Monday, January 17, 2011

Most Embarrassing Subway Reads

Many new yorkers do most of our pleasure-reading on the subway, a habit which presents either an opportunity or a problem for the self-conscious traveler. As much as the Livre Life book club has helped my sub-street cred, I have been known in the past to embarrass myself. For example, I recently read back-to-back what are possibly the two most embarrassing subway reads of all time when I followed my reading of Cunt, the controversial third wave feminist manifesto by Inga Muscio, with I Love Dick, Chris Kraus' memoir about her obsession with a man named Dick. Hard to beat, I know.

And since I sacrificed my dignity for these books daily for half a month, I thought I would review them here, lest my abnegation go in vain.

First, neither statement-making title succeeded in making its statement unpretentiously. This review in the blog, Bookslut, pretty much sums up all that was problematic about Cunt: A Declaration of Independence.

The author, pictured above with her skateboard, preaches about the right and only way to practice birth control, love your body, and become free of the Patriarchy. In the process, she also recounts her own count-em three unplanned pregnancies, de-legitimizing her own "know- your-body-love-your-body" sermon. Now this sounds insufferable, and it was, but I'm glad I read it. The book had become a cult classic among the girls in my liberal arts college and had caused a number of my friends to re-think the pill on principle. I suggest it for those interested in the problems and popularity of radical feminism, provided they are also willing to suffer a truly heinous writing style.

I Love Dick also gets a mixed review from me. The tiresome love story plays out a married couple of intellectuals' increasingly consuming obsession with a young professor named Dick. Dick, who is real, is told about "the interesting philosophical problem," that is their obsession with him, and soon he becomes co-opted against his will as a metaphor for the couple'ssexual frustration, fears about aging, and, mostly, Kraus' own insecurities, which are so cloying they come off as disingenuous (ah, my ravaged body! it's too skinny to be sexy!...yeah, right.) That's her below.
It is also an interesting story about the limits of literary readings on real life, but it will exhaust even those of us who actually like literary theory (precious few to begin with). The memoir is shockingly honest and the turn of events always interesting, but it is unrelentingly pretentious, as the letter writing trio out-theorize each other ad infinitum.

Some kindled day in the future we won't have to worry about what we read one the subway, but in the meantime, I think it's worth asking, were they worth it? What are your most embarrassing subway reads?

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