19 posts tagged literature
A negative review is a reminder that, hey, this thing we’re all supposed to love doesn’t actually speak to everyone.
It’s a rare book that I like so much that I start trying to push it on to everyone I come across (it’s been four years, if that’s any indication), but Brigid Delaney’s This Restless Life is one such book.
I’ve been bringing it up constantly - in every conversation, coffee and random run-in I’ve had with my friends. And there’s a good reason for that - because it seems to be relevant in one way or another to pretty much every conversation I have. Now, dear blog readers, I am pushing it on to you.
It’s about life as it is now - fast, unpredictable and constantly changing - and how that impacts both how we live and who we are. Or as I put it in my forthcoming Sydney Morning Herald review, which explores the issues in more detail, it’s about “isolation, globalisation, the impact of technology, and the impossible-to-shut-out pressure to always ‘move on, move on, move on’ to the next thing, that has characterised the coming of age of so many of us who are currently aged in our twenties and thirties.”
That’s not to say that I agree with everything in it. I don’t. Delaney is too bleak at times for my tastes, and too nostalgic at others. But for me, agreeing with everything in a book is not the point. The point is to be excited, challenged, stimulated. And it really is exciting to see someone tackling a big social and philosophical issue, and doing it well - so many books, especially in the fields I read and write in, can feel like minor variations on the same old themes we’ve been trotting out for 20 years.
If you’re interested in hearing more (and you should be), Brigid will be talking with SMH political sketch writer Annabel Crabb at Sydney’s Gleebooks on Thursday 27 August, at 6:30pm.
Published in the Sydney Morning Herald, 8 August 2009.
Most books about relationships fall into one of two categories: they perpetuate tedious and outdated gender stereotypes, or they whip the reader up into a flurry of insecure self-loathing in an effort to shift more copies. The most infuriating do both.
On first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that Himglish and Femalese: Why Women Don’t Get Why Men Don’t Get Them, by twenty-something US-cum-British journalist Jean Hannah Edelstein, falls into the first category. Its title, after all, is premised on the idea that men and women speak different languages, even if both of those languages happen to be English.
But in this case, first glances are deceiving. As the intentionally familiar second half of title and kitsch 1950s illustrations hint, Edelstein’s tongue is planted firmly in her cheek.
The title isn’t entirely misleading - Edelstein does believe that the sexes communicate differently, and the book is peppered with humorous translations of typical conversations heterosexual couples might have - but if the prospect of another round of the battle of the sexes makes you want to run from the bookshop, you needn’t be afraid. As the book’s bluntly titled chapter on conflict (Sometimes, Men Are Jerks. Sometimes, Women Are Also Jerks) suggests, gender essentialism, this is not.
More than a self-help book, Himglish and Femalese is a witty traipse through the modern sex and relationships landscape. Edelstein ponders “ambigudating”, the ethics of “researching“ prospective partners online, the modern man’s love of the crème brulee torch and MasterChef, and why exactly everyone feels compelled to stay friends with their exes - all in a tone that is simultaneously prim and sassy.
That’s not to say that Edelstein doesn’t have her share of genuine wisdom to impart. On commitment, she wonders if perhaps, instead of jumping ship when our relationships hit a rough patch, we should just ride the bad times out like we would any other relationship. “If you have a fight with your mother and sulk and don’t speak to her for a couple of weeks, you usually don’t start looking for a new mother,” she reasons. If you must start a dalliance with your flatmate or colleague, she warns, make sure you have alternative accommodation and employment lined up if things turn sour. But this advice, one often feels, comes second to Edelstein’s playful social anthropology.
One British reviewer suggested that Himglish and Femalese was a throwback to the 1950s, a cry for simpler times when men were men and women were women. But I would argue the opposite: that instead it represents a new style of self-help book, one written for a generation that has come of age on the carefully constructed snark of US gossip site Gawker, the witty self-referentiality of Gossip Girl and the gentle sarcasm of Lily Allen. This is a relationships guide that is at once self-help and satire.
Indeed, that combination might be the secret to Himglish’s success. Edelstein frequently addresses her readers as female, but my male partner was the first of the two of us to tear into it - focusing his attentions on, perhaps unsurprisingly, the witty fictional repartee between the book’s Himglish and Femalese speakers, and the summaries at the end of each chapter. “The good bits,” he called them - although they were the only bits he read.
Edelstein’s “Himglish” is based on the premise that men prefer to communicate more directly and succinctly than women, both in the number of words they use themselves, and the number of words they prefer to consume. Perhaps there’s some truth to this “different languages” thing after all.