So the other day at the pool, where I now live because I have a kid on the swim team, a woman I know came up to me and said, “I just finished reading this book about sex, drugs, filth, bad behavior, women with loose morals, alcoholism, and debauchery and I thought about you THE WHOLE TIME!!”
I get that a lot.
Actually, what I usually get is more along the lines of, “What are you reading these days?” Because I teach English and am a nerd, people expect that I’ll be reading something of literary merit and that they can display without shame poolside or at the beach.
I am getting to be an excellent liar.
The answer I’m giving most often these days is Little Bee by Chris Cleave, which I did just finish and which was truly excellent and which anyone should be hugely proud to display poolside, at the beach, in a box, on a fox, in a car, in the bar, on a train, in the rain. The only vaguely negative comment I can make about this novel is that page after page it is a constant reminder that, as American consumers of mostly American news*, it’s shocking how little we demand of our media in terms of world coverage. We’d all be better, though probably angrier and often sadder, people if we bore more close witness to the utterly unbelievable – and I use that word in its literal and non hyperbolic sense – shit that goes down on a daily basis in other parts of the world. In Little Bee Cleave writes two simultaneous first person narratives, one an adolescent African young woman and one a 30 something maybe 40 something chic literati British mummy type. That he pulled the narratives off so seamlessly is awe-inspiring. That he did it in the context of a story so full of beauty and pain and surprise is a gift to the reader.
The truth is that what I’m about to read is another Chelsea Handler book, but nobody whose kid might end up in my English class next year wants to hear that. Of course, the woman who came up to me at the pool was talking about Handler’s My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands, which I just wrote about, and her son may very well end up in my class next year. HA!
*Fox is not news, MSNBC is not news, and I was giving CNN a pass until last week when I saw that they aired a “Last Days of Michael Jackson” special, causing me to revoke said pass and therefore, CNN is not news.