Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

I freely admit to not being the most plugged in person on the planet, so before my book group chose Lindy West’s Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman as our choice last month, I hadn’t heard of her.  I am grateful that a fellow member brought this book to our attention, and I now consider myself a Lindy West fan.  Our group certainly had a lot to talk about.

You may have heard of West from her appearances on NPR’s This American Life.  She’s done two episodes in the last two years.  In one she gets an unexpected and heartfelt apology from the internet troll who impersonated her recently deceased father (episode 545.)  In the other (episode 589) West talks about how she started embracing her identity as a fat woman.41L6cVdMOFL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Shrill is a book of essays and also a memoir, although our group couldn’t quite decide if it felt more like one than the other.  West writes about the lack of positive, sexy, young fat women role models in entertainment, her period, her abortion, growing into acceptance of her body, internet trolls, not fitting into a seat on an airplane, misogyny in stand-up comedy, and her father’s death.  Some of her writing is funny and brave, some of it is heartbreaking and raw.  All of it is infused with a passionately feminist, body-positive perspective.  I marked many passages as I read.  I’d like to share a few.

On vicious internet harassment (in the brilliantly titled chapter “Why Fat Lady So Mean to Baby Men?”):  “Why is invasive, relentless abuse – that disproportionately affects marginalized people who have already faced additional obstacles just to establish themselves in this field – something we should all have to live with just to do our jobs?  Six years later, this is still a question I’ve yet to have answered.”

On the pressure to be a thin and beautiful woman in our society: “Women matter.  Women are half of us.  When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time – that moves the rudder of the world.  It steers humanity toward conservatism and walls and the narrow interests of men, and it keeps us adrift in waters where women’s safety and humanity are secondary to men’s pleasure and convenience.”

On rape jokes in comedy: “Comedians regularly retort that no one complains when they joke about murder or other crimes in their acts, citing that as a double standard.  Well, fortunately, there is no cultural narrative casting doubt on the existence and prevalence of murder and pressuring people not to report it.”

I feel like Lindy West is such a necessary writer and a strong and relatable feminist voice.  I found her to be funny and insightful and fierce.  I marvel at her hard-won confidence.  I’m angry that she has to endure such hateful vitriol online for speaking her mind and loving who she is.  Shrill is a great choice for a book club – it provides so many avenues of conversation.  This was a very good collection of essays – powerful and brave in a way that women in our society definitely need.

 

 

High Rising by Angela Thirkell

This book has such a beautiful cover, no?  It’s not what drew me to the book, but I admit that it helped me decide to actually purchase a copy for myself. Virago Modern Classics has published new editions of Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire series, of which this was the first, published in 1933, with these gorgeous cover illustrations.  Well done, Virago!  (And I’ve read in some reviews that previous editions were filled with typos.)51BT-VW7WRL

I’d never heard of Thirkell until I read Jenny’s review of the fifth book, Pomfret Towers.   As an admitted Anglophile, it sounded like this was a series I very much needed to look into.  I can report that I was indeed charmed and entertained by the first book.  It’s a delightfully witty, fun read, sort of in the same vein as the works of Barbara Pym.  Only I find Pym to have more substance, and a bit darker lining to her literary clouds.

The Amazon.com description sums up the plot nicely:

Successful lady novelist Laura Morland and her boisterous young son Tony set off to spend Christmas at her country home in the sleepy surrounds of High Rising. But Laura’s wealthy friend and neighbour George Knox has taken on a scheming secretary whose designs on marriage to her employer threaten the delicate social fabric of the village. Can clever, practical Laura rescue George from Miss Grey’s clutches and, what’s more, help his daughter Miss Sibyl Knox to secure her longed-for engagement?

What I liked about the main character, Laura, is the self-deprecating way she views her own novels.  Laura recounts her first lunch with her now agent, Adrian Coates, and the following is how she describes her writing style:

“You mightn’t like it,” said Laura, in her deep voice.  “It’s not highbrow.  I’ve just got to work, that’s all.  You see my husband was nothing but an expense to me while he was alive, and naturally he’s no help to me now he’s dead, though of course, less expensive, so I thought if I could write some rather good bad books, it would help with the boys’ education.”

“Good bad books?”

“Yes.  Not very good books, you know, but good of a second-rate kind.  That’s all I could do,” she said gravely.

Another thing I liked about Laura was the way she related to her young son, Tony.  Her older three boys are grown and out of the house, so it’s just she and Tony together when he’s not at boarding school.  Tony never stops talking – he’s just a very busy, precocious little boy.  One night as her son is going to bed, Laura counts the weeks of Christmas vacation in her head, wondering how she’ll survive it.

Oh, the exhaustingness of the healthy young!  Laura had once offered to edit a book called Why I Hate My Children, but though Adrian Coates had offered her every encouragement, and every mother of her acquaintance had offered to contribute, it had never taken shape.  Perhaps, she thought, as she stood by Tony’s bed an hour later, they wouldn’t be so nice if they weren’t so hateful.

One thing I decidedly did NOT like about this book, however, were the handful of casually thrown out anti-Semitic remarks, usually spoke or thought by Laura.  I realize that this was written in 1933, but surely even then there were those who found racist remarks unpalatable and unnecessary.  There were two or three instances that stuck out to me, and not enough to mar my enjoyment of the book entirely.  But I docked this a half-star on my Goodreads review, simply to note that this was problematic for me and might be to others as well.  In researching the others in the series, I’ve read that they do not include remarks of this tone.

All in all, a fun, light read for those who enjoy British novels from the period between the World Wars.  It was more sarcastic and biting than I’d anticipated, which gave it a sort of modern flair.  I will read a few more and see how I like them.

For another take and lovely review of High Rising, check out Resh Susan’s post at The Book Satchel.

(Book 7 of 10 for my #10BooksofSummer, from Cathy’s #20BooksofSummer challenge.)

March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

I am so glad that I got over my “I don’t read graphic novels” thing.  What was that about, anyway?  I’d just never read one before, so I didn’t know what I was missing.  It was like my five year-old and everything he won’t eat.  I tell him, “You think you don’t like blueberries, but you don’t know, because you haven’t even tried them.”  (Yes, readers, my son currently won’t eat blueberries, among other things that are yummy.  I know.)

march_book_two_72dpi_lgI don’t review a lot of the graphic novels I read, but I knew I had to review March: Book Two.  It’s going to be one of my favorite books this year, I can tell.  I read March: Book One back in June, gave it five stars on Goodreads, and knew I wanted to continue reading the series. The first book introduced us to the legendary U.S. Congressman John Lewis’s background as a farm boy growing up in rural Alabama and how he got involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the early days of the Civil Rights Movement.

Book Two opens with the SNCC working in Nashville to desegregate fast food restaurants and movie theaters.  But its real center is the Freedom Rides, which tested out the 1960 Supreme Court case that was supposed to desegregate buses and bus terminals nationwide.  We meet the first group of Freedom Riders, an integrated group of mostly young people from all over the country, as they get ready to travel deep into the segregated American South.

IMG_3630I don’t know about your high school history classes, but even though I had some amazing teachers, we never seemed to get much beyond the Second World War chronologically.  So though I had heard of the Freedom Riders before, I didn’t really make an emotional connection to the horrors they had to face for simply riding a bus.  Reading March: Book Two, seeing the powerful illustrations, made me feel the hatred and violence in a way that no text book or lecture could.

Juxtaposed with the beatings and the hard work of negotiating the tone of their nonviolent campaign is the promise and hope of the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009. This is moving, knowing how far our country has come in 50 years, while still realizing how much work we still have to do to deal with racism. IMG_3631  Probably the most chilling aspect of the graphic novel was the extent to which some Southern politicians and police officers colluded with the vicious mobs, allowing them time to work over the Freedom Riders before they stopped the beatings.  Reading about how open these men were with their racists ideologies made me feel ill, knowing that there are those today who aspire to political office with similar belief systems.

I highly recommend both March:Book One and March:Book Two even to those who don’t care for or haven’t ever tried graphic novels.  I am so glad that these volumes exist, and that perhaps students will read them and become more aware of such a horrible part of our history.  My mom was a six-year old when these men and women were getting viciously attacked for doing something legal in the eyes of the Supreme Court.  She was eight years old when Congressman Lewis and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were speaking at the march on Washington, D.C. in 1963.  It really wasn’t all that long ago, although it sometimes seems like it.  Much of the work that we need to do as a country involves reckoning with our history, and I think young white people in particular need to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement and the South’s violent pushback.  I’m so glad that I read these powerful books.  The concluding volume of this series, March: Book Three, just became available earlier this month.  I’m eager to read it.

 

 

 

The Long Lost Middlemarch Wrap-up

(The #Marchalong is over!  Many thanks to Juhi from Nooks and Crannies for hosting the Middlemarch readalong and giving me an excuse to reread this marvelous book!)

Oh yeah!  I was supposed to write a post about the final section of Middlemarch, Book Eight, “Sunset and Sunrise.”  I finished reading this marvelous chunkster of a book on July 12, according to Goodreads.  If you’ve been following my Middlemarch posts thus far (and God bless you!) you know that I love this book.  I love that it took me five months to finish it.  If I’d had a tighter deadline for reading and posting, I probably wouldn’t have signed up for the readalong.cover_image

We left off in Book Seven with Dorothea aghast at the unsavory allegations directed towards Lydgate.  We begin Book Eight with the Misters Farebrother, Chettham, and Brooke trying to persuade her not to get involved.  (I love Dorothea’s impassioned question, “What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?  I cannot be indifferent to the troubles of a man who advised me in my trouble, and attended me in my illness.”)

Rather than summarize the plot, I simply want to highlight some of my favorite quotations from this section.  I know that some of you have expressed a desire to read Middlemarch at some point, and I don’t want to spoil it.  (If you can spoil a book published in 1872!)

When Mrs. Bulstrode tells her husband that she knows all the allegations against him:

He raised his eyes with a little start and looked at her half amazed for a moment:her pale face, her changed, mourning dress, the trembling about her mouth, all said, “I know;” and her hands and eyes rested gently on him.  He burst out crying and they cried together, she sitting at his side.  They could not yet speak to each other of the shame which she was bearing with him, or of the acts that had brought it down on them.  His confession was silent, and her promise of faithfulness was silent.  Open-minded as she was, she nevertheless shrank from the words which would have expressed their mutual consciousness as she would have shrunk from the flakes of fire. She could not say, “How much is only slander and false suspicion?” and he did not say, “I am innocent.”

After Dorothea sees Rosamund and Will in what she assumes is a romantic interlude, and Rosamund tells Will to go after Dorothea and explain:

“Explain!  Tell a man to explain how he dropped into hell!  Explain my preference!  I never had a preference for her, any more than I have a preference for breathing.  No other woman exists by the side of her.  I would rather touch her hand if it were dead than I would touch any other woman’s living.”

When Dorothea and Will finally confront one another and unburden their souls:

While he was speaking their came a vivid flash of lightning which lit each of them up for the other – and the light seemed to be the terror of a hopeless love.  Dorothea darted instantaneously from the window; Will followed her, seizing her hand with a spasmodic movement; and so they stood, with their hands clasped, like two children, looking out on the storm, while the thunder gave a tremendous crack and roll above them, and the rain began to pour down.  Then they turned their faces towards each other, with the memory of his last words in them, and they did not loose each other’s hands.

This book is about everything:  love and marriage, the pitiful education of females in the 19th century, finding the courage to discover your calling, class consciousness, changing political times, spending above your means, honesty, flirtation, altruism, and what constitutes a good life.  There are many strands to the web that Eliot spins, but they are all beautifully connected and come together in surprising ways.  It is funny, witty, comforting, astute – and sometimes feels so modern that I can’t believe it was written almost 150 years ago.  I admit that I’ve missed delving into its pages and visiting its characters over the past few weeks. This is a book that I will take the time to read again in the years to come.

Going Back To One Book At A Time

For most of my reading life, I was a one book at a time reader.  It’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve started reading multiple books at one time.  It seemed to be working for me… until all of a sudden it didn’t.

Multiple Books (1)I started feeling unsettled and anxious about having 4 or 5 or 6 books on my nightstand in various states of being read.  (I am an anxious person by nature, so that this minor thing would cause me anxiety is not surprising.)  My focus has also been horrible this summer.  I know there are other factors involved (only child starting kindergarten, the ridiculous, disgusting, horrifying,but-I-can’t-look-away news cycle) but I think having too many books going at once is part of the problem.

So I’m going to try to go back to what used to work for me.  I’ll try reading one book at a time, with the exception of an audio book.  I am going to try to control myself with my library holds so that I don’t have too many things coming in at once and become overwhelmed. (The modify holds function on the online catalog is the best!)  I am going to try and PUT DOWN THE PHONE when I’m home.  I might put it on top of the fridge, that seems like a nice out of the way place!  And that nightstand of mine could use a good cleaning out anyway, regardless of what I happen to be reading.

These are my ideas.  Basically I just want to slow down.  Settle.  Breathe.

Are you able to juggle multiple books well, or do you find that it makes you scatterbrained and crazy?  Are you feeling like you need to find ways to gain more focus?  If you’ve experienced what I’m describing I’d love to hear your ideas about how to recover one’s attention span.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Gift Card Wishlist

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday topic, brought to you by The Broke and Bookish, is “Ten Books You’d Buy Right This Second If Someone Handed You A Fully Loaded Gift Card.”  Well, I think we can all agree that this one can practically write itself. But I bet it will be fun to see everyone’s picks.  Here are ten I’d put in my cart with no hesitation.

  • Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson.  I adored Brown Girl Dreaming.  Must read this one.27213163
  • Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner.  I read his Angle of Repose years ago and loved it.  I’ve been meaning to read this one for a long long time.  Two bloggers I follow have written about it and rated it lately, and this put it back on my radar.  Plus, Anne Bogel of the What Should I Read Next? podcast loves it too.
  • The Fire This Time edited by Jesmyn Ward.  I have a feeling that this book of essays on race will be one everyone should read.
  • Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon by Jane Austen.  These are the only Austen works I’ve not read and I just need to do it already.
  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  I have NO IDEA why I haven’t read this yet.  Ugh.  There is no excuse.
  • Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson.  After reading a few of Jackson’s deliciously creepy novels, I really want to read her memoir of family life, which is supposed to be funny and charming.
  • Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin.  Trying to rectify the fact that I’ve never read any of the brilliant Baldwin’s novels. 31GD90K5XDL
  • Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.  This doesn’t come out till September but I WANT it.
  • Jazz by Toni Morrison.  Working my way through Morrison is a life goal.  This is next.
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.  I will be buying this when it comes out in September.  I love Whitehead’s range as a writer.

Well, that was fun – only now I want to get online and spend some money.  Have you read any of these titles?  What’s a book you’d buy immediately if you were given a bookstore gift card?

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

I haven’t read a lot of sci-fi in my life.  It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve really started exploring that genre.  So I don’t know if that makes me a good person to write a review of Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon or not.  I was drawn to this book because I’m interested in Nigeria, and this is set in Lagos.  I’d heard positive things about Ms. Okorafor’s other books like Binti and Who Fears Death.  I was also interested in the book’s premise:  shapeshifting aliens land in the waters off of Lagos – what do they want?  How are people going to react?

18753656A famous Ghanaian rapper, a female marine biologist, and a soldier are all on the beach when the massive BOOM rattles their ears and makes them drop to the ground.  Within minutes a massive wave rolls in from the sea and takes them into the water.  We never find out exactly what happens to them in the water, but they emerge with a mysterious woman.

There was something both attractive and repellent about the woman, and it addled Adaora’s senses.  Her hair was long – her many braids perfect and shiny, yet clearly her own hair.  She had piercing brown eyes that gave Adaora the same creepy feeling as when she looked at a large black spider.  Her mannerisms were too calm, fluid, and… alien.

Not surprisingly, once strange things start happening and word gets out, all hell breaks loose.  Some people want to get to this mysterious woman/creature.  Some people want to get the hell out of Lagos.  Others just want to exploit the chaos for their own gain.  What makes this novel interesting is the way in which Okorafor weaves Nigerian mythology and elements of magical realism into what could have been just another first contact story.  I admit that some of this went over my head but I still enjoyed it.  She also weaves in elements of feminism, environmentalism, and gay rights advocacy into the narrative.  She vividly depicts all different kinds of Lagosians, from the fundamentalist Christian priest who is mainly concerned with lining his pockets to the mute orphan boy who picks pockets until he witnesses the events unfolding on the beach.  There are even passages narrated by a swordfish and a spider.

9781481440875_custom-83c869fee28f9137f21e4e8c5eae3529468e813a-s300-c85I admit that the action in the first half of the book developed a little more slowly than I would have liked, and there are a TON of characters’ viewpoints, some of which aren’t explored very much and seem a little extraneous.  But these are tiny quibbles.  I liked Lagoon.  It was weird and intense and a heck of a lot of fun.  I am hungry for more from Nnedi Okorafor.

(Book 6 of 10 for my #10BooksofSummer, from Cathy’s #20BooksofSummer challenge.)