i had high expectations. it's underwhelming.
I was hoping to like this more than I did. Meg Wolitzer’s 11th book is about a friendship between a young woman (Greer Kadetsky) and an older, feminist icon (Faith Frank). The plot is cool enough (I like the idea of a college student, iconic feminist, and a life changing mentorship), but there’s not enough compelling content to underpin the plot development. I struggle to find anything special or even vaguely unique in the relationship between Greer and Faith. Greer claims that “a revelatory gong had been struck” inside her when she first heard Faith speak at Ryland College. This is odd because Faith says very little of substance. She reiterates what feminism is and why it’s important for us to be feminists (I’m not going to quote the whole section, but it’s pages 27-29). It’s 2006 and this is very basic stuff. We’re supposed to believe these are revolutionary thoughts for Greer (a straight-A student who got into Yale and reads feminist blogs in her spare time). Doesn’t make sense to me.
Here’s an aside, but I can’t for the life of me figure out whether Wolitzer really believes that women are inherently gentler than men in their approaches to power. When Greer cuts her finger while slicing onions at Faith’s house, the famous feminist cleans and bandages the wound. Greer reflects, “The light touch of this powerful woman was profound. So too was her choice to use power in this tender way. Maybe that’s what we want from women…Maybe that’s what we imagine it would be like to have woman to lead us.” Is Wolitzer mocking this “tender” view of female power? I'm not quite sure this is satirical.
Lastly, Greer’s frequent attempts to encourage shy women to use their “outside voice” irritate me: (1) it’s condescending and (2) it’s not original. There’s an entire fitness brand called “Outdoor Voices.” It’s not small. Vogue recently ran an article called, “How Outdoor Voices is Taking Over the Fitness Apparel World.”
I wanted to like this. Meg Wolitzer has been outspoken about the ways in which literature written by women is judged more harshly than similar literature written by men. Wolitzer mentions Franzen and Eugenides as examples of male authors who rely heavily on the themes of relationships and family, but still have robust male readership. Unfortunately, literary fiction written by women is frequently marketed exclusively to women: “Both men and women read books by men, but books by women are far more likely to be read by women than by men." I wanted to love this book and then tell all my male friends to read it. I’m sorry to say, I won't go out of my way to recommend this.
"Black women's experiences are unique among women of color's experiences. Asian women's experiences are unique among women of color's experiences. The list can go on and on. But when we are specifically talking about black women's experiences, the magnifying glass need not move to any other melanin-rich subject... It is we who need a divergent branch of feminism to get our issues acknowledged and scrutinized."
Hello from Philly. I’ve spent this afternoon at the Penn Book Center, trying to collect my thoughts on Morgan Jerkins’ debut collection of essays, This Will Be My Undoing. These ten essays focus on Jerkins’ experience navigating spaces as a black woman. Without a doubt, this is some of the most honest and raw material I’ve ever read. Jerkins’ essays makes Roxane Gay seem unforthcoming. After the collection was released, Jerkins mentioned that her goal was to “put it all on the table” with these ten essays. She certainly does that. Her most candid essay describes her experience with labiaplasty (and all of the physical/emotional struggles involved in the decision to go through with the procedure). There is so much good to these essays. With this debut, Jerkins claims her place among America’s best essayists. As Roxane Gay says, “With this collection, Jerkins shows us that she is unforgettably here, a writer to be reckoned with.”
Hello from The Strand! I can spend hours in this book store. It's one of my favorites. This book, however, is not one of my favorites. Still Lives hasn’t technically been released yet, but BOTM used it as a May selection. Basically, a famous artist goes missing on the opening night of her museum exhibition and Hummel’s narrator (Maggie) gets really, really involved. She puts herself in near-death scenarios…for what? Hummel tells us that Maggie’s ex-boyfriend (Greg) became a suspect in the artist’s disappearance, so Maggie wants to exonerate him by finding the real perpetrator. This makes no sense because in the months prior to the artist's disappearance, Greg inexplicably left Maggie for another woman. WHY IN GOD’S NAME does Maggie continue to protect Greg throughout the book?? And WHY ON EARTH does she flirt with Greg in cringy/corny ways after he smashed/trashed/gashed her heart? I don’t follow.
The second thing that REALLY bothers me about this book is the way Maria Hummel describes groups of women. The main character frequently attends a “craft club” with other women (I don’t think this is meant to be ironic). Hummel’s descriptions of the other women in craft club make me want to implode: “Yegina is always the funny, bossy one; Lisa and MeiMei brim with gullible empathy, Evie has a passion for Hollywood gossip, Jayme warily steers us from too much cattiness, Dee makes spacey remarks…” Yikes. This is the only group of women in the novel and we are given a woman who is “bossy,” two who are “gullible,” one who has a “passion for gossip,” and another who always “makes spacey remarks.” The best we can hope for is Jayme (who gets a gold medal for steering other women away from “too much cattiness”). THESE ARE ESSENTIALLY ALL THE FEMALE CHARACTERS IN HER BOOK. I struggle.
This title is officially released June 5, 2018. No need to run out and buy it.
So good! Quick read.
When a couple of years ago a friend of mine from childhood, who'd grown into a brilliant, strong, kind woman, asked me to tell her how to raise her baby girl a feminist, my first thought was that I did not know. It felt like too huge a task.
A friend wrote to Chimamanda Adichie requesting advice on how to raise her daughter as a feminist. A version of Adichie's response eventually turned into a book: Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. The book is full of powerful, concise, and accessible advice. Perhaps this is what I appreciate most about Adichie's version of feminism: it is approachable. There is nothing pretentious or highfalutin in these suggestions. I'm just going to cover four of Adichie's suggestions in this review (these are my favorite suggestions).
1. "Be a full person. Do not define yourself solely by motherhood. Your child will benefit from that." Men of working moms are significantly more likely than men of stay at home moms (SAHMs) to marry a partner who works full time. Over their childhoods, these men also spent twice as much time helping with household chores than men of SAHMs. Daughters of working moms make roughly 25% more over their careers than the daughters of SAHMs. Despite buckets of research demonstrating these benefits, 1/3 of Americans are steadfast in the belief that mothers should not work outside the home.
2. "'Because you are a girl' is never a reason for anything. Ever." If you want your daughter to help with the dishes, explain that it's important for everyone to have a role in cleaning the kitchen. Ask her to help cook dinner because it is important for everyone to help nourish the family. But. Never. Ever. tell her to do these things because she is a girl. As Adichie reminds us, "The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina."
3. "Teach her that to love is not only to give but also to take. This is important because we give girls subtle cues about their lives-- we teach them that a large component of their ability to love is their ability to sacrifice their selves. We do not teach this to boys." Yeah. This is the hardest one to tackle. You'd think it's common sense. It's not. Teach girls that romantic love is not just about giving and caring, but also about taking and being cared for.
4. "Never speak of marriage as an achievement. Find ways to make clear to her that marriage is not an achievement, nor is it what she should aspire to. A marriage can be happy or unhappy, but it is not an achievement." Some women choose to get married. Other's don't. There should be no moral value attached to either choice. It's like getting a driver's license: some people do and some people don't.
Alright, that's all I've got for today. I'll be back in a few days, from New York!
insightful. a must-read.
She wasn’t listening to him. He recalled how she and Peter had insisted on English, his new name, the right education. How better and more hinged on their ideas of success, their plans. Mama, Chinese, the Bronx, Deming: they had never been enough. He shivered, and for a brief, horrible moment, he could see himself the way he realized they saw him—as someone who needed to be saved.
You are eleven years old and live with your mother, an undocumented immigrant. One night, she does not return from work. Usually, she comes home with Chinese take out for dinner. Tonight, there is no Mom and no take out. You eat leftover scraps of lunch meat from the small drawer in the fridge. She doesn’t return the next day, the next day, or the day after that. She does not call. What do you do?
Deming Guo lives in the Bronx with his mother, Polly Guo. One evening, Polly does not return from work. He waits for her patiently, but she simply never returns. Months later, Deming is adopted by a wealthy, white couple in upstate New York. The adoptive parents, Kay and Peter Wilkinson, are professors at a nearby university. They immediately change Deming’s name to “Daniel” and raise him as their own child. This is not a “happily ever after” story.
I love this book. The Leavers is focused on the experience of transracial adoption (also called “interracial adoption”). The story is told from the points of view of both Polly and her son, Deming. Ko describes Deming’s crippling feelings of abandonment and a mother’s nightmarish loss of a child. I shed some tears reading this book (this doesn’t happen often). I highly recommend The Leavers. Seems that the NYT reviewer took issue with much of the “info-stuffed” dialogue– I didn’t notice it.
down to earth wisdom and practical advice.
I worry about dying alone, unmarried and childless, because I spent so much time pursuing my career and accumulating degrees. This kind of thinking keeps me up at night, but I pretend it doesn’t because I am supposed to be evolved. My success, such as it is, is supposed to be enough if I’m a good feminist. It is not enough. It is not even close.
All humans (even feminists!) are a bundle of contradictions. Feminists may love things that conflict with traditional feminist ideology. A woman who wears makeup everyday may argue that she shouldn’t be judged on her appearance. A feminist can fight for equal rights in the workplace, but stay home and raise a child. She may also decry the objectification of women in media, but sing along to rap music with degrading lyrics (Gay declares her love for “Salt Shaker,” a Ying Yang Twins song: “Make it work with your wet t-shirt. Bitch you gotta shake til your camel starts to hurt.” Nice). With her down to earth wisdom and practical advice, Roxane Gay gives us courage to wave our feminist flag proudly: “I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all” (318).
In this collection of essays, Gay reflects on topics ranging from Junot Diaz to Fifty Shades of Grey. There is a great section in here analyzing Diaz’s “This Is How You Lose Her.” Gay describes him as a talented writer, but ultimately takes issue with how Diaz incorporates female characters into his stories: “Still, I keep coming back to the relative impunity with which the men in ‘This Is How You Lose Her’ get to behave badly, and to the tone of the critical reception to these stories… I would have loved to see what a writer of Diaz’s caliber might do if he allowed his character to step out of the constraints of the environment he grew up in…We have to be more interested in making things better than just being right, or interesting, or funny” (108). Amen.
In one of my favorite essays, Gay castigates Kathryn Stockett for pretty much every aspect of “The Help” (popular book turned movie about African Americans working for white families in the 1960’s): “Every transgression, injustice, and tragedy was exploited so that by the end of the movie it was like the director had ripped into my chest, torn my heart out, and jumped up and down on it until it became a flattened piece of worn-out muscle– cardiac jerky, if you will” (214). That's one of the things I love most about Roxane Gay: she creates a term like "cardiac jerky" and then uses is in the most perfect way possible.
Ah, and then there are her reflections on birth control. Gay explains that an increasing number of women feel pressure to say that they use the pill for a reason besides contraception (for example: “Oh, I just use the pill to regulate my period” or “I’m on birth control just to control my acne”). It has become uncommon for women to say that they take the pill in order to enjoy a healthy sex life: “We are now dealing with a bizarre new morality where a woman cannot simply say, in one way or another, ‘I’m on the pill because I like sex.’ It’s extremely regressive for women to feel like they need to make it seem like they are using birth control for reasons other than what birth control was originally designed for: to control birth…If I told you my birth control method of choice, you’d look at me like I was slightly insane. Suffice it to say, I will take a pill every day when men have that same option. One of my favorite moments is when a guy, at that certain point in a relationship, says something like, ‘Are you on the pill?’ I simply say, ‘No, are you?'” (277). To say that I love this section of the book is a major understatement.
There are so many smart pieces of these essays. This collection is a must-read for fans of Roxane Gay.