I was telling a friend when I sat down to write this review that I was having a tough time finding my way in. When I reviewed Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill, I was able to talk about him as part of the review, since he put himself on the page as part of the writing, and that was my way in to getting my thoughts down. That book was about both the harassment and abuse of women by men in power and the efforts undertaken to stop Farrow’s reporting and the women who were speaking out. In She Said Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey document the events leading up to their reporting of the same issues, but they leave themselves off the page. I found myself struggling to find a place to start my draft.
Which, while I enjoyed the reading of Catch and Kill more, it is a strength of She Said that Twohey and Kantor are off the page. In this book we are laser-focused on the journalistic process surrounding the ways staff at the New York Times had broken down how to find the hidden proof of sexual harassment. Building off the work of other teams at the paper Kantor and Twohey focus on uncovering the paper trail of non-disclosure agreements as a way to tell the victims stories when they are under legal orders not to. What I found most impactful in this one was the exploration of the kinds of requirements that these NDAs have, how there is little to no oversight of them, and just how broken our system is when it comes to providing information that would keep people safe from harassment and abuse. It was one of those things that I knew in my bones, but not one whose details were clear to me.
Like Catch and Kill this book extends past Weinstein – this time into the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanagh (I was dumbfounded honestly that this was 18 months ago already) and the fight to get McDonalds to provide employees with methods to report harassment. But unlike in Farrow’s book, Twohey and Kantor bring it back around in a more holistic way, ending their book with a group meeting with many of their sources throughout the investigative work. The women share amongst themselves; they are able in perhaps previously unavailable ways to know they aren’t alone, and we are included in that conversation, and in that mindset – we aren’t alone, but there’s a hell of a long way to go.
Apparently incoming global pandemics make concentrating on reading tough for your friendly book club maven. Other than Station Eleven I didn’t finish another book for three weeks. But now that we’re in the “ordered to stay home by my governor” phase I’ve apparently settled in and am ready to return to a semi-normal schedule. So, as the anxiety fog begins to thin, I remembered that I had intended to read and review The Ultimate Pi Day Party by Jackie Lau for Pi Day on the 14th. I missed that goal, but its still March so I’m claiming the win.
This is my first full length Lau, having previously read her novella series Holidays with the Wongs. This one reminds me most of A Second Chance Road Trip for Christmas which while really good was my least favorite of the four novellas. Lau sets up her leads with emotional baggage that is relatable to the reader and also matched to each other.
Sarah has defied her mother’s hopes and moved to the big city of Toronto (it was strange to read another book namedropping the same streets as Station Eleven so soon) and opened her own pie shop, Happy as Pie, in the Baldwin Street neighborhood. The store is doing well, and she’s hoping to expand into catering and possibly a second location down the line. Into her store walks Josh, CEO of a tech company his father sees no value in and number 19 on a list of Toronto’s 35 most eligible bachelors under 35. There are sparks which must be navigated with the fact that Josh has hired Sarah to cater a party at his house. Lau handles this all so well, Sarah and Josh each have a history of not dating, each has professional goals and focuses, each has a parent they are struggling with. The parts of Pi Day that worked best for me were the parts where Sarah and Josh were being dumb about their feelings, figuring out how to maneuver wanting to be in a relationship with no practical skills other than kindness.
As I’ve mentioned before I am often dumb about my emotions, so those plots and characterizations almost always ring true for me. I enjoyed reading along as two people were dumb about their feelings, got less dumb about those feelings but at different rates, and then finally stopped being completely dumb about their feelings for each other.But that isn’t all that’s happening in this book as Lau unpacks some bigger emotional problems. In Pi Day its parental issues, specifically parents who have either intentionally or unintentionally withheld approval to their kids. Josh’s dad is the one intentionally withholding from his son following a mistake in his teenage years and its damaged him emotionally in ways he is only just beginning to reckon with. Josh’s personal history opens the book up to important conversations about consent, safe sex, and abortion. Unfortunately, I had trouble with Lau’s pacing around Josh’s backstory – I wish she had given herself some additional real estate in the time immediately before and after the titular Pi Party. Or that literally anyone had mentioned Josh’s mom to him as a counterpoint to his father. But this is still a good book, and you should be reading Lau.
This is my third reading of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. It is one off my favorite books of the past few years, a book that I find to be nearly perfect. This reread was for Cannonball Read’s Book Club where we’re revisiting our first even book. It is also an extremely prescient time to be reading a book about a global pandemic, but I’m glad that Covid-19 isn’t nearly as devastating as the Georgian Flu.
What I was struck with this time through was how Mandel structured the pass-offs between characters. On my first read through I remember being thrown off by how Mandel wove the story so that she pump-faked me time and again, catching me off balance by where or when the story was going next. I loved it then, but it wasn’t the experience I had this time. Mandel doesn’t equally balance our time with characters or settings in Station Eleven, and it creates a beautiful eerie quality to the book. But its skillfully done, this time through I could see the details of each pass-off, each time she sent us down a new road, each careful construction to open the story even further, to dig in just a little deeper. The story is full of tension because you never know when you’re going to see a character again and if perhaps their storyline has reached the end, and while the last two times through that made me sad, this time it made me cherish the moments with each character just a little more.
The book is full of visual cues and references, from the items from Arthur’s (and Miranda’s) life that make their way out into the post-flu world, to the art described in the book-within-the-book Station Eleven that Miranda creates, to the beautiful descriptions of the world the characters are in, how nature takes back over, what true devastation and collapse look like, to the world that they lost, that we are very much still in.
I really love this book, and I hope you’ve read it and love it to. Don’t be afraid to read it now, but maybe check in with yourself first, just to be sure.