The ageless Jane Fonda breaks our lives into three acts, and she focuses most of this book on Act III. Weaving her personal life stories with strong research and tips on aging, food, fitness, friendship, love, and sex, Fonda recommends that we each perform a life review--especially while our elders are still alive so we can interview them--to better understand where we've come from and where we're going.
I must confess that I finished this book several weeks ago and forget much about it, but I made a few notes. Here are some highlights that stood out for me:
--The importance of education, no matter your age. For every added year of education, you'll add one year to your life expectancy, according to the Stanford Center on Longevity.
--"Girls' voices go underground at adolescence, whereas boys' hearts go underground when they are around five or six years old." (Lest you are of the opinion that Jane Fonda is a man-hater, she addresses the very real challenges men face, as well as women.)
--The importance of resilience, which can be even more important than what happens to you.
--The concept of a fertile void: For women in midlife, the void is fertile because we are becoming midwives to our new selves.
--An aging brain just works differently, not less effectively. As we age and lose our crystal-clear memory, it's actually "judicious pruning." Dr. George Vailliant, Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, likens the aging memory to "an attic that has filled up carelessly over the decades but now, with age, we clean it out and select only the most cherished, meaningful items to keep."
--Fonda's experience among the early feminists, making her realize the power and beauty of female friendship, while burning "away my individualistic dross and allowing the pure gold of friendships to enrich and cushion me...I often think how different, how frightening, aging would be for me had this not happened...I know that I can lose everything but that my friendships with women, together with my family, will always be there, no matter what." (Fonda talks at length about the value of her friendships, which resonated me.)
--Women over 85 are the fastest growing age group in the world!
Fonda has two chapters focused on sex during aging, with some particularly interesting information! She also discusses spirituality and shares her experience of going on a meditation retreat, trying to quiet her mind.
In the end, a well-worth-it read on aging for women!...more
Each chapter in Ellen Baker's novel begins with an excerpt from a 1950s homemaking guide...about how women can keep their husbands happy. The centralEach chapter in Ellen Baker's novel begins with an excerpt from a 1950s homemaking guide...about how women can keep their husbands happy. The central theme of Keeping the House is the pressure to be perfect that women faced in the early to mid-1900s.
Told through the lens of Dolly Magnuson, a homemaker who moves to Pine Rapids, Wisconsin in 1950 without any friends in the area, the book goes back to the late 1800s when Dolly begins visiting an abandoned mansion and uncovers the secrets of the family who inhabited it.
Dolly's unhappy in her marriage, just as Wilma Mickelson, the matriarch of the great house, was unhappy in hers. They also both feel stifled by the provincial attitudes of the people in the town. This sweeping novel illustrates the pressures women faced, trying to create a perfect house while sacrificing their own needs. It's homemaking before feminism.
I enjoyed the frequent references to Lutherans in Wisconsin. It was worth the read!...more
Interesting premise: Australian Alice hits her head at the gym and when she wakes up, she's lost 10 years of her life. She thinks she's 29, pregnant wInteresting premise: Australian Alice hits her head at the gym and when she wakes up, she's lost 10 years of her life. She thinks she's 29, pregnant with her first child, and happily married, but instead she's 39, has three highly spirited kids, and on her way to a divorce.
This book turned out to be more in the genre of "chick lit" than I thought it would be. Although I hate the term "chick lit," most of its books share these elements:
--Woman meets man and gives up her career --If she does have a career, it's journalism, PR, or magazine editing --Woman achieves desired perfect, privileged life, with a gorgeous house, rich husband, and 2+ children
In the intervening 10 years, Alice got her perfect life and became a shallow, spoiled brat (in my view). I did enjoy this beach read in spite of its flaws...it made me think about my own life, my priorities (am I spending enough high-quality time with my kids and my husband?), and how quickly life is passing me by. But several things bugged me about it:
--Does someone really change THAT MUCH in 10 years? I find that hard to believe.
--Alice didn't seem very smart. It took her a long time to get that she'd wreaked a lot of damage in the past 10 years.
--I could have done with all the extra plots...especially Frannie's letters to Mr. Moustache. This side plot seemed unnecessary and detracted from the main story. Also, although I have great sensitivity to infertility, I found Elisabeth's letters to be cumbersome as well. Yes, they allowed us to see inside these characters' minds, but I found this book to have too many side characters in general. And what happened in the end to Elisabeth and Frannie was no surprise of course.
--SPOILER: I liked the storyline about Alice's daughter's troubles at school...but could she really do a complete turnaround? A teenager who's been neglected and angered suddenly becomes an angel just because she starts getting positive attention. A bit unrealistic, I think. Alice's life seemed frivolous, pampered, and shallow to me. The world's largest lemon meringue pie? Really? I don't think I would like Alice very much.
--I found the character of Gina to be baffling...her close friendship with Gina changed the course of Alice's life? I guess she needed some kind of conflict, and Gina was meant to present that conflict.
--Does her husband suddenly decide that he is working too much, or does Alice decide that she doesn't care about all the long hours?
--Alice gets her dream job at the end, even though she has NO relevant job EXPERIENCE. Classic chick lit.
I know I'm sounding overly critical. I did enjoy the book, but it was multiply flawed. I'm curious to hear what my book groupies think of this one.
Now to read a novel with a woman character that inspires me....more
By the author of my #1 favorite last year Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire is another novel set in World War II illustrating soul-deep friendships among women. One of the main characters in Code Name Verity appears in Rose Under Fire, but as more of a minor character.
Rose is an American ATA pilot and poet who gets captured by the Nazis and deposited in Ravensbruck, where she befriends Russian, French, and Polish women. She is especially drawn to the "Rabbits," the Polish women who were the subjects of the Nazis' horrific medical experiments.
It's the kind of book that makes you wonder what you would do if you were in similar, horrifying circumstances.
This book focuses more on the Christians and political prisoners in the concentration camps and not as much on the genocide of the Jews...a story that is not as likely to be told.
I didn't love it as much as Code Name Verity, but that book set a high bar...and like that other book, I stayed up into the wee hours to finish it. That is truly the sign of an excellent book!...more
I LOVED this book...in fact, it's my favorite so far in 2014. I would not have been drawn to the title, but it was my book group selection for the month.
The story is about "Verity," a female British spy, is captured in Nazi-occupied France, and her best friend Maddie, the pilot who flew her into France. The Nazis torture and interrogate Verity (or "Queenie"), and she writes about her friendship with Maddie and their training before and during the war. Slowly, the reader learns the pieces of her story...at least, what she is telling the Nazis.
I don't want to say much more about the book for fear of giving any details away. It did take me a bit of time to get into (I'm not terribly interested in flying airplanes--so the beginning bored me a bit at times), but it is SO WORTH PERSEVERING.
I finished it in the middle of the night before book group...and I found myself crying in the living room at 5:00 a.m. The book is not only beautifully written, but it's cleverly crafted. It's one of the few books I've read that makes me want to go right back and reread it now that I know the ending...it will stick with me for a long time.
I think next time I will listen to it so I can hear the English and Scottish accents. It's one of the few books I've read that has the word "gormless" in it (one of my English husband's favorite words, which I'd never heard before I met him).
Some have called it as a "love letter to female friendship," which is an excellent way to describe it. I do think it's one of the most beautiful homages to friendship I've ever read. This is one of my favorite lines from the book:
"It's like being in love, discovering your best friend."...more
I love novels like this, when I learn about historical figures through fictionalized accounts of their lives. The Invention of Wings is based on the lives of Sarah and Angelina Grimke, abolitionists and feminists long before women's suffrage or the Emancipation Proclamation.
Sue Monk Kidd quotes Professor Julius Lester in her notes at the end of the novel, "History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another's pain in the heart our own." Kidd expands beyond the facts and events to put flesh on the stories of four women.
The novel begins in the early 1800s, with Sarah Grimke turning 11 and her mother "giving" her ownership of her very own slave, Hetty, or Handful. From the beginning, Sarah is deeply uncomfortable with her family's legacy as slave owners, and she also chafes against her role as a girl and woman. All she wants in life is to study and become a lawyer and a judge, but her family throws cold water on her dreams. As a female, all she could hope to become is a wife and mother. She rebels in her own way, by teaching Handful to read and write.
The novel weaves the story of Sarah with that of Handful and her mother Charlotte. Both Handful and Charlotte are highly talented seamstresses, spunky and spirited and seeking a way out of their own lives. They are the most fascinating characters in this novel, and they are mostly made up. (Sarah's mother did "give" her a slave when she turned 11, and Sarah wanted no part of it, but that's about all that is known about the slave girl.)
While Sarah struggles to put a voice to her passionate thoughts, Handful and Charlotte have no problem expressing what's on their mind. They weave their own pains and desires in their quilts and pass on their family history through stories. They take chances for the sake of freedom, even if it might cost them their own lives.
Angelina is the sister with the gumption--probably because she'd been mostly raised by Sarah--but Sarah, too, eventually finds her own voice. I enjoyed reading about the sisters speaking out against slavery, even though their family and their own city (Charleston, South Carolina) were horrified by their actions. The schism in the early abolitionist movement between abolition and women's rights reminded me of the division in the 1960s, when women who fought for civil rights were not given their own voice in the movement.
Sarah, Angelina, Handful, and Charlotte are all trying to find their own wings and escape the prisons of their lives. Handful's and Charlotte's restraints were real, while Sarah and Angelina were bound by the cultural expectations of their time.
This novel is not an easy read--Kidd depicted the horrors of slavery without flinching. I was grateful for Kidd's notes at the end, and also for the Internet, so I could learn more about the Grimkes when I was done reading the book. Sarah and Angelina Grimke were pioneers of their time, standing up for what they believed was right, even if their voices shook....more
What an inspiring young woman! With assistance from writer Christina Lamb, Malala Yousafzai tells her story...beginning from when she was born. In her village in the Swat valley, people rejoice when a son is born, but not a daughter. However, her father was immediately delighted to have a daughter. Reading Malala's story, it's clear how tremendously lucky she was to be blessed with such a father. Fathers have incredible power in traditional, religiously conservative countries such as Pakistan. “Our men think earning money and ordering around others is where power lies," wrote Malala. "They don't think power is in the hands of the woman who takes care of everyone all day long, and gives birth to their children.” Because of her wise, brave father's belief in women's and girls' potential, Malala was able to pursue her dreams of education. He dedicated his life to educating girls by starting his own school:
“His sisters--my aunts--did not go to school at all, just like millions of girls in my country. Education had been a great gift for him. He believed that lack of education was the root of all of Pakistan's problems. Ignorance allowed politicians to fool people and bad administrators to be re-elected. He believed schooling should be available for all, rich and poor, boys and girls. The school that my father dreamed of would have desks and a library, computers, bright posters on the walls and, most important, washrooms.”
Throughout her life, Malala has been an ambitious, competitive, and passionate young woman. She emulated former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, another strong Pakistani woman who bravely faced her opponents to fight for what she believed in. She has been supported along the way by both her father and mother.
Sadly, it's hard to say whether Malala will ever be able to return to Pakistan. It's not safe for her there, and many condemn her speaking out against the Taliban.
As I was reading this book, I was explaining it to my younger sons, aged 7 and 10. I wanted them to understand how lucky they are to have a good education. My 7-year-old, in particular, is highly interested in the plight of Malala and wants to know why she can't return to Pakistan and why the Taliban fights violently against women's rights to be educated.
I highly recommend this story of a phenomenal young woman, and I admire her passion and commitment to stand up for girls' education in her homeland....more
I discovered this book when Nadia Bolz-Weber (author of Pastrix) recommended it on her Facebook page. It's a collection of essays by female Christian leaders under the age of 40 (it's part of a series by young female spiritual leaders). The title immediately caught my attention. These women, many pastors and teachers, share their thoughts on a variety of topics that have been off limits in Christianity.
Some of the essays by more conservative women wrestle with the teachings of men as the head of the household, women speaking in church or preaching, women as professionals, the decision to live with a partner before marriage, leaving an abusive marriage and being cast out by her church, choosing not to follow in parents' footsteps as a Christian missionary caring for the poor, choosing celibacy, being called to work with refugees, tattoos, freedom without makeup, recovery, dealing with dissatisfaction in one’s marriage, etc. Many of these are even greater taboo topics in conservative Christian circles. We all have our own taboos.
The following essays struck particular notes with me:
"The Gatherer-God: On Motherhood and Prayer," by Micha Boyett…who struggled to find time to pray with young children. She has found that her most contemplative time is when her mind is fuzzy and she has no book before her…when she was breastfeeding, for example. She takes her cue from Christ’s own mother, who twice is described as “pondering” at the work of God in her son. “Why else would such a prayer be mentioned in the Gospels unless to call us to such deep work?”
"Naughty by Nature, Hopeful by Grace," by Enuma Okoro, who confesses that she develops a crush on a close male friend, but through talking to her friends and wrestling with the issue, she comes to peace with it and finds a way to move on without disrupting their friendship (or his marriage). “I am beginning to realize how little the churches of which I have been a part have taught me about the beauty of boundaries and the reality of fine lines.” I admired Okoro's honesty on such a difficult topic.
"Married by Children," by Erin Lane. The author grapples with the decision not to have children, and how unusual that is in the church. We tend to be heavily focused on family and children in our churches.
"High Stakes Whack-a-Mole: Noticing and Naming Sexism in the Church," by Lara Blackwood Pickrel. Pickrel writes about being treated as “less than” as a woman, having comments directed about her appearance because she’s a woman, and being told she’s too sensitive when she notices sexism. That last one is a particularly strong pet peeve of mine!
"Crafting Bonds of Blood," by Patience Perry. The author writes about reclaiming the menstrual and labor rituals and our sensuality. Perry writes, "Imagine if ALL women were validated for their potential to create life as evident in their monthly cycle…I am seeking ways that we can strengthen and reinvigorate women through the common bonds of blood…I’d like to see our society embrace women’s rituals and reconcile our disconnection with creation.” Have you ever heard menstruation or women's reproductive organs mentioned in church?
"The God of Shit Times," by Rachel Marie Stone. This was definitely my favorite title. Stone reclaims the power of profanity after being raised in a family where Christian "ladies" don't swear. When Stone's friend was in cancer treatment, she acknowledged that profanity had a purpose: “In the midst of my frigid and tedious winter, I needed some good profanity to adequately describe how much it all sucked. Sometimes an f-bomb is the exact, right word.” After seeing several close friends through deep, dark times and experiencing them myself, I can relate. Our God is a God of shit times.
"Naming God for Ourselves Amidst Pain and Patriarchy," by Rahiel Tesfamarian. The author changed her imagery of God through her divinity studies. Tesfamarian writes, "The image of my Maker as a ‘soft, still voice’ or ‘gentle whisper’ found in 1 Kings 19 was comforting and reassuring…I have done the hard work of unpacking God for myself. But that responsibility should not fall solely on me as an individual. The church also has a lot of work to do. Will more churches rise to this occasion, commit to being cutting-edge on matters of gender equality, and go where women of faith dare to take them? IS the church ready for a generation of women who are determined to define God on their own terms?” I went through a similar journey myself when I studied feminist theology in college and discovered that God was so much bigger than one gender alone.
“The Silence Behind the Din: Domestic Violence and Homosexuality," by Rev. Sarah C. Jobe. As a chaplain who works with victims of sexual abuse, Jobe reflects that the church does not address sexual assault or domestic violence, even though 30 percent of women are victims. Instead the church condemns homosexuality while ignoring sexual assault and domestic violence. She raises the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the fact that instead of addressing the issue of rape in the story, this story is used as a weapon against homosexuality. “Will we continue to read the Scriptures according to our taboos around homosexuality and domestic violence, accepting interpretations that maximize violence?”
"No Women Need Apply," by Gina Messina-Dysert. This essay is about the war on women being waged by the Catholic church. Messina-Dysert finds a way to identify as Catholic by realizing she is her own agent and will not allow anyone to tell her what her religious status is based on her refusal to accept discrimination. She is also raising a daughter who will fight for women’s ordination in the Catholic church. This essay is important to me because I am married to a Catholic and belong to a Lutheran-Catholic community.
"The Pastor Has Breasts," by Rebecca Clark. Clark writes about pregnancy, body awareness, sexuality, and breastfeeding in a highly public environment that is church. This essay made me think about what the unique journey female pastors must take and how the standards can be very different for them. When I was breastfeeding my children, I did so in church during worship. I'm grateful no one ever questioned this. As a pastor, I no doubt would have been under a microscope and judged for doing this.
"Created for Pleasure," by Kate Ott. Ott became aware of masturbation as a blessing from God. She notes her "aha moment" of learning in a seminary sexual ethics class that the clitoris is the only body part created solely through pleasure. She asks, ”What would the world look like if every girl and woman knew exactly how her body worked? If it was respected and her enjoyment of sexual behaviors was as important as that of her partner…that would be the world God intended…God created us to experience pleasure for the sake of knowing and loving ourselves better, so that we can know and love others better, including God.” What a wonderful way to look at our bodies and sexuality...and a wake-up call for the church.
"Flesh and Blood," by Ashley-Anne Masters. As a chaplain caring for women who have experienced pregnancy loss, Masters writes about pregnancy loss not being openly addressed in the church. She also writes about her own loss conducting a baptism right after experiencing her own miscarriage and how she shared her own grief with strangers. I received some support from church friends when I experienced several miscarriages, but it wasn't something I felt comfortable talking about.
"What Do Cinderella, Lilies, and the Cross Have in Common," by Carol Howard Merritt. Merritt had to ask for a salary raise at her first church and experienced condescension from church members about her husband being the stay-at-home dad. Money, especially needing to ask for it, is a huge taboo topic for pastors...especially female ones.
"My Secret Buddhist Life," by Mary Allison Cates. After Cates was told she didn't look like a minister, she rediscovered her body through yoga and nose piercing. She also wrote about how she is feeling more comfortable with her female pastor body now that she is older and her body attracts less attention.
I liked the wide variety of perspectives in this collection, and this book made me long to sit around a dinner table with all these women and get to hear their stories personally....more
As a long-time Sujata Massey fan, I was anxious to get my hands on her latest novel, and it did not disappoint!!
Sujata Massey was born in England to parents from India and Germany (just like my friend Nandita), and she grew up mostly in Minnesota. After working as a reporter, she spent several years in Japan where she taught, studied, and began writing her first novel, The Salaryman's Wife. That first novel grew into a detective series with smart, industrious, and savvy Rei Shimura, a Japanese-American antiques dealer who lives in Japan and solves mysteries on the side. I read every single one of the Rei Shimura novels as soon as they came out and have widely recommended them to friends. In fact, the Rei Shimura series is the only detective series I've devoured in its entirety outside of the VI Warshawski series by Sara Paretsky (my first introduction to detective novels). I'm not naturally drawn to mysteries, so I'm highly selective. Authors (e.g., Sue Grafton and Patricia Cornwell) lose my attention if their books are not well written or if I get tired of the main character. Of course, Rei Shimura held my attention completely because of the series' setting in Japan (mostly). Loved them!
So onto The Sleeping Dictionary. This book took six years for Massey to research and write, because it involved so much in-depth research into Indian history, culture, and language. Massey's family comes from Calcutta (now Kolkata) and she spent time there as a child (read her wonderful diary entries here!), so it was a natural choice for setting this novel.
It's the story of Pom, who lives with her family in a small village by the sea. Her family is very poor, but she feels secure and well loved until a tidal wave wipes out her whole village and her family. Completely alone and helpless in 1930s India, Pom is a survivor. She ends up at a British boarding school, where she is renamed as Sarah and begins working as a maid. She learns how to read and write while operating the fan in a classroom. When she befriends a wealthier Indian girl, Bidushi, who she had known as a child, she comes to discover her own intelligence and talents. Although she hopes to become Bidushi's ayah and always stay together, these dreams are soon dashed by tragedy.
Still very young, she next finds herself in the city of Kharagpur, lured into prostitution at a high-class brothel. As an Indian girl without a family, she has few options for survival. She desperately tries to cling to her dignity in the midst of her despair at being forced to sell her body, and she continues to nurture dreams of becoming a teacher. (The title of the book comes from the term for young Indian women who slept with British men and taught them the ways and language of India.)
I hesitate to give away too much of the plot and adventure in the novel, but I will say that she moves to Calcutta where she renames herself as Kamala, begins to work for an English man, and gets involved in the Indian independence movement.
So here are some of the reasons why I loved this book:
--Pom/Sarah/Kamala is a strong, spunky Indian female, and I found myself rooting for her immediately and throughout her story. Faced with desperately difficult choices in her life, she does the best she can with what is given to her. While she is certainly a victim many times in her life, she has no privilege to wallow in misery and self-pity, but time after time she finds ways to rise above her difficult circumstances.
--I could practically taste Calcutta through Massey's detailed descriptions of the city. I've traveled only in the north of India (we concentrated our time there in Delhi, Agra, and Rajasthan), but I found myself intrigued by the City of Palaces and sad to read about its devastation during the pre-Independence riots and violence.
--I have read great quantities of Indian fiction (and a bit of nonfiction, too), but this book taught me things I did not know...for example, about the massive famine in Bengal caused by the British Empire hoarding India's rice (millions died), India's amazing female freedom fighters and independence activists, Japan bombing India during the war, some members of the Indian resistance movement joining the Japanese led by Subhash Chandra Bose, to name a few...it also gives the Anglo-Indian perspective on what was happening during that time.
--Massey develops multidimensional characters, including Hindus, Muslims, and British, and even some of the women who are sucked into prostitution. Kamala herself makes some unfortunate decisions and lies to people because she feels she has no choice. She's a complex character who is far from perfect. Both Kamala and Simon evolve through the story. There's even a Scottish clergyman who is open minded, fair, and compassionate...imagine that!
--As a consummate book lover, I enjoyed the sheer love of books in this novel. From the moment "Sarah" borrows books from a kind teacher at the British boarding school and her gradual collection of the great masters, to Kamala landing a wonderful job as a librarian for Mr. Lewes...books offer her an escape from the great losses in her life.
I was excited to learn that this book is the first in a planned trilogy, AND that Rei Shimura will be making a reappearance! The Sleeping Dictionary will be near the top of my "Top Reads of 2013" list! If you enjoy reading historical fiction or books about India, the colonial era, or strong female characters, give it a try! ...more
Sarah Thebarge survived grueling breast cancer, and a recurrence within a year, before moving west to Portland, Oregon, my hometown. While on the MAX light rail train, she meets a Somali immigrant and her five young daughters, and a friendship begins.
Thebarge alternates her story between getting to know and helping Hadhi and the girls and her travails enduring breast cancer treatment. She was raised in a strict evangelical religion, but went onto earn a degree at Yale and was in the middle of earning a journalism degree at Columbia when cancer struck. She also had a serious boyfriend and was close to becoming engaged. Ian, the boyfriend, was too weak to stick it out and abandoned her. Her church community apparently also abandoned her. She felt alone and bereft, her faith severely tested, when she picked up stakes to move to the west coast. Given the fact that I've had several friends endure and survive Stage 3 breast cancer similar to Thebarge's, I most appreciated reading about her experience and her feelings about having cancer. I also always like reading books set in my hometown!
When she got to know and began to help Hadhi, who didn't speak much English, she seemed to relate to the "invisible girls" because of what she had endured. She too felt like a stranger in a strange land.
This book has been accused of the "white savior complex." At times I wondered whether she could teach Hadhi how to fend for herself and survive rather than just rescuing her (do they have a sustainable life in the U.S.?). I was touched that Thebarge went out of her way to make this family feel welcome in the United States...a feeling they had not experienced before they met her. So much of their lives was difficult, but Thebarge brought joy to their poor, struggling family.
I felt that she could have delved a bit more into how she broke away from her traditional religious upbringing, and her feelings of betrayal when very few were there for her through cancer. And during one of the last chapters of the book she mentions some kind of identity theft or fraud but never explains what happened. (It felt like a big loose end was not tied up...perhaps an editorial oversight?)
The final chapter made me squirm a bit, as Thebarge and her friend reach out to a prostitute and do some proselytizing...mostly because, as a Christian, I'd rather that people learn about Christianity through the way we live our lives and not because we hit them over their heads with it. So even though she felt completely oppressed growing up in such a strict Christian denomination--in which women were not allowed to hold any leadership roles in the church whatsoever--she seems to move back to it at the end. That was a bit confusing.
But Thebarge did help this family in dire straits. She brought delight into their lives and she helped them muddle through, and she too was enriched by the experience. She decided to write this book so she could raise money for the girls to go to college. I hope she is successful in her goal.
I love this tidbit I found on Thebarge's blog, which is the ultimate takeaway from this book:
"And I realized this morning that solving the problem of invisibility doesn’t require legislation or institutional intervention. It’s simple, and it’s easy, and it’s free. It just takes all of us walking through life with open eyes and softened hearts, taking the risk and the time to tell someone else, 'You’re not invisible any more. I care that you exist. I see that you’re suffering. It matters that you’re here.'
How would our world change if every day, each of us told one person — just one —'I see you. So you’re not invisible any more.'”...more
Wow. This book brought me to tears so many times. Nadia Bolz-Weber is a recovering alcoholic and fundamentalist (she was raised in the ultraconservative Church of Christ), and she is now an ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) pastor, wife, and mother. She founded and leads a church called the House for All Sinners and Saints, or HFASS (pronounced Half-Ass) for short. In this book, Bolz-Weber shares deeply and honestly about her own personal trials and how she found her way to the Lutheran church: in one word, grace.
I had forgotten this, but when we were at Holden Village several years ago, Bolz-Weber was also there. A few in our group found her to be standoffish and not very warm. She admits this herself and calls herself a "misanthrope." Her grumpiness comes out full bore in her memoir, but that's what I like so much about it: her deep honesty. She's like Anne Lamott as an ELCA pastor.
I heavily dog-eared my copy of this book, and this is what spoke most clearly to me:
--God's aunt: When she spent some time with Wiccan friends (before finding a home in the ELCA), she said "the goddess we spoke of never felt to me like a substitute for God, but simply another aspect of the divine. Just like God's aunt." She goes on..."I can't imagine that the God of the universe is limited to our ideas of God. I can't imagine that God doesn't reveal God's self in countless ways outside of the symbol system of Christianity. In a way, I need a God who is bigger and more nimble and mysterious than what I could understand and contrive. Otherwise it can feel like I am worshipping nothing more than my own ability to understand the divine."
--What you were called to be: When she hesitantly shared with her pastor dad and mom about her decision to become a pastor (after being raised in a church where women could not even teach Sunday school to boys over 12, much less preach), her father responded in a way she didn't expect: "At that moment, my father silently stood up, walked to the bookshelf and took down his worn, leather-bound Bible. Here we go, I thought, he's going to beat me with the scripture stick...He opened it up and read. I could tell from where he was turning that it wasn't one of Paul's letters at the end of the book, but something closer to the middle. My father did not read the 1st Timothy passage about women being silent in church. He read from Esther.
From my father I heard only these words: "But you were born for such a day as this." He closed the book and my mother joined him in embracing me. They prayed over me and they gave me a blessing. And some blessings, like the one my conservative Christian parents gave to their soon-to-be Lutheran pastor daughter who had put them through hell, are the kind of blessings that stay with you for the rest of your life. The kind you can't speak of without crying all over again." Oh, did I ever cry when I read this story!
--I am baptized, so fuck off: Apparently Martin Luther had a bit of an anger issue. "Luther was known to not only throw the occasional inkpot at whatever was tormenting him and causing him to doubt God's promises, but also while doing so he could be heard throughout the castle grounds shouting, 'I am baptized!'" And this is what baptism means to a Lutheran--to be claimed by God and touched by God's grace, no matter what we do or who we are. It's not up to us; it's up to God. This is what she shared with a young transgender man named Asher, who was also raised in a conservative Christian church and who she blessed in a name changing ceremony. She met him a few years later after he returned home from seminary. He said, "I never told you about the dream I had the night after my naming rite"..."It was like so many other nights--a voice accusing me, damning me, scaring me. But this time I talked back," he said proudly. "I said, 'I am baptized, so fuck off,' and when I woke up I was giddy. I called a friend, and we went to City Park and made snow angels." I plan to use this next time my own personal demons threaten my spirit.
--No fakery: Bolz-Weber is not a fan of praise music or liturgical dance and can barely keep herself of showing her dislike on her face. "Pretending to feel a way other than how I actually feel is not a gift God gave me. I can pull it off for short periods of time when needed, but the effort is exhausting." I can relate! This is why it would be very difficult for me to be a pastor!
--Radical hospitality does not sell: She addresses the fact that "churches that try to live into the beauty of radical hospitality and the destabilizing idea that Jesus is experienced in welcoming strangers don't tend to be described as 'sprawling.' Jesus wants you to be rich and beautiful is doing great as a message, though. There are shiny millionaire preachers and full attended parking lots every Sunday morning in America to prove it."
--Strangers sometimes look like our parents: But she also struggled big time with the growing attention her church has received. When they started attracting a lot of white, middle-class suburbanites, she didn't like it. "I wanted the 'us' to be bigger. What I wasn't prepared for was the 'us' to be different." She found it increasingly difficult, as the numbers grew, to maintain a welcoming attitude to some of these newcomers...those who didn't fit her definition of "all sinners and saints" (alcoholics, tattoo-wearers, drug addicts, hippies). "My precious little indie boutique of a church was being treated like a 7-Eleven, and I was terrified that the edgy, marginalized people whom we had always attracted would now come and see a bunch of people who looked like their parents and think, 'This isn't for me.' And if that started to happen, I would basically lose my shit." Then a friend of hers pointed out that her church was really good at welcoming young transgendered people..."but sometimes the stranger looks like your mom and dad." And then young Asher, the transgendered young person, expressed gratitude for those who didn't look like him. "I just want to say that I'm really glad there are people at church now who look like my mom and dad. Because I have a relationship with them that I just can't with my own mom and dad." More tears.
--What would Jesus do? When a con man becomes a member of her church, her first instinct was to "try to get rid of him. You know, like Jesus would do...Ugh, Jesus. He always seems to be showing up when I want him to politely just keep out of my business." And when this con man, Rick, becomes part of her community and works at a food distribution center at the Occupy Denver outpost, he enthusiastically shares, "Distributing food at Occupy Denver is awesome!"..."Everyone is fed. It doesn't matter if you are a homeless guy who is scamming and doesn't even care about Occupy or a lawyer on a lunch break."..."The only place I've ever really seen that is at communion." Then she hangs up, trying to pretend she wasn't crying. And again, I dropped tears. That's what communion means to me as a Lutheran--everyone is welcome and everyone gets fed.
This book, while it might not appeal to everyone (especially if you are sensitive to salty language), made me glad to be an ELCA Lutheran. I'm so glad that we have tattooed, alcoholic pastors like Bolz-Weber, and that she is spreading the word about God's grace to everyone. I encourage you to watch this long interview with Bolz-Weber by Krista Tippett: http://vimeo.com/73913123 It's worth it....more
I LOVED this book, but it's probably not for everyone. Kate Manning was inspired to write this book when she saw this photo and learned that 30,000 homeless children lived on the streets of New York in the nineteenth century.
Introduced as a lost diary, the book opens with a suicide. We don't know who died, but we learn that the main character fakes her own death with this dead body of another. We know she's married, and her husband helps cover it up. The authorities are after her, and we know she is famous because her carriage would be recognized in the street.
Then we go back to her childhood, Axie Muldoon, who is a poor Irish immigrant child, wandering the streets of New York with her sister Dutch and brother Joe. Her father--an alcoholic--has died, and her mother has lost her arm in an industrial accident. Soon they are discovered by a famous do-gooder, who gets medical care for Axie's mother but arranges for the children to go to the Children's Aid Society. Soon the children are off to the midwest on the Orphan Train. (This is the second novel I've read this year about the Orphan Train--the first was The Chaperone.) Axie--a spunky, independent, and bright child--ends up returning to New York City after a few months, but her siblings have been ensconced in new families and appear to not mind their separation.
Once back in New York, Axie finds her mother again, but she has remarried Axie's layabout uncle and is pregnant again. When she goes into labor, Axie must act as midwife...at 11 years old. And so begins her story of helping women in labor and childbirth.
Without giving too much more of the plot away, I will say that Axie is a complex, fascinating character, as are her husband and best friend. Axie's story is based on the life and death of Ann Trow Lohman (1811-1879), also known as Madame Restell, a "notorious" midwife who was a friend to desperate women but the enemy of moral crusaders such as Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. Comstock finally brought her down, she was vilified in the press and in society, and she ended her own life (although it was rumored that she had faked it). Comstock was proud of the number of suicides he prompted.
My only quibble about this book is that at times I found the Irish brogue inconsistent. I think it was written in such a way because this was Axie's true speaking style, but it comes and goes and at times I found that off-putting.
We had such interesting conversations last week at book group when we discussed this book...about feminism, history, birth control, the status of women in this era and now, midwifery, and abortion. This wonderful piece of feminist historical fiction will give you new perspectives about the status of women--then and now--and the lesser evil of abortion. I couldn't help but think about Rush Limbaugh, our modern-day Anthony Comstock, and Sandra Fluke, who in advocating for birth control was blamed for debauchery...much like Madame Restell/Axie Muldoon.
As the mother of three children, one of whom was born at 24 weeks, I am deeply grateful to have been born and become a mother when I did. I'm also grateful to have been able to plan my own family by using birth control.
I could not put his book down...read it! It's sad and thought provoking, but redemptive. ...more
I loved this book, and it was especially delightful to finish such a fun, well-written, and entertaining book on the evening of a wonderful birthday.
One reviewer calls this book "Babette's Feast meets Pirates of the Caribbean." If you like historical fiction, cooking, eating, or pirates, you'll enjoy it too.
England, 1819...after pirate captain "Mad Hannah Mabbott" kills Lord Ramsey (big wig of the Pendleton Trading Company, new name for the East India Trading Company), she kidnaps Owen Wedgwood, Ramsey's talented chef. She informs him that he can stay alive if he cooks a sumptuous dinner for her every Sunday evening.
“Dear Mr. Wedgwood,
Welcome to the Flying Rose. I hope you have settled to sea comfortably. Your lot may improve in direct proportion to your willingness. I do look forward to more of your fare. Let me lay out my proposal: You will, of a Sunday, cook for me, and me alone, the finest supper. You will neither repeat a dish nor serve foods that are in the slightest degree mundane. In return I will continue to keep you alive and well, and we may discuss an improvement of your quarters after a time. Should you balk in any fashion you will find yourself swimming home, whole or in pieces, depending upon the severity of my disappointment. How does this strike you?
In anticipation, Capt. Hannah Mabbot”
Wedgwood, a widower, is a bit of a milksop at first...but he makes delectable food out of the crudest ingredients. Meanwhile, Abbot is on the hunt for the elusive Brass Fox, while she's on the run from the British Navy and a Frenchman named Larouche and trying to rout out the saboteur on her ship. Wedgwood makes a few escape attempts but eventually he comes to appreciate the enormous Mr. Apples, fierce Chinese twins, and deaf-mute Joshua, who he teaches to cook and read. Author Eli Brown will make you want to cook and eat, and you will appreciate the fresh and plentiful ingredients in your kitchen and wish you could cook like Wedgwood.
“Some foods are so comforting, so nourishing of body and soul, that to eat them is to be home again after a long journey. To eat such a meal is to remember that, though the world is full of knives and storms, the body is built for kindness. The angels, who know no hunger, have never been as satisfied.”
He discovers the root of Abbot's passions for justice and becomes taken with her love for fine food, quick wit, and extreme bravery. This book sent me to the Internet to look up the opium trade. It also brought back memories of our two visits to Macau, as I read about the pirate era on that island. A wild pirate adventure, love story, and culinary tale all rolled into one!...more
As I'm recovering from another ear surgery, I decided to try out some young adult books in the hopes that they would retain my attention better. PainAs I'm recovering from another ear surgery, I decided to try out some young adult books in the hopes that they would retain my attention better. Pain meds combined with pain and fatigue after surgery tend to make it difficult for me to spend much time reading.
I picked up The Chosen One by pulling it off the shelf at the library and reading the book jacket. It's the story of Kyra, who is the second-oldest daughter of her father, who has three wives. She is a member of The Chosen Ones, a fundamentalist Mormon, polygamist compound, which is tightly run by the dictator, "Prophet" Childs.
The prophet has decreed that Kyra, at age 13, will marry her Uncle Hyrum, older brother to her own father (in his 60s, with three wives), in four weeks. Although her father is against it, the family has no choice. He's too scared to resist. The prophet rules the compound with an iron, violent hand, forbidding anyone from reading or disobeying his orders. He threatens Kyra's father that he will take his entire family away from him if he cannot get Kyra to marry Uncle Hyrum. I couldn't help but think of the slimy, evil prophet in the polygamous compound in the TV show "Big Love."
Kyra has her own love interest: a boy her own age, named Joshua, who wants to marry Kyra. She also sneaks away to take books out from the bookmobile that goes past the compound each week. Kyra must decide if she will leave her own family forever to be free. Either choice has enormously heavy consequences, not just for her but for the people who help her....more
My first memory of Cyndi Lauper was when I was a junior in college, and "Money Changes Everything" was a big hit. In the video, Cyndi Lauper kicks a gMy first memory of Cyndi Lauper was when I was a junior in college, and "Money Changes Everything" was a big hit. In the video, Cyndi Lauper kicks a garbage can...and my roommate and I would blast the music and pretend to kick things. You know...the silly things one does in college!
Then when I was in Japan in the late 1980s, both Cyndi Lauper and Madonna were all the rage. I bought her "True Colors" cassette tape (yes, that's right--that's how old I am) and I loved her unique sense of style, which was appealing to this woman whose mom once told her, "Marie--you have a style all your own!" In that era I had short, spiky hair with a tail (wish I had a photo) and I've always been drawn to colorful clothing. Lauper was a true pioneer in the 1980s, inspiring many of today's edgy artists such as Lady Gaga, Nikki Minaj, and Pink.
Then a few summers ago we went to see Cyndi Lauper perform at the Oregon Zoo after she'd made her blues album, "Memphis Blues." She was a dynamic, compelling, and talented performer, who had essentially reinvented herself as a blues singer. She even had blues legend Charlie Musselwhite on tour with her. When she sang "True Colors," I cried along with most of the audience.
Cyndi Lauper's memoir is very much like her personality--all over the place. Writer Jancee Dunn manages to capture Lauper's voice and style in her writing. The narrative jumps around a bit, and she digresses, just as Lauper does...you can practically hear her distinctive voice jumping off the page.
She seemed to have a reasonably happy childhood and she was loved by her mom and siblings, but she never really fit in. She ran away when she was in high school because of a lecherous stepfather. What I admire the most about her is her crazy sense of self-confidence and self-assurance, even at a young age. She took herself off camping in Canada completely alone as a young woman--the only companion she had was her dog Sparkles. She has always been passionately committed to her ideals of justice, and she's also been committed to making great art--both musically and visually.
When she started to get successful and make records (after some awful experiences with some of her initial bands, including once when she was raped by her former bandmates), she was screwed over by record company executives, who wanted to make her into someone else--more marketable and less assertive.
At times, the book digressed into the details of each record production, and I began scanning...but I enjoyed reading about how she met her husband David and had her son, Declyn, after struggling with bad endiometriosis.
She has become a passionate advocate for LGBT justice, beginning with her friendship with Gregory, or "Boy Blue," who died of AIDS in the 1980s. Her beloved sister Elen also is a lesbian. I also learned that she has a strong connection to Japan, and she landed in Japan right after the big earthquake and tsunami and stayed there to give back to the Japanese people, who were mourning the devastation in their country.
I have a much bigger appreciation for Cyndi Lauper's music now...and I'm glad I read this book. Steer clear if you don't like salty language!...more
Every woman needs to read this book. Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, admits that she didn't always call herself a feminist. Like many oEvery woman needs to read this book. Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, admits that she didn't always call herself a feminist. Like many other women of her generation (a bit younger than me), she thought that feminism was not necessary any more because we'd achieved equality. Then she learned how naive she was.
Sandberg has been broadly criticized for being blind to her own privilege, but I didn't find this to be true. She repeatedly says that not everyone has had the advantages she has (including a nanny to care for her children, and a supportive husband). She does have a very different perspective than blue-collar single moms, but she owns up to that. She has a different view of the world than lower-income, less-educated women, but she's writing from her own experience, and many of her lessons apply to us all. It's especially hard for these women to "lean in," but the wisdom and inspiration in the book can help them too.
Sandberg tackles the systemic issues of sexism and backs them up with personal stories and research. The personal stories were fascinating...such as going to financial offices where they'd never had a woman ask to use a bathroom, or discovering--on a corporate jet--that her children had lice, or revealing the fact that she was brought to tears and comforted once by Mark Zuckerberg, who gave her a hug (and she was then criticized for that!).
Here's just a bit of the compelling research I noted in the book, which is packed full of footnotes:
-In the last decade, child care costs have risen twice as fast as the median income of families with children.
-When the Harvard Business School surveyed alumni, they found that 91% of the men's graduates were employed, while only 81% of the women graduates from the early 2000s were employed, and only 49% of those who graduated in the early 1990s were working full-time. Highly educated women drop out of the workforce in droves, contributing to the leadership gender gap.
-40% of employed moms lack sick days and vacation, and 50% of them are unable to take time to care for a sick child.
- Only 1/2 of employed moms receive maternity leave pay.
This morning I heard on NPR that women make closer salaries to men's when they first start working after college graduation, but the income gap spreads as the years go on. This study explains.
Sandberg's also been accused of blaming women, but I didn't find that either. She issues a challenge for all of us to lean in, to rise to the challenge, to be confident in ourselves and the choices we make, and strive for greater equality in the workplace and in our broader culture at large.
She also calls on men to lean in and calls out the stereotypes they face if they choose to stay home with the kids. She says that men need to speak up, set new pathways, and demand paternity leave. She quotes Gloria Steinem, "Now we know that women can do what men can do, but we don't know that men can do what women can do." The revolution will happen one family at a time...younger generations appear to be more eager to be real partners in parenting.
One of the new Getty images from the "Lean In Collection" She clarifies that "doing it all" is a myth. Women have to make choices, but Sandberg hopes that women will stay in the workforce. In fact, women who work outside the home spend more time with their kids today than our moms did in the 1960s and 1970s. An employed mom spends about the same time on primary child care as a non-employed mom in 1975.
Since I finished the book, Sandberg has been in the news again with her great work with Getty Images to create positive images of women in stock photos (the "Lean In Collection"), and for her "Ban Bossy" campaign in partnership with the Girl Scouts.
”When a girl tries to lead, she is often labelled bossy. Boys are seldom called bossy because a boy taking the role of a boss does not surprise or offend. As someone who was called this for much of my childhood, I know that it is not a compliment. The stories of my childhood bossiness are told (and retold) with great amusement.“
So yes, Sandberg might be a privileged, educated, white woman, but she is doing good work...necessary and overdue work, prompting women and men to look at our status quo and realize that many things are not right. She is using her position to advance the cause of women in the workplace and society, and this is to be applauded....more
What a phenomenal woman! I never would have guessed that someone so accomplished--reaching the top rung of her field at a fairly young age--would start her life with such large obstacles. She had an alcoholic father, was raised by a hard-working single mother in poverty, and continues to struggle from anxiety. In this memoir, she opens up and shares her stories from a young age...from when she was first diagnosed with juvenile diabetes and had to start giving herself daily injections...to talking about how her marriage failed. She decided to write a book because "People who live in difficult circumstances need to know that happy endings are possible."
She revealed more about herself than typical for a Supreme Court justice and knew she might be judged harshly for some of her choices, but she made this decision consciously to offer comfort, and maybe inspiration, by showing that an "ordinary person, with strengths and weaknesses like anyone else, has managed an extraordinary journey."
From an early age, she chafed against injustice...beginning with Catholic school, where she reflected that "I accepted what the Sisters taught in religion class: that God is loving, merciful, charitable, forgiving. That message didn't jibe with adults smacking kids." The nuns also criticized working mothers, which angered Sotomayor because her own mother worked long hours in a couple of jobs to send Sonia and her brother to that private school. This passion for justice fed her desire to become a judge, and after she became a judge she dreamed of becoming a Supreme Court justice.
Even though she has accomplished amazing things in life, she has not done it without carrying along a load of doubts. From her school days well into her professional career, she wrote about settling into new places or positions before jumping in with both feet. In college, she didn't want to join a club in her first year until she had gotten the lay of the land.
I love Sotomayor's views on mentors and friends: "Whenever I make a new friend, my mind goes naturally to the question, what can I learn from this person? There are very few people in the world whom you can't learn something from, but even rarer are those souls who can reveal whole worlds to you if you observe them carefully." From her far-flung Dominican family from childhood, to her current family of close friends and relatives, Sotomayor highly values close relationships with others. Although she never had children, she has a special affinity for them and has close bonds with countless godchildren. She has a special relationship with her niece was an early preemie.
Living with diabetes her whole life has given Sotomayor a wise, deep appreciation for life:
"I've lived most of my life inescapably aware that it is precious and finite. The reality of diabetes always lurked in the back of my mind, and early on I accepted the probably that I would die young. There was no point fretting about it; I have never worried about what I can't control. But nor could I waste what time I had; some inner metronome has continued to set a beat I am unable to refuse. Now diabetes has become more manageable, and I no longer fear falling short in the tally of years. But the habit of living as if in the shadow of death has remained with me, and I consider that, too a gift."
I share her philosophy of every experience containing a lesson or a blessing:
"With every friend I've known, in every situation I've encountered, I have found something to learn. From a task as simple as boiling water, you can learn a worthwhile lesson. There is no experience that can't avail something useful, be it only the discipline to manage adversity. With luck, there will be plenty of time ahead for me to continue growing and learning, many more stories to tell before I can begin to say definitively who I am as a judge."
Although I had a hard time sinking into this memoir at first, it was well worth the effort!...more
I picked this one up at random at the library...I had never heard of Stacy Pershall...little did I know she was an Internet sensation (and not necessaI picked this one up at random at the library...I had never heard of Stacy Pershall...little did I know she was an Internet sensation (and not necessarily in a good way).
Pershall grew up in the small town of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, and she never really fit in there. Pershall's mom pours all of her attention on her brother. She refers to her father's anger, but we don't get much detail on that.
Fast forward to adolescence, when she develops anorexia and bulimia, followed by (or concurrent with) bipolar and borderline personality disorder. She becomes highly self-destructive and somehow, amazingly successful given the self-destructive behavior (she lands a job as adjunct professor at the School of Visual Arts after earning her M.A., somehow!).
Each time she seemed to pull her life together, her mental illness struck again. (She even got married for awhile.) As one of the Internet's first "camgirls," Pershall broadcast one of the first online suicide attempts (and only one of many of hers) before shutting down her site. She found comfort by making tattoos of the things that scared or saddened her.
This book shed a lot of light for me on mental illness, particularly bipolar and borderline diseases. I would have liked to have learned more about her childhood and any thoughts she had about what led her to these illnesses. (Was it genetic? Environment?) She seems to have a tenuous relationship with her parents now, but what happened to her brother?
This was a raw, terribly honest memoir about all the mistakes Pershall has made in her life. I'd expect nothing less from someone who bared her soul (and clothing) for the Internet.
Most of the book is about her illness, and only an epilogue provides some closure. She seems to have it together now...but I felt that we were missing something in the journey to success. Maybe there's a Part 2 in progress?
Everyone Is Beautiful is a sweet, easy read, about a Texan woman of Colombian origin who's transplanted to Boston because of her husband's job. She has three young boys who are extremely close together and full of mischief. She feels bereft at leaving behind her supportive parents in Houston. She hardly ever has any alone time with her husband, and she has no romance in her life.
When a stranger at the park supposes her to be pregnant, she decides she must make a change. She begins going to the gym every day and she also takes up photography. As expected, soon her marriage is in jeopardy.
I appreciated the fact that this was a story about a stay-at-home mom with a brain and a mission to bring meaning to her life. She has a true friend who supports her and accepts her for all her faults. Her husband loves her and although we do not see it at the beginning, he adores her. She comes to peace with her body and appreciates the beauty in women of all shapes and features around her.
It's a simple message and a simple story, and I actually cried at the end...as she realizes how much she loves her husband and how lucky she is....more
I loved Peggy Orenstein's Waiting for Daisy: A Tale of Two Continents, Three Religions, Five Infertility Doctors, an Oscar, an Atomic Bomb, a Romantic Night, and One Woman's Quest to Become a Mother, so as soon as I heard about this book, I knew I would read it. Even though I do not have daughters, I am greatly concerned about the heightened stereotypes both genders face while they are growing up.
I must admit that I enjoyed playing dress-up with my sister and friends when I was a child. We had a dress-up trunk with cast-off long dresses with full skirts, and we made up a game where we imagined we were princesses with the power to do magic when we waved our antique hankerchiefs. But nowadays girls do not need to improvise: with the accessibility of inexpensive toys, most young girls have far more pink princess items than anyone would have dreamed of when I was a girl. In fact, anyone with a girl must feel like pink princesses are exploding all over. I actually have an active dislike of the color pink for this reason.
Orenstein, whose writing style reminds me a bit of Anne Lamott, begins by telling us how she really did not expect or want a daughter...she wanted a son. I could relate in a way, because in my case, I always thought I would have a daughter. Of course, my husband often teased me that if I were to have a daughter, I'd be force-feeding her copies of Ms. while she hid her Seventeen and Glamour mags under her mattress. He's probably right. I'd probably have had a prissy princess and would have been dumbstruck.
Orenstein decided to write this book when, to her horror, her own daughter became princess obsessed. What harm does a little pink princess love do? Well, "according to the American Psychological Association, the girlie-girl culture's emphasis on beauty and play-sexiness can increase girls' vulnerability to the pitfalls that most concern parents: depression, eating disorders, distorted body image, risky sexual behavior." We've all read the studies showing how many young girls are overly concerned with their weight and their appearance and how that affects their self-esteem. Orenstein struggled to see these risks in her own capable, self-confident daughter, but study after study show that "girls can be derailed by stereotypes."
I learned why it seemed that Disney princesses began popping up everywhere I looked: they were created by a Disney executive who attended a "Disney on Ice" show and saw all the little girls in their cheap, handmade Disney princess costume. Eureka: a marketing extravaganza is born!
She looks at the transformation of Barbie, who in the beginning not only had unrealistic proportions but also was a career woman, into the cute, princess Barbie she has become today.
"The astronauts, surgeons, and presidents of her glory days have been largely replaced by fairies, butterflies, ballerinas, mermaids, and princesses whose wardrobes are almost exclusively pink and lavender...Original Barbie would have been appalled: her palette was never so narrow--even her tutu was silver lame."
Now girls can choose from pink ouija boards, pink cell phones, pink laptops, Monopoly Pink Boutique edition, Pink Yahtzee, and ad nauseum. When Orenstein visits a toy fair, she is told that pink is the way to sell toys. How many girls do you know who do not profess to have pink as their favorite color (and are brave enough to admit it)?
Orenstein shares many of her internal battles, such as how to handle her daughter Daisy's request for a blue Fairytopia Barbie or a pink gun. She is noncommittal about the gun (leaning toward purchasing it) until discussing it with her husband, who reminds her, "No war toys." She visits the American Girl palace, but sans Daisy, trying to postpone her daughter's immersion in the need for expensive, unnecessary doll toys that are completely inaccessible to anyone without scads of money.
She explores the history of fairy tales (actually reading the original ones unedited to her daughter) and decides she doesn't like the modern version of some of those fairy tales much better. For example, she doesn't like The Paper Bag Princess (a story I rather like) because the prince rejects the princess for wearing a paper bag. She doesn't like the end (in fact compares it to "Thelma & Louise"), in which the princess dumps the prince and skips off into the sunset. Is that such a bad thing, teaching our daughters that they don't have to have a man to be happy? Sometimes I think she's being a bit too picky. She realizes, when she shares some stories from Free to Be You and Me that she's actually introducing some stereotypes to her daughter rather than teaching her lessons (for example, her daughter asks her what the word "sissy" means). I think it's good for children to be aware of how people do have the tendency to stereotype, but I understand her concern.
Then she takes on Twilight, and you all know what I think about Twilight (http://mariesbookgarden.blogspot.com/...). "Compared with Stephenie Meyer, the Grimms come off like Andrea Dworkin." Good line. "It is Bella, not the supernaturals she falls in love with, who is the true horror show here, at least as a female role model. She lives solely for her man; when he leaves her in New Moon...she is willing to die for him as well...Oh yeah, I want my daughter to be that girl." And that, my friends, is also why you will not find this voracious reader diving into 50 Shades of Grey, which started out as Twilight fan fiction! No thank you.
Orenstein also explores the trajectories of various girl celebrities--Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, etc.--and their bizarre virgin/whore dances. Later she discusses the Scholastic Publishers' tendency to publish books full of sexist stereotypes, which I recently wrote about in my other blog: http://marie-everydaymiracle.blogspot....
Similar to The Mama Boy's Myth (http://mariesbookgarden.blogspot.com/...), this is an important book about what we are exposing our girls to and the risks they face by being pressured to be princesses instead of heroes. Yes, they all grow out of the princess phase, but what fallout remains as they move into adolescence?...more
Oh my...what a wonderful book! I first heard about Wild when I was at Holden Village this summer, when two friends were reading it at the same time. I remember April telling me about how crazily misinformed and naive Strayed was about backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail...she didn't even test out the weight of her backpack until the morning she set out. She packed such strange choices as a full-size camera and fancy lens, even though she's not a photographer. She included items like a foldable saw, just in case she needed to cut wood. The only thing she included for protection from predators (man or beast) was a loud whistle. And she set off completely alone.
In the beginning, Strayed (a name she chose for herself) was not a particularly likable character. After her beloved mother dies suddenly of cancer (described in a completely heart-wrenching, daringly vulnerable chapter), she went off the rails. Married way too soon at 19, she began having irrational flings, cuckolding her wonderful husband and best friend, feeling guilty but unable to keep herself from doing it. She started shooting heroin with a guy she hooked up with in Portland while visiting a friend. Her siblings and stepfather, to whom she previously felt close, scattered and grieved in their own ways. In another heart-wrenching chapter, Strayed and her brother had to shoot their mother's neglected horse because she was too old and sick and they couldn't afford to hire a vet. She was a complete mess.
But something about the Pacific Crest Trail called to her. At the age of 22, wracked by grief, Strayed set out on a 1,100-mile hike all by herself...woefully unprepared for what she would face. Beginning in the Mojave Desert, she hiked up through California and Oregon, concluding at the Bridge of the Gods on the Oregon-Washington border. She hiked through blazing heat, record snow levels (when she couldn't find the trail), and drenching rain...and faced down severe dehydration, treacherous conditions, bears, rattlesnakes, coyotes, and a predatory hunter.
Strayed lives in Portland now and has become a local celebrity writer. She's moved beyond the devastating grief and wretched self-destruction of her early 20s and now has a husband and two school-age daughters. In this interview with Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin, Strayed talks about how happy she is now and challenges anyone who is feeling unhappy to get out and walk for 20 minutes:
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Cheryl: Walking. Doesn’t it make everyone happier? I challenge you to walk for twenty minutes and not feel better by the end of it. It’s the cheapest, healthiest cure on earth.
Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Cheryl: That we can survive anything, even if we don’t want to. Even in the face of great suffering, there is joy.
Masterfully and honestly told, Wild is a story I will remember for a long time. Check out this book trailer with photos and Strayed's description of the book:
This is SUCH an important and desperately needed book.
New York Times contributor Kate Stone Lombardi makes the fascinating point that of all the possible parent-child relationships (e.g., father-son, father-daughter, mother-daughter), the most circumspect and maligned is that of the mother and son. This was an illuminating beginning to this book.
Close mother-son relationships are abundant, but they are kept in the closet. While fathers are lauded for teaching their daughters traditionally masculine tasks or skills, mothers are shamed for doing the same thing (for example, teaching a son to knit or just talk more openly about his feelings).
Lombardi interviewed over 1,000 moms online and in person. She found that nearly nine in ten moms described themselves as "extremely close" or "very close" to their sons. And the result of these close relationships is that we are creating a generation of boys who will become strong, loving spouses and partners, with a higher level of sensitivity and emotional intelligence. As Lombardi notes, "A new and growing body of scientific literature shows that sons who are close to their mothers are emotionally and physically healthier than those who are not."
She writes of stereotypes about boys and girls and how some mothers long for daughters so they can develop close relationships with them. In some cases (like mine), feminists look forward to raising strong women who have opportunities they or their mothers did not have. As one mom said, "When it came time to have children, what I had in mind were daughters. All of my feminist friends laughed, 'Look at the hand you were dealt.' I had to process that loss. I had daughter envy." Why do women assume that girls will be more emotionally available than boys? We make assumptions that boys will grow apart from their mothers, based on culturally acceptable mother-son norms.
Mothers battle not only cultural expectations of how they relate to their sons, but also sometimes their own husbands or family members. Some women shared examples of their husbands accusing them of babying their sons if they showed any affection, even at very young ages, and one woman told a story about a power struggle with her husband about her nearly-two-year-old son's curly hair. She told him she'd cut his curls when he turned two, but a month before he turned two, her husband cut off all the boy's curls while he was taking a bath. "He thought I was turning his boy into a girl." Mothers are criticized for hugging their teen sons or touching them at all. Then there's the nosy strangers who think they know best and think that mothers are scarring their boys for life if they allow them to wear a "girl's" Halloween costume. She cites the work of artist JeongMee Yoon, who has a project with side-by-side images of actual girls' and boys' rooms, entirely in pink and blue. It's incredibly sad (and also another good example of why it's good I have boys--I am no fan of pink!).
Lombardi delves into the origin of Freud's Oedipal theories and the hidden fears of homophobia inherent in this bullying of moms and sons. Mothers involved in their sons' lives are made into the villains in popular culture, at best (think "Psycho"!), and at worst are thought to create "sissys," "Mama's boys," or overly dependent and feminine. She talks about the "boy crisis" and some prominent authors' views that boys need to disconnect from their mothers and instead form stronger relationships with their fathers, instead of recognizing the need for both father and mother bonds. Well-known author Michael Gurian "argues that mothers' apron strings are strangling the manhood out of boys." It's all the mother's fault, of course!
In a fairly well-known parenting book, Get Out of My Life, but Please Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall? by Anthony E. Wolf, the author talks about the "problem of mommy," which he defines as the theory that adolescent boys' strong feelings for their mother might be "tinged with sexuality and might therefore become really unacceptable." Why is that mothers' close relationships with their sons are often described as sexual? Thank you, Mr. Freud!
Since when do people say that teen girls have crushes on their fathers if they feel close to them? Lombardi points out that we never see "mother-son dances," but only "father-daughter" ones...because no one ascribes anything sinister to that relationship. However, as a brochure for a North Carolina father-daughter dance said, "Every father needs to 'date' their daughter, and every daughter needs an example of how a young lady is to be treated by a man." This dating analogy is creepy because sexual abuse in families is much more likely to occur between a father and a daughter. Incest between mother and son is exceedingly rare (female perpetrators are between 1 and 4 percent of all sex abuse cases). So why is that relationship such taboo?
When boys reach a certain age, they are often embarassed to be seen alone in public with their mom or to talk about close relationships with their mothers. It's really only the big, tough football players or otherwise macho men who are allowed to get away with close relationships with their mothers.
Then there are the men and women who play into the idea that feminism or stronger women's roles are creating weak men. Lombardi mentions the book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys. Although author Kay Hymowitz notes that it's important for young men to have strong relationships with both their moms and dads, the title makes it sound like weak men are all the women's fault. Lombardi notes that she agrees that this can be a confusing time to be a young man, but "mothers play an important role in helping their sons through this transition by giving them the skills they need to help them mature and succeed in school and in the workplace." As she concludes, "Why on earth would (women) want to do anything to harm men? We are the mothers of sons."
Gradually, our culture will find mother-son relationships more acceptable. The younger generation will see that this changes. In 2011, many of the Academy award nominated films featured difficult mothers (The Fighter, Black Swan, and The King's Speech). In the acceptance speeches, however, many of the winners thanked and paid tribute to their moms. Tom Hooper, who won best director for "The King's Speech," thanked his mother for giving him the idea for the movie. "The moral of the story is," he said, "Listen to your mother."
I confess that I always imagined having a daughter, but I am so thankful to have sons. Although many women idealize mother-daughter relationships, I've observed that in many cases, these relationships can be strained or not meet expectations. Daughters can be very hard on their mothers.
This book affirms that I can have truly deep relationships with my sons, and they will be better prepared for adulthood because of our strong mother-son relationships. It also made me feel incredibly grateful to be a parenting partner with a man who affirms my close relationships with my sons and (1) is not afraid to share his sensitive, emotional side, and is just as likely as I am to be brought to tears during a touching moment, and (2) never tells me I need to toughen the boys up or worries about them not acting manly enough! It also made me feel thankful for all the wonderful men I know, including my dad, brother, brother-in-law, and many male friends, who build strong relationships with boys and support women in doing the same.
I strongly recommend this book for anyone who has a son or works with boys. ...more
I am a polar opposite of Storm Large. I had a happy childhood with two stable, loving parents who were always there for me. I am happily married with three children and have never been promiscous or used drugs. Yet I love Storm Large, as you can see by the multiple posts about her on my main blog.
After seeing Storm's show, "Crazy Enough," twice at Portland Center Stage and purchasing the show CD, as soon as I read she was writing a book I put it on hold at the library. I've been waiting for several months to get my hands on it.
As I expected, the book delivered. Storm was able to go into deeper detail about her crazy childhood and young adulthood. Raw, honest, and full of profanity and crazy-making shit, she lays it all bare for her readers. Sex addict, drug addict, and now a performing addict, she knows all too well how larger than life and wild she is. It's part of her act. The world is a better place because she can use her wildness as art and be addicted to music and performing instead of the unhealthier habits. Much of the content was covered in her one-woman show, but she's able to go into more detail here.
If you have a strong stomach and are not easily offended, read this book. ...more
I've long been a Jane Lynch fan, since I first saw her in "Best in Show," and of course who doesn't love Sue Sylvester on "Glee"?
Lynch talks about her growing-up years in a happy suburban Illinois family. She had a reasonably happy childhood, although she never really felt like she fit in with her Catholic, traditional family. She also started drinking at a very early age, with her parents' knowledge. One of the places she felt she really fit in was in choir class, similar to the kids on "Glee."
She didn't start feeling comfortable in her own skin until she was in her 40s...between being a fledgling actor (flitting from commercials to bit parts in movies and TV series for years), an alcoholic, and gay in a straight world...but everything in her life seemed to come together as a series of happy accidents. Just as she began filming "Glee," which shot her career up to fame, she met the love of her life, her now-wife Lara Embry, and became a mom after she never thought she would have children (and in fact, she hadn't had any interest in having children).
Some have criticized Lynch's memoir for not being more revealing or dishing gossip on her costars. It strikes me that Lynch is not that kind of person. It sounds like she might have been at an earlier age--she admits that she had a big dose of Sue Sylvester in herself in her 20s and 30s--when she came down on other actors when she felt they weren't pulling their weight--but now she's happy with her life, and the fact that all of her dreams have come true. Not only is she in a fun TV series with a positive message about diversity and self-acceptance and she is happily married, but she also got to share the screen with her idols Carol Burnett and Olivia Newton John.
This was a fun read--absorbing and interesting. Lynch seems like she would be a fascinating person to have to dinner. ...more
I first heard of Lisa Bloom when I read a fantastic article she wrote for the Huffington Post: "How to Talk to Little Girls." I knew I needed to read her book.
Bloom is the feisty, bright daughter of a feisty, bright mother, pioneering and well-known lawyer Gloria Allred. Allred trained her daughter well--to be an advocate for equality and to stand up for herself and the downtrodden.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part, "The Problem," delves into the question of why we are all so dumbed down nowadays, especially women. She talks about the U.S. chest beating that we are "number one," when in fact we are not...in so many areas. One of those areas is the status of women and the numbers of women who represent us in the political arena. Although conditions are better here for women than in many other countries, we are far from number one. The World Economic Forum's 2009 Global Gender Gap Reports puts us at #31 because of our women's "stagnation in the political empowerment index." And 80 nations surpass the U.S. in the percentage of women holding elective office. You read that right: instead of being Number One, we lag behind 80 nations!
Why are we not up in arms about this? We're too busy spending a fortune on cosmetics and plastic surgery, reading about celebrity gossip, and watching reality TV shows. Wasting our lives away. (When I say "we," I'm referring to Americans in general and women in particular.)
As Bloom discusses, we devalue education, proudly read books that proclaim "Cooking for Dummies," and are more likely to know who Katy Perry is than who is the prime minister of Canada.
For example, take U.S. Weekly or Yahoo's web site, OMG! Bloom reports that U.S. Weekly had 800,000 subscribers in 2003, and now has nearly 2 million. Yet they estimate about 10 readers per subscriber, as many offices, nail salons, and gyms carry the magazine.
According to Bloom's statistics, in 2007 American women averaged $12,000 per year on cosmetics and salon purchases (and 42 percent of the worldwide total). I find that number to be truly staggering! We should be socking that money away for our retirement, or traveling around the world. Now that is really showing how dumb we are.
Bloom is a passionate vegetarian, and she makes an excellent case for us all to go meatless. I knew that raising livestock contributed to climate change, but she quotes a 2006 report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization that concluded that worldwide livestock farming is the #1 cause of climate change...more than all the cars, trains, planes, and boats in the world. The more meat we eat, the more we are degrading our planet.
As a legal analyst and reporter, Bloom talks about how much time she has been forced to cover missing stories of "pretty white girls," and if a missing child is not white or pretty, or even male, the media will not cover the story. This was not true in Oregon when Kyron Horman went missing over a year ago...but many made the excellent case that his story got way more attention than those of missing children of color. Not that we shouldn't care about Kyron Horman, but shouldn't we also care about all the children who go missing? Why don't we care as equally passionately about all the children sold into prostitution around the world? The U.S. media only wants to cover the "pretty white girls," and the American population are drawn to those stories, in a horrific Catch-22.
In another absurd example of our bizarre focus on the celebrity culture, Bloom discusses all the amazing humanitarian and philanthropic work Angelina Jolie has done throughout her career. But what makes the news? Her relationship with Brad Pitt and her supposed fights with Jennifer Aniston. Or Jolie's former nanny who says she's a neglectful mother. Or what she wore yesterday or where she vacationed. That's all people seem to care about...not the fact that she started working on behalf of refugees in 2000...has visited countries ravaged by poverty such as Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Cambodia, Pakistan, Namibia, and Kenya. She's even visited asylum seekers here in the U.S.
I'm sure that Jolie realizes that she can attract more attention to her cause by giving the public what it wants. Just a few days ago she got the media all excited by saying that what she was most excited about that evening (after the Golden Globes) was to go home to bed with Brad. Celebrities are narcissistic. Yes. But in the case of Angelina Jolie, there's more to her than meets the eye. But does the American public care? No, it doesn't seem to.
Jumping in to Part 2, Bloom gives us her recommendations for reclaiming our brains...such as carving out time in our lives to think, make simple food for your family and don't kill yourself by slaving over meals for hours, and hire someone else to do your housework (even if you have to cut corners elsewhere) so you can reserve time for yourself. She's very adamant on the housecleaner front, and of course I ask myself, what about the option to just not live in a perfectly clean house all the time?
She seems to have a very relaxed, funny parenting style...for example, interpreting "I'm bored!" as "How may I be of assistance?"
"Oh great!" I said, eagerly. "Here's a list of things for you to do. Start with cleaning your room. Next, wash the windows. There's some crud baked on to this pan that really needs a good scrubbing to get it off. Did you rewrite that homework assignment to bring up your grade? How's that thank you to Grandma coming along? Honey? Where'd you go?" I've already begun applying this technique. Yesterday when my 15-year-old complained about loading the dishwasher, I began to give him a list of all the things I planned to get done that evening, and I told him he could help me with those if he wanted to. Worked like a charm.
She's adamant about not allowing kids into your bed. Well, it's a good thing I'm confident in my own parenting philosophy to know what to ignore and what to take in. I still have a five-year-old who crawls into bed with me around 6:15 a.m., and he usually comes downstairs and sleeps on our floor until then (but not in our bed). It won't last forever, and I do love my morning cuddles. I suppose Bloom wouldn't have approved of my nursing through the night when my babies were little, but I don't care. I was a working mom, and it helped me bond with my kids.
Bloom exhorts women to READ constantly, and the good stuff. Clearly, I agree with that advice, although it also shocks me to read that 80 percent of Americans did not read a book last year. She has tons of reading recommendations, many of which (but not all) I've already read. She's a big fan of Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl DuWunn, as am I, and has a reading list in the appendix.
She tells us to use our newfound time and knowledge to take care of our lives. Look things up if you're curious. Exercise. Have more sex! Hang out with girlfriends--they are great for your health (as is the sex!). Volunteer in your community and take a stand.
Finally, Bloom talks about how lucky we are to live in the good ol' US of A, with the freedoms we have and the privilege. We need to take advantage of these things and BACK AWAY from the cotton candy nutritionless junk food media. I certainly have been more careful not to click on the tabloid-style internet news since reading this book. What a waste of time it all is. Think! ...more
A few weeks ago I heard Barbara Roberts on Oregon Public Broadcasting's morning show, Think Out Loud, talking about her new memoir. In her lively, genuine way, she spoke about the highlights of her time as governor and also discussed her upbringing. I knew I wanted to read her book, so I put it on hold at the library.
Roberts is a fascinating woman. Raised primarily in a small Oregon town (Sheridan), she grew up in a blue collar family filled with love and respect. Unlike many women of her generation, she never received the message that she was anything "less than" as a woman. However, even though she was very successful in high school, it never occurred to her (and no one encouraged her) to go on to college. She got married before she graduated from high school, and soon she found herself living and lonely in Texas (married to a soldier) and pregnant.
When her older son Mike was five or six, she began to realize something was wrong...she took him to a specialist, who pronounced him to be "extremely emotionally disturbed" and recommended that he be institutionalized (he is autistic). She refused to accept this label, but because no services were offered (much less required) for these types of kids, she ended up admitting him to a residential school, the Parry Center, where he stayed for three years. When they brought him home, she was able to get him into a special ed program in the Parkrose School District (which was being offered via a three-year grant). When the grant was going to expire, Roberts became a lobbyist to fight for the program to be extended. Oregon was the first state in the country to offer special ed services to kids who need them. A federal law was not passed until four years later. After achieving success, she joined the Parkrose School Board and eventually the Multnomah Community College Board. At the same time as her political ambitions began to grow, her young marriage began falling apart.
Soon she was a single mother raising two sons and working full-time as a bookkeeper, and working on the school boards at the same time. She got to know Oregon state senator Frank Roberts and soon married him, even though he was 21 years her senior.
She was elected as state representative, then secretary of state, and then finally governor; she was the first democratic secretary of state Oregon had seen in 100 years, and she was the first woman governor in Oregon ever. She came from behind to defeat well-known and popular candidate, Dave Frohnmayer.
What amazed me the most about this book was how much tragedy and angst was behind Roberts' cheerful exterior. Her sister lost a 2-month baby in a car accident. When Roberts became secretary of state, her husband was healthy. By the time she ended her term, he had survived two bouts with cancer and a heart attack and lost use of both legs (because of the chemo damaging a nerve in his spine). Her beloved father died just scant months before she was elected governor. Two and a half years into her governorship, her husband's cancer returned and he was given 1 year to live. He wanted to keep it a secret so he could finish out the legislative session, so they carried on as best as they could without people knowing. He died in the last year of her term. At the same time, her sister was diagnosed with cancer. Later her mother died, her son nearly died in a motorcycle accident, and her beloved best friend died of a brain tumor. Throughout it all, Roberts worked hard and showed a cheerful face to Oregonians. I don't know how she did it.
I couldn't help but think of Barack Obama while reading this book. Like Obama who has been saddled with a failing economy, Roberts was handed two huge burdens on the day she was elected: Ballot Measure 5, which was the first property tax measure to gut Oregon's economy and services, and a split legislature. As she tried to cut spending so that they could pass a budget, she took crap on every side. People blamed her for not getting more done, but she was fighting uphill battles, just like Obama. I won't go into the details of what she accomplished in office, but given the hand she was dealt with, she did many great things as governor.
Current governor John Kitzhaber does not come out very well. Kitzhaber, then the head of the Oregon senate, announced he was challenging Roberts for governor while her husband--and his colleague--was dying of cancer. In his characteristically "icy" way, he announced his decision and didn't stay to discuss it or ask how her husband was doing. He just walked off.
Two other things struck me about this book:
•Barbara Roberts is unfailingly honest, direct, and ethical. She does not shy away from admitting her mistakes or fighting for a controversial issue...whether if be the Spotted Owl, gay rights, feminism, abortion rights, AIDS, social justice, the death penalty, or any other topic. I admire her honesty and courage in standing up for what she believes in.
•She did it all without a college degree. After she retires from politics (again)--right now she's serving on the Metro council--she plans to finish her education. Clearly, she is extremely bright, articulate, and a natural leader to accomplish everything she has without a degree. I was tempted to give the book four stars, because as a woman and a leader, Roberts is inspirational and amazing. But as a book, it is not the highest-quality memoir. Roberts' writing is a bit pedantic, and she uses the passive voice a lot. She also seemed to want to document every detail of her political life, and at times she should have left some of the details (and names) out for the sake of her (non-political junkie) readers.
But I'm glad I read this book. Roberts was a trailblazer in so many ways...from advocating for her special needs son when no one else would...to believing she could be governor and making it happen. ...more
Firoozeh Dumas is an Iranian-American married to a Frenchman, and now a writer, speaker, and mom of three. A few years ago, I enjoyed reading her first book, Funny in Farsi, a collection of stories about moving to the U.S. as a child and viewing life through an immigrant family's eyes. Laughing Without an Accent is more focused on Dumas' recent years in the U.S.
Dumas shares stories about the difficulties of getting her first book translated into Persian (in Iran, the author has no quality control over translations of their work; her courtship with her husband, who she met in college; a Tina Fey moment, when she berated a woman for allowing her dog to poop in her front yard, only to find out later that she was her children's new school principal; the stories of mother guilt (not confined to Jewish mothers) and the difficulty of turning down a parental present, even if it's awful; her decision to get rid of her family's TV (and her son's ignorance about Toys 'R Us--not a bad thing!); a funny Christmas when her husband tried valiantly to please her parents with a gourmet Christmas meal; and her view of farmers markets as near-religious experiences.
I enjoyed reading about attending an office clearance sale with her resourceful-to-a-fault, thrifty dad, who insisted on buying a few enormous desks without regard to how they were going to get the desks home, much less into the house.
As an avid library lover, I adored the story about how Dumas grew up in a family without books and only got to visit the library when a teacher advised it (her parents always obeyed teachers!). She could not believe that she would be able to take out books for free, so she took her purse with her, ready to pay for the book. “Ever since we had arrived in the United States, my classmates kept asking me about magic carpets. They don't exist, I always said. I was wrong. Magic carpets do exist. But they are called library cards.”
Some reviewers have criticized Dumas for lumping all Americans together. I say hogwash and they need to lighten up. She writes about the independent, outspoken Iranian women she knows who are hidden under hijab, contrasted with the over-the-top skimpy attire in American culture: "I wish to see the day when no woman is forced to wear a hijab, chador, or burqa, but let us not discount the women underneath those mandatory coverings. If empowerment were as simple as being able to show skin, Paris Hilton would be the most enlightened woman in the United States. Having freedom does not automatically mean we all make good choices. Freedom is a rope; some make a ladder out of it and climb out of the box they're put in; some make a noose; and others make a stripper's pole." Yes, she's opinionated about the likes of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, but she's not saying all Americans are like them.
At times she does contradict herself a bit, such as when she talks about how great Iranian schools are (were), yet how the first time she ever had a nurturing teacher was in the U.S. I would have liked to have read more about her relationship with her husband: how do they merge their French and Iranian cultures, traditions, and religions?
Most touching were stories about how tough it was to be an Iranian-American in 1979 during the hostage crisis, constantly hearing the "Bomb Iran" parody on the radio, and how recently she got to know Kathryn Koob, one of the female hostages. She ends with a story about how Koob took her all over her Iowa hometown, embracing her as a friend. And she ends with these thoughts, on the subject of reconcilation (one of my favorite topics):
"The bible is foreign to me, but its concepts are not. My father always said that hatred is a waste and never an option. He learned this growing up in Ahwaz, Iran, in a Muslim household. I have tried my best to pass the same message to my children, born and raised in the United States. Ultimately, it doesn't matter where we learn that lesson. It's just important that we do." Amen. ...more
As my book club selection for August, I wasn't too sure what to expect. I've read Landvik before and enjoyed her books, but I believe this one was my favorite yet. She typically sets her stories in Minnesota, like this one.
Kari, Faith, Slip, Merit, and Audrey are housewives in small-town Minnesota in the 1960s. They live on Freesia Court and start a book club (fairly unusual back then). Through the years, they share their heartaches, secrets, and intimacies in the ways that only women can.
Through 40 years, the Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons (a name coined after Merit's abusive husband angrily demanded she stop being in the group) each battle their own personal demons. Faith harbors the secret of her dysfunctional childhood and sense of abandonment and is convinced no one will love her if they know the real her. Audrey loves sex and food and lives largely, although her husband enjoys sex with other women as well as her. Daughter of a straitlaced minister, Merit ends up with a perfect-on-the-outside doctor husband who begins verbally abusing her and soon starts in physically. Slip, the impassioned activist, loves her family just as much as she loves peace and justice and gradually convinces the other women not to accept sexism without a fight. And Kari, the widowed and oldest member of the group, happily becomes a mother but can tell no one where she got her baby.
Beginning in the 1960s when home life was much more traditional, and moving into the 1990s when people began opening up their minds and their lives, the book charts the separate pathways of these close friends. In addition to these fiercely strong, loving women, Landvik includes portraits of several wonderful men--some of which you don't expect at first to be so likable.
As we discussed at our own book group meeting last night, for a story about books, Landvik didn't really let us into the book discussions very much. Each chapter was headed by a book club selection and why it was chosen, but beyond a few mentions in the text, we didn't really get to hear much of what the angry housewives thought or said about it. She could have woven the texts into these women's lives more effectively.
In addition, some of the supplemental characters (children and husbands) are well shaped while others are one dimensional and rarely described. Clearly, the angry housewives are the primary characters of this novel. The most heartbreaking scene to me was when one of the sons told his mother that he felt that no one loved him. Even though she knew deep down that he was gay, she could not reach out to connect with her son--she just wanted the whole situation to go away, and if she avoided it, she thought she could make it so. She chose to close the door on her own son because she was too afraid to face facts.
Even with the criticisms we had of the book, we all enjoyed it and give it a strong recommendation.
Bitter Bitch is billed as "the international bestseller that has shocked Europe"; however, the only thing particularly shocking was the title, which caused all sorts of commentary from my family (especially when my husband showed it to my visiting mother-in-law and sister-in-law!). Apparently the literal translation from the Swedish is even more schocking: "Bitter Cunt"!
Sarah, mom of a toddler, has just turned 30 and is feeling like a bitter bitch. She flies to Tenerife (in the Canary Islands) for a week's vacation and reads Erica Jong's feminist classic, Fear of Flying, while she's away. However, she finds herself longing for quiet and uninterrupted sleep rather than the classic "zipless f--k."
Sveland examines the state of modern woman- and motherhood and peels back the facade that women can easily have it all. Although Sarah loves her husband Johan, she also has great unresolved hostility towards him. Having experienced horribly sexist men in television journalism and other areas of her life, Sarah reflects that "Refusing to admit your own part in oppression is an incredibly smart power strategy, since oppression is made invisible by diminishing it." Not only does this lack of awareness exist in men, but it also exists in the privileged--both men and women.
After Sarah is unable to nurse her baby Sigge successfully, she develops a life-threatening breast infection. Johan chooses to take Sigge home instead of having them both stay in the hospital with Sarah, an action that Sarah views as betrayal. (Having experienced the extreme bonding connection that exists between mother and newborn, I can completely relate to this feeling.) Their marriage is damaged as a result of this and the fact that Johan is gone for weeks at a time (because of his job) while Sarah is caring for newborn Sigge. She feels exhausted and completely alone, even though she loves her child passionately.
Sarah struggles with the fact that women still bear the burden in marriage: they do most of the housework and the child care. "I really do not think there is much difference between becoming a mother during the 1970s or in the twenty-first century. In the beginning you are just as alone with your child as most mothers have been for centuries...it is sad, but becoming a mother seems to be one of the most difficult undertakings when it comes to equality."
When the couple goes to married marriage counselors, they tell Sarah that achieving equality in a marriage is impossible. Both Sarah and Johan storm out in disgust. But in fact, Johan's paternity leave (more common in Sweden) was what saved their marriage. "That's when he understood what it meant to take full responsibility as a father. Men should take longer parental leave than women, since women have a biological head start because they have carried and given birth to their children. Men need more time to get the innate experience."
She talks in detail about the great guilt work-outside-the-home mothers feel when they leave their children in day care (or take off for a weekend or week away). Fathers tend not to experience that same amount of guilt. Why is that? She concludes that women should be more self-serving: "The one who demands the most gets the most." For example, who is most likely to be doing the cleanup at a party? The women (especially with older generations). Sarah feels guilty when she doesn't jump up to help the other women, but the men don't seem to feel guilty at all. Why is that?
She also laments the fact that women are rarely able to relax or feel completely safe out in public. They can never escape the potential for men to harass them. (I discussed this very topic with friends at Holden Village late one night.) "I strongly doubt that men can comprehend the discomfort or ferar involved in having to deal with it. I wonder how this really affects women, deep down."
Sarah was raised with a doormat mother and a verbally abusive, alcoholic father, so she didn't have a lot of faith in marriage. Lest you conclude that Sarah is anti-men, though, she waxes lyrical about how much she loves men who peel oranges in public, bring packed lunches to work, bike or walk to work, and dance.
Reading this book, it made me realize how lucky I am to be in a marriage of relative equality. I nursed my sons constantly (and through the night) for many years, and then my husband took over the late night wakefulness after they stopped nursing. He is a stay-at-home dad and does the cooking during the week. I call him our "household manager," because of course he does much more than looking after the kids and cooking. We still fall back into gender stereotyped roles when it comes to some responsibilities: he takes out the garbage, mows the lawn, and deals with the car maintenance, while I am responsible for all of the gift and clothing buying and storing the kids clothes over various seasons. We both grocery shop. But he writes the thank you cards. I let him drive much of the time because he likes to, and I'd rather be reading. I'm the breadwinner but he still has a career and associated goals. I hope someday I can work less and he can get paid for the work he does (writing). We make decisions together.
I feel that we have achieved as close to equality as I can imagine in our marriage. So thankfully, even though I feel that Sveland's observations about marriage and parenting are completely sound, I am not a bitter bitch myself. I must say that it's refreshing to read a feminist novel given all of the anti-feminist backlash out there in popular society.
I'm not sure what I think about the ending...it depends on whether you are cynical or optimistic. As an optimist myself, I'd like to think that Sarah found some comfort and peace with her life. I'm glad that Sveland wrote this important book, and I have no doubt that many women would be able to relate very closely to this story. ...more