When a book’s cover touts it as “the best book about men and women written in the last century,” you nominate it for your book club.
Or at least that’s what I was thinking when I put forward Chris Kraus’ I Love Dick for my own. It’s what I was thinking until about 50 pages in, when I realized I’d made a huge mistake.
I really wanted to like this book. A semi-fictional retelling of Kraus’ IRL obsessions with professor Dick Hebdige, the memoir/novel follows Kraus as she and her husband Sylvère meet an artist named Dick and, after an objectively uneventful dinner, become obsessed with him. They begin writing letters to Dick, which Kraus ultimately presents to him as an art project of sorts. While the Dick obsession eventually takes its toll on Kraus and Sylvère’s marriage, and Kraus and Dick do eventually sleep together, the majority of ILD is devoted to these awkward encounters and ambiguous exchanges, and to Kraus’ increasingly cringe-worthy attempts to get Dick’s attention.Kraus’ book was recently adapted into an Amazon show, starring Kathryn Hahn (of Transparent) as Kraus and Kevin Bacon as Dick. The show, while equally cringe-y, is at times laugh-out-loud funny; in its slightly altered plot, Kraus is a hopelessly awkward artist who finds herself stuck in Marfa, Texas, with Sylvère, who has a fellowship at the local college (in the book they go on a road trip).
Continue reading “I did not love I Love Dick”
Sometimes—often, if you’re lucky—you’ll read a book you want to share with the world, the kind of book whose praises you sing to family, friends and coworkers. The kind of book you gift so indiscriminately come Christmas—”and YOU get a copy! and YOU get a copy!”—that loved ones are convinced you must be making a cut of the proceeds. For me those books come few and far between; in the last 12 months I’d say only The Martian and We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves qualify (and you’re welcome). But it would be a mistake to assume that the accessible books are the most memorable, or the most important. Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts isn’t a share-with-the-world type of book, but it’s one of the most elegant and insightful things I’ve read in recent memory.
I should start out by admitting that I am a Nelson virgin, and further that I’m not intellectual or academic or literary enough to know whether that’s something to be, if not ashamed of, then distressed by. But there’s something pure about going into a book as intimate as The Argonauts knowing nothing of its author or her prior work. TA is a love story of sorts, told in snippets of thought and anecdote interspersed with heavy philosophizing—and quoting of philosophers and other intellectuals—on such subjects as love, gender, sexuality, parenting, feminism and identity. If that sounds like a freshman seminar in Women’s Studies, it should—except Nelson does it with such nuance and efficiency that one never feels overwhelmed by the breadth of knowledge, or browbeaten by dogma. Her story is personal, which makes her vulnerable in telling it, which makes any invocation of philosophy more inquisitive than pretentious.
Continue reading “Maggie Nelson should explain everything to everyone”