Jessica's Reviews > Cleopatra's Nose: 39 Varieties of Desire

Cleopatra's Nose by Judith Thurman
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's review
Feb 28, 08

bookshelves: chicklits, aborted-efforts
Recommended to Jessica by: ginnie
Recommended for: worldly, intellectual women who live in manhattan, or who would, if they lived in new york

This isn't bad or anything, but I'm just not that into it. I've read a few of the essays and I'm just kind of bored, and keep picking up the Robert Moses instead of this at every chance I get. If I'd paid for this book, or even if I didn't have a ginormous stack of other things I'm dying to read, I'd keep going, but I'm just not feeling terribly enthusiastic about it. I think one problem I'm having is that Thurman's essays don't ever give me any kind of "we're in this together" kind of feeling; they just make me feel really distanced from her, and instead of feeling like I'm benefiting from her experiences, I'm mildly resentful than she had them, and I didn't; I feel like in a successful essay, you're happy the other person did something instead of you doing it, because they write about it so engagingly.

In the first one about Vanessa Beecroft (the most interesting essay I read), I felt very detached from the writer, and I really felt like she and Beecroft had a lot more in common with each other than I did with Thurman, which was a little weird for me. She seemed kind of judgmental and snooty, which can be great in a writer, but I just wasn't feeling it in this book. I felt like she looked down on Beecroft just a little for being a bulimic, exploitive nutjob, but she also respects Beecroft's designer clothes and the glamour of her life; then in the essay about the French lady who fucks everyone, I felt like Thurman looked down on that lady for being schlumpy and kind of pathetic and I guess for fucking everyone.... None of this is necessarily in her writing, it's just how I personally felt while reading it. I suspected that if Thurman were ever to meet me, she would be disappointed and condescending. Obviously, this would be the case with most smarty-pants, fancy writerly types, but I feel like I kind of need their writing to obscure that fact, if I'm going to stay on board for an entire book of essays or articles or whatever these things are. This isn't just about me being jealous of writers with more fabulous lives than mine, it's about the question of how successfully said fabulous writer is able to bridge this gap between her rarified, intellectual existence and her off-the-rack, slow-witted popular readership, and maybe this is some weird transference of mine that has nothing to do with Thurman, but I just didn't experience that here. I needed to feel like Thurman and I were a "we," and I didn't. I felt like she would be the popular girl with the Guess jeans in the cafeteria, and I would be wearing the Payless Docs. I think this was distracting and maybe part of why I couldn't pay attention to her writing about subjects I ostensibly find fascinating. "Desire" is my number one topic of interest at the moment! But In the one where she goes to Japan on a tofu expedition, I didn't have the good travelogue feeling of "I got to stow away in your suitcase"; more just this kind of deflating, "Wow, I wish someone would send me to Japan on a tofu expedition, her life is so much cooler than mine. She is smarter than me and probably has an amazing wardrobe. And this article is boring. It seems like it was a lot more fun to research than it is to read. I'm going to put this down now and go eat some tofu." (Which I did.)

Anyway, this really isn't bad by any means; it just didn't really capture my imagination, and I'd read a few more except I really do have a trillion other things clawing at my leg right now, so.... maybe I'll give it another shot someday, but for now I'm going to bail.

ARGH!! Except I just now reread Ginnie's review, and it makes me feel like I should keep reading. I mean, Thurman really writes about themes that interest me. This really seems like something I would love! But right now I'd rather read this book about Katrina, so.... I won't take it back to the library yet, but it is coming off my "currently-reading" shelf, which is looking a bit ugly bloated and definitely needs to be purged.

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