“Sex and The City” was arguably at its most insufferable around that time that Carrie Bradshaw got her first book deal. Sure, that season gave us Amy Sedaris and Molly Shannon as Carrie’s publisher-agent team, but Carrie was dating a guy who was given to flipping off his answering machine and tried to bring scrunchies back from the blessed dead. Speaking of hair, hers was a crying shame during those dark days. But most ridiculous of all was the way the show handed Carrie Bradshaw a literati crown for publishing a collection of previously written columns. She did not “write a book,” as she told her driver after her book party (before said driver, a stranger, very realistically took Carrie out to Gray’s Papaya to “celebrate” with hot dogs). She slapped together her greatest hits, added a dedication, posed for a ridiculous author photo, and hereby was able to afford relationship-killing shopping sprees at Prada.
Since then, I’ve been wary of “books” that are nothing more than revenue-generating, party-demanding repurposing of words one can, and likely has, found elsewhere. So I was relieved to find that the “Book of Jezebel” avoided this farce (which would have been immediately obvious to me if I had taken a minute to reflect on the subtitle of the book, "An Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Lady Things".) The book, edited by Anna Holmes, who launched the Jezebel blog in 2007, is not a rehashing of content you can find on the Gawker network. Instead, it’s a 300-page, 1000-entry illustrated list -- an encyclopedia, even -- of feminist-leaning people, ideas, characters and cultural artifacts that reflect the distinct Jezebel voice; created by Holmes, Kate Harding, Amanda Hess and several dozen contributors with varying ties to Jezebel.
No encyclopedia is meant to be consumed as a narrative, but “The Book of Jezebel” is haphazard to the point of thematic disorganization, and few entries I’ve come across have been quite as funny as your garden variety Jezebel blog post. Holmes acknowledges the arbitrariness of the volume in its introduction: “…Signing on for a book project of this size and scope always sounds a lot easier in theory than in reality,” she writes, before inviting readers to email the book’s editors with suggestions for subjects and people they might have missed. That kind of transparency and refusal to take itself too seriously is one of the many reasons Jezebel has legions of devoted fans and ignites a dialogue wherever it goes.
“The Book of Jezebel” provides the expected sarcasm-soaked sendups of sexism, racism, classism and patriarchy: A ring is the “primary life goal of all single women;” a zygote is “too young to be a slut, so way more entitled to civil rights than you are.” Very few men have their own entries – so far I have come across only a handful, including Terry Richardson, Robert Pattinson, Max Tucker, and Barack Obama, who is described first and foremost as “Husband of Michelle.” Mr. Big also has an entry, and BoJ credits his “Sex and the City” storyline (rightly) with convincing “single women worldwide that they, too, could convert an emotionally unavailable, selfish man into a doting partner for life.” (Several men are featured in the book’s “Gallery of Wretched Misogynists,” which includes God and Ayn Rand.)
Among the regular entries, highlights are menstruation (“for some reason girls in the seventies couldn’t wait to get their periods and incessantly wrote books about it”); self-respect, which defers to Joan Didion’s description of living without it in “Slouching Towards Bethlehem;” and Rosie O’Donnell’s entry, which is written in thick, stumbling verse, like O’Donnell’s blog posts often are. There is a noticeably high proportion of entries devoted to lesser-known artists, writers, and activists of color, like the sculptor Edmonia Lewis and Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide. And there is a preoccupation with Young Adult authors, books and characters of a bygone era, like Lois Duncan and Beverly Cleary’s creation Ramona Quimby. The book also includes the most flattering photo of Lady Gaga I, and probably you, have ever seen.
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Unless you are taking the drug that let Bradley Cooper kung-fu his way out of a gangfight in “Limitless,” you will learn something new from “The Book of Jezebel.” At the risk of exposing myself as an uncultivated neanderthal, I did not know a number of things I came across, including but certainly not limited to:
-Toni Collette turned down the lead in “Bridget Jones’ Diary.”
-Diablo Cody’s real name is Brook Busey.
-“Murphy Brown” is basically extinct: Only the first season is available on DVD, and the show is not available on Hulu, Netflix, iTunes, or anywhere that doesn’t look like some kind of a virus-infecting Internet scam.
-French artist Sophie Calle created an exhibition around a “Dear Jane” letter from French author Gregoire Boulliere (who she didn’t name). She invited a bunch of people (and one parrot) to examine and interpret the letter through each of their disciplines – forensics, psychology, marksmanship, parroting. She called the exhibit “Take Care of Yourself,” which was the last line of his letter (translated from the French.) I also found an interesting suggestion on a blog that Bouilliere, who was not nearly as famous as Calle at the time, wrote the letter with the idea that his ex might create something public with it. (I can’t find the link anymore, but I swear I saw it and will include it here as soon as I can).
-Gin apparently pairs well with pizza.
-The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is a real thing that exists. It is apparently “the only research-based organization working within the media industry to engage, educate, and influence the need for gender balance, reducing stereotyping and creating a wide variety of female characters for entertainment targeting children 11 and under.”
“The Book of Jezebel” also sinks its teeth into certain cultural phenomena that many of us can probably recognize on a subconscious level but might not have been able to articulate before. To wit: There is a highlighted section devoted to “Black Best Friend,” which is described as “a tool used by writers and producers wanting to dazzle you with their open-mindedness and commitment to diversity,” that often turn out to be “manipulations that cleverly take advantage of the invisibility of black men and women and their historic subservient status to whites.” The authors illustrate the concept with examples ranging from Punky Brewster’s best friend Cheri to Tara from “True Blood.” There’s also a Taxonomy of Nice Guys, which argues that not all nice guys are so nice. Example: The Predatory Bestie, and the Fake Reformed Ex.
I would not suggest “The Book of Jezebel” to someone who is unfamiliar with the site, but I would suggest that anyone who isn’t get with the program and start reading it on the regular. I’ll keep my “Book of Jezebel” on the shelf next to Suzanne White’s hilarious and terrifying “The New Astrology,” also good for a vaguely validating kick in the pants.