March 20, Thursday evening --Reading Julie Garwood

Reading Shadow Dance, by Julie Garwood, against his better judgment.

He found these books on the corner of 18th Street and Guerrero and, because they are written by women, he tried, unsuccessfully, to sell them for fifty cents to the owner of a nearby corner store, so he could use the money to buy books written by men.

Reading books by women, he said, is bad for the wiring in his mind. How? He said it would take too long to explain. What in particular about the writing? That also, would take too long to explain. And if you ripped the covers off and crossed out the author's name? It'd still affect his mind. He learned this from a German woman. What exactly did she tell him? That, too, would take too long to explain.

I talked to him for the first time on 12/10/2006 and, at that time, he had told me reads to understand what has happened to him since he's come to San Francisco (from Texas, and before that, India, where he liked to read Perry Mason books). He said he underlines things in the books and then writes letters to people about it--he tried to explain his process to me, but said it would take too long to go into.

Today, when I followed up, he said that he's given up on the letters.

The reading, though, remains.

Please, if you see this man, give him a book. Carry an extra one with you when you pass through the Mission District. You might see him and he'll appreciate it! Male author, female author--when it comes down to it, even though he said that female authors affect the wiring of his mind, he will read it anyway. He just needs something to read. Which, is a beautiful thing. As an aspiring writer hoping to someday publish books, there are two things that really depress me: 1)bookstores full of books just sitting on shelves (if these published authors are in surplus, what hope do I have?), and 2) bus stops filled with people staring off into space. The two need to come together, like umbrellas and rainy days.

The next time I see him I plan to give him James Joyce's Dubliners, with the cover torn off, just so he wonders. Who wrote this?

Dubliners is lightweight and fits in my bag, so I won't take it out for lack of space.

Has your enjoyment of a book ever diminished upon discovering that an author you thought was male was actually female, or vice versa?


Bill said...

The two need to come together, like umbrellas and rainy days. That line is worth keep around.

So what are you writing, Sonya?

Jen said...

it always baffles me to read that people choose their books based on the sex of the reader. what do i care if a man or a woman wrote it? if i like it, i like it, and that's that.

ROBERTA said...

Years ago, I read "She's Come Undone" by Wally Lamb. I could have sworn it was written by a woman! but it wasan't - wally lamb surprised and impressed me! great book......

ao.roamer said...

Right! that is a pretty good book,I hope more people will enjoy

The Clandestine Samurai said...

As far as I'm concerned, a book could be written by a tiger cub, and I'd still read it if I got the impression that it was in-depth, entertaining and comprehensible. Maybe that guy really doesn't have a good reason why woman-authored books would affect the wiring of his mind, although he reads them anyway: his chauvinism conflicts with his open-mindedness and logic.

girl with the mask said...

As an aspiring author also, and a female of the species, I find it quite hard to make my work accessible to men in the same way that it perhaps is to women.

You know like, if a women tells you what happened to her yesterday her story is full of the who and the whats and the wheres and the whys and the who-wore-what? And other women reply "...right, and then what happened'?

But when men tell a story it is like facts only?

A generalisation, but do you understand what I am saying? I think it is something to do with what the different sexes find most intrinsic to a story.

And for reference, it blows my mind the way Alexander McCall Smith writes as women characters when is, of course, a man. Check him out (if you haven't already)

G.I.M x

Anonymous said...

I was surprised by Alexander McCall Smith too- his writing seemed so sensitive in a way that I don't think is often captured by male writers.

I read in a book called Geekspeak that a study was carried out and found that the top 3 words used in femal conversation were 'she', 'her' and 'said'. The top 3 in the men's conversation were 'f***ing', 'er' and 'the'!!!

Say Lee said...

Like umbrellas and rainy days? I think the analogy is premised heavily on chance since the only thing predictable about weather is its unpredictability. Also, it hardly rains in California, at least its souther part. Anyway that's how the song goes. I think something more purposeful is preferred, say fish and water.

As to passengers staring into space in buses, perhaps some of them do have a valid reason for doing so, like prone to motion sickness, like yours truly.

Last but not the least, never judge a book by its cover, less so the gender of the author inferred thereon.

Sonya said...

Dear Bill and Say Lee,
Here's what I meant--Discovering you have a great book in your bag when the bus is still 20 minutes due to arrive is a really really good feeling. Like finding out, when it's four-thirty and the rain is starting to come down, that you *did* bring your umbrella to work after all.

When it's raining you need an umbrella, maybe not need one, but it's really nice to have. And, I'd like to think that books are the same way, when you have a void to fill, and you have one, it's a really beautiful thing.

For writers everywhere who spend years of their lives laboring over novels, I think that if their book produced that same joy and utility that comes from discovering you have an umbrella when it's raining, that they would feel like they've done their work.

I stare into space a lot, too, at bus stops, everywhere, because I love thinking my own thoughts. The miracle of it is, that, with all the things we have going on in our own lives, and with all the media that's out there for us to read, at that given moment, when I see someone reading, particularly a novel, that they're investing the time to read 300 pages of that author's thoughts, it's an amazing thing. Someone has climbed into someone else's world and they're going to stay for a while. Maybe, like, standing together beneath a single umbrella, cozy, looking out at the same storm.

...San Francisco is really rainy in the winter. In January I was ready to abort all and move to the Sahara. But, I stayed. Because I love San Francisco.

Bill said...

I like the line and understand what you're saying...I even apt to want to steal it. :)

I've been in SF for a week in May and needed a jacket when in the shade, and one day in December and it rained.

You wrote you're an aspiring writer who wants to publish a book. I was curious if you are working on a story and what it is (something extra)? I think this blog in print would make a good book.

Sonya said...

Hi Bill,
Thanks for asking!
I am working on a book about my 52-day Greyhound bus trip to photograph readers in each of the lower 48 states.

Also, about 3 years ago I began working on a romance adventure novel, about a madcap trip around the world to save humanity from bioterror. The book is completed, I've just put it on the shelf for the time being until I'm ready to spend the time looking for an agent.

And, I'm working on a novel about four women who live in San Francisco, figuring out how to make a living, facing homelessness, thinking about religion, health issues--the problems are very rooted in reality, but the book is very surreal. I'm also incorporating a lot of the geography and idiosyncrasies that I love about this city, which makes it fun to write.

Wewh--I bet that's a longer answer than you thought you'd get!

HR Wench said...

Just found you through Best of Blogs archives.

This post moved me very much.

I wonder about this man's story. If he wrote one, what would his book be about?

I hope you see him again and are able to give him a copy of Dubliners. Small comforts from a big heart.

A. Stageman said...

It's all about the content in-between the front cover and the back cover.

Purest Green said...

There is an interesting book project being organized by a student at St Andrews University in Scotland, in which readers will not know the sex of authors of the stories they are reading. "The Mystery factor regarding authorship encourages reading without gender discrimination."

I believe they are still accepting submissions for the WoMen Project:

Michael said...

I had the same reaction to "She's Come Undone"-it was tremendous, although his next book I couldn't finish.

Looking at my own bookshelf, I can't think of ten woman writers that I enjoy. I don't try (consciously) to select books by gender.

Anne Lamott is excellent.
Joyce Carol Oates is amazing.

I can't think of any others.

I don't know what it is, exactly- are the majority of authors male? I wouldn't think so. Is there something pulling me towards male perspectives, male attitudes? I don't know.

Somewhat prophetically, the word verification for this phrase contains the letters "gyn".

I know that when I observe my wife or female co workers conversing casually, I try to imagine being interested, being involved in talk like that, and I can't. Women have oceans, rivers, lakes of talk, and men just don't.

Say Lee said...

Hi, Sonya, I hear you. That was my analytical self coming to the fore. It does that once in a while.

I was taught to be non-judgmental as one can hardly ever understand the circumstances that the others are in. The best analogy I have seen of the mind is the mind is like a parachute. It works best when it's open.

The last book authored by a female writer that I have read, cover to cover, is Judy Picoult's 19 minutes. I enoyed it thoroughly.

So is your novel of the four Californian women inspired by Amy Tan's book on four women from China adjusting to life in the US? Just a wild guess.

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█▌▄▌▀▐█ said...

i actually thought that sydney shelldon was a woman.