bad gal book club

I want to preface this post by saying I am not terribly good at discussing books. I took the English studies track with the littlest literature discussion, and I rarely discuss books with people in my real-life, because few people I know like the same types of books. I’m also rarely reading what’s current, because I wait-list at the library rather than purchase most books. But, I’ve been wanting to discuss books lately. Maybe it’s due to spending my days with a toddler, but this mom desperately needs some intellectualism.

And maybe you can tell by the books I’m going to discuss but apparently this mom needs some bold and brash female friends quite badly. πŸ™‚ We will see how this goes, and I may do more posts like this. If you’ve read anything I discuss and want to talk about it, please comment. Or if you’ve got recommends along the same vein, I’d love to hear those, too!

men explain things1. Men Explain Things to Me.

This book is a collection including and named for Rebecca Solnit’s most famous essay. I’d actually read the essay before somewhere, but was glad to come across it again because it’s so very good. The premise of the essay is familiar to me: Men often wrongly assume they correctly understand things, and often wrongly assume women don’t. It’s a phenomenon that crops up daily in the workplace and elsewhere if you pay attention. Solnit’s anecdotes are every woman’s anecdotes; I’ve been at parties or the office, and have listened to men wrongly explain or interpret subjects I know a great deal about, with great authority. More often I’ve been in meetings and have had what I’ve said ignored only to have a man rephrase the same thing later. The essay is rather lighthearted in nature compared to those that come after, the theme of which are darker takes and consequences of the silencing of women. Then we get into domestic violence rates. Rape statistics. The lack of female literacy and education throughout the world. Shocking and sickening. The book left me with so many emotions. It’s an awkward position to be a white, middle-class, educated feminist. It’s heavy with guilt. There’s a guilt associated with knowing how far white American women have to go and realizing we still have it better than women of color, LGBT women, and women and girls in the third world. There’s guilt about not doing enough about it. Solnit lays it out very beautifully and in my opinion did a great job acknowledging cross-sectional feminism in such short pieces of writing. It’s actually of no small significance to shed light on the struggle for all women; many white feminist writers do not bother. Admittedly, I didn’t even notice that until reading Solnit, which made me realize I very badly need to diversify my own book consumption.

One of my favorite, and timely, essays in her book was about marriage equality, arguing that there really IS a threat to “traditional marriage”.. because it threatens the patriarchal power arrangement that we’ve been burdened with since the 1700s, when women literally gave up their identities, wealth, and voice to their husbands when they married.

She says: “Gay men and lesbians have already opened up the question of what qualities and roles are male and female in ways that can be liberating for straight people. When they marry, the meaning of marriage is likewise opened up. No hierarchical tradition underlies their union. “
Her point is that like so many other issues in our society, hetero, Christian white males don’t want to give up their power. Redefining marriage to include same-sex makes the definition one that leaves room for unions that are egalitarian in nature and that scares them. I think her theory makes so much sense. I’ve never understood what the “threat to traditional marriage” could possibly be and it’s never been fully explained to me. Solnit explains that a shift in our society to acceptance of different kinds of unions might plant the idea in the heads of women or unmarried young people that marriage doesn’t have to mean subservience to men or traditional gender roles. Roles can be “assigned” based on actual strengths, talents, etc as they should be. Also explains why people who already think there should be equality WITHIN a marriage (feminists, humanists, social liberals) by and large are advocates of marriage equality. Really fascinating take on how marriage equality is a threat to those in power who really just fear gender equality.

yes please2. Yes Please.

Everyone loves Amy Poehler because she’s hilarious and adorable. I love her because she’s hilarious, because she’s Leslie-freaking-Knope, and because I feel like I know her. I love that she wrote a book about her life as an improv comedian. She didn’t write a hyperbolic memoir with the “that-dialog-is-funny-but-didn’t-actually-happen” style that most comedians use. (Though I don’t mind when they do. In fact I was surprised Poehler’s wasn’t more that way when I dove in.) The book wasn’t actually all that funny. It’s good, and it’s entertaining, but didn’t have me cracking up. Instead I got a glimpse of Amy as more than funny. She’s a professional who worked her ass off. To achieve her level of fame as a female comedian she has worked that rare combination of ambitious and easy going. She didn’t overuse self-deprecation to endear me, but she didn’t brag. I mean, there were a few “I can’t believe how cool my life is” moments, but they were so completely genuine. She spends so much time gushing and thanking people in her professional life throughout the book and I loved that. If this book were a manual for how to be Amy Poehler, the success formula is to be hard-working and grateful as much as clever.

How to be a woman3. How to Be a Woman.

Feminist comedy nonfiction has to be my new favorite genre. It’s as though you realize how much female perspective is lacking in the media when someone can make you laugh while thinking critically about tampons and pornography. Overapologizing is the plague of womankind, so we need more icons that refuse to. Caitlin Moran is raunchy and real, but in a way that doesn’t make you hate yourself. For that reason I feel like something like this book should be required reading for young girls. Probably most people would disagree. But, my reasoning is this: sometimes accidentally as a kid you stumble upon things that are well out of your maturity level and you can never un-see it or un-hear it. This was the case for my generation, and I would imagine it’s even worse now given that anything can literally be pulled up at any moment on a phone or computer. Sex isn’t going away, ever, but it’s not our preoccupation with it that is damaging to both women and men: it’s the narrow, male-dominated perspective. This book kind of helped me better understand that hard-to-wrap-my-brain-around concept (that censorship isn’t the answer, but rather inclusion of more perspectives). I just picked up another Moran book, How to Build a Girl, and I’m looking forward to starting it.

4. Gone Girl.

gone-girl-book-cover-medI finally broke my non-fiction streak and read Gone Girl last week, then watched the film this week. And, um? What can I say without giving spoilers, but .. twisted. It’s a guilty-pleasure type read.. it read quickly and hooked me. It’s well-written and well-mapped. It’s hard to read a book or watch a film where I have no character to root for unless the story can suck me in (like Palaniuk can manage to do) and I liked the twists and folds Gone Girl.

One thing I kept taking issue with throughout was that the unspooling of Amy and Nick’s marriage was supposed to be a result of the real and recent economy problems in the US, but theirs were so completely and self-consciously (to me) rich white people problems. Both had lost their jobs in the print magazine industry, but Amy had a (dwindling) trust fund, and they left New York for Missouri to sink the last of it into a dive bar and a McMansion in a mostly foreclosed neighborhood. The first half of the book includes Amy’s diary entries complaining of leaving her beloved Brooklyn Brownstone, and the tacky processed-foods appetizers she now had to endure at social functions in the Midwest. She’s hardly a likeable victim from the beginning.

The film was decent but different in the tone. David Fincher (who I love) directed and it’s artsy and dark, sharply edited and the Trent Reznor score gave it a really fast-paced thriller vibe rather than the slow, unraveling decent into madness vibe of the book. Recommend them both for a quick summer diversion (beat the heat with chills?)

So.. what are you reading these days? πŸ™‚

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