March 15, 2005

What girls like to read.

Our Girl in Chicago loves this new feature in The Atlantic, called "Close Reads." This month, Christina Schwartz combs through a paragraph from a short story by Anne Beattie made up entirely of the details of a mother and daughter having dinner together and watching a movie. As you might expect, through the descriptions of superficial things -- like candles and M&Ms -- we gather the deeper truths about the mother and the daughter, those things they can't admit to each other or even to themselves.

Yes, I used to believe I needed to appreciate literary short stories. This is what the best people read. But I learned a while back that I never have to read that sort of thing. I can maintain full self respect and never even open a book that I think is going to be like that! Maybe you men think this is the sort of thing women read and women teachers were always trying to get you to read, but plenty of women readers want nothing to do with stories like this either!

That said, like Our Girl in Chicago, I think it's pretty cool to spend a lot of time with a single paragraph and pull all the meaning out of it. One thing I like about being a law professor is that you can fix upon a single passage and tease through the meaning word by word. Of course, I'm not trying to plumb the mysteries of the mother-daughter relationship. I'm trying to understand what the judge was saying, to speculate about what he was thinking and not saying, and to get some good ideas about how his language can be used in ways he wasn't thinking about at all.

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