Reading While Female

The people over n+1 have invited a great group of female writers to talk about life and reading in their early twenties. The participants include Elif Batuman, Emily Gould, Sara Marcus and Amanda Katz, among others. The resulting pamphlet, No Regrets, includes some great material on “reading while female,” including the following thoughts:

For many of these women, the reading experience begins from a place of seething rage. Take Sara Marcus’ initial impression of Jack Kerouac: “I remember putting On the Road down the first time a woman was mentioned. I was just like: ‘Fuck. You.’ I was probably 15 or 16. And over the coming years I realized that it was this canonical work, so I tried to return to it, but every time I was just like, ‘Fuck you.’ ” Tortorici had a similarly visceral reaction to Charles Bukowski: “I will never forget reading Bukowski’s Post Office and feeling so horrible, the way that the narrator describes the thickness of ugly women’s legs. I think it was the first time I felt like a book that I was trying to identify with rejected me. Though I did absorb it, and of course it made me hate my body or whatever.” Emily Witt turned to masculine texts to access a sexual language that was absent from books about women, but she found herself turned off by their take: “many of the great classic coming-of-age novels about the female experience don’t openly discuss sex,” she says in No Regrets. “I read the ones by men instead, until I was like, ‘I cannot read another passage about masturbation. I can’t.’ It was like a pile of Kleenex.”

(From “It Was Like A Pile of Kleenex,” Amanda Hess, Slate)

I, personally, could not agree more with the Bukowski thing. I remember making a rule at one point in my twenties that I would no longer date any dude who listed Bukowski among his favorite writers. Jerks to a man.