Monday, December 02, 2013

READ LIKE A WOMAN: Paw Prints on the Pillow

(NOTE: I’m lying in the shade of my family tree/I’m a branch that broke off/What will become of me?/Dear Mom, I’m lying here in this queen-sized bed./I’m thinking back/To all the stories you read to me./About the little animals who went to sea/In their beautiful pea green boat./But I can’t remember now/What happened then?/Dear Mom, how does it end?)

Culture shock happens when a traveler returns home after a long journey and finds the place they left is better than where they pay the mortgage. The responsibilities they avoided while traipsing in another country are waiting at the arrival gate. Most travelers accept this with reluctant surrender. Mr. Detroit goes right into truculence and attacks his friends with long-held grudges to stave off the loneliness of being home.
“Writing and reading, writing and reading, all these words about writing and reading and most of them are by men. It’s like the better and bigger half of the population doesn’t exist, or prefer keeping quiet. What about the women?”

Writing and reading have the same purpose: to learn what we don’t know. Men read about men to learn who we are, why we are, and what we do. Why not read books by women to learn the same? What really matters in the literate world is craft and honesty, and these transcend any divisions kicking around. A list of good writers includes Sappho, George Sand, Jane Bowles, Marianne Moore, Anne Carson, Joy Harjo, Tess Gallagher, H.D., Iris Murdoch, and Patricia Highsmith. Add Djuna Barnes, Dorothy Parker, Mina Loy, June Jordan, Alice Walker, Alice Munro, Joanne Kyger, Lenore Kandel, Adrienne Rich, and Gertrude Stein to the list, along with Toni Morrison, Denise Levertov, Anne Waldman, Karen Elizabeth Gordon, Mary Shelley, Doris Lessing, Zora Neale Hurston, Jane Bowles, M.F.K. Fisher, Barbara Kingsolver, and that’s just to start.
Every man should read the books by these women, and others they find lining the shelves. To read is the beginning of understanding. As for women, with such a rich lineage they don’t have to read anything else.

In her essay, “Write Till You Drop,” Annie Dillard says, “Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for later…give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, like well water.
“Similarly, the impulses to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give away freely and abundantly becomes lost to you.”
Only a writer who cares about her craft could pass along such wisdom so freely and fiercely.

Known for its crack-smoking Toronto mayor (heck, the mayor of DC, Marion Barry, had his two terms divided by a stint in jail for the same thing) and year-round need for flannel, Canada also produces good writers who are not Margaret Atwood. Publisher Biblioasis has recently released red girl rat boy, a collection of stories by Cynthia Flood. Her writing is full of place and people, and never complacent. Buy this book for anyone on your list, even cranky Uncle Ted, who will want to read the story, “Such Language,” aloud at the holiday family dinner. Harass your local independent bookseller for a copy or hit the publisher’s web site at

Mr. Detroit is humbled by the tirade and calls for Jaguar Milk (Leite de Onça), a favorite in Brazil during the June Festival. Toss a shot of milk and a half shot of condensed milk into a clean mug and stir. Throw in a shot of cachaça followed by a shot of cocoa liqueur. He sips it like he knows how to speak more than knife-and-fork Portuguese.

Gift giving is usually guaranteed to disappoint. You give the wrong thing and the recipient turns nasty. For many years, this has been going on but your troubles will float gracefully into the upper atmosphere with a gift-wrapped copy of The Dog Walked Down the Street: An Outspoken Guide for Writers Who Want to Publish (Cypress House, $13.95) stuck under the tree. Male and female writers and readers thrill at the sage advice about writing and publishing contained within its post-consumer recycled pages. Words set in type and printed with black ink are able to answer the big questions, and a couple of small questions as well. Load up the sled and log on to to find the niftiest independent bookstore near you. Life truly is grand.

NEXT: A Comfy Kennel at Last

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