At my sister's baby shower, she received a lot of goods from the Gap. It's hard to avoid it. Yet, my father, who is a business professor, turned a pair of tiny socks over in his hands, and said to me, "This Gap place is GREAT! People should invest in it!" It was pretty cute — but also amazing — given that at this time, the Gap was ubiquitous, and I'm willing to bet he was actually wearing something from there at the time. So, in the grand tradition of pointing out things that people already love, let me introduce something absurdly not new to you.
A dear friend of mine (I'm saying that to name drop mostly) has been working on a column about Young Adult literature — it combines a couple of high arts — belles-lettres, criticism, and Judy Blume, and yes, it's just as much fun as that sounds. It's called Fine Lines, and you can find it in that treasure trove of blogging, Jezebel, a neo-feminist blog (don't ask, I don't know what it means, but I know I mean it) that I've probably already drooled over more than once on these digital pages. Fine Lines takes a nostalgic look at that category of books that looks like candy on the shelves, but is actually more like a fine helping of vegetables. It includes books that you were assigned to read, and didn't know were going to UTTERLY and COMPLETELY shape your life, but it also includes the books you were ashamed to take out of the library because they had the glow of puberty about them — and so did you. I'm going to stop writing about the column in specific right now, because I'm wasting valuable time that you could be reading it, but I want to point out my favorite entry, about Summer of My German Soldier — which is one of the first books I read that actually made me sob. (And I swear to you, I had already read Where the Red Fern Grows AND A Summer To Die by then.) I felt so deeply hurt by the ending of the book — all the other sad books I'd read up till then had hinged on death. Death, you can't help — pigs and spiders have to die, and worse, so do friends and family. But Bette Greene's novel points out a terrible truth — sometimes tragedy is within everyone's control — you can't blame it on anything except for people doing bad things, selfishly, and sometimes, cruelly. Go read that entry, right now. Right now! And re-read the book. And weep.
But wait! One more thing I want to say. Fine Lines is a lovely example of what blogging hath wrought, a stark comparison to the vain and self-absorbed efforts that should make the Gray Lady blush. Fine Lines is soul-stirring — but The New York Times Magazine cover story is soul-stealing. The former creates community by inviting everyone who's ever loved the Little House series to the table, and comparing notes. And not just the cool girls — the only requisite is proof of your passion. The latter splinters that community into little shards — and then turns inward, absorbed in its own wounds. That's not to say that there's no place for snark, for sarcasm, for a delicious bit of gossip — but without reflection, it ends up as insubstantial and inconsequential as a Slam Book. And mercifully, like a Slam Book, you can outgrow it. So save your bile, people — and head over to Fine Lines. And then maybe to the Gap! They have cute summer stuff.