I suppose it's a sign of an exaggeration-prone temperament to say, "it's one of the best things I've ever read" of two things in one month. But I can definitely say that of Mary Gaitskill's "The Lost Cat," which I referred to a few posts back, and I can also say that of Sigrid Nunez's book about Susan Sontag, Sempre Susan, which I finished just minutes ago, and which I'm still in thrall to--and will be for some time. I can't imagine a more dignified, concise, compassionate, and devastating biography, whatever the subject. And not a false note. Here's a little bit.
from Sempre Susan
She said a writer should never pay attention to reviews, good or bad. "In fact, you'll see, the good ones will often make you feel even worse than the bad ones." Besides, she said, people are sheep. If one person says something's good, the next person say it's good, everyone says it's good." At a certain point, people simply made up their minds about it based on what had already been said about it.
But there were times when she was piqued about the person to whom one of her books had been assigned for review because she didn't believe that person was smart enough or important enough to write about her.
She said it was a mistake to care too much if others liked or disliked you. To be despised in certain circumstances, or by certain people, could be a high compliment.
She said, "Don't be afraid to steal. I steal from other writers all the time." And she could point to no few instances of writers stealing from her.
She said, "Beware of ghettoization. Resist the pressure to think of yourself as a woman writer." (I winced when I entered a bookstore recently and saw her shelved under the sign Celebrate Women's History Month. Just her, Anais Nin, and Zora Neale Hurston.)
She said, "Resist the temptation to think of yourself as a victim." (She had no patience with weaklings who couldn't take care of themselves; those without armor brought our her aggression.) She believed that women were raised to be masochists and that this, too, was something a woman had to struggle against. Though she saw herself as utterly different from most other women, she deplored what she saw as her own masochistic tendencies. "Like my grotesque way of panting after people who don't want me." ( Grotesque was another one of her words.)