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review 2018-01-12 19:44
Memoir-ish
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman - Lindy West

It seems like every woman I know has read this book, which automatically made me suspicious. (I still haven't forgiven my fellow females for The Bridges of Madison County.) I finally trundled forth on my own.

 

I'm glad I did. It just took me a while to get there. I wasn't sure what I was headed into. I figured "feminist, fat-positive, intersectionality" and that's all true. But are these essays? Not exactly. What was I reading? I finally settled on memoir-ish. It took me a while to finish this because I ended up with a ton of notes scribbled on my notebook, and I spent a lot of time reading about the surrounding circumstances. I honestly didn't have to. She explained these things well and even quotes huge chunks of some pieces. (One thing I learned: Leonard Nimoy is a photographer!)

 

The reason I'm going on about this is that the beginning of the book is witty. It's written like essays, even if it's about being a child, a fat child, a fantasist child... This doesn't feel like a true memoir until the very final few chapters, and those are beautiful chapters -- written with a vulnerability that I found very relatable and touching. There is true wisdom in the final handful of chapters that don't feel like I'm being Taught A Lesson because she shows us her experience and her vulnerability as she learns.

 

Earlier chapters are hilarious. The end of the book still has laugh aloud moments, but it's on a much deeper level. She's finally let the reader in. I wish she could've found a way to let me in earlier. Much of the fat-positive stuff felt very defensive. (Full disclosure: I, too, am overweight, and I can attest to the different way society at large treats fat people because I was pretty thin until I hit 40.) Despite my sympathetic ear, it still came off to me as defensive. The "lessons" she tries to impart early about the way we treat fat people finally get an "aha" moment in the latter chapters when she describes her marriage and the circumstances around her engagement. Here, she's open and honest. We get to see behind the activist into the real woman.

 

Interestingly, I found something at odds between her feminism and her fat positivity in these latter chapters. It's not glaring, and I certainly don't fault her for wanting to be desirable to her husband and show the world that he desires her, but the tension of being a woman shows up here. It brings up an even deeper set of issues for women that she doesn't touch. I don't fault her at all for that -- this is not an academic study.

 

It's hard being a woman. I know this. And I don't even have an army of trolls attacking me on a daily basis (see https://jezebel.com/if-comedy-has-no-lady-problem-why-am-i-getting-so-many-511214385 )

 

I'm slightly older than Lindy West. I grew up a decade or so before her. When I was growing up, it was assumed that because the world now said the "right" things, all was now fine, much like the "post-racial" nonsense that went around in 2008. It's bullshit, but I believed it as a girl, and that's brought me some real anger in adulthood. It's made me a pretty ardent feminist. This is where I've learned from women like Lindy West - how to be unapologetic about my feminism, including my anger.

 

This book didn't change my life, and I doubt it will change anyone else's. Nonetheless, West has a real point about chipping away at the old truisms and making the world a little better with our every interaction.

It's hard to be cold or cruel when you remember it's hard to be a person.

This is a pretty wise young woman, and it'll be great fun to watch her and read her in the future. Rumor has it that she has two more books in the works.

 

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review 2018-01-08 17:43
Let the Church Say Amen
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Guys. Run and get this letter and give it to your sons and daughters. I am going to be copies to send to my nieces right now. This was just fantastic.

 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie took us to church and had us on the floor with the Holy Spirit and had us up and stamping our feet. Image result for amen gif

 

Asked by her close friend about how to raise her daughter to be a feminist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie provides her friend with 15 suggestions. 

First Suggestion: Be a full person.

Second Suggestion: Do it together.

Third Suggestion: Teach her that the idea of "gender roles" is absolute nonsense.

Fourth Suggestion: Beware the danger of what I call Feminism Lite.

Fifth Suggestion: Teach Chizalum to read. 

Sixth Suggestion: Teach her to question language.

Seventh Suggestion: Never speak of marriage as an achievement.

Eighth Suggestion: Teach her to reject likability. 

Ninth Suggestion: Give Chizalum a sense of identity.
Tenth Suggestion: Be deliberate about how you engage with her and her appearance.

Eleventh Suggestion: Teach her to question our culture's selective use of biology as "reasons" for social norms. 

Twelfth Suggestion: Talk to her about sex, and start early.

Thirteenth Suggestion: Romance will happen, so be on board.

Fourteenth Suggestion: In teaching her about oppression, be careful not to turn the oppressed into saints.

Fifteenth Suggestion: Teach her about difference.


In each section that goes into these suggestions, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gives examples of what she is speaking about. She also throws shade at mutual friends/people that she and her friend know that made me laugh.


Here are some of my favorite quotes:

 

Many people believe that a woman’s feminist response to a husband’s infidelity should be to leave. But I think staying can also be a feminist choice, depending on the context. If Chudi sleeps with another woman and you forgive him, would the same be true if you slept with another man? If the answer is yes, then your choosing to forgive him can be a feminist choice because it is not shaped by a gender inequality. Sadly, the reality in most marriages is that the answer to that question would often be no, and the reason would be gender-based—that absurd idea of “men will be men,

 

That said, I would take all of my husband's stuff, burn it, and proceed to change the locks on the door. 

 

Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood. Be a full person. Your child will benefit from that. The pioneering American journalist Marlene Sanders, who was the first woman to report from Vietnam during the war (and who was the mother of a son), once gave this piece of advice to a younger journalist: “Never apologize for working. You love what you do, and loving what you do is a great gift to give your child.”

 

My family still treats me like I am a strange creature because I chose to not marry and I choose to not have children. I am happy. Yes, I am single, and yes sometimes I get lonely. But I am lonely for people really, not so much companionship because I love coming home to my house and just being. I tried too hard for years to be the perfect girlfriend, it's nice to just be me and not have anything wrong with that.

 

Our culture celebrates the idea of women who are able to “do it all” but does not question the premise of that praise. I have no interest in the debate about women “doing it all” because it is a debate that assumes that caregiving and domestic work are singularly female domains, an idea that I strongly reject.

 

It drives me up the wall when women and even men go around saying well so and so women shows she can do it all. Fuck that noise. I can't do it all, and I am not married with children. I ask for help. I hire people to do shit for my home, my car. There's nothing wrong with not being able to do it all.

 

Teach her that the idea of “gender roles” is absolute nonsense. Do not ever tell her that she should or should not do something because she is a girl. “Because you are a girl” is never a reason for anything. Ever.

 

Enough said.

 

The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina.

 

I want this on a pillow somewhere so I can put it in my bedroom. 

 

We also need to question the idea of marriage as a prize to women, because that is the basis of these absurd debates. If we stopped conditioning women to see marriage as a prize, then we would have fewer debates about a wife needing to cook in order to earn that prize.

 

Preach!

 

Beware the danger of what I call Feminism Lite. It is the idea of conditional female equality. Please reject this entirely. It is a hollow, appeasing, and bankrupt idea. Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. You either believe in the full equality of men and women or you do not.

 

AMEN!

 

Tell Chizalum that women actually don’t need to be championed and revered; they just need to be treated as equal human beings. There is a patronizing undertone to the idea of women needing to be “championed” and “revered” because they are women. It makes me think of chivalry, and the premise of chivalry is female weakness.

 

I honestly never even thought about it this way before.


There are so many other good quotes that I can be here all day about. 

 

Loved this letter and need to read more by this author. 

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review 2018-01-07 12:59
The Book of Joan
The Book of Joan: A Novel - Lidia Yuknavitch

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

A tricky rating to give, for I did like some parts of this novel, but others just didn’t sit with me.

It made for intense read, for sure: for the catastrophe it depicts, the parallels it draws with our current world, the violence inflicted to characters (and especially women), the crude representation of a degenerated mankind, the desperate way the main characters live their lives. Christine and Trinculo, lovers in bodies that cannot experience physical pleasure anymore, united through skin grafts and art instead, as well as through their common support of Joan of Dirt, burnt for heresy. Leone, sexless and hardened warrior who never gives up. Nyx and their willingness to bring about destruction to help creation in turn.

One may or may not appreciate, also, the literary references. Jean de Men is most obviously a reference to Jean de Meung, and his perverted goals a direct echo of de Meung’s writings about women being deceitful and full of vice. In the same vein, Christine is Christine de Pisan, whose own writings attacked de Meung’s. Trinculo, both in name and behaviour, is the Shakespearian fool, whose apparently nonsensical language and insults are used to carry unconvenient truths. This goes further, since Christine is a feminist voice who lost her physical femininity, while Jean defiles bodies too close to his for comfort. As far as I’m concerned, those worked for me.

The writing itself, too, has beautiful moments, and weaves metaphors and descriptions in a way that gives the story a surreal aspect. Something larger than life, something that the characters try to reach for and clutch to, just like they clutch to their past sexualised humanity because they don’t really know what to do with their new bodies, much too fast devolved.

The science fiction side, though, didn’t work so well, and even though I was willing to suspend my disbelief, I couldn’t get over the evolutionary processes throughout the story. Joan’s power? Alright, why not. But human bodies degenerating to sexless, hairless, mutating in such a rapid way affecting everybody, not even on two or three generations but within one’s own lifetime? That’s just completely illogical. I see the intent, I understand it to an extent ( as it pitches this broken mankind with its broken bodies against the one being who brought destruction yet at the same time is the only one who can still bring about true creation), but it still won’t work for me from a scientific standpoint, which is something I still expect to see in a sci-fi/post-apocalyptic setting.

The writing deals with first person points of view that aren’t necessarily the same person’s from one chapter to the other, and it made the story confusing at times, until a hint or other made it clearer whose voice I was reading. At times, it made the narrative disjointed and the characters ‘remote’, which made it more difficult to really care for them.

Nevertheless, it was a compelling read that goes for the guts, violent despite—or because of?—its poetry.

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review 2018-01-05 23:42
The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace by Lynn Povich
The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace - Lynn Povich

Lynn Povich was one of the women involved in the two class action lawsuits that occurred in the early days of the second wave feminist movement. She was a researcher, a reporter, a writer, and moved all the way up to the number 3 spot as an editor. She recounts the story in vivid detail, sometimes a little too gossipy. Katherine Graham might seem like a publishing titan today, but back when she first took over The Post Company (Newsweek was owned by the same owners as the Washington Post), she was just oblivious to how to run, react, and diffuse conflict. She came across as really dim-witted heiress.

 

The women who joined Povich in the lawsuits get good page time, along with their bad ass lawyers; first was Eleanor Holmes Norton, then assistant director over at the ACLU. When the Newsweek women needing mentoring, she was their number one coach. When the women needed a kick in the pants, she was the star kicker. The second lawyer was Harriett S. Rabb; she was a dog with a bone when it came to holding Newsweek's feet to the fire.

 

The book was very much to the point of who, why, and when, which is not surprising since Povich is a reporter at heart; the NOOK edition I read was 205 pages. There is context as background and how the lawsuits fit in the bigger narrative of the revolutionary 1960s and early 1970s. She does address race and that the black researchers were asked to join the lawsuit but they had declined and she gave reasons why they declined. I like the way Povich also spotlights the women working at Newsweek today (Newsweek is now a joint publication with The Daily Beast) and their efforts to fight back on discrimination that is still on-going at Newsweek.  

   

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text 2018-01-02 22:11
Was this really the beginning? No!
The Flame and the Flower - Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss's The Flame and the Flower began the flood of paperback historical romances written by and for women readers in 1972, but it wasn't the first historical romance by any means.

 

We can go back to the swashbucklers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, by Dumas and Hugo and Sabatini, as well as the historical adventures of the mid-20th century by Yerby and Shellabarger and others.  These were the books I and my fellow historical romance writers of the 1980s had grown up reading.  We watched the movies of Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power, Cornel Wilde and Burt Lancaster.  We weren't into the polite comedies of manners from Georgette Heyer the way we were into the swords and daggers of Edison Marshall.

 

As I detailed in my analysis of Leslie Turner White's Lord Johnnie, there was a subtle feminism in many of these pre-Woodiwiss novels.  Not in all of them, of course, but it's important to remember that women read these books, too, and they watched the movies that were made from them in the 1930s, 1940s, and on.  The books, and the authors, had to keep those women in mind.

 

It was on that foundation that Kathleen Woodiwiss built, to be followed by Rosemary Rogers, Laurie McBain, Jude Deveraux, Rebecca Brandewyne, Julie Garwood, Candace Camp, LaVyrle Spencer, Jo Beverley, Julia Quinn, and so many more.

 

In the spring of 2000, I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis at Arizona State University West on the feminist potential in romance novels.  Eventually I published a digital edition on Amazon, not expecting very much but just to have it easily available.

 

 

 

The changes that have occurred in the romance fiction world since 2000 really warrant another examination of the causes and effects, the actions and reactions.  I stated at the beginning of Half Heaven, Half Heartache that I wasn't going to look at gay and lesbian romances because my focus was on the straight romance and how it affected as well as mirrored real life straight romance.  Seventeen years later, however, there is now a valid and valuable interaction.  The same is true of romances featuring people of color, interracial romances, and all the other "new" forms of romantic fiction, both historical and contemporary, paranormal and fantasy.

 

My collection of romance novels has grown since 2000, and there has been more non-fiction about romance fiction written and published.  Imagine what I could do with that.

 

Watch this space.

 

 

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