mini-review · stuff I read

No One Tells You This: A Memoir by Glynnis MacNicol

36373450Summary from Goodreads:
If the story doesn’t end with marriage or a child, what then?

This question plagued Glynnis MacNicol on the eve of her 40th birthday. Despite a successful career as a writer, and an exciting life in New York City, Glynnis was constantly reminded she had neither of the things the world expected of a woman her age: a partner or a baby. She knew she was supposed to feel bad about this. After all, single women and those without children are often seen as objects of pity, relegated to the sidelines, or indulgent spoiled creatures who think only of themselves.

Glynnis refused to be cast into either of those roles and yet the question remained: What now? There was no good blueprint for how to be a woman alone in the world. She concluded it was time to create one.

Over the course of her fortieth year, which this memoir chronicles, Glynnis embarks on a revealing journey of self-discovery that continually contradicts everything she’d been led to expect. Through the trials of family illness and turmoil, and the thrills of far-flung travel and adventures with men, young and old (and sometimes wearing cowboy hats), she is forced to wrestle with her biggest hopes and fears about love, death, sex, friendship, and loneliness. In doing so, she discovers that holding the power to determine her own fate requires a resilience and courage that no one talks about, and is more rewarding than anyone imagines.

Intimate and timely, No One Tells You This is a fearless reckoning with modern womanhood and an exhilarating adventure that will resonate with anyone determined to live by their own rules.

I missed No One Tells You This when it came out last month. But Rebecca at Book Riot recommended it on the All the Books podcast and then Doree and Kate from the Forever35 podcast had MacNicol on as a guest so I think the universe was telling me to read this book.

And I feel very seen by MacNicol. I turned 40 this year and I’m a reasonably successful, single white lady with no children. I needed that little boost to remember that I was OK and acceptable life choices for me were not limited to the 2.5 WPF Club (go watch The Lizzie Bennet Diaries).

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

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mini-review · stuff I read

Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux

Rioux_cover-TEMP_REV.inddSummary from Goodreads:
Soon after publication on September 30, 1868, Little Women became an enormous bestseller and one of America’s favorite novels. Its popularity quickly spread throughout the world, and the book has become an international classic. When Anne Boyd Rioux read the novel in her twenties, she had a powerful reaction to the story. Through teaching the book, she has seen the same effect on many others.

In Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, Rioux recounts how Louisa May Alcott came to write Little Women, drawing inspiration for it from her own life. Rioux also examines why this tale of family and community ties, set while the Civil War tore America apart, has resonated through later wars, the Depression, and times of changing opportunities for women.

Alcott’s novel has moved generations of women, many of them writers: Simone de Beauvoir, J. K. Rowling, bell hooks, Cynthia Ozick, Jane Smiley, Margo Jefferson, and Ursula K. Le Guin were inspired by Little Women, particularly its portrait of the iconoclastic young writer, Jo. Many have felt, as Anna Quindlen has declared, “Little Women changed my life.”

Today, Rioux sees the novel’s beating heart in Alcott’s portrayal of family resilience and her honest look at the struggles of girls growing into women. In gauging its current status, Rioux shows why Little Women remains a book with such power that people carry its characters and spirit throughout their lives.

Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women turns 150 years old in 2018. There’s a new miniseries out (it’s…OK, given that it was largely shot in England and with English actors who have questionable American accents) and new editions of the book are popping up. Norton is also publishing Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy by Anne Boyd Rioux, which examines how Little Women came to be and why it has such staying power.

This is a lovely overview of Alcott’s life, the publication history of Little Women, and how Alcott’s most famous creation has endured as a beloved work of American literature. Unless we’re talking about the “canon” and then “ugh, girl cooties” which is the basis for almost an entire chapter about why boys don’t/aren’t expected to/can’t read “girl books” even as girls are fully expected to read “boy books.” I spent almost that whole chapter yelling PREACH SISTER at my iPad. Boyd also gets into the many different adaptations to movie and television (my favorite: the 1994 adaptation with Susan Sarandon, don’t @ me).

Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy is out August 21.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

Mary Queen of Scots: A Study in Failure by Jenny Wormald

34957541Summary from Goodreads:
Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, was one of history’s romantically tragic figures. Devious, naïve, often highly principled, beautiful, and sexually voracious, this was a woman who secured the Scottish throne and bolstered the position of the Catholic Church in Scotland. Her endless plotting, including a likely involvement in the murder of her husband Lord Darnley, eventually led to her flight from Scotland and imprisonment by her equally ambitions cousin and fellow queen, Elizabeth of England. And yet when Elizabeth ordered her unpredictable rival and kinswoman to be beheaded in 1587 she did so in resigned frustration rather than as act of political wrath.Was the beheading of a cousin truly necessary? Did Mary, though churlish, petulant, and often disloyal, really deserve to forfeit the compassion of her cousin, a woman who from childhood had been her friend and playmate? Mary’s fate was to be born to supreme power, but she was totally lacking in the political ability to deal with its responsibilities. This was the tragedy that turned her life into a study in failure. The extraordinary story of Mary, which has inspired the great poets, playwrights, and operatic composers of the 19th and 20th centuries, is one of the most colorful and emotionally searing tales of western history, and is here told by a leading specialist of the 16th century.

I was listening to Book Riot’s For Real podcast, when co-host Alice mentioned a biography of Mary Queen of Scots that she particularly liked: Mary Queen of Scots: A Study in Failure.

Check out that subtitle! I had to read it.

Now, this isn’t a very long book, but it is one that requires a lot of the reader. Wormald focuses very narrowly on Mary’s actual performance as Queen regnant and far, far less on the romantic or tragic elements of her life. Along the way, Wormald assumes that the reader has a decent grasp of the history and political situation in Stewart Scotland as well as that of France, Spain, England, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, and the biographies of the major players. If you don’t, well, that’s what Google is for. I really appreciated how Wormald attempted to suss out whether Mary could have actually survived as a ruler in Scotland as Elizabeth I did in England. I enjoyed this book immensely.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy, obviously.

mini-review · stuff I read

90s Bitch: Media, Culture, and the Failed Promise of Gender Equality by Allison Yarrow

34217537Summary from Goodreads:
The close of the 20th century promised a new era of gender equality. However, the iconic women of the 1990s—such as Hillary Clinton, Courtney Love, Roseanne Barr, Marcia Clark, and Anita Hill—earned their places in history not as trailblazers, but as whipping girls of the media. During this decade, American society grew increasingly hostile to women who dared to speak up, challenge power, or defy rigid expectations for female behavior.

Deeply researched yet thoroughly engaging, 90s Bitch untangles the complex history of women in the 1990s, exploring how they were maligned by the media, vilified by popular culture, and objectified in the marketplace. In an age where even a presidential nominee can be derided as a “nasty woman,” it’s clear that the epidemic of casting women as bitches persists. To understand why we must take a long, hard look back at the 1990s—a decade in which female empowerment was twisted into bitchification and exploitation.

Yarrow’s thoughtful, clear-eyed, and timely examination is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand gender politics and how we might end the “bitch epidemic” for the next generation.

I liked 90s Bitch – it’s a good overview of how conservative backlash and media marketing strategies worked against very high profile women in politics (Monica Lewinsky), entertainment (Courtney Love), and crime (Marcia Clark). There are some rough transitions between subjects that I think could have been done better. I also think that some areas could have been fleshed out with more examples – there is a conspicuous absence of Janet Jackson (how can anyone forget her 90s release “Janet”? The “If” video, lordt) and Daria (and there was an easy opportunity when talking about Girl Power and the “self-esteem” remedy, which Daria tackled head-on).

Addendum: this book, while the author tries to cover some culture related to people of color – mostly rap culture/Living Single, and Anita Hill, of course – and LGBTQ+ it is very white and heteronormative, just FYI.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Reading Women · stuff I read

Invisible: How Young Women with Serious Health Issues Navigate Work, Relationships, and the Pressure to Seem Just Fine by Michele Lent Hirsch

Sum33931697mary from Goodreads:
An exploration of women navigating serious health issues at an age where they’re expected to be healthy, dating, having careers and children.

Miriam’s doctor didn’t believe she had breast cancer. She did.

Sophie navigates being the only black scientist in her lab while studying the very disease, HIV, that she hides from her coworkers.

For Victoria, coming out as a transgender woman was less difficult than coming out as bipolar.

Author Michele Lent Hirsch knew she couldn’t be the only woman who’s faced serious health issues at a young age, as well as the resulting effects on her career, her relationships, and her sense of self. What she found while researching Invisible was a surprisingly large and overlooked population with important stories to tell.

Though young women with serious illness tend to be seen as outliers, young female patients are in fact the primary demographic for many illnesses. They are also one of the most ignored groups in our medical system–a system where young women, especially women of color and trans women, are invisible.

And because of expectations about gender and age, young women with health issues must often deal with bias in their careers and personal lives. Not only do they feel pressured to seem perfect and youthful, they also find themselves amid labyrinthine obstacles in a culture that has one narrow idea of womanhood.

Lent Hirsch weaves her own harrowing experiences together with stories from other women, perspectives from sociologists on structural inequality, and insights from neuroscientists on misogyny in health research. She shows how health issues and disabilities amplify what women in general already confront: warped beauty standards, workplace sexism, worries about romantic partners, and mistrust of their own bodies. By shining a light on this hidden demographic, Lent Hirsch explores the challenges that all women face.

This spring is bringing a small crop of books focussed on women’s health and/or marginalized groups’ health. I reviewed Doing Harm a few days ago and Ask Me About My Uterus is also out today (I didn’t get a galley, so I’ll be checking that out later). Today is Invisible‘s turn.

Michele Lent Hirsch used her own experience as a queer woman with chronic pain and illness as a jumping off point to both a) research societal and medical attitudes toward young women with chronic illness and b) interview women all across the spectrum of gender identity/expression and race to give us a taste of what women with chronic illness experience. Chronic illness affects whether or not a woman is able to maintain her personal and professional relationships after symptom onset or diagnosis. It affects whether she can even acquire new relationships. It affects whether she is believed when reporting symptoms.

Invisible is the most intersectional book I’ve ever read. Hirsch has clearly made an effort to create a truly inclusive cohort of female-presenting interview subjects: straight women, gay women, women of color, queer women of color, women who are single, women in relationships, women with children, women without children. A qualitative researcher could take her notes and write a scientific paper about the common themes found in those women’s words. Her information is that good. The only other thing I can say is that the subtitle speaks for itself and this should be required reading for everyone. I think Hirsch could have done more summation or wrote a conclusion to tie all the books’ chapters together. Or perhaps not – maybe we deserve to hit the end of the book and sit there with our thoughts because chronic illness and its effects on women’s lives really has no end or conclusion.

Invisible is out now!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

stuff I read

Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick by Maya Dusenbery

30653955Summary from Goodreads:
In this shocking, hard-hitting expose in the tradition of Naomi Klein and Barbara Ehrenreich, the editorial director of Feministing.com, reveals how gender bias infects every level of medicine and healthcare today—leading to inadequate, inappropriate, and even dangerous treatment that threatens women’s lives and well-being.

Maya Dusenbery brings together scientific and sociological research, interviews with experts within and outside the medical establishment, and personal stories from regular women to provide the first comprehensive, accessible look at how sexism in medicine harms women today. In addition to offering a clear-eyed explanation of the root causes of this insidious and entrenched bias and laying out its effects, she suggests concrete steps we can take to cure it.

As an epidemiologist, one of the first things I learned when starting data analysis was that you always included age (either categorical or a mean and range) and gender in your Table 1, usually in the first two lines. Apparently, Dr. Torner’s list of “best practices” for data analysis is an anomaly. Including gender in one’s analysis or report of results in the medical literature is often ignored. The problem with ignoring gender runs deep into scientific research, from subject recruitment for clinical trials all the way back to the gender of laboratory animals in bench research.

Doing Harm is a deep-dive into decades-long practices in science and medicine that disadvantage women and minorities from the word go. Results from huge clinical trials that enrolled only men (for a really stupid reason) are used in evidence-based medicine and applied across all genders. Laboratory phase-one pharmacology trials using only male animals fail to reveal that a female-based biochemistry will metabolize the drug differently. The imbalance spirals outward into the patient experience. Misogynistic, prejudicial, and paternalistic attitudes by physicians and other care providers are reported through interviews and research reported in the medical literature. There is a persistent and pervasive belief that self-reported symptoms by women and people of color are not to be trusted. Dusenbery gets into the actual published science behind all the bad science and medicine and how the tides are slowly beginning to turn. Very slowly – even when new science is presented, meant to effect practice changes, no one is there making sure every physician or care provider incorporates new findings into their daily practice.

Doing Harm is one of a three-book trifecta coming out March 6 about women’s health and chronic illness. I will review Invisible on March 6. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to acquire a galley of Ask Me About My Uterus so will have to wait until it arrives at the store to check it out.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

#BookishBloggersUnite

#BookishBloggersUnite – Kicking off US Women’s History Month

Hello everyone!

Bookish Bloggers Unite was formed when a group of like-minded writers decided they want to talk about books together.

Sue at Doddy About Books is hosting this week’s tag which is Favourite Women Writers Across Multiple Genres. Pick your favourite genres and tell us about your favourite female authors writing within them (or around them or across them!) Anyone can play – just pop your link in the linky at Sue’s page.

ja cassie drawingClassics

Jane Austen, 5ever. I will never tire of re-reading Austen’s work, from the ridiculousness of her Juvenilia to the beauty of Wentworth’s letter in Persuasion. Even the letters, because I always want to kick Cassandra in the shins for destroying so many letters. There are so many layers to her books I will never find something new on each reading.

Other perennial favorites are Anne Brontë, Charlotte Brontë (sorry, Emily fans – don’t @ me), George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell (oh, North and South, I do love thee, also your adaptation), and Edith Wharton.

PossessionbookjacketLiterary Fiction

This is where I lose my bananas over Possession by A.S. Byatt. It is by far my favorite novel by Byatt. On each reading I am convinced anew that Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte are not merely derivatives of Robert Browning and Christina Rossetti invented for the purposes of the narrative but real poets who actually existed in Victorian England. Possession allows you to time travel, with out actually using the time travel trope by moving brilliantly between the Victorian and late twentieth-century settings. It is a literary mystery hidden within a poetry collection within a love story. All of Byatt’s novels and stories have these deeply textured, rich characters and settings – The Children’s Book, The Virgin in the Garden, Angels and Insects, and so on.

Another favorite lit-fic author is Margaret Atwood. If your only exposure to Atwood is from The Handmaid’s Tale (social dystopia), try the Maddaddam trilogy (environmental dystopia, which didn’t start out with that trilogy name), Alias Grace (ghost story), Hag-Seed (retelling of The Tempest as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series), Bodily Harm (woman trying to keep her life together), or Surfacing (a thriller….perhaps?).

Georgette_HeyerRomance

I can’t mention the romance genre without introducing you to the Grande Dame and Grandmother of the historical romance genre, Georgette Heyer. She is the woman who conjoined the social novel of Jane Austen, with all attendant historical details, to the marriage plot of the twentieth-century. The modern historical romance machine owes its existence to the woman who gave us the Duke of Avon (think the Vicomte de Valmont from Dangerous Liaisons but not a jerk and also English) in These Old Shades. Start with Venetia (Regency) or The Convenient Marriage (Georgian) and if you can get the audiobooks read by Richard Armitage (aka Thorin Oakenshield and John Thorton), do that.

I have a laundry-list of authors who I auto-buy in the romance genre: Eloisa James, Tessa Dare, Sarah MacLean, Maya Rodale, Cat Sebastian, Alisha Rai, Alyssa Cole, and Elizabeth Hoyt. Probably more. The Nook account, it explodeth with goodness.

Agatha_ChristieMystery

Y’all, I do not need to explain Agatha Christie to you. Some of her books don’t age as well (I forget that some of the plots turn on some casual racism and then I am that literal grimace face emoji) but the brilliance of plots like Murder on the Orient Express4:50 from PaddingtonAnd Then There Were None, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd can never be equaled. Now, if you like Christie novels, and want to stay with a contemporaneous writer but want sleuths with more flaws, I recommend Dorothy Sayers, creator of the shell-shocked Lord Peter Wimsey (The Nine Tailors will give you a mini-education in the uniquely English art of change-ringing) and mystery writer Harriet Vane (Gaudy Night contains a capsule portrait of a women’s college at Oxford in the 1930s).

Some of my favorite modern mystery writers are Tasha Alexander, Laurie R. King, and P.D. James (who I share a birthday with).

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Have you met Ann Leckie? Check out Ancillary Justice, the revenge plot of a massive starship AI now contained with in a single, fragile humanoid body. This is an genre where I’m a little light on “favorites” because I own loads of SFF books….but just haven’t read them. Or I’ve read one book from an author, but not any others. Project Overdue Reads, you are being paged.

22710140Comics

Dana Simpson burst into my reading lineup last year with her Phoebe and Her Unicorn webcomic series. You can start with the first actual OGN, The Magic Storm, but I totally recommend just going back to the beginning – they read VERY fast. Other favorite writers/illustrators include Lucy Knisley and Sarah Andersen.

A favorite writer of comics is G. Willow Wilson, creator of the awesome Ms. Marvel series, and I will read anything she writes. A favorite illustrator I’ve followed from series to series is Fiona Staples.

Non-fiction

Because this post is getting very long, I’m going to do a quick round-up of favorite non-fiction writers spanning memoir, humor, personal essay, science, and women’s studies.

Roxane Gay – Bad Feminist is a warm-up for the most wrenching book I have ever read, Hunger
Jenny Lawson – be prepared to laugh forever with Jenny as she uses her droll and dry humor to discuss everything from her mental health to her fascination with taxidermied rodents dressed in people clothes
Sarah Vowell – Assassination Vacation is one of my favorite road-trip audiobooks
Alison Weir (her history, I’m not the biggest fan of her novels) – Tudors forever, though I really love her book about Eleanor of Aquitaine
Terry Tempest Williams – When Women Were Birds always
Mary Roach – you want this book about the science of sex, you are welcome

And that’s it for this week! Kick off Women’s History Month with some of your favorite authors.

mini-review · Reading Diversely · Reading Women · stuff I read

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins

35069544Summary from Goodreads:
From one of the fiercest critics writing today, Morgan Jerkins’ highly-anticipated collection of linked essays interweaves her incisive commentary on pop culture, feminism, black history, misogyny, and racism with her own experiences to confront the very real challenges of being a black woman today—perfect for fans of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists.

Morgan Jerkins is only in her twenties, but she has already established herself as an insightful, brutally honest writer who isn’t afraid of tackling tough, controversial subjects. In This Will Be My Undoing, she takes on perhaps one of the most provocative contemporary topics: What does it mean to “be”—to live as, to exist as—a black woman today? This is a book about black women, but it’s necessary reading for all Americans.

I was super excited to see that Morgan Jerkins had an essay collection coming out. I’ve really liked her writing that I’ve read in various publications.  I won’t be able to do my reading of her writing justice, but I’ll try.

This Will Be My Undoing is Required Reading for everyone. Jerkins may be writing as a black woman to other black women, but the rest of us are privileged to see her thought processes. She writes about the politics of black hair, black women’s sexuality and how that sexuality is policed, the portrayal of Michelle Obama by the media, dating, and color-blind racism. It was really interesting to be read Jerkins’s thoughts on love, dating, and sex as I was also reading The Wedding DateHaven, and A Princess in Theory (out 2/27, review to come), three pro-black women, consent-positive, romances written by black women. The juxtaposition of what black women want and deserve to have with Jerkins’s experiences as a black woman and a black girl and her reading of how black women’s and girls’ sexuality are policed was just mind-blowing. A few of the early chapters have maybe rough starts where it takes a bit for the form and the subject to gel, but by the time Jerkins hits “Who Will Write Us?” she is absolutely firing on all cylinders. I really look forward to everything else she’s going to write. So glad this got picked up by the BN Discover program.

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley of this book we received at the store.