I just finished reading Naomi Wolf’s book, “The Treehouse: Eccentric Wisdom from My Father on How to Live, Love, and See.” I had never read anything by Wolf before, although I knew that she wrote the bestseller “The Beauty Myth” in 1991. “The Treehouse” was loaned to me by Kirsten Baldock, one of my Writer’s Old-Fashioned compadres. This book is part memoir and part how to guide. It’s for anyone trying to invoke change in their lives, but especially for writers.
In this book, Wolf recounts how her father, Leonard Wolf, was an inspiration for her. She gives the reader very personal glimpses into their relationship and family history. It’s a cozy book. You can almost feel the admiration that Wolf has for her father drip off the pages. For the first three chapters, I had a hard time with the narrative voice of the book. I didn’t yet feel connected to the sage-like figure that Wolf was building up her father to be. In chapter four, entitled “Speak in Your Own Voice,” I felt a narrative shift. All the cutesy descriptions of what Leonard wore and of Wolf’s children started to feel more grounded. All the threads about Wolf’s childhood, adult life and worries about her future started to weave together. By page 90, Wolf’s literary education really shines. Check out this passage:
“In Leonard’s youth, truth had not yet been deconstructed. Since the trend of poststructuralism entered the universities in the 1980s, young writers have been taught that it is naive and even politically suspect to believe in universal values or stories that can touch anyone’s heart; nothing, they are taught, is inherently true. Humanism has been demonized as “secular humanism” by the religious right–as if faith in art and people’s creative potential rules out faith in God–and it has been derided as passe and irrelevant by the Marxist and feminist academic left, who dismiss it as playing down difference of race, class, and gender in its commitment to a human point of view that can transcend all such divisions.”
Wow. As someone who really appreciates deconstruction and humanism, I found Wolf’s writing to be thought provoking. Can we find universal truth in literature? Is it enough to say, yes, truth is subjective, but some aspects of the human experience are universal? Can literature be “a bridge between human beings” or is it “a map of oppressive power relations” in today’s current academia? (91)
The chapter titles in “The Treehouse” come from the lessons that Wolf’s father taught in his classes (and are the lessons she asks him to teach her while working on her daughter’s treehouse). They are veritable gems of sagaciousness, simple and direct, but undeniably powerful nonetheless. Give “The Treehouse” a read and let me know what you think.
Also, while perusing the internet for Naomi Wolf, I found this interesting article entitled, “The Porn Myth.” Consider this quote, taken out of context from the two page article:
“For most of human history, erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.”