The merry recluse: a life in essays

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Knapp, Caroline
The merry recluse: a life in essays 
This was published posthumously in 2004. The compiler is Sandra Shea, her former editor. The author died of lung cancer in 2002 at the age of 42.  Ms. Knapp was a columnist for the Boston Phoenix, an alternative newspaper, and her essays also appeared in The New York Times, Salon, Siren magazine, and New Woman magazine. She wrote honestly about her struggles and her innermost thoughts and feelings.  She admits to feelings of jealousy, anxiety, grief, loneliness and rage that many of us deny. Her essays about her obsessions and addictions are truly brave. In “A letter to my father”, she states “I’ve come to see drinking as a relationship, as full and rich and sensual and complex as the kind you have with the key people in your life, as the kind I had with you.  I loved drinking, for a long time. I loved it so much I could have died for it, literally.  But you died first and in many ways, I guess that spared me.  On some key level, you see, I couldn’t give up drinking until I’d given up you.”
      “Life without anesthesia” is about how exposed one feels after giving up an addiction.  In her case, she hid behind anorexia and alcoholism.  In conquering a food disorder and alcoholism, she was sometimes flooded with too many emotions, but also experienced an authentic life.  Ms. Knapp was also a fine social critic.  The piece entitled “Teddy Bear II” is about a case where a woman abandoned her father who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.  She argues that we as a nation do a very poor job of caring for our elderly.  She could be funny, too.  How many of us can relate to spending inordinate sums of money to furnish our homes in “Notes on Nesting” I saw myself in “I hate money”: “I hate money.  I hate dealing with it, thinking about it, managing it, planning for it, and accounting for it. On the other hand, I don’t have too many problems spending it, which complicates matters considerably.” ” Bills? What bills? I don’t see any bills. Who’s Bill? Let’s talk about something else.” Some essays might appeal more to women.  In “Barbie does death”, Ms. Knapp states that “The big walk down the aisle  is allegedly something a girl starts dreaming about as soon as she’s old enough to dream”.  She did an informal poll of 15 of her friends, and only two had the wedding fantasy.  The majority fantasized about being rock stars or superheroes.  The title essay “The merry recluse” is about the joys of living alone, and how this flies in the face of societal expectations.  It would have been amazing to see what other issues she would have tackled, if she had lived.

Bridget Jones’s diary

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Fielding, Helen
Bridget Jones’s diary
I saw the movie before reading the book.  This is the classic book that spawned Chick Lit.  It holds up well (it was published in 1996). Some of the British-isms take getting used to: such as “fag” for cigarette and “flat” for apartment.  Each diary entry is prefaced by how many cigarettes she smoked, how much she weighs, the circumference of her thighs, how much alcohol she drank, calories consumed, and in parentheses if it was good or bad, and any mitigating factors leading to such behavior. In later entries, she also adds number of lottery tickets purchased, how many panic attacks or negative thoughts, and how many times she dialed 1471 (the equivalent of *69).

Bridget is a winsome, bumbling heroine.  She goes to dinner parties attended by Smug Marrieds, who say all sorts of derogatory things to her, a Singleton, such as ” Your biological clock is ticking”; and “You still don’t have a boyfriend, Old Girl?.”  She works at a publishing firm reading manuscripts. She starts an affair with her boss, Daniel Cleaver.  All along, she keeps running into the son of her parents’ friends, Mark Darcy, a human rights lawyer (or barrister, as they say. Interestingly, the text mentions the actors Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, who play Daniel and Mark in the film, respectively.  The book is funny and relatable; I didn’t want it to end.