Are you excited for the first recap of 2018? No? No problem?
You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks & Other Mixed Messages by Carina Chocano
In this collection of essays, writer Carina Chocano examines what it means to be a woman today and consume popular culture; creations that insist on telling the woman who or what she is supposed to be, which is often so removed from reality.
This is what she writes in her introduction:
“Most actresses were cast to play the girl. “The girl” was the adult version of “the princess.” … “The girl” doesn’t act, though – she behaves. She has no cause, but a plight. She doesn’t want anything, she is wanted. She isn’t a winner, she is won. She doesn’t self-actualize, but aids the hero in self-actualization.”
This book is very smart and funny. The author doesn’t talk down to us, she demands that we keep up with her, as she analyses movies and books. She carefully considers everyone and everything, from Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique to Zoe Kazan’s Ruby Sparks. The latter, a movie written by and starring Zoe Kazan, is one I’m keen to watch soon. A young writer (male), after unprecedented early success with his first book, has been struggling with a writer’s block for the better part of his adult life. He writes a girl into existence, one without context or background, and this girl’s life revolves around him, which is the way he likes it. (Sounds familiar?) Maybe you can watch this movie and let me know what you think of it.
Chocano also writes freely about raising a daughter in a culture that is becoming more rigid and more pornographic in its understanding of sexuality. She worries about the messages her daughter might be internalizing: about the place of a woman, her worth, and her beauty for which she is valued the most.
I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to discover this book. Even if it might be based in the context of an American pop culture, many ideas the author puts forth are applicable to Indian pop culture as well. We still want the ideal girl to be helpless and cheerful and traditional and docile. She rarely possesses agency, or confidence, or the ability to make decisions that are right for her. She needs a man so she can be rescued, and sometimes her plight is something as inane as being single.
Maybe I should write that book.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante | Translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein
I’ve heard far too much about this Neapolitan novel, first in the series of four. Written in the first person, it traces the lives of Elena and Lila, two girls growing up in the Naples of the 1940s and 50s. Lila is the smart one, and Elena the hardworking. They have a rivalry at school, which motivates Elena to do better, but she finds that in the absence of this rivalry, she is willing to let herself go.
I liked how expansive this novel is, chronicling the lives of ordinary people. They are school teachers and carpenters and shoe makers, and there is always a conflict in the novel about higher education versus learning a skilled trade.
But I really couldn’t warm up to the story, which disappointed me, because this was a novel I had expected to enjoy. It was surprising to note my ambivalence, when everyone I know seemed to have only high praise for the book. I found that there was much repetition in the descriptions of Elena’s feelings. While I appreciated the intensity of the friendship between the girls, its toxic nature and the appeal it holds for Elena, it wasn’t enough to keep me interested.