Claire Dederer’s memoir, Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses, is like yoga for strugglers or yoga for the non-bendy and non-serene, for people who think too much and consistently wonder—at yoga and in civilian life—”Was that a stupid thing I just did or said?” That is, it’s not really about yoga. It’s a memoir about all the ways educated women can choose to live and about marriage and kids and family and figuring out what you’re supposed to do and when and where. You know, all that privileged modern angst baggage.
Short of that, I’d stick it next to some mega-seller like Stephen King or Mary Higgins Clark or whatever diet book is ginormous right now and say a Hail Mary.
I went in resisting a little because I thought Poser might just make me feel guilty about the yoga I’m not doing, but it had the opposite effect. It made me WANT to do yoga. Do you hear this a lot? Why do you think this is? I do hear this a lot. In the book I write a lot about the weirdness and messiness and frustration of yoga and I suspect this is somehow freeing for readers. I guess they feel relieved I’m not some smooth-browed serene lady telling them they ought to relax.
I loved how you weaved it all together: your history, your family life, your yoga life. Was this the book you set out to write, or did it emerge as you went along? I always planned to weave several strands together. It was part of the fun and the challenge of writing the book. One thing that surprised me: I ended up with more material about my childhood than I had originally intended. I actually dislike memoirs that include a lot of childhood material (unless they’re brilliant, like the frighteningly awesome new Tina Fey book). So I tried to move quickly in and out of that stuff. Even so, I was surprised by how much of my childhood wormed its way in there.
Do you think processing your childhood became important to you as a way to explore your identity as a parent? Definitely. The book was not written in a therapeutic mode or mindset—that would be pretty tiresome for readers. But it was great (and by great, I mean scary) to muck around in that childhood stuff and really think about what it was like for my mom and me at that time. It made me realize that as parents, we’re all working with the same basic tools: love and good intentions. From that starting point, we can screw up in a million ways!
You regularly review books for the NYT and other publications. Was it tough to put aside your critic’s hat and just write? I’ve worked as a critic for a long time—I was a film reviewer at Seattle Weekly before I started reviewing books. To be honest, by the time I began writing this book I was chafing at the constraints of criticism. I was ready to start telling stories, whatever potshots might come my way. I almost had a “bring it on!” mentality. And frankly, having written some pretty tough reviews in my time, I deserve whatever I get.
I wasn’t familiar with your work and found Poser surprisingly and delightfully funny. I wonder if you’re one of those quick-witted people who’s always cracking up the people around her, which I know you wouldn’t admit even if you were, or if you’re one of those people who’s funnier on paper. Not funny in real life! Total nervous dork! In real life when I try to be funny I feel rushed and worried that I’m not keeping everyone’s attention and what was the punchline again? I think in real life my strength is as a laugher. I’m the person in any given group who laughs at absolutely everything. I’m what you call game. As a writer, I find it a real joy and even a luxury to be able to take my time and make things funny.
Will you play bookseller and recommend some other titles for us? Some other memoirs that I love: Experience by Martin Amis (though I loathe his fiction). Home Cooking and More Home Cooking by my favorite author Laurie Colwin—not so much memoirs as self-portraits with food. Out of Sheer Rage, Geoff Dyer’s incredible book about his obsession with D.H. Lawrence. Dreaming, a memoir by Carolyn See about how alcoholism shaped 20th century family life—a little-read and very important book. My Dark Places by James Ellroy, demon dog of American crime fiction.
Some recent novels I’ve especially liked are Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden, and Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum. I was recently put onto the charming, smart, shambolic novels of Barbara Trapido and I’m devouring those right now.
As a native Seattleite, though, I have to say how much I still miss the late, lamented Bailey/Coy on Capitol Hill. Just a beautifully edited selection of books. The new Elliott Bay does a lot to revitalize the hill.