I’ve been reading EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT BEING A GIRL I LEARNED FROM JUDY BLUME, edited by Jennifer O’Connell (who writes for adults in that name and young adults as Jenny O’Connell). Which, so far, has been kind of disappointing. Many of the essays — despite some notable exceptions — are almost astonishingly poorly written (considering they’re all written by professional novelists — though not, I suppose, essayists), and most are oddly didactic as well.
In that last vein, the most peculiar that I’ve read so far has got to be Jennifer Coburn’s meditation on “White Guilt,” ostensibly about Blume’s IGGY’S HOUSE. After a plot summary of that book, most of the essay consists of Coburn assuring us many, many, many times that her efforts to prove herself the most enlightened and anti-racist white person ever were misguided and condescending… and actually, I do respect her willingness to recount some of her more unfortunate activities in this regard.
It’s possible I would have judged the essay as a whole more charitably had it not explained early on that Coburn’s New York City upbringing suffered no lack of diversity; after all, as a sixteen-year-old she once shared a cab with a “Middle Eastern dignitary.” …Seriously. It’s the kind of statement that you feel must be intended as irony or satire, except surrounded as it is by more normally earnest statements about the ethnic mix at her schools, I think it’s… not.
The essay as a whole mostly just made me sad: here’s someone who’s obviously quite horrified by racism; we’re in a country where 1 in 15 Black men are in prison or jail and where the Black middle class is perhaps being obliterated, and the (published!) preoccupations of an anti-racist are… this?
One thing I am enjoying about EVERYTHING I LEARNED, though, is seeing some variety in what in Blume’s work spoke to folks. There’s a particular example that struck me, which, now that I’ve puzzled over Coburn’s essay for a lot longer than I expected, will have to be taken up in my next post…