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Aside from getting intense about guitar solos, in my part of American culture it’s not manly to be too precise about beauty or goodness. There’s something peripheral and tiresome about a person who rattles on about all the ethical and aesthetic entanglements of the world — that’s what a bridezilla does, or a momzilla, or a punchline vegan. In Philip Roth’s books, not only is it acceptable for a person to be authoritative and also read a lot of fiction and care about what people are wearing, it’s the reason. A Roth character thinks everyone should fall in line behind him when he wants to talk to his friends about books and fight against oppression that’s the lifeblood of — more than democracy — the whole human experience. So I’ve been reading a lot of Philip Roth lately.

More… “Complaint Department”

Catherine Nichols lives in Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in Jezebel, Open Letters Monthly, and Seattle Review of Books. Find her on Twitter @clnichols6.
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The internet is saying farewell to Bookslut after 14 years. We dug back into our archives to find you lovely readers some gems from Jessa Crispin’s time here at the Smart Set.

Leave James Joyce Alone!

[W]hen scholars and biographers complain about the gatekeepers to the estate, especially when those are family members, what do they expect? Biographers may claim noble and spotless intentions, but for the most part they deal in gossip. Stephen saw the people who raised him reduced to cartoon figures. He watched as the biographer of his very troubled aunt, who had recurring periods of madness and spent most of her life in an institution, hailed as not schizophrenic but merely artistic and damaged by her father’s sexual love for her. His grandfather was called a liar and a cheat. His parents, private figures both, faced a scrutiny they did not deserve. Stephen’s father, Joyce’s son, was called a worthless layabout for never really having a career, and his mother was called mad. If I were Stephen, I would have started to burn documents, too.

I’ll admit it: when it comes to murder, I’m a sexist.

“Think,” I told them. “What would cause a 12-year-old girl to wipe out her entire family? What would cause her sister, when pushed, to say they all got what they deserved?”

As we retread the book carefully, with this question as a lens, I started to feel that maybe I was betraying the book, taking it off in a direction it did not necessarily want to go. I was imposing my own agenda on the novel, using it to prove that, while it’s almost accepted wisdom that adolescent boys are rage-filled thunder gods, ready to wreak death and destruction upon any around them, a girl must have a pretty good reason to lash out. Maybe instead I should have felt it was natural for a 12-year-old girl to poison the sugar.

Walk Like a Man

We stopped freaking out about the “Oh my god, women want to wear pants!” thing a really long time ago. Women wandered into the traditionally masculine realms of self-expression and ambition and now it’s just normal.

Not so with masculinity. It is still as rigid and well defended as ever, despite a few David Bowies or Johnny Depps in the mix. Just look at last year’s total freaking meltdown about a J. Crew catalog that carried a photo of a woman painting her young son’s toenails. . . . When a girl is boyish, or even claims she’d rather be a boy, it’s cute. She’s a tomboy. When a boy is girlish, wanting to wear dresses or try on some makeup, it’s a mental disorder and needs an immediate medical intervention.

Book Report

This is where the action is, after all, the public libraries. And by action I mean bloodletting. It’s perhaps the most vulnerable segment of the American Library Association, dependent on city and state budgets rather than the universities and corporations that find their funding elsewhere. And each year, thousands of the PLA’s 11,000 members descend on a city to set the agenda for the year to come, to commiserate and strategize. And to network for employment, for the more recent victims of the cutbacks.

Secure in the knowledge that libraries are now permanently fucked, I expected to walk in to find a mournful scene. Maybe candlelight vigils for state funding, a designated mourner wailing over grants for arts programs? I was donned in black. I was ready to blend in.

We love you, Bookslut. You will be dearly missed. •

Get in touch with The Smart Set at editor@thesmartset.com.
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Transparent raked in the Emmys, Caitlyn Jenner continues to makes headlines, and it’s a big time for visibility in the trans community. The discussion of gender identity and neutral pronouns has left professor and author Melvin Jules Bukiet wondering how new pronouns will fit in with existing English grammar and social structure. (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

We’re throwing away our lives — or at least our chives. Solving our international food waste problem is necessary to end the global hunger crisis and feed a growing population. One Canadian family dug into their trash bin for six months to see if they could cut back. (The Walrus)

Fifty years ago, 2015 may have been predicted to be more metallic-and-spandex than it turned out to be, but technology has come a long way. Claire Cameron spoke to five scientists about the biggest scientific surprises, triumphs, and disappointments of the past half-century. (Nautilus) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.
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It’s a cold autumn morning on location at Pennsbury Manor, William Penn’s estate on the Delaware River above Philadelphia. We are shooting reenactment scenes of the 17th and 18th centuries for the sixth and seventh episodes of the film documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment.” The light — starry blue then pink then orange — awakens the fields and buildings here, WPA recreations circa 1938 that will serve as the various raw tableaux for uncertain meetings among Swedish settlers, Lenape, Quakers, and Africans.  

Nathaniel Popkin‘s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard. He is also the author of Song of the City, and The Possible City, and is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and co-producer and senior writer and editor of the documentary “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment.” Most of his work can be found at nathanielpopkin.net

Making too much of the gender divide is outmoded nowadays, and yet there are areas where the division still holds. One is the area of narrative. Women like it; men don’t. Granted, if you walk into a random funeral, you’re going to hear a narrative when they give the eulogy, whether the person in the casket is a man or a woman. But I’m talking about a tolerance for narrative beyond the bare bones (or dead body) variety. When it comes to that, women want more, men less. It’s the old foreplay-versus-sex-act thing, and it translates into other diversions — like fine dining (women like the ambience, men the food) and movies (women like character-delving plots — i.e. French movies; men like action films — i.e. anything with weapons or, barring that, anything not French). The whole thing can be boiled down to a simple dichotomy: Women like stories, men… More…

 

Call it a perk of the recession. Or maybe just another example of how our quality of life is diminishing in these troubled times. A topless cafe has opened in the town of Vassalboro, Maine. It’s called, appropriately enough, the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop. Customers can purchase $3 cups of java and $2 donuts from servers of either gender, hold the shirt.

The idea of sexing up utilitarian businesses is not without precedent, of course. Coffee shops employing lingerie-clad waitresses in Seattle and Las Vegas have been operating since 2007. Sexy maid services are as common as foreclosures these days. But the topless coffee shop is a new phenomenon, and a timely one: Apparently the economy has gotten so bad that simply selling boiling caffeine in one of the country’s coldest, sleepiest states is no longer a… More…

Every once in a while some woman gets fed up with the constant news of war, poverty, greed, environmental degradation, and corruption, and publicly growls, “You know, if women ran the world, it would be a better place.” Detractors immediately howl back, reminding us of the plague that was Thatcherism, but it turns out that we don’t need a matriarchy to improve the world. Just improving the lives of women, guaranteeing their rights, and allowing them to decide their own fates independent of religious or societal control would help piece our world back together.

The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World by Michelle Goldberg. Penguin Press. 272 pages. $25.95

Muhammad Yunus started the Grameen Bank to offer microloans to the rural poor, allowing them to start small businesses and work their way out of poverty. He… More…

 

As I was filling out Kate Bornstein’s My Gender Workbook, doodling in the box that says “Draw a perfectly gendered person,” taking the quizzes to find my Gender Aptitude, and learning to adjust my definition of “transgender” to include anyone who breaks with the traditional portrayal of gender, which would include everyone from drag queens to boys in eyeliner, I started wondering how the me of five years ago would answer these questions. Obviously, I would be drawing “my gender” a bit differently. In my present drawing my gender has a cloche and a fur stole. But five years ago I was in the final throes of my Boy Phase (or, giving my current tendency towards glammed-out femininity, what a friend has recently titled my Pre-Op Period), a span of several years of dressing in men’s clothing and… More…