated his kidney to her.

Part Two: Angela explains that it would be better for both of them to find someone else, which she's already done.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:34 PM
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I'm annoyed at the waste of this NYT real estate, but I'd rather talk about good essays. The Sun publishes a lot of introspective first-person stuff, sometimes about love, but it's awfully gloomy.

I remember Becks mentioning something a few weeks back about short pieces of erotica, but what other magazines, blogs, etc. have good essays about love and relationships?


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:34 PM
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I went meta for the first time in August 1997, and I've never looked back.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:34 PM
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12: Whenever I can't find my wife, the first place I look is up on the mizzenmast.

Or on top of the bookcase.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:35 PM
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25: Holy smokes, parsimon, that's way too plausible. You're making my skin crawl.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:35 PM
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28: The w-lfs-n Quarterly. But we're still working on distribution (thanx for the tip, K. R.!).


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:35 PM
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The Sun publishes a lot of introspective first-person stuff, sometimes about love, but it's awfully gloomy.

Points one through three about said magazine annoyed the crap out of me when I got that magazine. What can I tell you, credulity makes my skin crawl.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:35 PM
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11: Are there really a lot of people who think the ML column is generally good writing, in the same way as Franzen has a lot of adherents? I doubt it.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:37 PM
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Magazine, magazine, who's got the magazine!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:37 PM
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I might mention that I've been reading lately about the nature of the mass-market romance novel, the success of its formula against all seeming odds unless you're a deluded idiot.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:37 PM
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See, there's no truth about love. It's like the philosopher's stone or the perpetual motion machine.

I keep trying to tell you this.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:37 PM
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34: Enough people to make for several bestselling books. And it can't be that they like it for the information or the plot or whatever. It's the sort of thing people find "writerly," I think.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:39 PM
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Wait, what? I think the success of romance novels is extremely easy to understand.

(I also like Jennifer Crusie Smith's writing on the topic.)


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:40 PM
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I finally got around to reading The Golden Compass and was impressed.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:41 PM
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dangling in the rigging sounds rather jolly

hanging on with one hand, clutching a bottle of grog with the other, high adventure on the open seas

shame about the shrinking, though


Posted by: felix | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:44 PM
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I like Meredith's contributions to Modern Love.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:44 PM
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Wait, what? I think the success of romance novels is extremely easy to understand.

Yes. The point is that one likewise shouldn't be surprised that the Modern Love column lives on. Continuing to read it and rail against it seems strange; as if one thinks (deludedly) that it's supposed to be anything other than exactly what it is.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:44 PM
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It's the sort of thing people find "writerly," I think.

Those poor pre-Barthesian schmucks!


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:51 PM
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The Western European romance tradition goes back at least 800 years. It's one of the foundations of our civilization. There's a piece by Kleist in which he describes going into a provincial German library around 1800 looking for Goethe and Schiller, only to find that the library contains only two kinds of books: romance novels with ghosts, and romance novels without ghosts.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:55 PM
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I wonder where one might file the books I'm teaching this semester---late 18th-century romances with ghosts that turn out not to be ghosts. The Scooby-Doo section?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:58 PM
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43: Oh. I think the tension for me comes from the fact that I persist in thinking ML is striving for something other than what it is, when in fact it may be (as you point out) achieving exactly what is intended. I try not to believe that; it seems so unkind.

I do note that the editor, far from living in "flyover country," lives in Northampton, MA.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 1:59 PM
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38: Parsimon's allusion to the romance novel is a propos, I think. ML isn't (received as) "writerly" to any greater degree than James Frey was. Comparing this to someone like Franzen or Zadie Smith or David Eggers misses the point.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:05 PM
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49

|| Question for the lawyer types: can the cops do this?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:08 PM
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re: 49

I think the general consensus is, absent a possé of flesh-eating lawyers, the cops can do whatever the fuck they like.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:10 PM
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47 seems unnecessarily delicate. Are we actually afraid of hurting the feelings of the NYT, for God's sakes? Or is it more that people are afraid of being called snobs by the Observer?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:15 PM
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47: when in fact it may be (as you point out) achieving exactly what is intended. I try not to believe that; it seems so unkind.

Well, I doubt it intends to achieve the kind of high-snark response it receives on this blog. Probably intended for a slightly different audience. I'm assuming that the NYT has some sort of metrics in place to judge whether any given column is getting the readership they'd like from it.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:16 PM
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51: the old grey lady is easily wounded, AWB. We must be delicate.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:17 PM
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52: like internet stats?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:18 PM
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I love how much time here is spent inventing feelings that we could be theoretically hurting.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:18 PM
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She's old, AWB. It's like beating up granny.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:19 PM
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The Sun publishes a lot of introspective first-person stuff, sometimes about love, but it's awfully gloomy.

? "Dear Deirdre" isn't that gloomy, and there's always page 3 to brighten things up.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:28 PM
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Hey, if Witt would prefer that she not think poorly of the editor of ML -- for being a journalistic toad rather than just being bad at his job -- that's her business.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:29 PM
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Dsquared! Look, I have a question about your latest CiF, and I'm not about to wade into the swamp that is the comments section over there. Can I ask here?


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:29 PM
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The introspective first person essay magazine The Sun would be mind-bendingly hilarious if it featured the page 3 girls from thesun.co.uk.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:31 PM
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Oh gosh, no, I didn't mean the NYT. I'm quite willing to be grumpy about them, as anyone who has seen me ranting about their op-ed policies can attest.

What I was getting at was that I have more faith in the NYT's reading public than they, apparently, do. I don't want to be unkind in thinking that the 1.5 million (!) Sunday subscribers are so shallow/dumb/pretentious that this is the ML column they deserve.

I think the Times could publish better essays -- by almost any metric you care to establish -- and they would get as wide or wider a readership, even among their preferred demographic. But I don't like complaining without offering ideas, and that's why I was thinking about who else publishes good short, first-person essays about relationships.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:34 PM
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I think romance novels are infinitely more understandable than Modern Love. The former comes with a heaping pile of wish fulfillment, swooning, and sexual arousal; the latter is all other people's self-absorbed gloom and dubious self-insights.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:35 PM
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Comparing this to someone like Franzen or Zadie Smith or David Eggers misses the point.

Wrong! It's exactly the point. Franzen and Smith are lame, self-absorbed, self-consciously "writerly" writers who use an overwrought metaphor-laden style so that their readers can be satisfied they're getting their money's worth of capital-L Literature. Modern Love brings the same aesthetic to romantic memoir.

It's obviously not the only way to write about love -- the endless navel gazing and hopelessly overdone metaphors are very particular to that style.

11: "The Corrections" was pretty mediocre book all right -- check out John Dolan's evisceration of it:

http://www.exile.ru/articles/detail.php?ARTICLE_ID=6469&IBLOCK_ID=35


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:36 PM
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I do understand that it's about voyeurism, but I have trouble understanding quite why the stories of ML are particularly enticing pour voir. Schadenfreude, sure, but in any case, I still find it a lot easier to understand why someone would want to diddle herself to the tune of bodice ripping, imitation Mr. Darceys, or even Neville/Draco.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:39 PM
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Oh, PGD, would that they were metaphor-laden! Rather, they are weighed down by millions of weak and conflicting similes! It's all so writing-workshop.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:39 PM
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I don't know why there are personal essays on love in the NYT, or any major newspaper, in the first place. Is it to keep us up to date on the state of Modern love?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:39 PM
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Modernist Love would be better.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:41 PM
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And that Dolan review is a soothing balm indeed. Love it!


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:41 PM
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And I'm very glad to hear that the woman who married that Chinese dude who can't drive got a book contract. That was my favorite Modern Love ever, by far. It was the one of the few that felt true to the nature of love -- it's not about you, it's about signing up for a series of unpredictable disasters with someone you barely know, and trying to stay cheerful through it all. The woman really seemed to have a warm, open, upbeat spirit.

The book contract thing mentioned "Eat, Pray, Love" as a model -- what a terrible book that is. Massive best-seller of course. A monument to narcissm, it's the upper-middle-class educated woman's version of a cheap romance. Except worse because it takes itself seriously.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:43 PM
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I rather like ripping bodaces.

Modern Love seems always to be about personal revelation that usually falls rather short of insightful. Instead of "oh my God, I was being loathsome and selfish," it's "isn't it interesting how much I missed my father?"

I doubt that memoire is a genre for me, generally.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:46 PM
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bodices.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:47 PM
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My favorite ML was the one about the "flat daddy", cardboard cutout of the soldier, and how the author-mom came to reject it.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:47 PM
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65: I stand corrected! No advanced degree in English for me.

Memoir has a deserved bad reputation, but if you want to read one of the best American ones written since 1990, check out "Dreams From My Father", by...Barack Obama. That dude can really write.

Has anybody read "Eat, Pray, Love"? Just naked masturbatory wish fulfillment, except instead of half-naked Vikings ripping bodices, it features the modern upper-middle-class fantasies of cuisine, spirituality, and exotic travel. (Also divorce, so the boring suburban husband doesn't hold you back from all that). It is true, though, so part of the point is that all of those fantasies are actually attainable to the wealthy modern woman.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:51 PM
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72: right, forgot about that one. It was sort of horrifying though, not exactly an upper.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:53 PM
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I'm not so into the Viking fantasies. Maybe I should just read Clarissa again.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:54 PM
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I couldn't get past the cover of EPL, on the assumption it would be about some boring chick discovering herself through spices and prayer beads and having a spirichool experience.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:54 PM
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I still find it a lot easier to understand why someone would want to diddle herself to the tune of bodice ripping

The romance novels I was talking about aren't the bodice-rippers, but the Harlequin romances: they do not contain anything close to actual sex. At most a rather chaste kiss and some heavy breathing. No self-diddling is invited.

Thematically, they involve a young heroine who's in transition and struggling with standard issues in a male world, like maintaining her femininity while pursuing a professional career, or managing a balance between the virgin and whore desiderata imposed by society. (And of course she meets a man, it works out, she is able to maintain her femininity, and thankfully relaxes about it all.)

What's similar about ML columns is the repetition of what are now dubbed more modern themes: the onset of middle age. Doubt about the worthwhileness of love at all. Differences in income between partners. And the columns spin out various thoughts about these -- absent the happy ending, but otherwise they're to reflect our relationship concerns back at us.

Whether they accurately reflect those concerns is another question.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:55 PM
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I don't know why there are personal essays on love in the NYT, or any major newspaper, in the first place.

In our jaded, cynical age, the very existence of love is news.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:56 PM
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I haven't read it and hadn't really read anything about it, but oh wow, this excerpt from a New Yorker something to be found on the Amazon page:

Three years later, after a protracted divorce, she embarked on a yearlong trip of recovery, with three main stops: Rome, for pleasure (mostly gustatory, with a special emphasis on gelato); an ashram outside of Mumbai, for spiritual searching; and Bali, for "balancing." These destinations are all on the beaten track, but Gilbert's exuberance and her self-deprecating humor enliven the proceedings: recalling the first time she attempted to speak directly to God, she says, "It was all I could do to stop myself from saying, 'I've always been a big fan of your work.'"
THAT is supposed to be the humorous charm that makes it okay that this is a book about a white American yuppie finding self-fulfillment through ice cream and brown people? Yikes.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 2:58 PM
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49 -- How late was it? How loud was it?

Writer says it wasn't loud: I'm reminded of when I was in law school, and lived in an apartment complex that had a lot of undergrads. Their standards of what wasn't loud, and what wasn't late, weren't particularly impressive.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:00 PM
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49: Of course they can; they are armed. Whether they may do so legally is another thing entirely. IMX, it is never wise to stand up for one's constitutional right to assemble in the face of bullies with guns who are clearly spoiling for a fight.


Posted by: DominEditrix | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:02 PM
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I don't know why there are personal essays on love in the NYT, or any major newspaper, in the first place.

I consider it substantial progress that these sections of the paper are no longer literally called the women's pages. Who says 30 years don't bring us forward motion?


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:03 PM
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My roommate in college and I used to read romance novels aloud to each other. Our favorite was The Practice Husband. Like all the novels we read that year, it featured a young woman who had made it to 35 or so without ever having been kissed, onaccounta her having never lost those 20 pounds that had plagued her. But after a year working in Africa feeding malnourished infants, she has become the most beautiful woman in the world, though she is still cripplingly self-loathing! Upon returning to the States, she runs into the only guy in junior high who didn't actively mock her huge ass, and he vows to coach her into confidence in the ways of love. She spends the rest of the book trying to figure out how to stop thinking about her hideous stretch marks long enough to have orgasms.

A++ Would read again.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:04 PM
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63: Franzen and Smith are lame, self-absorbed, self-consciously "writerly" writers who use an overwrought metaphor-laden style so that their readers can be satisfied they're getting their money's worth of capital-L Literature. Modern Love brings the same aesthetic to romantic memoir.

Fashionable though it may be to rip on the Fashionable Novelist of the Moment, it's pretty hard to see how an honest reading of anything by Zadie Smith could put it in the same aesthetic class as a Modern Love column, sorry. Even if one were to grant that either Smith or Franzen are "lame," "self-conscious" or "self-absorbed" in anything close to the same degree, just purely on technical grounds you're going to have trouble getting readers to agree that there's any real comparison to be made.

(Some of Smith's work tends to grate on me, it's true, but not because she's a technically poor writer or even because she's necessarily "self-absorbed" -- a pretty hard charge to sustain WRT, say, White Teeth -- far from it. I tend to feel that a lot of Smith- or Franzen- or Eggers-haters try way too hard to pass off what turn out to be ideological disagreements with the writer as strictly aesthetic objections, perhaps out of a sense that ideological objections seem somehow more petty.)


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:04 PM
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49: If you want to get yourself outraged at terrible invasions of privacy and sanctity of home and person, read Radley Balko. The Reason blog has about a story a week (more?) spotlighting truly horrific conduct.

Meantime, the new police commissioner in my own city spoke out sharply at a community meeting when someone referred to three shootings by police as "murders." I know why he did that, but it doesn't inspire confidence that the police are doing as much training as humanly possible to de-escalate and avoid violent confrontation.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:07 PM
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The romance novels I was talking about aren't the bodice-rippers, but the Harlequin romances: they do not contain anything close to actual sex. At most a rather chaste kiss and some heavy breathing. No self-diddling is invited.

I think that in these cases, there is at least metaphorical diddling invited. Pleasure yourself with this pleasurable narrative! It soothes and refreshes. (The narratives you describe don't soothe me, but I'm not above reading things that comfort, instead of challenging.) And I wouldn't discount the plausibility of literal diddling over things that are chaste on the page. This is not to say that I wouldn't loathe these examples of the particular sub-genre that you're talking about -- but I still find the basic appeal of the romance far more accessible than any actual Modern Love.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:08 PM
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62: Since we're talking about newspapers, this may be the right time to say that the new publisher of the Washington Post is Katharine Weymouth, 41: Lally Weymouth's daughter, Donald Graham's niece (and also Tina Weymouth's), already a teenager when her mom was ill-advisedly allowing George Will to screw his way into a fulltime job, but a mere child when her mom was messing with Alexander Cockburn.

This is probably a good thing. How could anyone be worse than Donald Graham?

NOTE: Note that I have cast no aspersions on Katherine's character. But Lally Weymouth is someone to whom aspersions just naturally gravitate, and to forbid aspersions on Lally is virtually to forbid aspersions as such.

(Thanks to my anonymous informant, who may identify him or herself if he or she wishes).


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:08 PM
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My heart bleeds for the poor NYT interns who are going to have to read though all of those submissions to the essay contest. Can you even imagine the crapitude of that collection? I bet you could make a whole book worth of howlers from them.

Maybe someone from the NYT IT department will program them a nice algorithm to filter out the worst stuff.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:09 PM
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65: Rather, they are weighed down by millions of weak and conflicting similes!

In our last go-round about Franzen I wasn't able to see how this was so; ISTR in the end what you most objected to was one of his depictions of academic life, which seemed inaccurate to you. I have a couple of Smith book kicking around here, too, and I don't see how this is a supportable objection for them either.

77: the Harlequin romances: they do not contain anything close to actual sex

Um. I pretty much agree with you except, I read one of my girlfriends' Harlequins the other day and this is so not true.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:09 PM
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My objections to Franzen are seriously aesthetic. Smith I haven't read, and Eggers HWoST I found rather compelling, with lots of funny/sad moments in it. The sad thing about Eggers is that nothing he's written since is as good, and he's been imitated so widely and badly that even HWoST is remembered as terrible. It's not flawless, but it is often very well-written.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:10 PM
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The fuckin' alarm bells of anxiety, man. To me they're as self-evidently terrible as they seem to be self-evidently lovely to others. (They are a weak metaphor rather than a weak simile, though.)


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:11 PM
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I masturbate to Modern Love, obviously, but I hate myself for it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:11 PM
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In our jaded, cynical age, the very existence of love is news.

In the last analysis, man almost never bites dog. It's just a figure of speech. Likewise, 99.9% of the romance in the world is fiction, even though the characters don't always know it at the time.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katharine_Weymouth


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:12 PM
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(That is, I could tolerate an inaccurate depiction of my profession if the prose didn't make me want to stab myself in the throat.)


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:12 PM
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I am in the same boat as 90, though I did read White Teeth and found it engaging if not deeply compelling.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:13 PM
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I enjoyed The Corrections more than the average Modern Love column, but that's not saying much. It's a fine line between playing around with the language and needing to get over yourself.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:13 PM
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My objection to Franzen is the same as AWB's. The man is an abominable sentence writer.


Posted by: Sybil Vane | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:15 PM
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RFTS gets it right in 86.

And to 89: Dude, there are as many different types of romance novels as there are, say, newspapers. Mills & Boone (parent company of Harlequin and I think Silhouette that AWB mentioned above) alone publishes like 10 different brands in English, and more in other languages. There are old-fashioned regency romances, mystery-flavored romantic suspense...on and on.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:16 PM
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84: Well, my point was more similarity of style than exactly the same quality. But the only Zadie Smith book I've read was the terrible "On Beauty", which is certainly no more entertaining or illuminating than a typical ML column. On the other hand, I've heard that "White Teeth" was good.

Franzen actually is a pretty solid essayist. The Corrections had its moments -- he can get you turning pages in the more gossippy parts -- but was pretty mediocre overall.

But I only singled out those authors because you mentioned them. There's a particular style that's self-consciously literary/yet at the same time popular (aiming for best-sellerdom and a book prize) that encompasses lots of authors and is reminiscent of ML. ML is clearly ambitious to be something more than just stories.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:16 PM
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Post-racial underwater romances, atonal structuralist romances, unpunctuated historical romances starring only tiny dogs, slashfic inspired Welcome Back Kotter romances in fifty part series, you name it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:17 PM
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I have a Chinese translation of a Barbara Dawson Smith XXXX romance novel, and the translations of the descriptions of sex acts and organs are incredibly flowery. Jade staff, lotus blossom, etc.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:18 PM
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Sifu knows what I'm talking about.

I saw Zadie Smith speak (and read from her work), but I've never actually read any of it. I admit that this is due to my biases against fiction featuring academics. Well, and a little bit because I didn't like her reading.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:20 PM
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The funny thing about all the Franzen-bashing is that I used to kind of passively agree with it... before I really read Franzen at any length. I don't think he's the second coming of Dostoevksky or anything, but it's like... man, people need the effectiveness of "the alarm bells of anxiety" as a metaphor explained to them? No way.

However, comity with 90 WRT Eggers.

98.2: I know, I meant actual Harlequins, as in the Harlequin imprint. I guess maybe "Harlequin" has crept into the language as a broader signifier, now.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:20 PM
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100: unpunctuated historical romances starring only tiny dogs

Don't go stealing my ideas, muthaphucka.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:21 PM
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man, people need the effectiveness of "the alarm bells of anxiety" as a metaphor explained to them? No way.

Quite the contrary -- it's such an old, well-established metaphor that it needs either a very fresh twist or no explanation at all. Instead we get Franzen ringing the changes on it for sentence after sentence, to little cumulative effect beyond empurpling his prose.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:23 PM
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I'm not sure whether my trouble with Franzen reflects badly on his writing, or me. Too many years of philosophy writing has left me impatient for writers to get to the point. Yes, yes. It's an armchair. I get it. One armchair, duly noted. Undetached cushions. Let's move along.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:24 PM
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the miniscule terrier barked arf arf but what she really meant was take me my beautiful turgid chihuahua bury your mini churro in my most delicate petunia and we will howl howl at the moon as one dog and all dogs and we will be joined in tininess and we will have doggy style like no dogs have had doggy style before as fragile and delicate as miniature teacups my husky latin darling


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:25 PM
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I agree with 90 too.

Harlequin has different imprints -- some of them (like "Blaze") are good softcore porn:

http://www.eharlequin.com/store.html?vcid=32

Has anybody checked out the African-American niche romance market? Some big authors in that area, like Zane, are also doing softcore porn.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:26 PM
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From the link in 108:

Who are they to argue with biology?

Subject A, photojournalist Ian Cole, is sent to ghostwrite a book on sex in various cultures. Instead of finding a white-haired professor, he is greeted by Subject B, anthropologist Ava Simms, wearing only a teeny loincloth and body paint....

Observations...

Sexual energy between subjects increases exponentially. Note the male's quickened breathing and barely restrained urge to do lusty and inappropriate things.

The female, in turn, decides to demonstrate her extensive knowledge of seduction, play and ritual...claiming it's "research." The results? Neither Subject A nor B want the study to end....




Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:28 PM
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Zane

A good contender for most-often-stolen library author, btw.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:29 PM
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I think my particular bitterness about Franzen is that he seems to me to be the first of a string of bad prose writers writing cliché, ill-depicted narratives about things they assume everyone sees everywhere who nevertheless receive accolades from critics and readers as if they heralded a new era of aesthetic possibility. And that response has, I think, killed the better impulses of some previously very good writers like Eggers and Lethem, who were once experimental-but-accessible and are now digging deeper and deeper into the same old hoary field of unsurprising locution, shopworn plot devices, maudlin pseudo-introspection, and memoiry masturbation.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:31 PM
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Did you read What is the What, AWB?


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:32 PM
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111 is making me concerned about that Lethem book I haven't read yet.

Michael Chabon of course has taken the opposite tack, striking out boldly into the underexplored jews with swords genre.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:33 PM
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I nominate AWB for Literature Commissar after the Unfogged Revolution.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:34 PM
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112: No, I didn't. I got irritated by that awful You Shall Know Our Velocity, couldn't even get twenty pages in, and gave up on Eggers in despair. Is it good? I wouldn't mind reading it if it's good.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:35 PM
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105: it's such an old, well-established metaphor that it needs either a very fresh twist or no explanation at all.

I think the trick of extending it (almost to the point of absurdity) actually does constitute a twist, or enough of one to be interesting. Though, okay, I guess I can understand why it utterly enrages some people, and there are days when I prefer the Hemingway approach myself.

108: I know, I was talking about the basic "Harlequin Romance" imprint. If the "Blaze" imprint is more explicit, it doesn't have much more explicit to get.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:35 PM
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(There's a Harlequin NASCAR imprint?! I did not know that. I did not want to know that.)


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:38 PM
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99: My wife adored White Teeth and was sorely let down by On Beauty. FWIW.

Would this be a good time to mention that I think DeLillo is an overrated wanker?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:39 PM
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I also hate DeLillo, but I rarely say that because then people ask if I've read Underworld, which has been sitting on my shelf since it came out. NO I HAVEN'T OKAY?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:40 PM
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A good contender for most-often-stolen library author, btw.

Likewise when I worked at Barnes & Noble. We would only sporadically put security tags in most books, but high-value items, manga, and anything by Zane had every copy tagged.


Posted by: Matt F | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:41 PM
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107: "turgid" S/B "tumid".


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:41 PM
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Man, I'm still so happy with Junot Diaz that I can't even think of anything bad to say about the rest of these hacks.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:41 PM
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God, overall about the ML column, leaving aside the writing quality, I just don't like reading the concerns people who are generally very little like me have about their relationships. This is why I assume the readership is some people out there somewhere. If I want to read about relationship difficulties that make any sense to me, I'll read Anais Nin or Lawrence Durrell or something. Not about whether your and his furniture match.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:42 PM
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115: I don't know. I read the first chapter. The material is so heartwrenching (it's a barely-fictionalized memoir of one of the Lost Boys of the Sudan) that I was pretty sure nightmares were around the corner. I may yet go back to it.

I will say that it seemed less arch and youthful to me than A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius -- like, maybe he's grown up a bit. In a good way.

It is very, very wordy though, and the rhythms are a blend of American literary writing and Africans-in-America. I know you have West African students -- do you have any from the Sudan as well?


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:42 PM
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121: either one works, Mr. Poopy. I stand by my prose!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:42 PM
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You all know that hating on Delillo is a standard option.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:44 PM
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121 "tumid" s/b "tumescent"


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:45 PM
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124: No, I don't think I've ever had a Sudanese student. Lots of West and North Africans, as well as a few Kenyans and South Africans, but never Sudanese.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:46 PM
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120: Oooh, that's interesting. Who else did you tag? Chuck Palahniuk? E. Lynn Harris? (I hope not.)


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:48 PM
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This article is a train wreck: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200803/single-marry


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:49 PM
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130: ZOMG.

And all I can say is, if you say you're not worried, either you're in denial or you're lying. In fact, take a good look in the mirror and try to convince yourself that you're not worried, because you'll see how silly your face looks when you're being disingenuous.

STABSTABSTAB


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:51 PM
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130: I liked that article. Maybe because I'm single and occasionally have to listen to women go on about how they'll "never settle!". Get over yourself, babe. (Never settle as a general principle, not never settle for me -- the latter would be understandable enough).

If I want to read about relationship difficulties that make any sense to me, I'll read Anais Nin

Anais Nin speaks to your relationship difficulties? Damn, Parsimon, I would not have guessed that. Of course my major exposure to Nin was finding an old copy of "Delta of Venus" at an impressionable adolescent age. She was kind of my Zane.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:53 PM
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Pandagon was good on that Atlantic article:

It reads exactly like one of those women who got an abortion and regrets it and wants to deny you that choice. That level of delusion about how sure you are that the path not taken was the superior one.

Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:55 PM
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That article is so awful I had to double check that it wasn't on Slate.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:57 PM
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have to listen to women go on about how they'll "never settle!". Get over yourself, babe.

Settling when you're talking about marriage is a stupid ass thing to do.

Now, that article is stupid too, because it assumes that realizing that marriage isn't all about finding a "soul mate" with whom you'll have perpetual lasting Romantic Love forever and ever amounts to "settling." No, that amounts to being realistic and not getting your ideas about relationships from bad movies and novels.

But that said, hell no you shouldn't settle. You should know what your bottom line is, what you can and can't live with, and if you can't find someone who you can live with, then you should sure as shit stay single.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 3:59 PM
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Actually, looked again at the Atlantic article, and the thing I disagreed with was the section where it implies that "settling" is not an issue for men. I think that's completely wrong. Particularly if you want to have kids, the issues for men and women are quite similar. Describing it as a womens' issue brings in that misogynistic overtone of warning that women will get their come-uppance for being all hard to get once they turn 40, etc.

It's not a man/woman issue; it's about the kind of expectations we have for romance and the way they conflict with the realities of managing having kids, running a household, etc.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:00 PM
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But she's not talking about "settling"; she's actually talking about changing one's search criteria, which is reasonable. If your number one goal is to have a long-term stable marriage, you should probably be looking for someone dependable and nice who you can stand to be around. This isn't rocket science.

She makes it sound, at the beginning, like she's talking to single women who are invested in their careers, as if the reason we're not all paired off is that we're too shallow for balding guys with "unfortunate noses."


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:00 PM
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PGD, I was referring more to Nin's Ladders to Fire series. I read her diaries before that, and they may have informed my reading of the fiction. Delta of Venus is kind of a one-off and I don't remember it very well. But Durrell, the Alexandria Quartet, is more apposite.

Why any of this should surprise you I don't know.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:01 PM
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we're too shallow for balding guys with "unfortunate noses."

I have an unfortunate nose but I'm not balding.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:03 PM
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If you can't find someone who you can live with, then You should sure as shit stay single. Fixed.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:05 PM
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That article either sets up a straw person, or I have an entirely different frame of reference than the author. In my world people struggle to decide whether they want to commit to someone who doesn't want children (when they do), or someone who is comfortable living at a severely reduced economic level (like, no car and no health insurance). They aren't frivolously overlooking people who happen to be a little be shorter than the norm.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:06 PM
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You're whacked, JRoth. White Noise remains the great post-Confederacy of Dunces comic novel.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:06 PM
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It's amazing that The Atlantic found someone who has the exact same writing style, opinions and view of her own sex and the opposite sex as Caitlin Flanagan, but can write from the non-happily-married point of view. I submit that that article was written by Flanagan under a pseudonym.

Also, since her intended purpose is actually changing women's minds, I guess it's appropriate to constantly presume that women are the only people who find themselves having to "settle" for inadequate partners. Your basic flattery in the form of what seems like self-pity but contains even more pity for the loathsome men who hilariously find themselves not snapped up at the age of 40.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:08 PM
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Yeah, I think DeLillo gets a bum rap because he was the first exponent of a style that was later screwed up by other authors. But some of his stuff is really good.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:08 PM
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I'm balding but my nose is fine. And for the right taker, I'll fake a taste for DeLillo!

Sorry, competitive desperation got the best of me.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:09 PM
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142 amended - Of Charles Portis's work, I've read only Masters of Atlantis, so maybe Dog of the South is the great comic novel of the '80s.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:09 PM
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141: I dunno. I know a lot of people who stay in relationships that make them dreadfully unhappy, but I also know tons of men and women who complain constantly about being single but are only interested in one kind of body, one kind of income, one kind of education, one kind of fashion sense, etc.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:10 PM
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B gets it exactly right in 135. The article seems to have some fucked up ideas of what it means to 'settle'.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:11 PM
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Advances for Modern Love–based books are as high as $75K? Insane. If publishers base advances on anything other than a toss at a dart board, I'd be surprised. A writer from here got (according to mutual friends) $200K for the worst novel I've ever read, and a guy I know from school got $2 million for a two-book deal including a first novel that didn't sell especially well (haven't read it, have no idea if it's any good).


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:11 PM
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Actually, and I've only skimmed the early parts of the article, it makes finding a life partner sound like buying a home. The premise is that you do indeed want a husband ("and, by extension, a child"), like, more than anything! Of course, if setting up a traditional family (with child) is not your priority, the article presumably goes out the window.

(And I don't like being told that if I look in the mirror, I'll see that I'm lying.)


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:13 PM
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The guy from your school has a terrible mustache, Jesus.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:13 PM
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Don't you have to pay back the advance if the book doesn't sell? That could be awkward.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:15 PM
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149: Dahlquist's book was entertaining, but it's unlikely to be the next Baroque Cycle, which may have been the publisher's hope.

I am waiting for the ML column about dating a compulsive memoirist. One of Gottlieb's exes could write one.


Posted by: Amber | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:15 PM
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From the "Key Phrases" that Amazon provides, and the first sentence of the novel which is also provided on that page, I'm inclined to agree.:
"FOOTSTEPS ON THE forest floor made a noise like paper crumpling in a child's fist..." (more)

Just a child's fist? How would the sound differ if it was an adult fist? That's enough out of you.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:15 PM
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142: White Noise was precisely what I read*. Eh. I found the little stream-of-consciousness bits that were supposed (I assume) to evoke white noise to be unbearably precious and _obvious_.

It had some nice passages and some well-observed bits, but no more so than a lot of stuff that no one pretends is genius.

I'm actually a pretty big Chabon fan. Even when I can see what he's trying to do - i.e., when his Literary Style is showing - I still buy the premise and the characters. With DeLillo, it's more like you can occasionally spot characters in the shadows of his Style.

* Also a short piece or two and the lengthy excerpt from Underworld that ran in the New Yorker 10 years ago, which itself was sufficient to guarantee that I wouldn't voluntarily pick up the book itself.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:16 PM
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Don't you have to pay back the advance if the book doesn't sell?

Not generally, no.


Posted by: Matt F | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:17 PM
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The guy from your school has a terrible mustache, Jesus.

Hmmm, if I want to read an ambitious historical sci-fi novel, I'm encouraged if the author looks like an anachronistic fop. It makes it unlikely that he is a generic guy just trying to be trendy.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:18 PM
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There's a difference between 'settling' and 'growing up.' The latter is just rethinking one's fantasy, and entails getting to know oneself and what one really wants out of life. (Being married to the handsome young doctor sounds great until you realize he'll be working 100 hours weeks, have no time for you or your family, and won't have the chiseled abs you see on TV because he's too tired to work out.) The former is holding onto it and thinking 'oh, you'll do' about your eventual spouse.

The author is sympathetic when she seems to talk about the latter, but she keeps venturing into Bizarro World where all the women where stilettos, drink fashionable cocktails with their girlfriends, and pick their dates based on some superficial quality like his dreamy eyes, but then settle for the lovable loser with the balding head and the unfortunate nose. I don't think I know anyone like that. I've heard they exist, but I suspect they live out there in the straw with the ball-busting feminist dominatrices.

Most everyone I know just has a point where their search criteria expand or adjust based on what they know about themselves.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:18 PM
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It depends on the particular contract, though.


Posted by: Matt F | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:18 PM
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147: Okay, maybe it's aimed at those incredibly shallow people, because ending up with "someone you respect intellectually, makes you laugh, appreciates you", when "you enjoy his company more than anyone else's" doesn't sound like 'settling' to me.

The part where she advocates marrying questionably straight guys is just ludicrous, though.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:18 PM
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The part where she advocates marrying questionably straight guys is just ludicrous, though.

Also, I doubt that she's had such a consistent record of conversations that go:
"I hate my husband, we have nothing in common and hate each other."
"O RLY? Would you rather have no husband at all?"
"No no no! Anything but being like you!"


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:20 PM
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The trouble with that mustache is it makes him a dead ringer for Herbert Kornfeld.


Posted by: Amber | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:20 PM
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Yeah, has anyone actually followed Lori Gottleib's career? She's kind of hilarious -- compulsively indecisive, constantly changing her mind about what she wants to do and how she wants to live, and then writes some kind of confessional article/memoir about each stage. What I like about her is that she never pretties anything up, just presents herself as the wildly energetic but frankly pretty weird stressball that she is. I was fond of this article because it was the latest bulletin from her mixed-up but entertaining life. Plus, it's saying that all her endless indecision was sort of pointless in the end anyway, which I found charming.

150: one of the sub-themes in the article is that you shouldn't search for a soulmate because men are fundamentally sort of boring and won't stay interesting for any length of time anyway, but damn it's really useful to have someone to share the bills and help take care of the kids.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:22 PM
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She seems not to take divorce figures into account at all. Lots of people get divorced, and she acts like no sane person ever would.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:23 PM
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151: I take no responsibility for the mustache. He was always kind of a natty dresser, though. Slightly foppish, but he pulled it off.

154: I reviewed it, so I had to read the whole thing. Painful. Not only was that a representative sentence, but the main character's name was Cookie; imagine encountering that name three or four times per page for 350 pages.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:23 PM
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159: I am enjoying reading this as if it were about marriage, rather than book contracts.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:24 PM
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You're whacked, JRoth. White Noise remains the great post-Confederacy of Dunces comic novel.

But CoD isn't very good! Only the knowledge that Gaddis thought well of it could make me return to it.

And AWB, when the editor was going a Q&A about Modern Love I asked him if the title came from the Meredith. No: Bowie.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:24 PM
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167: You have shared this factoid with me before and I was equally horrified then. Had the editor heard of Meredith?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:27 PM
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But CoD isn't very good!

I'm glad somebody said it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:27 PM
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I'll plunge in again. I think that some people intrinsically want to be with someone more than others do. If you very strongly prefer to be with someone than not, and if you also happen not to be a great prize on the marriage market by normal standards, you're well advised to lower your own standards. On the other hand, if you are acutely aware of the advantages of being alone and not with someone, it makes perfect sense for you to raise your standards as high as you want. An economist could draw supply and demand graphs for this shit.

If you really feel much happier with someone than not, only if you yourself are a real prize can you afford to be picky. And frankly, "being a real prize" is pretty objective: pleasant personality, financially viable, conventionally attractive, tale nted, interesting, no baggage or bad habits. Everyone knows where they're deficient.

The happily related people I've known have mostly been people a.) viable people with no major problems who b.) would much rather be with someone than not. But a consequence of this is they're relatively indulgent and uncritical. You can call that "settling" if you want.

The perfect life is a well-paying, stimulating, socially-useful, not too demanding job, a house in a pleasant place to live, a happy relationship with an attractive, pleasant, sexy person, plus wonderful kids going to good schools.

My guess is that about 3% of the population gets that, so you have to settle somewhere. I don't object to the abstract goal, that's just a description of the ideal good life, but I object to people setting a high minimum standard and then wondering why they're single.

In my case I figured out some time ago that I was objectively a 6 or a 7 looking for a 10, and also that one reason why my standards were so high was that I need a lot of solitude and am reluctant to concede control.

I grumble too, of course, because I didn't get the perfect life. but mostly I just proselytize for singleness.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:27 PM
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142, 155: At different times of my life I would have agreed with both JRoth & snarkout about DeLillo with whom I have had a love/hate/mature respect relationship. I was quite taken with his first, Americana, way back in the day and read everything of his until being mortally wounded by Ratner's Star (gadzooks!) although I staggered on until being finally dispatched by Running Dog. I made a simple vow never to read another by him, but some of Bérubé's writing on White Noise and Underworld convinced me to plunge into those two. I just finished them and found them both quite enjoyable in their way. He is a bit of a pretentious dick (newsflash there... not), but the I would recommend the sequence to anyone.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:28 PM
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She seems not to take divorce figures into account at all.

She addresses it a bit:

Even women who settle but end up divorced might be in a better position than those of us who became mothers on our own, because many ex-wives get both child-support payments and a free night off when the kids go to Dad's house for a sleepover. Never-married moms don't get the night off.


Posted by: Matt F | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:28 PM
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OT: Obama leads Clinton in Maine, beats her husband at the Grammys. Is there anything that silver-tongued devil can't do?


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:28 PM
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There's a difference between 'settling' and 'growing up.' The latter is just rethinking one's fantasy, and entails getting to know oneself and what one really wants out of life.... The former is holding onto it and thinking 'oh, you'll do' about your eventual spouse.

Exactly. What generally annoys me about people who go on and on about never settling is that they're usually holding on to fantasies, not taking a clear look at what they need and pinning all their romantic frustrations on the failures of their exes.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:30 PM
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172: I'm thinking she's just finding single motherhood hard is projecting how wonderful it is to be able to have a built-in babysitter. Which doesn't line up with reality, but whatever.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:31 PM
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With my nonworking life consumed by thoughts of potty training and playdates, I've become a far less interesting person than the one who went on hiking adventures and performed at comedy clubs.

Do not like this definition of "interesting."


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:31 PM
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170 gets it exactly right.

Exactly. What generally annoys me about people who go on and on about never settling is that they're usually holding on to fantasies, not taking a clear look at what they need and pinning all their romantic frustrations on the failures of their exes.

These people are not so bad off if they have no problem being alone.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:31 PM
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they're usually holding on to fantasies

If you hold out for a knight in shining armor, eventually you'll find yourself married to a LARPer.


Posted by: Matt F | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:35 PM
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(Of the DeLillo I've read Ratner's Star struck me as clearly the worst, though I haven't read his 9/11 tome which I expect is nigh unreadable.)

That little exile.ru piece was a nice reminder of just how bad I thought The Corrections was, and how deeply loathsome all its female characters were. (I think the exile reviewer was too nice about the depiction of Enid, and the lesbian chef sister was so deeply a male fantasy of Cool Chickhood she might as well have been replaced by Molly from Neuromancer.) When people who write for the same publication as "War Nerd" find your attitude towards women troubling, it's time to fess up and start writing Gor novels.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:35 PM
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167: I asked him if the title came from the Meredith. No: Bowie.

Makes sense. The Meredith poem is about enduring loveless marriage, right? Whereas the Bowie song is about... whatever it's about. Having the power to charm, and being terrified of getting to the church on time, or something.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:36 PM
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At our marriage prep class, everyone had to say what they liked about their partner, and shivbunny and I gave honest responses that in retrospect made him sound like an escapee from rehab yet stable source of comfort and me like a crazy person who was a saint for putting up with him.

We should have had better answers prepared, I guess. I like his sense of humor and he likes my kindness to small animals, children & other living things. And distribution costs.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:37 PM
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167, 169: But CoD isn't very good!

Your mileage may vary of course. One of my most favoritest things about the Internet is the way people state their opinions in a manner designed to lead to the most productive discussions. That said, I found it to be a pretty damn funny book.

I did notice that CoD had not been purged from your shelves, Ben. (And I guess it follows that the Célines and Goreys should not lead me to presume anything as to your opinion of those two fellows.)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:39 PM
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There is no solution to this problem, or we'd have found one by now. No one will ever be made permanently "happy" by being single, any more than anyone is made permanently "happy" by being in a relationship. I happen to be someone who finds the kind of despair engendered by relationships to be generally more annoying than the kinds of despair produced by being single. But I can't seem to manage to hold onto one or the other state indefinitely, because what is wanted is some variety in the kind of despair I inflict myself with. Plus, there is the libido problem. If it weren't for that, and the bitterness I often feel about not having someone to cook for, I'd be much happier being single all the time.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:39 PM
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178: It's valuable to puncture the fantasy before you get too attached to it.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:39 PM
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160 gets it right.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:40 PM
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(I think the exile reviewer was too nice about the depiction of Enid, and the lesbian chef sister was so deeply a male fantasy of Cool Chickhood she might as well have been replaced by Molly from Neuromancer.)

Is Juno now the world's most perfect example of the Cool Chick? And does that mean that that figure is now an aspirational figure for girls as well as a fantasy figure for boys?


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:42 PM
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I am waiting for the ML column about dating a compulsive memoirist.

That would be brilliant. I once dated a journalist who wrote a lot of Style-page stuff about romance. It was terrifying. Especially after our dramatic breakup.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:42 PM
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183: Meals on Wheels or something?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:42 PM
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she might as well have been replaced by Molly from Neuromancer

That would have been fresh. ENID is an AI, St. Jude is Zion I: now you're talking.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:43 PM
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188: They don't let you fuck the recipients, do they?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:44 PM
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If only Meals on Wheels could be combined with the Fuck Truck.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:45 PM
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186 nails perfectly what I hated about that movie.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:46 PM
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To anwer AWB's question, his answer gave no indication one way or the other that he knew about Meredith. I haven't read Meredith's whole cycle, but the very first of them would actually fit thematically with much of what does get published in the column (it would be much better, though).

I did notice that CoD had not been purged from your shelves, Ben. (And I guess it follows that the Célines and Goreys should not lead me to presume anything as to your opinion of those two fellows.)

It takes a lot to get me to get rid of a book. I sort of resent CoD because after I read it it was very difficult not to use the word "abortion" in a way that would probably have been unwise. I've only read one of the Célines but I liked it a lot, and of course I adore Gorey.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:47 PM
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179: it's time to fess up and start writing Gor novels.

Yeah, I'm not on the same page as Dolan but I think he pretty much has Franzen's number WRT to the laydeez. (Hmmm, Franzen's prose style would make for a genuinely funny Gor novel, actually.)


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:47 PM
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190: Dinner and a Quickie.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:47 PM
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Meals & Squeals.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:48 PM
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192: 186 nails perfectly what I hated about that movie.

You hate that she's a fantasy figure for both sexes? Why?


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:48 PM
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Wait! I'm not sure how Meals on Wheels operates, but are the recipients usually expected to provide anything in exchange for their Meals? How centralized are the rules? Could certain locations adopt an "ass, gas or grass" policy?


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:49 PM
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193: That's exactly why I thought it was a ref to Meredith---his sad, contemplative poems, in which he self-incriminates without really feeling guilt, remind me of a sort of literary analogue to the ML stuff.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:49 PM
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the bitterness I often feel about not having someone to cook for

Damn, wish you lived in DC. I'd totally buy the wine and do all the cleaning.

Speaking of libido and cooking -- I once had a g-friend who was a fantastic, gourmet-restaurant quality cook and great to the point of being surreal in bed. We weren't that compatible intellectually or in certain emotional ways, but the older I get the more I think that I was a fool to give up the two greatest sensual pleasures of life over airy abstract concerns. We could have made it work.

I'm thinking she's just finding single motherhood hard and projecting how wonderful it is to be able to have a built-in babysitter.

That was the essence of the article to me.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:51 PM
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197: that she was transparently a subject of wish fulfillment on the part of the screenwriting as opposed to being an actual fully realized character like everybody else in the movie was.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:51 PM
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199: his sad, contemplative poems, in which he self-incriminates without really feeling guilt,

I am not of those miserable males
Who sniff at vice, and, daring not to snap,
Do therefore hope for heaven. I take the hap
Of all my deeds. The wind that fills my sails,
Propels; but I am helmsman. Am I wrecked,
I know the devil has sufficient weight
To bear: I lay it not on him, or fate.
Besides, he's damned. That man I do suspect
A coward, who would burden the poor deuce
With what ensues from his own slipperiness.
I have just found a wanton-scented tress
In an old desk, dusty for lack of use.
Of days and nights it is demonstrative,
That, like some aged star, gleam luridly.
If for those times I must ask charity,
Have I not any charity to give?


Posted by: George Meredith's Modern Love XX | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:53 PM
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201: as opposed to being an actual fully realized character like everybody else in the movie was.

Because everyone else in the movie was realistic? Isn't the whole thing basically a fable?


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 4:55 PM
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I just didn't buy her character, DS. And you can't talk me out of it!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:00 PM
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I sometimes wonder if basically anyone could learn to be happy in a relationship with anyone else as long as they had roughly the same tolerance threshold for being spoken to and physically touched. And yet, there's no category for this on any dating sites! But what do people gripe about most often about their partners? She just natters on about nothing, or he is always stroking her leg while she's trying to read, or she wants sex at annoying times, or he just grunts instead of responding in sentences.

I will set up a dating site with a long questionnaire about touching/talking tolerance levels instead of personality types and I will make a bazillion dollars.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:07 PM
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My tolerance level for being spoken to and being physically touched varies radically depending on who is doing the talking and touching.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:08 PM
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Speaking of movies, has anyone seen any of the romantic comedies listed at Digby's? I'm partial to Next Stop Wonderland, myself.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:08 PM
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I will set up a dating site with a long questionnaire about touching/talking tolerance levels instead of personality types and I will make a bazillion dollars.

I don't think you could get that by a questionnaire. People are unaware of their own tendencies in these matters. You have to go out on sample dates with everyone and have some sort of recording done to quantify their behavior.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:09 PM
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205: I'm pretty sure my tolerance for those things is different with different people.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:10 PM
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Question about Delillo for the literary types. I thought White Noise was good at the start, but by 3/4 of the way in, I wanted the author to stop whining about how he was going to die and just kill himself already. I assumed this was utterly serious, since that seemed to fit the subject matter, which severly diminished its worth in my eyes. Reading 142, however, it occurs to me that maybe I missed the point, and the whining about death is supposed to be ironic. Then again, also re 142, I had almost the identical reaction to Confederacy, that is, amusing at first, but by the end of the novel I had gotten the point and it wasn't laugh out loud funny enough to justify continuing.

Am I ignorant?


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:11 PM
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204: You probably hate ponies, too. Pony-hater.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:11 PM
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207: Sherman's March! I thought I was the only one who had ever seen that movie!

The romance on the small island with the ex-philosophy grad student who now milks cows is great. But so much of that movie is excellent.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:12 PM
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202: Poetry is for geeks. (Translation: 202 is great.)


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:12 PM
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But couldn't you have questions like, "In my last relationship, I often found my partner to be unresponsive to affection. Strongly Disagree / Disagree / Not Sure / Agree / Strongly Agree" or "I would like to come home from work and talk to my partner about the events of my day. &c."?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:12 PM
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My tolerance level for being spoken to and being physically touched varies radically depending on who is doing the talking and touching.

SO SERIOUSLY. I am in some circumstances super touchy-feely cuddly, but often my personal space is enormous, and an unwanted touch is enough to make me want to fling the other person across the room while shouting "UNHAND ME YOU FIEND!"


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:13 PM
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214: yeah, I do think there's a general personality tendency to want more interaction / affection / attention vs. less. I think people know this about themselves and pay attention to it in the initial stages.

But it's amazing how it can vary. Being beseiged by a person who loves you a lot more than you love them can make you real standoffish, real quick, even if you're normally all touchy-feely.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:16 PM
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I used to get really freaked out by all the references to Caitlin Flanagan, because I went to 1st/2nd grade and then later 6th-8th grade with someone named Caitlin Flanagan, and I was afraid that it was the same person, but I didn't grow up in Berkeley. So I guess it's not her, and I think that she took her husband's name when she got married. (Not wanting to be confused with that Caitlin Flanagan might be a very solid reason for changing one's name. It could even be perversely feminist.)


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:18 PM
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216: And the reverse. You can be a person who doesn't like a lot of invasion-of-personal-space and then, in the right relationship, it doesn't feel like an invasion.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:19 PM
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215: at which point they disappear in flash of sulphurous flame, muttering dark curses in an unknown tongue.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:20 PM
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215, 216 are true, I guess. There are things that are totally 100% fine when some people do them, and another person, in that identical situation, would get thrown out a window for attempting it. On the other hand, there are some things people can either imagine liking or not under any circumstances. I, for example, would become violently ill if forced to cuddle on a couch and read with someone, but I know people for whom this is the very definition of relationship bliss.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:20 PM
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What about cuddling on a couch while being violently ill? Would that be okay?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:22 PM
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221: relationship bliss for a small subset of the first group.


Posted by: William McKinley | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:23 PM
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This all seems to come back to one of my central concerns about "normal" straight people's dating proclivities: How the hell do you tell the difference?

The people I know at work -- some of them have bachelor's degrees (and not all in Finance, either), some are HS grads; some are urban, some rural, some suburban; some are religious, others not; some like football, others hockey; but by and large they're virtually interchangeable. How do you make a choice then, other than spin Fortuna's wheel and marry whoever you happen to be dating when you graduate college? It often seems to me that this must be the reason why infidelity is so horrifying (and titillating) to so many of them -- "if you're gettin' it somewhere else, what do you need me for?"

Just like with JMPP a year or so ago, this whole narrative just seems geared to lead to unhappiness. If you don't want to be one of the herd, then don't act like you've got nothing better to do than sit around chewing your cud. *Especially* if that cud is the NYRB.

Christ, doesn't anybody have politics anymore?


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:23 PM
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I, for example, would become violently ill if forced to cuddle on a couch and read with someone, but I know people for whom this is the very definition of relationship bliss.

Something of this specificity seems best suited to the 'About me' section of a dating profile, rather than as a general question for everyone.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:24 PM
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100 is nicely Borgesian.

171: I found Americana unreadable, at least in places. It had its moments but I couldn't finish it. I came to it late, though, having liked Libra, White Noise, End Zone. But I think it was with Cosmopolis that I resolved never to read any new DeLillo ever again.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:24 PM
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I read that link about how few MLs have been about or by my queer peeps and I think to myself that maybe we really do have better taste than straight people.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:25 PM
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But then I remember that drag queens exist.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:27 PM
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by and large they're virtually interchangeable

As work colleagues, maybe. As partners for sex, parenting, life in general? That I don't believe.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:27 PM
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220: It would be hard to work into a question, as responding violently to cuddling would be like being against dog rescues, moonlit walks on the beach (thinks me: you might step on a jellyfish!), &c. Something that's no doubt true of a lot of people but that no one ever says.

Around here we recently defined "man-cuddling" which consists of either a) snoring in one's wife ear or b) groping her while c) allegedly snuggling and watching TV.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:28 PM
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Clip from Sherman's March, through the wonders of Youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzLXr2tShGE

"It's hard to be a female prophet".

The movie would probably feel less striking than it did when I first saw it, since the documentary revolution and reality TV have made it a more recognizable genre. But it still stands up.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:29 PM
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I, for example, would become violently ill if forced to cuddle on a couch and read with someone

You mean with anyone, no matter who it was?

Maybe something like that would be better captured in a questionnaire about romantic fantasies or something: like/don't like the idea of cuddling on the couch to watch a movie. like/don't like the idea of cooking together that involves miscellaneous groping in the meantime.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:29 PM
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223's comments about infidelity are spot-on. In a world of 6 billion humans, there is bound to be a lot of redundancy. The only solution is to adopt Seinfeldian levels of nitpicking.

I do think there's a general personality tendency to want more interaction / affection / attention vs. less

Not me. The curve is parabolic; there is an optimum level. Which is my solution to the conundrum above. Anyone who can find that optimum value and be fine with it is a keeper.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:30 PM
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Hie thee all to nunneries and the like.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:31 PM
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232, see this.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:33 PM
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man-cuddling

This is excellent.

As to (b), is it our fault that the female breast is such a comfortable place to rest one's hand?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:35 PM
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228: I'm not saying that there aren't subtle distinctions to be made, and obviously once you get into the world of people who take their religion seriously, that's a whole different ballgame. But as counter-intuitive as this may sound, I think it's all the more true: The "Big Things In Life" really just don't matter that much. Any couple of people are going to have issues with each other, whether it's in bed or about the kids or in-laws or money or whatever. And you can either find ways to resolve those issues to someone's satisfaction, or you can split up (preferably pre-kids of course.) So much of the gnashing and rending I read on this subject just seems trivial. Now, if you find yourself, as a straight woman with some aspirations to feminism, in a relationship with a straight guy who does not share those aspirations, well, then I have a lot of sympathy. But I just don't think most people are as incompatible with one another as they make themselves out to be. Probably all different once you've got a sprog though -- that's why I'm never begetting one of those hostages to fortune.

P.S. I have been semi-violently ill with influenza for the past 4 days, and it is much worse than anything that could be caused by even the most precious cuddling. I really hate being sick.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:36 PM
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This all gets highly particular impressively fast. For example, I find a certain degree of cuddling while watching a movie to be A-OK, even pleasant. Cuddling while reading: unsupportable!


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:38 PM
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Also, there's cuddling where the other person is not breathing on you (generally okay) and cuddling with being breathed on (hell no get off me).


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:39 PM
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Maybe I just had particularly bad luck with my forays into internet dating (blogs don't count!), but I don't think that preferences on a questionnaire can often get to the intricacies of interaction in a way that's going to match us up better.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:39 PM
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237: Me too, rfts! I can stand cuddling during a movie, especially if I'm the cuddler and not the cuddlee, but touching while reading is almost entirely a terrible idea.

235: I've just always hated groping that isn't going anywhere. Seems mean to me.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:40 PM
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minneapolitan always cuts to the chase (in 223).


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:42 PM
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I'm up for all reasonable forms of cuddling myself, which is why AWB and I may never find love! Sigh!

No, seriously, speaking as a Minnesotan, I am thoroughly aware of the problems of personal space and its invasions. But isn't that how you know you're meant to be together? When you can cuddle and then schlup, schlup, schlup into each other?


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:42 PM
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Thanks parsimon, I seize my opportunities and I takes 'em!

Now I should go lie down though. Yecch.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:45 PM
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by and large they're virtually interchangeable

To me this says mainly: I don't find any of them remotely attractive or interesting (or horrible). The people I don't have any interest in befriending or loathing are largely as one to me. Once someone crosses that threshold, though, their differences become very noticeable.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:45 PM
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I've just always hated groping that isn't going anywhere.

Perhaps your time frame for "going anywhere" is too limited. Say you and your significant other have evening plans with a group of people, that will last from 9pm until 1am. Groping at 8:45pm can then be seen as a lead-in for the eventual conclusion at 1:30am.


Posted by: Matt F | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:46 PM
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I can't imagine cuddling up and reading. I keep trying to figure out where the books would go and how everyone would be comfortable.

235: That was his theory, too.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:46 PM
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I can't imagine cuddling up and reading. I keep trying to figure out where the books would go and how everyone would be comfortable.

It can work if one person is sitting up on one end of a couch, and the other is lying down with his/her head in the the person's lap. But you need one person who doesn't mind reading while lying down, and also doesn't mind having his/her head used as a book rest by the other person.


Posted by: Matt F | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:49 PM
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225: I found Americana unreadable, at least in places. It had its moments but I couldn't finish it. I came to it late, though,

This is why I at times get a little snippy about categorical rejections and endorsements of authors and books ,because I'm a wishy-washy wimp. Not only may other people's mileage vary, but say may your own. For some periods of my life I would have had the same reaction to Americana (and don't dare to read it now). My "lifelong" vow not to read him lasted 20+ years and might well have lasted a lifetime save for happenstance.

And I might never have ever remembered Sherman's March again, save for the mention in this thread, despite enjoying it immensely when I saw it.

And as for lifetime romantic relationships ....



Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:50 PM
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245: Could one not get something substantial done at 845 and then also maybe at 130? I remember discussing this with Max a lot, the arousal-before-dinner-party problem, and I think we figured out that we'd be way too annoyed with our guests if we didn't have sex before, and also it's never as good when you're tired and full and drunk as it is when you're hungry and sober and awake.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:50 PM
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The "Big Things In Life" really just don't matter that much. Any couple of people are going to have issues with each other, whether it's in bed or about the kids or in-laws or money or whatever.

I largely agree with this, in the sense that a couple's ability to really-truly resolve conflicts is probably the best predictor of their success.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:51 PM
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||

I just heard an ad in the background (I think it was for dishwashing liquid) which ended with the punchline "you had me at the first pump".

|>


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:53 PM
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I've just always hated groping that isn't going anywhere.

cuddling is an end in itself. Perhaps you sexualize it because you're a bit uncomfortable with that kind of lazy, constant, everyday physical intimacy, sexuality is the context that lets you tame it.


Posted by: PerfectlyGoddamnDelightful | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:56 PM
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252: over-psychologizing near-strangers! Sorry, AWB. Just trying to work out my theory of the mostly-fictional character AWB who I read about all the time.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:58 PM
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251: that was one of the Superbowl ads, wasn't it?


Posted by: Matt F | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 5:58 PM
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Coulda been. I didn't pay that much attention to the ads.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 6:05 PM
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252: I think it's more complicated than that, for reasons I've now realized are probably too weird to spell out here.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 6:06 PM
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Cuddling and groping are two different things! Though I get the feeling that it's differing definitions of the two that are at issue here.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 6:07 PM
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What's wrong with both? Try groppling! Have a cuddlope!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 6:12 PM
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248: Not only may other people's mileage vary, but say may your own. For some periods of my life I would have had the same reaction to Americana (and don't dare to read it now).

Not only can my opinion of a book vary between readings, but there are times when I've found myself enthusiastically recommending a book I read years before only to later find something I wrote at the time and recall, to my surprise, that I actually didn't like it. Or vice versa.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 6:12 PM
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Standard male perspective is that cuddling is a means to sex, not an end of itself. Groping during cuddling is either an attempt to hurry up the process or to make it somehow worthwhile.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 6:18 PM
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And, to connect 259 to the question of relationships: recently an old friend was telling me about how she was thinking about dumping her boyfriend. She explained that things just weren't going so well, and they were arguing a lot. These things had never happened (she claimed) with her last serious boyfriend, with whom she had broken up several years ago only due to external circumstances, not out of unhappiness.

I wasn't sure whether to remind her that she had been calling me then, too, once a week or more, telling me about the arguments she was having with him and how miserable he was making her.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 6:20 PM
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260: This is only stereotyped as a standard male perspective. I've dated plenty of men who were really into pointless cuddling, and known plenty of women who hate it.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 6:20 PM
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Have a cuddlope!

It's like a jackalope, but cuter.


Posted by: Matt F | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 6:23 PM
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It's like a cantalope, but messier.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 6:28 PM
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It's like a jackalope, but cuter.

No, it's like a cantaloupe, only warmer.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 6:30 PM
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It's like a pwnalope, only heebier.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 6:30 PM
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Damn you heebie!


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 6:30 PM
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Of course. To be a stereotype it only has to be mostly true.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 6:31 PM
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268 to 266.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 6:33 PM
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It's like a stereopalope?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 6:38 PM
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Only mostlier!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 6:39 PM
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260: cuddling is a means to sex, not an end of itself. Groping during cuddling is either an attempt to hurry up the process or to make it somehow worthwhile.

Okay, progress and resolution! This could go on AWB's questionnaire: Agree/Disagree with the above statements.

And it would actually be profitable for me to read someone's "agree" answer to this, since I wouldn't want to date him long-term. My ex was like that: don't get touchy-feely unless you're going all the way. It's one reason he's an ex.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 8:01 PM
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No talking about the settling article! That's on deck for tomorrow!

Talk about groping!


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 11:20 PM
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OK, um...so...how about that local sports groping team, eh?


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 11:22 PM
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Groping and cuddling often go hand in hand. This is the proper order of things.


Posted by: m. leblanc | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 11:26 PM
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You can't stop these things, Becks. Let it happen.

Settle.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 11:29 PM
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Well, groping often goes hand in something, anyway.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 11:29 PM
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Also, cuddling is a good environment in which to figure out whether the person you are cuddling wants to have sex.


Posted by: m. leblanc | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 11:34 PM
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Anyway, for when our Kommissars dictate that we may discuss the settling article, here's one we haven't discussed yet.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 11:38 PM
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279's article is classic. "I can't find anyone, and it's because men in their 30's are fucked up. By the way, my sample group is my personal dating history, and every guy I date has issues and has been in therapy."


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 11:47 PM
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Doesn't cuddling maximize contact surface area and groping minimize it, more or less (at least the groping bits)? One could, in theory, grope with one's whole body, but that would be either assault or sex, wouldn't it?


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 11:49 PM
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Oh, and Underworld is pretentious as all fuck, but worth reading if you don't have anything better.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 02-10-08 11:51 PM
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re: DeLillo.

I really liked White Noise when I read it, and still liked it when I read it again for an undergraduate lit course. However, that must be a personal aberration as everything else I've ever read by him has been egregious shite. I've gotten about 1/3 way through Underworld a couple of times before giving up.

Also, I've mentioned this before, but, American boomer-ish male writers ... please shut the fuck up about baseball.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 12:06 AM
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Also, I've mentioned this before, but, American boomer-ish male writers ... please shut the fuck up about baseball.

I think that generalizes pretty well.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 12:07 AM
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(Reading earlier) Gun, With Occasional Music counts as better. Genre is good for some folks.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 12:12 AM
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Oh, and Nick Hornby is better?


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 12:15 AM
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283: I'd be more sympathetic if the most basebally bit (the prologue) weren't the best part of that book.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 12:20 AM
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And further 283: you really do have to read a little past half of Underworld before you give up. I bitch about it, but it's a pretty decent book.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 12:24 AM
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re: 286

Is this 'pick random British writer, as the honour of tedious-baseball-loving-boomer-gasbags must be defended?'

The occasional British writer has written a book in which football is mentioned. None of them, as far as I know, wank on about football as a metaphor for the ages and make endless references to great players of the 50s and early 60s as if they were titans who strode the earth.

re: 287 and 288

Why would I read on if the bit you acknowledge as the 'best' bit of the book was, for me, tedious shit?


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 12:26 AM
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That's because the great football players of the 50s and early 60s weren't titans who strode the earth, but the great baseball players of the 50s and early 60s were, ttaM.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 12:29 AM
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ben, it really isn't fair to pick on baseball players of the 50s and 60s just because they were fat.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 12:34 AM
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It comes back to the different roles of sport in US and British culture, I think. In particular, football has traditionally been a working class game and middle-class writers didn't/don't write about it.

Fever Pitch was pretty much a one-off and hasn't led to lots of other writers writing about football.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 12:45 AM
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I don't really know why US authors keep whacking away at the baseball-as-metaphor thing, it doesn't seem to work well at all. But they keep at it.

Writing about it as sport is the same as any other sport, I guess. If you're already a fan, you'll likely forgive all but execrable writing. If you thing the game is tedious, it'll will take serious talent to make it seem anything else.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 12:49 AM
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289.1-2, and 292.2: I was talking about Fever Pitch. Is the balance of crap so heavily weighted towards our side that you couldn't pick that up?

292.1: Come on, Among the Thugs was brilliant, and there was a book about Tottenham that wasn't half bad.

289.last: Suit yourself. It'll be a decent book whether you read or don't. It is rather American, though, in the sort of way I'm not surprised a Scot to be bothered by.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 12:56 AM
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Sigh. Will no one in this whole thread stand up for Jonathan Franzen?

The Corrections is a master fucking piece from beginning to end, with a slight strain in the middle if you don't have enough imaginations to accomodate the talking turd. It's a confident social novel that incorporates some of the stylistic advances of postmodernists such as Coover and Barthelme into an early modernist (that is to say, highly readable) structure. Its central metaphor is deployed consistently and inventively, and rather beautifully in the market/neurological section (the oldest brother). It's the last great book of the 20th century, and it's funny.

He was a dick to Oprah, that I'll give you.

Confederacy of Dunces was also funny and was like nothing else you'd read when you read it. Then you read Geek Love, and were like, "thank god! these two authors' careers are friends in heaven." I prefer Geek Love, but there's no call for hating on CoD. Granted, it's been a while.

DeLillo's Libra is worth a read, although the girls in my "Literature and Surveillance" class said it was a boy book.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 1:00 AM
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1: n+1 made her leave.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 1:02 AM
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Among the Thugs was written by an American. Perhaps...as a revolt against the stultifying baseball writing of his less fiery peers?!?


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 1:03 AM
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293: Baseball as a metaphor works because other American sports don't. If you don't follow baseball, fair enough, you might miss out. But baseball allows for a direct antagonism: pitcher versus batter. If you should happen to be english I think cricket replicates this fairly well. There is an action (the pitch), a reaction(the swing), a result (the ball, strike, or contact), and an ultimate conclusion (out, single, etc). It's a nice little narrative. I can see how this might be grating to others whose narratives fail to get past the quarter-finals, so to speak, but it is tempting to (mostly male) Americans to indulge in this particular metaphor. (Note: this is not what DeLillio was trying to do)


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 1:07 AM
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If you're already a fan, you'll likely forgive all but execrable writing. If you thing the game is tedious, it'll will take serious talent to make it seem anything else.

I like writing about sport much better than sport. And I love sports movies.

Anyone else watching Friday Night Lights?


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 1:09 AM
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298: No, the point is it doesn't work. Or at least, it doesn't work nearly as well as it should to be dragged out so often in all its hackneyed variations.

It's obvious what they are trying to do. It's just not that great a device. And it certainly isn't a fresh device --- so if you're going to pull it out and blow the dust off you really ought to do it well. Which doesn't seem to happen much.

I like writing about sport much better than sport.
If the writings good, I like it a lot better than watching.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 1:15 AM
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You know, I think people are a bit harder on Franzen than deserved, but

The Corrections is a master fucking piece from beginning to end

is just wrong.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 1:17 AM
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Nu-uh.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 1:19 AM
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Hey, I liked it. The middle could have used a bit of work. But it's no masterpiece.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 1:21 AM
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Time will tell. I'll bet you dinner on it, if you're willing to wait for the verdict of history.

In other news:

T-rex, this party is great! It's beyond my ability to reverse engineer!


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 1:23 AM
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298: Sure, when you've got a good metaphor, every hack is going to bleed it dry. I guess I just haven't read too many baseball books, so I missed all the cliche-building. Besides, what else are you going to build your metaphor around? A fast break? A 3-4 defense? If you want a sports angle in America, baseball is the way to go. If you venture abroad, I suppose you could model an epiphany on a spontaneous offside trap, but that would be a stretch.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 1:34 AM
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304: Is that a now dinner, or a post-verdict of history dinner? Because in the future their dinners will be tastier.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 1:38 AM
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My wedding cake tasted dry and crumbly after only two years in the freezer. There's no way dinner now is going to keep until after the verdict of history.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 1:48 AM
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307: Keep it quiet about the cake, he still could be on for the bet, and I want to know what future-people eat.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 1:55 AM
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re: 294

Of course I knew you were talking about Fever Pitch it's why I mentioned it, for fuck's sake. It's also why I mentioned that it's not typical.

You're not getting it, there's Fever Pitch, essentially non-fiction, and Among the Thugs , non-fiction. Both books specifically about the relationship between certain types of British man and football. You can probably find a few others -- I can think of one British book that makes tedious use of table-tennis as sporting metaphor. What there's not, is the regular use of sporting metaphors in standard British fiction in a manner analogous to the use of baseball in some types US fiction.

My basic point, that those kinds of hackneyed sporting clichés are essentially a feature of the 'great American novel'* is, I think, mostly true.

That isn't any kind of 'British writers are better than American writers' claim. In fact, as many of my favourite authors are American as anything else.

* and don't get me started on that whole steaming pile of ordure.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 3:08 AM
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That's the thing. CoD wasn't funny. It was mildly amusing, and satiric, but not actually funny. Which is why I lost interest about halfway through.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 3:48 AM
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To continue on.

I think it's possible that there's a set of American clichés that really annoy me because, as an outsider, these books seem formulaic and uninteresting.

I've no doubt it's possible that for an insider, that's not the case. They might pick up on the fact that writer X is doing something subtly different from writer Y even though both of them are talking about 'the great Jacky Blahblah in the fourth game of the World Series in nineteen fifty blah'. The same insider might also have a whole bunch of shared experiences that means that Blahblah in the World Series carries all kinds of meaningful resonances. An outsider just sees the same old shit.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 3:56 AM
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The surly, drunken, lard-and-cabbage-eating colonials naturally resent our higher culture. We only expect this.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 6:05 AM
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295: Will no one in this whole thread stand up for Jonathan Franzen?

What am I, chopped modernism?

Mostly, The Corrections is hated on by people who don't have the patience for extended metaphor or people who are chafing against its mobilization of, at root, familiar-seeming plotlines. (Dolan, the eXile reviewer, really brings this out in the open. But I'm not, when you get right down to it, in sympathy with the kind of reader who encounters a metaphor and immediately looks at their watch.) I'm not sure if I'd call it the last great novel of the 20th century -- it has flaws -- but sure, it's a decent and funny novel for its time and place. Franzen does have a tin ear for female characters, but it's not as though he's alone among male novelists in that regard...


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 8:39 AM
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I'm not, when you get right down to it, in sympathy with the kind of reader who encounters a metaphor and immediately looks at their watch.

Awesome.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 10:53 AM
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This is far sweeter than Modern Love.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 02-11-08 11:13 AM
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