The most wonderful thing about having a co-bloggeuse is that I get to keep in touch with Teresa and we can share our thoughts and opinions about books, as we’ve done our entire friendship. The second best thing is that when I completely bail out, as I did the past few months, owing to an impossibly stressful semester, she keeps the lights on at Shelf Love with her steady excellence. There are some of you out there who will understand the gravity of my situation when I tell you that not only was I not blogging, I was not reading. (I know, it horrifies me, too.) I spent almost two months reading nothing but advice columns online. After so long, I was almost afraid to pick up a book, as if I might have forgotten what to do with it.
The solution, of course, was re-reading. Back on the bicycle. My first choice was a favorite of mine, something I haven’t read in a while: A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton-Porter. I asked Teresa to read this a couple of years back, and I was surprised at the number of people in the comments who really disliked the book because the heroine was “too perfect.” It’s true — Elnora Comstock is intelligent and beautiful, and least likely of all, she’s a natural violinist. But she works extremely hard for anything she gets — education, work, musical training, opportunity — and is grateful, not entitled. I can’t see my way to disliking her for her looks; that seems shallow to me. I’d rather have that than the “her eyes were two different colors, which was a serious flaw in her looks and not a strikingly interesting and beautiful thing about her like it is with most people” sort of writing. In any case — and not to be defensive! — it’s a terrific book: over the top sometimes, but also interesting and funny and eventful. If you start it, do try to finish it; the complexities of the story and the adult themes of the second half do redeem some of the simpler ideas in the first half, and I’ve loved it for years.
The other book I re-read is Drinking: A Love Story, by Caroline Knapp. This is a memoir about Knapp’s long entanglement with high-functioning alcoholism. She describes her first glass of wine with her father (another very accomplished and high-functioning alcoholic — she never suspected until after he was dead) at the age of 13; the way alcohol became a protection for her, a way for her not to feel so much. She describes the way it loosened her up, made her easier in her skin, helped her be just a little more social. She loved it: the Jack Daniels on the rocks, the crisp white wine, the mojitos — and more, she loved who she was when she had them. Someone else. Not her own, trapped, pathetic, nervous self.
She also describes the daily hangovers, the obsessive exercise to “sweat it out,” the drunk driving, misplacing her car. She describes the hopeless, miserable, failed relationships, unable to move on. She describes putting bottles in other people’s recycling bins so that no one would know all those bottles were hers; going to several liquor stores so the clerks wouldn’t think badly of her; keeping a stash of liquor behind the toilet in her parent’s house so she wouldn’t have to worry that there wouldn’t be enough wine at dinner.
And she describes, finally, getting well — feeling her own discomfort, just sitting with it, minute after minute, realizing that there is nothing here that a drink would help. She discusses rehab and AA, and her terror of relapse, and her hope that she can stay on this path.
This is a marvelous book. Her insights (which are not just personal but national, and not just about drinking but about women and stress and social expectations around appetites) are sharp and widely applicable. I thought about my own relationships when she talked about hers, and some of the patterns they fall into. This book is almost 20 years old, but I think that, barring a few references to power suits, it’s as relevant as when it was published. I like good memoirs; if you haven’t tried this one, you might pick it up.