The Five People You Meet On Craigslist

norah.jpgBook reviews are funny, and here’s why: unlike other media (music, movies, video games, and so forth), the people who review books professionally are pretty much the same people who write books professionally. So whether or not the reviewer and the book author know each other in a literal sense (which they often do), book reviewers often assume a weird familiarity with the author’s motivations and emotional state which one doesn’t see in other types of criticism.

All of this is a wind-up to Ann Marlowe’s Observer review of former LAT columnist Norah Vincent’s excellent book Self-Made Man, about Vincent’s experiences spending a year-and-a-half posing as a guy in various dude-like situations. Marlowe likes the book, with reservations, but that’s not the point. The point is this excerpt:

This may be the moment to mention that, about two years ago, I met Norah Vincent. She answered an ad I had placed on Craigslist-I was looking for women who’d played college tennis to play with a co-ed group at my club. Her e-mail response mentioned that she was gay; I was a little taken aback, mentioned that I was straight and let it go at that. On the court, she was unremarkably pleasant, a fine, controlled, unemotional tennis player. She’s as tall and almost as big-boned as an average man, maybe six feet and 160 pounds-not unusual for a woman varsity athlete. And yet, the receptionist at the club asked me conspiratorially if the new player was a man or a woman.

So I can vouch for her when she claims that while she was working on her book, even when she went out dressed as a woman, people almost invariably mistook her for a man. And yet, once she’d finished-once she’d “detoxed” from Ned-she was recognized as a woman even when dressed in mannish clothes. I’d have liked more about what she thought and felt about this and how she attempted, or didn’t attempt, to manage these responses. Pretty scary to discover that one’s perceived gender is all in one’s attitude, no? But Ms. Vincent is as neutral as ever.

So to paraphrase: ‘I happen to know, thanks to a random Craigslist encounter, that Vincent looks manly, and, knowing that, this book disappoints me in a way it wouldn’t if I didn’t know that.’

I’m not saying this is inappropriate. But it is kind of interesting.