Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The airing of self-directed grievances

Noreen Malone said it best: "Before you ask people about resolutions tonight, consider whether you'd ever ask them to list the things they hate most about themselves."

I'd considered writing another resolutions post, given that last year's went if anything better than I'd hoped. (Except the pasta thing. I don't function well without DeCecco.) But where to begin? Do I want to announce my goals, or my flaws? To what end?

In the age of constant online image-crafting, posting a resolutions list is extra-fraught. Too much candor and you're either admitting something that's a liability (do you want your boss to know that you procrastinate? do you want potential dates to know that underneath your clothes, you have a tremendous if well-camouflaged gut you plan on addressing in 2014?) or just boring everybody. In 2014, you plan to work out/eat more vegetables/floss daily? Wonderful, but of interest to you and you alone (unless the non-flossing had gotten out of control).

It's tough to hit the right balance - not too humblebrag or overly sincere, nothing that suggests you're already this perfect being who can merely strive for further perfection. But also nothing that announces any genuine problems with you as you currently exist. It's like the college essay - you need to tell the truth about yourself, but not really. Resolutions are self-centered... except when they're not, which can be narcissistic in its own way. If you resolve to be kinder to others or start composting or whatever, that's, again, awkward to announce. Like everyone else, I want all that is professional, personal, aesthetic-about-my-person to improve in the new year. I'll leave it at that.

So I'm not announcing any resolutions for 2014. I will instead announce that the first read of 2014 is Erica Jong's Fear of Flying. 2014 is thus off to a not-so-good start in the avoidance-of-cultural-consumption-I-find-overly-familiar department. This is (thus far - haven't finished it yet) a book about a Jewish woman from New York who gets married and goes with her husband to a part of the U.S. where one needs a car (she can't drive), and to Heidelberg. Heidelberg! Who is, knows she must be, a writer, but ends up in a literature PhD program in New York, as one does. And there I was, thinking this was a 1970s feminist classic I really ought to have read, not some kind of semi-autobiography published ten years before I was born. What I'm trying to say is, I'm currently taking recommendations for novels set somewhere I'll find unfamiliar. Nineteenth-century France, for obvious reasons, doesn't count.


caryatis said...

I like Daniel Woodrell and Dan Chaon. They are rural. Jim Shepherd (You Think That's Bad) will take you in all sorts of directions

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


(Rural is great, but not necessary. Urban but non-NYC works too.)

caryatis said...

I also really liked The Silent Wife. It is set in Chicago and not Jewish or academic, but potentially feminist. Depends how you read it.