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Sunday, April 10

In praise of messy lives by Katie Roiphe or the road not taken

I love to read or listen to reviews, interviews and articles in my favorite magazines, newspapers or websites like The Paris Review, The Atlantic, Granta, Electric Literature, worldliteraturetoday or NPR. I am that kind of a bookworm if you prefer mere simplification. I always go beyond the remarkable featured people or books, hunting for words and serendipity moments, and new reading material. In defense of e-readers and my reliable Kobo buddy, I cannot wait for new books to make it to the bookshop shelves, much as I organically enjoy the feeling of a holding a book in my hands. My waiting list is so long, I keep reading three or four books at the same time, depending on my mood and never allow myself to plod across the pages of a novel or non-fiction book if it does not keep me involved. I have come to the conclusion that one has to have fun when reading, as well. And by this, I mean that you need to feel an instant chemistry to the reading material, to capture that rare moment when it reads so well and feels so good, you hold your breath and almost choke on the prospect of ending the book. 

In praise of messy lives by Kathie Roiphe is one book that has the legerity to read itself. It is an intriguing potpourri of essays, critical comments, cultural references, memoir and passionate responses to criticism. She is one girl that either loves the subject and therefore, goes to great length to render it in a powerful manner or simply dismisses it by malicious comments. 

Kathie Rophie is well-read and opinionated. She is a single mother of two kids, Violet and Leo, fathered by two different men. She romantically refers to them as love children. Her book begins with a kind of informal introduction of herself as a woman on her own with a 'messy, bohemian, warm' family. In two of her essays, The Great Escape and The Alchemy of Quiet Malice, she explores the prejudices of parenthood and mothers raising children on their own, making references to literature -The Age of Innocence- and providing various, humorous examples of other people's families. All her pieces abound in literary quotations and she finds a quiet, yet purposeful ally, in books, characters and their authors. 

The essays on Joan Didion and Susan Sontag are meant to filter the obvious, well-known pieces of information on the two intellectuals by exposing them as frail and humane beings with provocative and dramatic comments. She has a penchant for unconventional women like herself that tore down barriers and made a worthy life for themselves. She likes bohemian educated women writers such as Jane Austen who, in fiction, gave all her female characters a chance to find Mr. Right, whereas, in real life, she consciously deprived herself of the prospect of married life which she envisaged as a certain environment to self-effacement. Katie Roiphe chose motherhood and she is ready to prove all prejudiced, judgmental others that being a mother does not make you less of a thriving human being. On the contrary, she militates against parents renouncing their careers or personal goals in life on account of having children -see parents using their children's pics as Facebook avatars.  

She then gives us her own piece of mind on how fantasies shape us and how the impact of controversial books such as Fifty Shades of Grey is but some display of women's submissive nature to men and sexual fantasies. Also, she discusses sex scenes as they are depicted and presented in novels by male writers in comparison with incest scenes abundant in literature written by women authors. In both situations we come to the point of getting so used to these that we read them in a numbed state of mind.

I like her because she is a bad girl, who never talks down to the reader and takes him/her for a knowledgeable person. I like her for sticking it to those parents obsessed with the so-called well-being of their children who put more effort into finding the perfect school for their kids than in actually getting to know their kids. I simply adore her for telling people how Facebook is the modern way of writing our own modern novel where we squeeze in personal info and photos, fostering a false self that is meant to obliviate the pains of real life in defense of the fantasized one. We stand creatures desperate to sanitize ourselves and our children and we often take offense when it comes to such books because they are meant to hold a mirror in front of us by tackling some uncomfortable subjects. By making it fun all the way, Kathie Roiphe does that -she sends us the message we own one life and we should live it to the fullest, without obsessing over conventional judgmental views and a glossy, false existence. 

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