Saturday, April 20, 2013

Review my sister's book!

Last month, Christopher Buckley reviewed my sister Lucy Ellmann’s new novel Mimi in the New York Times Sunday Book Review for March 17, 2013. He didn’t seem to like it much. I won’t link to it, but you can look it up.

It’s not so easy to refute a book review. Of course every reviewer is entitled to his – or her – opinion. (Usually “his”: most reviewers at the Book Review, and a number of other journals, are men, as shown in a recent statistical analysis by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.) Nevertheless I wrote a letter to the Book Review in response. They haven’t printed it – perhaps they don’t like letters from authors’ brothers – but I will, here:

            To the Editor:

Christopher Buckley’s review of Lucy Ellmann’s new novel Mimi is so over the top in its hostility to the book that one searches for an explanation. Can he really be that upset about italics? Or could he possibly see the book’s Manifesto as an actual call for men to solve the world’s problems by giving all their money to women? Buckley asks a couple of times if perhaps he is missing the point, and wonders if the book should be read as a Swiftian modest proposal. In my opinion, that notion misses the point twice. The book is neither a tract nor a satire, but rather a romance, and its Manifesto is not advocacy but the imagined expression of a man who has at long last and after much suffering found love in a woman’s arms. The books Buckley imagines and dislikes aren’t the one Lucy Ellmann wrote.


Stephen Ellmann

PS: I am the author’s brother – but since Buckley finds time in his review to sniff about the “numerous Ellmanns” my sister includes in her acknowledgments, I feel I too have been touched by his review and have acquired a right of reply.

So what to do? Well, Lucy’s book features a Manifesto, and I wish to speak in similar vein:  

Literary critics of America, you have nothing to lose but your chains. Don’t be daunted by one man’s opinion. Read Lucy’s book and review it! 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Our funny world -- e.g., at the Motor Vehicle Commission

My wife doesn't have my last name. I am fine with this, and the State of New Jersey has no objection either. But it turns out that in at least one place my wife's keeping her own name has some consequences. Suppose (well, let's say "assume") that she had wanted to re-register the car that's in my name. Not to re-register it in her name, but to re-register it on my behalf. If she did have my last name, she could have done so with no problem whatsoever. But since she doesn't, the only way she could have accomplished this feat would have been for me to grant her a power of attorney -- and that document would have had to be notarized! Oddly enough, I wound up re-registering the car myself.

I don't want to make too much of this. My wife and I were hardly subjected to an injustice. Even the inconvenience could have been avoided if I'd taken care of the paperwork by mail a month earlier (sigh). And the power of attorney form, which I've been studying this afternoon, applies not only to renewal of registration but also to transfer of registration and various other auto-related steps as well, and some of those might actually pose dangers of theft or fraud.

But really -- is there no way to take account more easily of the fact that many people today are married but don't share last names? Surely we should fix this anomaly as soon as global hunger has been alleviated!