Here is the opening chapter of Friendship, the new novel by Emily Gould, who we’ve featured often on Longreads in the past. Thanks to Gould and FSG for sharing it with the Longreads community. You can purchase the full book from WORD Bookstores.
Below is the opening chapter of Friendship, the new novel by Emily Gould, who we’ve featured often on Longreads in the past. Thanks to Gould and FSG for sharing it with the Longreads community. You can purchase the full book from WORD Bookstores.
The New Yorker‘s “Letter From” essays, though they’re always entertaining and executed with finesse, can leave the reader with an impression that’s basically: “Kazakhstan (or wherever), how wacky.” Keith showed exactly how and why Kazakhstan’s history and political situation have created a unique way of life, and also those crazy skyscrapers in the middle of the steppe that make Williamsburg’s waterfront look tasteful. And he ate horse ham.
Feminist critic and longtime New School professor Ann Snitow “leapt to join” a program that brings New School teachers to a correctional facility upstate out of “boredom”—she craved a challenge less played-out than trying to get college students to care about feminism, which she says is “everywhere and nowhere” in their lives. The result is one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever read. Snitow confronts her own preconceived notions and white liberal guilt head-on, but also gives herself credit for being a good teacher. She evokes her students’ complexity by describing their surprising, varied responses to the movies she assigns. At one point she gives them a speech: “I know in all your classes and workshops you’re being taught to take responsibility for what you’ve done, and I’m not saying no to that. But responsibility is different from shame. Best to see the endless tale of one’s badness as an inadequate story, meant to make you feel like a worm. OK, take responsibility, but also move on. Everyone is dependent; total independence is a myth. Inside or out, dependency is the human condition.” “This hectoring lecture hasn’t convinced anyone,” she writes, but I think she underestimates herself.
I’m obsessed with smells and with New York, which contains maybe the world’s best and worst smells, often in the same two-block radius. Molly Young’s descriptions of smells are a joy. Her descriptions in general are a joy. She’s just getting better and better and I can’t wait to see what she does next. (My fantasy would be a regular column about smells, but that’s probably unrealistic.)
Here, Rich Beck breaks down and rearticulates one of groundbreaking radical feminist and pop culture critic Ellen Willis’s most powerful—and most confusing—arguments. This is a must, must, must, must read for anyone interested in the past, present and future of the fight for equality.
This and #2, I would recommend if it’s been a while since you last wept uncontrollably. There’s really not a lot else to say about this. It’s an unsentimental examination of a cosmically unfair event, the the kind of thing no one wants to acknowledge is possible, but which happens regularly. I have no idea how the author could stand to write it, unless he also couldn’t stand not to write it. The parts about his daughter’s imaginary friend are also very funny, incredibly.
Bonus! (Kindle Single edition)
• “How A Book Is Born,” by Keith Gessen ($1.99)
I didn’t want to be disgusting and pick 5 things by my boyfriend but I wish I could assign anyone who thinks he or she might someday publish a book to read this long examination of how publishing works. The combination of virtue and talent coinciding with luck—the endless variables that combine to make a “literary” bestseller—just boggles the mind. This is stuff that many people who work in publishing or who work in novel-writing either don’t know or don’t allow themselves to consciously know. Buy this as a gift for your friend the corporate lawyer who keeps saying he’s going to take a sabbatical year to “write his novel.”
• “American Juggalo,” by Kent Russell ($1.99)
Psychic forecast: the year-end Longreads best-of list next year will be everything people are saying right now about John Jeremiah Sullivan, but for the words “John Jeremiah Sullivan” substitute “Kent Russell.”
(photo credit: Stephen Deshler)
In the past 13 years, Emily Gould has become an accomplished author — of a memoir and two novels — and feminist book publisher. As she prepares for the April launch of her latest novel, Perfect Tunes, she worries that to many people, she will only ever be what she was for less than a year, in 2007: an editor at now defunct media gossip site Gawker, who suffered a traumatizing moment on national television that still haunts her.
I once believed that the truth would set us free — specifically, that women’s first-person writing would “create more truth” around itself. This is what I believed when I published my first book, a memoir. And I must have still believed it when I began publishing other women’s books, too. I believed that I would become free from shame by normalizing what happened to me, by naming it and encouraging others to name it too. How, then, to explain why, at the exact same moment when first-person art by women is more culturally ascendant and embraced than it has ever been in my lifetime, the most rapacious, damaging forms of structural sexism are also on the rise? I have tried to come up with various explanations for this paradox, but none of them are satisfying. If this is the patriarchy’s last gasp, it’s a long one that shows no sign of ending.
I have lost hope that hearing women’s stories will ever make even one man realize that what seemed like an ordinary night of his life was a life-changing horror story from the perspective of the woman involved. And I no longer think there’s value in the mere fact of getting people to pay attention to what I have to say, especially when the attention is temporary, incredulous, or overwhelmingly negative.
I still do this kind of writing, I am doing it now, but I no longer hope for any outcome other than my own relief. This is because I have lost faith in the idea that there might be anything any individual can say or write that will change the minds of people who, consciously or subconsciously, believe that women matter less than men.
While I still hold out hope that our words can open minds — I see it as a long (long, long) game — I also share Gould’s frustration with the glacial pace of change, and the frequent backlash against women who dare to tell their stories.
Emily Gould | Longreads | May 2017 | 13 minutes (3,370 words)
During my son’s first two months on earth, I read 25 books about taking care of babies and children. I read them on my phone while breastfeeding and on the subway in stolen moments of solitude while my baby napped in his carrier, his fuzzy head an inch from the pages. Brain-damaged by love and exhaustion, I could not make sense of any other kind of book. For someone who has been partway through at least one novel since learning how to read, this was akin to a psychotic break. But when I opened any novel in those early weeks, the words swam on the page. I would stare till they came into focus, force down a few pages and then give up. Where was the baby in this story? Were the people in the story parents? They couldn’t matter to me otherwise.
The only thing worse was when the people in the story were parents, and there was a baby, but it was in some kind of danger. When my son was about 8 weeks old I picked up a novel which has both a stillbirth and the rape of a 6-year-old in its first 30 pages. Half an hour later my husband found me clutching the baby to my chest, silent tears streaming down my cheeks. I’m sure it’s a great book but I’ll never know. I threw it in the garbage can and heaped trash on top so I wouldn’t be tempted to go back in for it, as though it was some kind of enticing yet poisonous cake.
But my appetite for parenting books was infinite; they were the one thing I wanted besides sleep and icy beverages. My addiction, like most addictions, fed on itself. Because the information in each book was both redundant in some of its particulars and wildly contradictory in others, each dose of information required an antidote in the form of the next book.
All of these types of books appealed to me; if it had “baby” or “sleep” in the title, I was in.
The question of how to get your child to sleep provided the starkest, most dramatic dichotomy. There were two schools of thought: Either you could let your child cry himself to sleep, or you could comfort him, for hours if necessary, until he finally dozed off. Each camp promised a happy, healthy baby and family if you followed their advice, and ruin—of your health and your marriage on the one hand, and of your baby’s nascent trust in the world on the other—if you didn’t. Are you thinking, as I naively did, “Oh, I’ll just split the difference between these two obviously crazy extremes?” According to these books, avoiding a decision is the only thing worse than choosing the wrong path; intermittent reinforcement will confuse and madden your baby, likely making him even more demanding and teaching him that the world, and you, are not to be trusted.
At New York Magazine’s The Cut, Emily Gould profiles Cat Marnell, the famously self-destructive former beauty editor who miraculously managed to complete a compelling, well-written memoir, How to Murder Your Life — despite first blowing her entire advance on drugs.
Marnell missed her first book deadline, overdosed on heroin, and spent her whole advance before writing a word. She more than justified the concerns of everyone who thought that book would never be written.
But then Marnell managed to get herself to rehab, at a facility in Thailand helmed by a guru who also treats Pete Doherty. There, she finally started writing without her usual helpers. “Rehab is basically a memoir-writing workshop,” she told me. “You have to reiterate your story so many times, you storyboard it out. You basically leave with an outline that you can send to a publisher.” Now, despite a recent “drug vacation” (more on that below), she says that she’s healthier than ever before. “My survival is not a fluke. I have definitely chosen the better path.” The mere fact of the book’s existence means that she is capable of putting her ambition ahead of her addiction, at least temporarily. The book is also far from messy — her control of style and tone is impressive, as is her wry self-awareness.
Are you interested in publishing essays on Longreads? It’s important that you read these new submissions guidelines before pitching.
Recently we’ve undergone some budget cuts due to the Coronavirus pandemic and some other changes. As a result, we’re publishing fewer pieces than we used to, and selecting most of those based on whether they fit within a few specific series we’ve developed. While there will still very occasionally be room for some more general, broader interest pieces, we’ll be mainly focusing on the following series for now:
1. Life in the Time of Covid
— In recent months, a new reality has been foisted upon us. Coronavirus has changed our home lives, our work lives, our family lives. These essays will look at the virus’ impact on the way we spend our time now, and its effect on our relationships with friends, family, partners, co-workers, and others. Read more…
“The pestilence was so powerful that it was transmitted to the healthy by contact with the sick, the way a fire close to dry and oily things will set them aflame. And the evil of the plague went even further: not only did talking to or being around the sick bring infection and a common death, but also touching the clothes of the sick or anything touched or used by them…” —Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron
“At the beginning of the plague, when there was now no more hope but that the whole city would be visited;…you may be sure from that hour all trade, except such as related to immediate subsistence, was, as it were, at a full stop.” —Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year
When the pandemic comes, the usual thing is for people to stop talking to one another. I’ve been consulting my small collection of plague books (a normal thing to own), and I’m getting the impression that this has always been the case. Talking and touching are, after all, biologically indistinguishable; to communicate, you have to get close to someone. Close enough to catch whatever it is they’ve got.
Or anyway that used to be how it went. It used to be that, when a plague came around, if you were worried you couldn’t live without other people and their stories and all their little habits and funny dances and things, you had better secure a few charming young noblewomen to take with you into seclusion at your country villa for the duration of the epidemic. Nowadays the script has been flipped. Clubbers can go to “cloud raves,” bored teens can post funny videos, and I can write and publish this month’s books newsletter from the comfort of my living room — I can communicate myself to thousands of you even though I haven’t left my house in like 90 hours, having been a little too spooked by the specter of “community spread” in New York to see First Cow at the Angelika this weekend even though I already had tickets.
(Not, to be honest, that I don’t always write the newsletter from my couch! But it’s a little different, obviously, working from home as opposed to actively avoiding other people.)
The coronavirus is “the first pandemic in history that could be controlled,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday. What he meant is that it’s the first pandemic for which we’ve had a whole host of technologies at our disposal that can allow society to screech to a grinding halt without totally collapsing — arguably the most important of which is the internet. Solitude without loneliness is, incredibly, achievable on a wide scale. We can all quarantine alone, together, in one big villa in the cloud. No need to recruit the noblewomen. The Decameron is online.
With that in mind, here’s a round-up of nine not-to-be-missed book-related stories from all around the web this past month, communicated from me to you with zero physical contact. And, while reading, if you happen to get tempted to go out into a big crowd and breathe other people’s air and feel the heat from other people’s bodies, remember this important piece of advice: don’t.
1. “Sex in the Theater: Jeremy O. Harris and Samuel Delany in Conversation” by Toniann Fernandez, The Paris Review
A remarkable conversation on sex, art, and so much more between acclaimed playwright Jeremy O. Harris and sci-fi legend Samuel Delany, whom you may or may not know is also, in the vein of his childhood inspirations Henry Miller and the Marquis de Sade, a writer of erotic novels, such as the “unpublishable” Hogg.
2. “A Dirty Secret: You Can Only Be a Writer If You Can Afford It” by Lynn Steger Strong, The Guardian
Novelist Lynn Steger Strong examines the damning economics of authorship.
3. “The Post-Traumatic Novel” by Lili Loofbourow, The New York Review of Books
“What I have found myself hungering for, in short, is literature that stretches past legal testimonies and sentimental appeals toward what, for lack of a better phrase, I’m calling post-traumatic futurity.” Lili Loofbourow reviews three recent books reflective of the Me Too moment and outlines a new approach to the survivor’s story.
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4. “Jericho Rising” by Allison Glock, Garden & Gun
A profile of the incredible Jericho Brown. “In person, Brown is an explosion of life, magnetic, boisterous, a one-man carnival ride. Simply put, there is no scenario where one would be unaware that Jericho Brown is in the room.”
5. “Fan Fiction Was Just as Sexual in the 1700s as It Is Today” by Shannon Chamberlain, The Atlantic
Get this: Henry Fielding made a smutty fanfic of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and he called it… Shamela.
6. “Killing the Joke: On Andrea Long Chu’s Females” by Elena Comay del Junco, The Point
Like pretty much everyone, I take perverse delight in a good takedown. There have been a lot of spicy takedown reviews already this year— Lauren Oyler on Jia Tolentino, Emily Gould on Meghan Daum, Jennifer Szalai on Katie Roiphe — and I suppose that, technically, this not-exactly-positive review of Andrea Long Chu’s Females could be seen as something like a takedown; but in the end Comay del Junco’s approach is so thoughtful that it just makes me more interested in the book. Sometimes disagreement is not discouragement.
7. “Behind the Green Baize Door” by Alison Light, The London Review of Books
A review of Feminism and the Servant Problem, a history of the political tension between the suffragettes and their maids: “Employers protested against interference in the relations between mistress and maid. Some believed that their servants had it easy — novel-reading was a particular irritant. One cautioned against leaving the suffrage paper lying around the house: it was too sexually explicit and political discussion might give servant girls the wrong idea.”
8. “Opportunity Costs: On Work, Idealism, and Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley” by Eryn Loeb, Guernica
Eryn Loeb reflects on her own work history while reviewing Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley, a memoir of selling out in Silicon Valley.
9. “The Beats, the Hungryalists, and the Call of the East” by Akanksha Singh, The Los Angeles Review of Books
Singh reviews Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury’s The Hungryalists, a book that explores the connection between Allen Ginsberg and the eponymous group of radical Bengali poets. “Their name is in reference to Geoffrey Chaucer’s use of ‘hungry’ in ‘in the sowre hungry tyme’ in his translation of The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius.”
Happy reading, and good luck! Stay inside if you can!
In the past 13 years, Emily Gould has become an accomplished author and feminist book publisher. As she prepares for the launch of her latest novel, Perfect Tunes, she worries that to many people, she will only ever be what she was for less than a year, in 2007: an editor at now defunct media gossip site Gawker, who suffered a traumatizing moment on national television that still haunts her.