My sister saw The Glass Castle on my coffee table and said, “Oh, I read that. It’s kind of . . .” then she paused and we both were awkwardly silent fo...moreMy sister saw The Glass Castle on my coffee table and said, “Oh, I read that. It’s kind of . . .” then she paused and we both were awkwardly silent for a minute. “Well, I was going to say, it’s kind of like us, a little bit, but not –“
“Yeah,” I said. “I wasn’t going to say it – because not all of it – “
“Yeah, not all of it.”
We didn’t talk about it again.
When I first saw this book, I think I died a little inside because of the cover. I didn’t hate The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood like I hated The Mermaid Chair or (*shudder*) Bastard out of Carolina, but when there’s a little girl on the cover of a book, looking all innocent, it’s like a movie with the word “Education” in the title. You just know you’re in for a published trip to the psychiatrist’s couch. Kiddy-sex and soul-searching. I’m not saying people shouldn’t tell their stories (I mean, look at me, I’m all up in your website telling my stories), but I do think people should get a handle on what their story is before they try to tell it. Or at least before they make me read it. Sorry, that’s kind of asshole-ish of me to say, but I just think a lot of books with innocent little girls on the cover are really arrogant. They have this sense that since some man did something horrifying, everything that women do, including dancing around a fire with girlfriends or taking exotic lovers, is just part of the loving circle of nature’s healing. I am such a fan of women, and so I take it personally when we look like morons.
This book has absolutely nothing in common with its cover. I haven’t written a review of it before because I think it is a perfect book, and how do you review a perfect book? I’m like Wayne and Garth when they meet Alice Cooper. This book is my Alice Cooper. I’m sure it wouldn’t be everyone’s Alice Cooper, but to me this is exactly what a book should be. Everything about the book is simple, concise, and action-packed. It makes me laugh and it makes me cry. The people are incredible, but deep and smart and human. In some ways, I think this book is the Great American Story, but it’s the story none of us talk about and all of us live. In other ways, the book is so specific and personal to the Walls family that I never would have imagined the stories if I had not been told them.
Virginia Woolf and Rainer Maria Rilke, two of the wisest people I have read, both ask when and how women will be able to tell stories without being self-conscious that they are women. How can we write, or even live, not as reactions to men, but as separate masters of our own experiences? I don’t know where the genders are on the space/time continuum of respecting each other, and I think there are probably gender-related specifics to any story (maybe that’s just natural and not even bad), but there is something about this book that is just human and strong. It is compassionate and unflinching. Oh, I hate adjectives. Just, read the first chapter of this book, and if you don’t think it’s compelling, don’t keep reading because it’s probably not for you.
My family was nomadic, like Jeannette Walls’s family, but, like I say, all of her stories, and my stories, are unique. When I last lived with my parents, it struck me that we never really understand other people’s relationships with each other. I grew up, probably as many of us did, thinking that my parents never really got along and that my mom was a victim of my dad’s anger and wild scheming. But, later, I realized they probably both got something that I never understood out of their relationship. I think a lot of this book is about how we know the people we are close to and, also, never really do – how it is useless to hold other people to our own standards of what love or responsibility looks like. But, still, it is about holding each other responsible. Or, maybe the book is just about her family with no real moral lesson at all. Walls is so loyal to her stories in an almost scientific way. None of the adult outrage that contaminates so many stories of children creeps into Walls’s. She tells you what happened, and maybe how she felt about it at the time, but she doesn’t impose emotion on the reader. Here’s just a small part (well, actually, half . . . I couldn’t resist) of the first chapter to give you a little taste:
Mom was sitting at a booth, studying the menu, when I arrived. She’d made an effort to fix herself up. She wore a bulky gray sweater with only a few light stains, and black leather men’s shoes. She’d washed her face, but her neck and temples were still dark with grime.
She waved enthusiastically when she saw me. “It’s my baby girl!” she called out. I kissed her cheek. Mom had dumped all the plastic packets of soy sauce and duck sauce and hot-and-spicy mustard from the table into her purse. Now she emptied a wooden bowl of dried noodles into it as well. “A little snack for later on,” she explained.
We ordered. Mom chose the Seafood Delight. “You know how I love my seafood,” she said.
She started talking about Picasso. She’d seen a retrospective of his work and decided he was hugely overrated. All the cubist stuff was gimmicky, as far as she was concerned. He hadn’t really done anything worthwhile after his Rose Period.
“I’m worried about you,” I said. “Tell me what I can do to help.”
Her smile faded. “What makes you think I need your help?”
“I’m not rich,” I said. “But I have some money. Tell me what it is you need.”
She thought for a moment. “I could use an electrolysis treatment.”
“I am serious. If a woman looks good, she feels good.”
“Come on, Mom.” I felt my shoulders tightening up, the way they invariably did during these conversations. “I’m talking about something that could help you change your life, make it better.”
“You want to help me change my life?” Mom asked. “I’m fine. You’re the one who needs help. Your values are all confused.”
“Mom, I saw you picking through trash in the East Village a few days ago.”
“Well, people in this country are too wasteful. It’s my way of recycling.” She took a bite of her Seafood Delight. “Why didn’t you say hello?”
“I was too ashamed, Mom. I hid.”
Mom pointed her chopsticks at me. “You see?” she said. “Right there. That’s exactly what I’m saying. You’re way too easily embarrassed. Your father and I are who we are. Accept it.”
“And what am I supposed to tell people about my parents?”
“Just tell the truth,” Mom said. “That’s simple enough.”
It’s been a while since I read this book, so a lot of the stories aren’t fresh in my mind, but some are so vivid to me that I think of them whenever I see a trash can or think of the desert. In high school, I thought that American history was the most boring topic imaginable. Then, in college, I took a class called the History of Women in the U.S., and I realized that I think the history of industry and conquest is mind-numbing, but the history of actual people is riveting. The Glass Castle is a real, honest history (or as honest as histories can be) of people in America. It is so close to me and so foreign in just the way this country is.
It is also, in a way, a tribute to family oral histories. My dad has a . . . loose . . . relationship with the truth, as I’ve probably mentioned on this site before. In the past couple of years, every time I see one of my siblings, we sit around and tell stories from my dad or about my dad, trying to weed out what actually happened, what got a nice polish in the story factory, and what is an outright lie. I get that same feeling from this book – of siblings sitting around and saying, “Do you remember . . .” and “You weren’t there this one time . . .” or “No, that’s just what Dad said happened, what actually happened was . . .” I’m sure someday, my siblings and I will put together a history of our own, since every one of us seems to have inherited the storytelling gene. Whatever I write will be in some way inspired by this book.(less)
Maybe what I love about Willa Cather is all the kinds of love and belonging she writes. Her unhappy marriages and her comfortable ones; her volatile l...moreMaybe what I love about Willa Cather is all the kinds of love and belonging she writes. Her unhappy marriages and her comfortable ones; her volatile love and her unconsummated longing; and her lone, happy people, are all so different, but so how I see the world. I think the way she writes them is wise. Unreliable narrators are delightful to read because, in the sense that the author has shown me their unreliability, she has also shown me their uniqueness and humanity. I think Jim Burden, the narrator of My Antonia is a beautiful example of this and that most of the passion and mystery in this story comes from Jim’s failings as a human, within the story, and even as a character, from a critical perspective. I will explain.
Cather presents the story My Antonia as a story within a story. The narrative introducing the book comes from a friend of Jim’s, who tells us that Jim has always had a romantic disposition, but that, as of the writing of the book, Jim is in a presumably loveless marriage with an awful woman who is “temperamentally incapable of enthusiasm.” Jim’s mind is consumed with memories of a Bohemian girl Jim and the author of the introduction both knew, and she represents to them both the country and the people of their childhoods. Throughout the book, Antonia Shimerda and her warmth belong to the land and the people who love her, and when someone calls her “my Antonia” it means something about that belonging.
It is impossible to truly identify with Antonia because Cather writes her in this unreliable way, and so, even though she is a painfully real character, she is told with lovely mistakes – the mistakes we make in talking about people we love who we don’t understand, who are not like us. Anyway, I don’t remember making this connection the last time I read this book, but for most of my life, people have referred to me as “my Meredith.” I think maybe it is the alliteration that brings it on, but it has always baffled me. For a long time, I found it horrifying. The phrase had some kind of unsettling expectation to it. Now, though, I feel differently. I feel like it is lovely to belong to the people I care about, and the last time someone said it, it was just comfortable and true. I’m not saying that this makes me similar to Antonia Shimerda, but it made me think about how warm and human it is to belong to people like Antonia did.
So, I’m telling you about how this book is written by a woman, but from the perspective of a boy and then a man. Writing across genders is suspicious to me, and so that unreliability piles on to the already suspect character of Jim. And, I don’t think Cather tells him fairly or realistically as a male character, or that this story is told as a man would tell it. It is told in the way a woman would tell about a man’s love, and I like that. It has the insight of a woman into the motivations of another woman, but it has the gentleness of how a woman sees the emotions of men.
Cather always writes domestic stories, but there is also something epic about the tragedies, betrayals, and glory her characters encounter. I don’t think there is one in O Pioneers, but in most of her books she includes some story within the story (in this case also within the larger story) of a far-off land, and those stories are my favorite part of the adventure of reading Willa Cather. The story of the Russian wolves in My Antonia is my favorite.
I am a very impressionable young thing, and so when someone explains to me why they love something, it often sticks and colors my interpretation of that thing in the future. I am staunchly against the prairies, and the pioneers are usually dullsville. In real life, when I am away from mountains for too long I freak out, and I have an aversion to reading about how to live in a dug out. But Cather’s wonderful descriptions of Nebraska change the whole idea for me. I know it’s just descriptions, but they are so vivid and beautiful. I love the mountains, and I maintain that they are more beautiful than the prairies, but I could never describe the essence of the places I love like Cather does her places. And her places are ick, so that makes her even more wonderful as a writer.
Anyway, I love this book. I listened to it on audio this time, and the audio is really lovely. It is difficult to say whether this is my favorite Cather or O Pioneers is or The Professor’s House is. They are all wonderful. This one has a quality I like of being driven by character, not plot, but that is not always a draw. The people here are wonderful, timeless, and real. The things they say are things people should say, and they belong to each other the way people should. It is often brutal, in the way art should be brutal, with real feeling; but, it is not cruel. It tells how we should see each other and how we should be, but also how we do see each other and how we are. It is a sort of magical world that is also real life, but I think that is how we talk about people we love – suspiciously comfortable; unreliable, but belonging. (less)
In high school, I made the mistake of thinking that Hamlet was an angst-ridden loser who was pissed about having to take algebra when he “knew he was...moreIn high school, I made the mistake of thinking that Hamlet was an angst-ridden loser who was pissed about having to take algebra when he “knew he was never going to use it.” Not that I had any problems with angst. Big fan. I just thought he failed at angst. He wasn’t the dreamy eyed poet, he was the kid in class who made everyone cringe by shooting his hand up to complain about the abstract unfairness of the school system (or universe. Whatever). I saw the beautiful words, but they only meant words, they didn’t mean anything. When I read the play again in college, the profound beauty and compassion for humanity devastated me, and I realized that it is not about angst of any variety. Hamlet still breaks my heart, probably more than any other story.
I saw a staged production of Hamlet for the first time last month. A live show is almost always a good experience, and this certainly was. I grew up living pretty near the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and I’ve gone to productions there as much as possible since high school. It’s a magical place (not so much in a ren-fest way, though a little. More in a professional-live-show-for-cheap way). It’s about three hours away from me now, so I took a couple of days, drove down, and stayed in a hostel across the street from the OSF. I’m assuming in this review that everyone has read or seen Hamlet, but if you haven’t (and this might drive some people nuts) I actually really like the Mel Gibson version. I’ve seen it a kagillion times, and I think it’s a solid version. Who better to play Ophelia than Helena Bonham Carter? (Other than Rachel McAdams in Slings and Arrows.) Anyway, like I say, seeing Hamlet in the wonderful Bowmer theater was a really good experience. I do, however, have a lot of problems with the production, all of which I will gladly share with you now.
A couple of things that don’t work in any production of a Shakespeare tragedy: hammy heroes, pyrotechnics, rapping and hip hop dancing, sign language that is not used for communication, extended martial arts scenes, and Kenneth Branagh. If I think of more, I’ll let you know. Mostly, when I see a play, I want to see the play, not the MTV version of the play. I find it insulting that directors seem to think I’ll understand Hamlet better if it’s MC Hammered at me. And I get that stage fighting is fun, but unfortunately TV fights look better. Maybe it makes it confusing that those things tend to work in the comedies, and directors get caught up in the comedy momentum. There’s some kind of self-reflexive irony framed by larger irony, though, when Polonius says, “brevity is the soul of wit,” and not only is Polonius a pompous old fool, but the entire production is also a pompous old fool.
So, in this version we didn’t have Kenneth Branagh or an extended martial arts scene, which is a mercy. They did, however, have everyone dressed like they were in an emo band. It worked at first, and then got really annoying. Also, there was this gimmick about the ghost speaking sign language, and that kind of kills me. And the play-within-the-play was a free-style hip-hop show. So painful. The thing is, it would be kind of cool to see Hamlet in all sign language with the words voiced over in the theater (or even subtitled). I would probably dig that. But, the way they did this was all wrong. The ghost said something in sign language, and then Hamlet, who apparently was the only character who spoke sign language, would say his lines. Then Hamlet would say his own lines. Fail. I’m not positive Hamlet was the only one who spoke sign language because there was a lot of exaggerated gesturing all around. Like when Hamlet mimed a shotgun to his head when he said, “To be or not to be.”
If Hamlet is not about hip hop and angst, then, what is it about? Hamlet is about being totally unprepared to face reality. Because what is more real than death? Hamlet is about the coolest kid in school (a prince, no less), not about a soulful nerd. Hamlet’s dad could beat up all the other dads; Hamlet has a beautiful girlfriend; Hamlet is spoiled, maybe even a little bit of an asshole, and then, suddenly, his father’s death forces him to recognize that the universe could be a hostile place. Don’t get me wrong – when the play starts he’s not the golden child he was the month before. He goes from being privileged and sheltered to having to face real loss, grief, and betrayal. He wants revenge, but also asks if life is really worth living in a world where those you love the most are the ones plotting against your life. But he didn’t start that way – it’s not just his nature to be melancholy. Fate cut him into shreds the minute before the play starts. Ophelia, too, (but during the play) loses the security of a happy ending, loses her love, loses her father. Both of these bright, advantaged, unprepared children wake up to the brutality of the world around them, and ultimately that awakening destroys them.
That type of tragedy profoundly resonates with me. I realized that both this play and the other favorite I saw in Ashland, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, are about rich people who trust the world to bring only good and then are crushed by reality. Maybe it resonates because of my own personal experiences, but I think there is also something about Hamlet that both transcends cultures and is immediate to American culture. As Nahum says, "Hamlet will be Hamlet. An ineffable tragedy of the human spirit that still resonates, even today." It used to be that the people sheltered from the realities of death were princes, but now look at us, with our hot running water, packaged meat, and sanitized hospitals. Tragedy and death are not part of our everyday lives, and I think many of us are as unprepared to deal with a hostile universe as Hamlet and Ophelia are. When we see our own mortality, we are not eased into it, but caught unawares by a specter we never knew was following us. We are in many ways perpetual children, like Hamlet and Ophelia.
Even then, maybe Hamlet is not tragic. Is it more horrifying to be surprised by death or to live a childhood that causes you to expect it? Although it is not my experience, the latter was probably more common at the time the play was written and probably continues to be so today. Nevertheless, that experience of betrayal by life must, on some level, be universal, whether people experience it young or old, once or many times. There is something innocent and wise and deeply human about both Hamlet and Ophelia because of it.(less)
Leave it to Willa Cather to write the most peaceful book about war I have ever read. One of Ours is not my favorite story about World War I or my favo...moreLeave it to Willa Cather to write the most peaceful book about war I have ever read. One of Ours is not my favorite story about World War I or my favorite Cather, but it is truly beautiful. Cather's description of the destruction caused by war and America's participation in global economy is fascinating, and I was surprised to find a perspective that I think of as common in post-Vietnam writing in a book published before the Great Depression.
One of the characteristics I love most about Cather as a writer is her ability to give her characters positions or traits that she obviously disagrees with, and still be compassionate towards them. This story was no exception. Although Claude, the hero of the novel, makes the wrong decision every time he comes to a crossroads, it does not make me (or, I felt, Cather) like him less, and I don't feel like she's beating me over the head with the fact that he's wrong. It makes me so uncomfortable to read a story where the author is mean and petty to the characters. That is not to say life is always a cheery place in Cather's books, but I never feel like she has a vendetta against people she includes in her story, or like she manipulates events to pull the rug out from under them. Maybe because that is such a pet peeve of mine, I appreciate authors who seem unconditionally comfortable with their characters.(less)
As a rule, even though I probably do it too much myself, I think comparing two books that are literally similar tends to do neither book any favors. S...moreAs a rule, even though I probably do it too much myself, I think comparing two books that are literally similar tends to do neither book any favors. So, unless you’re trying to crush something despicable in one of the books, pitting one against another doesn’t make that much sense to me. Thoughtless comparisons have ruined stories for me because sometimes something beautiful in a story is so easy to crush by association with something blunt in another. All of this preface is a warning because I am going to compare this book to another book, and it makes me nervous. This book is delicate and beautiful and inspiring, and the book I’m going to compare it to is blunt and awkward and stifling. What I want to say is that I think Breadcrumbs is in many ways reaction to this weirdly true and simultaneously deeply false culture of that odd book He’s Just Not That Into You. I don’t think I can talk about this without spoilers, so consider yourself generally warned.
Breadcrumbs is a story of a little girl, Hazel, who is on the verge of growing up, and must save her best friend, Jack, from magic that poisons and freezes Jack’s heart and turns him against Hazel. Even though grownups around her tell Hazel that Jack is just not that into her, that she should just let him go if he’s not nice to her, Hazel knows Jack and she knows something wrong is going on. More than that, she knows she can be a warrior and save Jack from the loneliness and isolation of this evil magic. So, in a lot of ways, it is delicate to talk about this book because I think if you’re a girl, and you’re Hazel, you could be completely correct and brave and self-aware – or you could be a crazy person who keys cars when boys break up with you.
There is that new documentary, Miss Representation, which I haven’t seen yet. The trailer makes it look amazing, though. It seems like it is mostly about the representation of women and girls in the media and how that contributes to us not participating in society. One of the trailer’s statistics, which has stuck with me and made me really sad over the past few weeks, is that (and I might get the ages slightly wrong here) an equal number of girls and boys under age 9 say that they want to be President when they grow up. Then, once you get to around age 15, almost no girls say that anymore. How much does that suck? It says to me that once girls reach adolescence, we realize that the world was not made for us, it was made for boys.
And I think that is one of the disturbing things about the book He’s Just Not That Into You. The underlying assumption (and even, in many ways, the explicit message) of the book is that girls are and should be insatiably driven to find a steady relationship with a boy, any boy, no matter who he is, but boys must be struck by lightning to find That Special Girl. So, a girl is a crazy person if she is patient with a guy who doesn’t want to impregnate her within the first five minutes of meeting her. (Underlying assumption being that girls should be super excited about that guy.) But, girls are just waiting around at girl factories for guys to magically find the right one, and the chosen girl will be so grateful just to be picked. The world was not made for girls: girls are just one accessory in a world made for boys. On the other hand, I do know at least one girl who is a crazy person and more likely than not to burn down a guy’s house if he’s not into her, so for that girl I think there might be a place for the creepy not-into-you message. For the rest of us, I think a more pertinent message would be, “What are you getting out of this?”
As a sidebar, I think the expectation that girls should be continually dying for a relationship, aside from being perpetuated in culture, comes from ye olden days (and ye present days) when women were not able to make money or own property and need/ed relationships for survival.
Anyway, the way Breadcrumbs deals with this is really pretty. Hazel hears all of these messages, but then she listens to her own heart instead and thinks of what she knows of her friend Jack and she believes that. Much of the book, Hazel’s encounters with a world of fairy tales, seems symbolic or even coded as a girl’s journey to trusting her own evaluation of the world and learning to be braver, and thereby more compassionate, from those lessons. I really like that, and it was so fun to picture a little girl reading the book and being scared and inspired with Hazel and the different versions of love she encounters.
But, there is still a future looming over Hazel that made me ambivalent. Hazel is 9 or 10 in the book, and I saw the Miss Representation trailer while I was in the middle of Breadcrumbs. The white witch warns Hazel in the end that someday Jack will grow up and actually reject her, and she won’t always be able to save their relationship. That’s not exactly what she says, but it is what I heard from her message. It made me think of how, when girls are children, they still want to be President, but adolescence takes that away from them: it becomes a boy's job to reject or accept a girl. Will Hazel not be able to save Jack once he is older and rejects her? She will have to just lose her friend and the most supportive person in her life then? Is it only little girls who can be warriors, and then when we grow up the world stops being ours and we are crazy people if we don’t just let our friends walk away from us? On the one hand I loved that the white witch told Hazel that, and that Hazel meditated on it as the book closed, and on the other hand, I hated it. I loved it because it is true: Jack probably will reject her again in the future, and when that happens, will it be worth it to Hazel to go after him again? Maybe not. But I also hated it because it seemed to anticipate that it should not be worth it to Hazel when she grew up.
I don’t know, maybe I have had too much time to dwell on this from not wanting to post a review because I have felt weirdly vulnerable lately and because my thoughts on this book say things about me that make me uncomfortable in my skin. I have never seen a romantic relationship, my own or anyone else’s, that I thought was worth going through what Hazel went through in this book. I’m super sorry, relationship people, because I do love you, and maybe when some dude is struck by lightning in a non-creepy way about me, I will feel differently, but I have never seen a romantic relationship that I, personally, envy. But, I have had plenty of friendships, as a child and as an adult, that I think are worth what Hazel did. And also not. I guess I like that is open ended whether Hazel would do it again, when, as I think the book anticipates, she and Jack fall in love. But it also leaves me with an unsettled feeling that there is no real answer about whether it is objectively worth it to go through all of the forgiveness and rebuilding it takes to remind a friend that they love you and should be nice to you. Life is hard, kids.
So, ultimately, I guess I like that Hazel tells the just-not-into-you people to shove it because their message does not apply to her friendship with Jack. And, I also feel a little tragically about how that message may or may not apply to her in the future – nobody knows. I guess, for Hazel’s sake, I always hope that the Jacks will be worth the sacrifices. Part of the sad thing about the just-not-into-you message is that it is universal enough for that message to become a best-selling book that friends think a romantic-interest dude is not a nice enough person to be worth a girl’s energy. What is up with that?
My mother died the day before my first law school final. Hope Edelman says, in this book, that partway through college she had a weird urge to walk up...moreMy mother died the day before my first law school final. Hope Edelman says, in this book, that partway through college she had a weird urge to walk up to strangers and tell them, “My mother died when I was seventeen,” because she recognized that this fact about herself, this fact that alienated her from the people around her, had become totally definitive about who she was. A girl can’t tell people that her mother died because it brings only fear and pity, it doesn’t solve anything to talk about it. But, at the same time, no one knows you without knowing that you don’t, that you didn’t, have a mother. For the past few months I have had this weird compulsion, too, to walk up to people and just say, “My mother died the day before my first law school final.”
But, what do I mean by that? It sounds like I want to be pathetic or impressive, and I don’t mean either of those things. It sounds like I conquered life that day, or like I lost all hope of being a woman. It is ambivalent and loaded. I know that even talking about reading and reviewing a book that is “self-help,” even if it is about grieving, is loaded, too. It has a pastel cover and a sentimental name, but I kind of appreciate that about the book. It looks like only the fierce of heart, those who can handle reading sentiment without shame, should attempt this book, and I think that’s good. I think I benefited from waiting to read it until I felt like I could really listen to a sentimentally titled book without sneering.
At the same time, I don’t think emotions mature themselves, so I always remind myself that I’m probably not going to get very far sitting back and waiting for mine to suddenly do so. It would be like waiting for myself to spontaneously become a stellar lawyer without ever actually going to law school or reading any books about law. Or, it would be like waiting for myself to spontaneously become a marathon runner. Not all self-help books have anything worthwhile about emotional growth to say, but neither do all legal scholars have anything worthwhile to say about the law or all personal trainers about marathons. I don’t think the gaining-skills-by-doing-nothing strategy works with almost anything, so I’m pretty enthusiastic about smart books about emotions and spirituality. I’m pretty enthusiastic about counseling, too – it’s like getting a massage for the soul.
I’m being really long winded about saying that, while I don’t think every time is the right time to read this book, I do think probably everyone would benefit from reading this book at some point. I wish I had been prepared to read it sooner. The book is directed to women, obviously, but Edelman makes the point that we, women or men, mourn rejection (in whatever form, whether death or emotional or physical abandonment) from our same-sex parent differently than we mourn rejection from our opposite-sex parent, and the book is mostly about that. Even if you have not experienced rejection from a same-sex parent, I think it would still give you perspective on what you gain from that parent that you might not even be aware of. It also might give you perspective on why (at least some of us) women who have lost our mothers act the way we do when we have not known how to mourn.
The book is arguably as sentimental as its title, even just because it is about death and emotions, but it is so smart. Edelman surveys over a hundred women who lost their mothers at various ages, and she tells their stories in an organized, clear layout. She also talks about many famous women, including Virginia Woolf, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Madonna, and how they have reacted to the deaths of their mothers. In addition to hearing and recounting all of these stories, Edelman obviously did some pretty serious research into other studies about women and grief, and about family relationships in general.
For me, much of this book was practically a miracle. If you don’t mind my spoiling what the biggest revelation of the book was for me, I will tell you about it right now. I will not say it as clearly as Edelman, though, so you should still get her take on it, and it’s probably only a small part of the book, even though it was life changing to me. It is that when a mother rejects a daughter, whether she does it intentionally or unintentionally, such as through illness and death, the daughter starts to look for the mother relationship in all of her relationships. One woman in the book described it as a “cocoon,” another described it as “that family feeling,” which is something I have said, at least in my head, a lot. The daughter starts to think that any successful relationship ultimately has that particular form of intimacy – that the intimacy from a mother is successful intimacy.
I literally thought this. I had no idea that, ultimately, all intimacy, all sense of family, isn’t necessarily that feeling of a little daughter with her mother. I had always thought that because my relationships, whether friendships or romances, are not like that, it was like “people, iz doin it rong,” and that once I figured out how to do it right, my relationships would feel like that. I have been jealous of my friends, men or women, who have families (read: friends who have mothers) and their ability to do relationships right, shown just by the fact that they have a mother. And this intensity has created a completely unfair expectation for all of my relationships because then every time I experience rejection, it is the loss of my mom, the loss of my family, all over again. It means that friends living their own lives, not focused on me one hundred percent of the time, translated to rejection, and not just rejection, but also the death of my relationship with my mother all over again. It was basically a miracle to hear that I could treat the loss of that nurturing, cocoon relationship, that mother-child relationship, as a total loss, and not let that loss pile on to every other lost relationship I ever have. It sounds weird, but it is a relief to know it is not failure that no friend ever turns out to be my mom.
*facepalm* I totally love this book.
So, that concludes the review portion of your time, and the rest of this shall be a story with no real reviewing purposes in mind. It is more my experience of being a motherless daughter than a critique of the book. Even though my personal story, like anyone's personal story, is not the same as most other people's, it was really incredible to hear how similar my reaction to losing my mother is to the reactions of other women who lost theirs.
My mom died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, but as far as I am concerned, I lost my mom about twenty years before she actually died. I was six when my family first started listening to meditation tapes from the Foundation of Human Understanding, and when I was eight, we moved to Selma, Oregon, to join what we would later refer to as “The Cult.” Really, most of the diets or clubs or churches my parents joined ended up taking on a cultish quality once my parents got mixed up with them. First, that diet/club/church was the only thing that could save us from certain doom; later, it was evil. The Foundation is basically a Judeo-Christian group that teaches men how to stand up to the domineering women around them. It teaches them how to take the world back from the invidious control of women, and it teaches women how to overcome their natural tendencies toward evil (ya know, Eve, and all that).
This is my recollection of The Cult. If you look on the website, it mostly looks like stuff you’d get out of The Secret, but if you read through the call show questions, there is some stuff about bullying women that is more what I remember. I can’t find it now, but there was this cartoon in their magazine once, which to me symbolized the teachings. The first panel was a tiny woman and a big, strong man. As the panels (maybe six or eight panels) went along, the woman got bigger and stronger, and the man got smaller, until, at the end it was a huge, ugly woman sitting next to a coffin. Anyway, my mom and dad realized that my mom was the source of all evil in our family, and that if my brother and I were to grow up right, we would have to overcome the feminine influences in our lives.
My mom wasn’t allowed to touch us any more around the time that I turned seven. My brother had been nursing, and my mom cut him off from nursing without any weaning process. If I ran to my parents’ room because I had a nightmare, my mom had to put a pillow between herself and me so that she wouldn’t transmit her evil. I was a daddy’s little girl, so I understood that as long as I stayed that way, didn’t touch my mom, married young (it was understood that this would probably be to the cult leader’s grandson), and devoted my life to my children, I would avoid the pit of feminine evil to which I was otherwise susceptible. Years later, when a friend of mine went home early from a sleepover weekend because, she said, my parents never hugged us, my parents realized that still none of us touched each other ever, but it is difficult to change habits.
I am extra-sensitive to anti-feminist propaganda, I know, because of this upbringing. My mom continued to believe for the rest of her life that it was her job to repress any part of her personality that might conflict with my dad, the head of our household. But, I continued to look to my mom for the relationship I had with her when I was very young. I always hoped she would wake up and come back to me, until I realized a few years before she died, during her eight-year-long dying process, that she never would. I set some boundaries about what I could contribute to our relationship, and because my mom couldn’t contribute anything, we lost the façade that our relationship had been. At that time, a friend reprimanded me, saying that she cherished that special mother-child bond with her own kids, and I would regret not maintaining that before my mom died. I thought a lot about that later, and my inability to maintain that connection with my mom haunted me, even though I can’t say I regretted setting the boundaries I did.
From the time I was little and my mom emotionally vacated the family, I got so used to looking for that relationship from her that I also started looking to everyone for it. I thought it was intimacy. Motherless Daughters talks about how people often call motherless women “adoptable,” and this has been true for me. Many families have adopted me, and I love all of them, but I have always thought that I haven’t been able to re-create that specific form of intimacy because of my own emptiness and awkwardness. I knew I loved these people, but I thought it was not the right kind of connection. And, then, when they had to do normal things for their normal lives, which I completely want them to do, it was a betrayal to me that was its own, plus the loss of my mom. When friends would move away, or start a new relationship and get busy, it was a betrayal with emotional intensity far beyond what I actually expected from the relationship. This was true for both friends and romances, both women and men in my life.
So, I’m not totally sure how this mourning thing works, but Edelman says that for her it is like a companion – not in a morbid sense, but in the sense that she continues to be without her mother. I think it’s reassuring to know that when I feel disproportionately intense about some kind of failure or rejection, it could be part of mourning: I could need to step back and re-adjust myself to the losses I’ve had so they don’t get confused with the relationships I am having. I could need to recognize that not every action a dear friend takes for him or herself is a sign that I am a burden to that person and they secretly wish they could reject me. I’m not sure why, but recognizing this about my relationship with my mom makes it easier to accept that people I really care about could care about me, too, even if they are not devastated when I am gone, and that when life pulls us apart, they could feel the loss of me as I feel the loss of them. Each new love does not have to be the sum of all previous loves and rejections. No new love is what I lost from my mother.(less)
I’m at a loss. I honestly don’t know what to tell you all, but this book was . . . good. It was like, good, you know? Like, when you are reading a boo...moreI’m at a loss. I honestly don’t know what to tell you all, but this book was . . . good. It was like, good, you know? Like, when you are reading a book that is mostly about girls looking for penises, but you want to know what happens next? And you don’t even want to throw it across the room a little bit? And then unexpectedly hilarious slapstick comedy ensues, but doesn’t lead to the most boring Scooby Do mystery resolution ever? No? You’ve never had that experience? Me either. It was disorienting. And I’m at a loss as to how to rate this. I mean, I have to give it five stars because I Laughed Out Loud at almost every page, and even though most of the laughter was in a WHAAAAT??? way, I don’t even really think that was unintentional. It was funny. I am going to have to watch Jersey Shore. You are here for a show-changing moment in my life.
To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I’m going to spoiler one of the storylines. Let’s be serious though, once the characters come on stage, pretty early on in the story, you basically know how this storyline is going to go. So, one of the main characters, a kickass aerobics instructor, who took karate all her life, is named Bella Rizzoli. This creepy, asshole, voyeur Abercrombie guy latches onto her and his name is Edward Caldwell. . . . right??? RIGHT???
Yeah, so she kicks his ass in a pretty hilarious (and elaborate) way.
Mostly this book is about a coupla girls hittin’ the beach for the summer looking for some juicy guido gorilla juiceheads. It seems like simple quest, but it turns out life is never that simple. These girls have to work and work out issues with their families and kick the asses of people who have self-loathing body issues.
It’s my impression that people’s problem with reality TV, aside from the troubling voyeuristic aspect of it, is the shallowness of the people who make fools of themselves for our entertainment. That’s fair in some ways. And this book plays to a lot of that shallowness. There is a lot of funny stuff about tanning and shoes and fake eyelashes and cleavage. But, ultimately, I feel like it is a more complex issue than shallowness = bad. I am about to mount an obvious feminist soapbox, so be on alert.
I know we’ve talked about this before, but I have a problem with the idea that the accoutrements of femininity are shallow, while the accoutrements of masculinity are respectable. I think that interest in makeup trivia and interest in sports team trivia is not different, whether the person having the interest is male or female. Maybe it is shallow in the sense that it will not solve world hunger, but very few of the things any of us do every day solve world hunger. And sometimes world hunger needs a break, and we need to chill out and be okay with talking about dumb things we are interested in. So, my point is that even though there is a striking focus on pink fuzzy slippers in this book, that is something that I really like about the book, not something that makes the book itself shallow. Pink fuzzy slippers, cleavage, and four layers of fake eyelashes are a style decision, not a soul-changing decision. You could hate it, and I don’t have a problem with that, because WOW, but it seems unexpectedly shallow to make a judgment about another person’s shallowness based on their eyelashes and slippers.
Anyway, this book addresses both female and male body image, family dynamics, date rape, acceptance and rejection of personal weaknesses, and navigating the different expectations for women and men when it comes to career choices. And, seriously, it does it in this really respectable way. Of course, these girls are not wearing monocles and smoking jackets and explaining tautologies, nor are they having tautologies explained to them. They are mostly partying, scoping out guido gorilla juiceheads, and kicking ass. They are passing the Bechtel test. They are talking like girls talk and being friends to each other. I don’t know if this book went through a genius editing process, or what, but if I saw a high school girl reading this, I would be happy. The writing is not complex. It is more like reading a blog of silly quotes from teenagers, but let's be honest: I would read that kind of blog. It is sparkly, but addresses important issues without apology, equivocation, or lectures. It entertains, and ultimately has some really positive, thoughtful messages. I can’t think of what else I look for in a book.
This book was given to me by the publisher, and while I did promise to review it, I think we can all honestly say we thought I would rip it to shreds. Unexpected bonus for all. (less)
I’ve had all this interaction recently with this particular gentleman who is involved in a couple of restraining orders and requests for no contact. T...moreI’ve had all this interaction recently with this particular gentleman who is involved in a couple of restraining orders and requests for no contact. The ladies who have asked him not to contact them have explained that their requests for no contact are an attempt to set definite boundaries and be clear that disrespectful treatment of them is unacceptable. Since they do not believe it is possible for him to contact them in a respectful manner, they don’t want him to contact them at all. “But,” the gentleman countered, “My boundaries require more contact!” This is so hilarious to me in the way that it points out the difficulties with just setting boundaries and speaking from a self-defining perspective that I think about it all the time. Sometimes, anxious interactions are not as simple as just taking focus off of blame and returning it to self-definition.
I guess, in honor of the holidays, this is sort of a review about a book about getting along with family, aka managing anxiety. I just finished reading The Dance of Intimacy, and I was going to actually review The Dance of Anger (I know, the titles just make my skin crawl, but whatever) because I think Anger is a better book and it seemed like Intimacy was almost the exact same book but not really as good, but it turns out that unbeknownst to me I actually already reviewed Anger a while back. And TONS of overshare! So, you’re welcome. They might actually be equals, and I just read Anger at a point in my life where I felt particularly guilty about self-definition, so it was more meaningful in validating my attempts to self-define. N E Way, I don’t dislike Intimacy, but, you might as well read Anger instead.
The books are about how any relationship we have – and by relationship, I just mean interaction with people, not necessarily romantic relationship – involves a given level of anxiety. And, often, we manage the anxiety either through over-functioning and pursuing or through under-functioning and distancing. Both of those options are reactive to the anxiety in the relationship, rather than self-defining. So, they actually undermine our attempts to understand who we are and be appreciated for that within the relationship and our attempts to understand and appreciate the other person.
The covers and titles of these books are very off-putting to me, but having read them, there is something that is interesting to me in the gendered nature of the books that is expressed in the titles and covers. Lerner approaches psychology and the study of relationships from a clearly feminist perspective, but she acknowledges and explores the idea that women are expected to shoulder the weight of maintaining and growing relationships. She doesn’t beat this idea into the ground, or approach it with outrage, but she takes it into consideration in a really comforting way.
I think acknowledging that is important because I think the imbalance can cause bitterness on either side. If it is unmanly to cultivate intimate relationships and manly to distance, men have to counteract society or wait for a woman (or man who is more comfortable counteracting society) to pursue them in order to have emotionally meaningful relationships. If the burden of pursuing emotional intimacy is on women, women have to counteract society in order to maintain self-definition in relationships. It isn’t fair to either gender. When I’m talking about the gendered expectations, I’m not assuming that any romantic relationship would be heterosexual, and Lerner doesn’t assume that either. I’m more talking about how each individual typically has to overcome their own social conditioning in all of their relationships, than how they have to overcome the other gender’s, if that makes sense. Two homosexual men in a relationship, therefore, would both presumably have a challenge in overcoming a socialized tendency to emotionally distance, particularly if that was emphasized in their families of origin.
Lerner expresses her choice to direct the books to women as an acknowledgment that it is just a reality that women are expected to manage relationships and are more likely to seek help to do so. While both Intimacy and Anger were written over twenty years ago, I think it is unfortunately still accurate to say that remains true today. I’m not trying to be bitter or bitchy about that, and I don’t feel bitter or bitchy about it, it is just unfortunately my experience that it is generally assumed to be masculine to distance and feminine to pursue intimacy.
Mostly, what I’m thinking about the covers and titles, though, is that they are there to catch women who have lost self-definition into some kind of generic Precious Moments of femininity. I’m positive that this is judgey of me, which I’m sorry about, but the aesthetics of them are just so stepford to me. In Intimacy, Lerner tells the story of reading a letter to the editor in Ms. magazine from a woman who explained that she needed to cancel her subscription because it caused her husband too much anxiety for her to read the magazine. I think these covers and titles are the brown paper bag that Lerner used to cloak her really academic analysis of relationships and advice to women to put themselves first in an acceptable cover that evokes the idea of traditional femininity. I mean, not that I think it is unacceptable to be drawn to the covers or titles, they just signal traditional gender roles to me, where the content of the books actually undermine them. I like that a lot. I think it is evocative of the 1950s melodramas, which I love.
In general, I like the substance of the book, and the stories are engaging, but it is pretty repetitive, especially if you have already read Anger. I skimmed a little by the end, to be quite honest. At the same time, it was a good refresher on the importance of acknowledging the actual sources of anxiety. It is pretty easy to say, look at my terrible, under-functioning roommate, all my problems are because of her, or, our family just needs to help little Joey get through his ADD behavior, and not acknowledge the actual sources of anxiety in our lives. Lerner talks a lot about anniversaries that we subconsciously remember – of divorce or illness or other huge stresses – and also how stressful events in our families of origin can be something that we displace onto other parts of our lives in order to manage. Since those are the type of thing I am already blocking, it is nice to have an outside person to remind me to locate the actual source of my anxiety. In sum, I really <3 Lerner, and I want to be like her when I grow up.(less)
This made me think of everything. Every single sweet and sad thing that ever happened. Still, it stayed its own, and I loved these kids like crazy. So...moreThis made me think of everything. Every single sweet and sad thing that ever happened. Still, it stayed its own, and I loved these kids like crazy. So stupid. This stupid book made me cry from the Donkey Waltz all the way till the end. But, it wasn’t a mean book that was setting out just to make me cry – it wasn’t about that at all. It was about how when you are in ninth grade, you see everything sad, and it is probably your fault, or you don’t see any of the sad things, and later, when you realize your blindness, it kills you. It was about how you are wrong, even when you were probably right. I love these sweet kids.
Anything I say sounds so dumb, and I just picture Dinah and Skint reading it, like overhearing your mom tell a neighbor you’re just going through a phase. No dudes, it’s not a phase. Things are just fucked up and it is your fault sometimes, or it is not your fault, but it still is your responsibility, other times. And sometimes none of it is your fault or your responsibility, and that is the worst.
I have this little notebook I started keeping in college, and at the front of it, I wrote, “Things to Remember,” and then I wrote a list of life lessons underneath. I’ll write something there when I think it’s important, though, admittedly, some of them seem dumb now, and some of them are so vague that I actually don’t know what they mean. But, one of the first ones I wrote was “Elizabeth Vogler,” so that I would remember the part in Persona when Elizabeth Vogler watches the monks light themselves on fire. This book made me think of Elizabeth Vogler watching the monks burn. It made me think of Giulietta Masina in La Strada, of Holden Caulfield waking up to loneliness. It made me think of watching my own parents and grandparents die. It made me think of being a kid and never knowing what it was that I did wrong, but always knowing it was something.
I get so hollowed out and cold when I see stories that use rape and death and violence against powerless people to further shallow plotlines about some idiot getting a girlfriend or a simplistic moral lesson about “Doesn’t that suck for me when other people get raped and killed?” This was the opposite of that. This was perfect. It was funny where it should have been funny. I might even say it was hilarious at some parts. It was crushing where life is crushing. It was interstitially crushing in the unspoken and unrecognized. It was ironically crushing in the things that Dinah didn’t see. It was perfect. It made me laugh and then cry, and then laugh and cry at the same time and generally lose control of emotional reaction. Ultimate FoE, but it was both fantastic and excruciating all at once.
I don’t think it is a good idea for everyone to read this book any time, all the time, because there are some trigger issues – the death of a beloved grandma before the book begins, child and elder abuse and neglect. It is all done so delicately, beautifully, respectfully, that I love it all, but those are not issues everyone needs to see at all times in their life, so judge for yourselves about where you are. If it won’t feel too hurtful to you in opening old wounds, it is so beautiful and so worth it.
I am going to do punching at assholes who say this beautiful, beautiful voice should have sounded less unique and more like, I don’t know, the Wall Street Journal, or something. I am going to do Mockingjay-style punching. Dinah and Skint remind me of everybody beautiful, and they also remind me of ninth-grade me. But, they are themselves, too, and so full and vivid as characters that I know I will come back to them like friends tucked into the beautiful, warm coat of this book. I love this stupid beautiful book. Thank you for writing it for me, N. Griffin. Better than a parcel of treats.
___________________________ I received an ARC of this book from a friend at a bookstore, and I did not exchange anything for it.(less)
I do not love being in the desert, but I think I do love reading about other people being in the desert. Is that schadenfreude? I guess I kind of like...moreI do not love being in the desert, but I think I do love reading about other people being in the desert. Is that schadenfreude? I guess I kind of like reading anyone who really has the feel of a setting, and I think Nancy Farmer has that here. This was desolate and full of desert flowers, and just enough mystery and elusive environmental contamination to set the scene for a lovely dystopian world. This was a wonderful, scary, heartwarming, chilling, inspiring story.
While I was reading this, I kept wondering if maybe I was experiencing some of the pleasure other people get from Wither. Like Wither, this one had that genetic-manipulation future, with redesigned geography, and some gadgets, but still a mostly familiar setting. But, this one wasn’t stupid; it was really smart and amazing. It questions science, religion, politics, the nature of friendship, the nature of power.
This book follows the main character, Matt, a clone, through his childhood, as he experiences isolation, torture, rejection, lavish gifts and education, friendship, mentoring, and daring adventures. A lot of books feel like the author thinks her audience is an idiot, so she slooooows the character’s perception of the world down and throws in neon arrows with every reveal. This didn’t feel like that, and it was refreshing to read. Matt was smart, and he caught on to what went on around him quickly, or if he didn’t, it was because he was purposefully, and justifiably ignoring it for emotional preservation. Even if he wouldn’t acknowledge what was happening, Farmer still expected the reader to be in the know. And we were. Most of the time.
Although I have to admit that a couple of times I was like, Wait WHAT??? Ohhhhhh!!!! But, that only made it more fun.
I only have two complaints, having to do with the reductionist political messages I think are here in two places. First, there is a part where the eeeeeevil drug lord, El Patron, (view spoiler)[takes the brains of clone babies and Science inserts them into his brain to help him live longer (hide spoiler)]. That felt like a cheap dig at stem-cell research, to me. The book doesn’t dwell on it or make it a big point, but I feel like that is a complex issue, and it was a simplistic way to address it.
My second complaint is somewhat similar. Many people have complained that the last section of the book feels like an odd tack-on to the rest of the story. I agree to some extent, and I think it could have just as easily been its own book and worked better (like, if House of the Scorpion ended at Tam Lin taking Matt out, and the next book started with him at the oasis). But, I don’t really have a problem with it because, even though it was slower, I still really enjoyed it and all of the characters and the friendships with the boys. The thing I didn’t care for was the reductionist eeeeeevil of the socialist Keepers. That seemed a little easy and silly.
With both of those complaints, I feel like the topics are serious enough that they deserve a more complex characterization. Like, if you characterize your enemy as a moron, doesn’t that in some way reduce you to your enemy’s level and make you a moron, too, just for arguing with a moron? But, especially with new scientific and political problems, I think it benefits both sides of an argument to see the value, or at least the complexity, in an issue.
Anyway, those things didn’t really bother me that much, they were just minor issues. Overall, the story and characters were just wonderful. Cecelia and her bedtime stories, Tam Lin’s spelling, Maria’s Saint Francis, Chacho’s sympathy, Ton-ton’s slow reasoning. I loved them all. This was a really brilliant story. Straight, edge-of-my-seat fun. ________________________ I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for nothing.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I was reading Within a Budding Grove recently, and the copy I have is an older one, the dust jacket worn and ripped in places. I like to read hardcove...moreI was reading Within a Budding Grove recently, and the copy I have is an older one, the dust jacket worn and ripped in places. I like to read hardcovers of books the best, so I can use the dust jacket as a bookmark, and so I feel like the book is solid and less likely to get creased and broken by my reading. But, this copy was delicate, and every time I touched it, I could feel it crumbling in my fingers. The book itself was a beautiful, delicate thing, like the writing and ideas on its page, like the vulnerability of its narrator. My touch was too rough and solid.
I went out and bought supplies, and made a cover for the jacket, and pasted it all back together again, so that the book would be protected from my awkward pawings.
I loaned a hardcover to a friend once, a cheap hardcover of New Moon, even, which I had bought at Target for maybe $6. The friend forgot it was mine, and by the time I discovered it in her house again, the dust jacket was lost and the pages dog-eared. I couldn’t help but feel my friend had beaten up someone I loved. And, clearly, it was an inexpensive copy of a book that is ¾ abysmally boring, but it’s not about which book it is. It is a book. If you can’t be trusted with a book, what can you be trusted with?
Books are a dream of fireplaces and hot chocolate on a snowy day. They are a vision of seeing people as they really are, of understanding what the world is and who we are in it. They are family and love and friendship. Books are small packages that contain all the possibility in the universe. Books are my favorite. And I love the pages and binding and covers as the presence of magic in the physical world.
A book holds the world of a story, but it also holds the world of our reading experiences. For years, I kept the copy of Crime and Punishment that my friend gave me, saying, “Here, I know it is good, but I can’t finish it.” It is and old, broken paperback, and I held it in my hands while I jumped at shadows and knew that at any moment a murrrrdererrrr could sneak up behind me and catch me unawares. I kept that copy of the book, even while I had other copies because the book itself absorbed my experience of reading. Last year, I gave the copy to a younger friend who hadn’t read it, a friend who was the same age I was when I read the book. Giving her my copy of the book was, for me, also giving her that experience from my life. Look at the magic these pages contain: they are Raskolnikov disintegrating at the brutality of life, they are me warily eyeing my friends at a coffee shop because they may have been planning to kill me.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a sweet little picture book about how books are all that matters in life. It is about how these little packages contain something about the essence of who we are and what we experience.
“’Everyone’s story matters,’ said Morris. And all the books agreed.”
This is a lovely book, just as the animated film made from it is lovely. It is the kind of premise I resist, maybe because it sounds too generalized or precious about The Things That Matter, but its execution is really beautiful, and I love it. Books are important. They contain the magic of other worlds and lives and the magic of our experiences living in other worlds and other lives. _________________________________ I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for nothing.(less)
Oh my god, I love this book!! I love histories of women that make me freak out, and this one does that. This gives me goose bump...moreOH MY GOD!
oh my god.
Oh my god, I love this book!! I love histories of women that make me freak out, and this one does that. This gives me goose bumps. The descriptions of the conflict these women felt between wanting to be good girls and realizing that being a good girl means becoming a shell and disappearing are so beautiful and told so well. Povich is brilliant, and it’s clear that she has so much compassion and understanding for women who reacted very differently to the discrimination they all felt.
And look at that cover! That cover alone makes me freak out. AAAAAAAAAHHHHH. I am reduced to inarticulate babbling because of my love for this book. I love you, book! I love you and miss you! Don’t be over, book! I neeeeeed. I think this book is going to have to take out a stalking order against me.
Rather than only inarticulately freaking out, I will tell you something of what this book is about, I guess. It tells the story of the women who worked at Newsweek in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s filing class action lawsuits under the recently passed (1964) Civil Rights Act (Title VII). Mostly, though, it draws out all of this intense humanity from the internal and external conflict surrounding the women’s decision to sue and the reactions from the magazine.
It gets the sentiments from both sides so right, and it is compassionate, while still being direct. Povich starts the story with a few girls working at Newsweek in 2009 and waking up to the discrimination they were experiencing, and then it tracks back to the parallel story of the women in the ‘60s. You never want to hear a story like this told in a way that villainizes one group or another – the women or men or the advocates for racial equality, etc. – and this one so gracefully conveys nuance in the reactions from all sides. Oh my god, how is this story not well-known American folklore???
So, the women at Newsweek ultimately filed two class actions with the EEOC. Their attorneys, a pregnant Eleanor Holmes Norton, and, later, a pregnant Harriet Rabb, kicked negotiation ass. It is so painful to read men saying, “Well, we are trying to not be racist anymore. Isn’t that enough for you?” as though the main consideration of anti-discrimination efforts is to make white men better people. And it is painful to read women disappearing to accommodate society, but Povich tells both of those points of view smartly and compassionately. Of course, though, she includes Eleanor Holmes Norton responding to the men by saying, “The fact that you have two problems [race and sex discrimination] isn’t my concern.” And she also tells of the women she knew advocating for each other’s skills and abilities and truly creating a sense of sisterhood and comradery, once they dropped their mutual suspicion, that is true to my experience of women working together.
Povich is also really interesting about the interplay of race and gender for the black women working at Newsweek. Ultimately, the entire group of black women opted out of the class action because of the tension between advocacy for racial equality and gender equality. As I understand it, there has always been that pressure on black women to be loyal to race above gender, as though they are mutually exclusive. And the sense that white women are complaining about a gilded cage, while the black women experienced a dank, rat-infested torture chamber, overwhelmed any sense of identification with the white women who first thought of the lawsuit. Povich, also, though, very articulately describes Eleanor Holmes Norton’s take on race and gender advocacy, and that was absolutely brilliant to read. Oh my god, read this book.
When I first started law school, I was really surprised by a few of my women professors who were very competitive with women students in my class. I had just come from a male-dominated law firm in which women were relegated to a secretary ghetto, but most of the women in that ghetto were very supportive of each other. The more I thought about it, though, the more the competitiveness made sense to me. These women, becoming professionals in the ‘60s and ‘70s, fought tooth and nail to be where they are today. One of the professors who has been most competitive with me tells this story of how she was first in her class at law school, editor in chief of the law review, got the highest score on her bar exam, and she couldn’t find a job after she graduated because she is a woman. Women are not welcome in society. So disgusting. So, it totally makes sense to me that when society sets it up that there is room for one token woman in a company, you would turn against other women. And it is impossible for me to feel angry at a woman who experienced that kind of discrimination and successfully retained a professional status. That is incredible, and even if it has, at times, resulted in a bad experience for me, it is the discrimination, not the women, that I blame.
Every time I talk to a woman, I hear stories like those in this book. Every woman has these stories, and they are incredible. I love them. I do not, of course, love the way discrimination dehumanizes women, but I do love when it turns us into warriors and when it makes us think of the women who will come after us and hope for a better life for them.
Thank you! Thank you, Lynn Povich, for writing this book! Thank you, women, for living bold lives. Thank you for being good girls, but thank you, also, for giving up that idea for those of us who would come after you. It makes us more willing to give that idea up, too, and stop lying to ourselves about who we are and what we want. Seeing you advocate for yourselves and each other makes me feel like, I, too, can be a real human with a life and a passion. Oh, gush gush. Read this freaking book, women, if you want to hear stories of people like you! Read this freaking book, men, if you want to know about women. People, read this book!
____________ I got a copy of this book from netgalley.(less)
Oh, Kristin Cashore, I would trust you with my life. This series breaks my heart and patches it all back together again. This book was so different fr...moreOh, Kristin Cashore, I would trust you with my life. This series breaks my heart and patches it all back together again. This book was so different from the first two in pace, but somehow, and I say this almost reluctantly, that made the end more meaningful to me. I am all about editing in stories, and for the first half of this book, the redundancies seemed unnecessary and boring. But, I don’t actually think they are now. I think they had some purpose, though I don’t know that I could articulate it for you. I was wrong in what I thought this ending would be, and I’m glad I was wrong. It was so much more brutal than I expected, but more meaningful in that way. Are there more of these? Are you going to write more books for me, Kristin Cashore? I love your people, the evil and the good, the sins of our fathers and frailty of our mothers. I love them.
This story picks up with little Bitterblue, now the queen of her empire. If Graceling borrows somewhat in spirit from Aliens, Katsa is our Ripley and Bitterblue is Newt. And now Newt comes into her own with the responsibility for a nation that was totally fucked by her father, by the lies he told and his control and manipulation. She doesn’t even know how fucked her nation is because after you’ve lived in lies for so long, how does anyone know what the truth is? And is the truth more dangerous that willful ignorance if what you’re ignoring is an abomination? Ugh. Beautiful, awful choices. And forgiveness! And stories! Oh man, beautiful. Just the idea of figuring out how to repair a nation from violence and lies is beautiful.
But, anyway, and Katsa/Ripley has taught Bitterblue/Newt how to fight and protect herself, and where Graceling pointedly tells the story of a woman fighter, a survivor, Bitterblue makes no point of Bitterblue’s completely human, normal ability to defend herself. She just can kick an ass if she needs to, and other times she can’t. Her strength is not a super power, it’s just human power.
This book, in contrast to the first two, felt more high-fantasy to me. It uses the conventions of alternate languages, involved descriptions of coded communication, and a lot of walking (which, to be fair, the walking is in the other two as well. Fantasy, man – bring your Nikes). It is not actually high fantasy, I’m sure, so don’t get all excited if that’s your thing. It is not my thing, but the incorporation of those conventions seemed fun to me, not annoying. It kept enough of a super-hero feel that I tracked.
Now I’m going to talk about where this series really resonates with me. I always think, you know, women are raised that a man on a white horse will come, swoop us up, marry us, and that marriage will magically solve all of our problems. When that doesn’t actually happen, we think, Oh, it’s because if we have children, that will actually solve all of our problems. When having children doesn’t solve all of our problems, we think, Oh, if we run off to an exotic island and have a romantic Eat Pray Love affair, that will solve all of our problems.
I think men are in basically the same position – if he finds the right girl and marries her, she will decorate his house, and always be there with a smile, a hug, and a plate of cookies, and that will solve the problems. Then, when that doesn’t work, it’s basically the same with the children and the affair. But, in the end, we are always left with ourselves. Marriage and children and lovers don’t take us away from ourselves and fix us the way the stories promised.
I love the way the Twilight saga exaggerates those promises to the point of absolute absurdity, but I love even more the way this series exists entirely outside of those promises. This series doesn’t try to deus ex machina our guilts, doubts, and shame away, but it presents characters working through them, living with grief, and learning about their power.
I think it is a second-wave feminism phrase to say a woman is empowered or disempowered, and I’ve been thinking about the use of that word lately because someone I’ve been around a lot routinely uses it. I kind of don’t like the word “empowerment,” I think. It seems somewhat inaccurate to me, even along the lines of the promise that our problems can be magically solved by some kind of social convention. “Marriage didn’t magically solve your problems? Well, then, empowerment will magically solve them.” I don’t think everyone means that when they use the word “empowerment,” just like I don’t think everyone who gets married or has kids thinks that will magically solve their problems, but I think both avenues can lead to that expectation. The idea of empowerment or disempowerment just sounds to me like somehow you can subscribe to something outside of yourself that will magically take away your problems. It indicates that the power wasn't there all along, but if you follow the treasure map right, you'll find the magic problem-solving solution.
But, along those lines, I love the message in this book, like in The Hunger Games series, that we need to discover our own power - that it was there all along, and that life was never about finding a magic that lets us take the easy way out. In Mockingjay, everyone around Katniss reminds her of her power until she recognizes it. Here, similarly, this story is a journey of Bitterblue realizing her power. It is beautiful. It is the work that we all face that is bigger than marriage or children or politics or career. It’s the self that we are left with when the world is on our shoulders and we have no shoulder to lean on ourselves. This story is full of so much hope and so many dreams. I love it. (less)
I think an alternative title for this book could have been something like Women and Love or What Women Mean When They Talk About Love. Something like...moreI think an alternative title for this book could have been something like Women and Love or What Women Mean When They Talk About Love. Something like that. It was so beautiful in this delicate, fine-art way, and I was so surprised at this book’s beauty, that I feel totally inadequate in trying to describe my reaction to it. It is that type of beauty I feel when I think about the improbability of our bodies being alive or of Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel or of microscopic images of snowflakes. There is no way the universe could conspire so delicately for those things to work in such a way that their beauty is not so improbable as to be obscenely contrived, but somehow it does work. It is beautiful.
And now that I’ve compared this book to the Sistine Chapel, there is no way anyone could go into it liking it. It’s like that time this douchey guy told me that Bright Eyes is the new Bob Dylan. I mean, Bright Eyes is not great anyway – talk about being in love with your own mysterious allure – but, compared to Bob Dylan, Mr. Eyes is just embarrassing. So, here I am ruining this book for you like that.
At the same time, after reading this, I understood a lot more why someone would write a book like Olive Kitteridge, using multiple, somewhat unrelated, perspectives strung together by a common theme. While that one just seemed ridiculous, this one soared for me, and I can see how, as an author, you could want to aim for this kind of delicacy in weaving together stories.
I listened to this on audio, and it was like hearing someone describe every way a woman’s love can be beautiful and painful, harsh and delicate. Some books will make me cry, but this book brought me to tears, which is the same thing but more elegant because of this story’s elegance. The reader’s voice was lovely, and the only fault with listening to this on audio was that there was so much I wanted to hear and follow that I know I missed a lot. I usually choose audio books based on the idea that it won’t matter if I space out during the book (because I space out a lot while I’m walking to work and listening to them), so I normally choose a book that I’ve read before or something I don’t think I’ll love that much. I was surprised at how much I loved this one and how much I felt I missed by listening to the audio. It is not a difficult book, but it definitely contains subtlety and passages that I would probably have read over again if I were reading it on the page.
This is not a very exciting review, I think, because it doesn’t contain an exciting story. I have the most wonderful job in the world right now, at which the most amazing things happen, but I can’t talk about it on the internet. And, no, my job is not Fight Club. If I could, I would tell you about how this has probably been the best year of my life so far, and about all of its beauty and fullness, and about how pain is as much a part of the beauty as comfort or wonder are. And I would tell you about the women I have seen and the ways they are with the love in their lives. But, instead, I will just be vague, and say that this book resonated with me both in the year I have had and in the life I have had. It talked about the right things and in the right way.
And, of course, it was about a book, which I imagine is the universal symbol of love.(less)
I hope Tom Wolfe has gotten so laid because of this book. I hope women have put down this book, thrown on some lingerie, and walked over to his apartm...moreI hope Tom Wolfe has gotten so laid because of this book. I hope women have put down this book, thrown on some lingerie, and walked over to his apartment – unless Wolfe is gay, in which case, I hope men have done the lingerie thing. I hope women (or men) invented a time machine to travel back in time and lay young Tom Wolfe because of this book. I hope Tom Wolfe has gotten anybody he’s ever wanted – x-ray, lemon tart, girls with any shade of lipstick imaginable, men with impressive sternocleidomastoid muscles. Anybody! Not that I’m recommending everyone start stalking him. Consent first, of course. But, I wish on Tom Wolfe a lifetime supply of sex and ice cream because of this book. I’m pretty sure he’s gotten it, but just in case, my wish is out there. The idea of writing such a beautiful book kills me. How does it happen? How does someone put something this perfect together? And I don’t even want to know. I just want to read it over and over again, mystery intact.
This book made me scream and gasp and stop, sit, and stare. This is one of the audios I listened to while I walked to work, so the neighborhoods of Eugene had the dubious privilege of waking to my shrieks and hysterical cackling for many mornings in April because of Tom Wolfe. Towards the end, I had to listen in private, so that my sobbing wouldn’t embarrass the neighbors or lead to a meltdown at work. Mixed results.
Wikipedia told me that Wolfe modeled his writing after Thackeray and Dickens. It seems so obvious after you say it, but rather than realizing that, I just kept thinking, I've never read anything like this before. It was something entirely new to me. And it is because it is a book that feels so current and urban, while it clearly has classical structure and the involved plotting of Dickens and Thackeray. When I started, I thought it would probably be too dick-lit for me because it was clearly shaping up to be so hardboiled and because I think of Wolfe being in a whole gaggle of male authors who want to talk about how tough it is to have a penis and be so emotionally unavailable. Boo hoo. I have very little attention for that type of thing. But, this, this. This was wonderful. And it was dick-lit, but it was not in the least self-indulgent. It was even cruel, it looked so hard, and so carefully, at masculinity and cowardice. But, the structure of the plot was like a machine, just in the way that the plots of Thackeray and Dickens are. I could feel the sweat and grease of the writing process on the page, or, rather, hear it in the audio track. This book lives in the foundries of humanity; it is crafted from the fires and steel of the human heart.
For the most part, this book looks at three horrible men and how their egos and senses of puffed-up worthlessness control and destroy their lives. There are a few brilliant recurring themes in the book that I could not love more – the white whale, the Masters of the Universe. This book actually uses He-Man as a recurring metaphor to this beautiful moment where a character, steeped in his own awesomeness yells out in his head, “I have the power!!” So, so, so, so, so, so, so wonderful.
And the courtroom scenes!! Oh, the courtroom scenes. Devastating swoon over those. They made all the hairs on my body stand on end. How can a person describe what happens in a courtroom? Like THIS! This book is what happens in courtrooms. This book is what happens in criminal justice. It got everything just right. The belts and shoelaces, the defendants demanding rights, the defense attorneys running in late because they were in another courtroom, the hot jurors, the underpaid DA. And oh my god, Kramer’s sternocleidomastoid muscles! Remember that?? It made me die laughing every time that came up. I swear to god there is a DA like that in Lane County.
And the part where Martin and Goldberg have to give Sherman his rights. Oh my god. So wonderful.
So, I have nothing insightful to say about this book because . . . just read it. Practically the minute I started reading it, it made me think of a dear friend of mine because of its urban steel and fire, so I will say something about that association because I can clearly only swoon and sigh and flail about when it comes to the book itself. Like the men in this book, there is something strikingly normal about my friend when you first meet him. He is white office shirts, a neat haircut, and clean hands. He is success: a house in the suburbs, two blond children, and a wife who, with a stern hand, makes the family take annual pictures in matching clothes. And then you talk to my friend and find out that he is an evil genius, who has an opinion about everything and a hilarious story about everyone he’s ever met. But, you also know that the suburban thing, the normalcy, is true, too. The layers of his personality include fire and steel, and also funfetti cake, white office shirts, and Kraft singles. I think this book captures something of that kind of layered humanity in Sherman’s office decorum, American aristocratic habits, and bloody knuckles. It shows Kramer’s powerful sternocleidomastoid muscles with his shopping bag and running shoes, Peter’s head in an egg and landing of the white whale, Reverend Bacon’s noble speeches and greedy maneuverings.
I think what I’m trying to say is that it struck me recently, probably at least partly because of this book, that the characteristics we show the world are us, and are not us all the same. None of us are inherently suburban or aristocratic, but our choices to appear those ways reveal something about who we actually are, who we are in the caves and recesses of our souls. Sherman is equally the shallow, self-involved Master of the Universe and the jungle fighter, but he is neither of those. My friend is urban fire and steel, and he is suburban success, and he is neither of those. Wolfe writes the show of humanity in a way that hilariously stages the show, and then digs and hammers into the caves and fiery core of who people are beyond it. Are we the dog trained to fight or the social x-ray in a party hive? The little girl sculpting a rabbit or the little boy commanding an office? Yes and no to all of that. Who we are is something different entirely, but always there, underneath the show - the force behind it. And the way Wolfe builds it all and then tears it all apart - I would never ask so much of a writer, but I am so glad this exists.(less)