Women We Read This Week

Cari Luna’s “Priced Out of New York” in Salon

I’ve always said that New York is one of the most provincial cities in the country, though I say it with both affection and derision, because New York, perhaps more than anywhere else in the country, feels like home to me. But for the first several years I was there, it felt like the only city that could be home, the only “real place,” and the rest of the country was what? I don’t know; I was too busy being enamoured of New York to notice there was an entire world I was missing out on. I had become, without realizing it, small-minded.

But New York changed, and so did I — I got tired of struggling so hard to survive, and for what? The city was becoming colder, unkind, “remade,” as Luna writes, for obscenely wealthy bankers. It was already on that road by the time I arrived just a week before 9/11, but it got much worse, and maybe I couldn’t see it with clarity at first because I was too in love with the idea of New York, the one I’d dropped out of high school for at 17, heading east of Nevada for the first time in my life.

If there is so much emotional weight tied up in the idea of living in New York, there is even more in leaving it. Cari Luna articulates this beautifully: “But always in the back of my mind lies the thought that we failed. That we could have made it if only we’d fought harder to stay, struggled more, taken on more debt, more risk. There’s humiliation, in my weaker moments, when I allow it to creep in, of being one of the families that was ‘culled.’ Who couldn’t cut it.” New York is a city of big feelings and big ideas, and it leaves you with the sense that there’s not a lot of room for grey. You’re in or you’re out; you hack it or you don’t; you love it or you leave it. But it is, of course, more complicated than that, and what I love most about Luna’s essay is that she gets at the different layers of feeling that come with loving — and leaving — New York: the betrayal, the anger, the nostalgia, the indifference, the freedom, the regret. I am living happily outside of the city, and don’t plan on ever returning, and not just for financial reasons. But do I miss it? Of course. I spent my most formative years there. It broke me and it molded me. I will always, to a certain extent, miss it — it’s New York. — Simone

Lizzie Widdicombe’s “From Mars” in The New Yorker

There are many troubling layers to Lizzie Widdicombe’s profile of Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Bustle.com founder Bryan Goldberg, only one of which is the irony of a man (a young, rich man who seems to see women predominantly as a demographic, whose tastes can be understood, mastered, and rendered profitable with enough data aggregation) running a women’s publication. More disturbing is, in Widdicombe’s words, “how quickly, in the Internet age, a cost-effective business plan can overtake one built on a reputation for quality.”

When it comes to women, Goldberg seems mostly clueless, like, as Widdicombe puts it, “a giant six-year-old.” Bustle.com is run entirely by women editors and writers, and despite Goldberg’s frequent and obnoxious gaffes (“knowing the difference between mascara, concealer, and eye-liner is not my job”) his role as its founder seems less problematic than his role in contributing to the content millification of the Internet.

Goldberg’s dream of a site that generates thousands of articles a day on thousands of topics is the dream of an Internet awash in tedious, SEO-styled fluff-prose, making billions for a handful of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs; it is a dream that should strike terror into the heart of any writer who doesn’t want to spend her career churning out 300-word summaries of Miley Cyrus antics. Goldberg likes to envision Bustle.com as a sort of youth revolt against the staid tradition and elitism of publications like Vogue, and in one of the most fascinating sections of her piece, Widdicombe explores the contrast between Vogue’s aspirational culture and Bustle’s populism, as well as San Francisco’s “ethos of disruption” and New York’s reverence for elite institutions. But Widdicombe doesn’t seem convinced (one of my favorite moments in the piece was a wry reference to The Simpsons). And as a writer, and a woman, uninterested in top ten lists and breezy, BFF-ish summaries of world news, Bustle and its founder seem far less revolutionary than resolutely conformist: to gender stereotypes, market trends, and a capitalist more-junk-for-less ethos. —Sarah

Joyce Maynard “Was Salinger Too Pure for This World?” in The New York Times

Once, I spent a summer in rural Arkansas trying to write a novel, and I remember thinking distinctly that it was the only model to become a real writer. Following the lives of writers like Cormac McCarthy and J.D. Salinger, I believed I needed to isolate myself from the world in order to write – no Internet, no cell phone, and miles of mountains between me and any other person. However, I cried myself to sleep to the sound of Whip-poor-wills, and spent days starring into my computer screen, lost in its glowing light. Eventually, all I did was cry, so much and so intensely that I thought I would drown in desperation. I missed people, coffee shops, libraries, subways, traffic, laughter. I felt like a failure. I would never be a writer.

I had internalized the male-writer-God model of writing and imposed it upon myself. I was reminded of my experience this week when I read Joyce Maynard’s article on J.D. Salinger. She wrote,

I was 18 when he wrote to me in the irresistible voice of Holden Caulfield, though he was 53 at the time. Within months I left school to live with Salinger; gave up my scholarship; severed relationships with friends; disconnected from my family; forswore all books, music, food and ideas not condoned by him. At the time, I believed I’d be with Jerry Salinger forever.

Recently, it has come to light that Salinger had a penchant for girls as young as 14, and that, over the years, he collected them by the dozens. Or, as film critic David Edelstein wrote in an article on a new Salinger documentary, “He liked pretty young girls. Stop the presses.”

I can relate to Maynard, because I was pulled in to the God-like orbit of Salinger without ever coming near him. Like her, as I grew up, I found other models for writing. But I would still sometimes hear that voice in my mind, the one telling me that I wasn’t a real writer because I didn’t live like Salinger or McCarthy. As Maynard wrote,

I was 19 when he put two $50 bills in my hand and sent me away. Years after he dismissed me, his voice stayed in my head, offering opinions on everything he loved and all that he condemned. This was true even though, on his list of the condemned, was my own self.

Alice

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