Feminist Fight Club (CBR9 #57)

Image result for feminist fight club

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.

Advertisements

A Room of One’s Own (CBR9 #54)

Image result for a room of one's own virginia woolf juliet stevenson

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.

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

Image result for too fat, too slutty, too loud

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)

Image result for unmentionable the victorian lady's guide

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. 

Life Moves Pretty Fast (CBR9 #33)

Image result for life moves pretty fast book

I read a decent amount of non-fiction in my life, so Cannonball Read’s June Book Club book, Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies was right up my alley. I also really enjoy the process, the lore, and the production decisions surrounding Hollywood and the film industry, which is why I decided to skew our non-fiction selections a certain way.

I liked this book fine, but I think Hadley Freeman (while an accomplished writer) had quite a few missteps, which prevented me from rating this anything above three stars. Freeman attempts to explain how the big movies of the 80s (which is a VERY broad starting point) are worthy of study and teach us something. She also discusses the ways in which the process of film production and marketing have changed the quality and type of movies we see. All in 300 pages.

It’s too much. Freeman’s scope prevents her from putting together a detailed looks at her chosen movie subjects, and by adhering to the “lessons taught” subtitle Freeman ends up with chapters which do not argue the point she is trying to make. There are two chapters in particular which drive home the weaknesses of the book to me: the Ghostbusters chapter and the Eddie Murphy chapter.

The Ghostbusters chapter doesn’t actually prove her point in its duration. The lesson that Freeman ascribes to the movie is “How to Be a Man”, which is honestly not even a lesson I think is accurate to the movie in the first place. But Freeman spends time wandering on and on about Top Gun (perhaps the movie she should have built this chapter around) and fails to make even the most basic connection to Ghostbusters and the lesson. In fact, in quoting Bill Murray, Freeman stumbles across the movie’s likely lesson: that friendship which doesn’t depend on misogyny or insecurity is the root of its long term appeal (139). And in a way this leads to her argument of an idealized sort of masculinity that’s neither patrician nor man-boy. Just funny and warm but she doesn’t actually connect the dots.

The other troublesome chapter, to me, is the one about Eddie Murphy. Not because of what she is discussing, the way in which the Hollywood machine functions on tokenism, but the fact that she doesn’t pick a single movie to highlight and even more egregiously, she saves this for the final chapter. If Hadley had structured her book differently, and moved this broader chapter to the beginning and used it to highlight the issues, we see in the other movies she discusses it would have served the book better and made Freeman look more in tune with the critiques she is attempting.

Other random thoughts:

  • Pretty in Pink is NOT BETTER THAN THE BREAKFAST CLUB.
  • The “perfect” aesthetic. Who else missed people looking like people on the big screen?
  • It is still so rare for a movie to be focused on the female gaze.
  • About Dirty Dancing: “It is nothing new for a women’s movie – or book, or TV show – to be dismissed by male film critics as frothy nothingness” (24)We have seen this so recently with Big Little Lies
  • The Princess Bride becomes more than a RomCom because it’s a multilayered look at love, particularly in the story lines of Fezzik and Inigo: good people sometimes do bad things, but are still good, have stories of their own, and are capable of love (49)
  • Woody Allen has always been gross.
  • In When Harry Met Sally, Sally doesn’t perform any of the three usual tasks of women in RomComs – pine desperately for the man, make the man grow up by being a nagging shrew, or be liberated from her frigid bitchiness (95)
  • We cannot bear as a society that each generation being more successful than the last by seeming guarantee is over (Ferris Bueller wouldn’t be made now).
  • We haven’t had a classic womens movie since the 90s: Fried Green Tomatoes and A League of Their Own. The Help doesn’t count since it deals in the whites solving racism trope (171) they have instead been replaced by negative sisterhood movies
  • Parents in teen films have evolved as teens have from someone to be aspired to, to someone to be distanced from, to sentimentalized, but in the 80s good films captured parental figures as flawed, honest people.

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

Filmish: A Graphic Journey through Film (CBR8 #70)

Image result for filmish

I’m a relatively omnivorous reader. I read a little bit of almost everything (high fantasy, horror,  and poetry seem to be my blind spots). A quick survey of my non-fiction shows that I have an interest in movies, film history, and Classic Hollywood. My podcast listening backs that up as well, being as I follow You Must Remember This and Fighting in the War Room. Through one of my  favorite podcast listens, A Storm of Spoilers, I was introduced to Filmish and immediately put it on my to read, even though I have a spotty history with graphic nonfiction, graphic novels, and comics.

I am pleased to report that this book was awesome. Neil was right.

In Filmish, Ross’s cartoon alter ego serves as tour guide for us through cinematic history (a little like The Great Movie ride at Disney), and he introduces us to some of the stranger and more intriguing concepts at work in the movies. In short, we get the history of film through seven topics: The Eye; The Body; Sets & Architecture; Time; Voice & Language; Power & Ideology; and Technology & Technophobia. Each chapter attacks its concept chronologically, using different movies to fully explore an introduction to film theory. Ross uses many movies which are familiar to the non-connoisseur, and peppers in plenty of lesser known, but influential works to add to your to watch list. This is definitely Film Theory 101, but with the great artwork, the full, but not overstuffed pages, and the detailed end notes which suggest further reading and watching, this is truly a great resource for those looking to be entertained, and a learn a little something along the way.

Image result for filmish

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

It Ended Badly (CBR8 #65)

Image result for it ended badly

This book has reviewed several times for the Cannonball Read and is how it ended up on my radar at all (which is how oh so many books end up in front of me). I am a history nerd so a rundown of thirteen historical relationships that did not end well sounded great to me. I have to tell you, I slammed through this book in two sittings.

Quick review: a witty, friendly, informally written but well informed gathering of information that you should absolutely read as a palate cleanser or any other quick read format.

Longer review: All of the above is true, but that doesn’t mean that this book isn’t without its flaws. There are flaws. The tone of this book worked for me perfectly. This is not intended to be a serious historical monograph, this is a longform listicle. AND THAT’S OKAY. Any author who uses parenthetical asides to share personal information about themselves or point out the only time we are likely to feel sympathy for a historical figure is my kind of author. But I understand that this is not for everyone.

The thing that has me rounding this book down to a three star rating instead of the four stars many others have given is that while I was entertained, there were definitely chapters which went on much too long. Looking at you Henry VIII. That’s a well-known tidbit, those two beheadings, we could have moved along. The Nero, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Timothy Dexter, and Edith Wharton chapters were the most interesting to me personally. Eleanor rocks, Nero and Dexter were crazypants, and Wharton just made me sad for her and reminded me I still need to read and/or watch Age of Innocence. You can bet that’s going on our vote for the next Cannonball Read Book Club (voting for Classics with movie/TV adaptations should happen sometime around October 15…)

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