Posts by Gina Barreca
December 21, 2009, 10:00 AM ET
Sad stories concerning books as gifts:
1. L.L.K. told me about getting The Belly Book: A Nine Month Journal for You and Your Growing Belly from a "Secret Santa" coworker who assumed LLK was pregnant. LLK wasn't pregnant; she had simply stopped exercising. She quit going to the gym because she was too busy (in part because her coworker was a lousy colleague). This was the worst of all the stories I heard in response to the previous column. LLK said she "lacked the wit to respond appropriately" when receiving the present and "returned it ASAP to a local bookstore who offered credit for it even though I didn't have a receipt. That was the only part of the incident that had a good ending." She asked me what I would have said and done. I told her the truth: I would have burst into tears, hid in the basement for two weeks, and then socked my coworker right in the nose as soon as I saw her. "You...
December 17, 2009, 08:00 AM ET
Usually I’m pretty popular with those friends of mine who own or
work in bookstores.
But right now they hate me.
You see, my two previous posts have suggested that neither the
giving of one’s own academic volume nor the presentation of an
edition of Fowler’s English Usage to a loved one count as
joyful offerings during the holiday season.
Please allow me to explain that my remarks were in no way meant to imply that books aren’t the ideal gifts for all occasions. Hahaha! Did I ever not mean to imply that! Not me! I mentioned I still have the Fowler's, didn’t I?
(Forget my bookstore friends: My editor at St. Martin’s would have me schedule a lovely auto de fé for early January if I don’t make this point very clear immediately, or at least before the paperback of It’s Not That I’m Bitter comes out).
Yet, for once, I also happen to be serious, because I know that books can be great gifts --...
December 14, 2009, 02:00 PM ET
I'm not sure whether it's better to give a rotten present or to get one. I've done both, so you'd think I could come up with an authoritative answer to this question. But it's a tough call.
Here are the choices: Wwas it more miserable to have been given, at age 21, by a boyfriend I adored, a copy of the book Fowler's English Usage, wherein he marked every example, definition, and term he thought I needed to understand more fully? (This was not a gift; at best, it was a lesson plan. At worst, it was penance.)
Or was an even worse experience to have given, to an old friend from college, a beautifully framed and enlarged photograph of herself?
Wait, you think -- that gift sounds fine. Thoughtful, even.
I'd had the privilege of snapping the friend's picture a year earlier. I didn't realize that, in the space of time since I'd last seen her, my friend had undergone intensive "work" on he...Read More
December 9, 2009, 09:00 PM ET
There I was, browsing in an upscale shop famous for its wine accessories (a fact which already indicates that I have way too much time on my hands and should do more volunteer work), and I found myself tempted to buy a diminutive Santa outfit. This tiny garment was designed to be slipped over a wine bottle on a festive occasion. I thought it would make a nifty holiday present.
"Honey," I called to my husband, who was across the sales floor seemingly enthralled by a chess set composed of shot glasses (another truly necessary seasonal item). "Come and look at this cute little costume for a bottle of Chablis!"
Let's say he was less enthusiastic. My husband's response can best be summed up as "Sweetie, you've lost it. You really think any of our friends have on their wish list ‘Clothes for Booze'?"...Read More
December 1, 2009, 04:00 PM ET
When I emerged from my 1953 Chevrolet pickup truck, my mass of long tangled hair was wind blown. I was disheveled, like some kind of unearthly creature. Or maybe like Carole King. I ran my delicately thin fingers through it, but I knew I still looked like the reckless vagabond newcomer at Twilight University that I was.
Only recently had I been appointed the new Assistant Professor of Wuthering Heights Adaptation Studies. I had not bothered to style my hair because I was reckless and defiant and lacked appropriate hair products as well as self-awareness. My young-adult-sized apartment was only a short drive from the campus, too. I lived in the one of the outlying neighborhoods, the Paradise Lost district, near T.U.
It was drizzling. It drizzled a lot. It drizzled a lot on me because I was alone and no one could absorb the rest of the rain.
Twilight University was not a very...Read More
November 27, 2009, 12:00 PM ET
I used to think feminists had a lot of things to worry
about, such as the fact that even the most educated and capable of
women still make 78 cents on a man's dollar, that women are
still subject to many more crimes of physical and domestic violence
than men, and that hard-won reproductive rights are in danger of
being systematically withdrawn without our consent.
I thought that if you ask any woman what her big problem is on any given day, she wasn't going to cry out, "The grave act of misogyny perpetrated by those who discriminate against the feminine hirsute."
I once believed that a woman who was interested in fighting the good fight would grab anybody who would listen by the collar and tell you that she needs to find adequate child care, affordable health insurance, a decent retirement plan, and a partner who won't freak if she takes 20 minutes to parallel park.
Who knew? Facial...Read More
November 23, 2009, 09:00 PM ET
I was surprised:
1. That my colleagues (which is how I regard the readers of Brainstorm) would find my students' essays as fascinating as I do. Let face it: Their essays were read by more people, and read more carefully, than most academic books and scholarly articles. And while my students were astonished by the attention -- and a little nervous, as you are when you're put under an unfiltered, focused, and raw spotlight for the first time -- they were impressed by the level of engagement and by the passion shown by the commenters.
2. That some of my colleagues are shocked to discover that our students look at us. We expect them to listen to us, but we're disturbed by the fact that they notice our physical selves? We consider it jejune for them to notice our speech patterns, our chewed cuticles, our resemblance to movie stars (or monsters), our hair (wherever it appears), our sweat, and...
November 20, 2009, 11:41 AM ET
UConn junior and English major Timothy Stobierski adds his perspective on professorial behaviors in the classroom:
Since I'm hoping you don't catch me as I nail this letter to your office door, allow me to take a moment to introduce myself. I am one of your disgruntled students.
Why disgruntled, you ask? Well, to put it simply, you do something that pisses me off. And make no mistake about what I mean by saying "you piss me off." I do not mean that you do something that "annoys me"; waiting in line at the library later to print out this letter when I'm done with it will annoy me. I do not mean that you do something that "tries my patience"; watching the interns on House suggest lupus as a solution each and every week began...Read More
November 18, 2009, 02:17 PM ET
One of the excellent students in my creative writing class, Michelle P. Carter, tells us more about what students would like their instructors to know:
1. We make lists of all your weird-ass mannerisms.
You start every sentence with "that said." You say "literally" when you mean "actually" or "I'm not exaggerating." You squeak "m'kay?" at every lull in your lecture, just to make sure that the crickets you hear and the tumbleweed you see blowing through this 300-seat hall is just your imagination. You stroke your chin whenever someone coughs. You're loud enough to wake the dead. You need to know that we make games out of these things. We count how many times you say "sort of" in 50 minutes (it was almost 200, by the way). We instigate a chorus of coughs to see if we can get you to rub that stubble off your chin. If we made a drinking game out of every time you wiped your glasses on your...Read More
November 16, 2009, 02:00 PM ET
I asked the brave and astute students in my upper-division nonfiction creative-writing class what they'd say if offered the chance to address the faculty. They responded with alacrity, sending in their work before the deadline and writing with a sense of authority derived from many years of classroom observation.
This is the first in the series. Written by Alana Wenick, it offers an excellent introduction to what is now known as "The 5 Things Assignment":
Professors: Some we love, some we hate, and all of them we need. But you can't tell a professor how you feel because they hold the keys to your future in their bony hands. I could, of course, try to offer up some constructive criticism, but I have a feeling that the conversation would go a lot like this: "Oh, so you don't think I put enough information on the slides, Alana? Can you say that a little louder? I can't hear you over this ...Read More