the handbook of all handbooks


I spent the mid ’90s in a café called Limbo, smoking and trying to write a novel. A friend who worked at Henry Holt gave me a copy of The Field Guide to North American Males by Marjorie Ingall, and I saw that I’d been pegged: I was the “Acerbic Bipolar Novelist” cross-bred with the “Slacker Boy Toy.” Among the things that anger the Novelist are “a huge advance for… a writer he considers marginal” and “a price increase at Kinko’s.” Check and check. The mating call of the Boy Toy is: “Wanna come over and watch The Simpsons?” It was like reading my biography, or at least my FBI file. It was like reading the file of every guy I’d ever met between the ages of nineteen and forty. There’s the “Patriarchal Yet Nurturing College Professor” who “takes you to the one ‘fancy’ Italian restaurant in range of campus.” The “Witty Advertising Exec” can be found “in his ironic yet slavishly decorated apartment.” It’s an ingenious and sweeping exhibition of the female gaze—which turns out to be a lot sharper, wittier, and more considered than the male gaze. In the years since, I’ve given the book away a number of times. Having your quirks and values exposed in a venue like this is both thrilling and embarrassing. It’s comforting to be recognized and nestled into a category—and scary to realize you can be so easily reduced to a comic set of predictable gestures.

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