Okay, normally I try to be nice. I know that’s hard to believe, but really, truly, I try not to call out everyday working writers on awful, awful mistakes, judgments, and opinions and instead try to focus on writing that inspires me. I’d rather save the bitterness of my little existence for comic self-flagellation and find work to share that makes me see the world in a new way.
But really, Pamela Druckerman of the New York Times, I can’t let your article pass without speaking out.
Granted, I love listicles, especially Great Wisdom Listicles. I love listicles that are little essays unto themselves, that have a little meat to them and aren’t just the entertaining little fluff pieces most of them were meant to be (that is, lists of anecdotes with no evidence backing them up). And I further love listicles that are relevant to me. So I was all set to settle in and find out What I Would Learn in my 40s, according to a New York Times-affiliated writer, a writer who’s living out her 40s in freaking PARIS, no less, which is absolutely one of the outcomes I would have chosen for myself and my family had I the option of giving the Fates my list of Dream Destinies. (Inspector Spacetime is becoming an excellent chef, and Little Fickle and I love eating and relaxed lifestyles. I’m sure we Fickle-Spacetimes would have done great.)
So I start reading your article. It’s late at night. Things are going great. Then I get to this passage:
The existing literature treats the 40s as transitional. Victor Hugo supposedly called 40 “the old age of youth.” In Paris, it’s when waiters start calling you “Madame” without an ironic wink. The conventional wisdom is that you’re still reasonably young, but that everything is declining: health, fertility, the certainty that you will one day read “Hamlet” and know how to cook leeks.
Excuse me, Ms. Druckerman? Did you just say that, out of ALL the books that exist on the planet today, out of ALL the books that people are expected to read in their years of education and being well-read adults, you could actually picture a world in which your example New York Times reader who has made it to her 40s has never read Hamlet????!!!!
No, seriously, this was just a lapse, right? You were probably drowsy from your long day of consuming fine wine and coffee and cream-laden foods, and just meant to say “the certainty that you will one day read Anna Karenina,” isn’t that right? Because as a New York Times-affiliated writer, you surely know that the entire text for Hamlet only takes up about 350 pages of a paperback–which is about as long as the first two Harry Potter books, far less long than Game of Thrones (817 pages), and even less long than Gone Girl (422 pages). You surely know, too, that, since many of the lines of Hamlet are written in verse, the text is far less dense than a novel, and that even with the difficulties involved with understanding Elizabethan English, the average 18-year-old could likely read Hamlet in less than a week. You know that Hamlet has been the most esteemed book written by the most revered writer in the English language for at least 200 years, that bits of Hamlet have been included in English schoolbooks since the 18th century (check the contents of William Enfield’s The Speaker, published in 1774, that was meant to help students learn elocution, if you don’t believe me), that some of us readers of the New York Times have also read Hamlet far too many times to count. You know that the average citizen of the Western world often can’t go a day without bumping into some line or passage from Hamlet. (Hell, “To be or not to be” and its iterations alone must pop up in some god-awful huge percentage of modern advertising.) That said average citizen probably reads or hears a couple of pages of Hamlet every year based on chance encounters with pop culture.
You know all of these things, Ms. Druckerman, right?
And you really think that somewhere out there, there’s a New York Times reader who has somehow avoided reading Hamlet?
you’re not really saying, are you, that, as a New York Times-affiliated writer, you’ve
I…I’m not sure of anything anymore.