Have You Read Publishers Weekly’s “Best of”? & Musings on #MeToo

It is  too early for us readers to contemplate the Best Books of the Year, but it is not too early for booksellers.  As a bookstore groupie I pored over The Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2018, which will undoubtedly be in bookstores this Christmas. I’ve read only one:  Rena Rossner’s The Sisters of the Winter Wood, a clever retelling of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market.

So let me now promote my own favorite book of the year:

 Conscience by Alice Mattison.  Told from three points-of-view, this counter-culture classic focuses on the consequences of reading, or rereading, a Vietnam-era novel about a terrorist.  Olive Grossman, a biographer of women writers, has agreed to write an introduction to a new edition of Bright Morning of Pain, which was based on the life of Olive’s best friend, Helen, a conscience-stricken anti-war activist who became a terrorist and died in a robbery.  Olive’s husband Griff, an African-American high-school principal, is portrayed in the novel as a militant with a gun. (Both Olive and Griff knew the author.)  Griff reads the novel for the first time, and the circle of readers opens when Griff leaves the book in the office of the director of a drop-in center.  Complicated politics, complicated emotions.  Fascinating, labyrinthine, and psychologically pitch-perfect.  And here is a link to an excellent review in The Washington Post.


Hollywood actresses are not my role models, but the #MeToo movement has had a powerful  impact on society.  Harvey Weinberg is gone, whoever he was, and several other entertainment icons.

But the trickle-down effect has triggered hysteria among women who complain of having been touched on the butt in bars.  Are we 19th-century women on the fainting couch?

Sarah Silverman and Louis C.K.

The comedian Sarah Silverman has enraged both women and men by talking about her friendship with Louis C.K., a comedian accused of sexual harassment and misconduct.   This week on Howard Stern’s SiriusXM show she said, “I’ve known Louis forever, I’m not making excuses for him, so please don’t take this that way.  We are peers. We are equals. When we were kids, and he asked if he could masturbate in front of me, sometimes I’d go, ‘Fuck yeah I want to see that!’”

If you are outraged, don’t read on.  Because Kat Rosenfeld at Tablet writes,

What Silverman’s critics condemn as “muddying the waters” might better be described as a useful reintroduction into the public realm of a forgotten version of femininity: one in which a man asks a woman, who is also a colleague, if he can masturbate in front of her, and her response is not horrified silence or reluctant assent, but an enthusiastic yes (or “fuck yeah”). …She made a choice, as was her right—and it should continue to be her right to do so, even if her choices are not ones that someone else might prefer, and even if they are inconvenient to certain facile narratives about How All Women Are.

That’s a powerful thing in a year where second-wave notions of resilient womanhood have been eclipsed by a more fearful, breakable brand of femininity. The new story, told in Twitter moments and viral videos, is that women are scared—and should be, considering how fragile they are. Teetering on the precipice of trauma, trapped at the wrong end of a power dynamic that puts them at a permanent disadvantage, unable to advocate for themselves, women are always on the verge of being victimized—not just by rape and assault, but by nonconsensual ghosting and fake male feminists and dates that just don’t go as they’d hoped.

I don’t know what “nonconsensual ghosting” is–thank God for that!

10 thoughts on “Have You Read Publishers Weekly’s “Best of”? & Musings on #MeToo”

  1. I do not read enough new books to have anything like an intelligent opinion as to what the best, or even my favorite books of the year are. I did read Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now which I suspect will be hailed as a great one by the humanist commentary for years to come.

    Sarah Silverman is indeed willing to go out of the box and ruffle feathers. That is generally a good thing.

    1. Yes, good for Silverman and her outrageousness! It’s difficult for me to get my head around a society where women read SM romances like “50 Shades of Grey” and also call themselves “survivors” of harassment, even when it consists of a drunk having kissed them in a bar ! Personally I think “50 Shades” is a symbol of the decline of the Women’s Movement. But they are both parts of a culture where women deem themselves weak.

  2. “Can I masturbate in front of you.”
    “Sorry. I didn’t know it was my turn.”

    -variation on a very old joke.

  3. I’m very stubborn about waiting until the end of the year, but I do think your Mattison pick sounds great. I have her well represented on my TBR but the only one I’ve actually read is The Kite and the String, about writing, which is really really good. I’ll have a look for this one!

    1. Yes, it’s more fun at the end of the year. Otherwise we’re just selling Christmas shopping.
      I love this book by Mattison, but it got a bad review in The New York Times and sometimes that kills a book.

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