Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Gate at the Stairs

Lorrie Moore is certainly a skilled and witty author, and while I mostly enjoyed the punny prose I wasn’t very enthralled with the novel itself. I can see how she is known for short stories, as the character vignettes are descriptive and humorous. The book seemed to be divided into three distinct parts, four if you count the strange Reynaldo affair. Much of the plot seemed unlikely to the point of unbelievability, and the main climax seemed to happen 2/3 through the book, based on an incident that was supposed to have occurred many years earlier.

(I have this thing with time lines, to the point of OCD, ask the co-conspirator. I have to know when things happened, in relation to other events (before or after) and I have to be able to plot the events on my mental time line. I don't know if it's the whole narrative bit of the memos I had to write in law school -- the only part of legal writing I remotely enjoyed -- or what. But this book meandered around and I couldn't even tell what season it was supposed to be, let alone month. The spring semester, with all the montages of passing weeks, seemed like it must have been about 8 months long.)

The awkwardness of all the characters was well-captured, and I did enjoy many parts of the book. None of the characters were necessarily likable other than mostly the narrator, and not one character seemed capable of breaking out of their shells of awkwardness to allow themselves the occasional happiness. Perhaps that comes later, after the novel ends. Overall, especially after the matter-of-fact climbing into a casket with a blown-up body (what the…), I can’t say I would necessarily recommend, other than to have a shared ‘what WAS that’ experience.

I will say that I enjoyed and appreciated Moore's writing style, and very much look forward to reading some of her other works, particularly Birds of America.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hello, my name is Z, and I am an Introvert

From Caring for Your Introvert - The Atlantic:
Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?

If so, do you tell this person he is "too serious," or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out?

If you answered yes to these questions, chances are that you have an introvert on your hands—and that you aren't caring for him properly. Science has learned a good deal in recent years about the habits and requirements of introverts. It has even learned, by means of brain scans, that introverts process information differently from other people (I am not making this up). If you are behind the curve on this important matter, be reassured that you are not alone. Introverts may be common, but they are also among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in America, possibly the world.
It's true. I was recently called 'backwards' for not enjoying parties full of strangers, preferring instead to stay at home with a book and a cup of coffee. I was told I needed to 'break out of my shell;' that I'd regret all my alone time when friends and family died. (And apparently strangers, too, because I didn't go to that party, so I never got the chance to engage in awkward small talk about the weather. And now they're dead. With whom will I discuss traffic patterns now? -- Not to be callous. I'm sure they are lovely people.)
...If we introverts ran the world, it would no doubt be a calmer, saner, more peaceful sort of place. As Coolidge is supposed to have said, "Don't you know that four fifths of all our troubles in this life would disappear if we would just sit down and keep still?" (He is also supposed to have said, "If you don't say anything, you won't be called on to repeat it." The only thing a true introvert dislikes more than talking about himself is repeating himself.)

With their endless appetite for talk and attention, extroverts also dominate social life, so they tend to set expectations. In our extrovertist society, being outgoing is considered normal and therefore desirable, a mark of happiness, confidence, leadership. Extroverts are seen as bighearted, vibrant, warm, empathic. "People person" is a compliment. Introverts are described with words like "guarded," "loner," "reserved," "taciturn," "self-contained," "private"—narrow, ungenerous words, words that suggest emotional parsimony and smallness of personality. Female introverts, I suspect, must suffer especially. In certain circles, particularly in the Midwest, a man can still sometimes get away with being what they used to call a strong and silent type; introverted women, lacking that alternative, are even more likely than men to be perceived as timid, withdrawn, haughty.
That is clearly the perception.

Introverts aren't going around telling extroverts to 'retreat into their shell' or to spend much more time alone than they're comfortable with. We just ask for the same respect in return. Difference does not equal inferiority of deficiency. I'm tired of being told I need to change in some way.
...Still, we endure stoically, because the etiquette books—written, no doubt, by extroverts—regard declining to banter as rude and gaps in conversation as awkward. We can only dream that someday, when our condition is more widely understood, when perhaps an Introverts' Rights movement has blossomed and borne fruit, it will not be impolite to say "I'm an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush."

How can I let the introvert in my life know that I support him and respect his choice? First, recognize that it's not a choice. It's not a lifestyle. It's an orientation.

Second, when you see an introvert lost in thought, don't say "What's the matter?" or "Are you all right?"

Third, don't say anything else, either.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Author Equality

This bit in the Atlantic has been on my mind since the controversy that inspired it developed. I read the piece, I nodded in agreement, and then I checked my own reading history for the current year... Male authors were indeed ahead, by 4-5 books! How could that be? How is it that I, who identify with nearly all causes to raise the status of women to a level equal to that of men, who consider myself an adamant advocate of women's rights, and of raising awareness of important issues, how is it that I could have been so oblivious to my own culturally imposed gender biases?

Unfortunately, women weren't prevalent as authors for quite some time, so the wealth of 'literature' written by men seems to far outweigh women's literature. That, coupled with the fact that it may indeed be true that modern male authors get more - and better - press than female authors, and how does one find great women authors without stumbling up on them? This is not to in anyway discount the value and talent of male authors, but to raise awareness that women's books are often just as valid and interesting and relevant as work by men. The dismissive term "chick lit" does everyone a disservice. After all, it's not as if every book written by a man or written about "masculine" subjects is derisively referred to as "dick lit."

I am disheartened that my life co-conspirator finds reading books by women such a low priority that he scoffs at my suggestion, no matter how neutrally I try to state it. Is that how the majority feels?

UPDATE: It seems my LCC was harassed in college by young ladies that had not fully grasped the feminist texts they were touting, using them mainly to tell any male that disagreed with them on any point that he disagreed with them because he was sexist. It’s going to take a lot of work to reclaim feminism to mean equality and not male-bashing/hating.
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