Julie Phillips, the brilliant biographer behind last year’s NBCC winner James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice Sheldon, has been busy writing fabulous reviews and essays, but mostly they’ve been published in Dutch translation in a daily newspaper there. Lucky for us, she’s now put versions in English up at her site:
- "Mothers and Daughters on the Circle Line" (a review of Jeannette Winterson’s Stone Gods, Doris Lessing’s The Cleft, and Ninni Holmqvist’s The Unit: Almost any serious literary writer with a little fantasy is liable, at one time or another, to stray into genre territory. To scorn science fiction for its supposed lack of literary qualities is to ignore what it can do better than any other literature: explore alternatives, rethink relationships. Women especially need it. Women have reasons to want political change, while in space there’s plenty of room to start over.
- "Explorer, Archeologist, Librarian, Spy" (an essay about The Dangerous Book for Boys and The Daring Book for Girls): In fact, almost any of these activities could have been in the boys’ book, or vice versa. And that, it seems to me, is the real trouble: to put a fence around one set of things and mark it "boys," and another fence around "girls," may be restful for a while—and it will certainly sell more books. But there’s always going to be someone who doesn’t fit. And then what? "It’s not bad to say girls and boys are different," my husband commented. "But if you glorify or wallow in those differences, you’re in danger of undoing 40 years of feminist work."
- "Out of Milk? Live With It" (a review of Harvey Mansfield’s Manliness): It’s a sign of the need for a book like this that it’s been so popular, because there’s not much enlightenment to be gained from actually reading it. Between the brief definition of manliness at the beginning (aloofness, authority, “confidence in the face of risk.”) and its defense at the end, there lies, like the meat of an unappetizing sandwich, a long discussion of philosophy and literature that is vague, tedious, self-contradictory and occasionally wrong.
- "Beyond the Ball and Chain" (a review of Germaine Greer’s Shakespeare’s Wife): The roles of gadfly and Shakespeare scholar might seem difficult to combine, but the resourceful Greer has found a way. The wives of famous men, she points out, do not always receive kind treatment from posterity. Biographers prefer stories about an artist whose brilliance went unappreciated by a difficult or foolish spouse. So Greer—who is the kind of writer who thinks in disagreements—has decided to write a biography of her own. Her goal in “Shakespeare’s Wife” is to rehabilitate the much-maligned Ann Hathaway.
- "Jewish Detective Stories" (an interview with Michael Chabon and Daniel Mendelsohn — which yielded a shorter interview with Chabon for The Washington Post): What constitutes a cultural identity? Is it connected to home, to language, to being part of a group, to being on TV? Is it tied to history? Can history be rewritten? Novelist Michael Chabon and culture critic Daniel Mendelsohn have both published books in which they look at identity and its representation through the lens of an Eastern European Jewish heritage. In Amsterdam last week, the two friends agreed to a joint interview.