Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump's America

Monday, March 12, 2018

Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump's America
Edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding, 2017

Read Harder 2018 - an essay anthology

Premise: Twenty-three powerful, intersectional perspectives on feminism and women in America today.

Last year I tried reading a few books of reactions and essays on the current political situation, and I kept getting bogged down in things I already knew or perspectives I didn't appreciate. This is the book I was waiting for.

I don't agree immediately with every point that every author has to say, and some of them contradict each other. On some level, that is the point.

This is a book that personalizes a broad cross-section of women's experience, including women of every color and creed. Women who are afraid for their healthcare and women who are afraid for their children. Women who work in global health or reproductive rights. Women who face racism, misogyny, or transphobia personally, or try to dismantle it on behalf of others. Women who don't trust any party in the American political system and women who worked wholeheartedly on Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Some personal highlights: Nicole Chung on dealing with her conservative, adoptive family. Kera Bolonik writes about being a Jewish lesbian raising a black son. Sady Doyle on how muddying the lines between mental health and immorality protects abusers. Kate Harding writes a powerful and nuanced piece about racism, sexism, and understanding the complicated relationship between the early women's suffrage movement and abolitionists/early civil rights movement. Cheryl Strayed pours out political heartbreak onto the page like no one else.

For me, the strength of the book was that while I clutched as if to a life-preserver some authors' words that crystallized and spoke to so much of what I have felt, I was also invited to sit with other perspectives. It's intended to make you face what it means to be intersectional, and the last few essays make that crystal clear.

The authors are asking you to see them, to see their individual pains and worries and struggles, and then to stand for a progressive, inclusive future. And if you don't understand every point, every perspective yet, don't blame yourself, but don't give up on being compassionate and able to grow.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Jane, Unlimited

Monday, March 5, 2018

Jane, Unlimited
Kristin Cashore, 2017

Premise: Jane is grieving the loss of her Aunt Magnolia, the woman who raised her. She dropped out of college and doesn't know what to do with her life. Maybe that's why she accepts when an acquaintance invites her to stay at her family's creepy mansion. But eventually she'll have to make a choice.

Wow. This was a very unique book, and very well-written, and intriguing. I didn't love all of it, but I did find it extraordinary and striking.

I have to talk about the plot in order to explain.

The first part of the book is lovely. It's dreamlike. Jane stumbles around the big strange house observing the strange behavior of its various inhabitants. There is clearly something going on. People sneaking around in the dead of night, oblique references and whispers in the walls, none of the family members or friends seem to like each other that much, a dog that won't leave her alone but doesn't like anyone else. Missing artwork, missing people, attraction, confusion, and secrets.

Then Jane is faced with a choice of which mystery to follow up. And the book splits.

The rest of the book is five different endings to the story. Like a choose-your-own-adventure, except in sequence.

I found the first ending particularly unsatisfying because it was much more grounded, turning the dreamlike surrealism into a concrete classic mystery. I liked the more wacky, out-there endings more.

In some endings, Jane acts on her attraction for Ivy. In some, she doesn't. In some, she discovers things about her aunt or other people in the house, and in some, she learns different things. What's both interesting and (at times) frustrating is that the endings build on each other or leave convenient gaps such that all the answers could potentially be true, even as the final outcomes are different in each ending because of Jane's actions. You can see stories that went one way in ending one playing out in the background of other endings, potentially going a different way.

The other fascinating (or gimmicky, pick your perspective) thing is that each ending is in a different genre. Ending three, for example, is horror, and I found it REALLY effectively horrific, so bear that in mind. Ending four (surrealistic sci-fi, where we learn for sure that this book does not take place on our Earth) was probably my favorite, although the fifth (fantasy) is good as well and a nice place to end.

The story up to the split point could potentially go in any of these directions, but they are very different. There's some discussion of multiple worlds theory throughout, implying that each ending is equally valid on some level, based on Jane's choice. It's all about choice and paths, some that you can control and some that you can't.

In the end, I liked this a lot, although the endings didn't quite resolve together enough for me to love it. Even if your choice probably won't lead you to a magic portal or a secret spy ring, every choice counts.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

H is for Hawk

Monday, February 19, 2018

H is for Hawk
Helen Macdonald, 2014

Premise: A memoir about grief, falconry, English history, and a human connection with the natural world.

I was in the mood for something different recently, so I tried out this well-reviewed memoir. It's a fascinating piece, although not (in my opinion) perfect.

After her father's sudden death, the author retreated into her lifelong obsession with birds and raised and trained a young goshawk. The book includes not only the story of her relationship with Mabel throughout a year of grieving and perspectives on modern falconry but also a parallel story of T. H. White's book about training a goshawk, and his relationships with both animals and people.

The writing is beautiful. I can't say that enough.The descriptions are deliciously tangible and her explanations of her emotions are tremendously vivid.

I loved her descriptions and musings on her relationship with her hawk and with the natural world in general. Her complicated feelings about classic writing on falconry were fascinating as well. She acknowledges the classism and sexism that the history of the sport entails, and she both appreciates what those writers had to say and questions their perspectives.

I found what the author herself called the "shadow biography" of T. H. White interesting, but not as compelling as the author's own story. Unfortunately, because life doesn't come with tidy narrative arcs, there was a section about two-thirds of the way through that dragged for me. It just felt as though the book meandered for a while before getting back on track.

In the end, I think the writing is lovely and the subject interesting. The slow formation of theories about the human need for connection with nature and how we read meaning into animals or landscapes or nations was a bit hit or miss for me. I think it worked by the end.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book