Appearing Elsewhere: Our Books, Ourselves

In honor of the second anniversary of the launch of The Second Pass, founding editor John Williams (prompted partly by the VIDA statistics and the ensuing discussion about women and criticism) invited contributions for a feature by women about books by women that they felt deserved more attention. The collection is now posted and includes a fascinatingly diverse assortment: Ranylt Richildis writing on Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret (which readers of this blog will know gets plenty of attention around here!) and Emma Donoghue’s Slammerkin (“inspired by the messy, irreducible worlds of folklore, desire, and crime”); Emma Garman on Elaine Scarry’s Dreaming by the Book (a “groundbreaking investigation into how words on a page — flat, inert, devoid of sensuous qualities — are miraculously transmuted into fully fledged, three-dimensional worlds in the mind’s eye”); Jessica Ferri on Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick (“a genre-busting book that bravely asserts there is a difference in the way men and women are treated not only as artists but as people”); Xarissa Holdoway on Jane Hirshfield’s Given Sugar, Given Salt (“her frequent invocations of heart, hope and grief would quickly irritate if they weren’t balanced so well with precision”); Jennifer Szalai on Mona Simpson’s My Hollywood (“a keen exploration of the American experience, with all of its attendant exhilarations and disappointments”); Emily Bobrow on Iris Murdoch’s A Word Child (“full of a dark curdling humor, the kind that captures the interior hum of a perceptive man who knows that he is a loser, and who knows it is partly his fault”); and me on Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s Disturbances in the Field. I’ve mentioned my longstanding admiration for Disturbances in the Field before here, particularly in my post about Schwartz’s Leaving Brooklyn (which is also fabulous). I wasn’t sure that it really counted as “underappreciated,” but then, when you really love a book, it’s hard to imagine that it is ever appreciated as much as it should be. It was challenging trying to explain just what about the novel moves and impresses me so much. I was tempted to, but ultimately didn’t, include the little personal detail that when I sat down to review the book for the piece, it fell open to a particular moment near the middle and I had read literally about four words before I was helplessly crying. That’s how powerful its hold is on my imagination and my emotions–indeed, that hold has only intensified over the years, particularly since I became a parent. Anyway, it is certainly one of the ‘books of my life,’ and if your TBR pile isn’t already teetering, you should consider adding it on.  Of the other books in this feature I think the one I’m most interested in trying is the Iris Murdoch: she’s a writer I have long meant to read, but I’ve never been able to focus on where to start.

Congratulations on two good years, John! Thanks for choosing this way to celebrate, and for inviting me to contribute.

In my 20s, I found it a compelling, if unconsoling, exploration of the kind of adult life I hoped to have: at once intellectually rigorous and emotionally intense

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