Books, drinks, trivia, love. The best April Fool’s Day ever!
I’m on the party committee for this event, along with Maris, Amanda, Michelle, Halimah, Karolina,Fern, and many more of your favorite bookternet nerds. I know you don’t have anything better to do on a drizzly Monday, so be there or be totally lame.
SEE YOU SOON!
So Jami Attenberg and Jeffrey Yoskowitz hung out in our founding editor’s kitchen and made pickles.
“Are you insane? Who doesn’t want their pickle?”
“Sybil Davidson has a genius I.Q. and has been laid by at least six different guys…”
It’s the first line of Forever by Judy Blume. Everyone always talks about Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? And “we must, we must, we must increase our bust,” but it was Forever that I read again and again until it was in 3 separate pieces, and then read it some more.
Forever taught me everything I know about love and sex. Well, no, I know more now. But Forever shaped my young worldview. It taught me that sex was about love, but not necessarily about marriage. That it was about commitment, but not necessarily life-long commitment. That you could love someone as a teenager, and it could be real, and wonderful, and important, and worthwhile, and it could end and you could move on, and that was okay too.
So that was my mindset when I met Jared, my first for-real boyfriend. He was tall and smart and rich and Jewish — everyone said my mother must be thrilled. My mother was horrified. “Oh my God, Rachel, he’s so…CONVENTIONAL!”
We lost our virginities in a stunning display of simultaneous non-orgasm, and proceeded to have a very lovely First Relationship.
At some point, I bought him a copy of Forever. The cover had changed, from the gold-tone locket illustration of my decimated 1970s copy to a photograph of a pretty blond that made me want to stab someone. Still, I had no apprehension about giving him the book – it was about the importance of young love, about the power of emerging sexual awakening, and most of all it was hugely important to me.
He hated it. Haaaaaated it. Somehow, despite having the book entirely memorized, I had neglected to notice that the couple breaks up at the end, when she meets someone a little bit older, more worldly, more interesting. They see each other one last time at a stationery store. “I wanted to tell him I’d never be sorry for loving him…” Uunnff it’s so good. But okay, yes, potentially horrifying to an infatuated 19-year-old.
So here’s how I decided to fix this: I stole the book back. I stole it back, and I cut out the last few chapters with an exacto knife. The whole part that makes the book nuanced and realistic and different from other teen romances. I rewrote the ending, and glued that in instead. It included sentences like “Oh god, I love you” I told him. “And we belong together. And I don’t ever want to be apart again.” The last words were “happily ever after.”
So I took this frankenbook, and I wrapped it up, and tied a ribbon around it, and gave to it him for his birthday, about a year and a half into our relationship. He loved it, he said it was perfect, it was the most wonderful, beautiful thing anyone had ever given him.
We broke up two weeks later.
Have we talked yet today about how much I worship Wendy MacNaughton?
Because importantly, “this book” isn’t just text on a screen, right? It’s the design, the physical artifact. It’s the press we’ll do when it comes out, the events we’ll dream up. It’s real books in real bookstores! And all of that together will help push Penumbra beyond our little corner of the web here (and make no mistake, it is a tiny little corner)—help push him, and us, out into the wider world.
Let me put it another way. You know those heist movies, where half the fun is watching the team come together—the mastermind, the master of disguise, the demolitions expert? Well, that’s what this past year has been. It’s been that scene.
And now we’ve all found each other. It’s me and my closest readers, the mysterious inner circle of the Moon Yeti. It’s my Kickstarter crew, the Committee to Find and Rescue Annabel Scheme. It’s Sarah Burnes and her colleagues at the Gernert Company. It’s my new allies at FSG, and it’s Sean McDonald, who’s actually been an ally for some time. It’s Matt and Tim and the assembled might of the Snarkmatrix. And maybe it’s you, too."
This post means so much to me. It’s something I read again and again when I lose inspiration about how we’re going to make it forward, you and me and new technologies and old publishing houses and legacy and innovation and writers and readers and bookstores and e-readers and community and words.
We’re gonna make it after all…
I can’t answer that question unless I answer the question of what constitutes marriage. And none of the definitions I have for marriage really hold up to scrutiny:
1. A marriage is a legal contract. But for the vast majority of human history, marriages were not legal contracts, so are we to say that all those people—from the Prophet Muhammad to Mary and Joseph—weren’t really married?
2. A marriage is a life-long monogamous romantic relationship. Well, this is patently untrue. 40% of marriages end in divorce; is it immoral for those people to have had sex during their marriages simply because their marriages later ended? If I’m single, meet a girl in Las Vegas, marry her, have sex with her, and divorce her the next day—is that somehow less ethically problematic than two unmarried people in a committed relationship having sex?
The question is further complicated by the fact that many people in the United States are legally prohibited from ever marrying. So if you argue that one must always wait for marriage, you end up arguing that gay people in New York can have sex after they get married, but that gay people in Alabama will never be able to have sex, at least until and unless gay marriage becomes legal in Alabama.
Which brings me to the biggest issue of all: To answer your question, I must not only define marriage (which turns out to be really hard to define); I must also define sex. What is sex? Is it actions that can result in procreation? Is it any kind of sexual intimacy? If so, is kissing sex? Is hugging sex if it happens to result in arousal?
We’ve created this aura around virginity as if one’s virginity is a real and tangible thing—but of course it isn’t. Sex and virginity are socially constructed concepts. Are you a virgin if you engage in oral sex? Are you a virgin if you’ve kissed a girl? Are you a virgin if it was just the tip? Are you a virgin if your hymen breaks from tampon-insertion?
In my opinion, our obsessive focus on virginity and sexual purity doesn’t serve anyone. Losing one’s virginity is not an event; it’s a process. Similarly, weddings are events, and signing your marriage license is an event, but marriages are not events. They are processes.
So no, I don’t think it’s inherently wrong to have sex before marriage, because I don’t know what sex means, and I don’t know what marriage means. I think people should feel empowered to make their own decisions about their own bodies in thoughtful and open conversations with their romantic partners.
And use condoms. The End.
I could not love this man more if I were married to him.