An open letter to David Gilmour, plus a partial reading list


Dear David Gilmour:

May I call you Dave? Because, by your own admission, you’re not really a prof, seeing as you don’t have a Ph.D. and your “teaching” experience comes courtesy of TV, that not-at-all-superficial-or-unidimensional medium that makes everybody feel like they’re on a first-name basis with everyone else…

Anyhow, Dave, it’s come to my attention that you “don’t love women writers”. To me, that’s perilously close to saying you don’t love women period, but maybe that’s just because I’m one of those silly irrational easily dismissible creatures, and my antennae are always out for slights to my sex. I guess it’s only natural that a sad, less-accomplished-than-he’d-once-hoped-to-be, middle-aged man would feel that way about anything outside his ken, which of course is sad, less-accomplished-than-they’d-once-hoped-to-be, middle-aged men. And that’s why you only “teach” (note the quotes, there for a reason) poopy old white guys like yourself, and tell students looking for a greater diversity in literary voices to “go down the hall”.

I’m really not sure what U of T was thinking when they hired you, Dave, any more than I’m sure what it is about you that made the Giller Prize committee long-list your book (the title of another of yours alone reeks of a soul steeped in dust and mothballs). I never really heard of you till now, but there you are, opining that No True Literary Greatness Can Ever Come of Woman (Except Maybe That One Short Story By Virginia Woolf, Which Is Just Good Enough). I guess as long as that mind-set prevails, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I can only pray that it doesn’t prevail at U of T or the Giller Prize committee.

So, Dave, I guess what I’m really trying to say here is, dang, you need to get out more. Abandon your stuffy little niche. Let your mind travel a bit. Permit the fresh winds of elsewhere to blow the cobwebs, the dustbunnies, and the stink of mothballs off your soul. Get some cliteracy! Any damn fool can idolize “serious heterosexual guys” (and a great many damn fools do). You want to be truly outstanding? Quit trying to tell time (and literary merit) by that pitiable thing in your pants, and start reading outside your box.

In honor of Banned Books Week, I propose that you begin with Toni Morrison. She’s under fire in her own home state of Ohio, for her breakout masterpiece, The Bluest Eye. I’m sure you’ll perk up a bit when you hear why it was banned: for “pornography” (actually, a horrific description of incest). And, I suspect, in truth, for tackling racism dead-on.

Once you’re done that, you can branch out a little more, to Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Again, it’s been proposed for banning because of “pornography” — incest again, plus unwanted pregnancy, plus marital rape, plus some same-sex love between two black women. Since you have no problem with the more prurient and disgusting aspects of white middle-aged sad-sack dudes and their “sexuality”, Dave, I’m sure you can swallow this with a modicum of effort. (It’s no worse than reading about geezers sexually brutalizing their students and feeding on their menstrual blood, surely.)

And then there’s The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan. I thought I’d throw that in there since you said you didn’t love Chinese writers, either. Don’t worry, she’s Chinese-American, and she writes in perfect English. You’ll have no difficulty following her.

And for something truly out of this world (and way out of your league, Dave), there’s Ursula K. Le Guin. Yes, that’s right, a sci-fi/fantasy author! Everything she writes is so achingly good that I’d buy it sight unseen, but two of her books particularly stand out for me: The Lathe of Heaven, and The Dispossessed. Both are masterpieces of language, imagery and structure, and will make you weep with envy. I guarandamntee it.

And to bring you back to Earth again, and that old bugaboo, the Western Canon…there are the Brontë sisters. Emily, Anne and Charlotte, who wrote under the androgynous pseudonyms of Ellis, Acton and Currer Bell, respectively, of whom nobody expected anything because they were “just girls” — and who, incidentally, outshone their “brilliant” brother, Branwell, who drowned all his early promise in booze and died a failure. And Mary Anne Evans, better known to the world as George Eliot, who put her britches on and showed the menfolks a thing or two about how to write a great English novel. Ahem: SEVERAL great English novels. And hell, even prim little Jane Austen is an unargued master of the form. What about her?

And finally, here in Canada: I can’t believe you haven’t read the two great Margarets, Laurence and Atwood. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the final installment of the MaddAddam trilogy. And what about Carol Shields? Chopped liver to you, Dave? Pity. She was a gem, and if you want to know how middle-aged and older women view their sexuality, perhaps you should read The Stone Diaries. And let’s not forget the non-white Canadian greats: Joy Kogawa, Nalo Hopkinson…I could go on and on. But, like I said, this is only a partial reading list.

There are so many books you don’t know about, Dave, because you’re too busy navel-gazing (and by “navel-gazing”, I mean twiddling your schlong). Hopefully these will get you started, and if you have any latent curiosity left, you will keep reading women after you’re done with these. Who knows, they might even get you to stop obsessing about the sad plight of your literary heroes, that bitter waste of an Angry Young Man who only grew into a Nasty Old Fart. Great books by women will make a new (and dare I say, much improved) man of you.

Never underestimate the rejuvenative powers of getting over yourself, Dave. And don’t worry, it’s never too late to start. We women know that one from lived experience.

Happy reading,


PS: You’re all wrong about Truman Capote, too. You are NOT the only person to teach him at university level; I distinctly recall In Cold Blood being assigned in my Great Reporting class at the Ryerson University School of Journalism, by a terrific old prof with a strong Scots accent, whose name unfortunately escapes me. One thing I do recall is that he wasn’t you.

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5 Responses to An open letter to David Gilmour, plus a partial reading list

  1. Jared wolf says:

    What, no love for Sylvia Plath? Hey, is it necessary to avoid split infinitives as a professional writer? Just askin…..

    • Sabina Becker says:

      Well, I don’t know about split infinitives…to boldly go where no one has gone before? Seems fine to me. And yes, Plath is a must. The Bell Jar would probably fly right over Gilmour’s head, though.

      • Jared Wolf says:

        Well I don’t know much about him, and maybe this bozo doesn’t teach poetry, but to me Emily Dickenson is the quintessential poet. Maybe it’s because she was the first I ever read (and you never forget your first), but she was amazing. I know she sometimes didn’t follow the rules, but even so…. He’s a fool not to show her proper respect- and how can you teach writing and dis Jane Austen? It has to take some skill to dodge her accomplishments I suppose. WANK!

        • Sabina Becker says:

          You guessed it, he doesn’t do poetry. Only fiction. And only fiction by authors with whom he somehow identifies, I guess. Which means that virtually all women are automatically excluded. One has to feel a bit sorry for him, but only up to a certain point. If his classes are predominantly female and he like shocking them with shit like this (in the interest of “toughening up their stomachs”), then he’s most definitely a wanker. That’s just straight up misogyny. And it’s hard to feel a whole lot of pity for that.

  2. Jared Wolf says:

    Yes I know that first sentence was bad form..~sigh~. Emily Dickinson should have been the “him.” Fuck me! Subjects and objects, damn you! Help me out Mr. Gilmour….on second thought, no thanks!

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