Thoughts on Li’s “Dear Friend,”

dearfriendCapturing the quality of suffering during depression is a task that presents challenges to authors, especially in regards to communicating with readers who have never lived through a depressive episode. I use the word quality because there is a sensation to the experience of depression that is about as easy to explain to people as a taste they’ve never encountered before. In searching for a book to capture how I felt for years as a young woman that I could share with other people as an example of my experiences, there was the sense that the books I was reading had characters that were too melodramatic.

 

In truth, the characters were accurate to how depression affects some people and in many of them I saw myself and the ways I was out of control myself those years ago. But there’s a certain conceit to these characters, an expectation that the reader understands how depression influences not only thoughts but the body holistically. Unfortunately, I felt if I pointed to these novels, people would respond with a comment I’ve heard said among friends, “Why don’t they just do something about it?” turning depression into a concept of control (it is, of course, a concept of control, but not in the way that they think. In depression, one finds control in giving up trying to control).

For them, as I’m sure it was for people in my own life, the melodrama seems insincere, exaggerated, perhaps even intentional.

In Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life, author Yiyun Li wrote a book that is partially a memoir, partially essays on her personal relationship to literature, and more essentially, ruminations on the experience of depression.

By picking and peeling at all the facets of her feelings, Yiyun Li unwinds the tangled and brambled knots of depression. Reading musings that are eloquent on the contradictions present in depression was eerie in that the thoughts were as intimate as my own.

“But when we read someone’s private words, when we experience her most vulnerable moments with her, and when her words speak more eloquently of our feelings than we are able to, can we still call her a stranger?”

Yiyun Li addresses the melodrama of depression, of how one is both aware of how helpless one is being and yet is also unable to be anything but. Inherent in this is the doubt, “Am I being melodramatic?” that doesn’t diminish the reality of suffering.

Captured here is the self-scorn that one has during depression as one holds in their mind the view of themselves and their depression as both an observer and the agent of action. I’ve always found that difficult to express—how it often felt as though I was watching myself and berating myself like a part of my mind had remained healthy and isolated while the rest of my mind induced my body into behavior I neither wanted nor could stop.

The contradictions of depression are examined as well, with a tender hand because Yiyun Li is not judgmental of suffering or scornful of it, but the opposite. Suffering is explored with a gentle intimacy and a respect. She is able to express how integral depression becomes with identity—invaluable and tyrannical.

“All the things in the world are not enough to drown out the voice of this emptiness that says: you are nothing…It is either a dictator or the closest friend I have ever had. Some days I battle it until we both fall down like injured animals. That is when I wonder: what if I become less than nothing when I get rid of this emptiness? What if this emptiness is what keeps me going?”

It would be a mistake to assume that this treatment of the subject romanticizes depression. Instead, a merciful acceptance permeates the work. The feelings that others labeled in her younger self that others labeled as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong,’ the older Yiyun Li requires no justification for.

This isn’t a book, necessarily, about overcoming depression and moving on triumphantly. Nor is it a book where Yiyun Li is seeking understanding, though that seems counter to the purpose of writing a memoir about depression. From the beginning of the book I was given the impression that the author didn’t care of the response of the reader and wouldn’t pander to their understanding. No excuses are presented, no explanations offered for why she was depressed beyond recognizing some of the origins of her feelings. Depression is personal, intimate, and this prose feels like the intended audience was none other than the author herself—the younger self that she can’t truly reach but is addressing.

The title encapsulates this distance and also the tone of Yuyan Li’s approach. Her depressed self isn’t an enemy but a friend she cares for. This is why there is no conquering, no triumph. One does not triumph over one’s friends or seek to conquer them, they attempt to understand. This is what appeals to me most about Dear Friend, that emerging from depression isn’t an activity that implies an award be handed over at the end.

Dear Friend is dense, circular, as tangential and meandering as exploring one’s own mind. It is through this format that Yiyun Li is able to capture the immense breadth of depression, the waves and tides of it, the way it affects relationships with strangers and intimate friends, the contradictory nature of how it provides control and also takes it away, the way one wants to cling to depression like a life boat and to shuck it as easily as changing clothes, and the stillness, the lethargy, the sense of non-being.

Dear Friend begs to be read and examined as carefully as Yiyun Li annotated the letters of authors she read. It’s stunning, heart-rending, frustrating, and difficult to parse. Yiyun Li admits she’s always been enamored with authors that elude understanding, a stance she’s tried to emulate her whole life. Though Dear Friend is confessional, this sense remains—it is deeply personal, simultaneously detached.

There’s an honesty to Yiyun Li’s thoughts and a lack of condemnation that I think some people would struggle with. But I also read it as an outline of tolerance, respect, and validation. It’s a book I will come back to in my own life as a way to articulate and understand my feelings and one that I will reference when others have misconceptions or questions about the experience of depression.

Fuckboys of Classic Literature: Far From the Madding Crowd Edition

This is a strange entry in our Fuckboys of Classic Literature category because the fuckboy of this book isn’t a character…but the author himself. I thought about inducting the soldier, Frank Troy, but ultimately decided he was more of an asshole than a fuckboy as his mistreatment of Bathsheba is rooted in his own failed, tragic love rather than a generalized view of women as existing for him alone.

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On a related note though: fuck Frank Troy.

No, the fuckboy of this story is Thomas Hardy, which is some kind of achievement. Good job, buddy? Hardy has earned his place by writing an entire book about a woman who is a paragon of independence, strength, and intelligence then completely undermining all of her achievements by making her character’s greatest failing that she’s shallow.

In the first chapter of Far from the Madding Crowd, Hardy takes the point of his novel and slams it against the reader with about as much subtly as setting an airhorn off right in your ear.

Upon meeting Bathsheba for first time, Gabriel Oak observes her and, with a passing glance, understands her completely. He falls in love with her, assumedly, but as Bathsheba departs makes a wry observation that foreshadows the entire plot of Madding Crowd.

“That’s a handsome maid,” he said to Oak.

“But she has her faults,” said Gabriel.

“True, farmer.”

“And the greatest of them is—well, what it is always…Vanity.”

I fully allow that maybe Hardy didn’t mean that the greatest fault of women is vanity. Hardy could mean that the greatest fault of people is vanity, though with a similar subtlety to the quoted dialogue, Bathsheba is given a passage detailing the manner in which she admires herself in a mirror right before Oak’s comment. This action isn’t even utilitarian—Hardy makes sure to note that Bathsheba doesn’t adjust her clothing or hair, she merely wants to admire herself. I’ve seen enough paintings of women staring in mirrors with various titles alluding to vanity to not dodge this thrown brick of symbolism. I’m not sure Oak owns a mirror and if he does, he sure wouldn’t pause to admire himself in it because he’s not obsessed with himself (obviously).

Regardless, it’s still exhausting to read an entire book devoted to showing how a woman who doesn’t flinch in the fear of entering traditionally male spaces in both leisure activities (not riding side saddle), and business (going herself to seal deals on the trade floor) is brought to ruin because she meets a man that flatters her vanity.

For all that Bathsheba haughtily scoffs at like Boldwood’s attempt to woo her with wealth and comfort, she falls quickly to the flattering seduction of Troy. For a woman who seems determined to assert her independence and claims of never being tamed, all Troy has to do is swing his sword around and she falls apart with a gusty sigh. This is both not a euphemism and a euphemism.

Hardy teased me with having Bathsheba avoid the trope of being the Gold-digger™. Alas, he swerved and instead served up Vanity™. A trait, it’s worth mentioning, that Hardy identifies as being worse than “beating people down,” which is actually perplexing because between the two options, I’d choose to keep company with the vain person.

Bathsheba is humbled through Far from the Madding Crowd, and her humbling is strictly tied to her vanity. When her vanity is cured, what is her reward? To marry the man who pointed out she needed to be humbled in the first place and has steadfastly stood at her side all the while despite her, at times, cruel treatment of him. Wait…or is this Oak’s reward for being faithful, humble, and consistently Good™? It’s almost like the book, as much as it claims to be about Bathsheba is instead about a wild woman being tamed for the Good Guy™.

Darn it though, Oak is a good guy. Out of the context of this story he might be one of the best natured men in classic literature I’ve encountered aside from Henry Tilney in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.

Bathsheba doesn’t even save herself from the tangled web of ruin her vanity has caused—instead, a man solves the problem for her. As soon as Troy shows up, Bathsheba loses all capability for action and becomes passive, a reward for the men to fight over. Her ability to act as an agent is a thing of the past. Not like that feisty woman at the beginning of the book who marched into the men’s trading hall with her head held high, scorning societal norms could do anything about her difficult situation!

It would have been a vastly better book if Bathsheba had blown Troy away with the shotgun herself, is all I’m saying…

…and maybe I wouldn’t have to call Thomas Hardy a fuckboy.

 

BookBuddyAThon May 2017, in Review

I made it! (Sort of, almost, kind of) through my first reading challenge with my buddy @fatgirlfatbooks. She didn’t finish either, so I don’t have to feel too guilty, I don’t think. The blame lies with The City & The City for being such a slog to read. The drag to that book was unbelievable. Actually, since I’m already talking about it…

The City and The City (China Mieville)

This was the most disappointed I’ve been with a book in a while. It isn’t hard to nail down why exactly I found this book underwhelming because all of it was underwhelming except for the setting. The City & The City imagines a city that, through some vague and unanswered process, became crosshatched with a sister city. These two cities, despite the fact that they occupy the same physical space, consider themselves to be in different countries. For that reason, the societies in each city have set up a way of “not-seeing” the other city and the people who live there unless they officially cross the border.

It wasn’t a problem of suspension of belief as I was fully committed to the idea of these two cities sharing space. Politically speaking, the setting also created a lot of interesting questions: who governs the cities? Who policies them? How do the cities deal with different countries across the world? How does the economy of one city influence, or not, the other? and so on.

Unfortunately, the protagonist of the story is incredibly bland. Having finished the book, I can honestly say I still have no idea what motivated our detective. His only character traits seem to be: Average™, sort of competent at job, gruff, possesses stubble.

There’s a political conflict set up near the beginning of the book between nationalists in each city (that believe their city should be the only city) and unionists (the city is actually one city and should be merged). But is our main character of either of these political ideologies? Of course not.

He’s just rogue enough to have problems with authority but not radical enough to believe anything counter-cultural. It’s a weird choice because this doesn’t make him compelling. I kept thinking as I read the book: what if he had been a radical? What if he was one of those people who ignore the boundaries of the cities?

Beyond his lack of motivation aside from being vaguely competent at his job, the main character also seems to have no grounding interpersonal relationships. No family, two casual romantic entanglements that are mentioned in passing a couple of times then brought up at the end as if they’ve earned a pay-off of emotional impact, and a mentor relationship with a rookie that ends up going nowhere as well. Why? Why set any of this up to ignore it? The main character feels like he’s a cardboard cut out of a police detective. Ironically, I don’t think he’d pass the lamp test that is usually applied to female characters (as in, you could replace him with a lamp and the story would still occur without much being altered).

You may be wondering why I keep referring to him as the main character instead of his name. The answer is that I barely remember his name, not enough to be confident to type it. My buddy and I had this conversation about this after I challenged her to tell me 10 character traits about him:

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oh wait, that’s the guy from Romeo and Juliet

Frankly, the whole thing is baffling. Somewhere inside the kernel idea of The City & The City, regarding the co-existence of the cities, is a great novel. But this is not it.

 

To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death (Mark O’Connell)

Full disclosure, I haven’t finished this book as I type this review (I’m at 73 percent, I believe) but unless it goes completely off the rails, I feel comfortable sharing my thoughts on it.

To Be a Machine has been entertaining on several levels for me as a reader. On the first level is the subject matter it addresses—that of transhumanism and the eccentric, intelligent, and (sometimes) wealthy visionaries who are obsessed with it. Transhumanism is the devotion to the rejection of our biological forms and the vision of a future where we are no longer inhibited by them. For different transhumanists, this vision varies, but the core idea is the same. For them, the human body and all of its limitations, including but not solely mortality, must be overcome.

The second level of entertainment comes from the author’s reaction to transhumanism and the people he interviews on the topic. O’Connell has a visceral rejection of transhumanism, which is fairly common when people bring up the idea of uploading their brains into machine bodies, but also struggles with his identity as a decaying organism. Humorously, and human-ly, O’Connell confronts humanity’s apparent need to reject its own nature and also ascribe meaning to its animal life.

As someone who is heading off to complete a post-graduate degree at a university that is a bastion of transhumanism, O’Connell’s journey through these ideas as an outsider is interesting for the exact reason that I’ve never rejected them. The resistance to transhumanism, where it comes from, why people find it ghastly, is laid out bare in this book.

The Pseudo-religion interpretation of transhumanism that arises through the book is a take that I’ve never considered or encountered before and O’Connell’s arguments are compelling.

Whether it’s a topic you’ve encountered before or not, I recommend the book because the fields involved with transhumanism (technology, biology, psychology, engineering, A.I. research) will continue becoming more prevalent in the next 15 years. The ethics of bio-technology, of the enhancements and the eventual future that transhumanists envision is sure to be the heated topic of debates that will filter into the mainstream media once the fringe technology advances far enough to be mass producible. As O’Connell’s writing is entertaining, accessible, and investigative, To Be a Machine is a decent entry-level starting point for people interested in the movement.

 

That Summer (Sarah Dessen)

This was Sarah Dessen’s first book and I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of it. Many first books are easily identifiable as first books after writers have published as many as Dessen has, because like a painter’s style changes and matures over time, authors improve. In That Summer though, Dessen’s prose possesses the jaunty quality that I associate with her. To reference the title of this book, Dessen’s writing calls to mind summer because there’s a sunny, warm, breezy quality to it.

My favorite aspect of That Summer was that the focus of this coming of age story was between sisters. The novel captures how an age gap between siblings can influence how they understand or remember events during their childhood, in this case the divorce of their parents and the older sister’s behavior during the time.

The pacing of the book is slow, a lazy drift, but I’m not sure that’s a negative. Again, I think of the comparison to summer when, especially during summer breaks between high school years, the days stretch with little occurring each day.

A solid read, worth picking up if you’re a fan of Dessen and haven’t gotten around to this one yet, like me, or were thinking of skipping because it is her first.

 

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet (Charlie N. Holmberg)

I waited for a week hoping that by the end of this challenge I would have a better idea on what I wanted to write about this book. Yet, I’m still at a loss. Maybe mixed-feelings is the best way to describe this book?

The plot was not what I was expecting, for sure. This is both good and bad—good, because it went in such an unexpected, off the rails direction (which I really liked at the end), and bad, because darn it! I wanted a magical baking book!

There is magical baking in this book, but it is an accessory rather than a focus of the plot. To describe the plot here would be difficult because it relies on the slow accumulation of memories by the main character to answer the mystery of her existence and unnaturally powerful baking skills.

I will say this—the events of the book are compelling. I didn’t want to put it down once I started and was eager to understand the mystery. The pay off at the end, where the identities of the characters are defined, is well done and I maybe, just possibly, shed a tear (I’m weak).

Maybe what’s leaving me reluctant on this book is how brutal it was. I’m not sure there’s redemption for actions of certain characters (Maire, the main character, I exclude from this because I do understand her). Maybe I felt the brutality was unnecessary? But that’s a personal preference and not related to the actual deserts of the book.

For now, I’m going to just conclude that my feelings are ambiguous. Still very much a fan of Holmberg though!

 

The Golden Compass a.k.a Northern Lights (Philip Pullman)

This is such a classic that I don’t want to spend too much time talking about it because what more can I add? All the accolades and praise for The Golden Compass are well deserved, especially for the world-building. Lyra, though she’s young, is relatable because of her pluck and genuine concern for others. The ending line to this book is absolutely incredible.

Hopefully it won’t take a reading challenge to spur me on to read the second one… using my Kindle to read library books has ruined my life in regards to reading books I own.

BookBuddyAThon May 2017

I’m participating in the #buddyreadathon this year! My buddy, of course, is @fatgirlfatbooks .

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Buddy read: a book you and your buddy read together. Our selection: The City and the City by China Mieville.

We both added this book to our TBR lists so long ago that neither of us remember any more what the plot of the book is but we think it’s science fiction (?).

Favorite color: a book that has a cover that is the same color as your buddy’s favorite. My selection: To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell.

I picked this book because my buddy and I spend a lot of time talking about robots and A.I. so book about transhumanism seemed relevant to our interests…and it turns out that yellow is not a common book cover color…

Title: a book with the same first letter in the title as your buddy’s name. My selection: That Summer by Sarah Dessen.

I’ve read a lot of books by Sarah Dessen, but this one (which I believe is her first) is one I haven’t yet. As an added bonus, it meant that I had a book that has both initials of my buddy’s name. Overachieving here.

Buddy’s pick: provide your buddy with three books, they will choose one for you to read. My buddy’s selection: Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg.

Holmberg’s Paper Magician is positively regarded in these parts, so Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet had that going for it already. My buddy and I also discovered that we share a weakness for baking and the main character in this book is a magic baker. Maybe the book I’m most excited to read for this challenge, I bought this book a while ago but it was lost in the shuffle of my library loans so thanks to my buddy!

Guilty pleasure read: a book that you’ve been meaning to read but haven’t gotten around to. My selection: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman.

My good friend gifted me this entire trilogy for Christmas and I’ve really been meaning to read them but I keep falling behind on my library loans and not having time for my physical books! My book is the U.K. version, so I’ll technically be reading Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. She was shocked I missed this during my childhood and her family even treated me to some Tokay over the holidays so it’s time for me to read these…

Once the challenge is over, I’ll post my impressions of the books (and maybe some comments from my buddy). Time to go find out what The City and the City is actually about…

April 2017: Round-up

It was supposed to be the edge of summer and yet, while I was at Strobl am Wolfgangsee in late April, we got one last snowfall. Excellent! There was a grand total of two of us who were happy about that, but I’m glad to delay the summer heat for a weekend. Though, maybe the strange weather impaired my decision making ability because I drank some water from the See. I’m waiting at any moment for illness.

Yes, it’s been a good changing of the seasons so far here in southern Austria…

As for the reads? I only made it through 14 books this month but I toppled a couple of longer books like Fall of Hyperion, which left me in a week long daze where I was unable to do anything but stare at the ceiling and listen to “Man Who Sold the World” by David Bowie on repeat, so there’s that.

Hunted is a great fairy tale retelling of Beauty and the Beast, complete with my favorite aesthetic of a castle surrounded by endless snowfall. Mary Roach continues to be the dream researcher with Grunt, confronting poor professions with all the questions about inappropriate topics we want to know but are too embarrassed to ask.

Best of April 2017Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

The competition for best book this month was steep. I have a piece on He, She & It by Marge Piercy coming on Monday and Here I Am by Jonathon Safran Foer is a direct fit for me when it comes to the topic of differences between generations and how they define their identities. Unfortunately for these two books, though, I finished the second book in Dan Simmon’s Hyperion cantos and lost my damn mind. Hyperion/Fall of Hyperion farcasted straight to the top of my favorite books of all time list, so I’m obligated to give it the best of award for this month.

At the end of every chapter as I read this book I ended up mouthing “oh my god.” That’s how good this book is. The themes, each one complex enough to deserve its own essay, include: the destructive nature of tourism, A.I. becoming self aware, the stagnant state of evolution of the human genome, religion and sacrifice, the nature of poetry, destroying humanity to save the world, metal death creatures, time travel, the insignificance of the human race in the universe, what would happen if we could resurrect poets who died young and give them all the memories of their life to see if they would continue creating work, and putting your middle fingers up at whatever God you believe in.

For all that, it might be strange to say that there are parts of this book that are genuinely funny and had me laughing in between the continual “oh my god”s. The last fatline squirt is one of the most delightful lines of literature and lives up to the delight that the name ‘fatline squirt’ already is.

If I don’t stop now, I never will, but before I get to the Worst of April, I’m going to listen to “Man Who Sold the World” and dip into a fugue state for a while.

Worst of April 2017: Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza

I crossed out the Worst because I don’t think this book is bad, I was just disappointed by aspects of it. Empress has a lot of positive qualities–a diverse cast, space travel, dramatic murder politics, and a fun robot friend. The world-building in the universe is intriguing, I’ll be thinking about the implications of having memory completely tied up in a computer in our heads for a while, for example, and Belleza created cultures that feel intricate and well founded.

Unfortunately, all of this good stuff is bogged down by pacing problems. I believe this series is going to be a duo-logy, but for once in my life I’m going to say that instead of editing down, this book should have been expanded. All of the events in this book happen so fast. They’re good events! I want to read more about them! Plenty of scenes deserved more time than they were given and the backstories of characters were provided but in intense, brief injections.

Sometimes the plot would leap forward and characters would relate a lot of stuff that happened in the time leap with a sentence or two, all of which just made me wish I had been able to read that full scene instead of hearing about it in retrospect.

It’s a compliment to the story that Belleza has written that I actually wanted more time with it and I’m looking forward to the second book in the series as well as work from her in the future.

(I’m cutting off David Bowie to save me from myself.)

Fuckboys of Classic Literature: Brave New World Edition

            On this day, we have gathered to induct into the prestigious pantheon of Literary Fuckboys the character Bernard Marx of Aldous Huxley’s iconic Brave New World.

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In case you haven’t had the opportunity to read Brave New World or weren’t forced to in high school, and in order to understand Bernard’s fuckboy status, the society in Brave New World is vastly different from our own. It’s often labeled a dystopia but there’s a fairly strong argument to be made that it’s a utopia for those who are subscribers to a system of morality like Utilitarianism where happiness is the ultimate good and outcome.

Philosophy aside, one aspect of the society functioning in Brave New World is that of sexual interaction free of the restrictions of monogamy and puritanical ideals of prudishness. Citizens are encouraged to have many sexual partners to the extent that long-term (here more than a few liaisons) is viewed as unusual and a social faux-pas. In a city where all conceptions are moderated and take place in test tubes, the objective of sex for a biological purpose other than pleasure is eliminated.

On this topic, society in Brave New World is a lot more liberal (and feminist) than our current structure. If you’re resistant to the idea of no more monogamy and sex as a purely functional activity for pleasure because it feels as though it jettisons such beautiful ideas of love, parenting, and intimacy through sex, Bernard Marx is the character you’d identify with at the beginning of the novel.

Bernard is a traditionalist where traditional is a view of society that a western audience has grown up with. Dating and relationships should be monogamous, Bernard feels in woe. There should be commitment and deep emotional bonding. Women are being denied the essential and transformative experience of motherhood!

Well, if you’re a feminist maybe Bernard already seems suspect to you, because the idea that motherhood is a vital and necessary part of a woman’s life is a little reductive of women to being uteri, but at least his rhetoric is familiar.

The fuckboy in Bernard starts peeking out from his identifiable and familiar façade of western thought soon after that. For, as he lusts and admires after a woman named Lenina, Bernard bemoans the sexual freedom of his compatriots.

Open promiscuity and the state of polyamory are disdained by Bernard. Women, if they had any self-worth at all, wouldn’t sleep with so many (or all) of the men they know. These women, in fact, Bernard says, view themselves “like so much meat.”

Telling a woman that if she respected herself she wouldn’t be sexually active, even when her sexual activity is an expression of her autonomy and desires, is a classic fuckboy trap that has a lot of unpleasant layers like working on an archaeological dig of bullshit. Firstly, it equates self-worth with the restraint of sexual behavior. This immediately revitalizes the idea of purity—to respect yourself, you shouldn’t spoil your body in sexual activities. The concept also reinforces the idea that sexual activity is degrading for a woman (not for men, of course), giving men the power to control a woman’s sexual activity with the threat of putting the woman on the fringe of society and marking her as ruined. The fuckboy part of this, when we dig deep, is that all the bullshit is wrapped up in the pretty package of “I’m saying this because I care about you and want you to care about yourself!”

It is insidious sexism because it comes off as genuine concern. I leave room here only with the amendment that a lot of casual sex can be an indicator of depression and qualifies as risky behavior, but that’s true for both men and women. You can have a lot of self-worth and have a lot of sex or no sex and you can have no self-worth and have a lot of sex or no sex. The evaluation of this is for individuals and shouldn’t be intrinsically linked.

At the same time as complaining about women’s promiscuity, Bernard wallows in sorrow on his own relationship status, which is no relationship because women reject him and find him unattractive. It’s hard to imagine how this could possibly be true, right Bernard? Women love when you tell them that they have no self-worth and insult the way they live in emancipated sexuality.

Bernard frames the classic fuckboy position here that women only want assholes and he’s the perfect, respectable, kind, and intelligent man who is actually worthy of their attention. He’s that guy that looks at a woman in a relationship she finds perfectly satisfactory and is happy with and says: doesn’t she know I’d treat her better than him? This completely ignores the reality that Lenina and her friends are satisfied with their way of life—they don’t feel ashamed, they don’t judge others, and they take the frequent changing of partners as a given way to explore pleasure with others.

Meanwhile, alone and bitter, Bernard is the “radical” who feels his beliefs, contrary to society, are the true good ideas and that if only the sheeple would listen to him, they would no longer be blinded by their false beliefs. We’re breaking the ground in another archaeological dig because this position of Bernard not only labels himself as a savior of women but implies that he has no qualms about forcing his personal ideology onto them. But, hey, we get it. It’s not like Bernard, though he respects women, thinks they are capable for thinking about their sexuality and sexual pleasure themselves. They need a man to tell them what’s right!

Brave New World should be re-titled Lenina Deserved Better because Bernard makes it a personal mission of his to forcibly show her the error of her beliefs. This includes preaching at her about the sacred beauty of motherhood, which is already unpleasant, but for Lenina especially so because she finds the natural physical birth process to be disgusting and unnatural. This is not relatable for the reader, again, from a western audience, but imagine being in Lenina’s pneumonic shoes. For her, natural birth is as repugnant as being born in a test tube is for us.

Despite Lenina asking Bernard to stop and leave her alone because his “lessons” are making her uncomfortable, ashamed, and unhappy, he doesn’t stop thinking he’s doing what’s best for her. The entitlement of Bernard to Lenina’s body and mind here is baffling—he wants to groom her to be his perfect partner because he desires her and thus her feelings and desires are irrelevant.

Ironically, and what really places Bernard into the fuckboy hall of fame, is that later in the novel when he does become desirable to women and they proposition having sexual relationships with him, all his strains of “they think of themselves as meat” evaporates! Poof! He sleeps with new women every day and brags about it to his friend, conveniently forgetting all of his preaching on the indispensable concept of monogamy.

These women’s desire for him rather show good sense instead of a lack of self-worth. It’s wildly coincidental that when they want him instead of another man, there’s no problem with freely enjoying sex, I’m sure. The sexual double-standard is the cockroach that survived the nuclear apocalypse.

Welcome to the pantheon, Bernard Marx, you’re a fuckboy with fuckboy logic through and through. I like to imagine that the island he gets shipped off to at the end of Brave New World is a bunch of fuckboy intellectuals holding symposiums where they moan about their own sexual worthiness and the tragedy of how feminist theories of sexuality has ruined society. And yes, in my imagination they are wearing fedoras.