In the week it takes me to read five different books on how to be a writer, approximately 30 books are delivered to my Berlin apartment. This is a decline from the 15 to 30 that used to be delivered every day, and I’m grateful for the barrier of costly international postage that keeps these numbers down. I will immediately discard about three-quarters of the books. Some of these, I would say maybe eight percent of the books I receive, are self-published. Under their bios the writers dutifully list the writing programs they attended. Now they have landed here, with a clip-art book cover, a cheap binding, and a $12 stamp to send it to a book critic who doesn’t even really review fiction anymore. I feel bad for these writers, and the years of effort and money they spent on a writing education, and all of that boundless optimism… More…

It wasn’t like I hadn’t seen this woman before. Anyone with the slightest introduction to Renaissance art knows Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Venus. With her spiraled hair, her sly look, her curved belly and hips, she is, in many ways, an iconic representation of the goddess of love and beauty.

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. 240 pages. Plume. $15. Hidden in the Shadow of the Master: The Model-Wives of Cezanne, Money, and Rodin by Ruth Butler. 376 pages. Yale University Press. $35. Lucas Cranach the Elder: Painting Materials, Techniques and Workshop Practice by Gunnar Heydenreich. 462 pages. Amsterdam University Press. $69.50. The Real Real Thing: The Model in the Mirror of Art by Wendy Steiner. 232 pages. University of Chicago Press. $32.50.

 

But there was something about this visit to see the Cranach paintings, when… More…

Hildegard of Bingen had a close relationship with God. Hildegard was the head of an abbey in the 12th century in what is now Germany. But she was also a seer, a mystic. She had visions. A voice in those visions commanded her to write them down. The result was writing like this:

 

The soul is kissed by God in its innermost regions. With interior yearning, grace and blessing are bestowed. It is a yearning to take on God’s gentle yoke, It is a yearning to give one’s self to God’s Way.

It is this intimacy, this personal and passionate language, that has made Hildegard a subject of fascination over the ages. Human beings are human beings, whatever the time period, but the 12th century can be a particularly difficult era for the contemporary mind to understand. Life… More…

In the early ’90s, amid high-profile sexual harassment lawsuits and rape awareness campaigns such as Take Back the Night marches, two students accused a master at an Australian university of assaulting them at a school party. Hotly denied by the master himself, the charges consisted of a drunken grope while dancing, and a come-on later in his office. While the master was found not guilty of the charges, he still lost his job after leaflets appeared around campus saying that if the master was not stopped now, he would go on to rape a student.

Jessa Crispin is editor and founder of Bookslut.com. She currently resides in Chicago.

You could be forgiven for drawing certain conclusions about sexual relations from the work of Shirley Jackson. Something about the malevolence of men, the witchy insularity of women, and the powerful bonds between girls that sometimes border on incestuous. There are the sisters in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, one who sings rhymes about killing everyone, and one who is drawn away by a sudden male presence (with firey consequences). There is Theodora in The Haunting of Hill House, who goes by Theo, has a row with her female “roommate,” smashes her copy of Alfred de Musset (Musset being the author of the lesbian erotica Gamiani, or Two Nights of Excess), and sexually teases the submissive Eleanor. The male characters often shimmer with malevolence, destroying peaceful homes or destroying women for sport, like Jamie, the man who suddenly disappears the morning of his wedding day in “The Daemon… More…

I think of poetry as a boys’ club. Do female poets have to learn to write in a “masculine” style to gain any praise for their poems?

— Sarah, Malden, Massachusetts

P.S. Do you know of any good poems about female relationships?

You’re right, to some extent: Poetry is a boys’ club, as are many professions. This is something that I have noticed more and more as I’ve lived, but maybe I’m being too sensitive. After all, I did just buy an anthology of female poets writing about birth and childrearing (Not for Mothers Only published by Fence Books), but anthologies like that seem to exist almost on the fringe. Maybe some women feel that they have had to alter their style to gain any credence for their poetry. From personal experience in writing workshops, my narrative poems — which are more straightforward — receive much more praise than… More…

Want to see a corpse dance? Just ask someone to write an article about the state of women in comedy. Before you know it, the author will have slid his hand into that sack of bones known as the Christopher Hitchens “Why Women Aren’t Funny” article and have it shimmying around like Kermit the Frog on stage at the El Sleezo Cafe in The Muppet Movie, his skinny little legs obviously not strong enough to support his body. At over three years old, and argued against countless times already, the Hitchens article is still trotted out as A Thing to Mention.

I know this because someone suggested last week that I write about it. The e-mail I received can be paraphrased as: “There are a lot of prominent female comedians right now. Maybe you can give some thoughts on women in comedy? Oh, BTW, remember that Christopher Hitchens… More…

Every year when the Orange Prize announces its longlist, or its shortlist, or its jury members, or an anniversary, or is mentioned in the press, people start to write long opinion pieces about the sad state of women’s fiction. This year’s award will be announced next week, and we’ve been enduring months of such complaints. Women’s fiction is too domestic, too small scale, too dreary, too often about rape or abuse. It’s not ambitious enough, not universal, not epic. Let’s leave behind whether or not it’s fair — after all, we do not saddle men’s books with the responsibility of being representative of their half of the species. Let’s also leave behind the fact that most of the people complaining about the state of women’s fiction seem not to have read very much, or at least not much outside the territory of books with cover art that could… More…

Being a woman of a certain age, I’ve indulged myself in browsing red hats. I’ve resisted the impulse purchase so far, having failed to find the perfect wide-brimmed number to make me feel like a ’40s movie star on the prowl. I haven’t yet fully embraced the notion of being “a red hat lady.” Even so, whenever I come across such a group, I feel an up-welling sisterhood with those women of my age cohort, maybe because I respond to the almost ironic in-your-face quality of the smiling troops wearing red hats. And, yes, I’ve never seen a red-hat-wearing woman who didn’t look happy. But not all women over 60 wear red hats when they go on excursions. Some wear motorcycle helmets with a panache that would do any red-hat lady proud.

 

One such woman, Joyce [not her… More…

Wife Swap, however, flies under the critical radar. This is a surprise, since Swap is one of the more insidious reality shows on television today.

The series, now in its sixth season, follows a rigid format that takes two wives, and then swaps them. The key is choosing families that exist at either end of an rotating spectrum with seemingly incongruous ends: hard-workers vs. funlovers; savers vs. spenders; athletes vs. the lazy (or, to be honest, the thin vs. the fat).

Reading the pairings on the Wife Swap website is like looking through a kind of only-in-America! panorama of our populace:

– A traditional wife who runs the pet funeral and crematorium family business swaps lives with a wife who’s a shock jock radio DJ. – A strict martial arts family who run their family like a business swap lives with an unconventional family of actors drowning in unpaid bills…. More…