We’re excited to be a part of the publication of n+1’s No Regrets, a book of conversations between women about reading that’s at once funny, educational, deeply personal and revolutionary in both its form and its content. As Dayna Tortorici writes in her introduction, this book is part of an experiment that began in 2007, when n+1 published its first book of conversations between writers about the books that formed them, What We Should Have Known. The decision to focus solely on female writers this time, and to exclude the word “should” from the discussion, was Tortorici’s. She explains:
the word should has a special place in the lives of women, as it’s been a tool of their subjection through social strictures (“women should be X”) and their emancipation through feminism (“women should reject the authority of anyone who says they should be X, or Y, or Z, or anything else”). Should, in other words, gives us both The Rules and the injunction to break them. I wanted to know how these pressures on women as women did or didn’t intersect with their lives as readers, writers, artists, and thinkers; how the shoulds that stalk women through life influenced the should of what we should have known.
I was excited to be invited to participate in one of these conversations, not only because it was an opportunity to talk about how books and reading influence women’s lives — something that, if you’ve been following, reading, or subscribing to Emily Books, you already know interests me a lot. I was also excited for a more personal reason, which is that I had a highly public and somewhat regrettable (ha!) response to What We Should Have Known in 2007, when it was published. I’d just turned 26. That’s not an excuse, just, you know, context. Back then, I wrote:
The pamphlet is 126 pages long. However, it only takes 5 minutes and 52 seconds to listen to the song “Common People” by Pulp in its entirety.
by which I guess I meant, how dare these public intellectuals say that they regret having gone to college! What a ridiculous and privileged pose! Of course, being knee-jerk disdainful of people who are well-educated and unafraid to talk seriously about books they’ve read because that must always in some sense be pretentious is also a ridiculous (and somewhat privileged) pose. We were both right, and wrong.
The other thing about that pamphlet and the world that seemed to surround it, at least the first time I walked into n+1’s office, to attend its publication party — was how male it was. Or at least, how it was dominated by slightly older men and very young, very attractive women, and how much that dynamic it reminded me of frat parties I’d attended. I, too, have some college-related regrets, not exclusively reading-related.
Six and a half years later when you walk into n+1’s office you will likely see only women, aside from one or two male interns. Not only the magazine’s staff but its interests have shifted, and they’re publishing radical and fascinating work by and about women all the time: issue 17 featured both Chris Kraus’s Kelly Lake Store and insanely great fiction by Rebecca Curtis, a one-two punch for the ages. Dayna Tortorici’s examinations of feminism, art, and labor activism and archive of memorial writing on Shulamith Firestone also point to an overtly feminist, overtly radical future for the magazine.
I’m still thinking about many of the issues raised in these pages — the thoughts I don’t agree with, the assertions that irritate me so much that there must be some truth in them. And I’m also thinking of the books I now feel I must read, which are handily listed in an appendix to the book; Tortorici asked all the participants to list books that changed their lives. I also asked every Emily Books author I could get in touch with to provide a similar list; those are featured in our iOS app and, for non-app subscribers, we’ll make some of the lists available online (they’re great!)
Here’s to more reading and more talking about reading in 2014. This book is a fantastic jumping-off point.