Men Recommend David Foster Wallace to me
April 17, 2017 11:39 AM   Subscribe

For a long time, I’d respond to men’s Wallace recommendations with “he’s on my list,” or “I’ve been meaning to — totally.” And for a long time, I meant it. Now, thinking about becoming that kind of person makes me feel tired. This is how you become the right kind of person: if you’re not in a position of power, identify your oppressors — well-intentioned, oblivious, or otherwise — and love their art. This is why it’s hard to distinguish my reaction to Wallace from my reaction to patriarchy. This insistence that I read his work feels like yet another insistence that The Thing That’s Good Is The Thing Men Like.
Deirdre Coyle reviews Brief Interviews with Hideous Men for Electric Lit's "Late to the Party." [TW: sexual assault]
posted by Navelgazer (319 comments total) 86 users marked this as a favorite
 
"It wouldn’t occur to most women to recommend books by women to men the way men recommend books by men to women."

Quote of the utmost truth.
posted by hapaxes.legomenon at 11:54 AM on April 17 [88 favorites]


There's as much throat-clearing in this essay as in any DFW work...
posted by twsf at 11:54 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


“It’s too damn long. Hipsters just hear that it’s good. If they actually read it they’d see that Wallace is a poseur.”
posted by My Dad at 11:55 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


This is a really good piece, less mean-spirited than it might legitimately have been, with a fuckin' A+ punchline (said a straight white male DFW fan, wokely, hoping to be liked.)

& this is also why I never recommend him to anyone anymore, nor speak in mixed company about my affection for his writing. It has become a Thing, and it's almost impossible for a dude like me to extract a good-faith, contextually-relevant Wallace Recommendation from its Thing-ness, for very good reasons.

These days I mostly try to get book recommendations, rather than give them.
posted by Sokka shot first at 11:56 AM on April 17 [37 favorites]


That we could all be as privileged to have bros that recommend books. When I came up, bros at best could recommend hair product, nose product, and maybe tanning product. Maybe.

Such bros are these, reading books, listening to the Mountain Goats, not rolling coal, not insisting that you put Sublime back on. What bros can we expect in the future? A bro that always has some fresh bread in his bag. Volunteer bros at the food bank. Bros Sans Frontiers. It's a new world.
posted by turntraitor at 12:00 PM on April 17 [89 favorites]


All else aside, I found Brief Interviews to be a bad book. I'm with the author. It made me feel awful to read and I've never been tempted to go back to it.

And I agree with the above. My learning is that it is always better to ask for a recommendation than to give one.
posted by n9 at 12:04 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


brb editing my OKCupid profile
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:08 PM on April 17 [47 favorites]


"The Thing That’s Good Is The Thing Men Like" I hate that this is true but for fucks sake this is so true. I've actually been saying outright, for the past 2 years or so, that I have no interest in reading or watching male things. There's always a very pregnant pause when I say that I've opted out of reading something, because I'm not interested in what men praise about other men.
posted by FirstMateKate at 12:09 PM on April 17 [86 favorites]


My most surprising takeaway from this essay is 'wait, that dude who wrote that humorous essay about a cruise is the same guy who wrote that massive brick that white dudes love?' Somehow I never put that together.

No one has ever actually recommended DFW to me, but I have noticed a definite trend that dudes, especially in early stages of dating, will enthusiastically recommend TV shows to you and want you to bingewatch them with them, but when you say 'sure!' and then suggest also bingewatching a show that you really like, they sort of shrug it off like 'eh maybe later.' Once I noticed this it was totally infuriating and now I consider it a red flag.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:11 PM on April 17 [143 favorites]


I think the piece is good and makes important points about the patriarchy's influence on what we consider good popular culture, but at the same time, I'm a woman who read Infinite Jest when it was published, along with three other women friends--we all read it together and all four of us adored it without qualification. I've read it three times since. So... I'm not sure how that fits with TFA except that maybe passage of time has made IJ a signifier of something that it wasn't when it was published, or when DFW was alive? Dunno.
posted by tzikeh at 12:12 PM on April 17 [54 favorites]


I once had a job where you were supposed to fill out a short bio so people could get to know you, which I kind of resented. I listed my favorite books as Infinite Jest and Everyone Poops.
posted by gngstrMNKY at 12:14 PM on April 17 [17 favorites]


Love how she sets up the creepy asshole vibe straightaway. The guy that forced cocaine into her during sex is our introduction to the DFW faction.
posted by tunewell at 12:15 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


tzikeh, the cult definitely did not arrive until after his death. I had never heard of him until I read the New Yorker piece about his mental illness after he committed suicide.
posted by radicalawyer at 12:16 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


So... I'm not sure how that fits with TFA except that maybe passage of time has made IJ a signifier of something that it wasn't when it was published, or when DFW was alive? Dunno.

I haven't read it and so can't speak to its quality, but for me, it feels sort of like how the Canon of Best TV Shows Ever is 95% shows about vaguely tortured usually-white men in traditionally masculine professions. It's not like Breaking Bad and Deadwood and The Sopranos and The Wire etc aren't great shows, but why are they the only sorts of shows that are 'the best'?
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:17 PM on April 17 [61 favorites]


For awhile, I was seeing a guy who really liked David Foster Wallace. He once forced me to do cocaine by shoving it inside me during sex. He wasn’t the first man to recommend Wallace, but he’s the last whose suggestion I pretended to consider. So while I’ve never read a book by Wallace, I’m preemptively uninterested in your opinion about it.

Maybe all sorts of people like DFW? And the sorts of people who will try to shove it down your throat are a small but awful subset? And how do you differentiate between someone who is using their "taste" to establish power over you vs. someone who is just genuinely excited about something and wants to proactively share it? Unless that is not a thing we can do anymore.

The whole thingification of DFW makes me agitated, how he went from merely a great author who got people excited about literature to a signifier of your douchey date-rapey shoving-coke-in-hoo-hahs bro-ness. Like SSF, I don't talk about stuff that I like, either, because it has a very high likelihood of garnering a negative reaction.

And for the record, IJ was recommended to me by a woman.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:23 PM on April 17 [36 favorites]


To me, liking and recommending the "right" books and the "right" music seems of a piece with being a straight man in this society, which I guess is why so many of them do it. It's performative enjoyment to ward off social censure for having disapproved tastes, which as we all know are a sign of internal depravity. "Why yes, I do like all of these things that just so happen to fall within the boundaries of what society approves of." "Why yes, I do enjoy never making physical contact with any human being except for women I'm having sex with." "Why yes, I do enjoy never expressing sincere emotions other than anger."
posted by J.K. Seazer at 12:24 PM on April 17 [19 favorites]


I have noticed a definite trend that dudes, especially in early stages of dating, will enthusiastically recommend TV shows to you and want you to bingewatch them with them

romance.txt
posted by grobstein at 12:27 PM on April 17 [5 favorites]


I mean turns out I do own a TV but how the fuck is binge-watching an exciting new-relationship activity and not what you do when you are comfortable and vaguely bored?
posted by grobstein at 12:28 PM on April 17 [16 favorites]


The only thing I've read by DFW is his essay on the lobster festival. Which I forget because the same space in my brain is now taken up by "Velveteen vs. The Isley Crawfish Festival." (This one is silly, but the stories get richer as you go on with them.) But the thought about men recommending serious work by men is something that struck home.

When I first got my Kindle, I went on a mini buying spree. And I tried to categorize the books into "lightweight" (books that I would read just for fun, that didn't require that much mental energy) and "heavy" (books that would probably require me to be mentally alert when reading). And despite having a good mix of men and women in my initial buying spree, almost all of the women's work fell into "lightweight" and I consciously moved a novella by Louis McMaster Bujold into "heavy" so it wouldn't be all men. I wasn't intentionally choosing the books this way, it was just the way they'd worked out.

I don't read much "serious" work by women writers. Even in the SF/F genre, I find myself doing that. (I loved The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms but have only read the first few pages of the Fifth Season, keep promising myself I'll go back to it.) As for literary fiction, when I was reading it, it was all Pynchon and Ecco and Chabon (although I do pride myself on avoiding Mailer and Roth). I never tackled any of the literary fiction written by women outside of classes in high school and college.

So of course these guys want you to read the book that seriously helped define who they are (I keep trying to get people to read The Phantom Tollbooth for the same reason). And because of the way guys, even those like me who try to maintain a gender parity in the books they read, select books, the serious, life-changing books will all be by men.

(I'd like to commit to reading stuff by women that is part of the modern canon, but given that I've kind of stopped reading stuff by the men, I don't feel like I can do that. I will, however, go back and actually read the Jemison and Lecke I've got on my shelves.)
posted by Hactar at 12:28 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Maybe all sorts of people like DFW? And the sorts of people who will try to shove it down your throat are a small but awful subset?

David Foster Wallace: the fedora of literature?
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:28 PM on April 17 [45 favorites]


the "right" music seems of a piece with being a straight man in this society, which I guess is why so many of them do it.

A good explanation for the men behind me at a local show on Saturday who yelled over the music to each other how much they loved the musicians as they were performing. I can't help doubting the sincerity of their compliments despite the immense volume they made.
posted by palindromic at 12:33 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


Now what humorously dismissive tome will be posted when an AskMe comes up about going on a cruise?
posted by hwyengr at 12:33 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


J.K. Seazer: I've noticed in conversations about "guilty pleasures" and the like that there will always be at least one person, usually a dude, who will claim to not even understand the concept, and how everyone should just like whatever they like, and that said dude will also make a point to exhibit tastes that fit directly in line with the consensus of what is acceptable.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:34 PM on April 17 [28 favorites]


I wonder how recommending "Blood Meridian" would go over, in dating? We could go get a motel room and eat dinner from the vending machines and read it out loud together.
posted by thelonius at 12:34 PM on April 17 [19 favorites]


I have noticed a definite trend that dudes, especially in early stages of dating, will enthusiastically recommend TV shows to you and want you to bingewatch them with them, but when you say 'sure!' and then suggest also bingewatching a show that you really like, they sort of shrug it off like 'eh maybe later.' Once I noticed this it was totally infuriating and now I consider it a red flag.

Oh wow, yes. This literally just happened to me, a dude I dated for like three weeks made so many recommendations to me about media I needed to get familiar with, but seemed weirdly resistant to taking any of my suggestions for anything he should read/watch/listen to... I've been viewing getting unceremoniously and out of the blue text-dumped by that guy as a gift from the universe in that I probably dodged one hell of a bullet.
posted by palomar at 12:36 PM on April 17 [51 favorites]


That said, I do love DFW, but oh lord does he have flaws, and he only gets recommended by me in rare instances and in a very cautious fashion.
posted by palomar at 12:38 PM on April 17 [7 favorites]


I wonder how recommending "Blood Meridian" would go over, in dating? We could go get a motel room and eat dinner from the vending machines and read it out loud together.

sounds hot
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:41 PM on April 17 [14 favorites]


Maybe all sorts of people like DFW? And the sorts of people who will try to shove it down your throat are a small but awful subset? And how do you differentiate between someone who is using their "taste" to establish power over you vs. someone who is just genuinely excited about something and wants to proactively share it? Unless that is not a thing we can do anymore.

This is almost literally "not-all-David Foster Wallace-fans". If you're one of the good ones cool but it feels a little strange to me that you are so personally upset by the fact that this woman isn't interested in men's opinions on an author.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:42 PM on April 17 [90 favorites]


sounds hot

"And of that is the Judge judge."
posted by thelonius at 12:43 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


I had a coworker who read Ulysses for the sole purpose of being able to tell people he read it. He is a really smart, well-read person but I absolutely applaud his honesty there.

I started Infinite Jest (recommended to me by a man, yes, but one I've known forever so I trusted him) and it didn't do anything for me so I quit. I do find it a sad shorthand for "Look at how smart and deep I am because I read this really long book" which is annoying. I'm not saying it's that for everyone, but I do think a lot of people expect me to be impressed by the fact they read it. If you like it, that's cool.

But I do think this gets at a much bigger issue that I find with men recommending things to women (and men, to be honest) is that they only consider what they like, not what their audience likes. My friend recommended IJ to me because he thought I'd be interested in it because he knows my taste (and, on the surface, it did seem like something I'd enjoy). There have been so many other times, though, for example, I'll say something like "Yeah, I want to watch a new TV show. Nothing too graphically violent and I prefer if rape isn't a huge plot point" and someone -- likely a man -- will inevitably chime in with, say "How about Game of Thrones?" (Not picking on Game of Thrones, here, but common example. This is not meant to be a derail about GoT.)

It really feels like people (usually men, let's be clear) are telling me "You don't know your own mind well enough to know what you'd like so I'm going to overrule your specifications and just tell you something I like. It is the right answer because I like it."

It's exhausting to have this happen almost every single time you ask for a recommendation.

You can like DFW. More power to you! You can even recommend DFW to people, including women! But when you do, stop and ask yourself how you'd finish "You should read Infinite Jest because ..." If you finish it with "because I liked it" maybe try again. Why is the other person going to like it?

(This goes for all recommendations, of course.)
posted by darksong at 12:44 PM on April 17 [74 favorites]


So of course these guys want you to read the book that seriously helped define who they are

Well, apart from the fact that for many of them, it's about who they want you to think that they are...

I'm not sure what to take away from your comment, that the reason you can't recommend serious books by women is because you don't read serious books by women. You phrase it as if not reading serious books by women is something that just happens, and indicates nothing -

But of course, it doesn't just happen; there is choice involved. There is prejudice involved. Men choose not to consume works by women. And works by women are generally considered less intellectually serious than works by men, making them less likely to admit to, or recommend, the ones that they do read.

So where does that leave a woman who is tired of this pattern, who is tired of the systematic undervaluing of female artists - and, by extension, her own intellectual seriousness - by her male friends and lovers? Should she just not notice the pattern, because for every man there is plausible deniability? What?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:47 PM on April 17 [62 favorites]


I too am a woman who. [1] but I keep it to myself whenever I am engaged in a brief interview with a hideous man. because while men are learning to nod respectfully when I mention liking extremely good and moderately obscure women writers, and one man in a thousand will be genuinely impressed because he likes the very same women writers I mention, not one man in a million will pat me on the head and call me a good dog for it the way he will when I say a thing about a Man Writer For Men. Cormac McCarthy may be all right -- no Mary McCarthy, but he's ok -- but I will rip out my own liver before I parade my tepid appreciation of him before a man who will be so pleased with me for doing a trick for him, the way he likes to see.

no, my enjoyment of male writers is best husbanded away and discussed only with other women who will agree or disagree but in any case not presume to award me a high pass for my trouble.

[1] a woman who likes certain parts of Salinger, a woman who likes Charles Portis, a woman likes Patrick McGrath - not that boys care about him, but he is a man. a woman who says belligerently, WELL I AM A WOMAN WHO. you know.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:47 PM on April 17 [54 favorites]


And for the record, IJ was recommended to me by a woman.

From TFA:

"It should also be noted that, upon hearing about this essay, male Wallace fans have specifically listed women they know who like Wallace — as if this invalidates my disinterest somehow."
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 12:52 PM on April 17 [66 favorites]


for me, it feels sort of like how the Canon of Best TV Shows Ever is 95% shows about vaguely tortured usually-white men in traditionally masculine professions. It's not like Breaking Bad and Deadwood and The Sopranos and The Wire etc aren't great shows, but why are they the only sorts of shows that are 'the best'?

lololol yes, exactly. In fact, The Wire features heavily in the list of things men have almost demanded that I watch during the early days of dating and they're always appalled that I haven't finished it yet. But every dude who's demanded that I watch The Wire has also dumped me for some fucking bonkers-ass reason like I breathe too loud when I sleep or whatever, so at this point the mere suggestion that I watch it is pretty much the biggest non-criminal red flag a man could wave in my face.

It's a shame, too, The Wire really is great. But if you're pushing five seasons of The Wire on me, you sure as shit better be down for whatever media I'm bringing to the table for you to ingest. Especially if it's a whopping 7 episodes of Little Big Lies.
posted by palomar at 12:54 PM on April 17 [50 favorites]


Especially if it's a whopping 7 episodes of Little Big Lies.

The male critic dismissal of Big Little Lies as a "soap" or whatever will grind my gears until the end of time.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 12:57 PM on April 17 [24 favorites]


I think one thing about David Foster Wallace is that even he wasn't David! Foster! Wallace! for most of the time he was writing. Even when there was all that noise about Infinite Jest. At least in my particular world, when Infinite Jest came out, most people thought it was kind of a joke. I read it in 2001 because someone had brought a copy to Beijing and I'd read most of the other English-language options and my mandarin was at kids' book level, not novel level, expecting it to be...kind of dumb. It seems like Wallacemania is not only very much a male thing, but also a safely dead thing.

I think that the underlying moral problems with Wallace's work, are, actually, what render it susceptible to Wallacemanizing. It's like, he's very good at what is wrong with the interiority of middle class people and the discomforts thereof, but he offers little except "be a more compassionate person" as a solution, and little except psychologizing in place of structural understanding of the world, which means that you can read his work as very, very comforting without being at all challenged on your behaviors or complicity.

At the risk of being all "I don't even own a television", I will say that I read Girl With Curious Hair when I was fifteen and then got Broom of the System and found them both baffling and unsettling but engaging, and then I was really, really surprised when he got, like, famous, like everyone had heard of him, when normally no one had heard of people I'd read.

I guess in a weird way I feel a lot of regret that his work is kind of a punchline. I don't think he's terrible or unperceptive, and the political climate in which he did most of his writing was pretty different from today. I think that the internet has changed things so fast that it can be hard to remember that there weren't always a plurality of readily accessible voices talking about sexual assault, for instance. It's easy now to say "why are you reading some dude about women's experiences of sexual assault" and "Some Dude, why are you writing this?" But I assure you that when I was a teenager, Before The Internet, it was much, much more difficult to find women who got published doing kind of writing. They existed, but they were much less well known, less widely distributed, and it was very helpful to have access to a large, independent bookstore or a small alternative space which sold fanzines if you were going to read their work. Today all you need is a search engine.

And because of that, the idea that a respectable dude author would write such kind of thing felt different.

(And before everyone is all "but that's dumb, you could have read [books]"...well, I was there. I had money in my pocket and access to two cities, plus a lot of punk rock friends, and frankly in 1990 the book landscape was very different. Shitty semi-confessional stuff like Elizabeth Wurtzel, etc, changed the Famous Book landscape a lot. And also, up through the mid-nineties, Kathy Acker, for instance, was super-duper transgressive and her books were kind of hard to find. Not that Kathy Acker isn't interesting and significant, but her work is just not shocking now the way it was, because the media landscape is different.)

It seems like we need a history of the nineties and the cultural transformations that happened then, because I feel like a lot of nineties stuff (like BiWHM) is...well, look, I'm not going to stand up for these particular essays, but I think it's worth understanding the context in which they appeared.
posted by Frowner at 12:58 PM on April 17 [66 favorites]


> (I'd like to commit to reading stuff by women that is part of the modern canon, but given that I've kind of stopped reading stuff by the men, I don't feel like I can do that.

Why? I don't understand this. It's one thing if you're like "eh, I find I don't enjoy literary fiction any longer", but this reads to me as if you're not going to read works by women because you've stopped reading stuff by men and so...it wouldn't be fair? Or something?
posted by rtha at 12:58 PM on April 17 [6 favorites]


Just wanna say that I recently received an awesome book rec. from a dude friend, Too Like The Lightning by Ada Palmer and so far it is excellent.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:59 PM on April 17 [7 favorites]


These men seem to think I’m saying the thing they love is bad, when really I’m just saying I don’t care about the thing they love.

Everyone on the internet, especially men, needs to learn this line by heart. Maybe get it tattooed somewhere they can see it on a daily basis until they really really know it.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:59 PM on April 17 [51 favorites]


Reading this felt very freeing. I've never read any DFW either and I've had many men recommend his work to me, though not also by someone who has assaulted me. This puts my reflexive "ugh" into a lot of context.

Can the editor assign some Toni Morrison to a male reviewer next?
posted by Tesseractive at 1:00 PM on April 17 [6 favorites]


On an early date, a girl asked me if I'd read Wallace.

"I've tried," I said, "But I end up having to put the book down because I want to punch him in the face."

It turned out she was one of his students, and found this incredibly funny.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 1:03 PM on April 17 [41 favorites]


And because of the way guys, even those like me who try to maintain a gender parity in the books they read, select books, the serious, life-changing books will all be by men.

just because it's momentarily a little bit socially acceptable, at times and in places like this, to say men are all terrible, it's not like men are all equally and helplessly terrible such that nobody ever need feel personally implicated or responsible for their free reading choices in their early years. I have never been close to a guy of whom the above was true (and believe it or don't but I have been close to a few.) Plenty of men read and are shocked and thrilled at formative ages by great works by great women. enough? no. lots? yes.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:06 PM on April 17 [21 favorites]


Male identity the US is shaped in two ways -- what you do and what you like. This is as true among the working classes as it is among the middle class. Maybe you don't collect vinyl, maybe you don't have a quote from Futurama for every occasion, but you might be into fixing cars or hunting or bowling or football or Nascar or square-dancing or fishing or woodworking. (Before anybody gets up in arms about my working class stereotypes please note I am also stereotyping the middle class here -- this comment relies on stereotypes to illustrate a point).

There are some affordances for female identity to be shaped by career and hobby -- nurses, teachers, crafters -- but the spectrum is not nearly so wide. And note the hostility women face as they enter gaming/geek/con space -- spaces that are filled by men who are really committed to identity through media consumption. These women are challenged, they face hostility, they face incredulity that women can have interests the way men can -- because having interests makes them individual and human.

All of which is to say that I think the kind of dude who is pushy about getting a woman into what he's into is to some extent sharing who he believes he is with that woman. It's even the way some men bond with each other -- by turning each other on to new things to like. That's why you get a lot of it early in relationships. I think it's also why you see resistance from men to being introduced to anything by women in return -- their identities are shaped already, thank you very much, and shaped by very specific influences.

I think these are very difficult cultural forces to fight against (grrr patriarchy!), and I think there's hope for interesting and meaningful friendships with dudes who are like this early on but show willingness to be influenced, and introduced to new things.
posted by mrmurbles at 1:11 PM on April 17 [51 favorites]


So I shouldn't front about not liking Wallace, cause uh if you go through my mefi comments you'll notice that there was like a year solid where all of them were heavily footnoted, and it's pretty obvious where I picked up that affectation, right?

But I don't recommend him to anyone. One because he has indeed become the fedora of upper-middlebrow lit since his death, but two because I'm not Christian. And the thing that makes his writing interesting and difficult, I think, is his deeply examined/beanplated Christianity, which is rarely explicitly mentioned but which is on pretty much every page of his later work.

Like, if I see a garden variety hip dude carrying around Infinite Jest I find a way to avoid conversation, but when I see a Christian lefty-activist friend with a copy of Pale King, I suspect said person is on my wavelength or whatever. Basically I trust left Christians as people who can pick up what Wallace lays down without getting distracted by the cult of dudebro that's built up around him, but I can't really extend the same benefit of the doubt to anyone else — even though I've read IJ a billion times and am not a Christian.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:18 PM on April 17 [14 favorites]


She found The Road boring, and dudes recommended DFW:

http://tellmewhatyourereading.tumblr.com/post/148749344102/d-e-i-r-d-r-e-c-o-y-l-e

Bad call.

The point of recommending books is to recommend something that someone else will actually like, not something that you want them to like. So, in this case, I would probably recommend something like Samanta Schweblin to her or something, since it seems like that would be far more likely to be an area of taste overlap, and Schweblin's novel has been translated recently enough that she probably hasn't already heard it 100 times.

DFW (and Vollmann/DeLillo) were great entry level authors for me in 2000, and I still keep up with the latter two, but none of them really seem like something I would recommend to a woman I didn't know really well in 2017. I think a lot of dudes put the focus on their DFW love because IJ is probably the first and final big complex book that they have read or will read. Plus, IJ is the easiest big doorstop signifier book to get through, so it involves the least effort. That said, I would still probably put it in my top 50-100 American books list, even if DFW could be kind of a putz and makes for a horrible role model.

----

As a sidenote, since he came up, I was the person vehemently saying "why the fuck would I read Roth?" 10 years ago. Then I ended up being given one of his books around the same time that I got flamed to death for saying I wasn't into small dicks with big dictions, decided to read it, and liked it enough that I felt compelled to read the rest of his books. I can see where he would be troubling to some readers. He occasionally troubled me. A person who won't read troubling authors should probably skip him and 90% of what was popular before like 2010, but a heavy reader who will overlook a bit to read good fiction will probably find something worthwhile in some of his books. (even if he wouldn't be in the top 100 authors that I would recommend to a potential date) There is quite a bit of there there, so to speak, and I found it worth treading through some bullshit to get to it.
posted by bootlegpop at 1:18 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


Is DFW the The Big Lebowski of literary fiction?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:20 PM on April 17 [12 favorites]


IJ is on my eventual reading list. I'm a bit wary because the literary fiction world seems to have misogyny baked into it as described in an earlier thread (warn). I'm deeply skeptical about recommendations given how frequently Sad Boner Confessional gets praised as insightful and truthy. That's not to say that IJ is a Sad Boner Confessional, just that I can't trust writing about writing these days. But it's not as if I can do much more than a chapter or a short of pulp every other day or so.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:24 PM on April 17 [5 favorites]


I've been hating on DFW since wayyy before it was cool. Plus I never read his shit either. I recommend you do the same ;)
posted by some loser at 1:24 PM on April 17


Is DFW the The Big Lebowski of literary fiction?

No, because women fans of Lebowski are welcomed by men at LebowskiFest [1] with open arms [2].

[1] as far as I have heard/read

[2] this is not a double entendre

posted by tzikeh at 1:24 PM on April 17 [5 favorites]


Especially if it's a whopping 7 episodes of Little Big Lies.

The male critic dismissal of that show as a "soap" or whatever will grind my gears until the end of time.


SPOILER ALERT FOR BIG LITTLE LIES

This drives me absolutely crazy because I think there were some things on the show that were incredibly well done in a very literary way, most particularly the way Celeste's marriage is presented to the viewer more or less from her perspective but as if it were objective narration. Early on, when we first see them talking to the counselor, the abuse is presented as occasional and the result of passion and it feels like Celeste and her husband are sort of pulling the counselor into a creepy but mutual sex game. It seems unhealthy, but also special and interesting and exotic and intense. As time goes by and Celeste starts to see the relationship as the abusive one it is, it's also presented more clearly to the viewer too. The way it's presented, the way the apparent passion morphs into just obvious, horrifying abuse of the type way too many people experience, mirrors the way Celeste moves from denial to recognition.

I took a class on Ulysses in college and the professor at some point rhapsodized about how some short story or something James Joyce had written began "So and so was literally swept off her feet" or similar and how it was so impressive that we were getting this in the character's voice because obviously James Joyce knew that it was not literally true but that's how the character would have expressed it. I wonder if he would be equally impressed with the show presenting a character's viewpoint as if it were objective narration or if he wouldn't even notice in this show about women?
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:25 PM on April 17 [40 favorites]


I guess in a weird way I feel a lot of regret that his work is kind of a punchline.

YES. That is what I was trying to get at. My gloom is borne of the fact that it is now virtually impossible to talk about him without all of this baggage about his Prototypical Fan. Not because of one article in particular, though this one is certainly indicative of that trend. And clearly there are a bunch of "lit-bros" out there ruining it for everyone else.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:32 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


I do think it's fair to describe IJ as a 1,000 page version of the old trick where you write "how do you keep an idiot entertained? (see other side)" on both sides of a piece of paper.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:35 PM on April 17 [17 favorites]


I have just had a "Saul on the road to Damascus" moment re: this article and this thread.

All the years I had boyfriends and crushes and male friends recommend media to me as though I too could benefit from their exquisite taste (half the time I would check it out, the rest I would ignore) and anytime I recommended media in return, it was usually met with disinterest, if not outright pity.

I'm not playing that game anymore. If you're a guy and you're my friend and you swear up and down I should check something out, you had better damn well defend why your taste and suggestion is more important. And I tell you you should watch the Gilmore Girls or another show that qualifies as feminine in your eyes and you snort at me, you won't have eyes for long.
posted by Kitteh at 1:38 PM on April 17 [61 favorites]


YCTaB: where should I go to read more about DFW and Christianity? (I've long been struck by how Christian IJ seems---it actually reminds me of nothing so much as Marilynne Robinson's Gilead---but I've never really gone past "Huh. Those characters' experiences did a surprising amount to shape my theology.")
posted by golwengaud at 1:39 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


I loved Infinite Jest. And A Supposedely …

I don't recommend books to anybody really, men or women. They're too personal, and very few people share my tastes.
posted by signal at 1:39 PM on April 17 [5 favorites]


I love DFW without reservation. And I'm really weirded out, and more than mildly irritated, by the notion that I'm therefore some sort of traitor to women because I'm siding with dudebros or something. Whatever.
posted by holborne at 1:43 PM on April 17 [19 favorites]


I don't think the author is responsible for that notion?
posted by Think_Long at 1:46 PM on April 17 [24 favorites]


"I love DFW without reservation. And I'm really weirded out, and more than mildly irritated, by the notion that I'm therefore some sort of traitor to women because I'm siding with dudebros or something. Whatever."

I feel you, but it probably hasn't helped that IJ has been one of the "meme trilogy" people recommend on 4chan's Lit board for the last half decade to the extent that it's now considered passe even there. Lit is nicer than like /b/, but it's still 4chan.
posted by bootlegpop at 1:47 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


If I enjoy your company I will recommend, A Supposedly but its kind fun to watch DWF squirm and freak out about cruise ship toilets.

If I don't like you, I will recommend IJ because I found it boring, dense and intolerable, just like you. You two deserve each other.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:50 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


> YCTaB: where should I go to read more about DFW and Christianity? (I've long been struck by how Christian IJ seems---it actually reminds me of nothing so much as Marilynne Robinson's Gilead---but I've never really gone past "Huh. Those characters' experiences did a surprising amount to shape my theology.")

I don't know if anything great off the top of my head, other than like stuff you can find by googling "'David Foster Wallace' Christianity." If I had to guess, I was tipped off to his Christianity by Slacktivist, and then suddenly realized, as if the scales had fallen from my eyes, as if a beam of light had hit me from above — gosh, if only there were some explicitly Christian metaphor to describe this sort of event! — that almost all of the people with whom I've had interesting rather than tedious conversations about DFW with were Christians.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:51 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


I recommend books and movies and music and art all the time, to women, to men, to lovers, to friends, to strangers. And I'm not going to stop. I usually explain why I'm recommending it. Most often it's with "here's why *I* loved it" rather than with "here's why you might love it." If after hearing me out you don't want to try what I'm recommending, then don't. And I'd love to hear what you are recommending, and why... Countless women (and a few men) have recommended Jane Austen to me, yet I just never liked any of her novels that I tried. I don't use that as a prompt to seethe at women, or Austen, or anything at all.
posted by twsf at 1:52 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


I love this article. I have had IJ recommended to me too many times, and when I say I picked it up but put it down because I couldn't get into it, they immediately, condescendingly, are like "it's not as hard as it looks!" No, motherfucker, it's not HARD, I just hate your precious dude characters!
posted by corb at 1:52 PM on April 17 [27 favorites]


She pretty much lost me at "All white guys own this book". I am white and a guy and I have never owned it. But, by elements out of my control, I am automatically an oppressor. :sigh:

(Also, in SciFi, the Becky Chambers Wayfarers books are pretty fun in sort of a "roll your own space family"/Firefly way with an interesting diversion into AI.)
posted by Samizdata at 1:52 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


(like basically the only person I've had great conversations about DFW with who's not Christian is my best friend from high school, and he's basically a real live saint, sooooo...)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:53 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


I am white and a guy and I have never owned it.

When you go home tonight, you will see a North Face fleece jacket out of place. Lift it up and you will find, under it, a copy of Infinite Jest, bookmarked with the receipt indicating that you purchased it at a Border's in 2005. You own it. You have always owned it
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:56 PM on April 17 [196 favorites]


I love DFW without reservation. And I'm really weirded out, and more than mildly irritated, by the notion that I'm therefore some sort of traitor to women because I'm siding with dudebros or something. Whatever.


As noted above, people are really not-all-DFW-fanning the heck out of this piece.

I too am a woman who happens to love IJ and DFW in general. I also realize that it's just an example of a type of book that some kinds of men will push on women they know without regard to that woman's tastes, without willingness to be influenced in return, and without any sense that [book example] while widely recognized as great, is not the only kind of book that can be great.

If you have not had this experience, the piece is not aimed at you, and there's no need to come in and talk about how you haven't had this experience.
posted by mrmurbles at 1:57 PM on April 17 [63 favorites]


I really like DFW's essays quite a bit, but the only time I tried to read Infinite Jest was while I was on a paleontological trip to the Kenyan desert and wow, I was way too exhausted to be able to cope with infinite footnotes.
posted by ChuraChura at 1:58 PM on April 17


Most often it's with "here's why *I* loved it" rather than with "here's why you might love it."

I do this too, all the time, and it is the opposite of a recommendation, which to be thoughtful and worthwhile is targeted to the individual you're speaking to. the other thing (which I do) is just talking about yourself, via books. which is more fun than anything, but.

I had a horrible realization, which is: I am terrific at recommending books to people, which I do well and unselfishly in the classic manner, and I bet a lot of guys have not realized at all what was happening to them when I did so. I bet I've even told someone to read DFW at least once, over the long years. definitely as a bookseller I have suggested to many that they read Kerouac and that sort of thing. but if I did, I most certainly meant here is a book that for sure you will like, not here is a book that is good. and if I did do that, he is probably roaming the earth to this day, telling people that a woman told him to read it. well, maybe I did, out of the disinterested kindness of my soul. but maybe telling a man he is sure to enjoy a thing that is tailor-made for him is a compliment neither to him nor to the thing, sometimes.
posted by queenofbithynia at 2:02 PM on April 17 [36 favorites]


One reason why IJ recommendations are such a red flag these days is that it is such a basic recommendation — everyone's heard of it, everyone's already either read it twice or thrown it across the room, everyone already has a strong opinion of it. Recommending IJ is like recommending Gatsby or Crying of Lot 49 or (to bring in another middlebrow dude author who I loved to death in my teens and early 20s) Haruki Murakami.

Recommending IJ means that you'd love to be seen as well-read. But it tells the person you're recommending it to nothing about yourself, other than that you desire to seem well-read but are not well-read. It is the canonical thirsty book recommendation, just like the fedora is the canonical thirsty hat.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:07 PM on April 17 [29 favorites]


You own it. You have always owned it

A burning feeling on your forearm. You look down. A tattoo, courier bold:
this is water . . . 
posted by Think_Long at 2:07 PM on April 17 [22 favorites]


I think the kind of dude who is pushy about getting a woman into what he's into is to some extent sharing who he believes he is with that woman.

It's been my experience that guys who push women into their interests are not so much sharing themselves, nor wanting her to be interested in what's important to him, as wanting her to be impressed that these are his interests and he has deigned to share them with her.

Guys who "indulge" girlfriends who are willing to try out their favorite video games are not happy when those girlfriends get good at them. Guys who turn women on to writers don't generally want them to love the books, read all of that writer's works, perform textual analyses on them, and write insightful reviews of the contents.

The attitude is more often, "I am into this awesome thing - and you can be too, but only a little bit, and you definitely can't fully experience the awesomeness as much as I do."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:15 PM on April 17 [54 favorites]


Look. Recommending books is serious business. You can't just assume that because you liked a book that someone else will like it as well. Unless they are exactly like me (which would be creepy and awesome at the same time) and in the same emotional place that I was in at the moment, I NEVER assume that someone will like a book just because I did. Thousands of factors go into someone liking a book, you can't just decide "Hey I liked this book! I like this person! They like me! They will like this book!" That's not how it works.

Then again, I took classes on recommending books. I've read books on recommending books. Hell, I'm a professionally trained book recommender, or as the kids call them today, a librarian.

That said, I've never read DFW. I've never recommended DFW and I probably never will. He's not hard to find and those that want him will find him. Instead, I'll ask you what you currently like to read and find commonality there.
posted by teleri025 at 2:16 PM on April 17 [13 favorites]


I find this tiring in the way that a lot of meta-critique exhausts me, but I do appreciate the Consider-the-Lobster-ness of it -- a review of Brief Interviews that is not really about Brief Interviews.
posted by jgooden at 2:18 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]




I do think it's fair to describe IJ as a 1,000 page version of the old trick where you write "how do you keep an idiot entertained? (see other side)" on both sides of a piece of paper.

There's this weird set of criticism of Infinite Jest that isn't satisfied to dismiss it as "not for me" but that contends the author can't possibly be sincere, can't possibly have anything to communicate beyond his desire to impress his audience, and that that audience can't possibly actually enjoy the book on its merits.

I think if there's one thing you can say about DFW it's that he was trapped in a mind that was frantic, overflowing, depressed and desperate to communicate with other people. The fact that he often failed -- including with the many, many people who hate Infinite Jest -- means about as much as the fact that James Joyce didn't win everyone over with Ulysses.

I actually suspect that's why IJ is so polarizing. If it represents a kind of thinking, a way of thinking, a mental experience of the world you can relate to -- then it's unusual and very satisfying to encounter in another person. If it's not a mental experience of the world you relate to then it's unintelligible. What's weird is how hard it is for some people to believe that it's intelligible to anybody else, and then call anyone who says they enjoy it an idiot or a liar.
posted by mrmurbles at 2:20 PM on April 17 [19 favorites]


> There's this weird set of criticism of Infinite Jest that isn't satisfied to dismiss it as "not for me" but that contends the author can't possibly be sincere, can't possibly have anything to communicate beyond his desire to impress his audience, and that that audience can't possibly actually enjoy the book on its merits.

Mostly I was just making a joke about the structure of the book. You read to the end to figure out what was going on at the start, but DFW doesn't give it to you that easily, so you flip to the front and read it again to figure out what's going on at the start, but DFW doesn't give it to you so easily, so you flip to the front and read it again...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:22 PM on April 17 [8 favorites]


you sure as shit better be down for whatever media I'm bringing to the table for you to ingest. Especially if it's a whopping 7 episodes of Little Big Lies.

Big Little Lies ought to be required viewing for every single man. Almost every single man in that show is garbage in their own unique and not at all remarkable way, and a dedicated and attentive study of the ways in which those men are utter garbage can only be improving to every man's character. Of course, that supposes that men will even understand what's wrong with a bunch of those characters, and the critical response from men suggests they do not and that they don't understand about half of what's going on with the women and between the women in that show.

Don't "suggest" I should watch all the endless seasons of Breaking Bad or The Sopranos or Mad Men or whatever the fuck the white man problems entry to the Canon du jour is, and then blow off watching something like Big Little Lies. I assure you, having seen one or two of such entries to the Man Canon, I have seen all of them. For once, dudes should make a foray into Things That Women Like, instead of the interminable list of Things That Are Good Are The Things Men Like.
posted by yasaman at 2:22 PM on April 17 [34 favorites]


(Whenever I read a Wallace discussion I have to remember that people aren't expressing strong opinions on the Dallas/Fort Worth airport.)

teleri025 I would love to know more about how to recommend books well! I've recently started trying to recommend books using Roger Ebert's axiom about movies, "a movie isn't about what it is about but how it is about it" -- I talk a lot more about approach, tone, and stuff like that instead of plot/premise.
posted by brainwane at 2:22 PM on April 17 [6 favorites]


I quit about 2/3rds through Infinite Jest because I realized that the thing that was desuspending my disbelief was getting ever more prevalent and the good bits weren't good enough to make me continue in the hope of getting to another good bit. Basically, his view of humanity as fundamentally solipsistic seemed at odds with my lived experience.

Also, since it's science fiction and I started reading it a few years after it came out, it had aged very badly. The example that ties both of my objections neatly together is the discussion about videophones where he predicts that no one will use them because that means they can't pretend to listen to a phonecall while doing something else. By the time I read that Skype had come into reasonably common use, rendering that prediction laughable.

Mind you, plenty of great books were written by people who had really bizarre ideas about what makes human beings tick (e.g. Tolstoy) but they were interested in other things. Infinite Jest's primary focus is what makes being human bearable, and if I can't accept the basic premise offered of what counts as being human, then I'm not going to get much out of it.

Oh, and one more thing. Some years ago I realized that my reading gender balance was skewing about 2/3rds men. I set myself the rule that whenever I bought a book by a man, I would also by a book by a woman. And I also set myself the rule that I wouldn't just by any book, but a book that I was genuinely interested in. That sometimes necessitated looking at lots of books in stores that I would never have even noticed otherwise, and led me to some absolutely fabulous books. For instance, I just started on the short story collection Labyrinth of the Past by Zhang Yiwei. It begins with an autobiographical essay that gave me more in a dozen or so pages than the 400 page novel I had just finished (the flawed with very good bits Swing Time by Zadie Smith). I bought Labyrinth of the Past to offset a book by a man (the very good Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín) and I would never have come across it except that I went searching a bookstore for a book by a woman.

Anyway, buy books by women, it means that more books by women will be published and you'll come across gems the patriarchal culture you live in does a very poor job of noticing, but will mean a lot to you.
posted by Kattullus at 2:23 PM on April 17 [29 favorites]


I guess I've never felt bad about a guy recommending Wallace to me, because I never believe that they've actually finished a genuine thorough reading (all footnotes!) of IJ. (I started it, found that it resonated a bit too much with certain of my anxieties at the time, and laid it down, but got far enough to know it's a slow read.)

There is also in this essay--setting aside the gender issues, which are real--a fundamental insecurity that I never quite get, at least when expressed by educated people. It's one thing if you come to NYC with a dollar and a dream and feel excluded when your co-workers are talking about, I don't know, Lacan or something. But this writer went to graduate school. So you haven't read Wallace. So what? Surely you read something worth reading in all that time? Why do you still feel literarily subjected to random hipster dudebros? Why so little confidence in your own taste and reading choices? What, really, is the point of going to grad school if you can't look at dudes like that and say, "Come at me, bro?"
posted by praemunire at 2:24 PM on April 17 [6 favorites]


srsly though fuck that airport. best thing I can say about it is that at least it's not LAX.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:25 PM on April 17 [5 favorites]


If you're a guy and you're my friend and you swear up and down I should check something out, you had better damn well defend why your taste and suggestion is more important.

I know what you're actually getting at here but the first thing that comes to mind upon reading this sentence is "be careful what you wish for..."
posted by atoxyl at 2:26 PM on April 17 [6 favorites]


Fantastic and unexpected essay, everyone should read it to the end. It's not really about DFW - so comments defending him or commenting on his work are missing the mark, somewhat. Apropos of the Faulkner mention, the whole article reminds me of the Sound and the Fury, which is specifically about how men and male authors talk/think about women, and women's absence from that conversation.

Favorite line:

Either these Wallace-recommending men don’t realize that they’re the hideous men in question, or they think self-awareness is the best anyone could expect from them.
posted by Emily's Fist at 2:26 PM on April 17 [22 favorites]


One reason why IJ recommendations are such a red flag these days is that it is such a basic recommendation — everyone's heard of it, everyone's already either read it twice or thrown it across the room, everyone already has a strong opinion of it.

Interestingly, you only need to sell ~1MM copies globally to achieve this apparent ubiquity (and I believe I bought 3 of them). This is a lot for literary fiction and nothing to sneeze at, but the literary fiction "best-sellers" generally do better. In the world of books generally, selling a million means success but not, like, epochal success and certainly not a culture-defining one.

Bill Clinton's My Life sold more, but I don't think anyone has ever tried to have a discussion with me about its contents. Actually the only conversations I've ever had or heard about it were about how much money it made.

(Maybe the 1MM figure for Wallace is wrong, it is from Wikipedia and vague as well as vaguely sourced, but I haven't been able to improve on it.)
posted by grobstein at 2:28 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


Also, since it's science fiction and I started reading it a few years after it came out, it had aged very badly. The example that ties both of my objections neatly together is the discussion about videophones where he predicts that no one will use them because that means they can't pretend to listen to a phonecall while doing something else. By the time I read that Skype had come into reasonably common use, rendering that prediction laughable.

I actually love that sort of thing. One of my favorite SF novels came out in the early 90s and a huge part of the plot centers on an impossibly-advanced galaxy-spanning Space Usenet.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:29 PM on April 17 [18 favorites]


(also if you're a dude who recommends DFW there's a chance you might also be a dude who shouts VICTORY FOR THE FORCES OF DEMOCRATIC FREEDOM during sex and uh, that's awkward, y'know?)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:33 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


showbiz_liz: I actually love that sort of thing. One of my favorite SF novels came out in the early 90s and a huge part of the plot centers on an impossibly-advanced galaxy-spanning Space Usenet.

I love reading horribly outdated SF predictions too, but only when I'm already loving the book I'm reading. When it's a book that's annoying me to begin with, it becomes yet another thing that's annoying because it throws into sharp relief what parts of the author's imagination are underpowered.
posted by Kattullus at 2:33 PM on April 17 [12 favorites]


I am looking forward to both DFW-worship and DFW-backlash settling down and DFW receding to be... another guy who wrote some noteworthy books, which we can talk about or not. I haven't read IJ myself (I did read Brief Interviews... and a number of his essays) but the impression I get is that much of the baggage around Wallace has more to do with the place that his books - and books supposedly like his - occupy in culture than the specific content of his books. It's definitely ironic that the most memorable thing I ever read from Wallace is somewhat at the expense of the previous generation of Great Male Writers - but I'm sure that irony has been discussed to death too.
posted by atoxyl at 2:35 PM on April 17 [6 favorites]


(also if you're a dude who recommends DFW there's a chance you might also be a dude who shouts VICTORY FOR THE FORCES OF DEMOCRATIC FREEDOM during sex and uh, that's awkward, y'know?)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:33 PM on April 17 [+] [!]


In film school I used five of the "interviews" to form what was essentially my thesis project and that was the first one we shot and my friend who played that dude (who has now gone on to very real success on stage and screen) had to shout that bit from the fire escape we were shooting his interview from and it took just so many takes to get a clean one without him losing it.

(So I love Brief Interviews. But I also thought this essay was excellent and eye-opening and thus wanted to post it.)
posted by Navelgazer at 2:38 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


ugh and now I've taken Emily's Fist's suggestion and actually read the article and yeah. Just, yeah.

I need to read more books by women.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:39 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


This is why we can't have nice things.1

1 [Long recursive digression about the history of the phrase "this is why we can't have nice things" that is both kind of entertaining and kind of tiresome, with a painful degree of self-awareness about being tiresome that seems to acknowledge it while also being a longform excuse to continue to engage in the tiresome behavior, complete with nested footnotes2 and non-sequiturs and calls for universal compassion that seem at odds with the showy pretentiousness of the language, which is kind of the point, but also kind of lets the author off the hook, which the author acknowledges in a series of nested arguments that simultaneously makes you admire, pity, and detest the author.]

2 like this
posted by speicus at 2:40 PM on April 17 [13 favorites]


I feel like lots of d00ds just never grow out of their "I'm gonna reflexively assume that my new girlfriend knows nothing about good music/literature/film - she must be shown The Right Path" phase, and into "I'm gonna reflexively assume that my new girlfriend is a grown-up person with her own established tastes in things, and not a semi-amorphous creature that I can shape in my own image"...

Anyway, I LOVED "A Supposedly Fun Thing...", but found Infinite Jest to be borderline unreadable.
posted by tantrumthecat at 2:40 PM on April 17 [13 favorites]


Distribution: Mansplainers Interest Group
Keywords: Hexapodia as the key insight

I haven't had a chance to read the famous book from David
Foster Wallace. (It is very long, and my only gateway onto
the Net is very expensive.) Is it true that men refuse
to use videophones? If so, then I think there is an easy
explanation for
--MORE--

posted by grobstein at 2:45 PM on April 17 [28 favorites]


Thinking more about this, it occurs to my small brain that how you are introduced to a work of literature greatly influences your opinion of it. When my friend raved about IJ to me in 2001 ("It's about drugs! And tennis!") it seemed odd but I gave it a gander because I trusted her judgement. I wasn't expecting much (had never heard of it or DFW) and was completely blown away. I also had to deal with my then girlfriend literally hiding the book so I couldn't find it because she thought I was "reading too much." So to complete it felt like something of a personal victory, and only partly because of its page count and vocabulary. Sadly very little of the contemporary-ish literature (Eggers, Franzen, DeLillo, Barth, etc.) did anything for me at all.

But had IJ been presented to me in the context of being a Great Work Of Literature Which Everyone Of A Certain Stature Has Read - like Gravity's Rainbow was at the time - I probably wouldn't even have read it, and might have reflexively formed a negative opinion about it and DFW's work in general.

So I can see how a bunch of pseudo-intellectual posturing using IJ as a prop could turn anyone off to his work and become a negative social marker.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:52 PM on April 17 [11 favorites]


I really dug Infinite Jest, aside from what's in my memory as an interminable section which attempted to be written in urban dialect and holy hell did that section ever not work. But then there'd be an incredibly stoned recounting of Eschaton Tennis or wassisname accidentally ending up in an adult baby group therapy thing, and all would be well again.

Hadn't realized that DFW-recommending had become A Thing (I am old and painfully unhip and very far from Things and seriously it's much calmer very far from Things) but You've Got To Read This! is pretty much always insufferable outside of the right contexts, and so of course when it's mansplainy time, it's (see TFA; I dug it too. You've got to read it!).
posted by Drastic at 2:54 PM on April 17 [5 favorites]


It's definitely ironic that the most memorable thing I ever read from Wallace is somewhat at the expense of the previous generation of Great Male Writers - but I'm sure that irony has been discussed to death too.

Yeah, that essay, which is choice, is one of the reasons I've always felt inclined to defend the guy. "[I]t never once occurs to him that the reason he's so unhappy is that he's an asshole" is such a killer takedown of an entire generation of writers.
posted by praemunire at 2:56 PM on April 17 [15 favorites]


This essay, along with lots of things I've read here and at ask.mefi, have been bringing me around to a hard realization: the business of asking what someone else is reading, or suggesting things they might like, would seem difficult to get right, especially when gender and racial/ethnic and similar differences are in play. But it shouldn't be. Just resist the urge, usually, and especially outside a well-developed relationship. When I recall recommendations I've given, many seem both self-serving and unself-aware. I should have just kept my mouth shut.

I used to recommend DFW's essays - I've never read his fiction - but I think a lot of them have aged badly. The "Federer as Religious Experience" one might turn out to be his most enduring writing, period - either in spite or because of devastating little bomb he totally unfairly plants about three-quarters in. For all its truly beautiful reflection on sport, and tennis, and Federer specifically, telling someone to read it would seem like an unearned "gotcha!"

The linked essay is wonderful, isn't it? Just a master-class in the craft.
posted by Caxton1476 at 2:58 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


"It wouldn’t occur to most women to recommend books by women to men the way men recommend books by men to women."

This seems like one of the most salient points of the essay. Recommending things is definitely a ritual weird one-upsmanship for Dude Culture, and has all sorts of weird "demonstrating prowess" subtexts to it that women aren't expected to be a part of, so men will recommend things to women as an act of power in a way that women generally don't to men. Which is why not being interested in spending multiple hours with a piece of media that exists to articulate the proper arrangement of male plumage by which the man may be judged is both totally understandable and read as an affront. "But how will they have the requisite context to understand the adventures of my penis? IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH MY PENIS?"

"At the risk of being all "I don't even own a television", I will say that I read Girl With Curious Hair when I was fifteen and then got Broom of the System and found them both baffling and unsettling but engaging, and then I was really, really surprised when he got, like, famous, like everyone had heard of him, when normally no one had heard of people I'd read. "

My wife had the same experience, but has still never read Infinite Jest. I knew DFW as an essayist and she gave me GWCH and BotS to borrow, and I liked the former a lot and got bored with the latter. My brother-in-law aspires to an MFA in fiction and has been attempting to get us to read IJ for coming up on 15 years now. But given the near infinite queue of books to read, my wife is one of the very few people who can make me bump up a book to the top of the pile. Despite my BiL's persistence, he is not one of those people.

J.K. Seazer: I've noticed in conversations about "guilty pleasures" and the like that there will always be at least one person, usually a dude, who will claim to not even understand the concept, and how everyone should just like whatever they like, and that said dude will also make a point to exhibit tastes that fit directly in line with the consensus of what is acceptable.

I grew up with the strict prescriptivist taste of the petit-bourgeoisie bohemian, where arts are a space where poverty isn't inherently disqualifying from taste. I was a "music Nazi," and was pretty dismissive of a lot of music, especially pop. But one of the things that shook me from that was abandoning the notion of any "guilty pleasures." I like plenty of dumb music — I like the Ramones, fer instance. And you can't like the Ramones and complain about bubblegum pop's vapidity — the Ramones are what the Archies would sound like if they were glue-huffing cretins.

I was talking about this with a friend from high school, who was someone whose taste I unapologetically and harshly judged back then, since he called me out over not believing in guilty pleasures. I copped to having been a dick back then, but over the years I've realized that I really rarely give a shit (broadly) about WHAT people like, and care a lot more (especially for conversation's sake) about WHY people like what they like. Smart viewers can find interesting things about almost everything and people with backgrounds different than mine are often clued into things that I'd never notice. And even if they're not, stuff that wouldn't otherwise interest me can obviously have a lot of powerful meaning and pleasure for them: Coming home from the inauguration protests, our completely packed subway car turned into a singalong because everyone knew the words to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'", a song that my inner pedant still responds to by objecting that there's no such thing as "South Detroit." ("You mean Windsor? Downriver? What?") But it was enough of a touchstone that the singalong hit critical mass, and then someone started singing Bohemian Rhapsody, which even the tiny old Latina grandma on her commute started crooning along with. No guilt, just pleasure.

"Recommending IJ is like recommending Gatsby or Crying of Lot 49 or (to bring in another middlebrow dude author who I loved to death in my teens and early 20s) Haruki Murakami. "

Gatsby and 49 have one huge advantage in the rec game over IJ: They're both very short, comparatively. You can read Gatsby in an evening. The same is only true of IJ if you're in a polar circle.

"Big Little Lies ought to be required viewing for every single man."

Well, so, now I'm curious about it. Should I read the book first? (It seems like it's got a murder in it, and I've found that I'm willing to watch just about anything with a murder involved.)

"This essay, along with lots of things I've read here and at ask.mefi, have been bringing me around to a hard realization: the business of asking what someone else is reading, or suggesting things they might like, would seem difficult to get right, especially when gender and racial/ethnic and similar differences are in play. But it shouldn't be. Just resist the urge, usually, and especially outside a well-developed relationship. When I recall recommendations I've given, many seem both self-serving and unself-aware. I should have just kept my mouth shut."

It's usually not hard to ask someone about a recent media experience they liked, what they liked about it, and whether they're interested in finding more media with similar features to what they liked about it. If nothing else, you get a decent recommendation from them.
posted by klangklangston at 3:04 PM on April 17 [12 favorites]


Look, if my opinion matters to you, DFW is on the 'great' side of 'good'. But, you aren't paying me for my opinion, nor did you solicit my opinion - so... given that I've got both an opinion and am an asshole, you may rightfully chose to ignore me. I rarely recommend anyone read a book because I can barely be assed enough to read on my own. What kind of authority do I actually hold to be able to tell you what you should be reading?

This should not be mistaken as an actual recommendation. I could have just as easily substituted 'Donald J. Sobol' and 'Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective' in passing to you and I assume you'll take it the same way that my Son has opted to take it - complete and utter disinterest.

From my knowledge of my wife, if you like 'Jennifer Weiner' then you're likely to love 'HIIT 101: The Complete Guide to High Intensity Interval Training' but I'm pretty sure that isn't true... unless you like JW and are also a trainer... which ... realistically is a reasonably nontrivial subset, but I haven't done any modeling to prove that you belong in the same subset as my wife... wait... well... if you're routinely pissed at me for something I've inadvertently done, then maybe that should be included in that model as well... that's gonna be one hell of a variable calculation... everybody I've ever pissed off... I wonder if that's available from Axciom...
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:12 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Well, so, now I'm curious about it. Should I read the book first?

I've never read the book, actually, I just watched the show. Usually I'm a book-first kind of person when it comes to adaptations, but with this one, the performances are truly excellent (Nicole Kidman especially, holy shit), and part of why I think it should be required viewing. Though if you go into it expecting it to be all about the murder, you'll be disappointed. The murder is a sort of culmination, but it's absolutely not what the show is about.
posted by yasaman at 3:14 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


an interminable section which attempted to be written in urban dialect and holy hell did that section ever not work

that really was awful, yes

I think the first thing I read from it was an excerpt where Ken Erdedy is waiting to buy pot for his really fucked up depressive relapse, where he's stashed his car somewhere else so it looks like he's not even home, and he's going to smoke up a whole oz in a weekend, and he's afraid the dealer is going to want to have sex before she goes. which got my interest. Eventually I bought a copy and started it and I was like tennis, wtf? I gave up. Then for a while I'd read parts of the text and footnotes at random, which is actually not so bad a way to read it, and that got me interested in giving it a proper go.
posted by thelonius at 3:16 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


Personally, this is an interesting article and (as usual) great MeFi comments.
I don't have a lot to contribute (I'm still in the midst of reflecting on all of this) so I'll just say that I'll put my current re-read of Infinite Jest on hold for a bit now to watch Big Little Lies instead! :)
posted by bigendian at 3:16 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


"It wouldn’t occur to most women to recommend books by women to men the way men recommend books by men to women."

Interesting, my experience is entirely different and that if I can't name several women writers that I like in any particular genre many book loving women will feel free to tell me I am a bad, deeply problematic person and I should feel bad about myself. I've been advised many times that I had better list some female authors in my online dating profiles or I'll be passed right over.


Men in her story are asking she read specific male authors without considering whether she would actually enjoy those books.

Women in your story are asking you to name literally any woman author whose work you enjoy.

These aren't equivalent demands.
posted by Emily's Fist at 3:19 PM on April 17 [63 favorites]


showbiz_liz can you tell us what the Space Usenet book is
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:30 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


There is only one Space Usenet book, it's A Fire Upon the Deep, and it really is that good.
posted by grobstein at 3:34 PM on April 17 [22 favorites]


[Folks, if you feel the need to #notallmen this, please just read the article and consider the objection noted. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 3:40 PM on April 17 [30 favorites]


There is only one Space Usenet book, it's A Fire Upon the Deep, and it really is that good.

That's the one!
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:45 PM on April 17 [8 favorites]


Should we take the recommendation thing to MeTa? It's sort of a derail (but it's a good one?).
posted by everybody had matching towels at 3:47 PM on April 17


I'm afraid I can't provide anything constructive to a discussion on Wallace, but I wanted to take the opportunity to recommend Read Her Like an Open Book, a site featuring reviews of new books by and interviews with female authors, as its goal is to convince more men to read books by women. I would have made a post of it myself, but I know the blogger, and I didn't want to break any rules.
posted by dgbellak at 3:51 PM on April 17 [14 favorites]


This article and the comments here are blowing my mind. I'm very familiar with the dynamic of "please consume this thing I love to consume" coupled with "your faves sound boring, pass" and I never really keyed into it until today. And I had a realization a few years ago, looking at my bookshelves: I had many more books written by men there. And then another, when listening to a playlist I made just about six months ago: there were no women singing to me from this playlist. Or really from any other playlist I had put together.

I'm a woman, I identify as a feminist, and these things are just baked in as to be almost invisible. Sometimes I feel like I am constantly awakening to the force that is living in a man's world.

And damn skippy I look for people who list women authors on their dating profiles. I've only had the privilege to date one such human and while correlation does not imply causation, they are the most cognizant of what it is like to be a woman in this society of any of the people I've dated, by a long shot. Take from that what you will. Because here's the other thing: there are infinite books, infinite songs, at least as they relate to me as an individual. I will never read all the texts in the world. I will never even read all the good books in the world. So why not prioritize women authors? I spent the first 30 years of my literate life primarily reading the words of men. It's someone else's turn.
posted by sockermom at 3:55 PM on April 17 [35 favorites]


Even in this essay, which is 100% doubting and questioning DFWs status as a genius, the author feels she has to include a tossed off "I don't doubt he's a genius," as if it's something she's had to learn to work into her responses over the years. Not because she believes it but because of the subset of dude's who will shut down and refuse to engage with any opinions that question the terms of the rant they've cornered you with. So even if you can't stand the artist you have to agree the artist is unquenstionably brilliant and their fans have great taste. It is you who are the failure.

It's totally fine to make recommendations that are relevant to the conversation you're having. And pissing contests about tastes and interests are even ok as long as everybody involved is having a good time with it. But like 99% of the topics that drum up the "not-all-men" men, knowing what to recommend and when to recommend it requires taking responsibility for your half of a conversation/relationship and understanding that the encounter isn't fundamentally about or for you but an exchange between two equals.
posted by AtoBtoA at 4:00 PM on April 17 [17 favorites]


If anyone recommends David Foster Wallace to me, I need to figure out what their major is. Being an English major, I already got my fair share of DFW. I will not be impressed because I also read literature. I do like his lobster piece, I admit that.
posted by yueliang at 4:03 PM on April 17 [5 favorites]


....implying that we all go/went to college
posted by bootlegpop at 4:12 PM on April 17 [6 favorites]


Oh true, that is definitely something I overlooked, I apologize! But really, I don't think I would have ever been introduced to DFW if it wasn't for going to college, so the idea of being talked to using DFW in that way is really strange to me. He's a fine writer, but scumbags are scumbags that will use anything to...do scumbag things. I am not feeling very eloquent rn
posted by yueliang at 4:17 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


What, really, is the point of going to grad school if you can't look at dudes like that and say, "Come at me, bro?"

This is one good reason to read Proust. When people try to push big "masterpieces" at you, you can just say "have you read Proust? He's awesome," and their insincere souls burn to ash.

A bonus is that he really is awesome, assuming you have the intestinal fortitude for him (200 page examinations of the narrator's feelings of jealousy are not everyone's cup of tea, even if it does pay off in the end) -- brilliant characters, precise descriptions of emotions you imagined were unique to you, delightful descriptions of scenes, some very funny dialogue, and clever narrative surprises as well.

Just sayin', read Proust.

(However, you might guess that I would say that.)
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:23 PM on April 17 [30 favorites]


Per a previous thread, I'm mostly reading women authors in my favorite genres, SF & Fantasy. Luckily there seems to be many (it may even have something to do with the fact that women comprise slightly over half of the population of this planet). I've spent a major portion of my adult life working in a library (though for the record, I am not a librarian, that's a specific career with a degree) I do find it odd when people say that all of the great literature has been written by men, the very first thing I think is, have you never heard of Isabelle Allende, Jane Austen, or Harper Lee? The next is, oh yeah, I don't even like literature, I just enjoy reading. So yeah dudebros gonna dudebro. I do love some questionable art, sorry, old guy, but you don't have to like it and I prefer getting recommendations to giving them. I find people to be inscrutable and would hate to offer something that they don't like. Just a quick prop for Gilmore Girls, team Paris. Back to your regularly scheduled debate.
posted by evilDoug at 4:31 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


This is one good reason to read Proust. When people try to push big "masterpieces" at you, you can just say "have you read Proust? He's awesome," and their insincere souls burn to ash.

A bonus is that he really is awesome, assuming you have the intestinal fortitude for him (200 page examinations of the narrator's feelings of jealousy are not everyone's cup of tea, even if it does pay off in the end) -- brilliant characters, precise descriptions of emotions you imagined were unique to you, delightful descriptions of scenes, some very funny dialogue, and clever narrative surprises as well.

Just sayin', read Proust.

(However, you might guess that I would say that.)






It was taking her a little more time to wake up than it would take Mr. Reagan’s horse to read Proust. “Mr. Reagan?” she whispered, fluttering her lashes, and I trusted the dazed quizzical act about as much as if she’d told me she could read Proust without moving her lips.
posted by grobstein at 4:34 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


Man: have you read Infinite Jest
Me: no, have you read The Babysitters Club #4: Logan Likes Mary Anne
Man: no
Me: well look whos stupid now


thread
posted by My Dad at 4:36 PM on April 17 [43 favorites]


The example that ties both of my objections neatly together is the discussion about videophones where he predicts that no one will use them because that means they can't pretend to listen to a phonecall while doing something else.

As much as I agree with the rest of your comment, I was literally (literally literally not figuratively literally) in a meeting this morning where 30+ people recoiled in horror at the suggestion of doing videoconferencing and shot pleading glances toward us more technically-inclined sorts: "find a way so I don't have to do this!!!"
posted by Lexica at 4:39 PM on April 17 [13 favorites]


I was going to come in here and recommend Goodnight Moon, but I changed my mind.
posted by storybored at 4:48 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


I work on one project where the client prefers to do "on-video" calls with the team. I don't like it (I work from home and I have unruly hair, and I don't always put product in etc each morning) but I understand it. People are a lot more attentive, that's for sure.
posted by My Dad at 4:49 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Y: No problem. I'm actually starting to think that, had I been an English Major, I would have probably gotten annoyed with DFW fans earlier. He is a good gateway, but not the best destination.

G/P: Proust, Musil, and Rising Up and Rising Down by Vollmann used to be my stock dick (yet honest since they are all really good books) response when the "meme trilogy" of Ulysses, IJ, and Gravity's Rainbow would come up. (Both because a 16 volume trilogy would be way cooler and including non-fiction would be more inclusive, but mostly because of the whole insincere souls and ash thing.)

I have yet to do Genji. It is probably the last of the books that I have delayed reading due to how intimidating they are. In this case, it is not so much the length of it as it is the length combined with the fact that it is older than pretty much everything else that I have read. That said, I really do need to get around to it.
posted by bootlegpop at 4:49 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


You should read Tale of Genji just to say, "Yeah, the novel has really been all downhill since Genji" and watch to see if anybody calls you on it.
posted by tobascodagama at 4:53 PM on April 17 [13 favorites]


Also, since it's science fiction and I started reading it a few years after it came out, it had aged very badly. The example that ties both of my objections neatly together is the discussion about videophones where he predicts that no one will use them because that means they can't pretend to listen to a phonecall while doing something else. By the time I read that Skype had come into reasonably common use, rendering that prediction laughable.

Oh that’s an interesting distinction in ways people approach the book. In my reading the whole point of setting it in the future is to satirize the present, so the accuracy of the predictions isn’t really relevant. [For example the whole thing where where naming rights to time itself are sold to corporations, so you end up with things like The Year of the Trial Sized Dove Bar].

And so with the videophone thing, the direction it goes is that eventually people start hanging better-looking masks of themselves by their videophones so when they’re caught off-guard by a call they can put one on and still look good. That’s clearly not a serious prediction, though there’s a prescience there (or maybe just a recognition of age-old human nature) about how people use social media now to present ostensibly candid but actually carefully staged depictions of their lives.

Anyway, I’m absolutely one of the people he’s describing. I cannot be on the phone without doing something else. And when I have to do a video call for work (which I loathe), there’s a tiny piece of my consciousness that is focused on how unflattering the office lighting and the angle of my computer camera are.
posted by mrmurbles at 4:58 PM on April 17 [8 favorites]


So, funny thing, I have Consider the Lobster (And Other Essays) on the arm of the couch next to me right this very moment. Bought it in an airport recently, because I've liked some DFW (while never being able to get too far into IJ), and I can only read so much on a plane before getting motion sickness so a collection of essays seemed a good fit. Anyway, I loved this article and shared it on Facebook, and added a comment mentioning the reading material currently sitting to my left. Immediate response from a dude: "Consider the Lobster is great."

It's just funny, I guess - I bet he didn't read the article, and I don't mind that he shared his opinion about this collection of essays even though I didn't ask for it, exactly. But idk, watching it unfold on my Facebook post made me laugh. And I didn't mention CtL for any sort of DFW cred, just highlighting the juxtaposition/coincidence, but it probably could read like I am making sure to temper any anti-DFW sentiment that might be implied by my linking to this article.

Thanks for this post and for the discussion.
posted by misskaz at 5:05 PM on April 17 [8 favorites]


Most often it's with "here's why *I* loved it" rather than with "here's why you might love it."

Which is narcissistic if you're recommending a book to someone, but it's even worse than that. It's "Here is a book that communicates to you, a person I'm trying to impress, that my cultural tastes are eclectic and impressive and that I'm an impressive, possibly brilliant person". Which is valueless, contentless, and tedious. For this particular task, you're not picking the 250-page book that completely nails a single theme elegantly and efficiently. You're picking the 1,079-page one that is overstuffed with allusions, subplots, themes, and sheer information, that seems to contemplate the entire world in the labyrinth of its pages and fits all of modern existence under the single staggering worldview of one man who ended up being canonized (by people just like you) as the great tortured, elliptical intellect of our age. It's no accident.

You're that type of man (I am too, or used to be). I think it comes from a certain cocktail of insecurity, ego, and ambition. It's the definition of NAGL and everyone knows it, and if you keep making that face it will stay that way forever.
posted by naju at 5:05 PM on April 17 [10 favorites]


It could be worse. I used to recommend Hubert Selby to people when I was a teenager.
posted by bootlegpop at 5:10 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


You should read Tale of Genji just to say, "Yeah, the novel has really been all downhill since Genji" and watch to see if anybody calls you on it.

I prefer Apuleius' Asinus aureus. I mean, if we're going to be difficult about it.

Anyhoo-- I read Broom of the System, which I thought was ok. Yeah, recommended to me by some guy. He had actually asked for a book rec in return; I can't say what he would have done with any reply because I didn't give one.

I do like footnotes, but I like Pratchett's footnotes. I'm going to go be a bit sad now and try to find an author to read who might produce more in the future..
posted by nat at 5:15 PM on April 17 [7 favorites]


I have yet to do Genji.

It's worth reading, but, in some ways, even more challenging than Proust, because the world described is very alien to a modern reader. Like Proust, it may be best to read Genji in a group to "spread out" some of the strain.

I also recommend a couple of the Icelandic sagas, truly astonishing literature that often reads as incredibly contemporary despite its age.

But I may have wandered a little far afield of David Foster Wallace.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:17 PM on April 17 [10 favorites]


I was going to come in here and recommend Goodnight Moon, but I changed my mind.

Taking repetition into account, I'm pretty much sure I've spent more time reading Goodnight Moon than it took me to finish Infinite Jest.
posted by Daily Alice at 5:21 PM on April 17 [9 favorites]


Funny, my family routinely talks about what we're reading and watching this month. Of course, very little of that is subject to bullshit like "canonization." I even *gasp* buy books for people that I think they will find to be fun reads.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:21 PM on April 17



It could be worse. I used to recommend Hubert Selby to people when I was a teenager.


it could be worse. I used to pretend I had read Hubert Selby when I was a teenager because what if Lou Reed was disappointed in me if I let on I hadn't. you know, when we met.

do I win because of awful teens or do I win because I never had to read Hubert Selby for real
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:23 PM on April 17 [10 favorites]


One of the few examples of a work that I push on people for their own good is Moonlight, because if I'm going to get only one movie that treats a bi man as something other than a walking stereotype every decade or so, I can stand to be a bit pushy about that one thing.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:27 PM on April 17 [9 favorites]


As I recall, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell had lots of footnotes, in addition to being written by a woman and being a doorstopper novel.
posted by emjaybee at 5:34 PM on April 17 [8 favorites]


All of this puts me in mind of the 2000 Onion classic Area Girlfriend Still Hasn't Seen Apocalypse Now.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 5:35 PM on April 17 [24 favorites]


One of the joys of being a teacher is that not only can I recommend books and movies to my students, but also I can force them to read or watch my recommendations. This explains why some of my pre-calculus students missed a few days of the Law of Cosines because I insisted we all spend two class periods watching the 90's classic animated film, The Brave Little Toaster.

I regret nothing.
posted by math at 5:36 PM on April 17 [14 favorites]


I love DFW's essays but I've never read Infinite Jest. When it comes to footnote literature, House of Leaves is my go-to.

I dated a woman briefly earlier this year who loves DFW, to the point where we were texting each other DFW vocab words we enjoyed. I'm gonna show her this, especially since the author mentions Pynchon and others. Which reminds me: what are some non-male authors that write in the same "style" as DFW or Pynchon or any of the other obligatory male authors?
posted by gucci mane at 5:39 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Which reminds me: what are some non-male authors that write in the same "style" as DFW or Pynchon or any of the other obligatory male authors?

You know the differences may be greater than the similarities but Helen DeWitt (The Last Samurai) leaps to mind.
posted by grobstein at 5:54 PM on April 17 [7 favorites]


A book that is maybe not on the same level but also has an ambitious, intellectual voice and tries to confuse you with what it's up to is Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessel.
posted by grobstein at 5:56 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]




If I recommend a book to someone it's typically because I think that they need to read more, and that the book I'm recommending will be somewhere near their reading level. I would never presume that someone would get the same thing out of reading a particular tome that I have.

"have you read Charlotte's Web? You should give it a shot if you're bored sometime..."
posted by some loser at 5:58 PM on April 17


Which reminds me: what are some non-male authors that write in the same "style" as DFW or Pynchon or any of the other obligatory male authors?

White Teeth (and the rest by Zadie Smith?) might be another thought.

It is not particularly like Pynchon, but it may be like DFW. James Wood drew a line through all of them in an influential essay.
posted by grobstein at 6:01 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


It's not like DFW, but when I was obsessed with DFW and Michael Chabon and the like in my early twenties, I chanced upon Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, which was more just a story told beautifully well rather then anything self-consciously important, and realized I took away more from that, and my tastes shifted more towards that sort of thing. I still like DFW and Chabon, but when I'm writing, I try to take more influence from Patchett (and, to be fair, from Terry Pratchett too.)
posted by Navelgazer at 6:09 PM on April 17 [11 favorites]


Just sayin', read Proust.

Done. One and a half times. And just at the moment I'm reading the Davis translation of Swann's Way to compare to Moncrieff-Kilmartin-Enright, though I'm not planning to go on with the rest of the series since I've heard the other translators aren't as good. *buffs nails on shirt*

Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Dudebros, I will fear no ego, because none of those MFers are prepared to discuss Sodom and Gomorrah.

(Also, you know, fantastic, life-changing read, and all that.)
posted by praemunire at 6:13 PM on April 17 [5 favorites]


I've been viewing getting unceremoniously and out of the blue text-dumped by that guy as a gift from the universe in that I probably dodged one hell of a bullet.

Confirming that you did indeed dodge a bullet. Somehow I keep taking them.
posted by ziggly at 6:15 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Which reminds me: what are some non-male authors that write in the same "style" as DFW or Pynchon or any of the other obligatory male authors?

Virginia Woolf; Mrs. Dalloway in particular.
posted by Emily's Fist at 6:25 PM on April 17 [9 favorites]


> You know the differences may be greater than the similarities but Helen DeWitt (The Last Samurai) leaps to mind.

Oh wow, good call! I had forgotten about that book but I never really forgot about it, y'know?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:28 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


One reason why IJ recommendations are such a red flag these days is that it is such a basic recommendation — everyone's heard of it, everyone's already either read it twice or thrown it across the room, everyone already has a strong opinion of it.

mrs_goldfish and I have neither read it nor thrown it, nor do we have a strong opinion of it. I'm confused that you would even say such a thing, given that you do not in any other respect at all seem like an élitist who fails to perceive the bubble they inhabit.

#notalleveryones feels to me like a more legit objection than #notallmen. Is there something I'm missing? (Missing re: your comment, not re: Infinite Jest.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 6:37 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


I too am a white guy who adores DFW and who discovered him on recommendation by a girl with a lot of cool dinosaur tattoos who listened to obscure music on tapes and smoked menthols and it was just perfect for my 20 year old soul and my fondness for him has never faded. He is to me the epitome of the affable but awkward and severely depressed midwesterner who is trying to be smart and not smart at the same time and it just hits the right spot for me. I was deeply, deeply affected by his death.

I have also come to recognize that he has become a sort of patron literary saint of these sorts of Hipster Bro Smart but Maybe Nots who probably like make some sort of bad electronic music and cook polenta very often and like probably started undergrad wanting to become an academic in cognitive neuroscience or something but it was just a bit too hard and so now they do like marketing or something for a start-up but having read (part of?) IJ and recommending it at every instance makes them feel close to the intellectual life they had once imagined for themselves.

In any case, I rarely make book recommendations, and I never recommend DFW for this very reason. In fact I only recommend the following (I used to recommend Donna Tartt but now everyone has read Donna Tartt):
Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
Stories of Your Life by Ted Chiang
Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon
posted by Lutoslawski at 6:37 PM on April 17 [8 favorites]


Not sure what's worse, a thread full of Jestbros or a thread full of Proustbros

(Kidding! Mostly)
posted by naju at 6:38 PM on April 17 [7 favorites]


#cantbeunsaid
posted by grobstein at 6:45 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


I first read Donna Tartt and Lorrie Moore (! does anyone read her anymore? SHOULD anyone?) as a callow 19 year old, on recommendation from a worldly grad student I would have read literally anyone for, such was his blazing allure. all this power over me he had and he foolishly squandered it on telling me from his lordly height that I ought to read a couple of women. what a fool he was not to direct me towards William Gaddis or William Gass or some other William, what a shocking waste of his masculine privileges.

he was plenty entitled and plenty arrogant but he was not so well educated as he thought himself, for he had never learned the elementary life lesson that men never read women writers for pleasure and diversion, only ever in a belated guilty effort to repair their deficiencies. but that was around the turn of the last century and a different time altogether.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:57 PM on April 17 [10 favorites]


"This article and the comments here are blowing my mind. I'm very familiar with the dynamic of "please consume this thing I love to consume" coupled with "your faves sound boring, pass" and I never really keyed into it until today."

Here is a conversation I had with a man (who considers himself super into visual art and literature) last week:
Him: "You're never excited about any art or books I share with you."
Me: "I mean, sometimes I am, sometimes it just doesn't sound like my thing. To be fair, you're never excited about stuff I share with you."
Him: "But that's because stuff you like is stupid, it's either brainless [he means pop music] or something a five year old could do [he means modern art]."

Ever since I have been debating internally whether I want to let loose and tell Mr. Art-Informs-My-Very-Being that when he shows me art and my response is a polite and encouraging, "Hm!" what I actually mean is, "What you consider good art is trite, conventional, unchallenging, and painfully middlebrow and, combined with your refusal to engage with any form of art outside the Official Western Canon circa 1940 and your insistence that it's 'stupid,' suggests a vast insecurity about your taste and cultural education."

But that would probably hurt his feelings. So he tells me my taste is "stupid" and I politely say "Hm!" when he shows me dull-ass paintings that reproduce stuff people did 200 years ago with no new ideas of their own. And his feelings are hurt -- really wounded! -- because I'm not fainting with excitement about his taste in cultural products, but he literally could not be made to see why his insistence that my taste was "stupid" might make me less than enthusiastic about reciprocal interest in his interests. As far as he could see, he liked good stuff, I liked bad stuff, therefore he should get to a) share his with me and b) not have to listen to mine. And I just dropped the argument because I didn't want to hurt his feelings after he called my taste stupid and I'm pretty sure nothing short of a howitzer firing mean truth-rounds would get through to him. Patriarchy in a nutshell!

And the thing is, if he likes Neoclassicism and Romanticism, there's nothing wrong with that and many of the originals are truly canonically great works of art! And if he likes it so much he prefers people working in that style today to anything else, that's fine! De gustibus non est disputandum! It's the insistence that anyone doing anything outside his personal taste is "stupid," and that his taste is the standard of all taste. He is another one unfamiliar with "guilty pleasures" -- if he likes something, that must mean it's great, full stop. It never occurs to him that maybe you really adore something or find it beautiful or moving but it might be kind of ... trite. maudlin. melodramatic. whatever. I like lots of those things! I am unapologetic about liking them! I just don't say, "Oh, man, I loved Harry Potter," and thereby put it on a plane with Victor Hugo or Jane Austen. It can be a really entertaining, pretty good book that I really liked to read, without having to be a great classic of literature. Not for him, though. I mean I guess it's fundamentally solipsism? But also it's a weird lack of discrimination to be unable to tell the difference between a good, fun book, and a great work of literature (when you like them both).

sorry, I am still mentally composing retorts to this dude in the shower because I am still mad, I guess I have more mad than I thought.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:01 PM on April 17 [82 favorites]


Next time he suggests something, just tell him "Oh, sorry, I have stupid taste, remember? I'm not going to like anything good."
posted by restless_nomad at 7:02 PM on April 17 [22 favorites]


Wallace? Proust? Look me up when you guys tackle Koontz
posted by beerperson at 7:03 PM on April 17 [10 favorites]


Here is a conversation I had with a man (who considers himself super into visual art and literature) last week:

Why, oh why, are you still talking to this dude? Being able to cut men like this off completely is one of the great rewards of growing older.
posted by praemunire at 7:03 PM on April 17 [23 favorites]


Look me up when you guys tackle Koontz

If you want to talk about Koontz, you're in luck; somebody made a post about them just now.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 7:05 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


everybody gets so down on the gig economy but I would kill to set up a little closet business insulting people's aggravating male friends' literary tastes for them on a fee-for-service model. because I completely understand the conditioned constraints and predicted consequences that prevent women from doing this to their OWN friends but no such constraints apply to me, a stranger who is better at shooting down what I personally believe to be inadequately elevated tastes than I am at anything else in the world.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:07 PM on April 17 [44 favorites]


I love David Foster Wallace because his imagery tends to stick with me and is relevant ALL THE TIME (yes, the videophone masks!). I read "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" on a hard vacation that was supposed to be amazing but was really bad timing, then made my sister read it, and we still joke about how it made everything so much darker and weirder on that trip. His fans are definitely suspect-until-proven-otherwise, yes.

Also, he passed away quite a while ago. At this point, someone telling me he was THE BEST AND I MUST READ HIS WORK feels like looking at someone's bookshelf and realizing they obviously kept all the books they had to buy for classes in college but never got any more. Like, do you even read, bro? Tell me about what you're reading right this second. Show me your stack of books you're working on. Not gonna judge if you're reading it right now and loving it, though.

I have a lot of other lady friends who are also legitimately into some of these classically "intellectual dude" interests, like noise music. We've been having a lot of talks lately about how tiring it is to be deeply involved in it, and we're just not anymore, and that's ok. I'm not even prepared to comment in depth on that today.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 7:11 PM on April 17 [12 favorites]


Well, because 99% of the time we're not talking about art and he's great. Mostly my strategy is to prevent it from coming up (despite his desire to bond over our mutual love of reading); I'd (genuinely) rather not start gigantic friend group drama over the fact that he's super-pompous about art, because he can like whatever he likes! He just sees that foot and is determined to put it in his mouth despite my best efforts to keep him from making an ass of himself.

I guess we'll kind of see whether he wants to return to this point and argue about it, or whether he later realized it was a dickish thing to say and we're going to tacitly drop it and never mention it again. I guess I'm probably willing to let it slide just this once as long as that's the end of these discussions and I can move to a disinterested "Hm" when he mentions art I don't like. NO MORE POLITE "HM!" FOR YOU, RUDE GUY! NOW YOU GET A "HM." (It's like the most Midwestern expression of anger ever.) (HE'LL KNOW WHY.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:21 PM on April 17 [10 favorites]


I'm being deeply reminded right now of an essay in one of Sarah Vowell's early collections where she talks about exchanging mixtapes with a paramour and how hers would be filled with Frank Sinatra and other 3-minute perfect pop moments and his would be filled with Aphex Twin and the like and how there was just an ocean between their tastes that they would never bridge but even there I could see this brilliant woman who I looked up to feeling kind of ashamed for not being able to get into noise music (a point she makes pretty explicit really) and it just kills me in retrospect.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:31 PM on April 17 [22 favorites]


Is it OK to like Bolano? Or is that a big red flag that I'm an asshole?
posted by thelonius at 7:32 PM on April 17


I would kill to set up a little closet business insulting people's aggravating male friends' literary tastes for them on a fee-for-service model.

If you will throw in pushback on their shitty views about women not only do I want to be your client RIGHT NOW but I know like 20 other women that would probably be interested as well. What I am saying is this is goddamned genius basically.
posted by corb at 7:34 PM on April 17 [10 favorites]


Is it OK to like Bolano? Or is that a big red flag that I'm an asshole?

I think it's OK to like Mailer and not necessarily be an asshole, but that holding out your tastes as definitive and not respecting others' differing tastes can lead one to asshole-dom, especially as pertains to men pushing their tastes onto women and dismissing the reciprocation.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:38 PM on April 17 [6 favorites]


Honestly I don't know if I should be more concerned, provided I ever get anyone to come home with me again, if they see Bolano's "Nazi Literature In The Americas", or "Slapping Techniques" by Chuck Rainey
posted by thelonius at 7:56 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


Is it OK to like Bolano? Or is that a big red flag that I'm an asshole?

Actually, if you really wanted to worry about it, some of his friends have expressed reservations about the way in which he has been received in the English speaking market, and incorrect ways that he has been marketed and read. I haven't let that bother me, personally. Though, I have found that reading some of those friends, like Moya, and other people from his milieu have broadened my understanding of his work. In general, I have found Bolano to be a great gateway into international fiction, both past and present. His books stand alone well on their own, but he is also almost like a roadmap to further reading.
posted by bootlegpop at 7:59 PM on April 17 [6 favorites]


A key line from the essay that I'm surprised no one has quoted is:
Before I started, my boyfriend (who’s read everything Wallace has ever written, but has never recommended him to me) lifted the book off my bedside table. Flipping through, he laughed. “You’re going to hate this.”
Coyle's current boyfriend loves DFW and also knows her enough to recognize that she probably won't. #Notallmen is already exhibited in fine form within the essay, but as an example of how to know one's company.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:01 PM on April 17 [23 favorites]


So much of this thread is deeply depressing. If someone is pontificating and pressing things on you that you don't like, then STOP SPENDING TIME WITH THEM. If someone's taste doesn't match yours, THAT'S FINE. This overwhelming sense of mutual condescension is just sad. Humans like what they like. Humans seek to share their enthusiasms for myriad reasons, many (most) of them selfish ones. If you find dudebros (literary or otherwise) annoying, hang out with other people. Every library and bookstore is filled with the most wonderfully varied array of books - enjoy what pleases you most...
posted by twsf at 8:37 PM on April 17 [5 favorites]


OMG, that Onion link that Ralston McTodd posted above: "Other infamous episodes that have occurred during the couple's 18-month relationship include... his ongoing unsuccessful efforts to get her to read Alan Moore's Watchmen, a 1986 postmodern-superhero graphic novel she described as 'a comic book about a big blue space guy' and that he calls 'nothing less than a total, devastating deconstruction of virtually every archetype in the genre's history.'" Guilty, on multiple occasions (although not always with significant others). Although I still defend my astonishment that a friend who owned more comic books than me (at least at the time) didn't get why I made such a big deal over it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:41 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


If someone's taste doesn't match yours, THAT'S FINE

That's my take-away too. If assholes are annoying you recommending Infinite Jest, stop hanging out with them, or just ignore their recommendations as you would ignore a lot of recommendations from people whose taste you don't agree with. I would also recommend trying to just read the thing, if you're interested, and see if you like it apart from whatever cultural baggage has snuck up behind it and clung to it over the years. I quite like it, though I find Brief Interviews to be a deeply unpleasant book without a lot of redeeming characteristics.
posted by whir at 8:50 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


So much of this thread is deeply depressing. If someone is pontificating and pressing on you things that you don't like, then STOP SPENDING TIME WITH THEM.

That seems an inadequate response to systematic microaggressions. But it might work as an approach to mefi threads.
posted by feral_goldfish at 9:05 PM on April 17 [47 favorites]


I once went on a date with a guy who recommended to me Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower. I read it. And I recommended to him Marge Piercy's He, She, and It. He read it.

Reader, I married him.
posted by the_blizz at 9:10 PM on April 17 [55 favorites]


I came to Infinite Jest without any sort of recommendation, it was on the shelf of our Peace Corps library and looked like it would help fill a few quiet nights in the village. (When I was in the Peace Corps I read literally everything.) The back cover was torn off, too, so I went in cold.

Upon starting the novel I was charmed by its mannered prose, footnotes, and pedantic--if mostly unlikeable--characters. It was even set in New England! This book was right up my street and I read furiously. I kept reading after realizing that the main female character was not going to get any more depth. I kept reading even though the black characters felt like punchlines (As a black woman, I was used to literary landmines in the Victorian novels I love. They were admittedly harder to take in the 21st century). I read, feverishly with a bookmark for the text and a second for the footnotes. After four days of obsessive, nearly continuous reading I got to the end of the novel and turned the page, looking for more. Then I checked my travel bag for missing pages. I was sure that there was something wrong.

Suddenly, with a chill, I thought "What if that IS the ending?! What if this book is a giant prank?! The literary equivalent of a loving embroidered whoopee cushion." I angrily shoved the book to the side and resolved to confirm my theory when I next had internet access. A few weeks later, I learned the horrible truth. Any goodwill the novel had garnered was completely lost by the ending and the feeling of being cheated by an author I had trusted for so many pages.

I can now say with confidence I HATE INFINITE JEST. I have happily cut a recommender off at the knees by responding with a startling vehemence to their innocent: "Have you read IJ?" (It's reflexive, not vindictive; I actually hear the Kill Bill sirens going off in my head). The book did give me one gift, though. I now allow myself to walk away from novels--especially when I feel the author is happily abusing my goodwill. If not for this terrible experience with IJ, I'd probably still be slugging my way through The Goldfinch and I bought that sucker in hardback.
posted by CatastropheWaitress at 9:15 PM on April 17 [51 favorites]


Some person recommending a book you ain't going to like isn't a microagression.
posted by twsf at 9:28 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


It's not the recommendation here that's the microaggression.
posted by anem0ne at 10:00 PM on April 17 [34 favorites]


Spring 1996, a week with nothing to do except argue about britpop on the internet, so I headed out to the bookstore to find something to read during those times when the dial-up wouldn't connect. There was a stack of Infinite Jests piled up near the door, and they looked like the kind of book that would keep me busy for days. I started reading in the afternoon, finished as the sun was coming up, and I will probably always remember the room getting lighter as I stretched out on the floor, completely overwhelmed and intensely in love with the book. Later, I read the negative review in the New York Times, started writing a disgruntled letter (actual ink on paper), and then realised I did not want to share what had been a private, emotional reading experience. Because it was such an intense experience, I don't like talking about DFW, so I would never tell anyone to read it.

After reading the article, I thought (1) the author feels about DFW the way I feel about YA, and (2) it's generally a bad idea to date people who do lots of cocaine. The YA evangelists have calmed down a bit now, but I got seriously tired of hearing about how YA is so feminist and diverse and teens have such intense experiences, not like the adulterous English professors who populate litfic. As I have disliked-to-hated most of the YA I've read (especially John Green), my new policy is that I will only read YA if it is about Harry Potter.

I almost forgot, there was a time someone recommended Infinite Jest to me, but he clearly hadn't read it, so I pretended he was talking about Prince of Tennis instead. Probably the only time I've enjoyed discussing books in a bar.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:15 PM on April 17 [5 favorites]


When you go home tonight, you will see a North Face fleece jacket out of place. Lift it up and you will find, under it, a copy of Infinite Jest, bookmarked with the receipt indicating that you purchased it at a Border's in 2005. You own it. You have always owned it

Also, I have never owned any clothing from North Face.

You own it. You have always owned it

A burning feeling on your forearm. You look down. A tattoo, courier bold:
this is water . . .


Umm, sweet? I have ink! But why couldn't be the Star Brand logo I have agonized over getting for 20 years? OTOH, at least it isn't in Comic Sans!
posted by Samizdata at 10:26 PM on April 17


Big Little Lies ought to be required viewing for every single man. Almost every single man in that show is garbage in their own unique and not at all remarkable way, and a dedicated and attentive study of the ways in which those men are utter garbage can only be improving to every man's character. Of course, that supposes that men will even understand what's wrong with a bunch of those characters, and the critical response from men suggests they do not and that they don't understand about half of what's going on with the women and between the women in that show.

Don't "suggest" I should watch all the endless seasons of Breaking Bad or The Sopranos or Mad Men or whatever the fuck the white man problems entry to the Canon du jour is, and then blow off watching something like Big Little Lies. I assure you, having seen one or two of such entries to the Man Canon, I have seen all of them. For once, dudes should make a foray into Things That Women Like, instead of the interminable list of Things That Are Good Are The Things Men Like.


How's this then? If Netflix carries Big Little Lies (as I am poor and only have one way to watch shows legally after airing), I hereby swear to watch Big Little Lies in it's offered entirety. I also don't have cable or a DVR or On Demand services.
posted by Samizdata at 10:31 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


I always hated the idea of Infinite Jest because really annoying people IRL advised me that I was really out of It because I hadn't read it yet. Then it got discussed here in MetaFilter, and I gave it a try. Loved it, probably my favorite book from this generation.

But I've never recommended it, per se. Recommending a book like that is something people to do hold something over other people, to say I have read this incredibly long and dense book and you haven't and therefore you must read it to aspire to my level. At least, that's how it always came across to me, before having read the damn thing.
posted by cell divide at 10:36 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


Generally, if you ever ask me for a book recommendation, depending on how well I know you, I will probably spend some time quizzing you to try and find out what sort of read you are looking for, and recommend only if I know something that might be amusing based on your answers.

Otherwise, and only if I know you well, will I presume to recommend a book to you if you ask. Most of my book/film talk tends to be "I just read/watched this, and I really liked it because...." fundamentally allowing the person I am talking to to make their own decision. Then I will keep my ears peeled to see if they give me any feedback later.
posted by Samizdata at 10:49 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


I was bored and alienated by Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and couldn't finish it. Blood Meridian was recommended to me by the same woman (!) and although I thought it was brilliant I also couldn't finish it because of its odd combination of horror and tedium. I tried to read JR and made it maybe 40% in before I gave up. I loved White Noise and thought it was hilarious. I hate Philip Roth and I think he's a dick who has never had an actual conversation with a woman.

What white man should I read next?
posted by latkes at 11:24 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


Almost every single man in that show is garbage in their own unique and not at all remarkable way, and a dedicated and attentive study of the ways in which those men are utter garbage can only be improving to every man's character. Of course, that supposes that men will even understand what's wrong with a bunch of those characters, and the critical response from men suggests they do not and that they don't understand about half of what's going on with the women and between the women in that show.

Don't "suggest" I should watch all the endless seasons of Breaking Bad


This is funny, because in talking about Big Little Lies you've described Breaking Bad perfectly -- including the latter's frustratingly lunkheaded (and mostly male) fanbase.
posted by EmGeeJay at 11:29 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


If someone's taste doesn't match yours, THAT'S FINE

Well, but the whole essay is about people - often men - for whom it isn't FINE and for whom pushing a book at a person (often a woman) is a technique for asserting cultural superiority and power. "I really like x, you might like it too [because]" is a recommendation. "You haven't read x??? Why??? You really have to. Put down whatever fluffy lady-brain thing you are reading right now and go read it. I got you a copy." is not a recommendation. It's a deeply irritating move to demonstrate superior status - let me educate you is the underlying message - and is also pretty gendered. That's why men who talk like this are so reluctant to accept any information about what the woman in the conversation likes. It's not about sharing something, it's about teaching, and who wants their pupil to start trying to teach back?
posted by Aravis76 at 11:43 PM on April 17 [44 favorites]


do I win because of awful teens or do I win because I never had to read Hubert Selby for real

Well, I'm pretty sure that I definitely lose on some level because I actually enjoyed his first 5 books when I read them, and I hadn't even become a VU/Berlin obsessive yet, so I didn't have the Lou excuse, even though I did unknowingly alternate between Lou/Eraserhead as my hairstyles at the time.

I was not that impressed by his last two books when they came out. At the time, I thought that they just weren't as good, but in retrospect, it was probably more due to my tastes having changed. He's still far from the worst as far as transgressive-ish lit, though. That honor belongs to M. Gira's The Consumer, a book that was brutal in every possible way.
posted by bootlegpop at 11:55 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


So much of this thread is deeply depressing. If someone is pontificating and pressing things on you that you don't like, then STOP SPENDING TIME WITH THEM.

Ah yes, the classic "if managing the Christmas card list is annoying then just stop sending them!"
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:35 AM on April 18 [35 favorites]


To Eyebrows: "I dislike the things you are recommending to me as much as you dislike the things I recommend to you, but you don't even know that BECAUSE YOU ARE RUDE AND I AM NOT."

Optional: "And I know more about this stuff than you and here's why,"
posted by glasseyes at 2:05 AM on April 18 [3 favorites]


Eleanor Catton's "The Luminaries" is not at all in the same style as Infinite Jest, but it is a doorstopper with buckets of ambition and many characters and immense detail and stylistic tics, and some people in this thread might like it.
posted by nnethercote at 3:00 AM on April 18 [4 favorites]


The horrified looks I get when I tell people Skyler is my favorite character on Breaking Bad made watching Breaking Bad worthwhile.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:17 AM on April 18 [41 favorites]


There's a fixation running through this thread on what other people read and what that says about them and how you can classify people by what they read; and the complimentary preoccupation with what other people think about what you read, and what that makes them think about you, and why they're bad people for supposedly thinking these things about you the same way you think these things about them. It reminds me of other groups of people obsessing about cars or health food or what brand of sunglasses you wear / recommend and what that says about you.

I get that in some educated parts of the first world these sort of things are meaningful and useful as shibboleths, but it all seems quite navel gazy and one percentish from here in the cheap seats.
posted by signal at 4:38 AM on April 18 [7 favorites]


The horrified looks I get when I tell people Skyler is my favorite character on Breaking Bad made watching Breaking Bad worthwhile.


You could also claim that Martha Bullock is your fave Deadwood character
posted by thelonius at 4:49 AM on April 18 [4 favorites]


As doorstopper books by men go, Anna Karenina and A Suitable Boy are amazing. I read Anna Karenina one summer when I was in high school and it taught me why my mom liked soap operas. A Suitable Boy fans have been waiting for Vikram Seth to write his sequel, A Suitable Girl, for like more than a decade, and part of the slowdown is that Seth has been campaigning against homophobic laws and their enforcement.

Separately: Several years ago, at the feminist scifi convention WisCon, I created "Imaginary Book Club", a session where the panelists act like they've read various books that do not actually exist, and review and discuss them -- like Stephenson's vampire novel BIETME. I might be on that panel again this year and now I'm thinking of coming up with a "newly discovered" Wallace book to discuss, and welcome suggestions. (If I do this then I will probably also talk about a "hey men, recommend this to the women in your lives! here's how!" marketing campaign accompanying the book launch, like, with discount codes in boxes of Harry's shaving products.)

Then for a while I'd read parts of the text and footnotes at random, which is actually not so bad a way to read it, and that got me interested in giving it a proper go.

thelonius, that kind of random chunk-reading approach is how I started Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, which I eventually did read straight through and really love.
posted by brainwane at 4:51 AM on April 18 [21 favorites]


"Imaginary Book Club", a session where the panelists act like they've read various books that do not actually exist, and review and discuss them

this was Borges' method
posted by thelonius at 4:53 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


I know there are some precedents, yeah! I think the first place I ran across this kind of joke was Stanislaw Lem's A Perfect Vacuum.
posted by brainwane at 4:55 AM on April 18 [3 favorites]


I mean... yes? People use things to signify what they value, their interests, and the things they would like people to know and perceive about them. Educated upper middle class white Americans, among other people, use a lot of pop culture signifiers to do that. David Foster Wallace is one of them, and the things it signifies tend to be heavily gendered. That's a perfectly reasonable conversation up have.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:33 AM on April 18 [12 favorites]


You could also claim that Martha Bullock is your fave Deadwood character

Them's fightin' words. Martha was amazing.
posted by Mogur at 5:42 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


(The joke was, it's the same actress)
posted by thelonius at 5:49 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


I've never read any DFW, but going off the Neal Stephenson comment, I tend to attribute declarations of love for The Baroque Cycle as equivalent code for "books people want to have read" (to rip off Mark Twain). Like yeah, it's an interesting story, if you ever fucking finish it, but if I were to point to a book that would serve as an engaging intro to the author, it sure wouldn't be that one.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:56 AM on April 18


I've had boyfriends recommend McCarthy and DFW and DeLillo, and I enjoyed the books (haven't read IJ, though). I've had boyfriends recommend LeGuin and Atwood, and I loved the books. I've discovered other authors I love by scouring boyfriends' bookshelves and borrowing them. What has never happened, ever, is that those same boyfriends read any books that I have recommended. Or expressed any interest in what I was reading, unless it was a book they had recommended.

I read constantly. I very much believe my sense of self and of the world was developed through the literature I've read. It's not that these men felt stronger than I do about books. It was that they felt much more strongly that my taste was a reflection of theirs, but not vice versa. My reading was considered receptive; theirs active.

It bugs the crap out of me.
posted by lazuli at 6:00 AM on April 18 [40 favorites]


On the suggestion of the Metafilter hivemind - one of the very few entities from which I will accept recommendations for any type of media - grumpybearbride and I watched the first three episodes of Big Little Lies last night. Our mutual takeaway so far is that the characters are a bit too cartoonish to be relatable, which is getting in the way of an otherwise compelling story. Also the constant cuts to the police press conference and interview rooms are annoying.

That said, I'm committed to finishing the series.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:34 AM on April 18


I was bored and alienated by Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and couldn't finish it. Blood Meridian was recommended to me by the same woman (!) and although I thought it was brilliant I also couldn't finish it because of its odd combination of horror and tedium. I hate Philip Roth and I think he's a dick who has never had an actual conversation with a woman.

What white man should I read next?


a serious answer: the ACTUAL CANON (tm). William Maxwell, Conrad Aiken, Randall Jarrell. the top three white men of the 20th century. any one of them is worth a hundred Styrons, a thousand Updikes, or a hundred thousand Roths at the current exchange rate. not guaranteed dick-free but what is, in this terrible world. what is.

by the same exchange rate they are each worth about point seven-five of a Sylvia Townsend Warner. STW, incidentally, is going to be the Shirley Jackson of the next decade, in the sense of being the token woman genius men figure out they should admire loudly. so there you go, everything is ranked in its proper place.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:54 AM on April 18 [14 favorites]


I'm willing to give Big Little Lies a try, even though it's a David E. Kelley production; maybe seven episodes isn't long enough for Kelley's worst tendencies to catch up with him. I also agree with EmGeeJay above that Breaking Bad isn't exactly flattering to any of its featured male characters; Team Walt (aka the dudes who took over /r/breakingbad) don't seem to think so, but they often seemed to be watching a different show than the rest of us.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:54 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


Oh God, the BreakingBros.....talk about missing the point
posted by thelonius at 7:07 AM on April 18 [5 favorites]


The Baroque Cycle had one good book in it. Finding it is an exercise in tedium unfortunately - I’d love to be able to recommend it because the high points were so, so good. There’s a reader’s tragi-comedy in there somewhere.

(I keep confused David Foster Wallace {who I’ve never read} with David Mitchell (the author, not the comic) for some reason - am I the only one?)
posted by pharm at 7:16 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


In college I recommended Henry Miller's tropic novels to friends who were women. Which led some of them to Nin. Most of these women, 30 years on, are still my friends.
posted by judson at 7:23 AM on April 18


If not for this terrible experience with IJ, I'd probably still be slugging my way through The Goldfinch and I bought that sucker in hardback.

I wrote up a whole screed about how much I agreed with you and then I realized that you were not in fact talking about The Sparrow
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:23 AM on April 18 [10 favorites]


In college I recommended Henry Miller's tropic novels to friends who were women. Which led some of them to Nin. Most of these women, 30 years on, are still my friends.

Please tell me that you have read books that they declared that you simply must read
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:26 AM on April 18 [9 favorites]


I wrote up a whole screed about how much I agreed with you and then I realized that you were not in fact talking about The Sparrow

gasp

contempt for The Sparrow is MY thing, my hate-based literary identity is deeply threatened

(I love The Goldfinch more than my own life but of all books, it is a book where if you don't like the beginning you are not likely to change your mind by reading a another twelve hundred pages and re-evaluating.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:30 AM on April 18 [8 favorites]


contempt for The Sparrow is MY thing, my hate-based literary identity is deeply threatened

"I swear to god the shocking revelation at the end of this book will blow your mind, some absolutely buck-wild shit happened on that planet, that's why we're spending dozens of interludes with this traumatized guy who just CANNOT EVEN TALK about the fucked-up things he saw, when I finally finally tell you what it is you are going to fucking shit yourself, just 150 more pages of buildup and then BLAMMO!"

[150 pages later]

...that's it??
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:36 AM on April 18 [13 favorites]


Haha yes fuck The Sparrow.

My attitude towards book recommendations is fairly prickly. Mostly because deep down, I don't really care what other people like when it comes to books.

I am happy to hear them tell me interesting things about what they are reading and why, though. Then I can ponder whether I too want to read that book. But I don't respond well to "you have to read this!" Because I already know my response to what they like will probably not be the same as theirs. And then they'll be disappointed, and even worse, I may think less of them for liking a book I think is terrible. It's awkward.
posted by emjaybee at 8:05 AM on April 18 [5 favorites]


I don't remember if it was The Sparrow or its sequel, but at one point there's a climactic angry dramatic tearful confrontation while a thunderstorm coincidentally rages and then the sun coincidentally breaks through clouds as they reach dramatic acceptance and a kind of peace with each other, and no character involved ever thought oh come on, the whole environmental setting affect of this whole thing is more than a bit on-the-nose and I wouldn't believe these details if someone else was telling me it. And therefore it made me giggle, which was so not the intended effect.
posted by Drastic at 8:08 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


I get most of my fiction recommendations from my wife, because although I'm a librarian she's better-read (fiction-wise) than I am and better at reader's advisory. She's the one who handed me The Lathe of Heaven a couple of years ago, which is one of the best books I've ever read.

I've put her onto some stuff, too; I think the only book I've ever recommended (in the very early days of our relationship) to her that she kind of gave me side-eye over was Ghost World.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:13 AM on April 18 [3 favorites]


This actually reminds me of the #ThanksForTyping conversations that have been going on— for a lot of men, they don’t want women to consume media products so that the women will enjoy them, or learn from them, or speak about their own opinions about them. They want women to consume media products so that men can explain those products to them. They don’t want women to have the ability to end a discussion with “I haven’t read it.” They want a captive audience who has done the reading (or watching or listening) so that Men Can Explain Things.

I purposefully stayed away from a lot of DFW-esque writers during my MFA program, largely because “That Guy in Your MFA Program” is a real phenomenon, and the baffled anger such dudes display when a woman blandly responds “I haven’t read it” without apology, without equivocation, without promising to get to it soon— it saved me from a lot of lectures and rants. (I also did this sort of 2.5 year long performance art project, where I would ask if THEY had ever read/seen/listened to some piece of “mainstream” pop culture which they found risible, and then I would explain it to them in loving, esoteric detail, and since they had never read it they couldn’t actually tell me that I was wrong. It started off as a defense mechanism, but it actually ended up freeing me to stop agonizing over other people’s opinions.)

The men who wrote (and still write) #ThanksForTyping have wives who have done all the reading, who have read all of the source documents, who have transcribed all the interviews, who have learned the languages in order to do the translations, who have taught themselves calligraphy to complete the book illustrations— but those wives are still not considered experts in the subject. They are helpmeets. They did an equivalent amount of work, but they only get credit for the typing and MAYBE the proofreading. It feels similar to me as some of the tensions Coyle describes so well in her article— "I want you to do homework so that I can explain things to you. No, don’t answer back."

See also:
-men who get weirdly aggressive when women already know the rules of baseball/football
-men who get angry when women read comic books and have thoughts about them other than "tell me more about your love for your favorite character!!!"
-men who think you are enjoying X_Media_Product in the WRONG WAY (you don't care about the action or the existentialism but you want these two side characters, who are both male, to kiss? NONONO)
-men who are oddly nettled when they find out that women don't enjoy media made for women in the "shallow" way they were imagining (you enjoy this teen novel for its critique of capitalism? ummm)
-men who call some popular show/book they have never seen/read "stupid" and then turn into grumpmonsters when other men in the discussion talk about how great and subversive they were

(Pre-emptive loving comment for #notall-ers: If this is not you then this is not about you, but it is a real and constant thing that women deal with and saying you are not a person like this means exactly nothing in this context)
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:18 AM on April 18 [64 favorites]


Mrs. Bastard and I are both fans of Margaret Atwood and Carl Hiaasen. So whichever of us reads their newest book first will recommend it to the other. That's about it and that's about enough. I don't try to make her read DFW and she doesn't try to make me read 50 Shades of Grey and that is why we have a healthy and happy marriage.
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:27 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


Spring 1996, a week with nothing to do except argue about britpop on the internet [...]

Pulp.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:46 AM on April 18 [6 favorites]


See also:
-men who get weirdly aggressive when women already know the rules of baseball/football
-men who get angry when women read comic books and have thoughts about them other than "tell me more about your love for your favorite character!!!"
-men who think you are enjoying X_Media_Product in the WRONG WAY (you don't care about the action or the existentialism but you want these two side characters, who are both male, to kiss? NONONO)
-men who are oddly nettled when they find out that women don't enjoy media made for women in the "shallow" way they were imagining (you enjoy this teen novel for its critique of capitalism? ummm)
-men who call some popular show/book they have never seen/read "stupid" and then turn into grumpmonsters when other men in the discussion talk about how great and subversive they were


If a guy made a list like this about women, no matter how honest he was being, he'd be labelled a sexist asshole. The double standard is stunning.
posted by tunewell at 9:17 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


Well why don't you post your version of the list and then we'll compare notes?
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:27 AM on April 18 [21 favorites]



If a guy made a list like this about women, no matter how honest he was being, he'd be labelled a sexist asshole. The double standard is stunning.


oh, you are much mistaken. If a guy made a honest complaint list about how women always insisted on explaining sports to him and got cranky when he claimed to already know about them, and another one about how women never believe men have read any comic books, or any other genre of books, and frankly accuse them of putting on a show to impress girls, and all the rest of it, I would be enthralled and fascinated and want to know as much more as he was willing to tell. and I would believe every word.

it's always exciting to find out you're not the only one of anything. somewhere, my lost sisters are making sure their bottomless senses of superiority get a daily airing and regular exercise, and any man who knows where that far land is where they dwell is invited to tell me. I will never call him a sexist for his pains, I will thank him and shake his hand.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:29 AM on April 18 [32 favorites]


so, power exists. And right now being cismale gives you a fantastic leg up on becoming powerful, such a leg up in fact that society on the whole has devoted itself to the task of specifically flattering cismen. I know, it's crazy. Because power exists and because power is distributed in a way that tends to prefer men over women1, social expectations that women should habitually flatter men have a force behind them that your hypothetical gender-swapped list doesn't. This is one key reason why "instead of talking about this actual thing that exists let's instead talk about this hypothetical thing I can imagine" is a tendentious2 argumentation strategy.

Hope that helps.

Also for reals I'll fight anyone who says Blur or (god save you) Oasis.

1: and white people over people of color, and folks born rich over folks who weren't, and straight people over queer people, and so forth, but right now we're doing analysis across one axis in order to simplify things for you. you're welcome.
2: Well and also just busted.

posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:29 AM on April 18 [20 favorites]


Honestly. Women can't say "here is something frustrating that men have said to me dozens of times in my life" without other dudes getting all affronted about it, as if either 1) it doesn't actually happen or 2) it doesn't actually matter or 3) sure maybe it matters but not as much as not offending men who it isn't even specifically talking about matters
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:29 AM on April 18 [49 favorites]


It's not a double standard in a world with a genuine imbalance of power, however. If a black person made a list of all the ways in which (some) white people (sometimes) perform racism, would you call that racist? If not, what's the difference? (If so, we have bigger problems that would take more time to deal with.)
posted by Aravis76 at 9:29 AM on April 18 [5 favorites]


I think the first place I ran across this kind of joke was Stanislaw Lem's A Perfect Vacuum.

No, I think, Charles W. Chesnutt's Baxter's Procrustes. (er, the first appearance of same, obviously not the first place *you* saw it...)

("Baxter's Procrustes is one of the publications of the Bodleian Club. The Bodleian Club is composed of gentlemen of culture, who are interested in books and book-collecting. It was named, very obviously, after the famous library of the same name, and not only became in our city a sort of shrine for local worshipers of fine bindings and rare editions, but was visited occasionally by pilgrims from afar. The Bodleian has entertained Mark Twain, Joseph Jefferson, and other literary and histrionic celebrities. It possesses quite a collection of personal mementos of distinguished authors, among them a paperweight which once belonged to Goethe, a lead pencil used by Emerson, an autograph letter of Matthew Arnold, and a chip from a tree felled by Mr. Gladstone. Its library contains a number of rare books, including a fine collection on chess, of which game several of the members are enthusiastic devotees.")

If a guy made a list like this about women, no matter how honest he was being, he'd be labelled a sexist asshole. The double standard is stunning.

Have we really not yet invented the perfect phrase for "your objection proves the point it is supposedly defeating?"
posted by praemunire at 9:32 AM on April 18 [13 favorites]


> Have we really not yet invented the perfect phrase for "your objection proves the point it is supposedly defeating?"

ugh it is for reals going to bug me until someone comes along and tells us the technical term for that.

I bet whatever it is it occurs at least once in Infinite Jest
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:38 AM on April 18 [8 favorites]


> Love how she sets up the creepy asshole vibe straightaway. The guy that forced cocaine into her during sex is our introduction to the DFW faction.

Oh no, she didn't tailor her experience to be fair to all DFW fans! Because that is the essay she should have written!

Stunning indeed.
posted by rtha at 9:39 AM on April 18 [7 favorites]


One time I was in a conversation with an on-line acquaintance who I had never seen photos of or met in person, and the subject of DFW came up. She hadn't read anything of his, and I was all, yeah, he can be difficult sometimes, and he's really not very good with anything having to do with race at all, but there's some interesting stuff in there, you might give him a try and see what you think, and she responded with Well, I am black, so I think maybe I'll pass. And that was the very last time I ever recommended him to anybody.

Also, on the subject of whether anyone does or should read Lorrie Moore now, I don't know about does, but I really loved Self-Help (short story collection) and Anagrams (novel) and think the latter is pretty great still, so I hope somebody besides me still picks it up occasionally.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 9:52 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


DFW is the most overrated author of the past 20-odd years and Infinite Jest really isn't a very good book (apart from the overly mannered prose that feels mostly like "look at how clever I am" there's the racism and sexism and plagiarism).
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 10:21 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


I'd pretend that the "calling out sexism is the REAL sexism" comment above got me a BINGO, but we all know that's the free square in the middle.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:25 AM on April 18 [37 favorites]


If a guy made a list like this about women, no matter how honest he was being, he'd be labelled a sexist asshole. The double standard is stunning.

Whoa, can't believe I left this off my list!

-Men who imply that systemic sexism is a series of individual choices unrelated to acculturation in patriarchy and that women who say otherwise based on their actual lived experiences are being meanies

Also, I think maybe you missed my super cool parenthetical note that said if this is not about you, then good news: it isn't about you. Taking offense at something that isn't about you is like a Mets fan being offended when I say that Yankees fans suck.

As usual, we come back to the old neverending misunderstanding. When I say "men who do X", you seem to think I am saying "all men on Earth do X", when in fact I am REALLY saying "there exist people who reliably do X, 100% of whom have happened to be men, what a weird coincidence from which we can extrapolate certain things about the experience of living in a patriarchy but for sure #notall".

I'm not remotely saying that most men do X, which is your implication. But enough of them do that this article was written, and this thread is full of humans (including men!) who are saying "oh, yes, this thing, this is the thing that I have seen with my entire life. Ugh, this thing." I guess we are all being very sexist, by discussing the mutual experience we have all lived with for our entire lives, by saying "you are not alone" to other people who have lived with it. I guess the real sexism was the friends we made along the way!!!!!
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:28 AM on April 18 [51 favorites]


"it's not a very good book" is maybe overstating it — it's the last of the Great Weird Boy novels, and that's a genre we're going to have to get some intellectual/temporal distance from before we can really approach it again. I enjoyed it a great deal when I read it back in the day, but I'm somewhat afraid to revisit it as a grownup, and on the whole I'm glad that right now people in academia (and people who are serious about books in general) are much more likely to talk about (for example) Octavia Butler than they are to talk about David Foster Wallace.

Really, though, what's going to happen going forward is that every major cultural production from the start of the public Internet to the coming to power of fascism is going to be assessed in terms of its relation to fascism's coming to power. We can't ever read Infinite Jest like it's 1998 again, any more than we can read stuff from Weimar without thinking about its relationship to what came after. Conversations about what's overrated and what's underrated, and what's going to be remembered and what's not going to be remembered, all have to take into account the shadow that we find ourselves living under.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:30 AM on April 18 [11 favorites]


So are you saying that:

1. Fascism is an inevitable consequence of the public internet, and
2. IJ was a harbinger of that inevitability?
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:36 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


maybe seven episodes isn't long enough for Kelley's worst tendencies to catch up with him.

I said this in the fanfare thread, but episode six is where it really hit me that I was watching a David E. Kelley joint

but the show pulls away from that quickly and finishes strong

posted by prize bull octorok at 10:48 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


We have so far:

* "well I'VE never done this #NotAllMen"
* "but women do it too!"
* "if a man did what this woman did, it would be homg sexist"
* "just stop doing the thing, obviously!"
* "each choice is a unique and special snowflake and in no way accumulates into a patriarchal avalanche, no way"
* "it's not sexism, it's [something totally not sexism, no way]"

One day I'll put together an actual MeFi+sexism bingo card. That day is not today, but I'm getting closer.
posted by XtinaS at 10:52 AM on April 18 [33 favorites]


No, really it's just that I'm saying that now more than ever we can't assess underrated/overrated or will-be-remembered/won't-be-remembered from an ahistorical perspective.

though yes I have become a media determinist in the last few months, and I do think there's a longstanding tendency in Eurocentric culture wherein any time a new dominant medium arises, it's immediately spl0it3d by fascists before the non-fascists figure out how to regulate said new dominant medium, and DFW will likely get several points for being canny about media (this is common among the Great Weird Boy novelists) but negative several million points for being blinkered about race and gender (likewise common among the Great Weird Boy novelists).

It's just also we're emerging from a period wherein the Great Weird Boy novel was held up as the pinnacle of belletristic writing or whatever to which nothing else can compare, and like elucidating the connections between our tendency to valorize the Great Weird Boy novel and our tendency to careen toward fascism given half the chance and a new medium to play with would be a tremendous feat. Like, that elucidation and three dollars would get you a cup of coffee and a tenure track job that doesn't exist because tenure track jobs don't exist anymore. Meanwhile figuring out what we should really think of the G.W.B. novels now that we're not holding them up as the tippy-top writing of all time is difficult, since just saying "oh they're dreck we were nuts to ever read them" is as faddish as the original tendency to valorize said G.W.B. novels, but meanwhile meanwhile, all the people out there reading N.K. Jemisin are having a lot more fun/getting a lot more useful perspective on the present day than are the people arguing about DFW.

oh god once i turn on the DFW style parody module in my brain I can't turn it off help help before I write a five page long sentence about a Quebecois terrorist who speaks terrible French getting gruesomely murdered.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:55 AM on April 18 [13 favorites]


If a guy made a list like this about women, no matter how honest he was being, he'd be labelled a sexist asshole. The double standard is stunning.

Okay, I can't speak exactly what would happen if a guy made a list like that (personally I have serious doubts about it being possible, but it's a wide, baffling world), but I can tell you what happens in real life when one of those scenarios sort of happens.

I say sort of because unlike stereotypical lecturing dude we've been talking about, I always try to tailor my level of conversation to the person I'm speaking with, just as I tried to do the following situation.

I had to attend a F-1 car race for a work event. It was one of those events where I was required to work and socialize at the same time. If you want to imagine the situation, think of a big company inviting its best clients to the corporate box at any major sporting event you're familiar with--that's not quite the scenario, but it's close enough.

So I was there along with the other "clients." It's always an odd situation because in some ways the other clients are colleagues and in some cases they're rivals. So in addition to doing my job and being polite to the people who issued the invitation, I pretty much needed to be friendly with the other clients.

Now I should say there was a mix of men and women, and I made it a point to talk to everybody. Of course a lot of the conversation was about the event itself. As it happens, nobody in the group had been to an F-1 race, and a few people were even reluctant to attend or less-than-excited to be there, which, as far as I'm concerned is perfectly fine. There are lots of corporate events that I've had to attend that didn't hold out the least bit of interest for me in the slightest. This, however, was different.

You see, I actually followed F-1 at the time. Now, I wasn't an obsessive fan who painted team colours over my body, but I still had an interest in the sport. If you'd like, you can say I was a casual follower. I knew enough about what was going on that if somebody asked me questions, I could give them answers.

The thing is, I was really excited to be there and I wanted to talk about it with a fellow fan. At one point, after I had spoken with nearly everybody in the group and found out that they were all new to the sport, I finally approached the only remaining guy who I hadn't spoken with yet. Before launching in a lecture or trying to get him involved in a deep discussion, I asked the same question I had been asking all day: "Do you follow F-1?" His answer, much to my delight was "Yes, of course."

Jackpot! I found an F-1 friend! Yippee!

So then I asked him about what was on my mind at the moment: "What do you think of the latest tire-change rule?" (At the time, there was a very controversial change to the regulations regarding tire changes.)

He looked at me with anger, and then mumbled, "I don't follow it that closely."

Then he turned around, walked away from me, and wouldn't talk to me the rest of the day.

In other words, I got both the angry and the passive-aggressive responses that would be in your hypothetical list, but I wasn't the one who originated them--the guy was. So in both scenarios, it's the guy who reacts badly, and the women is the brunt of the reaction. Also keep in mind, that my interaction with him didn't start out as a lecture. It started out as somebody searching for an equal to participate in a conversation. And in case you doubt that, you've only got my word that I didn't start asking other people about tire-change regulations if they mentioned the had never seen an F-1 race or didn't follow motorsports. I also didn't start lecturing those other people about why they needed to watch F-1 because it was the greatest sporting event out there, and was at the top of the motorsport food chain ahead of WRC, Indy, NASCAR, etc. Mostly it's because I don't believe that, but also because I've had enough geeky/esoteric/academic/weird interests over the course of my lifetime that I don't automatically assume that just because I like something, somebody should like it as well.

Now, of course I'm not saying that all women react like I do. I'm sure some women can get just as passionate as men about their favourite topics and dive into unwanted lectures at the drop of a hat. It's also true that not all men find the need to educate the women around them and impose their tastes upon everybody. But, and it's a big but, women are telling you that they've had this happen to them over and over again. Women are also telling you that they've encountered a large percentage of men who don't like to be challenged or questioned about their expertise in whatever given topic is on the table. This started out being about literature, and while it holds true in that part of life, it equally holds true when talking about genre fiction, music, sports, politics, and any other topic imaginable.

Yes, men may like to lord their expertise over other men in a chest-pounding, plumage displaying competition, but the dynamic tends to be completely different when men and women interact on this level. Now you're going to say, "that's a generalization," and you'd be correct. Sadly, however, it's a generalization that is true more often than not.
posted by sardonyx at 11:10 AM on April 18 [34 favorites]


It's endlessly fascinating* how women can make a list of "sexist things men have done to me that made me angry," and men will reply with "but if a man made made a list of 'ways I find women annoying,' that'd be unfair."

Well, yeah, dude, because the original list wasn't "ways men annoy me;" it was "ways men have been sexist to me." Feel free to post lists of how women have excluded you from discussion about a topic in which you have expertise, removed you from committees that you were hired to lead, told you that you needed to smile more because women don't like smart men, told you that you should wear sexier clothes and then women would listen to you, and suggested you read something that they love but you couldn't possibly understand, but you should try anyway.

C'mon, where are all the guys with anecdotes about how they love how-to-fashion video blogs and slash fiction and play Sims for hours and they wanted to talk with women about it but the women keep freezing them out.


*A euphemism
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:36 AM on April 18 [43 favorites]


sardonyx, you just reminded me of an interaction I had with a man last year.

I was at a programming/tech conference, talking with some men, on our way to an informal group dinner. We started talking about what we were reading. One of them (white, US American, I'd just met him maybe that day or the previous day) and I started talking about comics; we both like comics. I said something enthusiastic about Saga.

He then stated a disclaimer: that he knew he was a bit of a snob, and that if someone asked him if he knew about/read something fairly popular, fairly mainstream, he sort of internally sighed a bit; he preferred pretty offbeat stuff. It seemed like he wanted to prevent bad feelings down the line by forestalling me from asking "have you read [superhero thing]" or "have you read [current critics' darling]" and triggering impatience. I asked if I'd just done that thing, by mentioning Saga, and he said, no, it was fine.

I asked: "So, what's your favorite Amar Chitra Katha?"

There were at least a few seconds of silence, solid eye contact and silence, before he said that he did not know what that was.

So I, pleasantly, told him about the comics I'd read in childhood, made by Indians for many decades, featuring Indian fables, mythology, history, and legends. We then talked about, for instance, Greek and Norse mythology in Marvel/DC mainstream comics, and so on. He mentioned that it did seem like new Indian comics lines were starting up (I think he meant, like Virgin India and similar). He did not ask how or where to get ACK comics, or how to spell Amar Chitra Katha so he could learn more.

I will usually prefer enthusiasm over status play, but if the other person does an indier-than-thou move to raise his status and/or lower mine I do not feel very bad about responding in kind. He didn't say anything explicitly acknowledging *my* indier-than-thou move (and I didn't either). I wonder whether he noticed it.
posted by brainwane at 11:39 AM on April 18 [26 favorites]


I think, too, that literary history/theory tends not to do "books that were very, very important and then ceased to be" very well, but there's a lot of those. I was thinking about Shirley Jackson's husband, whose name escapes me - he was a very big deal literary critic indeed, extremely influential in New Criticism. Now he's not even one of the New Criticism people who is remembered! And yet it's not that his work was, like, pointless garbage - it's just that it spoke very strongly to the concerns of his times. While of course Shirley Jackson, even between her death and the start of the revival of her fame in the eighties, was never utterly forgotten.

Or nineties issues of the Baffler - totally set a lot of cultural agenda at the time, and pretty well IMO, but today when you pick them up they're utter period pieces. Or the travel journalism and memoir of yesteryear - Isherwood and Auden in China on the cusp of WWII, Rebecca West in Yugoslavia, Han Suyin across China, etc. Those are great books, really interesting and revealing and enjoyable, but no one reads them. It's not even that they're stupid and terrible, it's that unless you're a specialist or just a voracious and slightly eccentric reader, those books tend not to speak to your concerns - and yet those books were huge.

I think it's quite possible that DFW is in fact going to be pretty much utterly eclipsed in twenty years because he spoke - well and intensely - about a subjectivity and a set of concerns that are gone.

~~
Actually, I guess what I'd like to hear from straight white men who like DFW is why. "DFW is a genius, man!" is pretty inadequate, and presumably just the kind of received wisdom that women are supposed to sit quietly and listen to.

Also, he's one of those authors that people who haven't read a lot may very well have read in some depth just because he's famous and accessible. (Like Nick Hornsby and Irvine Welsh, about which ugh, IMO.)

I feel like there's a whole cultural economy of the middlebrow that doesn't get worked out very well. Like, when I think of straight white men who read DFW, I think of two kinds - Mr. There's At Least One In Every Literature Program and smart guys who haven't been to a four year college who read David Foster Wallace because of a whole bunch of things about accessibility, fame, readability and barriers to readership.

Like, there's a whole bunch of class stuff around the meaning of how we signal with books which complicates things. "I'm a smart person and you are a big dummy if you haven't read DFW; I'm sure you would benefit from reading some of my poetry" and "I feel like I'm the dumbest person in the room because I have an associates degree but OTOH I read all of Infinite Jest" are really different things.
posted by Frowner at 11:51 AM on April 18 [13 favorites]


what I'd like to hear from straight white men who like DFW is why.

Because his prose makes my brain tingle. Because the non-linear plotting and multiple intertwining character arcs of Infinite Jest were, when I read it, something I had never previously seen executed in such an ambitious and successful way. Because he really, really understood depression. Because there is no other voice like his. Because his work requires effort to really digest, and that appeals to me. Because I learned lots of new words from him. Because he made me love literature in a way that I hadn't since maybe high school, and thanks to him I have read way more and different stuff than I would have otherwise.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:02 PM on April 18 [7 favorites]


> Have we really not yet invented the perfect phrase for "your objection proves the point it is supposedly defeating?"

It seems like it's a variant of Lewis' Law (any open comment thread following a feminist writing/act will prove the need for feminism).
posted by Deoridhe at 12:17 PM on April 18 [10 favorites]


"Do you follow F-1?" His answer, much to my delight was "Yes, of course."
Jackpot! I found an F-1 friend! Yippee!
So then I asked him about what was on my mind at the moment: "What do you think of the latest tire-change rule?" (At the time, there was a very controversial change to the regulations regarding tire changes.)
He looked at me with anger, and then mumbled, "I don't follow it that closely."
Then he turned around, walked away from me, and wouldn't talk to me the rest of the day.


This reminds me of dudes who say sneering things about Jane Austen novels “just being about marriage”, only for their conversation to subsequently prove they have never actually read any of them.

“Let me explain a thing to you. Oh, you actually know a lot more than me about the thing? Excuse me, I have to be anywhere else.”

The Full Solnit.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:27 PM on April 18 [28 favorites]


Ach, refreshing the thread made me lose my comment draft.

Anyway, was popping back in to say that my wife corrected me last night: She has read Infinite Jest, and liked it. She just has less than zero interest in ever discussing it with her brother in law, ever, who loved it. And she doesn't recommend it to me because she doesn't think I'd like it, since I wasn't agog at Broom.

"My attitude towards book recommendations is fairly prickly. Mostly because deep down, I don't really care what other people like when it comes to books.

I am happy to hear them tell me interesting things about what they are reading and why, though. Then I can ponder whether I too want to read that book. But I don't respond well to "you have to read this!" Because I already know my response to what they like will probably not be the same as theirs. And then they'll be disappointed, and even worse, I may think less of them for liking a book I think is terrible. It's awkward.
"

This is honestly my feeling about almost every recommendation ever, whether music or film or books or whatever. I'm always interested in why people like what they like, but what they like just basically tells me where and when they grew up, and now, with the shattered media landscape, not even that. But if you tell me what you liked about something, I can probably recommend something else that you'll enjoy and tell for myself whether or not I'd be interested in learning more about whatever you recommend.

But I'm used to people not being into what I'm into at any given moment, so I don't expect them to be all that excited about, say, America's Next Top Model, Los Angeles post-punk, democratic theory, Black-ish, whatever. I recognized early on that there was always going to be more interesting stuff to experience than time to experience it, and that other people's tastes don't necessarily interest me, so…

"So then I asked him about what was on my mind at the moment: "What do you think of the latest tire-change rule?" (At the time, there was a very controversial change to the regulations regarding tire changes.)

He looked at me with anger, and then mumbled, "I don't follow it that closely."

Then he turned around, walked away from me, and wouldn't talk to me the rest of the day.
"

Oh man, what a missed opportunity! I have so many better conversations replying with things like, "You know, I just don't know enough to have a strong opinion on that. What do you think?" This works even in conversations where I know next to nothing — almost invariably, the other person will have a strong enough opinion and be familiar enough with the arguments on both sides that they can rattle through whatever, I can be persuaded one way or the other, and they come away thinking I'm much better informed but more diplomatic than I actually am.
posted by klangklangston at 12:37 PM on April 18 [5 favorites]


Oh man, what a missed opportunity! I have so many better conversations replying with things like, "You know, I just don't know enough to have a strong opinion on that. What do you think?"

That would presume that you're interested in either (a) the topic or (b) a fun conversation, and not (c) reinforcing your idea that women can't understand manly things.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:40 PM on April 18 [13 favorites]


Then he turned around, walked away from me, and wouldn't talk to me the rest of the day.

Lake scene.
posted by Drastic at 12:47 PM on April 18 [15 favorites]


uh I've wordsaladed all over this thread a bunch already, but: straightish white dude who can't plausibly pretend not to like DFW. Reasons in short:

- First read him when I was young and impressionable.
- Am fascinated by his skeptical rationalist Christianity; it's something I hadn't seen much of when I first read him.
- The loopy zany distractible elliptical style with scads of nested clauses and digressions works like my brain does, or like how I like to imagine my brain does, so I find it pleasant.
- I have a theory that his way of swerving back and forth between high and low culture/vocabulary/diction over the course of a single sentence influenced the language style that was dominant on the internet back when sites like Metafilter were contemporary rather than vintage, but that might be just a case of convergent evolution; when people write with the assumption that readers have access to an infinite database, they end up developing a loose, weird, heavily referential style.
- Cogent media analysis (but that's dime a dozen)
- Some good setpieces (I'm thinking mainly the Eschaton match)

Deep in an otherwise unused-because-unreachable cabinet in my kitchen I've got a hardbound copy of the collected works of Kipling that I'm keeping in a tupperware container. It smells like pipe tobacco. It's the last thing I have of my father's, and the last thing I have that smells like his apartment smelled. I'm not comfortable having this object — jesus christ, dad, KIPLING? Couldn't you have found something slightly less racist and imperialist to fall in love with? You had to go with the most racist, imperialist thing you could get? — but I can't let go of it either. If by some misfortune I ever had a child (and let us all hope this never happens, cause sweartogod I have trouble keeping air plants alive), I suspect that child would end up decades from now saddled with a tupperware container holding a hardcover copy of Infinite Jest that positively reeks of weed, and said child would probably feel just as "Christ, dad, really? this??" about it as I do about the Kipling I'm stuck with.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:01 PM on April 18 [9 favorites]


Wow. This thread got some traction. I've been meaning to pop in here for the last day, but haven't had the chance.

So, I read Infinite Jest. I read it when I was living in Japan almost 15 years ago. I had a small shitty apartment with no TV or internet, and went to an english bookstore just to buy the longest fucking book I could find (I've had mixed results with this technique, but it did eventually get me into Eco!). So, the longest fucking book I could find was Infinite Jest. Never heard of Wallace, knew nothing about him or his other work. I kept track of the footnotes separately and read them to catch up at the end of the section. This mostly worked, except for when he embedded the occasional chapter into the footnote. It took me a while. I don't read a ton of fiction, and juggled it with other activities that kept me out of my small, shitty apartment.

Well, I liked it. Mostly. I a described it with a line from Futurama: "It's as lousy as it is brilliant." This many years on, I really only remember the stuff I didn't particularly like. Things like that chapter where he tries to write as a black character. Seriously, what the actual fuck? It'd be like writing as a Chinese character and just having a page of internal monologue that just says "Ching-chong ping-pong" over and over again. Its not even close to how people talk, and a pretty racist take on how he thinks they do. Thankfully he only did that once, but even though he introduced the character later, but never gave her a voice. Is it bad that there is a lack of characterization, or good that we're not subjected to more of his godawful characterization?

The other bit I remember is just transcriptions of lame email forwards and urban legends. Y'know, finding pictures after the fact of your toothbrush up someones ass. The long story about calling in sick because you were in a building accident with bricks and a rope. A story that the no-spring-chickens Dubliners were doing here in 1996. That stuff was an unnecessary book-padding slog.

Finally, I remember the video phone discussion, which was mentioned upthread. This part I thought was funny. Not because it was a mis-prediction, but that the video phone was the _only_ way of communicating, which led to increasingly elaborate ways of people disguising themselves so they could talk without having to put on makeup or take a shower. Its obviously exaggerated, but I refuse to do video calls. My work has tried to force everyone into bluejean or hangouts or whatever. When we switched from exchange to google apps years ago, the announcement was that "video calls were now the primary form of communications". Um, no thanks and fuck you very much. Email me if you need something done and are not right next to me. Even in the last couple weeks I was on a con-call that was hangouts only, and I couldn't actually use my main computer with it because I don't have a webcam and a headset, so I have to use my phone which defaults to broadcasting my unkempt raccoon eyes and messy office at a bad angle. That passage makes it really clear why people often don't want such intrusive technology, but often is foisted on them through social pressure and enterprise, even if everyone can kind of agree that it sucks. I mean, Skype or facetime or whatever is great if you want it. My brother can talk to his nephew and keep in touch, and that was possible even when the book was published.

I ended up finishing on a short trip with a couple friends. When they saw I was reading it, they both kinda scoffed and rolled their eyes. "What's the point?", "Cool, more footnotes!". They were familiar and dismissive of something that I literally had never heard of before. I stuck with it, because there is enough to keep you entertained.

Fast forward a few years. I've relocated a few times, and am with a different friend. For some reason he comes up in conversation, we're both kind of joking about the usual stuff. His loquacity, the thesaurus-belch writing style, the footnotes. I find out the next day that he killed himself, and roughly around the time we were bagging on him. That's always felt weird, even though I know its just coincidence.

I've read a bit of his stuff. And I like his writing. I'm impressed that his non-fiction essays, short stories and door-stoppers all manage to have distinct voices, but all sprang from the same mind. I could do without his tortured suburban Radiohead shit, and I think that's where the cult has arisen from. I kinda suspect that he would resent the types of people described in the article.

In his biography, there are a couple little asides that I think of, one is him not being amused by his class creating a "Dress like DFW" day; the other of him being at an artsy writers workshop, and a lunch conversation turns to "what are you reading? what's your favorite book?" where people are showing off their tastes, and he was just reading some page-turner he got at the grocery store.

Have I recommended his writing? Yeah, probably. I'm pretty sure I've sent the cruise one, or Big Red Son, or that piece about Federer to someone. His essays are short, accessible and entertaining. I read a section of the early AA meeting to my wife at some point, since it was somehow relevant to something. I've had friends pick it up and chuck it, or never get around to it. Personally, I think I'm permanently stuck halfway through The Pale King.

Is it a cornerstone of my identity? Fuck no. Holy shit, what would be the point of that? I mean I like Bukowski as well, but I don't aspire to be a curmudgeonly old drunken shithead womanizer. Like I think Ham-on-Rye really captures a certain kind of essence of the sheer futility of being alive sometimes, but I would have to be a tremendous asshole to insist someone read it to find out more about the world, or to understand me better.

Its a real book, though. Its a work of art, not a cynical cash grab or schlocky thriller. Its complicated, and its interesting. Wallace was a smart guy and a good writer, and its a product of its time. There's plenty of characters and stories and details and big words and all sort of other stuff to discuss if you like it and its interesting, but in the end, its just a fucking book. And its a book with a lot of warts. Having read or not read something doesn't mean a damn thing, and if you read IJ and took it as some life-altering lesson that leaves you compelled to try to berate everyone else into reading it, wellllll... that says something more about you. That this happens to be a type of man is, well, unsurprising.

I think its kind of like those youtube fights where people talk about the top 5 rappers, and its always fucking 2pac, biggie, eminem, whatever. Great. You are aware of the most popular mainstream acts from a genre. That's as stupid as those Rolling Stone lists of the best bands which is just the fucking Beatles, Led Zepplin, Bob Dylan *yawn*. Or people who go to the Louvre just to take a picture of the Mona Lisa. Big fucking deal, you are aware of the most famous painting, that doesn't mean that you're into painters, and you don't have to be.

I agree that it seems like the people that harp about it like want a cookie because they read a long book. Big deal. I read like 14 Dragonlance novels a couple years ago because something reminded me of Raistlin. Y'know what? People who have read Dragonlance novels are more than happy to talk about Raistlin. I don't insist that people read Dragonlance novels so that I can lecture them about Raistlin. I'm pretty sure I don't even pronounce Raistlin properly.

Or how much hate Twilight gets because its a popular book targeted to girls. Its got purple prose and shitty dudes and female characters that are footstools for said shitty dudes, but it doesn't have pages of email forwards from 1995 so the tastemakers pooh-pooh it.

OK. This comment is officially too long.

I'm gonna go read that space usenet book.
posted by lkc at 2:42 PM on April 18 [11 favorites]


There's a certain breed of masculine language one-upmanship. I probably do it too at times, and I've noticed it done to me on occasion, which makes me really uncomfortable around cis men now and then. My work involves interviews with subject matter experts. Most are enthusiastic, gracious, and polite at our attempts to connect in examples as part of active listening. Every now and then, we'll get someone who is quite condescending about it.

I honestly can't recall women pulling that generally. Most seriously from family and lovers who were abusive in other ways. I've seen discussions regarding sexual assault and violent socialization go south, but that's a different thing.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:52 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


There's a certain breed of masculine language one-upmanship.

Occasionally I like to counter that by going hard in the opposite direction (similar to the writer's "I can't read."), it is especially fun when they can't tell I'm being facetious.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 3:17 PM on April 18 [4 favorites]


lkc: Do read the prequel too (“A Deepness in the Sky”) but don’t (seriously, don’t) bother with the sequel he wrote later (“The Children of the Sky”). It’s...not good.
posted by pharm at 3:44 PM on April 18 [5 favorites]


What I find weird is that even the most basic conversations can go there.

"How is the weather?"

"Fine. I had a job rowing dinghys into hurricanes."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:55 PM on April 18 [7 favorites]


"Oh, you had oars? Cool story, bro."
posted by rtha at 4:14 PM on April 18 [7 favorites]


lkc: Do read the prequel too (“A Deepness in the Sky”) but don’t (seriously, don’t) bother with the sequel he wrote later (“The Children of the Sky”). It’s...not good.

Agreed. Children is one of the books that has made me saddest to read. (<-- what is the correct way of writing that sentence?)
posted by grobstein at 4:33 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


it's that unless you're a specialist or just a voracious and slightly eccentric reader, those books tend not to speak to your concerns - and yet those books were huge.


I would like to challenge your assertion that nobody reads that list of books anymore once I combobulate myself enough to say WHAT? WHAT? as that is all I am really up to, challenge-wise

however, I cannot dispute that very last part because it is a fact that Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is huge. like you wouldn't believe how vastly, hugely big it is if you hadn't seen it for yourself. in spite of that, every sentence is a jewel, and it cannot have gone out of fashion because the facts in it became obsolete with the passing of time, since it is my understanding that not many of them were ever entirely correct to begin with.

nevertheless, it is an unspeakably exquisite work of whatever it is and the concerns it speaks to are not geographically or temporally bound and I do not believe it ever did go out of fashion because etc. etc.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:55 PM on April 18 [3 favorites]


Oh, my slightly battered but indubitably first edition just arrived from eBay - you don't have to tell me that it's huge. But the only time I ever heard of Rebecca West in conversation was when someone said to me, negatively and sarcastically, "Oh, you want to write about [vaguely related travel issues]? You mean like Rebecca West?" And plenty of Auden enthusiasts don't know about Journey To A War, and I've never met a living soul who's spoken of reading Han Suyin, and I met one bookstore clerk who made fun of me for buying her admittedly kind of treacley novel. And it wasn't fun making-fun, either, it was really mean - even for a clerk in a used bookstore.

I'm not saying "no culturally literate person ever, ever reads these books for any reason", but they were very big deals in their time and your average college-edumacated fairly culturally literate person hasn't heard of them. Whereas we've all, god knows, heard of Saul Bellow and Donna Tartt and so on, will we or never so.
posted by Frowner at 6:39 PM on April 18 [4 favorites]


brainwane, your comics one-upsmanship is beautiful and inspiring. I am fortunate in that I hardly ever have to interact with those kinds of comics dudes anymore, but every once in a while I do still run into That Guy who thinks Watchmen is still The Most Important Comic Ever, and for them I have prepared a standard response, which generally goes something like:

"Oh, yeah, I read Watchmen when I was first getting into comics-- I guess everyone does-- but honestly I feel like the industry took the wrong lessons from it, you know? I mean, I'd have just as soon been spared the decade of badly-written grimdark that followed, and I think Alan Moore would have, too. I do like it as a commentary and a reaction to stuff that was happening in comics at the time, but thank goodness he didn't get to use the Charlton characters like he wanted!

"Really, my favorite books of his are the America's Best Comics stuff he did later: Promethea and Tom Strong and Top Ten. Have you read those? Oh, you should, they're so smart and layered and they're fun while they're at it. I have most of them in trades-- do you want to borrow a few?"

They never do want to borrow a few, for some reason.
posted by nonasuch at 6:51 PM on April 18 [15 favorites]


I took my facetiousness module out in preparation for bedtime so when I say I am shocked at the idea Saul Bellow is a more known name than Rebecca West I really mean it. never even mind if he's still read, just the idea that his name is dropped more than hers is not is not something I expected. I think I initially started reading West because I felt like a poser trying to talk like a well-read person, when I hadn't read her. but I thought everybody else already had, I just got lucky when it turned out to be worth it. but there's a NYRB edition of The Fountain Overflows and everything, and it's not part of their obscurity show-off line. I think. (tell me that the name of, say, Rose Macaulay means nothing to anybody anymore and that I will believe. though it should!)

whereas I thought I only even knew who Saul Bellow was because of my whole compulsive childhood fixation on knowing everything at all times. certainly nobody has ever spoken his name to me out loud. I have never read him or John Cheever or John Updike and I only ever read Phillip Roth because I heard there was sex in him, and when you spend all your free periods in the library and you read all the good books already, you get down to Phillip Roth and Terry Goodkind in the end whether you want to or not.

I think you and I are more or less of an age so I can't say young people nowadays! to you. not that I would. but anyhow, if most people of the now know who Saul Bellow is without being told, I am disappointed in them.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:23 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


> in spite of that, every sentence is a jewel, and it cannot have gone out of fashion because the facts in it became obsolete with the passing of time, since it is my understanding that not many of them were ever entirely correct to begin with.

nevertheless, it is an unspeakably exquisite work of whatever it is and the concerns it speaks to are not geographically or temporally bound and I do not believe it ever did go out of fashion because etc. etc.


best recommendation ever I will read literally anything described that way thank you. I'm like basically always on the lookout for unspeakably exquisite works of whatever they are but i've been bad at finding them lately.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:24 PM on April 18 [2 favorites]


(tell me that the name of, say, Rose Macaulay means nothing to anybody anymore and that I will believe. though it should!)

Why, I thought, I've got a Rosa Macaulay novel somewhere.

After briefly confusing her with Sarah Townsend Warner and vaguely glancing over at the bookshelf, I realized that her name rang a bell because I have a copy of The World My Wilderness sitting right beside me here on the bed and am in fact in the middle of reading it. Tonight was accounting class and I've recently switched to an immensely healthy low-carb diet so I am in a fog virtually constantly, though.
posted by Frowner at 7:34 PM on April 18 [2 favorites]


Or Sylvia Townsend Warner, as some people like to call her for some reason.
posted by Frowner at 7:37 PM on April 18 [2 favorites]




Which reminds me: what are some non-male authors that write in the same "style" as DFW or Pynchon or any of the other obligatory male authors?


Day late dollar short, but if you're in it for the weird, funny, smart stuff, you might like Nell Zink or Fran Ross or the afore-metioned Helen DeWitt whose Lightning Rods is kind of amazing (and sort of dirty). Also big weird, non-linear writers who mess with time and history would include writers like Nicola Barker, Jennifer Egan, Ali Smith and some of the Joan Didion novels--Democracy comes to mind , though their subject matter is by and large different than what DFW or Pynchon write about. It's its whole own thing , and included here because it's formally weird, but Renata Adler's Speedboat is one of my favorites. Joyce Carol Oates' Marilyn Monroe novel Blonde really reminded me of Delillo (especially Libra) at times.

That's off the top of my head. I need to actually get up and look at the bookshelves.
posted by thivaia at 7:40 PM on April 18 [2 favorites]


I've actually been saying outright, for the past 2 years or so, that I have no interest in reading or watching male things.

I've been working in this direction for a very long time, and Infinite Jest actually plays a part in my journey. I bought it between 1996 and 2000 - it was recommended to me by a few different guys, and I was still trying to play the game of keeping up with what the patriarchy deigned to indicate a worthy art. I started reading IJ and immediately started thinking, "Why the fuck am I reading this? I can't relate to any of these characters or themes and there's only like, one fucking woman in the whole thing and I cannot give any shits about these stupid boys in their stupid boys club."

And it was one more step towards 1) not trying rilly hard to keep up with what the cool boys were into, and 2) turning towards reading books about characters and themes that actually interested and engaged me.

I was in a few different book groups over the past 10 years, and got very impatient with all the male authors, and and quit the last group (partly) because I felt like I was voting on books only based on "which looks least rapey?" Nowadays I only read for pleasure, most of what I read would be considered junk, and most of it is by women about women. I spent so much time on literature by men in my education and beyond, I figure I've earned some exclusionary reading habits in my old age.

I've been involved with TV fandom since mid'90s as well, and I wish I could say that nowadays I only watch TV made by women, but that's actually a much more difficult prospect than reading only books written by women. However, I am selective and although I am very interested in quality TV and love TV and consume a large amount of both TV and media about TV, I have rejected watching what I've been calling the Man Shows - Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Deadwood, David E, Kelly shows. As with the books I read, I find sci fi and related genre TV to be a much richer field for shows with great women characters than all the prestige dramas.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:12 PM on April 18 [13 favorites]


Frowner asked:

I guess what I'd like to hear from straight white men who like DFW is why.

Straight white man here. Looking beyond the prose style and the set pieces (Eschaton, I'm looking at you), the thing I love about DFW and IJ in particular is how humane he is. IJ communicates (to me, at least) the beauty, the value, the sacrality of every single perfectly ordinary, more or less fucked up life. I think about Don Gately in particular: he's deeply flawed, he's not terribly intelligent, he has quite a history, but at the end of the day he's a genuinely good man and infinitely valuable. Every (male! [1]) character is somehow like this: DFW shows us their lives in all of their ugliness and brokenness, but in such a way that we can't help but see them as luminously, gloriously human and lovely (in the sense of the hymn [2]).

So you walk away (or I did) with a radically changed view of the people around you: you walk away from the book reminded that each and every one of them---from the homeless woman you pass on the street, through your weird neighbor, to that one girl you went on a date with that one time, to your dearest friends, to Ben Sasse and Elizabeth Warren and yes, even Donald Trump---is a person full of innate worth, a person whom you're called to love, to care about and for, deeply and in every possible way. Which is something I already tried and continue to try to tell myself, but IJ is one hell of a set of object lessons [3].

And I said Don Gately isn't terribly intelligent, but that's not exactly true. He may not be quick in analysis, but he's a man of intense perceptiveness and deep wisdom. This is one of the running themes of IJ: those ordinary folks who can't say your shibboleths and look like simpletons; who haven't read the books you think every person worth talking to has read; whose thinking seems passé, behind the times, and directed at ordinary folks unlike your exalted self? Listen to them: just because the things they say are passé doesn't mean those things aren't deeply, terrifyingly true. We see this with Gately, we see this in the negative with Hal Incandenza, and whoo boy we see this in the AA sections. (Incidentally, this is why I refuse to be ashamed of loving "This Is Water".)

This is why the whole phenomenon of the Wallacebro leaves me deeply, deeply confused: I was something of a Wallacebro until I read IJ, and it was exactly IJ that gave me the strong kick in the behind I needed to at least start working my way into, y'know, not being a Wallacebro. Even in this very thread, it's precisely my IJ-learned habits of shutting up and listening that prevented me from (till now, I guess?) going all not-all-DFW-fans or ragequitting the thread, so that I could see the really interesting and perceptive comments by (e.g.) queenofbithynia and Frowner. It is entirely beyond me how you could make it through IJ and end up one of the lit-bros the author (and the rest of you folks!) has been talking about, but ... I guess different people take different things from books, or something. I dunno.

So the DFW of this strand of the culture (that is, the hipster lit-bro) is almost unrecognizable. For me DFW belongs in company not so much with De Lillo or Pynchon (neither of whose books I've managed to struggle through), but with Marilynne Robinson and J.R.R. Tolkien and maybe Lois McMaster Bujold.

[1] Yeah, this is one of those frustrating, problematic things: DFW can't, or maybe won't, really write female characters. Kate Gompert and maybe the title character of "The Depressed Person" (that character is female, right? It's been a little while since I re-read the story) come to mind as exceptions, but that's way too few. But far, far too few writers, seems to me, are humane in the way DFW is, so I'll take what I can get. I mention Marilynne Robinson and Lois McMaster Bujold below, and Ada Palmer (whose work is overwhelmingly, incandescently brilliant for other reasons) might qualify, but---does anybody have recommendations for female authors, or at least authors who can write female characters, who are humane in this way?

[2] "My song is love unknown": "love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be". I ... might or might not have spent tens of hours at church last week.

[3] I'm starting to wonder if (hope that, really) I'm one of those lefty Christians YCTaB was talking about. I think of myself as pretty conservative, so who knows, but it'd certainly be an honor.
posted by golwengaud at 8:57 PM on April 18 [11 favorites]


when I say I am shocked at the idea Saul Bellow is a more known name than Rebecca West I really mean it. never even mind if he's still read, just the idea that his name is dropped more than hers is not is not something I expected

Dude did win the Nobel Prize and died, what, ten years ago? His last novel was published in 2000. Talent (and sexism) completely aside, that's going to make for more cultural persistence than someone who stopped writing nearly fifty years ago and was probably most famous for her journalism and travel writing, two notoriously ephemeral genres.

(If you're going to read one novel by one of Those Guys, probably make it Humboldt's Gift, which has a really moving opening and some other good scenes amongst the typical nonsense. But you could probably live without doing so.)
posted by praemunire at 9:18 PM on April 18 [2 favorites]


whereas I thought I only even knew who Saul Bellow was because of my whole compulsive childhood fixation on knowing everything at all times. certainly nobody has ever spoken his name to me out loud. I have never read him or John Cheever or John Updike and I only ever read Phillip Roth...

Nope. We do exist. I'm pretty sure that we are near the same age also and, not only have I heard of them, I have read all of their books. And all of the available books by other problematic old authors like K. Amis, Waugh, Styron, Stone, and Greene. Joseph is probably going to go down as the more frequently remembered Roth, Cheever being in the closet is the most interesting thing about him, and Bellow got really annoying when he went Republican; yet, they had talent, and the incredible popularity of authors like Knausgaard suggests to me that we haven't advanced that far from the time when they were big, since if there ever was a case of dick+diction=book, it'd be him (I also like him, but I mean...), and critics were trying to put him over as the next Proust a couple books back.

That said, I wouldn't want to hang out with any of them.
posted by bootlegpop at 9:36 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


Every (male! [1]) character is somehow like this: DFW shows us their lives in all of their ugliness and brokenness, but in such a way that we can't help but see them as luminously, gloriously human and lovely
I think you have actually explained why I hate DFW with the passion of a thousand burning suns.

Because when each and every male character is written thoughtful and complex and loving, and every female character - of which there are few - is a negative stereotype, it doesn't feel like revelatory literature and more of the same misogyny that is on evidence everywhere, where men's internal lives are precious and women's don't matter.
posted by corb at 9:46 PM on April 18 [34 favorites]


problematic old authors like K. Amis, Waugh, Styron, Stone, and Greene

oh I insist you take Waugh out of that list of vile company right this second unless you mean Auberon and I know you don't. Waugh is quality.

he would have enjoyed my painful and humiliating death more than he would have enjoyed anything else about me, had he lived to meet me, but I cannot stand by and hear him called problematic. bigoted is what he was. problematic is a small insult for smaller men than my evelyn, who was more genuinely hateful, that is to say filled with hate and spite as a personal quality apart from any of his hateful political positions, than anybody I can think of except I guess me. bigotry aside, we are kindred spirits. I only call him "my Evelyn" because I know how it must pain him, down there in hell. but also because I love him, of course.

plus, he appreciated Nancy Mitford's novels! while patronizing and underrating them, but only because he was jealous, I am pretty sure. she had élan and that was the only thing he lacked, apart from humanity
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:55 PM on April 18 [11 favorites]


Waugh was worse than anyone on that list, except possibly Amis, and I am saying that as someone who has read literally everything by him and about him. Most recent fave: Evelyn! Rhapsody for an Obsessive Love.

(The reason I say 'possibly Amis' is that one would have to stay up incredibly late and get incredibly drunk to beat Kingsley Amis in a terrible person contest.)
posted by betweenthebars at 10:31 PM on April 18 [2 favorites]


His autobiographical stuff was all right, but I try to avoid mentally associating Auberon with his superior father and son.
posted by bootlegpop at 10:40 PM on April 18


A little orthogonal, especially considering it's TV, but these things are part of the thread: I'm a recommender. I think I even attach a fair bit of self-worth to it. I like suggesting things to people that they then go and enjoy and come back and we can talk about it. Certainly, I try to recommend things to people that they will like, rather than only because I like them... but I can only know what they're like because I liked them, and while I can guess what the person I'm recommending to will enjoy, I don't really know, so I can only really tell them what I enjoyed, what I think they'll enjoy about it, and hope they take it from there.

My parents are a good example - I give them TV show recommendations constantly. They still get on me for not having watched The Wire or Justified yet (I will, I will! My 'to watch' list is literally months long!), and I don't always hit (they can't seem to get into The Good Place, and while my mother loves Stranger Things my father didn't take to it) - but I know them well enough to know they should enjoy The Good Fight and they shouldn't have even tried watching Legion. We don't have much in common otherwise, but if we can share TV shows there's a great, safe topic we can share. Sharing an experience I loved with people I loved.

There's also that new spark with someone, when media stuff comes up and I want pretty much everyone to have at least tried Veronica Mars and Buffy and Gravity Falls and The Good Wife and Parks and Rec and that's not even getting into the great, engaging conversations you can have with people if you both watch the same reality show... It's why I roll my eyes but understand calling them guilty pleasures, but my real bugbear is the aggressive, malicious delight some people take in hate-watching, taking any conversation that could be about the good or a mix of good and bad and making sure it's all wallowing in the muck. And it's not just hating in-show stuff, or not liking the show at all and so not watching - it's the way commenters will tell you about how Shonda Rimes is as a person because of the latest twist on Grey's Anatomy, or (to nip it back to books) Why JK Rowling's Personal Politics Explain The Future of Harry Potter. Even if something is flawed, that doesn't mean I want to only discuss the flaws and delight in them.

So with this comment from ErisLordFreedom: C'mon, where are all the guys with anecdotes about how they love how-to-fashion video blogs and slash fiction and play Sims for hours and they wanted to talk with women about it but the women keep freezing them out.

I do have lots of stories I could tell, e.g. about how I wanted to share a fandom discussion about Scandal - related to the Breaking Bros and Skyler above, one example would be to say how currently Mellie is my favourite character - where I wanted to share an enthusiasm, but it quickly became apparent that if you don't care about it in the exact same way, with the exact same loves and hatreds, then not only aren't you welcome. And not only that, but you're also unworthy, and inevitably just a bad person besides.

So much of this thread has been amazing to read, and insightful and passionate and clever and the very best. And god knows men can, and are, worse at the cultural gatekeeping and the recsplaining. But there is that undercurrent, the odd comment here and there, which has been very clearly saying, 'But you like this? Only Bad People like this. I'll deny it if you point out that's what I'm saying, claim I don't mean you ... but I was very clear.' A door queenofbithynia explicitly closed has been wafted open a couple of times, and it's ignorable, and certainly shouldn't be a thread focus - but I just wish it wasn't being claimed it didn't happen, either in the world or in-thread.
posted by gadge emeritus at 11:38 PM on April 18 [2 favorites]


does anybody have recommendations for female authors, or at least authors who can write female characters, who are humane in this way?

golwengaud: This is something I get from Vikram Seth, Pat Barker, Maureen McHugh, Jo Walton, Mary Robinette Kowal, Iona Sharma, Lavanya Sankaran, Jean Merrill, Joanne Merriam, Holli Mintzer, L. J. Daly, thingswithwings, unpretty, and imperfect circle -- although of course not all of them concentrate on it to the extent you're looking for.
posted by brainwane at 5:31 AM on April 19 [6 favorites]


Just popping back into this thread to say "thank you" to everyone above who, um, recommended Big Little Lies. I have watched the first couple of episodes and so far it's great.
posted by twsf at 5:36 AM on April 19 [1 favorite]


Saul Bellow is not a terrible writer, but admit it, he's most famous for being that random "Why The Fuck Did They Give Him The Nobel Prize?" guy.
posted by ovvl at 6:47 AM on April 19 [3 favorites]


As usual, we come back to the old neverending misunderstanding. When I say "men who do X", you seem to think I am saying "all men on Earth do X", when in fact I am REALLY saying "there exist people who reliably do X, 100% of whom have happened to be men, what a weird coincidence from which we can extrapolate certain things about the experience of living in a patriarchy but for sure #notall".

Thank you, feindish thingy, for laying this out. Because I am at work, and have access to MS Paint, the best chart-making software ever invented, I made a handy guide to what we mean when we say that "Men do X". (with bonus chart: "No, women can't do X, actually") Please note that the need for this chart almost certainly increases your likelihood for being in the olive part of the map, as opposed to the pale blue.
posted by FirstMateKate at 6:57 AM on April 19 [18 favorites]


now that I think back on it I realize there is many a Joyce Carol Oates story about a beaten-down woman who exhibits inexplicable anxious devotion to a Great Man of Letters who may (?) be based on Saul Bellow and might have been less puzzling to me if I had known something more about him than I used to. that might have occurred to me sooner if he were the only 20th century man in possession of a billion ex-wives and the slobbering adoration of Martin Amis, but I do not believe he is. so perhaps that surmise is not even correct! but I am going to suppose that it is.

my final word on him is that he has the greatest last Man name of any Man writer in history. Bellow!
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:59 AM on April 19 [3 favorites]


Still working my way through this thread and my own thoughts, because IJ is one of a tiny handful of books that I finished and immediately reread from the beginning because I wanted to see how it ticked. Plus I didn't understand the giant jar. I have definitely recommended it, but generally with some variation on "you're gonna hate me for this, but..." Not because of its reputation and what the semiotics of liking it now seems to be (and which the essay sums up well), but because - at least for me - part of what makes IJ good is that it's infuriating, and part of what makes it infuriating is that it's good. I can't say I love it or even that I can see myself reaching for it to read again anytime soon (and I did those back-to-back readings right after it came out in paperback, so it's been a good while). So I've missed the cultural men-recommending-DFW-to-me phase, because if they did, I would have talked about IJ and recommended something back - often Geek Love, which was by a woman author, because it seems to hit the same sweet spot for people who are sadistic enough to recommend IJ - and then forgotten about it.

I still don't understand the whole giant jar part though.
posted by Mchelly at 9:34 AM on April 19


Yeah, this is one of those frustrating, problematic things: DFW can't, or maybe won't, really write female characters. Kate Gompert and maybe the title character of "The Depressed Person" (that character is female, right? It's been a little while since I re-read the story) come to mind as exceptions, but that's way too few.

This isn't just an aside for me though, it is almost my entire point. I read novel after novel after novel after novel after novel after novel held up as the Western canon where the author couldn't or wouldn't write women AT ALL or if they did, they wrote tissue-thin mothers, or unsatisfying wives, or tempting young things - all women that only existed for their relationship to the men around them and I was expected to enjoy and find insight and laud these great Wwestern books because the MALE experience was the default experience, NAY the only experience worth talking about and by the time DFW came around I was 30 and I had JUST HAD IT and his inability or lack of interest in women certainly overrode whatever empathy he could find for sweat-licking cretins who live in locker rooms for me and I was ready to to chuck it all in and find stories that didn't say women's experience was irrelevant or uninteresting or not worth empathy.

In short - fuck you, Henderson the Rain King, and the Moviegoer, and The Sports Writer, and the Great Gatsby, and everything I suffered through by Tom Robbins, and John Irving, and and whatever fucking book it was by Martin Amis I read that had a long part about a guy being surprised that women take shits.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:52 AM on April 19 [32 favorites]


This isn't just an aside for me though, it is almost my entire point. I read novel after novel after novel after novel after novel after novel held up as the Western canon where the author couldn't or wouldn't write women AT ALL or if they did, they wrote tissue-thin mothers, or unsatisfying wives, or tempting young things - all women that only existed for their relationship to the men around them

As a big science fiction fan I have to admit that I have a whole pre-prepared screed about Foundation along these lines that I enjoy whipping out when men recommend that I read it (which, also, hi yes remember how I just told you I am a science fiction fan, yeah I've heard of fucking Foundation would you like to tell me about a little book I've prob never heard of called Dune next)
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:56 AM on April 19 [14 favorites]


> I quit about 2/3rds through Infinite Jest because [...]

Insert math joke
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 1:30 PM on April 19 [5 favorites]


Oh, wow. Thank you, Mefites, for an Another Eye Opening Discussion About Gender.

For me the new thing was the danger of a self-centered dynamic of recommending things without interest or respect in receiving other people's recommendations. That it is a outward, one-way Flow Of Cultural Truth. It seems obvious that men would fall more into this pattern than women, and all the comments here have shown the many ways women are victims.

I found the comments on how men can link their cultural activities with their identity to be particularly revealing: It Is A Cultural Truth That is Very Representative of ME. Which is weird, as it probably ends up more like flag-waving than art. And part of what the flag-waving creates is groups of, largely, men. And as people have said, beyond this there are many ways that the dynamic interacts with broader gender dynamics of patronising / disrespect / silencing and violence.

Now as man who was previously a bit oblivious to the dynamic I scrambled to do a bit of a self-audit on where I stand...

Please stay with me past this paragraph: yes, I did gift someone a copy of DFW and not read the book they gave me in return. (Mitigating factors: I don't love or evangelise DFW; it was just for the Cruise Ship essay based on a conversation we had; he is also a man.) I regularly evangelise The Wire and Breaking Bad. Ouch.

Going further in the audit, the two books I just finished were written by women; the book I've just started is written by a man but I found via a woman's recommendation on twitter; the two TV shows I am watching one was found randomly and another recommended by a new female friend; the last movie I watched based on a recommendation was from a female friend. I like giving people books so I was a bit worried on that side, but I see that of the women I've recently given things to recently I have also followed their recommendations on things. (Perhaps there is also a bit of Wouldn't It Be Great They Think More Like Me, though, and some of this might be related to gender). Overall, and appreciating that this result is only relevant to me, I am giving myself a relieved pat on the back.

I'm not sharing only because I feel pleased with myself but maybe these checks would be useful for others - and I would love to hear any further questions that I could add to the next round of the self-audit on this.

And, just because I happen to have read some books by women doesn't mean I'm not a dick. Or that I don't have other moments or relationships where I'm doing some form of what the article and this thread have shown. I do rant about The Wire (combined with the surprise if you haven't seen it or don't Love It) and so I will certainly be more self conscious about that.

There are definitely plenty of moments/people I do recommend stuff to and I'm not so interested i hearing things back. There are cases where I objectively know more about a subject, or cases where I am kidding myself I do, or sometimes I'm just not ready to hear something new. I guess the things to do here are to: to guide recommendations for specific purposes; make sure not be patronising about them; recommend a range of different types of work; and be aware of the gender and the dynamics of group creation in the situation, including that the reason I'm not interested is not related to the person being a woman.

And to continue the battle of staying open to new perspectives and interrupting channels that embody so much discrimination.
posted by squishles at 3:55 PM on April 19


(Hey somehow this turned into an essay sorry)

I regularly evangelise The Wire and Breaking Bad. Ouch.

With that kind of thing (since I'm the one who brought it up initially) - it's not that those shows are bad or that recommending them is bad (though TBH, who hasn't either seen or decided not to see those shows by now) - it's that they're examples of a very specific type of show that gets a higher amount of acclaim than any other type of show, when many other shows are just as good but in other genres or focused on other types/genders of characters.

So like, don't stop liking those shows or anything. Just make sure you're also aware of other kinds of shows and are able to evaluate them with the idea that they could be excellent too.

I actually first started thinking about this when I got TV: The Book, in which two of the best working TV critics used some predetermined criteria to put together a list of the 100 greatest American TV shows. They acknowledged to their credit that this was their opinion and not gospel - but imo their list reflects the general critical consensus pretty well, because they took that into account when making the list, with 'innovation' and 'influence' being two major criteria along with storytelling, performance, etc.

The top 10 were:

The Simpsons
The Sopranos
The Wire
Cheers
Breaking Bad
Mad Men
Seinfeld
I Love Lucy
Deadwood
All in the Family

This is a list of great, important shows that all deserve to be part of the canon. But fully half of them are the type of Brooding Masculine Dude Dramas that seem to get almost automatic acclaim. And if you count The Simpsons, then the other five are all sitcoms, which doesn't mean they're bad - but it's notable, right? There's only one show on this list in which the main character is a woman and it aired 50 years ago. And of course, all of them are super white (except for The Wire and even that has a white protagonist).

Going down the list further this trend continues, more or less. MASH, Hill Street Blues, The Shield, etc. #19 is The Mary Tyler Moore Show. #20 is The X-Files, which I'd say counts as equal parts female fronted (not the case with all mixed-gender duo shows). #26 is Buffy. But all the other shows around and in between them are either male-fronted and often very 'macho' shows, or else sitcoms with male leads. (I could go down the rest of the list but the same general trend is there.)

You could certainly make an argument that there aren't enough great shows, especially from more than 15-20 years ago, that break the trend of either macho dramas or sitcoms. In that case the response is of course "that's no excuse for the continued failure to make those shows in 2017,"but that's almost beside the point, because it's not like great female-fronted shows and/or non-macho dramas and/or great non-dramas and non-sitcoms don't exist. Even if you argue that there aren't as many, there are at least a few truly great ones - so why are the ones that matter the most, that get the most acclaim, all so similar to each other? Why do their flaws tend to get glossed over more and their writing praised more than other types of excellent TV writing?

Again - those top ten shows are great shows. But part of the reason they wound up on this list is that, in addition to excellent writing and acting and production etc, they are wildly popular and critically acclaimed - and although people like to imagine that the shows with the best writing and acting and production are the shows that become popular and critically acclaimed, I think we all know that's just not all there is to it.

So - of course watch those shows. But watch Buffy, and Veronica Mars, and The Fall, and Big Little Lies, and Wonderfalls, and Gilmore Girls, and other shows that women rave about and men are more likely to pass over. You don't have to love them - you don't even have to like them - but give them a try. Take them seriously as potentially great shows, not just shows you feel obligated to watch because people like me tell you that you should. Some of them might blow your mind if you give them the chance to.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:35 PM on April 19 [18 favorites]


I think it's also not just about taking women's recommendations (though that would be a huge start!), because I recommend books, but I don't think I recommend women authors to male friends/partners. Or at least not nearly in proportion to the amount I read women authors. I'm so conditioned to expect grousing and/or eyerolling about it, that I just don't tend to do it, because it's not worth it. And because I gear my recommendations to what I think the recommendee might actually like, I'm sure I have recommended way more male authors than female authors in my life, though all my favorite authors are women.
posted by lazuli at 4:46 PM on April 19 [3 favorites]


Saul Bellow is not a terrible writer, but admit it, he's most famous for being that random "Why The Fuck Did They Give Him The Nobel Prize?" guy.

I don't know. Of Nobel Laureates who won it after him that I am familiar with, I prefer his books to the books of Singer, Marquez, Cela, Oe, Jelinek, Lessing, Llosa, Modiano, and Dylan. (and less than those of Canetti, Morrison, Saramago, Grass, Kertesz, Coetzee, Le Clezio, and Alexievich.)

Different strokes and all.
posted by bootlegpop at 8:15 PM on April 19


Lol, maybe apropos: the only Saul Bellow story I've read was his internal monologue about feeling guilty for insulting a woman who complimented him.
posted by lkc at 9:05 PM on April 19


This thread is a master class in status signalling.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:42 PM on April 19 [8 favorites]


Showbiz_liz, could you share your Foundation rant? I would like to rant it at some acquaintances.

Once I discovered a book of essays about Topic in a bookstore. I bought it, because I love Topic! All the essays were by women, and it was a great book. I had a friend for whom Topic was relevant to his interests, so I recommended the book to him, and he borrowed my copy. When he gave it back he told me, "It was ok, but of course since the authors were all women I couldn't relate to it." Mm hmm, of course.

20 years later this guy left his wife and said he was sorry not sorry because of course you can't control who you fall in love with.
posted by medusa at 4:00 AM on April 20 [6 favorites]


Showbiz_liz, could you share your Foundation rant? I would like to rant it at some acquaintances.

There are two major problems with Foundation which, to me personally, are major enough that I would love to see it removed from the canon, or at least read with a far more critical eye that it usually is.

The sexism is actually the lesser of these problems so I'll get to that in a second. The main problem is that the entire concept of the story is totally unquestioned/unironic apologia for imperialism. The heroes of the story are a small cadre of men whose singular purpose is to eliminate the development of all civilizations except for their own, folding every world in the galaxy into their own superior civilization so as to save them from their barbaric dark age - as if over the course of thousands of years, none of them would develop a civilization worth existing on its own merits. No, every other civilization in the entire galaxy needs to be saved from itself and civilized by an outside force who knows what's best for it. The only acceptable state of the galaxy is to be united under a single government, based on the ideals of these men, which are the only truly valuable ideals that exist or will ever exist. The galactic white man's burden.

Oh, but it's ok, this is different from actual real-world imperialism, because Hari Seldon has proven that this is the only decent and rational thing to do. As if supposedly scientific proof has never been used to justify oppression.

Then there's the sexism. As I read Foundation, I gradually began to notice that there were no female characters at all - not even any unnamed wives or background characters. Not only were all the members of the Foundation men, they didn't seem to have any interactions with women whatsoever. It was like women didn't exist.

But then, like three-quarters of the way through the book, a female character is introduced - a barbarian queen of one of the planets the Foundation is trying to civilize. And I was like, fuck yeah, because the basis of this character seemed pretty badass. I liked her. I wanted to see where her story would go.

Turns out... the entire purpose of her character was to be plied with high-tech space jewelry in order to persuade her husband to do something that would further the Foundation's goals. It works. She accepts the jewelry and then does exactly what they ask her to do.

I stopped reading after that.

I fucking hate Foundation.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:07 AM on April 20 [11 favorites]


I'm pretty sure it was the Foundation books being used against me the first time I was book-shamed for not reading "hard sci fi" or whatthehell ever that distinction was. I was 12 or 13, talking to a boy my age. I was talking about reading H. Beam Piper, Andre Norton, and Anne McCaffery.

Later I did read some of the Foundation books and was super disappointed the Mule was not, in fact, a real mule. What a let down.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:14 AM on April 20 [5 favorites]


I have only recently discovered Joanna Russ and now I plan to enthusiastically recommend her to every guy I talk about SF with.

Then he said, leaning forward: ‘You’re strange animals, you women intellectuals. Tell me: what’s it like to be a woman?’

I took my rifle from behind my chair and shot him dead.

‘It’s like that,’ I said.

No, of course I didn't.

posted by showbiz_liz at 8:27 AM on April 20 [13 favorites]


"It was ok, but of course since the authors were all women I couldn't relate to it."

What kind of person can’t relate to an essay because the author is a woman? Argh.
posted by pharm at 8:58 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


(a terrible one, obv.)
posted by pharm at 8:59 AM on April 20


Well if it's written by a woman it's about woman things and those are not of general interest.

Before the women's March in February we were talking about it at work. Someone asked one of my co-workers if he was planning to go. He was incredulous. "Of course not, it's for women!"
posted by medusa at 11:43 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


This is something I get from Vikram Seth, Pat Barker, Maureen McHugh, Jo Walton, Mary Robinette Kowal, Iona Sharma, Lavanya Sankaran, Jean Merrill, Joanne Merriam, Holli Mintzer, L. J. Daly, thingswithwings, unpretty, and imperfect circle -- although of course not all of them concentrate on it to the extent you're looking for.
posted by brainwane at 7:31 AM on April 19


Thank you, brainwave. I'm really quite touched and a bit agog that anybody has heard of me. And that's a great list.
posted by joannemerriam at 1:32 PM on April 20 [14 favorites]


This thread is a master class in status signalling.

I could be wrong since that isn't a concept that I find comes up frequently in conversation, but that statement seems like it might be kind of incendiary, especially as a one off post. In addition, it seems like an instance of what it alleges in a bit of a roundabout way.

I tend to eschew the usage of the word "signalling" when trying to make a point because "virtue signalling" seems to be the new buzzword of the people who use friendly terms like "cuck", "sjw" and the like. The implication of these chantellectuals seems to be that people only pretend to be tolerant because they are "virtue signalling" for some form of social credit. Perhaps their usage of VS may be colouring my understanding of the usage of SS above. That said, the second Google result (http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=6913) for "status signalling" that I received seems to be an article about "red pills" and "betas" and the fourth google result (http://therightstuff.biz/tag/status-signaling/) appears to be a blog post about how a feminist is supposedly ugly. So, perhaps there is some degree of correlation between the present common societal usage of the two concepts.

Again, it's entirely possible that I'm confused. As I showed the results of above, I did feel the need to google the words to bolster my thin confidence that I understood what was being said along with how it was intended in order to slightly reduce the likelihood of my then future post ending up being an unfortunate instance of my being thick. Consequently, it wouldn't surprise me that much if I am missing something.

With that in mind, if you have a moment, could you elaborate?
posted by bootlegpop at 2:23 PM on April 20 [13 favorites]


I tend to eschew the usage of the word "signalling" when trying to make a point because "virtue signalling" seems to be the new buzzword of the people who use friendly terms like "cuck", "sjw" and the like.

I had pretty much the same internal reaction when I saw that comment. I'd be curious to hear an explanation as well.
posted by tantrumthecat at 5:54 PM on April 20 [4 favorites]


Interesting, thought-provoking reactions from bootlegpop and tantrumthecat - I had also noticed that comment, but hadn't conflated 'status signalling' with 'virtue signalling'. I read the cited comment to mean that a lot of folks in this thread are signalling their cultural tastes and the depth of their reading, sort of in the neighborhood of 'snobism' I guess. Of course am also curious to see if that original commenter will chime back in to elucidate his/her thinking...
posted by twsf at 6:18 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


I mean, even without a direct connection to "virtue signaling", it still comes off a bit "Boy, look at all you fancy-pants literates with your fancy-pants book-reading."
posted by tobascodagama at 6:51 AM on April 21 [6 favorites]


This thread has been completely fascinating, and I am bummed that I didn't get in on it earlier.

First off, I think it's impossible to ask anyone who really loves books and reading to not recommend books to other people. That said, there's clearly a right and wrong way to do it. Here's what I do (YMMV):

-- Never recommend a book unsolicited. It's uncool to drop into a random conversation "You absolutely must read Connie Willis' Blackout/All Clear and if you don't you're an asshole." If you're having a conversation with another book lover, there will come a time when it's natural to start recommending books to each other - like if they say, "what do you recommend?"

-- If someone asks me to recommend a book, my first question is, "What books do you like?" I have weird and eclectic tastes, and I know full well that not everyone likes the same books I do. So I listen to what they like to read, and then recommend books that would fit well into the stuff they already like. I'm not going to recommend Cloud Atlas to someone who primarily reads cozy mysteries (although I might recommend Secret History), and I'm not going to recommend Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid series to someone who only reads non-fiction.

I don't understand why some people don't get the second point. The whole point of a recommendation is something you think THEY will like. If you recommend a book to someone and they hate it, everybody loses.

I read IJ at the tender age of 24, and my reaction was very much like CatastropheWaitress's above -- I was totally rapt until the last page, at which point I threw the book across the room because I was SO PISSED that none of the plot lines resolved.

I've always had a soft spot for books that do weird things with text or structure -- House of Leaves, Steven Hall's Raw Shark Texts, Cloud Atlas, Anathem -- so I do sometimes fall into the Clever White Boy genre of books. As a recovering performer, I've always enjoyed reading language that I can hear myself *declaiming*.

Someone upthread mentioned Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics as an example of a book by a female author with similarly clever use of language, and that book is indeed excellent. Her follow-up, Night Film, is honestly one of the more engrossing books I've ever read.

In any event, I found the FPP essay really fascinating and well-written, and it's interesting to me to see how IJ and DFW (since his death) has become a sort of shorthand for a kind of self-important, dense, sexist man.

PS - Has anyone read Scott Hawkins' The Library At Mount Char? I was completely blown away by it, and would like to recommend it to friends who enjoy weird modern fantasy and don't mind a certain amount of graphic violence (the violence is not usually my cup of tea, but it didn't bother me here), but it also has a pretty upsetting rape scene, and I am struck by Coyle's comment about how "men exploit women’s sexual suffering for Art." I feel like it's not my place to say whether that's happening in this book or not. Has anyone else read it?
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:25 AM on April 21


Metafilter: a master class in status signalling

Hideous Men is actually one of my favorite books, but no one ever recommended DFW to me. And I'm gratified to learn that I'm not the only person that's taken all the Updike and Roth out of the house and is now reading women almost exclusively. It will take a long time to get my author ratio of a lifetime up to parity, but the effort is truly rewarding. This thread has provided a few new names to explore, so thanks for that.
posted by obloquy at 10:50 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


You absolutely must read Connie Willis' Blackout/All Clear

I know it's just as example, but I loved these books so much. If you like WWII stories and time travel, it's got both in spades, with tons of detail about Britain in WWII.
posted by joannemerriam at 12:30 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


joannemerriam - Yeah, that was sort of half in jest, because in reality, I recommend those books to everyone I can. ;) Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog are both wonderful in their own way, but Blackout/All Clear is just completely spectacular.

For any who don't know, those four books (Blackout/All Clear is really one book but it was way too long so the publisher made her split it in two) are about the history department in Cambridge in the 2040s, which has an underfunded and slightly wonky time machine that is used by history students for research. Doomsday Book accidentally sends a student into the middle of the black plague; To Say Nothing of the Dog is a hilarious Victorian romp; and Blackout/All Clear takes place during the Blitz, interweaving storylines about students working in Bletchley Park and Dunkirk, present at the bombing of Coventry Cathedral, riding in ambulances with Agatha Christie, etc. They're all just wonderful.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 12:45 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


- I had also noticed that comment, but hadn't conflated 'status signalling' with 'virtue signalling'. I read the cited comment to mean that a lot of folks in this thread are signalling their cultural tastes and the depth of their reading, sort of in the neighborhood of 'snobism' I guess.

Your way of reading it is one of the ways* that I thought that I thought that the original comment could be read. There is definitely a difference between SS and VS, and I think that the original poster likely knows the difference. I just found it interesting that broader usage of all types of signalling as a concept/accusation seems to be something more frequently employed by MRAs and 4chin posters. When my enemies start using a concept or word frequently, I tend to get analytical about it before freely using it myself.

*I think that there would actually be (at least) 4 ways of reading it:

true signalling/unintentional: We really are into these things and just can't help coming across as snobby.

true signalling/intentional: We really are into these things, but we're making a point of showing off.

false signalling/unintentional: We aren't nearly as into books and authors that we have been talking about as we try to convince people we are, but we can't help but be this way.

false signalling/intentional: We aren't nearly as into the books and authors that we have been talking about, yet we are intentionally pseudo-intellectual and full of it.

I think that all 4 of those are kind of ugly and incendiary things to say to someone out of the blue (or in it). I've been accused of fs/i and ts/i (using other words) since I was in 3rd grade or so by people who seemed to think that I was a pretentious jerk for voluntarily reading. This just came across as a new fancy (and signalling, I guess) way of saying the same old thing, but again, I could be wrong. It's entirely possible that, after 30 years of hearing it, I've grown a bit sensitive.
posted by bootlegpop at 5:49 PM on April 21 [7 favorites]


And I'm gratified to learn that I'm not the only person that's taken all the Updike and Roth out of the house and is now reading women almost exclusively. It will take a long time to get my author ratio of a lifetime up to parity, but the effort is truly rewarding.

I don't think that I will be doing either of those things, but I would prefer to have the ratio be closer. One problem that I have had is that, whether it is due to their artistic choice or dictated by the market, aside from Murdoch and Oates, there don't seem to be that many super-prolific modern non-genre "lit-fic" female authors. I am the type of person who will usually read everything by an author if I am into them. In the case of men, there are tons of them with 25-50 books out. In the case of women, even super well known women who have been at it for a really long time and have been properly rewarded for their immense talents like Toni Morrison, they rarely even have 15 books out there.

With that in mind, to ask for recommendations, does anyone have any favorite super-prolific modern non-genre "lit-fic" female authors?
posted by bootlegpop at 6:08 PM on April 21


Great question. I see that you have Oates.

What about: Lydia Davis, Lorrie Moore, Alice Munroe, Margaret Atwood
posted by grobstein at 6:12 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


Jeanette Winterson. Though I confess I stopped reading her after a while because her later books are preachy in a way her early books (which are brilliant) are not. I actually find that a lot of super-prolific authors seem to value quantity over quality. Would it be worthwhile to just seek out lots of different works by lots of different female authors?
posted by lazuli at 6:34 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


And I'm basing this on instinct rather than data, but I suspect that many women authors are less prolific for various "second shift" reasons, in that they have to spend time taking care of others in ways that male authors may not be expected to do, so basing reading decisions on prolificness of the author may be one of those habits that seems neutral but actually ends up reinforcing the sexist status quo.
posted by lazuli at 6:39 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


So, how modern does "modern" have to be? Margaret Drabble has nineteen novels and some other publications; AS Byatt has sixteen books of fiction; Rose Macaulay, who wrote through the fifties, had more than twenty novels; Doris Lessing published about umpteen gazillion books. Hilary Mantel has twelve novels, two books of short stories and a memoir; Angela Carter had nine novels and six books of short stories. Isabel Allende has 18 books of fiction and a bunch of memoir. May Sarton wrote eighteen novels and a bunch of other stuff.

I think that some of this prolific-ness versus non- has to do with the changing nature of the literary market. I think there was a lot more "middle" to the market, particularly up through the sixties, than there is now. And I think that there's some scorn for the types of novels that many prolific mid-20th century women writers tended to produce - relatively small, relatively dry novels about women's experiences. When I think about really prolific non-genre women authors, I think about mostly white women who sat down and made a living as novelists by producing that kind of novel - they were always producing because if they did they could make a living. (And women of color were mostly excluded from the Full Time Living As A Serious Novelist wheeze.) It's harder to do that now, and more women get steered into genre (which is, I think, part of why genre writing has been on a quality upswing).

I'm also wondering who these men are who produce fifty high quality works of literature!
posted by Frowner at 6:56 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


I'm also wondering who these men are who produce fifty high quality works of literature!

To be fair, I said 25-50. I picked that number because the woman who I have read the most books by (Murdoch) published 26 fictional books. The men who I have read 50+ books by and would mostly defend are Simenon, Greene, and Updike. The ones who I have read 25-49 by are Burgess, Dick, K. Amis, Vidal, Harrison, Ackroyd, Nabokov, Roth, Faulkner, Bernhard, Powell, Borges, Grass, Zweig, Auster, and Vollmann. That's a decent chunk of prolific people. (though all but 4 of them are dead, with many having died recently, which speaks to how making a living as an author is less and less available, like someone mentioned above) Nevertheless, I find myself wondering if the lower amount of prolific women is more due to the market not consistently supporting women who have lengthy or prolific careers. The other types of labor mentioned above also seems likely.

I do like it quite a bit when after finishing a book by an author for the first time there are many more to read ahead of me, but many, possibly most, of my favorite authors have less than 25 books out, especially the ones who are still currently practicing. It's just that when I find a female author who I like, there is often less terrain to explore, which serves as another way of artificially depressing the f/m ratio.

----

Thanks to all for the recommendations. I have had Atwood sitting here for awhile and I have read a decent chuck of Davis' translations, so there is no good reason that I haven't at least checked out those two yet. My Mother* has all of Carter's stuff, so I should probably go there soon also. I also liked Mantel's Tudor stuff.

*I've delved out alone a lot also, but a decent amount of my reading interests have come from a somewhat matriarchal place. Everyone in my family is a reader to some extent, but starting with my great grandfather who lived in a place too small to have a library and only could afford a literal handful of books that he read and reread over and over as a child, there is usually one person every generation who is an obsessive and prolific reader. The last two were my mother and grandmother, so I get a lot of hand me downs.
-----

Would it be worthwhile to just seek out lots of different works by lots of different female authors?

Most of the best female authors who I have read seem to have 5 or less books out, whereas most of the best male authors who I have read seem to have had 10 or more out. It's partially because those authors are often newer, but it definitely includes the economic reasons discussed above. It does create an artificially deflated ratio, but at the same time, if I love a book, it just seems naturally to read the rest of the books by the author. So, unfortunately, even if I come across an equal amount of authors between the sexes (which I don't), there will still be a discrepancy. That said, I do put some work into finding female authors.

To an extent, it is what it is. In addition, most of the authors who I read are translated, yet very few translated authors are in the list above because of how incredibly rare it is for a person of either sex to be translated into English prolifically. (and, for that matter, even the choice of which highbrow-ish authors get translated by the superindy publishers seems somewhat slanted towards male authors.)
posted by bootlegpop at 8:34 PM on April 21


STW, incidentally, is going to be the Shirley Jackson of the next decade, in the sense of being the token woman genius men figure out they should admire loudly.

so out of curiosity *googles* Sylvia Townsend Warner: the neglected writer
Laura has depths unsuspected by her deeply conventional relatives, and with her move to Great Mop she grows ever more subversive. She quietly rejects her family. She refuses to be defined by her relationships with men. She breaches the social barriers between gentry and working people. And, though she enjoys being part of the Great Mop community, her intensest pleasures are solitary ones. Again looking forward to Virginia Woolf, the novel asserts the absolute necessity of "a room of one's own", and Laura gains a clear-sighted understanding of the combined financial and cultural interests that serve to keep women in domestic, dependent roles: "Society, the Law, the Church, the History of Europe, the Old Testament . . . the Bank of England, Prostitution, the Architect of Apsley Terrace, and half a dozen other useful props of civilisation" have robbed her of her freedom just as effectively as have her patronising London relatives. It is this analysis that informs her conversation with Satan near the end of the novel, in which she unfolds her memorable vision of women as sticks of dynamite, "long[ing] for the concussion that may justify them". If women, Townsend Warner implies, are denied access to power through legitimate means, they will turn instead to illegitimate methods – in this case to Satan himself, who pays them the compliment of pursuing them and then, having bagged them, performs the even more valuable service of leaving them alone.
so i guess no suzanne collins, katherine paterson or PSB!
posted by kliuless at 11:22 PM on April 21


true signalling/unintentional: We really are into these things and just can't help coming across as snobby.

true signalling/intentional: We really are into these things, but we're making a point of showing off.

false signalling/unintentional: We aren't nearly as into books and authors that we have been talking about as we try to convince people we are, but we can't help but be this way.

false signalling/intentional: We aren't nearly as into the books and authors that we have been talking about, yet we are intentionally pseudo-intellectual and full of it.


This is brilliant and I wish I had thought of it!!!
posted by tantrumthecat at 7:25 AM on April 23


With that in mind, to ask for recommendations, does anyone have any favorite super-prolific modern non-genre "lit-fic" female authors?

Most of the female authors I read are either in genre fiction or are not what you'd call super-prolific. I've heard a lot of good things about Kate Atkinson (I had to stop reading Life After Life early on because of personal reasons, but others swear by her).
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 6:56 AM on April 24


With that in mind, to ask for recommendations, does anyone have any favorite super-prolific modern non-genre "lit-fic" female authors?

Patricia Highsmith every day of the week and twice on Sundays

Madeleine L'Engle, with great reservations. She was prolific, and some of her non-genre fiction is interesting, although I will not commit myself so far as to say it is good. though some people think so.

Sorry to keep saying Sylvia Townsend Warner about everything, but Sylvia Townsend Warner.

(so that you may judge my recommendations by my tastes in reference to writers you mentioned: I love Iris Murdoch and Joyce Carol Oates freaks me out but I like her very well.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:34 PM on April 24


I missed the edit window so imagine I retracted the extremely dubious L'Engle suggestion and substituted Ivy Compton-Burnett like I meant to. and Naomi Mitchison is way too prolific for me to be sure about the consistency of her work or the genre ratios within it but I mention her anyway.

I loathe Rumer Godden but she wrote like 26, 27 books and maybe twice that many if you don't subtract out all the children's books and nonfiction. some think she is wonderful.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:47 PM on April 24


Patricia Highsmith, yes of course. I like Megan Abbott, who is "genre" (maybe, mystery/crime?) and who I wouldn't call deeply literary but her writing is actually 30x better and more literary than someone who gets held up like Jonathan Franzen. I also like Sara Paretsky, who is much further along the spectrum toward genre/detective and I have a lot of issues with the writing itself but the books are still something I didn't know existed until I started plunging more deeply into "women's" "genre" lit.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:01 PM on April 25


Patricia Highsmith wrote a LOT of genre fiction, and her non-genre stuff is probably a minority of her output. Or is she non-genre like people pretend Paul Auster wasn't writing genre fiction with City of Glass?
posted by klangklangston at 12:07 PM on April 25


I read all the Jeanette Winterson I could when I first found her, and by now there's quite a lot.
posted by nat at 3:57 PM on April 25 [2 favorites]



Patricia Highsmith wrote a LOT of genre fiction, and her non-genre stuff is probably a minority of her output.


disagree! it's all in the definitions (is murder, hatred and disgust a genre? well kind of yes) but also I figured if Georges Simenon was on the recomendee's approved list, Highsmith would have to be acceptable too.

and to be honest, a lot of people looking for genre-free reading are trying to get away from the endless cascade of SF/F and YA recommendations. not that I would go recommending e.g. category romances and mysteries under that assumption, but I do suspect it so sorry if I am wrong about that. But I still think Highsmith counts as literary fiction in all the ways that count.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:53 AM on April 26 [3 favorites]


I was going to write a long rant about so-called-non-genre pseudo psychological realism, but I think I'll just link to my favorite non-genre writer.
posted by signal at 4:42 PM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Reading Claudine at School at the age of 19 blew my mind. If (English-reading) people (talking about French books) don't talk about Colette when they talk about Proust, when do they talk about Colette? It was so much more, I don't know, female/girl ego/being than anything I'd ever read before.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:01 PM on April 26 [4 favorites]


I ordered the earliest books by Oates, Atwood, and Davis. I already knew that I had to try out all 3 of them eventually, but I think that this thread prompted me to do so faster. I will bookmark the thread for now, so that I can come back for Warner (who looks to be coming back a bit with the NYRB re-releases that have come out semi-recently) and the others, since I don't want to risk blurring their works and not giving them the attention that they deserve by starting with too many new (to me) authors at once.

I don't dislike all genre fiction (though I'm not going to read YA-for better or worse, when I reached the target age for YA, I was reading stuff like King, Barker, and Dune; and, when I was leaving that age group, I was on a transgressive lit kick and into stuff like Miller, Acker, Burroughs, and so on. So, while I will sometimes make an exception when an author who I already like goes there, I missed that phase and I am OK with that.). I'm very into and have read all of the books that I can lay my hands on by Dick, Peace, Raymond, Willeford, Thompson, Stark, and so on. It's just that there tends to be a lot more that I don't like than stuff that I do like in that area, and MF seems way more into genre stuff than me, so I opted to narrow things down that way. In general, I prefer the situation in non-English speaking countries (or at least what gets translated over from them) where genre is often an element in "higher" (or whatever) lit fic stuff like Puig, Aira, and authors like that. Things are a lot more regimented here. Though, that is changing with stuff like Claire Vaye Watkins, Tom McCarthy, and a few others as of late.

Highsmith, while not fitting the exact criteria of my query, is still a good recommendation, and she will be put on the to-do list. In general, I plan to eventually check out most of the early Black Lizard and Vintage Crime authors from before they just started throwing whatever modern stuff was selling on the VC list after they took over BL to get the Thompson backlist. (even if, for whatever reason, I haven't really been able to get super down with Hammett and Chandler, I have had a good time with just about everything else matching the criteria above)
posted by bootlegpop at 1:56 AM on April 27


I mostly read books by writers from outside the Anglophone world, and there aren't many writers who do get translated en masse into English. That said one of the best books I read last year was Marguerite Duras' Abahn Sabina David, and there's a ton of her writing available in English. Another book I loved last year was Bae Suah's A Greater Music, and she's already had a number of books translated into English, so at least that's a start.
posted by Kattullus at 7:39 AM on April 27 [1 favorite]


I read that Bae Suah book awhile back and liked it. For whatever reason, even though I have read a few of her books, I haven't been able to get into Duras. I'm not sure if it is because I picked her more oblique books, or if all of them are like that, though.
posted by bootlegpop at 10:35 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


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