How to Be a Woman (CBR8 #30)

I have a feeling my review of Moran’s How to Be a Woman is going to be more a discussion about these types of Feminism 101 books and the backlash they can sometimes bring. Here’s my disclaimer… we all have to start somewhere. And memoirs are inherently going to be the story of a person. This book is that, one woman’s account of how she came to deal with becoming and being a woman in the world she inhabits, today. She writes it honestly, humorously, and with a great deal of heart. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t expecting a masterwork of the next wave of feminism. I was expecting someone to tell me her story, and she did.

“At some point – scarred and exhausted – you either accept that you must become a woman – that you are a woman – or you die. This is the brutal, root truth of adolescence – that it is often a long, painful campaign of attrition.” (10)

So I’m pleased with the book. But, there’s always more to the story. Out there on the interwebs (which I define as anyplace outside of the safety net of CBR and CBR adjacent places) there has been a lot of backlash about this book. And a lot of one star ratings. I can see most of the complaints, but I can’t make myself downgrade my rating of this book.

I feel like this is also a place to mention that the title of this book is not How to Be a Feminist. While Moran’s feminism is front and center to her writing here, the book is not intended to be prescriptive. For every time Moran lays out a “we should do THIS” statement, she’s backtracking and coming at it from another angle just a few pages down the line. Also, it’s an important note that this is a populist feminism she is writing about that concerns itself with the everyday shit women have to endure. She’s not saying that bigger issues like pay inequity and abortion are unimportant, but rather that women need to decide how they feel about the things they encounter in their own lives and run it through a lens of “are the boys being made to put up with this shit?”.

It should also be noted that this book is now five years old. We have had a lot of movement forward in the past five years, but sometimes it feels like we’re still just uncovering the bits that still need to be sorted. Intersectionality? Oh yes, we can and should be doing better. Transgender rights? Well, what’s going on in certain states around the U.S. is definitely a sign of alarm, and we’ll have to continue reckoning with that civil rights issue as we have with the ones which came before. Just getting everyone to agree on the terminology we’re using? Still a battle, every day. (As a friendly reminder, if you believe in equal pay for equal work and an equal choice in what work you take on – you’re a feminist.)

In summary, if you like memoirs and those books which might be classified as Feminism 101, then this book might absolutely be for you. Otherwise, I’m sure you’ll find something which suits you better.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

 

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe (CBR8 #29)

Listen, this is a very good book. It just wasn’t the droid I was looking for. Well, more accurately it was the droid I was looking for, but he brought along his annoying protocol droid buddy who bothered me with information about himself (wow, I think I just made a reference that equates a book about George Lucas to C-3PO… I am such a nerd).

After reading the great reviews of this book by emmalita and narfna, I quickly added it to my library waitlist. After my viewing of The Force Awakens, a book that explored the cultural aspects of a fandom which spread from a galaxy far, far away sounded truly interesting.  This book absolutely delivers on that promise, but I also got an incredibly comprehensive accounting of the life of George Lucas and his creative process. You know what I discovered while reading this book? I don’t give a damn about George Lucas. It’s not something he did (Special Editions not withstanding), but more that I don’t find the man very interesting. His creative mind has brought me some of my favorite things, and some of my most despised (THX 1183 anyone? I just don’t get it). It’s more that I find him dull and his apparent inability to create without suffering, or refusal to create for others, to be a less than satisfactory read.

What I ended up doing was skimming the Lucas-focused chapters, because I actually knew a lot about his personal history and famous friendships which impacted his career (Coppola and Spielberg, notably). But, there were always nuggets of interest in each chapter that I didn’t yet know.

However, this book won me back to singing its praises in its second half. What I discovered, and what author Chris Taylor lays out on the page, is that the time period I was really interested in didn’t truly start until the mid to late 1990s. Ah-ha! Problem solved. Here’s the explosion of fan interest which I grew up with. I wasn’t alive for the first two Star Wars movies, and I never read anything in the Expanded Universe (I know! Novelizations have not been something which was ever really on my radar), but the 501st? Now we’re talking.

But I am only rating this book three stars, compared to higher ratings you’ll see nearly everywhere else. Why? Because while Taylor obviously spent a great deal of time crafting *the* work on the subject, it was just too dense for me and moved too slowly (I probably would have been served waiting to listen to this on audio instead of lunging into it in hardback). You will most likely enjoy this book much more than me, but I suggest thinking through the following criteria: 1. Do you LOVE Star Wars? 2. How much George Lucas is too much George Lucas? And finally, 3. How in the mood are you for a very detailed 400-page book of non-fiction? If you answer those three questions with: 1. SO MUCH, 2. I can stand a lot of Mr. Lucas, and 3. That sounds like the best thing ever, you’ll enjoy this book. I suggest reading it soon, as the secretive nature of the lead up to Episode VII led to a lot of forecasting and “who knows?” from Taylor, and now we do know – so his book is going to start to become dated as the Anthology movies start rolling out this winter.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (CBR8 #28)

One of the benefits of dragooning your friends into doing the Cannonball Read with you is that they are another great source of book recommendations. I’m not sure when exactly Ale suggested The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time to me, but I have a feeling it was sometime around when she read Marcelo in the Real World last year. Both books feature protagonists with Asperger’s Syndrome, and Ale suggests Marcelo to people who enjoyed Curious Incident.

Audible did me a favor with a sale, and the Book Riot Read Harder challenge includes a task this year of reading a book about a main character with a mental illness so this book skyrocketed up the to-read list. I couldn’t be happier about choosing to listen to this book: not only does Jeff Woodman nail the tenor of a teenage boy, which is crucial in dealing with this book, but he is also able to convey the lack of emotional expression typical of those on the autism spectrum while still keeping the listener engaged (although I’m sure a lot of that also has to do with the way Mark Haddon structured his book). Christopher’s frustrations, social anxieties, and logic made perfect sense to me as I proceeded through the work, and that is simply praiseworthy. I don’t really have another way to describe it.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is the story of Fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone who has Asperger’s Syndrome (Asperger’s no longer exists as a separate diagnosis, although it did when the book was published in 2003, so I’m leaving it in my synopsis although now it is considered part of the autism spectrum disorder grouping. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a great resource, and they have really interesting information about the autism spectrum disorder). Christopher doesn’t like to be touched or meet new people, he cannot make small talk. He is a math whiz who loves solving puzzles that have definite answers and uses them to help calm his mind. One night, he observes that the neighbor’s dog has been killed, since it is not moving and has a large garden fork stuck in its body. Christopher knows this is wrong. Christopher decides to investigate in order to find out who killed the dog, but what he discovers will shake the very foundation of his perfectly ordered life.

This is a crisp novel, I listened to it in just over 6 hours, but every little detail – down to the chapter numbers only being prime numbers, informs the mood and the narrative. The conceit of the work, that Christopher is writing his book as an assignment at school to practice his language skills, allows for the reader to sink into Christopher’s mind and see the story from his perspective. But where the meaning gets made is in all the moments that we see ourselves in the other people in Christopher’s narrative – whether it be the ones who help him cope with life in our weird world, or those that make his life more difficult.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

The Cruelest Month (CBR8 #27)

Last year I double cannonballed with the second Inspector Gamache book, A Fatal Grace. It grew naturally from its predecessor, Still Life, and expanded the universe of the Sûreté du Québec and the various residents of Three Pines and its surrounding area in the Eastern Townships. Having decided that I enjoy consuming these books in the time of year in which they are set, I knew that I would be listening to The Cruelest Month this April. I can  report I’m as happy with this series as ever.

In an effort not to spoil the book (which is difficult in the case of Louise Penny’s books as everything is carefully interconnected) I’ll proceed with a quick summary, and then talk about a couple of topics related to the book and call this review done.

The Cruelest Month takes place surrounding the Easter holiday. A group of friends and neighbors (including some favorites from previous books) holds a séance at the old Hadley house, hoping to rid it of the evil spirits that have haunted it, and the village, for decades. One of them ends up dead, apparently of fright. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team from the Sûreté du Québec investigate the old house and the villagers of Three Pines to track the identity of the murderer and the manner of the death. Simultaneous to that, Armand Gamache’s leadership of the investigation of this case forces him to face his personal ghosts of the terrible case which derailed his career and cost him friendships.

Louise Penny’s writing, as delivered by the inestimable Ralph Cosham, is simply sublime. Penny weaves in meditations on life, love, friendship, and hope – all while her characters most base inner motivations are on display. As we are offered view into everyone’s darkest side we are left to wonder at whodunit. I find myself more and more interested in Penny’s writing on the life of the people while the mystery takes a back seat. But that doesn’t mean the Penny writes a poor mystery, the very opposite is true.

The Inspector Gamache books are prime examples of the whodunit detective genre. These books, particularly of the British variety, include murders by unconventional means, bucolic villages, large casts of suspects, red herrings, and a dramatic disclosure of the murderer in the last few pages of the book: checks all around for The Cruelest Month. It also allows the reader time to think through the logic, or lack thereof, of various possibilities and deduce their own conclusions – and in the case of this book we have both the murder in Three Pines, and the growing tension for Gamache surrounding the Arnot case. With all these moving parts coming together Louise Penny delivers a book well worth your time. It is imperative, however, that you start with book one.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

All About Love: New Visions (CBR8 #26 – Half Cannonball!)

I came to All About Love: New Visions via The Shared Shelf group over on Goodreads (its Emma Watson’s Feminist book club). I didn’t read the February selection, but I thought this one, the March selection, sounded like a good idea. Written in 1999, All About Love is a series of interconnected non-fiction essays by bell hooks where she endeavors to explain how our everyday understandings of giving and receiving love often fail us.

I’ll admit, I was left cold in the first few chapters. I feel that’s probably because I’ve already done a lot of work (not that there isn’t always more to do) about not accepting that which is not love, and choosing to live my life in the act of providing love to others, which hooks covers in her first three chapters. Hooks also writes about how the ideals surrounding what love is, and what we accept as love, are established in early childhood. For many, this might be the single most important take away from the book:  that abuse and love cannot coexist. It’s simultaneously a beautiful and heartbreaking statement, and the crux of much that comes after.

The chapters which most affected me most personally were in the middle of the book Chapters 8-10 provided the most moments for me to chew on. Whether it be how research is indicating that small, nuclear, patriarchal family units are unhealthy (I would love to find some follow up research to that idea 15 years out), or how so-called self-help texts of the era really just normalized a certain amount of sexism, I couldn’t help but feel that hooks was continuing to unpack big ideas, but sometimes her authorial voice wavered. When she was on, her voice felt like a revelation. But when her authorial voice is off, when she’s perhaps leaning too heavily on the works of others that have influenced her path of self-actualization, that’s when the book can feel sermon-like, and occasionally hard to swallow.

What I found really profound, and perhaps reaffirming of my own life, is that hooks challenges the prevailing notion that romantic love is the most important love of all. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t cover romantic love, there are a couple chapters which deal with it head on, but this work is about more than partnered love. However, her insights on that topic are also worth having a look at.

 “Few of us enter romantic relationships able to receive love.” (169)

“Love is an act of will – namely, both an intention and action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” (172)

“Wounded hearts turn away from love because they do not want to do the work of healing necessary to sustain and nurture love.” (187)

Being that hooks set up her work to follow love through the process of life, it is natural that her book ends with chapters about loss and destiny. I have suffered the loss of many people in my life, including my father, so the chapters at the end of the book dealing with loss and healing were areas that didn’t resonate as strongly for me, since I was past or had gone through much of what hooks was discussing.

This book was read and reviewed as a part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Say Yes to the Marquess (CBR8 #25)

I knew from my previous outings with Ms. Dare that her Castles Ever After series is all about the quirky and fanciful. The conceit of these novels is that a generous benefactor, the Earl of Lynforth, has bequeathed a series of castles – not just properties – to his nieces and goddaughters is in and of itself a bit kooky. Book two in the series introduces us to Miss Clio Whitmore, inheritor of Twill Castle. She has also been engaged to Piers Brandon, now Marquess of Granville, for eight years. Eight very long years. Following her newfound inheritance, and the deaths of their respective parents, Clio decides to formally break the engagement, stop waiting for Piers to get around to marrying her and being stuck in a marriage to a near stranger (have I mentioned she’s barely seen him in 8 years?), and just be her own person with her own home, and her own business.She just needs to convince Piers brother Rafe to sign the appropriate paperwork. He however is hellbent on getting her to the altar, because that’s what he should do for his brother. Regardless of his own feelings.

This is probably a 3.5 rounded up to a 4-star book for me. The pacing in the beginning was off, Dare’s amusing abandonment of strict historical accuracy just let me brain fill in what time period I wanted (I decided 1870s because why not? Regency doesn’t have to have all the books), and the “I’m too damaged and unlovable to have the woman I want” hit a little too close to home due to some recent events so while I liked the characters of Clio (whose name I made Cleopatra) and Rafe they also exasperated me just a little.  I also spent a lot of time with this expression on my face, particularly whenever the side characters entered the plot and especially when Bruiser had his quizzing glass:

nemo seagulls

But perhaps the most importantly, I am left flummoxed by my library. My beautiful lovely library who always finds me all the books. SOMEONE DECIDED THE FRONT OF THIS BOOK NEEDED A POST IT NOTE ON IT TO PROTECT MY EYES. From what? I don’t know.

dare marquess

Our very own queen of the upvotes, emmalita, says perhaps they are in cahoots with big dressmaking, because of the apparent shoddy workmanship of the dress just *falling* off her body. Also, I’m not upset at the amount of back we’re seeing here, I’m annoyed that a character who is supposed to be on the voluptuous side is on the slim side here. Although at least they remembered she was supposed to be blonde, I never did.

To wrap up:

corgi wrap up gif

I’m not even sorry.

If you like a bit of romantical fluff with good sexy times and witty banter and flat out funny moments, you can’t really go wrong with Dare, but your mileage may vary with this one in particular. Although we’re pretty uniform in a 3.5-5 star rating at the charitable Cannonball Read.

Five Days at Memorial (CBR8 #24)

I have an interest in what happens in worst case scenarios. I find disaster documentaries fascinating. I don’t know what that says about me, but it does mean that books like Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital are up my alley. Following a glowing review from Lollygagger way back in Cannonball Read 6, I added Sheri Fink’s book to my to read list, and then kept pushing it farther down. Because even though this is an area of non-fiction that interests me, you have to be in a certain mood to read about this much death and destruction.

I took my time, spending about six weeks with the book total, and approximately 4 and a half of those in the first section, in which Fink provides a day by day, minute by minute look at what was happening both inside the walls of Memorial, and in the offices of companies and agencies attempting to help evacuate the hospital following the flooding. It is simply harrowing. There are really no other words. However, I had a tough time sinking in to the narrative. Too many names, too many places, and not enough visual aids. I finished part one pretty sure this book was getting no more than three stars.

Then I got started on section two. I blew through those pages over the course of a few nights. Yes, I will admit to some skimming, but I was mostly skimming to get to the next piece of the puzzle that angered, fascinated, or alarmed me. I had seen a review of the book that complained that Fink was too overt in her opinions on the actions of some of the doctors on the fifth and final day at Memorial. I found that the evidence that Fink provided, as compiled by the persons responsible, made it nearly impossible for her narrative to stay entirely neutral. Fink doesn’t editorialize, she isn’t inserting herself into the narrative in any way. She is reporting the facts, and they unfortunately don’t put certain people in a good light.

I found much of the discussion of topics about medical ethics, end of life care, rationing medical care in an emergency, of deciding who should receive treatment first, and who should wait, and the success and failure of various triage systems simply fascinating. And, infuriating. This book jumped up to a four-star book for me because it made me think about the bigger things. I started reading portions out loud to my roommate Ale, who had a similar experience with her latest review, and making her promise that she would support my choices for end of life directive should we ever come to that. We were talking about our reactions to Mary Roach’s book Stiff and donating our bodies to science (we have very intense chats in our house, I’ll miss those when we aren’t roommates anymore).

But perhaps most importantly, Fink puts names to numbers. Numbers are difficult to relate to, and your brain can pass them over. Yes, 54 people died at Memorial in those five days. But many of them didn’t have to, and I’m left with the impression that at least one, was murdered. And his story will stay with me and hopefully keep me paying attention to this larger conversation.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.