Sunday, April 29, 2007

Eat, Pray, Love

Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love chronicles a year in her life when she spends four months in Italy learning the langauge and eating, in India meditating and seeking peace, and in Indonesia finding balance and ultimately love. Gilbert had just gone through a terrible divorce and that process left her defeated, depressed and disheartened. This journey helps her rebuild.

Given the destinations and the mission, I expected a lot from the book. I was disappointed. There are some great anecdotes and she meets some fascinating people like Richard from Texas who's at the ashram in India and Wayan, an Indonesian healer who's a single mom in a culture that has no place for such women. The observations others make here are often insightful, while Gilbert's own thoughts are often obvious Hinduism 101 stuff.

Her tone is just too cute for me. She's 35 during this year and she tries so hard to be likeable and cute. I can only take so much of that in real life or in literature. Thus it took me weeks to read a book I should have sped through. I did learn about Bali, which isn't the peaceful paradise the tourist board claims. Their history is quite violent and bloody. (I still would like to visit.)

A book to get at the library, not one you need to buy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Thorton Wilder's Our Town

I love Our Town and have read it several times since high school. It's truly a classic in that it doesn't grow dated. I think Wilder accomplished this through the setting, the use of the Stage Manager, the scientific facts that make it seem like we're looking at the Webbs and the Gibbs objectively (yet he manages to make us care and feel for them).

The moderator of my online bookclub asked what we thought of Emily's question as to whether humans appreciate and see life when they're alive. I think Wilder does what us to think that NO, we don't realize life, every minute, etc. and I agree that only some poets and saints do. I remember Wallace Shawn's character in My Dinner with Andre saying something to the effect that if we noticed everything in our environments it would make our heads explode. Yes, creation is that wonderful. We do have to function and while I think I should notice and realize more to see things from Emily's post-life vantage point would be just too much. That's why the others warned her not to go.

I like how Wilder uses lists to describe Grovers Corners and life in general. I like how the dry humor contrasts with the innocence of this town and of so many American traditions, so that Wilder writes about them with a tone that shows some of the town's shortcomings without mocking this way of life.

I just went to to buy the DVD with Spalding Gray, but it costs $54 (used $43). I'll borrow it from

Friday, April 13, 2007

Women Don't Ask (But Should)

I saw this book at the airport and it grabbed me immediately. It's a must read for every woman, and really every man too. Written by an economics professor Linda Babcock and and a writer Sara Laschever, Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide focuses on how reluctance and lack of knowledge in negotiation affect women.

When Linda Babcock asked why so many male graduate students get to teach the best classes, while the women were placed as teaching assistance, she was told that "the women don't ask." Further experiences and research showed that men usually ask for what they want, while women hope their hard work and noticeable talent will result in their receiving good offers and just rewards. Guess what? It usually just doesn't happen.

I knew that women made something like 76 cents for every dollar a man earns in the U.S. I knew that men are more assertive, yet reading this book is still quite eye-opening. Here's an example:
Suppose that at age 22 an equally qualified man and woman receive job offers for $25,000. The man negotiates and gets his offer to $30,000. The woman does not negotiate and accepts the job for $25,000. Even if each of them receives identical 3 percent raises every year (which is unlikely, given their different propensity to negotiate and other research showing that women's achievements tend to be undervalued), by the time they reach age 60 the gap between their salaries will have widened to more than $15,000 a year, with the man earning $92,243 and the woman making only $76,870. . . . remember that the man will have been making more all along, with his earnings over the 38 years totalling $361,171. If the man had simply banked the difference every year in a savings account earning 3% interest, by age 60 he would have $568,834 more than the woman.

Men usually negotiate every job offer and this results in their getting 33% more on average than women who're hired for the same job with similar qualifications. Usually, if a woman receives a job offer and the money seems fine, she just takes it. She doesn't know that she should ask for more, that in some cases her not asking makes people think "She must not be very good." Boys negotiate and take more too as you might expect.

Another disadvantage is that women are told overtly and subtly not to toot their own horn. Eventually, we learn to downplay our accomplishments and skills. Since society tends to believe that we can't contribute as much or do as well, this doubly hurts our earning potential.

This book is filled with good research and pertinent anecdotes. Linda, who'd considered herself progressive, recounts going to the grocery store with her 4 year old daughter, who saw a toy she wanted. Her daughter asked whether Linda had enough money to buy her the toy. Then the little girl asked, "Do girls have money, or is it just men who do?" Linda was horrified and felt like a failed feminist. From then on she made sure her daughter saw her using and dealing with money.

This book will open your eyes. I haven't finished it yet--there will be a review part two. It's something I'm raving about and urging everyone to read. Please comment away after you have!

Proust, My Dictionary and Me

More words from In Search of Lost Time
vade-mecum, p. 250: 'come with me'; n. guide-book; manual

florilegium, p. 292: n. (pl. -gia) collection of flowers; description of flora

beadle, p. 294: n. officer of parish, church, court, etc., for keeping order; mace-bearer. beadledom, n. petty officialdom

sursum corda, p. 295: n. 'lift up your hearts'; versicle in church service

to take French leave, p. 313: French Leave To take French leave. To take without asking leave or giving any equivalent. The allusion is to the French soldiers, who in their invasions take what they require, and never wait to ask permission of the owners or pay any price for what they take.

The French retort this courtesy by calling a creditor an Englishman (un Anglais), a term in vogue in the sixteenth century, and used by Clement Marot. Even to the present hour, when a man excuses himself from entering a café or theatre, because he is in debt, he says: "Non, non! je suis Anglé ' ("I am cleared out").

"Et aujourd'huy je faictz soliciter
Tous me angloys."
Guillaume Creton (1520).

French leave. Leaving a party, house, or neighbourhood without bidding goodbye to anyone; to slip away unnoticed.

ephebe, p. 334: A youth between 18 and 20 years of age in ancient Greece

Aspasia, p. 335: Greek courtesan and lover of Pericles who was noted for her wisdom, wit, and beauty

ukase, p. ?: Russian edict

proleptic, p. 387: The anachronistic representation of something as existing before its proper or historical time

Yes, there's more to follow.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Fugitive

I finished "The Fugitive" of Proust's In Search of Lost Time.

After the narrator describing in great detail his suspicions, jealousy, boredom, and “love,” for Albertine, after him telling her a couple times that he wanted her out of his house, at long last she surprises him by fleeing. She’d be crazy to stay it seems. Yes, she got a nice place to live, food, servants (who don’t like her there), and lovely dresses and clothes, but the price is just more than any sane person would pay. Yet, is she of sound mind? What is she really like? I don’t have a clear idea.

Picture Albertine in the narrator’s living room and you the reader are there too trying to learn about this person because the narrator wants you to, you think. All the while Proust’s narrator won’t let you see her. He prefers to stand in front of her and talk in great, rich, charming, literate detail about her. He’s a genius, a master with words, so you often forget that you want not only to visit with him, but also to see her for yourself so that you can figure out how much of what he says you should discard. He just won’t let you. You crane your neck to get a better look at her, and he maneuvers himself so that the view is still blocked, but he’s quite adroit so you don’t always realize how he’s working on you. After all chances are your previous reading hasn’t quite prepared you for Proust, his analysis, his insights, or this game. Just go along for the ride. Reader, resignation is your best bet.

“The Fugitive” also contains a lot about Baron Charlus and allegations of his sexual orientation. This is the narrator's other consuming area of thought. Any Freudia is going to note the projection. The narrator’s own love life is secondary to his obsession with what Albertine and Charlus are doing with Andreé or Morel or whomever.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Feminine Mistake

Leslie Bennetts writes an opinion piece at regarding her recently published book, The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?

It would probably annoy Bennetts to no end that, like those she complains about, I haven't read her book either.

But that's not going to stop me . . .

By presenting her audience as either the women who have chosen to stay at home and the women who have chosen not to, Leslie Bennetts is missing a key audience, an audience for which her book might just be the most helpful, the women who haven't made the choice yet.

As Bennetts explains her book, it serves to reinforce the decision of the working mom and serves to criticize the decision of the stay at home. It's unlikely to affect the behavior in any appreciable way in either of these two groups. The stay at homers will tend towards defensiveness (as Bennetts complains they have) and the working moms will tend towards smugness.

Just as telling a friend who's in a bad relationship that she is in a bad relationship is rarely productive, likewise, I suspect, a friend who's made the "Feminine Mistake" is unlikely to be receptive to having this pointed out to her.

But, the women who haven't had to yet make the choice . . .

Bennetts states that

My goal in writing The Feminine Mistake was to provide women with what I saw as one-stop-shopping that would help close this information gap. My goal was to gather into a single neat package all the financial, legal, sociological, psychological, medical, labor-force, child-rearing and other information necessary for them to protect themselves. My reporting revealed that the bad news is just as ominous as I'd feared; so many women are unaware of practical realities that range from crucial changes in the divorce laws to the difficulties of reentering the work force and the penalties they pay for taking a time-out. I devoted two chapters to financial information alone.

If this is the case, then clearly her target audience, the audience who would be most benefited by the information presented, is made up of the women, young, unmarried and/or childless, who have not yet been faced with the choice of whether or not to "abandon their careers and become financially dependent on their husbands." This is the group who can then weigh their options and make their choice more fully informed.

But Bennetts doesn't seem to get it. She's surprised by the defensiveness of the stay at homers and wants to save them from themselves. This is highly unlikely. Like the millions who play the lottery, they will continue to hold out hope that each will be the one to beat the odds, the exception to the rule.

Instead of complaining about the lost causes, she should be focusing her energies on those she can sway.