Friday, March 5, 2010

Stuff White People Like, by Christian Lander

Four years ago we brought home a puppy, a handful of black fluff my kids insisted on naming Mischief. Right away I was worried. Would the puppy grow into his name? Does a name form what is inside? I tried to steer them towards another name. I begged them to pick another name. But they would not budge. Sure enough, my fear became reality and the puppy did indeed become mischievous. Mischief became the dog who really does eat the kids' homework - and shoes, pencils, remotes, and the occasional razor. Our dog so perfectly embodies his name that I got to thinking about titles.

The title of a book doesn't always give you a window into what lies inside, but the title of this hilarious book, "Stuff White People Like", says it all. Christian Lander holds the light up to us middle class white folk, and in each of the book's 150 mini-chapters he discusses a different identifying trait of the typical white person. I found myself over these pages! From the more obvious "Coffee" to the more obscure "Noam Comsky" Lander nailed us "white people". Yoga! David Sedaris! Farmer's Markets! Japan! Eating Outside! Of course, the essence of stereotypes it that, although they don't hold true across the board, at their core there is a seed of truth. Lander captures many truths about contemporary culture clearly in these 150 "snapshots".

I remember toting this book around to my oldest kid's soccer games. Giving in to my ever present impulse to share books I love, (hence this blog!), whenever I found myself chatting with other moms, I held out this gem, introducing it. The looks on the other moms' faces! You might have thought I was trying to interest them in a copy of Mein Kampf.

Try it! It's fun and light and made me take a look at myself. So many of the chapters described me that I realized I had been deluded, thinking my tastes were unique and informed solely by my own individual DNA, instead of acquiring them through cultural influences, absorbing the herd mentality around me. My kids love this book, too. My son insisted on giving me the test at the back of the book: How White Are You? I was comforted by the fact that I hadn't bought into all 150 cultural stereotypes and scored only 83 out of the 150 possible signifiers of whiteness. Not to make it all anthropological and serious. It's just fun. But it's fun and funny because it's so true.

For a more scholarly take on race see Salon's article on Nell Painter's new book,

"The History of White People": What it means to be white

This week: Reviews on The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, who will be speaking at the Carmel Public Library tonight.

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