I was listening to Slate Culture Gabfest which is a podcast that I have deleted from my feed in exasperation several times, but has wormed its snobby, blathery, self-importanty way back into my regular listenership, for now. Anyway, I was listening to this segment about book clubs and the gender-specificity of book clubs -- namely, that they tend to be groups of women. Partly because women (fact) read disproportionately more than men, especially more fiction. So all this made me wonder: what are the personal and social purposes of a book club, and why do women read more? But most of all, why do I read?
What I realized is that the very top reason I read, really, is because I like to go away. A focused reading experience disappears me. (Aside: in the classic and eternal division of people who would choose invisibility vs people who would choose flying, I would choose flying every time.) When I read intently, I lose time, I forget my body. If there is nothing to argue with, assimilate or criticize, my only thoughts are the words on the page. So that's primarily going to be the experience of fiction or memoir. And, treading lightly around the gender police, I believe women have more incentive and more predilection to enjoy being vanished like that.
Speaking of the gender police. Presenting the memoir of Carrie Brownstein (she of Sleater Kinney and Portlandia fame), Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl. This is a lean book. Its spareness makes sense coming from a songwriter -- it feels like there's a lot between the lines, but that it would be uncool to ask for more story than what you're being given. There are parts that are a "just the facts ma'am" reporting of events, and there are parts that feel like a grad student thesis, both of which styles feel like they're designed to keep the reader at a safe distance. Then, too, there are flashes of humor and hints of vulnerability, lines that transmit the best kind of nostalgia, and the wryest kind of remembering. Above all, it was inspiring to read about someone committing to their calling with such grit.
The Mare, by Mary Gaitskill. A woman, a girl, her mother and a horse. Color, class, womanhood, desire. This is a book of beautiful voices. It has a horse's trotting pace, as the short chapters bounce among first-person accounts of the story. I loved that Mary Gaitskill took liberties with the interiority of the girl -- she doesn't tell her story like any child that has ever existed, but there is an element of the fairy tale mixed into the bones of this book, and for me it worked. I'm going to add her other novels to my list.