Friday, February 25, 2011


I'm staying in today and reading a book about seagoing vessels. This is called escapism.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Recently, VIDA published a set of statistics that makes it horrifyingly clear how underrepresented women are in book reviews and as book reviewers. Everyone who has anything to do with book reviewing right now probably wants to hide under their desk; it's very embarrassing. For example, The New York Review of Books had 239 book reviewers last year, and 200 of them were men. It published 365 reviews, and only 59 of them were of books by women. These numbers are not just a little hinky, they are wildly insane. And they're very similar across the vast majority of book-reviewing publications.

This subject came up a few months ago and I wrote about it then, wondering whether there simply are more books by men, and if so, why? Apparently men do get published more readily (surprise), and the anecdotal concensus is that it's because women don't submit as much work. The anecdotal logic behind the anecdotal concensus is that women are not as aggressive, are more easily discouraged by rejection, or are probably too busy, you know, doing laundry. There's also a whole thing about the perception of what constitutes "real" literature, as in, if it's about lady-problems, or even just from a lady-perspective, maybe it doesn't really matter universally in the way that books by or about men do. Which is a can of worms that makes me too angry to write about coherently so I'll save that for later.

Anyway, I thought before I started criticizing book review editors' decisions, I should look at what I read over the past year and see whether my completely random reading habits led me down the evil path of accidental sexism. AND THEY DID. Mostly. Facts (not scientific):
  • Of the 47 books I read in the past twelve months, only 18 were by women, which is 38%. Since women make up roughly 25% of published authors (last year, anyway), I'm doing better than average. Especially considering that I was making no particular effort to read women.
  • However, I was making a particular effort to read more translations, and I managed to read 13 of those, or 28%. Translated fiction makes up less than 1% of work published in the US annually. So the fact that I read that pathetically low percentage of women while reading that ridiculously high percentage of translations suggests to me that I should pay more attention.
  • But back to the point: Of the 7 authors by whom I read more than one book, 4 were women. (A. S. Byatt, Zadie Smith, Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen, Sigrid Undset.) But, one was a trilogy, so I don't know if that counts.
  • Of the books that stand out as being the best writing, 3 were by women, and 3 were by men. (These were, incidentally, Byatt's Little Black Book of Stories, Heller's Catch-22, Dinesen's Out of Africa, Sayers's Gaudy Night, Gavelis's Vilnius Poker, and Cunningham's The Hours -- I recommend them all except maybe Vilnius Poker, which has to be the most harrowing masterpiece I've ever read.)
  • Women were more likely to have male main characters than men were to have female main characters. (Michael Cunningham was the sole male author with a female main character -- three, in fact -- although David Mitchell had a pretty awesome female ensemble character in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet who carried the narrative for a while.)
  • Women were also more likely to have developed male characters in their ensemble cast than men were to have developed female characters in theirs.
  • Men were 100% more likely to talk about genitals. Men were also 100% more likely to write scenes in which women throw themselves at the main character, to the point that it stretched the limits of my credulity. This was particularly true of translated fiction for some reason, but I'm limiting my generalizations today to men and women; perhaps I will generalize about Europeans and South Americans in another post.
  • On a non-gender-related note, in the past year I've read nothing published earlier than 1920. It is very odd for me to go an entire year without reading a Victorian novel. I had better go read some Brontës lest I forget how to use words like "lest." (I had to go back and change to "Brontës" from "Dickens." You see, you see how it gets in your head that men are the standard? AAAAAUGH.)
In the future I will probably pay more attention to the gender of the writers I read, because that's the only way to be sure that more of what I read is by women. That may not seem sensible, numbers-wise, but I don't think my picture of the world is complete unless everyone is being represented in at least a reasonably fair way. If female writers weren't living in a male-dominated society, and that society weren't being reflected back at them in 75% of the books they read and learned from, maybe more of them would believe it is their duty to submit their work, that the world cannot do without it any better than it could without work by men, and then we'd have more of their work to read, and then we could change what kinds of attitudes would get reflected back at us. And eventually a woman could run for president without her clothing or her emotions being a subject of debate, and the media would stop blaming the victim, and girls would grow up to be scientists, and everyone would stop using the word "woman" as a qualifier in front of words denoting certain professions, and the 2010 VIDA statistics would be so absurd we'd all laugh.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

If Hemingway Had a Pizza Place

Hemingway's Green Hills of Africa is the memoir of a 1933 safari he went on with his wife (the second of four). In it he describes how he mostly fails to shoot anything good, and if he succeeds, someone else gets a better specimen and he gets jealous for a while and then he has a drink in the evening and shakes hands with the other fellow and balance in the universe is temporarily restored. Variations on this theme are brought to a close when he at last proves to himself that he is, indeed, a superior shot. Maybe the best shot ever to have lived. Maybe the best shot ever to live. Hemingway then satisifed that he is the manliest of all men, all is right with the world, and the book ends.

I exaggerate because there is nothing else you can do with Hemingway but mock him and secretly resent that he actually is kind of better than everyone else, his personal problems notwithstanding. Anyway, here's a brief brief exerpt, concerning the long-awaited shooting of a kudu:

"The Wanderobo-Masai and I looked at this kudu, measured his horns, smelled the fine smell of him, sweeter than an eland, even, stroked his nose, his neck, and his shoulder, marvelling at the great ears, and the smoothness and cleanness of his hide, looked at his hooves, that were built long, narrow, and springy so he seemed to walk on tip-toe, felt under his shoulder for the bullet-hole and then shook hands again while the Wanderobo-Masai told what a man he was and I told him he was my pal and gave him my best four-bladed pocket knife."

Not being up on the particulars of African ungulates, I went through the book picturing everything as an antelope because I figured that was roughly accurate for whatever Hemingway was hunting at any given time. I meant to look up kudus and elands after I finished the book but I forgot.

Skip head a few months to this conversation with my sister, enhanced for comic effect.

Sister: We could get pizza for dinner.
Me: Is there a good pizza place near you?
Sister: Well, there's the place up the street. I don't know if it's good, but it's fine.
Me: Hmmm.
Sister: It has animal heads mounted on the walls.

Thinking of a potential blog post, and hoping very much for kudu, I brought my camera and subjected my sister to the humiliation of loitering around while I took not-terribly-discreet pictures. I honestly can't imagine they're not used to people taking pictures inside a pizza place that is full of taxidermied wildlife, but it was still totally weird of me. Yet, so worth it. This hunter-slash-pizza-parlor-entrepreneur had definitely been to Africa and pretty much shot everything in sight, examples below.

Lion (clearly)

Eland, brown bear (brown bear obviously not African)

African buffalo (maybe), a trio of impala in the corner, another impala over the lamp, and an oryx (with the very long horns)

Caribou, (zebra on the other side), caribou, (kudu on the other side), caribou, (ice cream cone on the other side), wildebeest
I'm not wild about hunting for sport, buuuuut there is something so extremely weird about this pizza-by-Hemingway atmosphere that it very nearly crosses the line into "delightful." It could only be better if these were the decorations in, say, a restaurant with an entirely vegetarian menu.

If you live nearby and these photos do not convince you to find this place and go there, I will add that the pizza is pretty good, too. However, I firmly believe it would be worth a trip either way. This decor is rather rare. As, I now suspect, are caribou.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Dogsled Racing at Mendon Ponds

A couple of weeks ago I went with some pals to see the dogsled races at this year's Winter Fest. It was extremely cold and I was too concerned about losing toes to frostbite to take very good pictures. Also, dogs are fast and my camera is slow. Especially in the cold.

These people came with six dogs and hooked them up to this chain one by one. I have a terribly cute picture of them adoring a little girl, but one can't just go around posting pictures of people's kids on the Internet, so you don't get to see it. It is super cute, though. They were very friendly dogs.

Apparently there is this thing where you attach dogs to yourself while you're on skis, and they pull you. It is very strange, but it looks like fun. These dogs started off at a leisurely trot, as if to communicate to everyone present, "We were not bred for this, but we have been promised treats at the finish line."

I was the most surprised to see this handsome fellow racing, as my experience with Golden Retrievers suggest they are not into running flat-out for four-mile stretches. His accompanying skier said that this is the only Golden Retriever he's seen doing this. Usually they're so much more interested in being with humans that they want to wrap themselves around your legs rather than pull you. I bet this one fetches, too. Weirdo.

Here's an actual dogsled. The Huskies (or whatever kind of mix they are) were impressively fast. There were never more than three to a sled, but it would have been cool to see a whole pack racing.

Huskies are very adorable, but they remind me so much of wolves that they make me slightly nervous. It must be some kind of primordial instinct. I will probably stick with Golden Retrievers in the future, even if they aren't star athletes.

After the dogsled racing I came home and threw up a lot. So that day was a mixed bag. But the morning, at least, was pretty awesome.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

La La Land

I sometimes forget how much LA is like a foreign country... this strange land where you wake up, do situps by the ocean while the palm trees sway, where you grab your iced coffee in a corn-based to-go cup, meet your friends for movies at the swanky theater with the reserve seating and the leather couches, stop at the organic market for floss because you know the selection will be good (and you've been worried about all that discarded plastic) and end up going home with one that is not only biodegradable but has a Fresh! Cardamom flavor. This is my life.

It's pretty ridiculous.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

What to do with extra Fimo.

If you are working on a project and you buy the wrong kind of Fimo and find it next to impossible to sculpt into the shape you want, what you should do is use it to make models of sea slugs. Or, better yet, you should show your friend a picture of a sea slug and demand that he make one for you while you work on something else.

Obviously you would need to have an unusual kind of friend, and you would be need to working in an atmosphere in which the phrase, "Sea slugs happen to be a particular interest of mine," is met with a frankly bizarre level of indulgence.

That should explain, to anyone who sees it, what this rather unique object lying around my house is. It's a homemade Chromodoris magnifica magnet, of course, what else?