Friday, January 25, 2008

Julie Phillips on Boys' Liberation & Other Stuff

Last month this blog featured a couple dozen posts on what various Aqueductians had enjoyed reading, viewing, and listening to in 2007. Julie Phillips had intended to send me a contribution but ran out of time. I assured her I'd be happy to accept it late, and now, here it is.

She writes in an email to me:

I was going to send you an intro to my piece about The Dangerous Book for Boys, wasn’t I? I was looking at the people who’ve already weighed in on your blog. People are so good, they do their assignments right, they come up with useful stuff…

So I feel like I should add a couple of proper recommendations. One book that I really enjoyed last fall is the new Jeanette Winterson, The Stone Gods, which is already out in the UK and is coming out in the US in April. Its science fiction elements are not always all that strong or original (though I liked the robot sex), but it’s very angry and very funny, always a good combination.

And do you have books that have been sitting on your shelves, surrounded by a halo of respect and affection, for so long that you can’t remember what it was that you loved about them? I took down and reread an old Seal Press book, Tove Ditlevsen’s Early Spring, the other day, and now I remember what I loved about it. It’s by a poet who grew up in the slums of Copenhagen during the Depression, enduring miserable poverty and equally miserable parents, and what I enjoy and admire is the clarity with which she’s able to look back at herself and her surroundings. She writes with a funny kind of dispassionate understanding, with anger (and of course humor) boiling just under it. It’s the best book I know about a writer’s childhood.

It’s short, and you can order it on Amazon for 25 cents. Have you ever read it? You would like it.

Anyway, about my piece on The Dangerous Book for Boys, the only intro it really needs is that it’s partly a review of the Dutch/Flemish edition, and I wrote it for a local audience, so I found myself making all kinds of Dutch references, especially to the Dutch ambivalence about history. The Dutch feel uncomfortable teaching their own history. They associate it with national pride (which they don’t like: it reminds them too much of Nazi Germany). And they don’t like to look at the negative parts of their own colonial past. Now that they’re confronted with a large immigrant group, they don’t know what to do. Should immigrants be expected to care about Dutch history? If they don’t learn it, can they integrate into Dutch culture?

The essay is also about superheroes, pink toys, and why girls want to be librarians. In retrospect I think I made too much of an effort to respect this whole “boys will be boys” business, which I would like to think is, as one male friend of mine put it, just a “reactionary last gasp.” But I am a woman and don’t like to look less than understanding. It’s here

What has really put me off the boys’ liberation movement is a book called “Manliness,” in which “natural” male qualities are shown “naturally” to lead to sexism and George W. Bush. I wrote about that too, here.

Actually, the very best thing I’ve read lately is Martha C. Nussbaum’s review of “Manliness” in The New Republic. It’s online here. She takes the book and its author apart with a serene authority that’s a pleasure to see.


Be sure to check out Julie' essays. They're well worth the read. (And now I'm going off to check out the Nussbaum piece, which I haven't yet read myself.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh, the Nussbaum piece! Set my head on fire, I can tell you. I would love to read the imaginary book she uses as a comparison.