May 11th, 2017

The Slip by Mark Sampson

This is an exciting spring at my house–my book came out in March and now, on May 20, my husband Mark Sampson‘s third novel The Slip will be published by Dundurn Press. All the reviews–and there have already been some great ones in Publishers Weekly, Quill and Quire, and more–agree that it is funny and it really is, a fast and absurd but also somehow realistic take on how fast we can f up our lives in this age of the internet. I *could* be a little biased but with the above reviews on my side, I really don’t think I am. You should read it–in 9 more days!! And then you should come to the launch party on May 31, 6pm at Ben McNally Books, which promises to be a lot of fun!

Also nice, for the first time since we’ve met, Mark and I will have books out in the same season, which makes it a little easier for us to do events together. We’re starting out with Pongapalooza on May 16, where we will each captain ping-pong teams and attempt to lead them to victory in a bitter marital rivalry (this is a fundraiser for First Book Canada, actually). Then I’m taking a little breather from events but when we are out east, ostensibly on summer vacation, we’ll be doing at least one, reading at the Confederation Library in Charlottetown the evening of June 29, with a few more events possibly to come.

But my real point here is, yay Mark!

August 10th, 2015

Three years married

Tomorrow is my third wedding anniversary (the traditionally gift for the third anniversary is leather, which strikes me as very, very weird). My original plan for this post was an amusing antipode of the post about things I liked about being single. The planned post was to include things like always being able to taste two entrees in a restaurant and having someone to post-mortem a party with on the way home. These are true things and I do enjoy them, but most of the post was rather glib.

It’s been a rough summer for marriages in my world, or maybe I’m just attuned to it right now for some reason. I feel like I’ve been hearing a lot of people whose marriages are ending or are at least pretty troubled, and that makes me feel like I do not want to write the glib post after all.

So instead, here’s what I answered when a friend asked me how I “knew” Mark was the one. In truth, I don’t think you ever know world-without-end for-sure that someone is your forever partner–the best you can hope for is a strong lead and the will to work on making it stronger. But my first clue on this was some unimportant phone call very early on in our dating life. I forget what we were talking about, making plans to get together most likely, but when I hung up I realized something I had said could be interpreted two ways: the innocuous way I meant it, and another meaner or offensive way (I honestly don’t remember) that I had not thought of at all. I stood there staring at the phone, wondering if I should call him back or whether that would seem crazy, and then I decided it was ok to leave it alone for now. Either Mark would assume the best (correct) interpretation or he would ask me about it; either way, we would work it out. I remember being surprised at myself for thinking this–if you know my panicky, neurotic self, you’ll know this kind of confidence is unlike me–but also being quite certain I was right. And I was–Mark was completely unperturbed by my gaffe.

And that’s, I think, the best-case scenario for being in love–the confidence that you can work things out with your beloved, whatever those things might be. That’s why I think the old marital-advice line “never go to bed angry” is bullsh*t–staying up and hysterically going over the same issues endlessly when I’m too exhausted to think is not productive. Why not just get some sleep and talk when we’re calm? Why not have faith in the person I love, and in myself, that we will work things out eventually? There’s no deadline, because we are committed to each other for the long haul–forever.

I used to feel weird about kissing Mark goodnight when I was mad at him, but then I thought that’s crazy–one argument does not negate my love for him, or my love of kissing him goodnight. The kiss is a signal towards future Mark and Rebecca, the ones that are past the argument and are back to being our happy selves.

And that faith, in us, in our future together, is my favourite thing about being married. Even better than having someone to lean on while I try to get a pebble out of my shoe in the middle of the sidewalk, or someone who remembers to warn me that aioli is actually mayonnaise.

July 11th, 2015

Things I miss about being single

One month from today I will have been married to Mark for three years, and on that date I’ll probably post something about how much I love being married to Mark, and Mark in general. And I do–it’s almost unbearably cliche to say it, but he is actually the best thing that every happened to me. I’ll try to make an interesting list of reasons why that is the case, but of course there are some things I miss about my pre-Mark life so, one month ahead of that post, here’s this one:

–dumping my clean laundry on the couch and picking items to wear from it day by day until it reaches a manageable level to fold and put away
–always knowing how much cereal is left in the box
–being able to schedule events easily–if someone asked me if I wanted to see a movie on Saturday, I would think for a minute if I had any plans, then agree. It’s harder to remember plans someone else made and harder still to guess what they might be hoping for or planning but not yet mentioned. Plus, hooking up with someone romantically effectively doubles your social circle, because you get his too. I quite like all of Mark’s peeps, but there’s simply a lot more people to see now.
–sleeping like a starfish
–stirfried eggs, which Mark does not believe is a food, but I used to eat several times a week.
–singing myself to sleep, which I used to do when I had insomnia, but I figure is rude if there’s someone else in the bed.
–that wildly over-optimistic excitement of walking into a party or event and wondering if tonight I would meet “the guy”
–the way my friends’ boyfriends would be almost paternally nice to me as a way of making points with their girlfriends. Like fixing stuff around my place and driving me to stuff. I knew it was sad because I was the loser single friend, but it was still kind of adorable.
–no one knew how many popsicles I ate
–going to gym, then to bed without showering

May 15th, 2014

A short play

Husband: Yes.
Wife: …
H: …
W: Was that just a guess?
H: Was what a guess?
W: “Yes.”
H: It was an answer?
W: To what?
H: Your question?
W: …
H: Did you ask me a question?
W: No.
H: Ok, perfect. I withdraw my answer.

Note: some of the participants may have been asleep for portions of this performance.

May 16th, 2013

Dumb Things People Say to Newlyweds

I wrote that post about dumb things people say to single women a while back with great joy–so many years of minor suffering exposed. I have been a married woman a comparatively brief amount of time, but I’m already finding that just because I have conformed to one set of societal expectations (getting married) doesn’t really keep people from picking on me. I think there’s probably a category of inane, mildly offensive chatter for every state of being–people can’t help themselves. My brief experience of marriage suggests single people get more obnoxiousness from the gadflies, but it hardly stops after the wedding ceremony.

Since I only have 9 months of newlywedded bliss to draw on, I’ve borrowed a few of these from friends…

Don’t get too used to…
I’ve heard this one applied to pretty everything nice about my husband. From remembering special occasions to simply doing his share of the household chores, apparently it’s all a show and Mark is on a one-way track to slothdom, soon to completely abandon his thoughtfulness in favour of televised sports and being a big jerk. It’s tempting to suggest that people who say this sort of thing are stuck in unhappy marriages and want me to get on the misery boat too–but I suspect some of them of being fairly fond of their spouses. I think this might be part of our weird societal fixation on monogamy–it’s supposed to be all anyone strives towards, but also a ball and chain that everyone resents. Weird Protestant work-ethic thing here?

Best thing to say to someone you like: “Shh–let me enjoy it while I can!”
Best thing to say to someone you don’t like: (with lip trembling, if possible) “Oh…no…I had no idea. I’ve made a terrible mistake.”

Now you can finally let yourself go!

It is relaxing to know your partner no longer cares if you wear yoga pants when not doing yoga, but we had that revelation years ago. I think this comment, as applied to women, is kinda moot–the standards set in romantic comedies and magazines for a young(ish) woman presenting herself on the dating market are so irrationally high–perfect skin, perfect BMI, perfect hair, manicure, plucked eyebrows, all manner of waxing, hours of shopping for a dress that you’ll be embarrassed if you wear at two events too close to each other–that “letting yourself go” means just accepting normal human flaws that people with real lives deal with anyway, single or married. My friend, who is very beautiful, got this comment after eating a cookie. ONE cookie.

Best thing to say to someone you like: Ok.

Best thing to say to someone you don’t like: Ok. [I see no reason to prolong this inane conversation, no matter how much you like or dislike the speaker.]

You must be so happy not to be dating anymore.

I have probably mentioned before, but folks who hate dating are not great dates–especially if they announce it at the beginning of dinner. Yes, it’s hard to leave the house in your nicest clothes knowing you could spend the rest of the evening hearing about dice-related games, a pitch for real estate, or why your date doesn’t really want to be there. But a certain amount of hopefulness and faith in mankind is necessary to find a life-partner, and also just generally not to be an awful person to be around. I liked dating–new people, new conversations, new restaurants. I liked dating especially after I met my husband, but really if you don’t enjoy an hour or two of chat with a person who professes to like you, what’s the point?

Best thing to say to someone you like: I liked dating; what don’t you like about it?

Best thing to say to someone you don’t like: No, I pine for it actually.

Babies? Babies! BABIES BABIES BABIES BABIES!

Once you’re married, people get *very* eager to see you move on to the next obvious life phase on their checklists. To a certain degree, I get it. If you (and by “you,” I mean anyone I know) said you were going to make a tiny adorable person, and then maybe let me play with said person, I would be happy and encourage you to proceed with this excellent plan. But I wouldn’t *instigate* the plan, no matter how cute I thought your offspring might be. There are so many reasons someone might not like to discuss this issue, from infertility to financial or psychological issues making it not the best time to produce new infants, to “I’m pregnant right now but not telling yet.” There’s just no reason to introduce potential awkwardness like this unless you are *very* close to the potential parent in question. And I have it on good authority from moms I know that even *having* a baby does not eliminate this question from common conversation; people just move on to asking when you’ll have your second, and so on until basically menopause. At least it ends there for parents; for those who remain childless, at menopause I hear people just start asking about adoption.

Best thing to say to someone you like: We’ll see (this is a minor fudge if you in fact already know the answer; what you actually mean is “you’ll see” but that sounds kinda mean).

Best thing to say to someone you don’t like: Whatever happens, I’ll be sure to keep you posted on this. (Especially hilarious if your questioner is someone you barely know, which is very very often the case.) I’ve also heard suggested, “Well, for now we’re happy just having recreational sex,” but there’s probably no one I’d want to embarrass that much and anyway I don’t have the stones to say it.

Where’s your spouse tonight?

Married people are varying degrees of joined at the hip: some have tonnes of interests they can share with their spouses, others are happy with “being married” as their only shared interest. Everyone who actually lives in society knows this, but somehow when you see your married friend standing at a party with no spouse in sight, it’s the first thing you ask about. I know, I’ve done it, and continue to accidentally do even as I insist that I have no idea what Mark is up to some nights and why is everybody asking me?

Best answer for someone you like: I guess, tell them if you know, and your spouse isn’t in the witness-protection program or at a strip-club or something.

Best answer for someone you don’t like: Oh my god, ack, I thought he was right over there and now he’s GONE. (Parents spring this one on me all the time when I ask about the whereabouts of their kids, but I think babysitting arrangements are way more normal to ask about than the movements of an autonomous adult! To each, their own, I guess….)

So, how’s married life?

This is the sweetest, most innocent question of all the annoying questions on this list. You spend months or a year (or many years) getting ready for your wedding, talking about plans and ideas and nerves, of course people are going to want to know how it all turned out. Of course, this question is impossible to answer–life is always a million things at once. I have learned to say, to anyone, “I like it–I think we made the right choice.” Whether I love them or hate them, most people are happy with this answer–people love love and happiness makes them happy…most of the time!

~~~

Anyone else want to offer up anything terrible said to a newlywed, either to you or by you or within your hearing?

April 15th, 2013

Ikea Report: Lessons and Purchases

So if you’re friends with me on Facebook or Twitter, you know I spent last week counting down to a trip to Ikea. Due to logistical (it’s far away and awkward on transit, plus I hate driving) and practical (we don’t actually need that much stuff) reasons, I haven’t been in two years, but it’s come to a point that there were a lot of gaps in the household, and I was very excited to go fill them. Due to my incessant posting, a few people asked me to report on how it went. I have no way of knowing if they were being sarcastic or not, but here we go.

Lessons Learned

1. You can’t get stressed about everything.
I can’t recall how much I’ve complained about it here, but my job has been very stressful since oh, the end of November. Boo. It’s taken a toll on me, but the upside is I no longer have the energy to get stressed about things outside of work that would normally bother me . When the major north-south artery in the city was closed for maintenance, we planned to take the obvious alternative, and when the entrance to *that* was closed, we took Yonge Street, which is about as dumb as trying to drive 15km through parking lots. The waste of time, and the waste of my husband’s patience (we split down gender essentialist lines regarding Ikea [only–well, also musicals] and I was very worried he would lose interest in the whole venture before we’d purchased anything) would normally have agitated me greatly. But at least no one was snapping at me, or asking me to check every line break in the chapter for the 3rd time. So I just rode it out, rather peacefully (for me).

2. Without context, the difference between bad parenting and a bad day is very hard to see. Why not just assume the best of people?
Ikea is filled with children and the children, not being major stakeholders in couch-purchasing, are beserk. It was also a rainy Saturday and I thought perhaps a few families were there as a last resort. Other than a few free-range children in the cafeteria who threatened to send my tray into my chest, most of the kids there were content to bother each other or their folks, not strangers, and some were really cute. And really, if you’re easily irritated by cranky children misbehaving, you don’t really belong at Ikea.

3. Some Ikea stuff is not all that.
When I was younger, I was quite enamoured at how Ikea stuff all matched, and how I could afford it all. I thought people who were snobby about particle board and flimsiness or some aesthetic criteria I didn’t care about were, well, snobs. I still basically think that–Ikea is good enough for “all normal purposes” as they say, and if my Billy bookcase isn’t particularly nice, it isn’t particularly ugly, either. But for the first time, I did see some ugly things at Ikea this trip, though. I’m not sure whether their stuff is getting less nice, or this is just something that happens to women in their mid-thirties.

4. If something comes with sauce, and you ask for it without sauce, it won’t be good.
I learn this lesson over and over, and always forget. I got the cafeteria salmon without hollandaise because, in case you don’t know. hollandaise is basically stealthy mayonnaise, a substance I loathe (other things that are secretly mayonnaise include: aioli, tartar sauce, ranch dressing, Russian dressing, the pink stuff in spicy maki rolls, and certain brands of Caesar dressing. Mayonnaise is horribly insidious, and can sneak in anywhere.) Anyway, the salmon was super-dry, but the Daim cake made up for it, though it’s been renamed something super-literal like “almond buttercream biscuit cake.” I thought perhaps I would learn to make it, I love it so much, but no dice–if you go to the link above, you’ll see Daim cake is actually made out of Daims. Which is not a thing, as far as I know. So…no.

Items Purchased

Kay, enough boring lessons–here’s what we bought.

1) A purple lampshade for the Not lamp I purchased at a Montreal Ikea in the late 1990s, whose shade smashed when I knocked it over last week. The new shade is preventing the living room from being an uninhabitable blinding horrible place, but it looks weird on the base and is going to get replaced as soon as I gather strength. Small fail. $9.

2) A geometric patterned brown doormat. Looks perfect in front of the door, goes well with the hardwood, kitten adores it and rolls on her back on it, kicking her tiny feet (this was part of the plan). Big win. $40.

3) Fuzzy blue mat that goes in the middle of my office for no discernible reason except that I liked it and it was cheap. Cats not too interested, but looks reasonably nice in my office. Small win. $10.

4) Striped turquoise napkins. Because everyone needs napkins, right? Haven’t used them yet. $4.

5) Malm nightstand. In a somewhat sad metaphor, both my husband and I entered our marriage with only one nightstand each. His is from Ikea, a Hemnes in chestnut, a few years old. Mine was from my parents’ basement, so I figured I’d discard it and match up with him. Only Ikea has discontinued that chestnut colour in the Hemnes line, or maybe everywhere. It comes in grey, blue, red, and white–no actual natural-looking woods anymore. This was the point in the expedition when I had been there for a while and was getting tired and it seemed to matter a LOT that I couldn’t buy that matching nightstand. I wandered around in circles for a while, hunting, as if perhaps the chestnut nightstand was hiding. I was super-sad. Then I came to my senses, and got on with my life. I wound up with a birch Malm, which matches my bureau. Haven’t put it together yet, so who knows how this story ends. $69.

6) Laundry hamper on wheels, like all the cool university students in our building have. Again, not yet assembled, but I’m really hopeful about this one. $35.

When we got home, we collapsed on the couch and popped in a *30 Rock* DVD–surprise, it was the Ikea episode where Liz and Chris get into a fight there. We congratulated each other on our non-fightingness, and whiled away the evening in the gentle glow of our modest purchases.

February 14th, 2013

Fan letter to Brooke Fraser

Dear Brooke Fraser,

I am writing to let you know that when my husband and I got married on August 11, 2012, your song Something in the Water was our recessional. We had a really hard time choosing wedding music, but as soon as I heard this song I knew it was perfect (my husband is a Brooke Fraser fan and introduced me to it). It’s such a joyous, celebratory, *rising* song that I felt it was perfect for the moment of finally being married, after all the solemn, ceremonial stuff was done.

For weeks before the wedding, I guess I was having a reoccurring dream about this song and the wedding, but for some reason I never quite processed it as a dream. It was just an image I had in my head that when we were pronounced husband and wife, we would turn to the guests, “Something in the Water” would come on, and everyone would start dancing. It’s a very dancable song!

I guess I was stressed before the wedding, because this image never came to the level of conscious thought, but instead just became my version of the plan. I never questioned how realistic it was to expect 80 people to spontaneously start dancing without me asking them to (or even if I did). I think in the moment, I realized that it had been a dream and no one knew about the dancing but me, but I had my heart set on it by that point–I danced anyway! One of the guests said I was the happiest bride she’d ever seen. Probably lots of brides get told that, but she is a professional wedding photographer and probably has been to a lot of weddings. And I was really really happy–still am!

Anyway, I just wanted to share that silly story to let me know how joyful and inspiring I found “Something in the Water” and to thank you for making it. And to wish you a happy Valentine’s Day!

All best,
Rebecca

Yay!

Yay!

PS–One of my new year’s resolutions was to write fan letters to artists I’m grateful to and thank them for their work. This is the first–hopefully more to come soon!

February 5th, 2013

Dumb Things People Say to Single Women

I’ve been married nearly 6 months now, and apparently starting to lose my single-girl cred. When I try to empathize with or add to stories of single life, I’ve been getting some as-if-you-know eye-rolls. This sucks, because I lived alone for 10 years, so I know a little about that lifestyle. Plus, when I actually was single, I tried to avoid too much complaining about weird comments people made to me. I didn’t want it to come off as  sour grapes. It wasn’t–by and large I enjoyed my life then, but not some of the commentary folks offered thereof. Now I wish I’d spouted off more when it was appropriate. Our society seems to give some sort of craziness license when it comes to talking to single women–you can say whatever you want to them, apparently, without worrying about coming across as mean, stupid, or a lunatic. Here is a small sampling of things said to me *in a friendly manner* when I was uncoupled:

Why don’t you have a boyfriend?
What do you eat?
How are you going to get home?
Don’t you want to get married?
You miss out on so much when you don’t have a partner–movies, parties, dinners…
It’s so hard to fall asleep alone, isn’t it?
You must hate weddings.

Oh, my gosh–I’m annoyed just typing. But I do understand that no one (almost) meant to me feel like a loser/zoo animal with these questions, so in case you are someone who wondered these things, I’ll try to answer below. And in case you are someone who gets these sorts of queries/comments, I’ll offer the best answers I came up with in my many single years–though honestly, I’m still at a loss for some of these.

Why don’t you have a boyfriend?
If I knew, don’t you think I would’ve worked on that issue? Hahaha! I know mainly folks meant the question rhetorically, as in, “You are so great, so what’s going on here?” But they did leave an awkward awkward non-rhetorical pause after the question mark, leaving me to suspect that beneath their so-called praise they suspected I was secretly spitting on my dates or poking them sticks or swearing celibacy or something else deliberate to drive them away. There is NO good answer to this question most of the time, and even when there is, it’s usually too personal to answer at a dinner party (eg., you’re not supposed to date in the first months of sobriety). But…
Best answer for someone you like: “Well, some people win the lottery a little earlier than others.”
Best answer for someone you don’t like: “I guess there’s something really wrong with me.” or “I prefer sleeping around, actually.”

What do you eat?
This question and its variants is surprisingly popular, which lead me, in harsh moments, to believe that many people equate being uncoupled in adulthood with being brain-damaged. Seriously, I know lots of people live in the ideal recipe-size of 4-person households, but surely people don’t ask this questions of childless couples, families of 3 or 5, etc? Do they really think lack of romance makes one unable to do fractions? Or order in? Or make a salad? Or eat leftovers?
Best answer for someone you like: “Whatever I want!”
Best answer for someone you don’t like: “I usually just have a fistful of cereal and cry myself to sleep in the bathtub.”

How are you going to get home?
Most of the questions here are just silly and don’t bug me, but this one, I’m still holding a grudge about in a couple cases. As a single female dependent on public transit, I considered myself responsible for myself, and I never made plans I knew I couldn’t get home from safely. I knew TTC routes, and whether I could afford a cab. If I understood the situation to be unavoidably dangerous (very very rare in Toronto) I simply didn’t attend. People casually asking if I knew how I was getting home–fine, that’s just thoughtful. Asking more than once, looking doubtful, implying that I don’t know how to transport myself safely around town–problematic.

I get more het up about this question when the asker implies I’m unsafe AND s/he is not going to do anything about it. For some, single women deserve to be unsafe, apparently. My brother always walks me to my streetcar stop and waits with me if it’s late, behaviour I find unnecessary but very sweet. It’s less sweet to make a fuss about me walking alone and then shut the door behind me! “Too bad you’re going to get mugged” seems to be the message there. Sob story: once I was walking home with a guy I thought was a friend and as we approached Carre St-Louis, he told me how unsafe he thought it was and how he always arranged his schedule to walk his girlfriend home through it if she was working late. I thought this was a long preamble to offering to walk to the far side of the park with me, but he simply bade me good night on the near side and walked off. After all these years, I’ve forgiven him, but barely.
Best answer for someone you like: “I know my way around; I’m pretty smart, you know.”
Best answer for someone you don’t like: “I have no idea. Could you walk/drive me?”

Don’t you hate weddings/talking about weddings/happy couples?
Seriously, the single woman=psycho shrew construction could not be more offensive. Even if said in a sympathetic tone of voice, this question still implies that to be single is to be so unhappy as to despise the happiness of others: nice. Yes, it’s classy to not talk *constantly* about one’s wedding planning to those who aren’t super-interested (how’d I do on that front, friends? I really tried!) But still, not being able to muster up a little proxy joy for dear friends’ celebrations seems awfully cold.
Best answer for someone you like: “Of course not. If I care about you, I want to hear about what makes you happy.”
Best answer for someone you don’t like: “Absolutely. Let’s just sit in silence for a while.”

Wow, this post is over 1000 words–guess I have some pent-up rage there… I didn’t even get through all my questions. I should try to put this stuff behind me, but not entirely–I think forgetting how it feels is where a lot of these dunderheaded comments come from. Empathy, people–it’s the only way!

Anyone got any single-girl (or guy) crazy comments you’d care to share?

January 16th, 2013

Cohabitational Reading Challenge: The Information: Update

I’m on a break from Mr. Amis right now, due to pressing book-club committments, but I’m already about 2/3 of the way through *The Information* and finding it as good as I remembered. Better, even, because now I understand a great deal more. Amis compares impotency with trying to put an oyster in a parking metre, and compares *that* with Caussabon having sex with Dorothea. I laughed until I choked, which I’m almost positive I didn’t do at 18, not least because I hadn’t read *Middlemarch* yet. The nice thing about Amis, however, is that despite his smarty-smart pants-ness, he still provides a layer of the book that’s for everyone. Well, everyone but prudish teenagers, I guess, can laugh at the oyster/parking metre thing.

But actually, I’m feeling increasingly that the book’s target market is *me*, and not in comforting way. The book is very hard on the posturing and entitlement on the minor writer–“such people and their delusions of grander need to be put in their place” is the message I’m taking home. Richard has now signed his book with an independent American press with no advance $$, and has accompanied Gwynn on a book tour. Partly, Richard is writing a grudging profile of Gwynn for a large magazine and a large sum of money. Partly, he’s attempting to publicize his own book, and that’s of course going spectacularly badly. I recognize all the worst moments–sitting alone at the signing table heaped with your books while another author is surrounded by admirers; being forced to listen to lunatics at literary events because they’re the only one interested in speaking to me; carrying a heavy sack of my books to a sales event, only to have to lug them all home again.

Poor Richard. But also, 15 years later, poor *everybody*–at least in this country. If only Amis could’ve seen what was coming for the literary world–there are so very few mega-successes now, so many of us are comfortable with the idea that we can’t sit in our home offices dreaming all day, so much of a writer’s time is spent earning money often in non-literary ways, that Richard’s goals kinda do seem entitled, selfish, naive.

But, um, this would all be so much more poignant if Amis weren’t one of the few writers in the world that *does* fly first class, and never gets ignored at parties. Is this novel a parody of *himself*? My mother’s theory was that Amis saw Richard as himself if everything had gone wrong instead of right, as it actually did go. I now wonder if Amis isn’t supposed to be *Gwynn.* And how much less funny it is then.

I almost never do this, this decoding of the author’s secret self in the novel, but *The Information* almost begs it–too much of the author tour in the US rings like notebook observations of a stranger in a strange land himself.

In the end (or 2/3s, whatever), I don’t care who is supposed to be whom, orif this book is mean or anything, because it is SO funny, well observed, and gorgeously written. I’m pretty sure I don’t want Mr. Amis to be my friend, but he’s probably not interested in that position anyway.

I’m off to read Edgar Allen Poe for a few days, back at Amis next week. In the meantime, Mark’s farther ahead and probably will be finishing up soon.

And yes, it has been delightful reading the funny bits aloud to each other. The Cohabitational Reading Challenge is one of our better ideas, actually.

January 8th, 2013

Cohabitational Reading Project 2: The Information, by Martin Amis

Longtime readers will recall that after we moved in together, my now-husband and I thought it might be charming to read the same book at the same time–dinner table and long drive conversation fodder. We also thought it would be cool to revisit books we had read separately in our unformed youth, the reassess their merits in the cold hard light of maturity (ha!)

The first read was A Prayer for Owen Meaney last summer. This winter’s read is The Information by Martin Amis.

Some background: I first read the book as an 18-year-old naif on my first (and so far only) trip to Europe, pretty shortly after it came out. Like anything cool I read in those days, a member of my family had hand-picked it for me–in this case, my younger brother, though my mom ended up reading it too so we could all discuss. Making the original read “cohabitational,” too, though I was technically on another continent for a chunk of it.

Reading the first few chapters, I am stunned at how much I liked the both in my naif-hood–how did I even know what was going on? This is an extremely cynical, caustic book, and if you think I’m saccharine now, you should’ve seen me on that art-student trip I’d waitressed so many hours for, off to see instructive European art and not drink any alcohol or talk to strangers.

*The Information*’s protagonist is Richard Tull, a novelist with 2 published novels behind him and 3.5 unpublished. He also works at a vanity press 1 day a week, and is an indifferent husband to Gina and father to small twin boys Marius and Marco. He’s also a terrible person, constantly drunk, taking any drug he can find, financially dependent on his wife, adultrous, and mean. His “oldest and stupidest friend,” Gwynn has in the past few years decided he wants to be a novelist too, and been monstrously successful at it.

Richard’s failure as a writer coupled with Gwynn’s success coupled with Richard’s general loathesomeness means that he is undone by Gwynn’s success. He actually strikes one of his little boys upon finding out that Gwynn’s second novel is on the bestseller list. He sets out, amid the ruins of his own career and his marginally less ruined life, to “fuck Gwynn up.”

I’m not accurately portraying how *funny* this all is–Richard’s loserishness and self-pity, Gwynn’s self-aggrandizement, the always looming spectre of London weirdness that pervades all of Amis’s writing–so much fun to read.

Of course, when I was 18, it barely even registered that these men were writers. To me, they were just old people doing stupid stuff. I wrote all the time, too, and even published a few things in high school, but I didn’t think of myself as a writer or having anything in common with these deluded gents.

Now, of course, I realize I’m only a few years younger than Gwynn and Richard, who both turn 40 in the first few chapters. I know all about little magazines, slush piles, vanity presses, agents, advances, PLR, and all the other writerly in-jokes Amis makes. I wonder what I was laughing at before, because despite the dreadful earnestness of me in my youth, I did realize the information was supposed to be funny.

Probably it’s the narration–Amis makes very VERY good on Thoreau’s comment that it is always the first person that is speaking. The narrator wanders the line between writing the book and living in it, and at this point in the narrative we aren’t sure how real the characters are to each other. As a youth, I was obsessed with narrative devices (no, I didn’t date a lot, actually) and this was and is one of my favourites.

But I’m not even 100 pages in and a *lot* more happens, I know. In fact, Mark’s already written a kickoff post and an update, and is out in the living room reading right now.

Have you read *The Information*? Do you read along with your co-locataires? Feel free to share experiences in the comments!

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