Revisiting Franzen and Freedom.

Today, Fresh Air re-broadcast a couple of pieces on Jonathan Franzen and his novel Freedom, which is now out in paperback. I wasn’t surprised to find that I mostly disagreed with Maureen Corrigan’s review, which I don’t remember hearing when it was first broadcast last year – I mean, considering how the plot wraps itself up with such concise tidiness at the end, it’s hard for me to consider it “realist.” Don’t get me wrong – I have my gripes about Freedom, but overall, I liked and enjoyed it, and would certainly recommend it as a reading experience.

I skipped through much of Terry’s interview with Franzen because I remembered I had heard it the first time it aired, but I caught one section which I still think is great on second listen, which I thought I’d share here:

People who have a depressive cast of mind are usually the funniest people you meet, and there’s nothing like putting a couple of Eeyores into the text to make it at least a little bit funny. What else? Why did I want depressives in here? It’s, you know, most interesting people become somewhat depressed at some point in their life, and I’m not writing books for people whose lives are perfectly great. People whose lives are perfectly great probably don’t need to read books like the kind I write.

(Emphasis added.)

Overall, what I think I like most about this interview is that Franzen seems to really answer and thoroughly address the questions that I have about his writing process, books, and, you know, life.

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Gaultier and a fresh look at Karlie Kloss’ eyebrows.

I’ve finally gotten around to reading Susan Orlean’s New Yorker profile on Jean Paul Gaultier, who is newsworthy apparently because of the traveling museum exhibition of his work, currently on show in Montreal. I wish the New Yorker had made an online companion feature for this piece; notwithstanding Orlean’s effective descriptions of Gaultier’s work, they really must be seen. Of course, there are plenty of images to be found on the Internet.

One of my favorite parts of the article was the description of Gaultier dressing supermodel Karlie Kloss for his Fall 2011 couture show:

Upstairs in a workroom, Gaultier was doing a final fitting of a sheer navy-blue gown, trimmed with mink, on Karlie Kloss, an American teen-ager with important-looking eyebrows and a delicate mouth.

(Italics mine.) I consume a fair amount of fashion media, and I have never heard anybody characterize Kloss’ eyebrows as “important-looking” or anything like that — not that I disagree!

I think her eyebrows look a little inconsequential here, actually.

I can’t wait to check out the Gaultier exhibit when it comes to San Francisco’s de Young Museum in March.


The pinkwashing industry.

After I started subscribing to the New Yorker, I got into the habit of reading magazines from cover to cover, front to back, as opposed to flipping around to whatever catches my eye. For magazines like the New Yorker, this is a good way to make sure I don’t miss anything that doesn’t  have immediate flip-through-appeal. But for glossy fashion magazines, unfortunately chockablock with vapidity, it takes a great deal more patience to get through a whole issue in this manner. (No one buys fashion magazines for the articles, of course.) Among the major women’s magazines, I think Marie Claire has surprisingly good stuff when it comes to all the pages of filler non-fashion content. (Elle is pretty good too, but Vogue‘s articles are just the height of worthlessness.) For example, in Marie Claire‘s October issue, there’s a great multi-page spread of portraits of women refugees – a compelling way to raise the profile for refugee issues, and especially for the women who are particularly vulnerable.

MC‘s October issue also features another timely piece, on the upcoming breast cancer awareness month and the explosion of pink products and marketing that we’ve seen in the last decade or so. The article, “The Big Business of Breast Cancer,” is focused on scams and unscrupulous business practices in the growing industry related to breast cancer charities. It makes some good points about the world of nonprofits and its relatively undemanding accounting requirements and is definitely worth a read.

Still, it seems to me that most people aren’t going to be vulnerable to these scams, which are, for the most part, pretty small potatoes. If you get cold-called by a nonprofit you’ve never heard of and asked to donate to their cause, I’m betting you’re smart enough to decline, even if they have a good name and a good story about helping victims of breast cancer. I think the relevant question that more consumers face is: how do I know if the proceeds from the pink beribboned tchotchke I just bought is really going to something helpful? The MC article gives some advice about how to avoid getting bamboozled, and provides some cautionary info about operations like pinkribbon.com – but it seems to me that you’d have to be severely lacking in common sense to think that that site is legit. However, after last year, when the usually reputable Susan G. Komen for the Cure entered into a collaboration with KFC to market “Buckets for the Cure,” one really wonders who you can trust. Although not as blatantly unhealthful as the KFC sponsorship, this year Susan G. Komen for the Cure is promoting a perfume called “Promise Me” that contains ingredients which may be hazardous. According to Breast Cancer Action, the perfume contains both galaxolide – apparently a hormone disruptor – and toluene – a neurotoxin. It’s worth noting that the Environmental Working Group’s respected Skin Deep Cosmetics Database rates galaxolide as a 2 out of 10, making it a low hazard – although that appears to be largely due to the lack of available data on the chemical. (The dangers associated with toluene, rated 10 out of 10 in terms of health hazards, are well-settled.)

Breast Cancer Action has a good page on “Critical Questions to Ask Before You Buy Pink,” and highlights some interesting, if problematic, examples of pinkwashing. BCA was the source for similar questions featured in the MC article, which also lists some well-regarded organizations that spend most of their funds on research and treatment.

Then, of course, there is the whole question of how useful is pink ribbon marketing in the first place? At what point does pink pervasiveness pass from sympathetic and civic-minded awareness and into cavalier insensitivity? Breast cancer, after all, is a serious and excruciating experience for many women, and it’s questionable as to whether sporting pink Snuggies does anything to help the victims of this disease. My friend Jenna has a good rant about the subject, arguing that the pinkapalooza unhelpfully attempts to prettify breast cancer, trivializes the experiences of those affected by the disease, and fails to celebrate the heroism of survivors. I’m inclined to agree.


2 pounds 2 ounces

2 pounds 2 ounces by slyxc
2 pounds 2 ounces, a photo by slyxc on Flickr.

Lately, I’ve been neglecting my blog for a pretty good reason: this girl. Ruthie (named for Old Testament consistency with her older brother Job, and as a nod to my favorite currently sitting sliding Supreme Court justice) came home with us on September 3. We think she is around six weeks old, and can only guess that she is some kind of tiny Belgian Malinois or German Shepherd mix. She’s been taking her meds for a giardia infection like a champ, and has already gained 10 ounces since this picture was taken.

Also, she and Job are getting along famously:
Adorable co-napping.