Mockingbird: I Can Explain & Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda (CBR9 #69 & 70)

I had been itching for a while to get my grubby mitts on Chelsea Cain’s eight issue run of Mockingbird. I had been following along with some stellar reviews at Cannonball Read, as well as Chelsea Cain’s experiences with this her first venture into comics via the media. She was nominated from a Best New Writer Eisner for this run but Marvel Corp failed to pass along pertinent information to her about how to attend, etc. this summer and all that happened after rabid so-called fans chased Cain off of Twitter last October because volume 2 of this run, Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda, featured the character wearing a shirt with the same.

As the books’ two Eisner nominations would suggest these are quality work, both from Cain as writer and the amazing roster of artists who put in more than common effort to make for simply stunning visuals.  I have not read many comics, but the style of these from the lettering to the color scheme made them incredibly easy to read while feeling warm and welcoming. That plus Bobbi Morse’s unique sarcastic delivery via Cain made for a treat of a reading experience.

Bobbi is our narrator and shapes the story, setting the tone as it suits her. She can be unreliable and twists her recounting of the events we experience as she wants. But this topsy turvy narration experience is built on strong bedrock of character: this is a series that balanced its deep, introspective look at its lead character with superhero-related ass-kicking and zany-ness, all while not shying away from her personality quirks.

These are genuinely wonderful, clever, and funny comics. This is to my understanding a step to the side of what traditional comics are; the creative teamed played with structure and character in ways that make the series feel fresh and funny, but also expected the reader to be engaged. If you are going to get the full Mockingbird experience you have to pay attention. The issues in Volume 1 can be read in any order, there is a litany of easter eggs hidden in the background art which add layers and meaning to the action on the page. I often stopped and just unpacked the visual banquet waiting for me on each page behind the dialogue bubbles.  While this run is named for her alter ego Mockingbird, this is really a conscious look at Bobbi Morse as a character both beyond and including her super hero identity. She is a woman fighting for her place in the world, and not being quiet about the bullshit she sees around her.

Mockingbird presents its lead as a lens through which to have timely (when is there not a good time?) discussions about gender, toxic masculinity, sex, and love. These subjects become crucial to understanding the way Bobbi thinks and operates as both a woman dealing with her troubled relationships and as a hero in a world that always told her she couldn’t be one. The series is quietly a deeply personal examination of Bobbi while not being afraid to bring the funny (there are mercorgis folks, what more can I say?) but at the end of the day being more than just a quick little jaunt.

All in all it made me miss Adrianne Palicki as Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird on Agents of SHEILD. I feel like she would be the perfect person to play this version of the character, which is pretty close to the one she played on the show.

 

 

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

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Feminist Fight Club (CBR9 #57)

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I feel like I should have so much more to say about this book, having read it while the Weinstein scandal broke wide and the world seems to be reeling from what decades of systematic (and systemic) harassment and sexism create. I recognized myself and my friends in Jessica Bennett and her original Fight Club, I see the value in the techniques and tricks she encapsulated in this book, and I’m encouraged to see so much of what she writes backed up by hard scientific evidence.

However, I am just so exhausted by all of it.

This book is meant to be practicably useful: flip to a section, find the particular problem you are experiencing and read suggestions for how to combat the toxic masculinity and misogyny that surrounds you. What it is not however, after the first section, is a book that is likely meant to be read straight through. Which is what I attempted to do. While the world continued to burn down around us.

I know I’m sounding a bit dramatic and full of hyperbole, but I am feeling that way. I also brought my own particular needs to reading this book. I work in a nearly 100% lady environment, so the sexism I see is more often internalized misogyny – good news is that this book does cover that angle.

The book is full of all kinds of practical tips and explanations about how these scenarios pop up so that you know you aren’t alone or aren’t crazy for seeing them in the world around you. The title says “manual for a sexist workplace” but really, it is a manual for a sexist world. You will experience some of these behaviors no matter who you are or where you work, or where you shop, eat, or visit. The part of the conceit of the book that I liked best is that it offering varying ways of responding. Bennett isn’t telling us that every solution will work each time; nor that every solution is right every time. She instead offers a scale of ways to react.

A small word of caution though, this book often equates being a woman with your reproductive parts. It definitely made me raise an eyebrow on occasion, as it leaves out so many of our sisters in arms.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we want (with a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

Once Upon a Rose (CBR9 #55)

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One sometimes needs a palate cleanser. If that one is me, that is almost always a Romance novel. I am one of the millions of people who read, enjoy, and think about the genre, its tropes, and look forward to the reliability of a happy ending. (With the exception of a few descriptors I am amazingly average Romance reader.)

The world around us is falling apart quicker than we can patch the cracks. Sometimes we need to refuel with a guarantee.

I finished this book almost a week ago and have sat on the review. Why? Well, as I was finishing it up the New York Times, the paper of record, decided that the best idea it had was to let an octogenarian – who has a real strange way of showing “appreciation” for the genre – do a roundup of the Season’s Romance offerings. Emmalita has already covered much of that debacle (as did Book Riot’s Amanda Diehl in a piece you should read), and bless her for it, because I was tempted to nope right out of the article when I realized the first book he mentioned, Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I, was published in 2000. Yes you read that right, a book published 17 years ago lead off the seasonal roundup (look, I really liked that book even with THE ISSUE, but you have got to be kidding me with this).

But I did keep reading, and becoming more and more infuriated by the second class citizen nature of Gottlieb’s article, which showed his great misunderstanding of the state of the genre, and diminished the phenomenal work done by so many. I thought I would have a few things to say to Mr. Gottlieb in my review of the perfectly adequate but not earth shattering Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand, and then move on. BUT THEN I SAW THAT THE NEW YORK TIMES DOUBLED DOWN ON GOTTLIEB’S ARTICLE WITH THEIR RESPONSE FROM THE BOOKS DESK. This time Radhika Jones gets to be dismissive to the Romance reader, pointing out quite clearly for us that a critic has a different role than a fan. Well, color me shocked that the expectation of and reaction to complaints about the choices made by Gottlieb, who Jones calls “a voracious reader of contemporary romance”, as he time after time diminished the agency of women and suppressed the writing of modern authors by instead flaunting half arsed praise on authors a half century dead.  A truly voracious reader of contemporary romance would be familiar with the feminist writing happening, of the brilliance of Courtney Milan, and dare not step to tell me that E.L. James is “no better or worse a writer than most of her compeers”. Are you kidding me? Salman Rushdie and I apparently agree, and I want Mr. Gottlieb to bow at the altar of Lisa Kleypas and say that with a straight fucking face. Hell, one of my most enjoyable reading experiences of the year was a duology written specifically to prove that the idea James was after could actually be well written.

What does all of this have to do with Florand’s book other than the happenstance of being read by me at the same time? Everything. Florand is one of a pack of contemporary Romance writers who is playing with tropes, deconstructing classic story structure, and not being afraid to be light and frothy. She is also doing this while writing well crafted and fully fleshed out characters in evocative settings with more emotional landscape than sexytimes (by the way Mr. Gottlieb, I may prefer to read my smut, but that’s not the reason why I’m reading this genre).

I’ve rated this book 3.5 stars because it does commit one of my least favorite Romancelandia crimes: instalove (seriously, it’s about 30 hours and it read as too fast. All I’m asking for is a few days here, c’mon), but I will be returning to the land of Florand very soon: if only for the pun of giving the rose growing family the last name of Rosier.

 

 

A Room of One’s Own (CBR9 #54)

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I think I keep doing Book Riot’s Read Harder challenges because they do force me to look through my epic list of books to read and get out of my own comfort zone and read with more variety. I have many startling gaps in my reading history, and Virginia Woolf’s entire oeuvre is one.

I have seen or read exactly one of Woolf’s works before reading A Room of One’s Own (Orlando at the Yale School of Drama about 8 years ago while a friend was there). Other than her ties to the Bloomsbury Group and the Dreadnought Hoax and that one play I knew very little. Along came the Read Harder challenge, which included a task to read a book published between 1900 and 1950 and I finally had my excuse to push the audiobook I already owned up the proverbial list.

A Room of One’s Own is a short work: its measurements range from 114 pages, to 40,000 words, to about 4 hours of audio recording by Juliet Stevenson. Nevertheless, it should not be judged by its slight measures, Woolf packs an appraisal on the patriarchal systems that have systematically held women down and back throughout history. I had an “oh shit” moment about half way through as I realized that Woolf has in essence kept the receipts on 300 years of patriarchy and was slamming it all on the table in front of packed auditoriums.

Suffice it to say, I was 100% more invested than I had previously been.

Structurally, Woolf made incredible use of the nature of speech making. Throughout the first sections she is consistently coming back to words and phrases, meant to allow the reader (or in my case, listener) to track her train of thought and build meaning. So many authors attempt to use the stream of consciousness mechanics, which Woolf demonstrates so facilely here but they miss this component – a reader will “hear” your words as if your characters were speaking. If your stream of consciousness does not conform to the rules of speech making the reader will have difficulty with it, as I so often do.

To the content of her speeches and later book, Woolf argues that women can never accomplish anything of their own, or of ‘value’ without the stability and space that “five hundred a year and a room of one’s own” provide. She then traces how very rare, and very recent such a thing was. Travelling mentally between the lack of reason for women to attempt to accumulate wealth before they were allowed to own it outright, the lesser education of girls compared to boys, the denial of access to halls of learning (of herself being turned away at the university library door) and you suddenly see both the world surrounding Woolf in 1928 and the world surrounding ourselves now.

How many of us would gnaw off our own left arm to be able to have space and security to follow our desires, to be able to create? That is the heart of this work.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it as we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

Bad Feminist (CBR9 #51)

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I have read many reviews of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist over the past few years, and I still don’t know if I really understood what I was getting myself into. But that isn’t a bad thing.

At its core, this is a book about Gay coming into herself, and owning exactly who she is, without reservation. She walks the reader through her outlook, her struggles as a woman in the world to live up to being a feminist, or not wanting to be associated with people who create a negative perception for the rest of us. As she puts it, consider her already knocked off the pedestal. But that is only the first (and last) sections of her book. It is many things at once; it is simultaneously chaotic, complex, empathetic, and rational.

The rest of this book, is a series of essays (some previously published), which unpack the racist, misogynistic, and otherwise flawed world we live in which requires people of all genders to find their inner feminist, whether it be a “bad” one or a “good” one. Gay is walking herself and her reader through the various complexities of life in the early 2010s (the book is already a smidge dated, only being published in August of 2014) and asking us, won’t we all allow humanity and complexity to coexist?

Gay uses our common cultural language, pop culture, to illustrate her points. This is not new ground in the world of a thousand think pieces a day on media, but that doesn’t mean it is without value. I was knocked down by the essay which begins with her thoughts on the Hunger Games books and movies, and turns it into a testament to personal suffering and its place in our broken society. I found myself nodding along with her takedowns of Tyler Perry’s oeuvre and The Help – yes, I see those things too.

The main thrust of the book the book is that people are different, messy, and human with essays focused around gender, race, and privilege make it as clear as could be. Some might find it reductive, but I found it embracing to see the world from someone’s perspective that is like mine, but not mine. It was like reading a memoir that was also a course of finding yourself and your rhythm in your 30s.

As with any book you read, it isn’t perfect.  Like anyone else Roxane Gay has things which I do not agree with her about, or do not completely understand her point of view on (no one is turning me around on Gone Girl) but if you haven’t already dived into the world of Roxane Gay, I say come on in, the water is fine.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud (CBR9 #45)

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We are entering the period of time where the cultural upheaval that Hillary Clinton losing the White House will have on our literary intake. Out early is Anne Helen Petersen formerly of The Hairpin and currently of Buzzfeed, who is known for her incisive long reads on culture, celebrity, and feminism. This book literally grows out of her election night response article “This is How Much America Hates Women” where she began grappling with what last year’s election reaffirmed about American society.

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud is the spiritual successor to Trainwreck by Sady Doyle which I reviewed earlier this year.  Doyle’s writing works to make you angry at how we treat women, and how we always have. But the tone of the book isn’t “look at all these terrible things that others have done to women” it is instead, “look at how our societies have been built to bring down women”. It is this distinction, which changes that book from what could have been an angry rant into a well-paced, well-spoken examining of culture. Petersen’s does nearly the same thing, even highlighting the historical relevancy of the type of women she is setting out to discuss and how actions like there’s can be found any time in history that women are pushing against what constitutes “feminine behavior”.   Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud focuses itself on current examples through the frame of unruliness. Unruly women are the type who question, interrogate, and challenge the staus quo.

Petersen highlights ten women from various arenas of public life, and investigates their own personal unruliness. Ranging from Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer (Too Gross), to Madonna (Too Old), and Kim Kardashian (Too Pregnant) Petersen’s trademark incisive cultural commentary is on display from page one. My only true drawback, which is why I have rated this four stars, is that in some ways we don’t have the necessary distance to truly examine some of the phenomena that Petersen is discussing, and at times this book feels rushed – as though the editing process was sacrificed to get it on the shelves so quickly.

Here’s some of my favorite quotes from the book:

Serena Williamson: Too Strong

“Whatever the intent, it was the opposite of what mot of America – and the sporting world in particular – had come to expect as the norm for dealing with issues of race and racism, which is to say, not to deal with it at all.” (6)

Melissa McCarthy: Too Fat

“it’s no coincidence that several of her roles were originally written for men, or mapped onto traditionally “male” genres, lie he buddy cop film, the spy movie, or the ghost-busting narrative – McCarthy’s characters have the confidence and shamelessness of a pompous white male.” (39)

Nicki Minaj: Too Slutty

“… it was also about a celebrity seeing the publicity game for what it is – calling out Grigoriadis’s questions not because they were aggressive, but because the assumptions behind them were reductive, sexist, and purposely incendiary.” (93)

Hillary Clinton: Too Shrill

“Postfeminism was in full and powerful effect: Why think about the overarching significance of sexist attacks on the First Lady, if you’ve been told te goals of feminism have already been achieved? Clinton’s image, like so many signifiers of second-wave feminism, felt like a real drag.” (143)

Jennifer Weiner: Too Loud

“As Weiner’s experience makes clear, part of the difficult, essential work of unruliness is shaking the status quo so thoroughly, so persistently, so loudly, that everyone – even the very women behind the agitation, many of whom have internalized the understandings they fight so tirelessly against – can see their value within it.” (209)

This book is read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it however we want (with a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Unmentionable (CBR9 #37)

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One of the questions I receive most often at my job as a educator at historic sites is “wouldn’t you love to live back then?” For reference, that encompasses a period of time roughly 1820-1920 and the answer is a resounding no. I am all about indoor plumbing, air conditioners, and not being considered property. This book, Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill lays out all the ways life was downright terrible for women life was during that same approximate period.

For most people this would not be considered a beach read. For me it absolutely is. Lumenatrix coined the style of this type of book as “accessible non-fiction”, which I completely agree with and am now stealing. I’ve always thought of it as “non-fiction with a sense of humor” like Mary Roach’s books. Therese Oneill is wonderfully sarcastic and direct in her prose, and the structure of the book is well thought out and easily followed. Oneill moves naturally from one aspect of daily life to the next laying out all the differences for life of women in the firmly upper middle class then to life today.

For me, the best part of this book is the way in which Oneill weaves in primary resources, both visual and print into her narrative. While I already knew much of what Oneill discussed, having access to her resources was a bonus to me. So much so, that I immediately passed it along to Ale since she is researching Victorian ladies and their unmentionables for an upcoming project.

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