On Reading Female Authors: Or, How I Learned to Love the 21 st Century by Emma Eisler

As many people reading this may know, I spent the first two years of my high school experience reading a lot, and I do mean a lot, of dead male authors. This began with my heady and emotionally tumultuous reading of On the Road in the middle of freshman year and continued on with shorter and slightly less passionate love affairs with Hunter S. Thompson, Henry Miller, Hemingway, and a host of other narcissists who many of us know and, rightfully, adore. This is not to say that I never read books by women or that I was intentionally avoiding leading a more varied literary life, but, if we’re being honest, a large percentage of my reading did fit into that category.

Then I started junior year and realized I needed, badly, to expand my horizons and, maybe even more importantly, become a little less obsessed with past decades or movements I’d missed and a little more obsessed with all the great books being written right now and all the potential energy of this decade. And so I read Karen Russell. And then I read Miranda July. And then I read Maria Semple. And then I read Aimee Bender. And then I read Marina Keegan. And, most importantly, I read Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. And it changed everything. Here was this woman who I’d never before met writing down pretty much my exact manifesto on how I want to live—always remembering to be grateful for and to fully inhabit every day and every moment. This, I think, was the moment I became a modern girl, and by that I don’t mean that I suddenly relinquished my cape of nostalgia or downloaded a snap-chat. What I mean is, after sixteen years of trying to travel backwards in time with a respectable degree of success, I started wanting, not to go forwards even, but to exist and make the most of exactly where I am. Right now.

Emma Eisler, class of 2017

A Love Note to Miranda July by Amina Aineb

I’ve searched so long for a favorite writer, someone whose work I consistently enjoy. I have favorite books, stories, and poems, but they all come from a myriad of sources. And sadly, all my favorite books lie in the unhelpful “best of” category. I love The Great Gatsby, so I’ve tried reading some of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s other work, but it just never produced the same effect for me. And I have writers I like: for example, I like Haruki Murakami. I mean, I’ve only read three of his books, but I’d be willing to read more. So yeah, technically, I like his writing. My praise stops there usually. I’d be lying if I said that I found complete satisfaction or connection in reading Murakami’s work.

Until recently there hasn’t really been a writer who has reached out to me again and again; I have this relationship with other artists, mainly musicians (a certain quirky individual in particular…who is great at everything…and in an ideal world is my best friend…and his initials are G.A.W—I think we all know who I’m talking about) so it seems odd to me that I’ve loved writing for so long without having a favorite writer. I guess what I’m saying is that there hasn’t been any relationship between a writer and me that is reminiscent of the relationship between Molly and Flannery O’Connor. (But on second thought, I don’t think anyone else can come close to that level of idolization.)

I was introduced to Miranda July by my friend Chaia and coincidentally, Molly. If I remember correctly, I think Miranda July signed her hat at a reading and Molly showed it off to me. In a few days time, as soon as I finish July’s latest novel, I’ll have read all her work. It’s not really a feat since she’s not very prolific, but it’s a first for me to read the entirety of a writer’s available stuff.

So here’s my love note to Miranda July. Ms. July,  I love you. Not really. I don’t know her. But I love how obviously empathetic she is. Based on her writing, she seems to get inside people’s heads so easily. She just somehow understands what makes certain people tick. Most, if not all, of her fiction is written in first person, and she is one of those writers who can find and reinvent people’s voices so easily. Her characters are diverse (they range from nine year old Chinese boys to lonely, middle aged women) and yet similar. I would say they’re underdogs, but I mean this nicely when I say: they’re all losers. The protagonist of her novel The First Bad Man is a lonely, forty-something year old woman named Cheryl who doesn’t wash her cutlery, obsesses over a man twenty two years older than her, and has a chromotherapist (something which I had to Google.)

I find myself rooting for Cheryl, and for all of July’s other protagonists. There’s something so endearing about being a loser. I think we’re all losers, in a way, and I think Ms. July knows this too. Her characters remind me that there’s always going to be a small, passive part of us that just wants to be loved, no matter how cool or independent we may think we are.

I’m not the best at writing characters. Usually I get lazy and they just end up being more eccentric versions of me. But July clearly has the energy to observe and examine the people she confronts, and she shows their inevitable flaws beautifully.

Amina Aineb, class of 2017