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Author Archive: "Claire Dederer"

Report from the Front

Just to make things super-meta-confusing, today I'm including in my post a letter from my husband, Bruce Barcott, who is in Portland right now working on an article about a runner who's currently training at Nike. He spied on my new book at Powell's. This is what writers do: we spy on each other's books, check placement, surreptitiously move them to a better location.

If you are a writer and you are not doing these things for your friends or for writers you admire, you should start immediately. It means you're a nice person. The novelist Jonathan Evison says every day he does one thing for another writer before he does something for himself. And everyone, I mean everyone, loves that guy.

Anyhow, Bruce writes from Portland:

Yesterday: Toggling between two extremes of Portland, the clean superfit world of the Nike World Headquarters campus (like a really fancy college campus, for athletes and shoe designers), and the "Dream of the 90s" funkiness of Powell's and the Pearl. One block from Powell's I swear I saw a couple that


Intolerable Yoga

Yoga books, in general, are intolerable.

It's January, the month when yoga classes fill up with people trying something new. Often they're nervous. They're not sure exactly what they're doing. And they're not alone. We, the people who do yoga, are practicing an incredibly esoteric spiritual system, and often we're practicing it at, of all places, the gym. Clearly we could use a little background information. We need yoga books.

Here's the problem: Most yoga books stink. They are chock-full of paths and intentions and destinies. They are crammed with horrible words like holistic and mantra. You can practically feel their authors glowing with smugness. I once read a yoga book so replete with self-congratulation and platitudes that it made me quit yoga for a month. I refused to be party to a culture that could give rise to such a document.

There are a few tolerable yoga books out there in the lotus-festooned rubble.

Awakening the Spine, by a wiry Italian crone named Vanda Scaravelli, is an eccentric little book beloved by yoga teachers. Scaravelli is a bossy grandma, ...

Compensating Narcissists

I once heard someone described as a "compensating narcissist." The speaker meant that the person in question was a total narcissist, but kept trying to make up for it by showing an interest in others.

So it is with memoirs. I think they work best by compensating a bit. By being ostensibly about something outside of the writer. The memoir, I think, functions best in disguise. Here are some of my favorite memoirs, all of which work on this model:

  • Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. Ostensibly about soccer but really about Nick Hornby.
  • The Importance of Music to Girls by Lavinia Greenlaw. Ostensibly about music but really about Lavinia Greenlaw.
  • About Alice by Calvin Trillin. A book by a man about his wife which turns out really to be about the man.

But my favorite of this genre is Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer. Sometimes I suspect this might be ...

The Memoir

So, I got most of my Portland issues out of my system yesterday. Today, by God, the blogging begins in earnest! I'm here to talk about, among other things, The Memoir. With capital letters, just so. My memoir, Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses, came out in December. I will be reading from it at Powell's on January 28.

More specifically, I'm interested in the memoir of the ordinary person. I wrote one of those. It would be hard to imagine a more ordinary ordinary person than myself. (Though one of my feet is notably bigger than the other.) So I have spent a lot of time thinking about this genre.

Why do we read such books? For the same reason we read novels, or cookbooks, or ethnographies: Because we are nosy about how other people live.

Memoirs are excellent delivery vehicles for news of everyday life. We want to know what other people eat for dinner (pace Laurie Colwin's

Good Morning, Portland!

Good morning, Portland! Up here in Seattle, we... well, we hate you. We hate you for being cooler than us, and for having better restaurants. We hate you because, while we were getting all overexcited during the tech boom and building terrible, terrible buildings, you were passing ordinances that basically turned your city into Sweden. Convenient transit. Nice-looking young folk in dun-colored clothing. Bikes everywhere. You probably get paid to have babies in Portland. Do you? Of course you do. And I hate you for it. I when I say "hate," I guess I mean "love." Sometimes that happens.

Here in Seattle, we believed in capitalism for years and years, even though we pretended it wasn't capitalism. We pretended it was a revolution. The whole city was obsessed with making money. Meanwhile, you guys were creating a tiny pinko dream state. Sigh. As far as I can tell, nobody in Portland actually goes to work. They browse record bins. They mulch. And they hang around at Powell's. That's why I love to visit Portland. I can immerse myself in your strange atmosphere of industrious leisure.

Here's ...

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