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Lusty Lady

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Why Diana Joseph's I'm Sorry You Feel That Way is my new favorite book

I will have an interview with Diana Joseph here soon as well as some key excerpts from her book, but for now, my admittedly gushing, glowing review. She so deserves it. Seriously, this book is amazing. Do also check out her blog. But really, do yourself a favor and go get a copy of I'm Sorry You Feel That Way: The Astonishing but True Story of a Daughter, Sister, Slut, Wife, Mother, and Friend to Man and Dog. Much more TK because she's that good. I was intrigued at first by the "Slut" in the title, and that essay ("The Girl Who Only Sometimes Said No") is my favorite by far, but there's so much more here, though anyone who has ever been called a slut or identified as one will appreciate that particular essay.

Diana Joseph's I'm Sorry You Feel That Way is my new Favorite Book. By that, I mean Favorite Ever, the kind I talk about incessantly, whip out and read aloud, buy for my friends and family and generally insist everyone I know stop everything they're doing and read now (the last one was Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle).

Lest you think that's hyperbolic, let me tell you when this book is so amazing. Firstly, I read a lot of memoirs, and even the most compelling ones can take on a certain sameness: I did this, I went through tragedy, I did this. Not to knock the genre, because I gravitate towards it, but what Joseph's done here is to turn the memoir on its head. On the surface, these are character studies of the men in her life, and as character studies, they should themselves be studied by fiction writers for their fine detail, their knack of getting inside her subjects' heads, whether it's her ex-husband, son, Satanist neighbor, or dog.

But then Joseph manages to bring the topic at hand back to herself in ways that are subtle yet extremely powerful. She talks about what these men (and animals) mean to her, how she is like them and different from them, what she gets out of her relationships with them, the complexity of the love she feels for them. In the process, she touches on sex, religion, family, motherhood, daughterhood, smoking, work, and pet ownership.

My favorite chapter by far is "The Girl Who Only Sometimes Said No," about looking at her son's yearbook with him, and trying to grapple with her own past as a slut (or perhaps a "slut") while conveying to him why judging women on their sexuality is wrong. Her writing is blunt, direct, and powerful. The scant few sentences about her being date raped are ones that linger in their scarcity.

I skipped around these essays, which Joseph makes it easy to do. Together, they cohere and make a narrative of a woman who got married and became a mom in her early twenties, was miserable and lonely and often lost-feeling, drank a lot, but got her bearings (her essay about her former colleague and how his alcoholism separated them is moving in its calm tragicness) and became a professor. I left the essay "Humping the Dinosaur" for last; I started it, but since I'm not a dog person and I thought it was about her dog (which it is), I kept putting it off. When I finally got to it, it contained a paragraph about crying, about losing it, about worrying incessantly, that was as honest and true and easily relateable as the rest of the book. That's the magic here; a chapter on her dog's humping problem is also about how she copes with stress.

By taking the winding road to tell her stories, Joseph makes us pause and truly look at the people she trains her pen on. Her compassion for them, her insight into what makes them tick, and why she's drawn to them, is at the heart of this book. Please do yourself a favor and check out I'm Sorry You Feel That Way. I have a feeling it just may become your new favorite book too.

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