My first encounters with female beauty in books was, as @joyabella noted when I asked this question on Twitter, the Wakefield twins. So many women found their gateway to romance in Sweet Valley High, and that gateway came with the constantly repeated and thus unfortunately inculcated reference to the “perfect size six figure.”
First, let me say on behalf of every woman with breasts and a backside: Fuck you and your six.
I was obvious about my intentions when I started this blog. I wanted to talk about sex. But books are better than sex sometimes. Not better, but different, and sometimes easier to handle.
A turn of phrase can get me unexpectedly horny for no good reason. Inappropriate places, too. I always turn to the line from Before Night Falls, where Arenas discusses how one of his partners and potential persecutors “dismissed him with his penis”. For a long time I took a cucumber and held it to my crotch, using my fake dick to try to dismiss others. It turned Arenas on; his prose salivates as he describes being dominated and tormented by his oppressors. Punishment and control can be sexy. Extreme control and punishment can be even sexier, something that produces resistance so sweet that the misery is almost worth it.
When I was young, I turned to books for emotional release. I needed to be loved. If not, I wanted to perceive others being loved. Different books held different promises of love for me. I turned to Dickens when I wanted to hold my ribs from being cracked open. I loved the Brontes (sometimes) for keeping me in the throes of real outrage. I adored Austen for her cool, clever quick-witted humor that hid quiet poignance.
I have a serious problem. I can’t write about books.
It might not be unfortunate if I weren’t such a prolific reader. But I am. I read at least two to three books a day. I do my work from a library. And not in just any library. Mine is one of the nicest in the state. (The library I go to, I mean. My own town library is a piece of shit. No, really. I don’t know where my obscene property taxes go. It’s crap.)
Books helped me survive my adolescence. I’ve written about it before, but it’s true and bears repeating. I would not be here if I had not been a reader. Literature has enriched me beyond anything I can express. Perhaps this is my problem. For me, books have always fallen under category of Things I Don’t Talk About. Others are always willing to discuss books. I am afraid to talk about them and I feel vulnerable when I do.
When Blogger became a popular blogging platform, I started a book blog. D, whose excellent book review site had already been live for years, served as an inspiration to me. She writes well and wittily on a wide variety of literature. I’d link to it if not for the identification issue.
For inspiration, I turned to my fellow book reviewers. Each time I saw a piece discussing a book I’d already finished, I made notes. Did I disagree? Could I write a better review? What did the person miss? With my critical eye out, I read, dissected, and then decided I would neatly avoid the traps others laid for themselves. I could write the great American Book Review.
I love children’s books. Even now, at twenty-three — almost twenty-four — I instinctively go to the kids’ section first. I can’t help it. Much of the best fiction is there, hidden between tales of boogers and underpants. You’ll find the evocative gems like Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, and the beautiful When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.
The Guardian’s Arlene Phillips writes (excellently) about the dearth of good fiction for young girls, blaming the lack thereof on the publishing industry’s habit of churning out packaged stories about ballerinas and “tutu triumph”.
When I grew up, I was surrounded by girly literature. Everything I encountered was about one of four topics: dance, horses, gymnastics or princesses. Everything! I felt left out, so I tried reading Misty of Chincoteague . That was a failure and I drooled all over the book by page sixty. Horses are eating and shitting machines. My emotionally abusive ex-best-friend was into horses.
I must also be one of the few girls I know who never dreamed of being a princess. What do you do as a princess? Pop out blue-blooded babies? Host coked-out orgies? Sit around and mildly patronize the arts? Feed the city indigent once a year? Give me a break. Aspiring to a life of idleness and indolence wasn’t attractive to me at a young age and it’s certainly not now.
(You’ve got me at the gymnastics. Tons of girls wanted to be gymnasts but, again, I never understood the appeal.)
Perhaps one reason I’m so interested in talking about TV, movies and books here on Subterfuge is because I was raised in a family that regularly shares and discusses the media we consume. The family that posts on Raising Amazing Daughters has put up an entry about how they shared time and interest in TV shows. It immediately evoked similar memories in me.
I have very clear memories of watching Lamb Chop with my mother. I was enrolled in afternoon kindergarten, so the mornings were ours. We would have a leisurely breakfast while PBS ran. I adored Lamb Chop, and my mother felt it was one of the better programs for kids at the time. We would talk during commercials, often about what was happening on the show.
I think the first shows I watched with both my parents were Brit-coms. Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced bouquet, if you please!) is very family-friendly (even if her sister Rose is not), and I knew all the little habits of the department store staff on Are You Being Served? (“Mrs. Slokum, are you free?”) Of course, no description of my childhood would be complete without a heavy dose of Monty Python. I was also introduced to Black Adder when I was very young, so I’ve always known Hugh Laurie as the buffoonish Prince. It was wonderful to share a sense of humor, to have inside jokes within our little family.
A Liberal! God spare him from overeducated women! What had that vicar been thinking, letting his daughter read the newspaper? She shouldn’t even know the difference between Liberals and Conservatives.
From Where Roses Grow Wild by Patricia Cabot, set in 1860 England.