I write books nominally for young people, including the upcoming September Girls, which will be published by HarperCollins in May. Kirkus gave it a starred review and said "A meditation on manhood takes a turn into magical realism in this mesmerizing novel." Some other people said some nice things about it too. You can learn more about the book here.
If you want to get in touch you can use the ask thingy to your left or e-mail me at bennett DOT! madison AT! gmail DOT! com. If you want me to come to your area or talk to your book club or whatever, check out my Togather page and we'll figure it out.
That's my blog down there!
Pouring myself a glass of whiskey and toasting to the fact that the book I thought I would never finish writing is now officially out.
"I myself have been idiotically told that I write “awful” books because the people in them are unpleasant. Intelligent readers do not confuse the quality of a book with the moral rectitude of the characters. For those who want goodigoodiness, there are some Victorian good-girl religious novels that would suit them fine."
— Margaret Atwood on “likable” characters. Clearly this is a topic on which many authors have a lot of pent up rage.
I’ve known Emily Gould since we were twelve. In those days, she bore a striking resemblance to the movie version of Hermione Granger. We were only loosely friends at first— she disinvited me from her 7th grade YELLOW SUBMARINE viewing party because her mom said she could only have so many people and Emily had just developed a new crush, meaning that a boy (me) had to be cut from the list. I was only mildly annoyed; I felt that at least she had a good reason.
The summer after that, even though we were only warmish acquaintances, Emily surprised me by calling me on the phone just to chat. I’m pretty sure the reason for this is that she was going down the list of names in the school directory, calling everyone, and I was the first person who picked up. Most people were out of town. We had a long and probably very bitchy conversation and after that we were actual friends.
It was the year Kurt Cobain died, so she wore lots of baby-doll dresses. I was always trying to affect a grunge look, which usually ended up coming off less Evan Dando and more Gay Pigpen.
As a hobby, Emily was making a comprehensive list of all the pop songs in the world that had the word love in the title. This was before the internet, you understand; you couldn’t just Google it. I don’t think she ever made it to the end of the list, but she did get pretty far.
In high school, Emily started a proto-blog called The Notebook. By this point the internet had finally come along but there were definitely no such things as blogs. The Notebook was an actual notebook. The way it worked was that Emily would write down her thoughts and pass it around during class and everyone else would add their comments. Eventually this got us all in big trouble, but in an uncharacteristic act of largesse, the school administration at least let her keep the book. She still has it and it’s always shocking to look at it and see how smart and funny and articulate she was even then, not to mention what idiots the rest of us all were in comparison.
It’s sad that we never took gym together, because gym is where high school really happened. But Emily was very committed to her Artistic Movement class and there was no way I was giving up Trampoline, so that was that. We had most of our other classes together anyway.
She was always trying to find me a boyfriend. When she masterminded a blind date between me and her Hebrew School classmate Dan Fishback, she had to tag along with us to White Flint Mall (which no longer exists) because we didn’t have cars and Dan and I didn’t want to try to explain to our parents where we were going. Emily was our cover.
Later she arranged a match between me and a friend of a friend from swim team. This time we went on a date by ourselves. We took the Metro to see BEAUTIFUL THING at a movie theater in Dupont Circle that no longer exists and then went to Burger King because we were teenage boys and thought Burger King was a great restaurant. Needless to say, this wasn’t much of a love connection. Emily has never had a great feel for the vagaries of homosexual chemistry, but I will always be grateful that she tried.
The first time I got drunk, it was with Emily. Her parents were out of town and she served a beverage she called Long Island Iced Tea. Really it was just vodka and Country Time tea mix. I know it sounds toxic, but I think we were basically just pretending to be drunk.
When Emily found herself embroiled in all sorts of romantic drama a few months before the prom, we resolved to go together. I would have preferred to bring a dude, but the White House travel staffer I was semi-seeing at the time would not have been an appropriate choice. I helped Emily pick out her prom dress at the Betsey Johnson store in Georgetown, which no longer exists. She wrote an article about it for the school newspaper.
On the way to the dance, we got in a huge fight over the issue of where to park. (We had foolishly judged ourselves too cool to take a limousine with the rest of our friends, and so we were in my dad’s Honda Civic.) On top of that controversy, Emily’s love life was still very complicated and she had other boys to think about.
So she ditched me for the last dance in favor of one of her various boyfriends or ex-boyfriends; I can’t remember who exactly. I stood in the corner alone feeling sad. Luckily, another friend was in the bathroom holding a puking girl’s hair and her date— this really hot swimmer named David— was alone too. He asked me to dance. I said no because I was too flustered by the whole situation, which I still regret. Instead, we ended up just standing there watching everyone else and feeling a sense of strange fraternity. It was nice. Emily and I made up later that night.
Emily went to college in Ohio and I went to school in the suburbs of New York, but after a couple years she got bored of the country and transferred to the New School. She shared a tiny apartment in the East Village on the Hell’s Angels block with a performance artist who had also been a middle school classmate and a girl who played pool and loved iceberg lettuce. The apartment was very glamorous and always filled with smoke. Emily and her roommates had a hobby making miniature food out of Sculpey; they briefly got the notion to turn this into a business but all the boutiques to which they tried to sell their wares already had all the doll food they needed.
One night I smoked this really crazy weed and thought I might have to check myself into a mental institution. My roommate at the time, the artist Lee Relvas, cradled me in her arms on a mattress on the floor and fed me pretzels and water until I fell asleep. The next day I was still feeling pretty out of my mind so I took the Metro-North to Emily’s place in the city. She made me lasagna and I finally felt better. That apartment no longer exists; the building was torn down and replaced by a fancy condo.
After college (and a brief stint living with my parents), I moved in with Emily in Greenpoint. I got dumped by my boyfriend of several years and was trying to write my first book and pretty much became a monster. Emily was working her first 9 to 5 job and wasn’t at her best either. The highlight of this period is that I taught Emily how to blog. But there wasn’t much for her to learn— The Notebook had been good preparation— and she quickly surpassed me in this department.
There were some other nice moments in the year or so when we were living together, many of which Emily covered in her collection of essays, AND THE HEART SAYS WHATEVER. But overall the whole thing was sort of a disaster and it was extremely kind of her to leave the most damning stories of my bad behavior and our huge fights out of the book.
I moved out and we didn’t really speak to each other for a long time, but it didn’t last. Years later, when I broke up with yet another boyfriend and had no apartment, no money and no prospects, Emily let me crash with her in her new place for weeks at a time. I was miserable, but the apartment was sunny, plus I got to hang out with Raffles, her cat who had also once been mine.
That summer her family took me along to the beach with them. Emily’s parents gave me relationship advice. Her father seemed concerned when I confessed that I’d gotten into a phase of listening to Astral Weeks on repeat while I sobbed every night. I was having a hard time finishing the novel I was working on, which would become SEPTEMBER GIRLS, but I got huge chunks of it done on that vacation, sitting on the balcony next to Emily as she wrote her own book. The next year I went on another vacation with the Goulds and wrote some more. Eventually I was done.
Emily’s first novel, FRIENDSHIP, will be published next year by FSG. She also co-owns the feminist e-bookstore EMILY BOOKS. (You should become a subscriber.) September Girls comes out next week. Emily and I will be talking about it at McNally Jackson on Tuesday, May 28th. I’m hoping she’ll read a little from Friendship too, even though it won’t be out for awhile.
I feel incredibly lucky that I get to do this with someone I’ve known and loved for so long and that we’ve both (sort of) accomplished what we set out to. I left a lot of things out of this.
I probably should have put this part at the top, considering it was originally the point:
Tuesday, May 28th, 7pm
McNally Jackson 52 Prince Street, NYC
I really hope you come.
"For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?” Nora’s outlook isn’t “unbearably grim” at all. Nora is telling her story in the immediate wake of an enormous betrayal by a friend she has loved dearly. She is deeply upset and angry. But most of the novel is describing a time in which she felt hope, beauty, elation, joy, wonder, anticipation—these are things these friends gave to her, and this is why they mattered so much. Her rage corresponds to the immensity of what she has lost. It doesn’t matter, in a way, whether all those emotions were the result of real interactions or of fantasy, she experienced them fully. And in losing them, has lost happiness."
Claire Messud schools the world. (via elisabethdonnelly)
Yessssssssss. Also I kind of liked Nora, but anyway. Every bit of this interview is perfect.
FREE THING ALERT: The brilliant ModHero— whose Dazzler and Nightcrawler prints hang proudly on my wall— was kind enough to design this gorgeous, *limited edition* poster to celebrate the upcoming release of September Girls. If you’re among the first twenty people to pre-order the book and e-mail your details to firstname.lastname@example.org I’ll send you your very own poster, signed by me. HOW COULD YOU PASS UP THIS AMAZING OFFER?
(Note: I think you need to be older than 13 for this to be legal, but you really shouldn’t be reading the book if you’re younger than that anyway.)
Places to pre-order:
Oh look! I have a couple of appearances coming up and I would love to see you there.
This Wednesday, May 1st, I’ll be reading from September Girls for the Teen Author Reading series at the New York Public Library. With:
Ruthie Baron, Defriended
Nora Raleigh Baskin, Surfacing
Andrea Cremer and David Levithan, Invisibility
Sarah Mlynowski, Sink or Swim
It’s 6:00 - 7:30 at the Jefferson Market Branch of NYPL on corner of 6th Ave and 10th St.
Then on Saturday, May 4th, I’ll be helping Ruthie Baron celebrate the publication of Defriended with Ruthie herself as well as:
It’s at Book Court— 163 Court Street in Brooklyn— at 4pm. We’ll be reading Tales of Internet Horror and I think it will be super-fun.
Via Facebook, so here, have a sack of salt.
Also this: “Update: I changed Lolita from ‘Erotica’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ from ‘Chick Lit’ to Classics. You literature majors all lack any sense of humor.”
But interesting nonetheless.
I could easily write 5000 words about all the different things that annoy me in this chart, but I realize it’s just some thing from Facebook that was probably made by someone who has never even read most of these books, so I shall try not to dirty my beautiful mind thinking about it for too long.
But really, THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD is “African American” (African American what?) while GONE WITH THE WIND is a “classic” and TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE and THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN are considered “Philosophy”?
This is why I hate the trend toward ever more obsessive categorization of books— while categorization can sometimes be useful in pointing readers toward the books they’ll like, it’s just as often used as a way to artificially elevate certain books while marginalizing others.
And gee, I wonder what set of criteria people could use to make these category distinctions?
Hint: check between the legs of the author in question. If that proves inconclusive, you might want to investigate her skin color.
As Sarah Schulman has pointed out, categorization matters because it affects how books are sold; how books are sold affects what books get made and who gets to read them.
It also affects how much authors get paid for their work. Let’s not forget that “African American” author Zora Neale Hurston spent the last decade of her life working as a maid. I have a feeling “philosopher” Mitch Albom hasn’t cleaned a house in a fairly long time.
“Madison maintains the same hazy, syrupy languidness that distinguished The Blonde of the Joke, giving summer days at the shore the same sort of mythological heft the fluorescent American mall possessed in his previous book. A surprising story of a kid finding love and himself, when he wasn’t looking for either.”
"Girls go missing every day. They slip out bedroom windows and into strange cars. They leave good-bye notes or they don’t get a chance to tell anyone. They cross borders. They hitch rides, squeezing themselves into overcrowded backseats, sitting on willing laps. They curl up and crouch down, or they shove their bodies out of sunroofs and give off victory shouts. Girls make plans, but they also vanish without meaning to, and sometimes people confuse one for the other. Some girls go kicking and screaming and clawing out the eyes of whoever won’t let them stay. And then there are the girls who never reach where they’re going. Who disappear. Their ends are endless, their stories unknown. These girls are lost, and I’m the only one who’s seen them."
—Nova Ren Suma, 17 & Gone