The XX Factor

Maybe Books Are a Drag

Hanna , I read the Sandra Tsing Loh piece not as a condemnation of modern marriage, and not even as a parable about the impossibility of modern motherhood , but as a cautionary tale about building your life around what Tsing Loh describes as a life spent “taking with me … to my bed, a glass of merlot and a good book.” Because the only villains in this piece are the books-the piles and piles of books that she uses to arrange her life. From what she depicts as her “lazy, undisciplined attachment parenting” to the nearly pornographic, Pottery Barn descriptions of her friend’s kitchen renovation, the story leaps from one fashionable marriage book to the next. She won’t hire a nanny because of Barbara Ehrenreich’s dictum that she’d “never let another woman scrub her toilets.” Her friends’ absurd husbands are either “cheating” with subscriptions to gourmet magazines or bookmarked porn sites. Whole conversations with her girlfriends turn on books about the human sex drive and the impossibility of marriage. These are marriages built on the not-too-solid foundation of using books to build a better life.

There isn’t a sentence in this piece that isn’t profoundly shaped by media expectations of perfect parenting, perfect romantic intimacy, happening in perfect kitchens full of perfect lemon zesters. Any marriage predicated on the idealized images of glossy magazines, the dopey optimism of parenting books, and the dispassionate analysis of whatever Marriage Sucks book is in vogue that week is almost doomed to fail. We have no idea from this piece what Tsing Loh wants for herself or for her life. It’s just a catalog of failures; failures to look like a catalog. Perhaps it’s no accident, then, that Tsing Loh takes comfort that her children aren’t suffering too badly from the divorce because “their most ardent daily fixations continue to be amassing more Pokémon cards and getting a dog named Noodles.”

Nobody is saying modern marriage is easy. But maybe if your “staggering working mother’s to-do list” isn’t built on hitting media-invented benchmarks of perfect intimacy, partnership, and material success, the probability of feeling like a bitter failure diminishes.