The Blog As Performance Art: Are Critics Cool with Us Now?

When did my blog become performance art? Not today; it was definitely not yesterday. The years have rolled by swiftly, like an interlude in To the Lighthouse, only with less glamour and sophistication – so much less.

Perhaps the performance art aspect began in 2012 when, annoyed by the glut of attacks on blogs by critics, editors, and writers who regarded book bloggers and Goodreads reviewers as amateur rivals from hell, I decided to fight back. Gently.

The word “gently” meant, for the most part, ignoring them. First, we were not necessarily reading the critics; second, we could not comprehend the oddity of a witch hunt launched upon their fellow readers; and third, we had no intention of competing with them. Heavens, I wrote my heart out almost every day, rapidly and often awkwardly, at a goofy (now defunct) blog. I sincerely doubt this blog (700 subscribers) had any effect on the future of criticism. The subtitle: “A BOOK BLOG.”

Though I do not write literary criticism, nobody can say I am not a friend of the book. I may not love every book, but I love plenty of them. Mostly I read books by the dead, who are never offended by what I say. But I soon learned that no hint of negative criticism went unpunished. Someone emailed me about the death of a favorite writer but then went on to deride my blog. I was devastated by the writer’s death but did consider the bearer of bad news fucked-up.

Sometimes writers “like” my reviews. Cool, cool! Another time a writer sent me a card. Cool, cool, cool, cool! but then it was a disappointment. Neither my husband nor I could decipher it but we thought we caught the word “mean.”

“Take it as a compliment,” Mr. Nemo said.

Well, the critics, writers, and editors have forgotten about blogs now – they have bigger things to worry about. Other social media have taken over and blogs are now “old-school.” And so we reside in peace together – at least I think we do.

Before I end this post, you will want to know what I am reading: Robert Graves’s The Reader over Your Shoulder: A Handbook for Writers of English Prose. Patricia T. O’Conner in the introduction calls this “the best book on writing ever published.” So far, it is very good indeed, and more about this later.

Happy Fourth of July! & Reading Elaine Dundy’s “The Dud Avocado”

Today many Americans will arrive at parks at dawn, having reserved a shelter if they’re smart or snagged a picnic table if they’re lucky. They will spend the day barbecuing chicken and eating potato salad, driving people crazy with their bad music, maybe taking a dip in the lake if they’re brave enough to face the pesticide run-off, or walking in the woods with their bird lists until the fireworks begin at 9:30 or 10.

No, I’m sorry, but I’m too tired to go. Wilted, rustling around in a tattered “Bookish” t-shirt nightgown and slippers, I plan to spend this very hot day alternately napping and reading Elaine Dundy’s witty novel, The Dud Avocado. I adore this smart little book! Published in 1958, it has been reissued by Virago and NYRB Classics, both heavy hitters in the reprint game. Dundy (1921-2008), an actress and writer, wrote brilliant comic dialogue, and her voice is slightly reminiscent of that of the witty Eve Babitz. Elaine Dundy, however, is more “relatable,” not quite as outlandish and “arty.”

I keep giggling at the antics of the quirky narrator, Sally Jay Gorce, an aspiring American actress in Paris who has thrown herself into the bohemian life. She even has a middle-aged lover, Teddy, Alfredo Ourselli Visconti, so she feels triumphantly that she has left behind the stuffy mores of women’s colleges. And she doesn’t consider herself a tourist until she runs into Larry, a handsome American actor she worked with in a stock company. This time around, Sally falls in love with him at first sight, but he is less impressed with her. She has dyed her hair pink and and happens to be wearing an evening gown in the morning (everything else is at the laundry). Larry lectures her on the perils of “going native” and then tells her about the the different types of tourists. Sally won’t admit she is one.

“….the last type is the Wild Cat. The I-am-a-fugitive-from-the-Convent-of-the-Sacred-Heart. Not that it’s ever really the case. Just seems so from the violence of the reaction. Anyhow it’s her first time free and her first time across and, by golly, she goes native in a way the natives never had the stamina to go. Some people think it’s those stand-up toilets they have here – you know, the ones with the iron footprints you’re supposed to straddle. After the shock of that kind of plumbing something snaps in the American girl and she’s off. The hell with all that, she figures. The desire to bathe somehow gets lost. The hell with all that, she figures. Then comes weird haircuts, weird hair-colors, weird clothes. Then comes drink and down, down, down. Dancing in the streets all night, braying at the moon, and waking up in a different bed every morning.”

Sally calls him a bastard and furiously goes on, “It’s a pretty safe bet I bathe about sixty times as often as you…” But then she remembers: “To accuse the American male of not bathing in Paris is merely to flatter him.”

Such a charming book. I hope you, too, have an entertaining book for the holiday. And don’t forget the bug spray if you go to the fireworks!

Happy Fourth of July!