Saturday, February 6, 2010

Kathleen Rooney

Kathleen Rooney lives in Chicago and is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press. Her new book is For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs.

Recently, I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Everybody is probably a little bit tempted to go superlative when they assemble this kind of recent-reading list, and that probably makes the people reading the list a little bit skeptical, but I can’t help it: the illustrated novel Cruddy by Lynda Barry is the best book I read in late 2009, and may be the best book I read the entire last decade. It is crushingly sad and violent, yet also funny and super-smart. And the heroine, Roberta Rohbeson, is sensitive, articulate, deadly, sharp and very, very ugly—like broken-nose, chipped-tooth, missing-digit not good-looking. Roberta is an unforgettable character overall, but the ugly thing sticks with me. So many female protagonists—both long ago and contemporary—are set up by their creators as “ugly” at first, but it becomes clear they are really to be read either as a) ugly ducklings who will morph into swans by novel’s end, or b) young women who were never truly ugly in the first place, but rather were just misunderstood, and part of their character arc is having people around them realize, “What a fool I’ve been for not recognizing her beauty this whole time.” I dislike and distrust a fake-ugly heroine. I admire Barry’s writing—her toughness and her compassion—but I also admire her for being one of the few people to portray a heroine who is not in any way physically attractive, as well as her refusal to sugarcoat or romanticize childhood/young adulthood.

As for what I’m reading right now: Shutter Island because I like a good, fast, smart-trashy read. It’s gripping and spooky, and after I finish it, I’ll be all set to see the Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio movie coming out later this year. It’s giving me bad dreams and making me paranoid; highly recommend.

The Dialectic of Sex by Shulamith Firestone because I mentioned that I was wanting to read a classic and provocative work of second wave feminism, so my husband, Martin Seay, pulled his copy of this book off the shelf and handed it to me. It is hard to summarize what I love about it since what I love is basically everything, but especially impressive is the way almost every sentence operates like an aphorism or a mini-essay. There is so much going on—so much to think about and react to—in everything she says. For example: “In a culture of alienated people, the belief that everyone has at least one good period in life free of care and drudgery dies hard. And obviously you can't expect it in your own age. So it must be you've already had it. This accounts for the fog of sentimentality surrounding any discussion of childhood or children.” For another “With the full achievement of the conceivable in the actual, the surrogate of culture will no longer be necessary.” And of course the oft-quoted classic: “Pregnancy is barbaric.”

Chilly Scenes of Winter by Ann Beattie because I just got it from the library and Love Warps the Mind a Little by John Dufresne because that’s what my book club is reading.
Visit Kathleen Rooney's website.

The Page 99 Test: Kathleen Rooney's Live Nude Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue