New Mercury Reading, Baltimore, OCTOBER 23rd, Be There

Posted by Lizzie on 10/22/10

Just to get this whole “postin’ on new site” thing on the road, a quick note to let you know I (with Ann Finkbeiner and D. R. Belz) will be reading at the New Mercury Reading series tomorrow, Saturday 23rd, at Federal Hill’s Light Street Gallery. Revelries begin at 6. I don’t KNOW what happens. They’re already pretending I’m still a Baltimore resident; I may be asked to steal someone else’s identity, for all I know.

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Designing Men*

Posted by Lizzie on

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed–mainly because I have posted nothing yet on the subject or any other, and it has therefore appeared in zero places on the internet except precisely here–but Old Hag has as of this Monday received a revamp and update, courtesy of my wonderful designer, Eric Gordon.

A brief note on the type. Web designers — except for that noxious breed that submits 10-page proposals which somehow quintuple the price — can be even more modest than old-school editors, placing their credit in teeny type, like a faint watermark, at the bottom of the page. (And yes, Eric, thank you for removing that funny-ha-ha-but-now-truly-archaic-if-accurate webmaster reference my ex inserted at the bottom of the page at the time of our breakup indicating he was one of 11; I had not noticed it, but you did, and you are a gentleman and a patriot.)

In 2004, I found Eric in the comment threads of another site  I read, Jessica Lee Jernigan’s eponymous book blog. Eric had, gratis, provided her with a masthead that seemed, in its economy, so delightful, smart and zippy that I emailed him immediately, without even knowing if he did this kind of thing, to ask if he’d do my new site. (This was, at the time, my site.)

I had the usual quota of a writer’s vague visual enthusiasms and directives, born of god-knows-where. I knew I wanted a site with a center column, as well as one that somehow references this really terrific Miso pretty soap. (Which I entirely recommend, by the way.) I knew I wanted room to do quickie reviews as well as post recent work. I even went so far as to open up a word document and do some kind of graphical hashout, which I hope he never opened.

The impetus to do a new “Old Hag” came not from the fact that I didn’t love the old site (LOOK AT ITS JUSTLY AND RELENTLESSLY HAILED BEAUTY) or that it’s 2010 but more from a desire to acknowledge the changes wrought by new times, the idea that we live in a web-world with longer, more magazine-like posts; that editorial has wended left (on the page); that now I am supposed to publish either more regularly or more coherently; that this is my official outpost and should promise official things.

Eric designed me a wonderful site that did that. But then I missed the old site violently. And a large, large part of me, the part that originally started this site at all, said, Omigod, you cannot leave me behind. FUCK IT.

So then Eric designed me this. (He also did, fyi,

So this post is for two things: a) to publicly give credit to the designer who’s created the site I love over the years, and b) to let you know, though many of you ask independently anyway, that if you ever need a really great designer, HERE IS ONE.

* additional post thanking ANOTHER important designer for another vector of Skurnick incoming soon

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Because I have no one but you, dear reader, to follow

Posted by Lizzie on 10/10/10

A wondrous friend and I are always talking about how our Venn diagram of reading enjoyment intersects only on older books, and diverges entirely in the latter half of the 20th and 21st century. (I wend Zoe Heller; she, Junot Diaz.) But one thing we agree on is how thoroughly this older generation spanks the younger, line by line, in a way that is not only striking but mortifying, possibly.

I just finished CAKES AND ALE at her urging, having had it at my bedside for the last six weeks, and I was struck by how often I wanted to write down a line or a passage and then had to stop because eventually I would have just transcribed the entire book. Apparently my friend found herself unable to stop following her husband around the apartment reading them aloud. Now I am on the fourth page of Jean Stafford’s stories and am marveling at her ability to index “every datum of our shared millennial life” like she is tossing down a handful of peanuts, no offense to Franzen, whose book I truly enjoyed but will never pick up again.

Anyway, I am nattering at you, with Maugham and Stafford, just briefly, and then I promise I will leave you alone.

From Cakes and Ale:

On genius:

I had watched with admiration his rise in the world of letters. His career might have served as a model for any young man entering upon the pursuit of literature. I could think of no one among my contemporaries who had achieved so considerable a position on so little talent. This, like a wise man’s daily does of Bemax, might have gone into a heaped-up tablespoon. He was perfectly aware of it, and it must have seemed to him sometimes little short of a miracle that he had been able with it to compose already some thirty books. I cannot but think that he saw the white light of revelation when he first read that Charles Dickens in an after-dinner speech had stated that genius was an infinite capacity for taking pains. He pondered the saying. If that was all, he must have told himself, he could be a genius like the rest; and when the excited reviewer of a lady’s paper, writing a notice of one of his books, used the word (and of late the critics have been doing it with agreeable frequency) he must have sighed with the satisfaction of one who after long hours of toil has completed a crossword puzzle.

On beauty:

I do not know if others are like myself, but I am conscious that I cannot contemplate beauty long. For me no poet made a falser statement than Keats when he wrote the first line of Endymion. When the thing of beauty has given me the magic of its sensation my mind quickly wanders; I listen with incredulity to the persons who tell me that they can look with rapture for hours at a view or a picture. beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. It is like the perfume of a rose: you can smell it and that is all: that is why the criticism of art, except in so far as it is unconcerned with beauty and therefore with art, is tiresome. All the critic can tell you with regard to Titian’s Entombment of Christ, perhaps of all the pictures in the world that which has most pure beauty, is to go and look at it. What else he has to say is history, or biography, or what not. But people add other qualities to beauty–sublimity, human interest, tenderness, love–because beauty does not long content them. Beauty is perfect, and perfection (such is human nature) holds our attention but for a little while. The mathematician who after seeing Phedre asked: “Qu’est-ce que ca prouve?” was not such a fool as he has been generally made out. No one has ever been able to explain why the Doric temple of Paestum is more beautiful than a glass of cold beer except by bringing in considerations that have nothing to do with beauty. Beauty is a blind alley. It is a mountain peak that once reached leads nowhere. That is why in the end we find more to entrance us in El Greco than in Titian, in the end the incomplete achievement of Shakespeare than in the consummate success of Racine. Too much has been written about beauty. That is why I have written a little more.

On old rooms, and love (you have to read the book for this):

The room made me, as Mrs. Hudson put it, go queer all over. All the hopes that had been cherished there, the bright visions of the future, the flaming passion of youth; the regrets, the disillusion, the weariness, the resignation; so much had been felt in that room, by so many, the whole gamut of human emotion, that it seemed strangely to have acquired a troubling and enigmatic personality of its own. I have no notion why, but it made me think of a woman at a cross-road with a finger on her lips, looking back and with the other hand beckoning. What I obscurely (and rather shamefacedly) felt, communicated it to Mrs. Hudson, for she gave a laugh and with a characteristic gesture rubbed her prominent nose.

“My word, people are funny,” she said. “When I think of all the gentlemen I’ve ‘ad here, I give you my word you wouldn’t believe it if I told you some of the things I know about them. One of them’s funnier than the other. Sometimes I lie abed thinking of them and laugh. Well, it would be a bad world if you didn’t get a good laugh now and then, but, lor’, lodgers really are the limit.”

And just briefly, from Stafford, as my typing fingers are exhausted.

First line of “Maggie Meriwether’s Rich Experience” (as if that weren’t enough):

There was a hole so neat it looked tailored in the dead center of the large round beige velours mat that had been thrown on the grass in the shade of the venerable sycamore, and though it protruded a clump of mint, so chic in its air of casualness, so piquant in its fragrance in the heat of mid-July, that Mme Floquet, a brisk Greek in middle life, suggested, speaking in French with a commandingly eccentric accent, that her host, Karl von Bubnoff, M. le Baron, had contrived it all with shears and a trowel before his Sunday guests arrived at his manorial house, Magnamont, in Chantilly.

One metaphor:

She had never seen anyone so nondescript; he looked like a bundle that might have contained anything on earth.


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I will not leave this poor woman alone

Posted by Lizzie on 09/03/10

The movie of Eat, Pray, Love commences with the kind of moment that, depending on your outlook, leads you to find memoirist Elizabeth Gilbert either deeply appalling or appealing. In a chatty voice-over, Julia Roberts tells us the story of her psychologist friend, Deborah, who’s daunted when asked to counsel a bunch of recently deposited Cambodian boat people.The boat people, Julia tells us, have suffered “the worst of what humans can inflict on each other—genocide, rape, torture, starvation, the murder of their relatives before their eyes.” How can a privileged American—a mere Philadelphia shrink—possibly relate to their suffering?

But luckily for Deborah, boat people have no interest in discussing their years in refugee camps or having to feed expired fellow travelers to the sharks. Instead, their worries comprise a sort of deposed-dictator, PTSD season of The Bachelorette: “I met this guy when I was living in the refugee camp, and we fell in love. I thought he really loved me, but then we were separated on different boats, and he took up with my cousin. Now he’s married to her…”At this punchline, the audience at my screening chuckled at the oh-too-truthiness of it all. It’s not surprising Hollywood chose to launch the movie thus. It is a moment pure Gilbertian, exactly the kind of psychic pass those troubled by uniquely unspeakable acts require. Sure, life is filled with nasty inconveniences like rape and having to pitch a corpse or two overboard when you least expect it! But never fear. At the end of the day, all we all really care about is if that guy is going to call.

see the rest at The Millions : Zen and the Art of Image Maintenance.

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I so rarely get a chance to use “size queens” in relation to NYTBR

Posted by Lizzie on 08/31/10

Make of it what you will, but the Twitter-born fracas over Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom proves one thing without a doubt: the American literary establishment are size queens.

Their collective pulse races at the sight of muscular doorstopper filled with realism. (Especially following a ten-year dry spell.) They can’t agree on large sales versus long shelf life. They’re critical heavy-breathers: witness New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus fervently laud Freedom’s “capacious but intricately ordered narrative that in its majestic sweep seems to gather up every fresh datum of our shared millennial life.”

Wherein I speak of “Freedom” at The Daily Beast.

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Bad Marie Tonight: Marcy Dermansky and Lizzie Skurnick!

Posted by Lizzie on 08/23/10

I’ll be talking tonight with author Marcy Dermansky, childhood neighbor, giver of Canal Street hand-me-downs, tonight at the Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene at 7:30 about her wondrous novel, Bad Marie. Easily accessible by 2/3/4/5/a/c/g. (The bookstore, not the novel.) Will they have wine? Let’s hope. Map below, mainly to give me a chance to embed something, which doesn’t seem to be working anyway.

Map here!

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FILTHY I tell you. Filthy Chum!

Posted by Lizzie on 08/06/10

This is one of the fave piecs I EVER DID. In honor of SHARK WEEK, which I have so sadly not had a chance to watch yet, I present the encore edition of: ‘Jaws’: Celebrating Sand, Sex And A Really Big Fish :

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This Week in Uncompensated Media Appearances: Or, Drunk on America

Posted by Lizzie on 07/30/10

So, that thing happened.*

It’s not unusual for me to round up, every week or so, whatever pale fire I have managed to effuse into the surrounding atmosphere in the interval, but as the young ones say, this shit was crazy, yo! Especially since it was surrounded by six-hundred other randomers. (Ask astrologer if Saturn something?) Anyway, I am an anal archivist kind of person, so must organize and list despite breadth of reach. Some of this is merely incidental and no need to be interested unless you are. However, at the end, there is something very, very funny.

1. At this year’s Book Expo America, I, Libba Bray, and other teensperts talked about YA and adult crossover lit. BEA just posted the panel. (For the fidgety, at around 7:00, I and the audience of librarians crack up about teacher/student sex. 6:54, just about.)

2. My good friend Dana Stevens and I spoiled Salt over at Slate. (Say that three times fast!) We spoiled Eclipse a little while ago. In both locations you will also find Dana’s wonderful reviews.

3. The tireless #seriouslyhowdoesshedoit blogger Booking Mama published a very nice review of Scout, Atticus and Boo, a tribute to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, for which documentary filmmaker Mary McDonagh Murphy interviewed luminaries such as Dan Rather, Oprah Winfrey and — *cackles delightedly cuz decidedly non-luminary* — me! Please check out McDonagh Murphy’s site for some interesting clips/links and to pre-order DVD, god help me.

4. I weigh in on The San Diego Union-Tribune‘s axing its book section.

5. I wax on the internet courage of Jennifer Weiner.

6. I know, I’m stalling. But okay, so THAT WAS CRAZY, RIGHT? I was just meeting my monthly quota! Anyway, I list !!!!!THE SCANDAL!!!!!! here mainly to give thanks for our nation’s commenters, who have lost me two entire days of work but are SO FUNNY I CAN’T STAND IT, as well as insightful and wise and all those things people meeting monthly quotas can only vaguely hope to be, one day. I hope the people running the internet make sure they archive comments? Whispering mean things while someone else is speaking is always the better part of valor.

I’m going to link to some places I thought were ESPECIALLY FUNNY because they are just good readin’, period, but I actually appreciated all of you who weighed in because I live in a basement apartment, and the light in here is bad, and 100K+ views of this nature is as good as it’s going to get.

a) People of Twitter! Thank you for reading, as well as hashtag #BUSINESS.

b) People of Awl! How can I resist such Catskills gems? AND SUB-GEMS?

c) People of Unfogged! You are very funny. Like, IRL, though I guess this is not IRL, is it, ha ha! Who are you? I’m so intimidated by you! WHY DON’T I KNOW YOU ALREADY. (Appending “On America” to any terminal adjective that takes an “on” is my new “…in bed.” “Drunk” is probably the only one, but I’m sure it’ll get lots of use!)

d) People of Shakesville! So many, many portmanteaus for “douche.” I’d forgotten! #thankyou #DOUCHECANOE

e) BEAUTIES of Jezebel! You are often/always hilarious but this was sort of above and beyond. Too many to count but this parody of the CEFAD in question might deserve a company car:

“The fourth time I read it out loud in a shouty faux-Shakespearian voice, and was interrupted by my next door neighbor who felt I was disturbing her barking chihuahua. The fifth and sixth times were mostly taken up with an effort to find a DaVinci code hidden in the text, by reading only every second word, and then every third… then the seventh time I read it in character as a space-lord from a neighboring galaxy. The ninth time I was huddled in a corner of my bathroom sobbing into a disused hand towel chosen by my ex-wife ten years ago, before my life was destroyed.
“And then on the tenth time I vomited and decided to write you back, you lucky lucky girl. Now let me tell you everything that is wrong with you.”

f) The signifying Tweet! This was not funny, actually.

* I would last here like to wish congratulations to the broom and gride in question. I’m doing it in teeny teeny type because enough already. But the internet is happy for you. We hope you are drunk…on America.

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New teen post on predictive tables…

Posted by Lizzie on 07/12/10 the teen place. Where I post the teen stuff, when I am not posting it here. THIS IS THERE.

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FIRST FREEBIE: If you can add 5 more, we’ll have 100! And I’ll alphabetize them too!

Posted by Lizzie on 07/11/10

UPDATE: 10 MORE I MEAN. Taking position here my vast critical capacities have exercised eminent domain over math part of brain. I really did once do physics!

Just to show you the font of taxonomies of ’70s and ’80s YA lit is without limit, 45 MORE options from readers (5 from me; I’m not WITHOUT USE)  for my recent AWL Listicle Without Commentary: The 45 Greatest Teen Titles You Have Never Heard of From the Era When They All Mentioned “I,” “Me,” “You” or Some Other Key Person That Are Not ‘Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret’

  1. A Horse Named Peaceable
  2. A Star For The Latecomer
  3. About David
  4. After You, My Dear Alphonse
  5. Anything For A Friend
  6. Came Back to Show You I could Fly
  7. Catherine, Called Birdy
  8. Class Pictures
  9. Deliver Us from Evie
  10. (more…)

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“The Great Gilly Hopkins”! Can’t BELIEVE I left that one out

Posted by Lizzie on 07/09/10

On the AWl, my first Listicle Without Commentary: The 45 Greatest Teen Titles You Have Never Heard of From the Era When They All Mentioned “I,” “Me,” “You” or Some Other Key Person That Are Not ‘Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret’

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Summer reading: Still Drinkin’

Posted by Lizzie on 06/28/10

Carolyn Kellogg was kind enough to feature me in the LA Times Summer Reading series on their blog Jacket Copy. I recommended the collected stories of Elizabeth Hardwick, Katherine Anne Porter, and Katherine Mansfield, all of which I read the summer of 2000 on a fellowship in Prague (fancy):

LS: I didn’t notice it particularly at the time, but when I look back, I see that almost every story in each of the collections was about some alienated young woman alone in Europe, or some other foreign-seeming outpost. Turmoil and deprivation: Weimar Germany, Vichy France, etc. (I still can’t forget the one where a girl spends the summer on a farm with German immigrants, and the wives all stand behind their husbands and serve them from the back while they eat.) There’s also, of course, Katherine Anne Porter’s “Theft,” in which a mother steals a purse from a single woman who’s not quite able to connect with men for her daughter, who is younger and is. I can’t remember exactly what she says as she walks past her in the hallway — something like, “You don’t need it,” in this very intense way that indicates she knows what she’s doing is technically wrong but also philosophically right. It’s horrible.

JC: Have you returned to that place?

LS: I haven’t. I sometimes wonder what’s happened to it. I read all the books in this bar called Pod Lubim that had just opened next to the university, and this waiter was always bringing me Becherovka and asking me to tell him about what was in whatever book I was reading, which was difficult considering he spoke three words of English and I spoke no Czech. It was sort of a bizarre place — very sleek and modern, with very “arty” pictures of naked women all over the walls etc., but 35 cent Pilsner and surprisingly good food.

Okay, I literally found a pic of me and the waiter! I think his name was Milosz? He was very much with the pushing of the plum concoctions. As you can see I am reading Pat Conroy there, and NO ONE FANCY.

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Fine Lines Plotfinder Returns!

Posted by Lizzie on

It’s so weird to crosspost w/Shelf Discovery and Old Hag. It makes me feel a bit Tara, but both sides seem perfectly at ease with each other, if their host body is not. Point: I’m bringing back Plotfinder from Fine Lines, and I wrote about it on the Shelf Discovery blog, but now that Old Hag is open is seems I should point to it here. Alors, here’s the whole post too this time, and we’ll work out who lives where in the near future:


One of the great sadnesses about leaving Jezebel’s “Fine Lines” series behind is that I also had to retire the Plotfinder series, in which you all sent me your mysterious queries — “Girl on a bus who eats bean sprouts and peanut butter sandwich?” “The Divorce Express!” — and we all solved them.

Plotfinder was one of those weird items that sprang up organically almost from the first column, and I’ve often wondered if it’s because strange details and covers are so much more likely to endure — “Blue dress, orange dress, girl who says Avenue of the Americas instead of Sixth Avenue?” from “The Trouble With Thirteen” are especially persistent with me — than actual titles at that age. Someone could probably do a neurological study on it, and I am not that person! I am just the person in possession of about 100 unsolved queries who was always like “I’ll add it to the queue” and then let it languish for an unacceptable period.

Yesterday I found yet another trove of used YA — this one in Seaburn Books, in Astoria — and was like WAIT — why am I not posting a cover and a Plotfinder with some regularity so we can all enjoy the mystery and wonder thereof? In any case, I am now going to do so. Since I literally have 96 I should probably do one once a day but we’ll space them out. I’ll also see if I can get my publisher to donate some “Shelf Discovery” copies for the winners. For now it is all for the honor and the glory.

Feel free to answer HERE, or to friend Shelf Discovery on FB and answer there. You can also send me an email at

These first two come from Betsy P. and Ashley T.:

The book was set in Maryland. The heroine was a cheerleader/all around good girl who gets auctioned off, in a charity auction, to the school bad boy (drag racer) who gets her to skip school and help clean his car. They start to go out and her horizons get broadened by seeing that he is smart, etc. A secondary plot line is her trying to get into Mt. Holyoke and getting wait listed. She also has a brother at Yale who is becoming a hippie and questioning the family’s values and lifestyle.

The book ends with a pregnancy scare and the girl deciding to go to a small school in VA. She and the boy break up and she moves on with her life, but not the one that she took for granted she would have.

My guess is that it was published in the early 70’s. The cover of the book showed a Peter Max bedspread and a princess phone. How I can remember these arcane details and not the character’s names is a mystery to me.

The books are about a girl who lives on an island off the coast of Maine. In one book, she goes to school barefoot and is shamed by her teacher, whom she later learns to appreciate and who learns to appreciate her. In another book, she goes to the mainland for high school and decides against accounting in favor of the college course. Perhaps also In that book, she saves her money to buy “the book of knowledge” that she sees advertised in a magazine and desperately wants.

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Will Work for “Like”

Posted by Lizzie on 06/26/10

If you missed either of my pieces this week, I reviewed Justin Cronin’s delightful The Passage, and also recommended three books to NPR you can use to feel better about failing immediately out of the gate after graduation. I even responded to a piece in which I was quoted because I disagreed with the conclusion! Now I am off to write yet another piece for the fledging, underpaying web culture monster, the landed gentry of which I was hanging out with on a well-stocked roof in Soho last night, wondering how this all had HAPPENED. Is anyone else weirded out how quickly every publication installed that Facebook social app? Is anyone under the impression the site can’t pull all your info when you’re logged in, for the most part? I did just want to put that out there as a warning before I badgered you yet again to click all the recommending options nonetheless.

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Note: I just told another journalist that what I thought contemporary YA was missing was “guileless masturbation,” so grain of salt

Posted by Lizzie on 06/24/10

Though my thoughts on this have now now been unproductively percolating, like an increasingly viscous pot of coffee, for an entire two days, I did want to make sure I responded to Ruth Graham’s Slate piece on Christian YA novels, which argues, “If you look past the Bible-study scenes, young-adult novels from evangelical authors and publishers are offering their young Christian readers a surprisingly empowering guide to adolescence,” concluding that “Amid all of this piety…are explicitly positive—even feminist—messages like positive body image, hard work, and the importance of not settling for just any guy—that present a grounded alternative to the Gossip Girl landscape.”

Those familiar with my reading history will not be surprised to see I disagree, and not only because I think reducing literature to a tool for lifting the self-esteem of strangers must be the most maddening crime to have been visited on authors in this century.

My point of greatest disagreement with Graham runs along the question of morality. This to some extent is my fault, as I used the word myself when I told Graham that I think we live in a very moral era. Graham — not without reason — uses this to wonder if Christian YA not only embraces our moral era but is in some part the cause of it.

I don’t know if that’s true — possibly — but I brought up the word “moral” as an explicit pejorative, and maybe I should have said “uptight,” which is what I really meant.  (And by uptight, I really mean that, in the Ice Castles of my youth, the heroine could happily have sex with her boyfriend and an older newscaster, and now no one can do that anymore. I can dig up some other examples if you need them.) Because, while you can find a number of YA novels from L’Engle to Blume to Paterson that struggle with religion, morality and, for lack of a better word, what we can call the soul, contemporary Christian fiction doesn’t explore morality so much as define it. And in this, it’s worse than Gossip Girl, because while that series revels in its tarty vacuity, Christian fiction is equally sex-, boy- and status-obsessed, but it cloaks these concerns in an aura of uplift.

I’m just going to go through some of Graham’s examples and conclusions and sketch out my disagreements therewith, as it is BROILING and I’m not sure integrating my reactions coherently is a suit in my deck at this juncture. Which is to say, I think I say “bespeaks” 18 times below — I’m sorry:

In the newest books, old-fashioned values are embraced for newfangled reasons. Modesty is endorsed, not because of shame, but because of self-respect and practicality: Protagonist DJ in Spring Breakdown opts for a one-piece swimsuit over a teensy bikini because, “I like to swim. And I like to move around.” Besides, another character reflects later, “Sometimes subtle is sexy.

I’m all for the moving around part, but I must say, the need to smugly defend suiting up for maximum movement at all indicates a different underlying imperative. (Unlike this pack of whores near this body of water, I, really and truly, not only like to move around but have conveniently accomplished this while not looking like a whore. You whores should try it sometime.) The second comment truly nails it. Yes, sure, subtle is sexy. But wait — if we’re being moral, aren’t we not supposed to be focused on BEING SEXY? And if we are, for God’s sake, let’s not hamstring ourselves with one-pieces.

Work matters, too…Protagonists spend a lot of time contemplating “God’s plan” in their lives, a message that reinforces long-term goals. Cindy Martinusen-Coloma’s sensitively written 2009 novel, Beautiful, features a high-schooler who hopes to go into international law. When her father tells her that her parents worry about seeing her head off to a war zone someday, she replies, “I’ll tell Mom it’s what God wants me to do.”

Okay. Call me a bad person, that just sounds to me like she’s going to lie.

Even in matters of the heart, these Christian books are encouraging girls to have personal agency. Take Candace Thompson, the protagonist of Debbie Viguié’s 2008 novel The Summer of Cotton Candy. “We’re not kids forever,” she tells her summer fling, discouraged by his aimlessness. “I may not know what I want to do with my life yet, but I know I want to do something. … Sooner or later you have to take responsibility for your own life, and I’m trying. What are you doing?” When he asks what this means, her answer is “I want a guy who values the same things I do”—a pretty excellent guideline for teens of any religious background.

I think it’s fine not to want to date a big lox — Um, I want a guy who gets off the couch — but wanting a guy who values the same things as you do, at that age, bespeaks a certain parochiality that mistakes certainty for knowledge. Engaging with people with conflicting values is one of the joys, privileges and challenges of adulthood, ones you miss when you shack up with someone who agrees with you on every point. What the hell do you  know, anyway? You’re a teenager. Talk to Mr. Aimless in 5 years — you’ll probably see him differently.

…the larger takeaway from the Christian books is not that girls should imagine themselves as subservient wives, but that they should prepare themselves for adulthood. Certainly heroine Candace Thompson sees marriage as her ultimate goal when she is choosing a boyfriend. But she also wants someone “who valued what she did, would take her seriously, would help her grow as a person, and would love and respect her.” That’s not a girl preparing for a life as a doormat; it’s a girl learning about the importance of emotional strength. It’s a girl who refuses to settle for a so-so boy who is not on track to be a good man. As far as girlish escapism goes, it’s better than holding out for a Prada purse.

In this sentence may lie the seed of a future nightmare, but I’ll strike out anyway and say, I hope to hell my daughter, as a teenager, is dreaming of Prada purses, not respectful husbands. Of course dreaming of a Prada purse is silly — but what are your teen years for if not to be vain, unrealistic, impractical, self-obsessed, and silly? (I STILL would love a Prada purse.) And while a purse may be a craven, gold-digging goal, it’s a goal in support of one’s self, ultimately enriching and enjoyable — one in which you desire, not one in which you worry if you are being correctly desired.

It’s also a goal without enormous consequences. “Emotional strength,” shmength — ask a married lady:  a husband, good or not, is not ultimately a vehicle for validating one’s respectability but a whole other human, a project, a partnership. Yes: if you compare the values behind wanting a respectful husband and wanting a purse, of course, a nice husband wins. But in both cases, when you’re a teenager, an object of desire is but a representation of an aspect of self — and as a talisman, a purse is more appropriate than a person. It’s far more escapist — and disempowering — to pretend that’s not so.

I don’t think Christian YA should be snatched out of girls’ hands any more than I do copies of Twilight, but let us accept its bubble-gum nature, acknowledge that its stabs at modest sexiness, moral ambition, co-conscious exploration and marital liberation are as unrealistic as the dream of Prada — and as unlikely to give a girl pleasure. In short, it’s hard enough to be a teenage girl without object lessons around swimwear. Let’s help them get through it in one piece.

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Not a plug for more “Recommends”, I promise

Posted by Lizzie on 06/23/10

I know, I know, the end of men. No worries — at NPR, bastion of liberalism, they still have many advocates. (P.S. this slow drum beat of male uplift accompanies ANYTHING I do for NPR, even by NPR. I have written responses to it, in my time.)

Here, however, I do especially love the mix of gentle remonstration and peeved outrage:

Justin Swanson (swanje) wrote:

It would be refreshing for NPR to suggest at least one book with a male protagonist…

Danielle Foushee (DFoushee) wrote:

I saw the headline for this story and immediately thought there might be something here that would interest my brother, who has struggled since college. Too bad you only profiled books geared towards young women. I’m sure there are plenty of young men who could stand to read something they could identify with.

Danielle, if your brother has reached the point where my commentary on NPR plays a significant part in his life path, I am very sad to tell you he is by definition SOL.

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If this keeps up I’m going to tell the story of exactly how Lorin tried to pick me up in college

Posted by Lizzie on 06/21/10

Perhaps this was one way for the Awl to draw the attention of Paris Review readers?

Okay, so THIS? This sentence/thought? What I was talking about. (Links that make this more sense here and here and here.)

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One Little MetaFilter Response

Posted by Lizzie on 06/14/10

Metafilter posted my post! I love Metafilter*. However:

I actually make it a practice to never respond to comment streams just because…well, I feel like the article is the place where you got to speak your piece, and the comments are where commenters get to speak theirs, and if you wish to observe the integrity of your article, don’t treat it as an ongoing conversation.

Also, comment streams have their own weather, and if you don’t like it, wait a minute — which is to say, someone else winds up posting the thing you meant to say, anyway.

But since I did just start actively blogging again, I’m feeling a little manic, and I was interested in how my little desideratum about blogging was received by those who are not paid to love me, I will respond, if only because the aggregate response seems to illustrate how thoroughly the world I was talking about has vanished.

1. This is a piece by an author who is annoyed at not getting more attention for her blog from the big game.

Okay. Say what you will — that is explictly the opposite of what my piece is about, and even if you misunderstood my own narration of the events in question, I am eminently Googleable, you know, in all my big-game glory in that room of dozens.

My piece was about how it’s nice to be a blogger and be plucked from your blog to write for different media, but also odd. First, it’s odd because you’re asked to write for that medium, not to blog for it, but yes, as flexing your muscles in a different space is to some extent the story of all freelance writing, that’s not that interesting.

But what is singular is that in 2003, when my blog began to attract notice, I was asked to write for a media that also made snide comments about bloggers and their ability to write with great regularity. Now, that media has fully incorporated blogging as a medium, but not bloggers as an expert class. It’s weird, and annoying, to old-school bloggers who were beaten and pampered, and despite blogging’s ubiquity continue to be.

2. This is a piece by a writer who cannot write.

a) Well, what do you want me to say? It’s baroque. It’s filigreed. You like it or you don’t. You’re not into Thackeray, I get it. It’s not agrammatical, though, and a run-on sentence and a LONG sentence are absolutely not the same thing, something I will observe to my dying day, both asked and unasked, as one blogger, under God, drinking my coffee in relative peace on this cold gray day, etc., etc.

b) You are correct that it is RIDDLED with errors, though. I should get my sister and a friend to proof everything I do. My BOOK is riddled with errors! So embarrassing.

However, as master of big-game media!!! I can say this is not a function of laziness, but really a function of writing reams and reams of things, constantly, for a living, under a deadline. I used to copyedit and proof for a living as well, and I’ve learned it’s just impossible — for me, at least — to do both. Once my writing emerged error-free and fully formed and it just doesn’t anymore.

In my old age I have found I really like it when I get a chance to do a massive second or third draft, particularly when I’m reviewing. Blogging is quite different though, and there is a hummingbird effect you may or may not like. It was a voice VERY MUCH IN VOGUE when I began, not so much today.

However, even with a copyeditor, and I love copyeditors and proofers, love love love, errors always get through. O magazine just changed a subject in a piece of mine to a He from a She three times, and the error went through, even though that writer is eminently Googleable. O is like the MOTHERSHIP of copyediting and proofreading. So blame me if you like, and I would love it if any of you would like to give my posts a read. The part of my brain that used to prevent “plane” from becoming “plain” is out of service.

I will correct those errors you pointed out though. I’m also losing my eyesight, and my hearing. Have pity.

3. That was a lovely little artic–


And thank you all — it’s very nice to be back, and very nice to see MetaFilter paying attention to my return at all. God, I see standards have risen since the days when I could just patch together my Cry List. Oh, I can’t find my Cry List. It was popular, in its day. Those of you worried that internet items you’ve written will haunt you until the end of your days, don’t.

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Monkey Business: Or, When Headlines Write Themselves

Posted by Lizzie on

My Dear Human:

Under normal circumstances, I would never be asking you for money. We monkeys

consider this an act of coarseness, a vile human quality. But extreme circumstances have forced my hand, and now I must appeal to whatever spirit of charity nestles in your so-called soul.

I’m not sure how much you know about time travel. I will assume next to nothing and not confuse you with time dilation and the twin paradox. In any case, during routine maintenance of the temporal deflector console, I found myself transported from the future and landing in a place you call New York City. You may wonder what the future holds for humanity. The short explanation is: you will all be dead. A peaceful, civilized society is ruled by monkeys. If it’s any solace, please know that evolution has done its proper work.

with Wind-up Monkey, my dear friend Irina Reyn has joined Significant Objects.

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Before it begins!

Posted by Lizzie on 06/13/10

I know, I know, I just drafted a massive complaint of those bitches of the MSM yanking my pony. I didn’t say I didn’t enjoy the drama, though! Here’s some recent work:

At the behest of Salon, I Kindle’d Stephenie Meyer’s latest and concluded that, by the third novel-to-movie, the bubble’s off the champagne:

Mega-popular writers today have a hard row to hoe. Fame that, in the old days, would have crested with a spot on morning television has morphed into a sort of media free-for-all. Hollywood and TV attack fresh young authors like tasty kill. Fans treat their works and the authors themselves like some massive World of Storycraft, spinning off reams of their own fan fiction and commentary and pestering the author for updates. It’s not surprising that even the most gracious scribe might do the narrative equivalent of heading off to a cabin in the woods...

It drives me nuts that people don’t get that SATC is kitsch. I’m also interested in how, though we have a zillion shows about marriage, no men are allowed to be in them. This is being interpreted by commenters as some reactionary critique of womankind, which it is not — but vale! Here’s my piece for Politics Daily, my favorite place to commentararize:

Yes, you critics mildly confused by the dramatic headgear, vast apartments and frequent jettings-about of the ladies of the “Sex and the City” franchise can put down your poison pens. It’s an hommage to “The Women” — not an embrace of the fruits of Wall Street. Still, what passed for a witty take on marriage in 1939 makes slightly less sense nowadays. While the gay community is scrambling to get the state benefits that are supposed to accompany a lifelong commitment, heedless beneficiaries of them are fleeing the institution in droves. If that two-year run of sex scandals didn’t make the point, Al and Tipper’s breakup, and now their eldest daughter Karenna’s, too, should have prepared us at last to revisit the idea of till death do us part. The problem is, the husband still doesn’t seem to be part of the equation

Also, this month I am in O! I love O. I can’t tell you how much I love O; I am a subscriber and everything; I gain vast knowledge from that advice column; I skip Suzy because I’m scared to think about my money. I love O!

And the one thing I do not love about O is that they do not make an effort to be online any more than my Grandma Sally. Actually, if I had a Grandma Sally, even she would be way more online, O. Click here for my contribution. This is illegal but you can subscribe and should, too.

Also, when you subscribe, you’ll see on the facing page an interview with Mary Murphy, who’s collected a passel of reactions to “To Kill a Mockingbird” entitled “Scout, Atticus and Boo: A Celebration of 50 Years of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I am in this book! It will be a documentary! It’s so weird. Dan Rather is in it too, and many others. By which I mean: OPRAH IS IN THIS BOOK.

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