Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Post Which Praises a Book and Shows Me In a Bad Light

Elizabeth McCracken's An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination is as good as they say.  Who's they?  First Dawn, who told me it was fabulous; then my friend L, who told me it was great and it reminded her of me, which is too flattering for words; then New York Magazine which put it on a top ten list I read at the gym last week; then I'm sure lots of other people I'm too lazy to find.

It's one of those books that people tell you to read and you think, why would I want to read that? when you learn that it's a memoir of her first child's stillbirth.  Yeah.  Ugh.  Why would you want to read that?  More about why I would want to read that in a moment, but you would read it because it is beautifully written and trenchantly insightful and you will learn some things you didn't know about grief and people.   Really.  Take my word for it.

But enough about the book, what about me?

Here is something about me that you may already know: I have a penchant for terrible-story non-fiction.  Mostly of the cancer happening to the writer or someone the writer loves variety.  Also of the terrible things happening to children variety.  Also of the generic somebody dying variety.  

What is up with that?  Do I read these books to experience the worst vicariously, in hopes that it won't happen to me?  Do I feel guilty about my generally un-terrible life?  I'm not quite sure, but I know it's not just me, because such books so often sell bestly.

What is, I believe, appallingly and disgustingly me, is jealousy.  See, part of the terrible-story genre is usually the fabulous-life antecedents of the terrible story.  Take Elizabeth McCracken, for instance: she is a writer!  she thought she would be single forever and then met the perfect man!  another writer!  who took wonderful care of her!  they would make money in the U.S. and then live in Europe for as long as they could!  they spent her blissful pregnancy in an old farmhouse in France!  Doesn't that sound just dreamy?  And then the terrible story happened, and it was all very awful (though after that there was another good story, which is very good).

So part of me is terrible for desiring the fabulous-life antecedents.  But--and this is even worse--part of me--and this may explain the fascination for the terrible story--desires the terrible story, simply for the high-color drama of it.  And that is wrong wrong wrong, because my generally un-terrible life is an enormous blessing which I should be--and am--grateful for.

The other thing about Elizabeth McCracken (and I hope she does not have a google alert for her name, but she doesn't seem like the kind of person who would, though maybe everyone does these days--M even has a google alert for cupcakes) is that, although I liked her book very much, I don't think I would like her.  First of all, I did not like her picture, which is so very superficial of me, but, first, there is the picture, and, then, there is the choice of picture, both of which signal...well, a kind of self-consciously artsy persona I am not so fond of.  And then, when she talks about baby names, I really cringed, because they are just the kind of self-consciously artsy names I do not like at all in theory (because of course any name once attached to a lovable baby is absolutely perfect).  But don't you think what she writes should reveal her more than her photo or theoretical baby names?  Yes, and, still, I could not overcome my sense of dislike.

So there: read the book, and maybe stop reading me.


Dawn said...

God, you make me laugh!!

Dawn said...

(Oh but I need to stop reading now because you are a terrible person.)

Libby said...

ah, see, I love this! I went through a spate of reading those books (hmm, maybe on sabbatical?) and I had a similar reaction to some of them.

so if you're a terrible person, I'm right there with you.

Jackie said...

I have read some of her short fiction and loved it, but I know what you mean about the names and photo (especially the names!).

postacademic said...

But... what...about...ME????

landismom said...

Am I the only one who read this and said, "a google alert for cupcakes?" Must. Do. That.

Guess I am.

Anonymous said...

I too have this addiction. Since I'm not as self-reflective, I've never tried to analyze it as thoroughly. But, I'm guessing that all of the above apply. I'm not a writer (nor have I ever wanted to be one), so the writer's fantasy (and often the fabulous life is a writer's fantasy, because after all, the book's authors are writers). So, I won't claim the jealousy.

On the positive side, though, I read the books to remind myself of resilience, that people are capable of great resiliency in the face of tragedy. I read in the hopes of learning some of that myself, and also to just be reminded that it's there.