I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room
In the last 2 or 3 lines, I talked to fellow blogger extraordinaire Brienne Walsh Zipperer about her pregnancy, expensive SoHo lofts, and rude subway-riding Hasidic Jews.
In today’s 2 or 3 lines, Brienne and I talk about reading and writing.
2 or 3 lines: Let's get serious for a moment. On our way to lunch, we stopped at McNally Jackson Books around the corner on Prince Street. Everyone knows I get all my books at the public library, so I didn't buy anything. But you picked up a few books – tell my readers what you bought.
Brienne: I just bought everything you recommended because you are a genius. I’m kidding, but not really. You are one of the few people I know who is as devoted a reader as I am. I love talking to you about books.
2 or 3 lines: Thank you, Brienne – I'm very pleased to know you feel that way.
Brienne: I’m pretty shallow, so I’m very impressed by the fact that you went to Harvard Law School. What’s even more impressive is that you were accepted by Harvard as an undergraduate but you turned them down, which absolutely no one does!
2 or 3 lines: Well, Harvard doesn’t see many applications from poor African-American kids from Joplin, Missouri – I’m sure that helped me get accepted.
Brienne: But you’re not African-American!
2 or 3 lines: You know that, and I know that, Brienne – but the Harvard College admissions department didn’t know it. Anyway, tell me about the books you bought today.
Brienne: I bought We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, which I’m going to read first.
[NOTE: Between the day we had lunch and today, Brienne read We Need to Talk About Kevin and posted her review of it on her blog. Click here to read it. Since I recommended that book to her, you would have thought that she would have given me some credit. But she didn’t even mention my name.]
Brienne: I also bought The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. You recommended Madame Bovary, so I picked up the Lydia Davis translation of it. Finally, you bought me The Turnaround by George Pelecanos, so I will have to read it.
2 or 3 lines: Yes, you will.
Brienne: I know our trip to the bookstore is going to significantly improve my life over the next week. Normally I spend at least eight hours of my day feeling oppressively bored – so thanks for all of the recommendations!
2 or 3 lines: I need to tell my readers that I recommended a lot of books as we strolled through the bookstore, but you had already read nearly all of them. Meanwhile, you recommended a number of books to me that I had never heard of – it got to be a little embarrassing after a while. You're how old – 32? – how have you managed to read so many good books at such a young age?
Brienne: Many reasons. I hate hanging out with people, and rarely ever leave the house. I’m incredibly lazy. I love immersing myself in fantasy worlds so that I don’t have to deal my humdrum reality. I could go on, but I’ll just end up sounding like a Buzzfeed list about introverts. In essence, books are my great love, which sounds trite, but is true.
2 or 3 lines: Any book recommendations for me and the readers of 2or3lines?
Brienne: There’s Elena Ferrante’s four “Neopolitan” novels, and also Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series – only Book I is really worth it, however. Recently, I read War and Peace, which I expected to be oppressively boring, but I devoured it like I would devour a Downton Abbey marathon after eating a couple of weed brownies. I loved Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton, too. I just read a great junk science fiction novel called Ancillary Justice. We talked about Lionel Shriver a few minutes ago – her Big Brother, which is about obesity and overeating, is very good.
2 or 3 lines: Buckle your seat belt, because this interview is about to become really meta. To tell the truth, we didn't go to the bookstore before we had lunch – we went after we had lunch. And I'm writing this interview up a few weeks after we met as if we are talking as we are eating lunch, which would mean that we haven't actually gone to the bookstore yet. But we have gone to the bookstore, of course. And you’ve already read one of the books you bought on my recommendation and written a review of it. It's like we’re doing time travel.
Brienne: It is. I think we both know and love that we live in a totally constructed reality. There’s no shame in that.
2 or 3 lines: Which brings me to a very important point. You and I both write blogs that are largely autobiographical – some would say narcissistic.
Brienne: I agree that my writing is narcissistic. That’s because I’m lazy. It would take a lot of effort to actually leave my apartment and find people worth writing about, so usually I just opt for the easy way out and write about myself.
2 or 3 lines: One thing about your writing that I've always been terribly impressed by is how honest and frank it seems to be – you hold nothing back, whether you are writing about yourself or your family and friends. Have I been fooled? Are you being as fearlessly honest as I think you are? Or do you bend the truth a little from time to time?
Brienne: No, I’m fearlessly honest about the things that matter. I might bend the truth when it comes to the details –sometimes I’ll say that something happened in person when it actually happened over the phone. And sometimes I make the people I write about angrier or more ridiculous than they actually were. My father, for example – I write like he’s the Robert DeNiro character in Meet the Parents with a healthy dose of Depression-inspired cheapness. But in actuality, my father’s a very eloquent, intelligent, and funny guy himself – he appreciates my caricature of him because he spends a lot of his time caricaturing people himself.
2 or 3 lines: For me, it’s not so much that I write things that aren’t true – the real dishonesty comes from self-censorship. Maybe I should have written my blog anonymously so I didn't have to worry about revealing secrets I don’t want to reveal, or offending my family and friends. You once told me that your husband doesn't read your blog – is that still the case? And what about your parents or your sister or others you are close to? Do you pull your punches at all when you write about them?
Brienne: The most deceptive thing I do is to not tell everything, so I’m just like you in that regard. A writer inherently manipulates his or her audience, even if that audience is only two or three people. And yes, I do hold a lot back. I almost never talk about how much I think about my ex-boyfriends, for example. And I never write about people who get angry at me for writing about them.
For example, my mother – who doesn’t even use a computer – seems to immediately know whenever I write about her. It’s like she has a maternal sixth sense. For example, for my birthday two years ago, she gave me a bag of her old bras. She threw in a used rainbonnet in case I wanted to wear it at an outdoor Christmas party and look like a madwoman. This happened in November. The bras were 20 years old, and neither my mother nor I need them because both of us are AA cups.
In any case, I wrote a funny post about the bras, which she somehow found out about. She ended up disinviting me from the family Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. She only started talking to me again after she got in a fight with my sister. She needs to have at least one adult daughter to call before her tennis lesson every morning.
By the way, I’m pretty sure my mom will find out about this post telepathically, so I blame you if she leaves me alone in the hospital when I give birth to my daughter. But . . . whatever.
2 or 3 lines: What effect do you think being a mother is going to have on your writing? Obviously your new daughter is going to demand a lot of your time and energy. On the other hand, you're going to have a lot of new topics to write about.
Brienne: I’m not sure yet. I’m hoping it gives me purpose. I’m hoping it also opens me up to write fiction, which I’m terrified I’m not capable of. But otherwise, I don’t see it changing my writing that much. I’ve always written about what’s going on in my life, and having a daughter is yet another thing that will happen to me.
On a side note, I have almost nothing to do most days, so I’m actually looking forward to having something to fill my embarrassment of free time.
2 or 3 lines: You know how talented how I think you are. But I know that the odds of breaking through and finding a large audience are stacked against you and other young writers. You've admitted to having a lot of self-doubt or even self-loathing. You find it hard at times to make yourself write. Where would you like to be as a writer in five or ten years, and what do you think are realistic goals?
Brienne: The most realistic goal is that I’m still writing. I used to think that if you put the work in, you would eventually “make it” – by which I meant, publish some books, get some acclaim, win some awards, be universally adored. But after eight years of failing, I don’t see that happening for me. If I’m still writing my blog in five years, even if no one reads it, I will see that as a personal accomplishment. Not because it’s a struggle to write on it, but rather, because I usually lose interest in things pretty quickly, and I still haven’t lost interest in writing on the blog yet. It’s been the one thing that has anchored me to my own life for as long as I’ve had the courage to write in the first place.
* * * * *
If I had to write a two-word or three-word epitaph for myself, “reader” would be one of the words I would choose.
Books are wonderful things, but I know that I use books to avoid facing up to reality at times. I think Brienne would admit that she does the same thing.
And based on the lines from “I Am a Rock” quoted at the beginning of this 2 or 3 lines, it would appear that Paul Simon does as well.
Here’s “I Am a Rock”:
Click below to order the song from Amazon: