following my tradition of discovering an author in reverse order, I read Susan Sontag’s journals, then her short stories, and next I’ll move to the essays. I really liked these, many of them are autobiographical or experiment with form, and they’re all beautifully written.
“She once told an interviewer that while the living room is fine for essays, short stories needed to be written in the bedroom. This distinction between outer and inner sancta seems a good way of approaching the contents of this volume. The stories are her innermost work.”
Hands down the most beautiful characters I’ve ever read, but also one of the hardest-to-read books I’ve ever encountered. Simone de Beauvoir nails female emotion so perfectly I couldn’t bare to look at it head-on. The woman she describes are everything we’ve been taught to avoid and to scorn, but they’ve been given the microphone. Very incredible.
“What nonsense, this intoxicating notion of progress, of upward movement, that I had cherished; for now the moment of collapse was at hand! It had already begun. And now it would be very fast and very slow: we were going to turn into really old people.”
Would you like your heart to be stepped upon? Would you like to laugh while it happens? Would you like to gain access to another world that will stay with you forever, but you’ll never be able to articulate to another human being? Welcome.
“But whatever, we descendants of the Girl Line may not have wealth and proper windows in our drafty homes but at least we have rage and we will build empires with that, gentlemen.”
“Dan wanted me to stay. I wanted Elf to stay. Everyone in the whole world was fighting with somebody to stay. When Richard Bach wrote “If you love someone, set them free” he can’t have been directing his advice at human beings.”
The best books, to me, are genre-benders. Too autobiographical to be considered straight fiction, too poetic to be completely factual. Pushing into essay, memoir, and poetry all at once. On those counts, this book is pretty much perfect. It’s charming and funny but barbed, likely to get caught in your brain for the foreseeable future. I very much recommend.
Short stories about women they don’t hate themselves. It’s sort of reminiscent of Barbara the Slut, if you’ve read that, but I think she does an even better job creating redeemable characters and situations almost instantly. Very fun to read.
“The way the women are together is its own foreign country; they move around each other like extensions of a single body, their voices and laughter entangled.”
Going to begin by embracing the collective you: In most books you read there’s probably something, small or large, you don’t morally agree with. But it’s likely you don’t feel the need to distance yourself from it or acknowledge it. I’ve never heard someone say, “read this book, but watch out, they steal something in chapter three and that’s uncool.”
Typically the things that are uncouth, that don’t mesh into polite society or our specific worldview, are described in a sanitized way, and especially when you’re talking about affairs, or desire, or sex in general, they’re often described from a male perspective. This book is different. It’s a little bit shocking, it’s supposed to be. But if you are disgusted by it, you’re sort of proving her right.
But really, this book is about a lot more than that. it’s about women, as people existing in the world. It’s about literature and art. It’s about marriage and affairs, and it’s about desire. It’s one of the books that strung together a lot of broken pieces that were already floating around my brain, and I think pretty much everyone should read it.
“This presumes that there’s something inherently grotesque, unspeakable, about femaleness, desire. But what I’m going through with you is happening for the first time.”
“I want to own everything that happens to me now,’ I told you. ‘Because if the only material we have to work with in America is our own lives, shouldn’t we be making case studies?'”
I love Shauna, and, simultaneously, I acknowledge that everything she writes is basically the same thing. It’s always exactly what you need to hear, though, so we can’t fault her.
This is my favorite of her books, every chapter tells the story of a meal with the recipe at the end. She managed to teach me how to make salad dressing (and that it was even possible to make salad dressing) and how be less neurotic in a single swoop. Any time I host in any capacity I perform a Shauna Niequist Mental Wellness Check: am I letting the ‘performance’ cloud the event? Am I making food I can’t pronounce the name of? Have I yelled at Caleb simply for being a living being in my spotless home? She always lets me know when I’ve gone too far.
“I’m not talking about cooking as performance, or entertaining as a complicated choreography of competition and showing off. I’m talking about feeding someone with honesty and intimacy and love, about making your home a place where people are fiercely protected, even if just for a few hours, from the crush and cruelty of the day.”
Rating: 8/10 (Actual sticky notes for actual meals I flip back to consistently)