by Vicraj Gill
We’ve been a bit flexible with Bloom’s usual criteria of late, naming a fictional character, Nicholson Baker’s Paul Chowder, a Bloomer. In the same spirit, we break briefly from our usual literary focus to talk about Hollywood—and Dodai Stewart’s declaration on Jezebel that 2013 was “a great year for women over 40” in film and television.
Stewart points to 49-year-old Sandra Bullock’s success in “Gravity,” as well as to the array of post-40 actresses in the latest season of “American Horror Story,” titled “Coven”—which has the added honor of being, in Stewart’s words, “one of the few TV shows that actually passes the Bechdel Test on a regular basis.” She identifies successful post-40 women behind the cameras as well, like Callie Khouri, 56, creator of the TV show “Nashville” and Jane Campion, 59, creator of “Top of the Lake,” among others. Stewart concludes that the presence of these women on and off the screen proves that getting older isn’t something to resist, cure, or ignore. “Seeing a woman over 40 (or 50, or 60, 70, 80, 90) as a fully realized character is not just good for women, it’s good for society.” We definitely agree.
That opportunities for older women in Hollywood are getting better doesn’t necessarily mean things are improving everywhere, though. At The New York Times, Fay Weldon writes about the negative impact age can have on a writer’s prospects. The publishing industry wants marketability; female writers are prized when young and venerated when old but left high and dry in middle age. Weldon suggests an intriguing solution to the problem: e-books and social media, both of which allow women “to be judged by our words and ideas, not by our looks.”
Tim Parks also sees present-day publishing culture as a dangerous place for young writers, both female and male. In “Writing to Win,” an entry on The New York Review of Books blog, he says the urgency his workshop students feel “to publish as soon as possible . . . colors everything they do.” He also wonders why unpublished writers are frequently derided while published ones are revered, and what effect “reverence” has on the work. His conclusion? Veneration can be toxic, when excessive. Publication shouldn’t be the sole factor that differentiates “writer and non-writer.”
Maybe literary success is less about winning than about waiting—about observing and understanding the world rather than asserting yourself in it as quickly and dramatically as possible. Waiting is what Reno, the protagonist of Bloomer Rachel Kushner’s novel The Flamethrowers, does; and in that book, it becomes a way for Reno to “let the world happen to her,” as The New Yorker’s Amelia Lester puts it.
The image of a young girl “waiting for her life to begin”—though less patiently than Kushner’s character does—also appears in Lucy Scholes’s piece on Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch (2013), which in turn examines the work of another Bloomer, George Eliot. Mead’s book has led to a surge of interest in Eliot over the last few months. If you’re looking to know more about the writer or her most famous novel, our own Rob Jacklosky’s feature piece “George Eliot: Strong-Minded Woman and Varying Unfolding Self” is another good place to start.
At The Spectator, a review of another book about a Bloomer—Helen Trinca’s Madeleine (2013), a biography of Madeleine St. John, the Australian novelist who published her first book at 52. Anne Chisholm calls St. John’s story one of “a wonderful late-flowering talent” and hopes that Trinca’s book will give the author “the readership she deserves.”
Last year, Jennifer Acker Shah wrote about André Aciman’s examinations of memory, exile, and longing. Similar themes emerge in Alex Kalamaroff’s review of Aciman’s 2011 essay collection Alibis over at HTMLGiant. While Kalamaroff’s not quite as appreciative of Aciman’s style as Shah is, he writes compellingly about the relationship between art and life.
To end the roundup on a fun note: apparently, stuffed animals also grow wiser with age. Maria Popova of Brain Pickings writes about Mark Nixon’s Much Loved, which, with its portraits of people’s childhood toys, shows us “[w]hat a forty-something bear might know about the meaning of life.”