The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Post-Hockey-Night World

By Anne Chudobiak

I have mentioned before my stance on hockey. I don’t like it, but I’ll watch it at your place if you set out some potato chips and call it a party. That’s what my friend Z did last Saturday. He even made pizza. Not that that was unusual for him. There’s a standing invitation to his place almost every week of the season. What was unusual, at least to me, was the male-to-female ratio: I was the only woman. Although this had apparently happened before, it had always been with someone else, someone like my friend B, a true devotee of the game. She used to play shinny with the boys on Sunday mornings until she got pregnant and had to content herself with watching hockey on TV. My unfortunate combination—a woman with no interest in the game—presented our host with an altogether different challenge. In an attempt to include me, he tried to steer conversation away from hockey to topics that might interest me more. “What have you been reading lately?” he asked.

Middlemarch,” I said. “I’m trying to read the classics.” This plan was not without problems. I was in the habit of avoiding older books, preferring to read new releases. The debate and buzz made them so much more attractive. I had already interrupted Middlemarch once, to read Ian McEwan’s latest, because of something I had read in a review. (The reviewer said that the marriage between the two main characters would have survived if only they had had access to therapy. I wanted to know if I agreed. It turns out, I didn’t.)

But Ian McEwan’s latest was just one of many new books. It wasn’t even the biggest threat to my historical reading plan. The new book I most wanted to read was The Post -Birthday World by Lionel Shriver. Everyone was talking about it, and I wanted to be able to join in. It’s about a woman who goes without her boyfriend to see a male friend only to find herself attracted to him. The book then follows two possible outcomes: one where she gives in to temptation, and one where she does not. It is most commonly compared to the movie Sliding Doors. I wished that I had two lives, one in which to read the classics, the other in which to read the upstarts. The appeal of newness was undeniable.

“I’ve never read Middlemarch myself,” said Z. “But then I don’t do chick lit.”

I should speak up here for my host. He is an avid reader with an eye for rare books. His collection of limited-run first editions is impressive (A.M. Klein, Leonard Cohen). He even has an elegant old copy of Middlemarch, which he pulled from the shelf for my benefit. He may own books by women, but he reads books by men. When he says “chick lit,” he means any book of any genre, just so long as the author is female. He does not mean to offend.

But you are probably familiar with this broad definition of “chick lit.” The terminology may be fairly recent, but the concept (that women writers occupy a different category) is far from new. The author of Middlemarch tried to steel herself against it by taking a male pen name, but history has long since blown her cover.

I wondered if Z had heard of Lionel Shriver. “Lionel” had been born “Margaret Ann,” and although this change didn’t have anything to do with career choice—she was still a child when she made the switch—it was interesting to think how it might be in her interest as a novelist to obscure her gender, if only for a short while. It added to the new-book buzz (or it did, now that she had won a major prize). Everyone had their own opinion on her adopted name, as well as on her strangely sexy author photos. Every newspaper ran a different shot. There she was in her leather coat. There she was in very high heels. Was she on her way to collect another award?

Thinking about Lionel Shriver made me realize that George Eliot made for hotter reading than I’d thought. Her worth was still being debated. Controversy doesn’t have to be new to be current. I left hockey night with a strengthened resolve. I would finish Middlemarch. Posthaste. Go, George, go!


Blogger MelBell said...

Man oh man, another book I'm going to have to add to the list. I loved "We Need to Talk About Kevin" - and you're making "Middlemarch" sound terrific. Slightly off your topic, Anne, but I can wholly relate to your desire to read from the latest pile of hotness while still delving into the classics. A friend reminded me of my love for Maugham last weekend and I wanted to rush right home and dig into his short stories then and there. But I've got Vincent Lam still waiting for me and also Lullabies for Little Criminals...and...oh, I just can't read everything! Why IS this??!

Fri May 18, 01:33:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

So much good stuff in this post, Anne. I shall spend part of the weekend following all of the links. Love your friend's definition of "chick lit!"

Fri May 18, 05:34:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger t said...

Aargh, that 'chick lit' comment would have infuriated me. Yes, I remember having the argument in university, when I read far fewer female writers.

And I, too, love Maugham, Mel. It's true, I always forget how much I like him until I can't decide what to read, and then realise there's always another Maugham to pick up. I think I like him because he writes like a girl ;)

Sat May 19, 12:11:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Anne C. said...

I'd be infuriated by the comment if it had been anyone else. My friend Z is an uber good guy. I'm afraid I may have misrepresented him here (although my husband says that I shouldn't worry because by his own account he probably wouldn't read this!).

Sat May 19, 01:13:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Chumplet said...

As a teenager and a young adult, I didn't have a car, so driving to a bookstore was out of the question. I simply scoured my mother's bookshelves and read anything and everything between covers.

Titles included Ben Hur, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Little Women, Silas Marner. Mixed in were many pulp fiction paperbacks from the 70's, and more than a few Harlequins.

Now that I'm writing, I'm looking into current releases more often, just to see what works and what doesn't.

Sun May 20, 10:44:00 am GMT-4  

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