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“When we were talking about Jamaica Kincaid's book See Now Then, it was difficult to ignore the strange reception the book was getting. The little gossipmongers Dwight Garner and Sam Sacks just couldn't bear not dredging up Kincaid's personal life, speculating that the divorce in the novel was identical to her divorce in real life, and telling her she should have kept the book in a drawer somewhere. Not liking See Now Then is a legitimate response to a book. It's a weird book, and prickly, and there were times I was convinced I didn't like it either, although I warmed to it. But there was something a little gross about those reviews. But it's so boring and trite to just call out Sexism!, isn't it? Because we know all the pathways that saying someone is being sexist opens up. They are narrow and limited and none of them end in good places. And it's hard to prove unconscious motivations. But I got a very interesting email from a reader, who would like to remain anonymous, but gave me permission to reprint. Hi, I’m enjoying your coverage of Jamaica Kincaid’s book and the attending, in my opinion, biased sexist press. It’s interesting that Junot Diaz's recent mediocre to poor story collection was a depiction of his relationships etc... (he’s copped to it in interviews) and the press/reviews mostly praised it as art, and nominated it for awards... The New York Times book reviewer even called the narrator Díaz’s alter ego! The narcissism and self-indulgence of those stories is epic... Whereas Kincaid is being called out for being self-indulgent, vindictive etc and her reviews have been terrible to mixed. I also wonder whether Diaz’s position as a Pulitzer judge has influenced his books’ reception by reviewers and the vitriol towards Kincaid more weighted because Kincaid’s ex is a public figure (vs. the relative anonymity--and their deafening silence in the stories--of Díaz's women). I love this email. And I thank its sender for allowing me to reprint it.”—From Bookslut, an examination of sexism in the reviews of Jamaica Kincaid and Junot Díaz’s recent books.
“I started mulling over the idea of niceness in women's poetry after three different men -- from different generations, who knew me in different capacities -- read the manuscript of my first book and each responded with some variation of, I really like your poems, but they're not very nice. I can't imagine Eliot's editor telling him that The Waste Land was great, but it wasn't very nice -- niceness is, predominantly, a cultural expectation of women.”—Courtney Queeney, “The Kings are Boring: Some Thoughts on Women’s Poetry,” published on Bookslut
“ Like so many girl poets, I thought I would be famous, and I thought I would be dead, and here I am, none of those things.”—Elizabeth Bachner, “Plathophilia: Rereading Sylvia,” published on Bookslut
"Judge me for my own merits"
Judge me for my own merits, or lack of them, but do not look upon me as a mere appendage to this great general or that great scholar, this star that shines at the court of France or that famed author. I am in my own right a whole person, responsible to myself alone for all that I am, all that I say, all that I do. It may be that there are metaphysicians and philosophers whose learning is greater than mine, although I have not met them. Yet, they are but frail humans, too, and have their faults; so, when I add the sum total of my graces, I confess I am inferior to no one.
—The French Englightenment scientist Emilié du Châtelet writing to Frederick the Great, quoted in Jenny McPhee’s review in Bookslut of Nancy Mitford’s Voltaire in Love, a book about the productive and scandalous relationship between Châtelet and Voltaire.
I can’t fathom how only one type of writing—whether realism, the fantastic, romance, mystery, etc.—can ever summarize life on its own. Using all of it—within the same book, sometimes within the same sentence—seems like the only sensible way to try and capture the whole spectrum of human experience.
- Victor LaValle interviewed at Bookslut