Monday, May 02, 2005

Comparative Lit

We made our bimonthly trip up the mountain to Fayetteville this past Friday, to visit the public library there.

This is the finest public library I have been in, next to the one in Charlotte, North Carolina, of course, which wins, hands down – though I have to admit my experience with public libraries is limited. We’ve always lived in small university towns where the money for public libraries was not immense.

Charlotte had a blissful public library system. It was the only thing I liked about Charlotte, that public library system. We could each take out 99 items apiece on our library cards, and frequently did; we could go online and ask the library to buy things, and the library would, and then would put those things on hold for us, and send them to our branch library, and notify us when they had arrived – so pretty much any book or CD or movie I wanted? The library would fetch for me. It was paradise.

But alas. The university I worked for, whose name shall remain nameless, sucked royally – mainly because the administration seemed determined to run it into the ground – and so I voted with my feet, even if it did mean moving to Arkansas, and took this job, a much better job, in a town with a library which, frankly, even though the building is very pretty to look at, is not much:

By “not much” I mean “sadly lacking in a wide variety of books from this century.” This is not the fault of the librarians – I am great friends with one of the main librarians, who is the kid’s stand-in grandmother, since her actual grandmother lives six hundred miles away.

It is the fault of the voters of Fort Smith, who are not interested in funding the library. There was a vote a few years back, to add a tenth of a cent to the local sales tax, so we could buy some books to put in this library, but it was voted down. What for? demanded the voters. They’s already got lots of books in that there library. Read the one you got, why don’t you? If people wants more, let’em go buy they own. I got enough trouble, buying gas for my Hummer!

Anyway, back to our trip to Fayetteville. This is a beautiful library, though not on the order of our beloved Charlotte Public Library, and we get to use it for free because mr. delagar is a graduate student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville – otherwise we’d have to pay $25.00 a year, which we would, mind you. It would be worth it.


We went up there Saturday and got piles of books. The kid got dragon books and Hank the Cowdog books. The kid is extremely into Hank the Cowdog. (I’m deeply amused by the review on that disapproves of Hank because he doesn’t use standard grammar. Hello! He’s a cowdog!)

I got, among other things, Daddy Longlegs, by Jean Webster, and Amanda Bright@Home, by Danielle Crittenden, neither of which I had ever read. The former was written in 1912 by a woman of charm and talent; the latter in 2003, by, well, a polemicist of neither, I fear.

Daddy Longlegs I ripped through in an afternoon. It’s an epistolary novel, which is mainly why I read it – my current novel, the one I’m attempting to market, the one I just won the Arkansas Individual Artists Award for, is an epistolary novel. (I don’t suppose anyone out there knows an agent who will represent an epistolary novel? I keep getting agents on the hook who say they love my writing, they love the idea for my novel, send fifty pages, I send 50 pages, they whiz it back so fast the mailbox spins, because they don’t represent epistolary novels.)

Anyway, where was I?

Oh, yes. Daddy Longlegs, published in 1912, is charming and clever and literate. It is full of actual characters and actual dialog that actual people might speak.

It also – in 1912 – has this bit in it:

“I have a new unbreakable rule: never, never to study at night….instead I just read plain books – I have to, you know, because there are eighteen blank years behind me [our heroine was raised in an orphanage]. You wouldn’t believe, Daddy, what n abyss of ignorance my mind is…the things most girls with a properly assort family and home and friends and a library know by absorption, I have never heard of. For example:

I never read Mother Goose or David Copperfield or Ivanhoe or Cinderella…a word of Rudyard Kipling. I didn’t know Henry the Eighth was married more than once or that Shelley was a poet. I didn’t know that people used to be monkeys or that the Garden of Eden was a beautiful myth. I didn’t know that R.L.S. stood for Robert Louis Stevenson or that George Eliot was a lady.”

She’s also a feminist, budding, wistful about the fact that even after she turns 21 and has a university degree she can’t vote; and, even though this is yet another Pygmalion tale, it is a mixed Pygmalion tale: Judy renames herself, is determined to support herself after marriage, to have a career of her own, and, during the course of the book, determinedly though civilly breaks away from the authority of “Daddy,” the patriarch who is the Pygmalion is question.

More importantly, this is an actual book: it has a reasonable plot and reads like someone who has seen actual humans and paid attention to them wrote it.

As opposed to Amanda Bright@Home, about which, ai.

Danielle Crittenden is, I guess, trying to make some sort of point about how evil feminists are. I guess. That’s the only thing I can suppose would explain this horrible scrawl of a book.

The main character is meant to be a liberal. But of course Danielle has never seen any liberals that she actually paid attention to – only straw men liberals in the columns of NRO – so she doesn’t actually know how one would act. So her liberal is very patchy and fuzzy and keeps shorting out and turning into a Far-Right Republican at odd moments, which is sort of amusing, in a tedious kind of a way.

Of course, all of her characters are meant to be liberals (I think – it’s hard to tell, because frankly the book isn’t very well done): she writes about a rich preschool and all the parents of the kids who attend it, and I’m thinking these are meant to be liberal parents, since they endorse things like a ban on peanuts, which, as we know, is something only silly liberal parents would do. (Amanda’s son gets suspended for bringing a peanut cookie to school, despite his extensive indoctrination against peanuts, beginning in preschool with an indoctrination camp entitled Just Say No to Nuts – Good God, I am thinking at this point in the book, who does this woman think she is fooling? She has obviously never been outside her Republican Kamp in her LIFE.)

And of course every feminist woman in the book is EVIL, including Amanda’s unnatural and wicked mother who (a) doesn’t teach her daughter a thing about housecleaning (the bitch! And it’s so hard to learn – housecleaning – you know – so what’s Amanda supposed to do, if her mommy never taught her? I mean, it’s not like she can learn on her own, can she? Not little Amanda! And (b) has this exchange when Amanda says she’s going to stay home with her kids:

Amanda: But isn’t feminism supposed to be about choice, Mom?
Mom: It is. Just not about this choice!

Uh-huh. Sure. That’s what a feminist would say.
In a Republican’s wet-dream, she would.

And all the (I guess they’re supposed to be) rich liberal mothers of the kids in the preschool do nothing but sit around planning their next face-lifts while their nannies take care of their kids and not letting their boys play with guns, so that we’ll never have soldiers to defend our country, rats, so the terrorists will WIN, and not letting their kids saying Indian (No, you’re a Native American princess, darling!), and drinking and wow, this sounds exactly like every liberal party I have ever been to – NOT.

Such a lame book this is, I can’t begin to describe it.

How we have lost so much ground since 1912, that’s what I would like to know.

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