The title of The Book of Jezebel will sound insidious and sacrilegious to some ears. The book, put together by the writers of the feminist cultural-commentary site Jezebel.com, tries very hard to be edgy and provocative, but instead just comes off as cobbled together and awkward. More on that in a minute. First, though, here is what I found most offensive about The Book of Jezebel: It has an extraordinarily large number of typos. Now, I’m not Erasmus over here, but I’ve read a few books in my time, and I’ve never seen so many weird little errors all in one place before (unless “asesomeness,” “hewr,” “wasfired,” and “thehilarious” are words, in which case, pass the crow). Pobody’s nerfect, blah blah blah, but this was really singular, as if the copy editors were typing with their elbows.
Another problem is that the book is large and slippery, so, for example, if you’re wearing a coat and holding it under your arm as you fumble for your SmarTrip card, you will (note to editor: will, not might or feasibly could — will) drop it on the floor of the metro and look/feel like a drunken klutz who has never held a book before (not that this happened to me).
Anyway, for those of you who are pretty good at holding books and didn’t spend an outsized percentage of your undergrad career poring over newspaper copy for typos (and, thus, have a healthier and more balanced view of the world), The Book of Jezebel will probably still seem like kind of a mess. For the uninitiated, Jezebel.com is a feminist website that’s part of the Gawker media conglomerate. Its writers essentially do cultural analysis from a Third Wave feminist perspective, and it’s a fun read when it’s not demagoguing about abortion or regurgitating DNC talking points. Recent headlines include “Saudi Women Were Protest-Driving All over the Place Yesterday” and “Winter Is Hard on Your Shoes. Here’s What to Do about It.” Seriously, it’s funny and interesting, and you should read it. I do.
So The Book of Jezebel is pretty much what it says it is: a slim encyclopedia-of-sorts that has short articles (from one word to a few paragraphs) on things of interest to the ladies; one page in the C section, for instance, has entries on Cruz, Penelope; crying; Cullen, Edward; cunnilingus; cupcakes; and Curie, Marie. It’s basically a coffee-table book coating a half-finished Women’s Studies senior thesis. It would be the perfect bathroom book, but it’s a little unwieldy to fit on top of the loo, so I assume you’re supposed to casually lay it on the free-trade-coffee table in your Bed-Stuy loft so you’ll have feminist cred when you invite your thirtysomething barista friends over to talk about how your collective memoir projects are going. I imagine most purchasers will flip through a few pages and then call it a day.
The introduction, by editor Anna Holmes, sets the tone for the book; she writes that she and her contributors have put it together “because we love and are in awe of our readers’ diversity, intellect, and exuberance.” Thanks, I’m flattered! At its best, the book is, like the website, amusing and insightful. But at its worst (and it’s at its worst a lot), it’s smarmy, awkwardly earnest, and — for a book that presents itself as flashy and sexy and feminist, oooh — kind of boring. I didn’t count the number of entries on obscure lady artists, but I would estimate there are about a jillion. Are there women in art whose accomplishments were overlooked and undermined because of sexism? Of course. But Wikipediaesque summaries of their careers — “Driggs, Elsie (1898–1992) American painter who depicted the modern landscape and infrastructure of twentieth-century America with a Precisionist take on bridges, factories, and skyscrapers” — do less to rehabilitate their reputations and more to remedy insomnia. Feel free to call me a philistine for not getting more emotionally invested in this stuff; I don’t care about your opinion, because Anna Holmes thinks I’m exuberant!
Anyway, a large segment of the book reads like the kind of frantically cobbled-together Art History 103 study guide that makes me really happy about not being an undergrad any more. But it’s not just insightful insights on 20th-century feminist sculptors; it also has an entry on “the first Native American woman to run for one of Wisconsin’s congressional seats” and a detailed explanation of fistulas that no one but a masochist would finish reading.
And there’s a great, self-parodic bit on Ms. magazine. At the end of the entry, the writer complains that the magazine “feels kind of earnest and serious” — this in a book prefaced with a paean to its readership’s diversity and intellect.
The Book of Jezebel could have been titled The Really Long Series of Blog Entries of Jezebel. The content is much better suited to the Internet, where trees don’t have to die for your typos.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.