Saturday, January 20, 2007

Okay, I Lied

Having bragged/whined/self-aggrandized my getting to work on a Saturday at the end of the last post, I immediately thought, "Wait! The second half of Zadie Smith's essay was supposed to go up today!" And indeed it has, and is here. It's much too rich to unpack now, because I do need to work, but there was one line that stood out for me in relation to that work: "Fiction confronts you with the awesome fact that you are not the only real thing in this world."

This articulated for me exactly why I love Lisa Yee's "Millie trilly" so much -- because you are first drawn into Millicent's viewpoint, and you think her perspective on events is the definitive account, the only real thing in the world; then you read Stanford's viewpoint, and you realize how much you missed when you were reading Millie's POV -- how much of his pain and sensitivity she was unable or unwilling to see or admit, or simply didn't know. And then you read Emily's take on things and you realize how much both Millicent and Stanford underestimate her according to their particular tastes and needs: Millicent sees her as unintelligent and has to learn to appreciate her emotionalism and heart, while Stanford sees her as the perfect girl and has to come to accept her complications. And of course Emily has a whole journey of her own with her parents, recognizing these same limits and possibilities. Each book, read in concert with the others, reminds us how limited our viewpoints are and becomes an argument for greater empathy toward us all. Quoting Smith again: "Both the writer and the reader must undergo an ethical expansion -- allow me to call it an expansion of the heart -- in order to comprehend the human otherness that fiction confronts them with. . . . That writing and reading should be such difficult arts reminds us of how frequently our own subjectivity fails us. We do not know people as we think we know them. The world is not only as we say it is." And great fiction, like Lisa's, reminds us of that every day.


  1. Have you read the Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell?

  2. Yay, Lisa! I think you've definitely hit on why i like Lisa's books so much. They are perfectly real (while being funny and well-written). I can't wait to read the Emily book.

  3. I am jealous because my super reader eleven-year-old niece got an advanced copy of "So Totally Emily Ebers" and loved it. (She is in tight with her local bookstore owner.)

    I, having a reputation as "World's Coolest Aunt" to maintain, have procured signed copies of Millicent and Stanford for her (Thanks Lisa!) which we have had a great time talking about.

    Lisa’s books as stand-alone reads are a delight but as a trilogy really become something more. (I'm flashing back on Faulkner's "Sound and the Fury" as another example of one story told from different points of view to become a unified whole.) I can see Millicent, Stanford and Emily being taught as a class on empathy and understanding.

    The Zadie Smith article has been the topic of lengthy conversations at our dinner table for several nights now, "What books have changed the way that you look at the world?"

    My list includes "Brave New World" though not in a very good way about class and society, "Madame Bovary" as a lesson to not let romance distort reality, and "Walden" which changed the way I looked at nature.

    The hub’s favorite is "Heart of Darkness" as a reminder to not let the journey consume you, and the Boy's list included "Scarecrow and his Servant" as a lesson in how to keep going no matter what, and finally "The Zombie Survival Guide" which we think will prepare him for Junior High.

    Read on.


    "Books invite all, constrain none."

  4. I was laughing so hard on the subway reading "Stanford" that the guy next to me had to ask what I was reading that was so good.

    And I just finished "Emily" and closed it with that warm, glowing feeling of having just read a truly great, touching book and the slight worry that it'll be hard to find something that good again.

    THANKS, Lisa!

  5. Thanks for the ZadieLinks. I have enjoyed reading these.
    Lurban in Vermont

  6. "Millie's Trilly" - ha! I like that. I am so looking forward to reading Emily...and Charm School! -Yee Fan, Julia DeVillers