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Original Essays | September 15, 2014

Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel

There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »


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gopherprairieexile has commented on (5) products.

Waging Heavy Peace by Neil Young
Waging Heavy Peace

gopherprairieexile, January 14, 2013

Neil redefines stream of consciousness, but he's redefined so much in his life and career, why not? I do have to admit that sometimes, his penchant for repeating himself got on my nerves, but when you experience a person worth knowing, in person or through his or her expression, whatever that expression may be, something is going to get on your nerves. The question is: is this person worth it? Does the good far outweigh the bad? In this case, of course. This is Neil Young. What a pleasure it was for me to read a book by one of my most cherished musicians which wasn't mostly a catalogue of devastating drug addiction, didn't treat every encounter with every woman over a fifty year period as if it had the significance of the invention of the wheel, or mention the size of Mick Jagger's penis. (I'm looking at you Keith and Pete.) Let me share one quote with you: "Am I too cosmic about this? I think not, my friend. Do not doubt me in my sincerity, for it is that which has brought us to each other now." Would add ten years to my life if I could have coffee with this man.
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The Tenth Moon 1st Edition by Dawn Powell
The Tenth Moon 1st Edition

gopherprairieexile, August 22, 2012

When I read New York Diaries, some of Dawn Powell's entries were included and I liked what she had to say and how she said it so much, I started reading her. It's always a gift to discover a new-to-you author. I also think it's important to note that, not only will I not get to read this book because it's a first edition collector's item with a thousand dollar pricetag, but Dawn Powell was buried in Potter's Field. A little perspective.
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Canada by Richard Ford

gopherprairieexile, August 4, 2012

People will debate for hours what this book is really about, and not because it's some cryptic, obtuse, full of itself self indulgence, it's just that you can look at it in so many different ways; I hated having to put it down between reading sessions. It's a hardcover worth schlepping around, which, to my mind, is the fastest praise you can give to any book.
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Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

gopherprairieexile, January 1, 2012

A truly spiritual book, and in the pure sense, not in the cheap, distorted marketing/publishing sense. This was the first book I read in 2011 (and its sequel, Home, the second) and it's strange that I should pick them up in January, because by February, all hell broke loose in my life, and how much worse it would have been without the thought this book provoked and the subsequent insight provided.
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Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York by Gail Parent
Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York

gopherprairieexile, September 17, 2011

Sheila Levine is Dead And Living In New York by Gail Parent is one of the funniest books I have ever read, and one of the few books that I have reread so often that I can quote passages verbatim.

I first read it during the summer I turned fourteen. I was exiled at a relative’s seashore retreat, which was supposed to be a lot of fun, but what was actually a nerve-wracking trial. My hosts weren’t the problem; I was accompanied by two relatives who were obsessed with criticizing me. If I struck out on my own, I was antisocial; if I joined in the conversation, I said too much, or not enough, or the wrong thing; if I helped myself to a glass of iced tea from the fridge, I was being presumptuous; if I asked for a glass of iced tea, I had a lot of nerve expecting people to wait on me. In response, I found the closest thing one can find to an obscure corner in a six room house occupied by fifteen people, and turned my attention to Sheila and her problems.

I wonder today why Sheila struck such a chord with me; many of her experiences are those of an adult woman, and dealt with roads I had yet to travel. But I laughed and cried over every word. Upon reflection, it was Sheila’s pathos, her ability to hit a brick wall no matter which way she turned, that won me over immediately. Like, I could relate. It was around this time that I started to learn that people can come to the same conclusions through a variety of experiences that many would categorize as disparate. It also served as a primer of what not to do as a young woman growing into maturity. Sheila Levine impressed upon me the devastating pressures inflicted by society on all levels to keep women undeveloped, unthinking, unknowing and unaccomplished, in favor of one goal: to marry a man. Not the right man; just a man. And not for love, or any of those indescribable joys that make two people decide to spend the rest of their lives together. But for validation as a human being.

Sheila Levine decides on her thirtieth birthday that she is going to kill herself; the book is her suicide note, which moves from her childhood conditioning, through her experiences in college and as a young woman in New York until that fateful birthday, then switches into a real-time journal where Sheila plans her suicide and subsequent burial. After having little control over her life, Sheila will have it over her death. She buys everything from her tombstone and burial plot to the lavish underwear in which she wants to be found dead. She never bought underwear like that before; as she says, until that point, her concept of good underwear was stuff that still had elastic, didn’t have holes, and wasn’t stained from her period.

That is typical of Sheila; only when faced with death does she do something for herself that comes even remotely close to acknowledging her value as a human being. From square one, her one thought is to snag a man. Not in any black widow fashion, but in sheer desperation: everything she does is focused on that goal. Sex has no real pleasure for her; it is something you have to do so that he will like you. Her hopes of being swept off her feet die hard and early on; actually, how she feels about a guy is beside the point: it’s how he feels about her that really matters. Is he willing to marry her and make her a real person? This is a woman who would have hitched her wagon to a serial killer, if it meant that her mother could dance at her wedding.

Despite the straitened circumstances for women during the period in which Sheila Levine is written (it was first published in 1972, and takes place chiefly during the Sixties), Sheila does have her chances to grow, to learn, to explore, to develop as a human being, but they are all wasted in her desperation to meet a man. Her college career is a joke; she has no real idea of what she’s there to study, she just shows up because, as her mother constantly reminds her, it is important to find someone while at school, because once you leave, it gets harder and harder. Her attempts at a career are unfocused and half-hearted; she puts more effort into a hilariously disastrous Halloween party designed to attract a pool of eligible men. She goes to Europe, to the theater, works in political campaigns, not out of any interest or passion, but as vehicles toward achieving that one goal. Her self-esteem is below sea level, and the only people she seems capable of attracting are gay, both men and women. We watch Sheila’s hopes and dreams dry up with every attempt to make them a reality, but along the way, Sheila’s take on her problems and encounters leave you with a stitch in your side. The irony of the book is that this is a funny, genuine, long-suffering woman with an eye for the foibles of society, who is someone you would like to know on her own merits. We see Sheila’s worth, even though she doesn’t.

I wonder, in this hopeless age of “Bridezillas” and wedding cake bake-offs, if Sheila may be misinterpreted as a laugh at the expense of a woman’s desperation, rather than a heartbreakingly funny portrait of a woman bound by the chains of tradition, family oppression and gender bigotry. Perhaps Sheila can help us get back on the right track. We did it before. We can do it again.

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