Last Five Books

You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero

(self-help that helps. empowering. insightful. the joy and effectiveness of mantras.)

I Hate Everyone, Except You by Clinton Kelly

(memoir about awkwardness. hilariously narrated by Kelly. laugh out loud, no-fuss anecdotes.)

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

(memory. family. passion. space opera. measured & lyrical. beautifully written prose.)

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life: Essays by Samantha Irby

(wonderfully written, very personal essays. hilarious. real. gasp-out-loud essays that leave you blushing the next day because they’re so raw and right on.)

Thug Kitchen 101: Fast as Fuck

(vegan cookbook. scrumptious carbs. shockingly delicious cheese made with potatoes. lots of swearing.)

 

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Feeling Itchy! Exploring Feminisms’ Seven Year Anniversary!

It’s the 7 Year Anniversary of Exploring Feminisms!

Thanks so much to everyone to has liked, commented and followed over the past seven years.  I hope that you’ve enjoyed, or at least found some value in what you’ve read.  My aim is to reflect, analyze and continue to learn for at least the next seven.

To celebrate, here’s a picture of Wilma striking a fabulous pose:

wilma-fabulous

Exploring Feminisms’ Best Books Read During 2016

  1. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman (2016) by Lindy West

There are few times where I say, this book is wonderfully amazing and should be required reading for everyone, but this is one of those few times.  This smart, deeply insightful, so, so personal and extremely well narrated (by the author if you listen to audio, simply fabulous) book illuminates the raw feelings of another person, leaving you to examine your own preconceived notions concerning the bodies of those around you.

2. You’ll Grow Out of It (2016) by Jessi Klein

A fantastic piece of non-fiction, and yet again, the audio was narrated so perfectly and with such wit and precise inflection, I heard her voice speaking to me inside my own brain.  Her voice literally started to narrate my thoughts as if I was Fred Savage in the Wonder Years.

Audio aside, Klein, this complete stranger out of nowhere, makes her life so accessible and identifiable to the life of a 30-something middle-class woman who dates, works and maybe one day gets married, that you are in a constant state of saying, “me, too!”  One of the most striking threads throughout the book was how incredibly funny she was without trying to be funny.  She has an innate talent to make a point of the obvious that also simultaneously hilarious.  I can’t wait for her next book.

3. A Natural History of Hell: Stories (2016) by Jeffrey Ford

It’s mind-boggling to me that Jeffrey Ford isn’t a household name in horror along with your Joe Hills, Stephen Kings or Shirley Jacksons.  His short stories are surprisingly original, eerie, and thoroughly penetrate the psyche during the dark parts of the day.  Some stories include that of an evil angel set in a desolate and isolating backdrop, a reanimated skeleton with a will of its own, and a devilishly quirky examination of clergymen as saint or sinner.  A Natural History of Hell is a collection that you check out from your library for the first story, then purchase for the rest as you’ll no doubt need it close at hand when describing the stories to friends or family over the hot stuff.

4. Oh She Glows Everyday: Quick and Simply Satisfying Plant-Based Recipes  (2016) by Angela Liddon

Her sequel to the first cookbook, Oh She Glows (2014), is of the same ilk of easy to make and delicious vegetarian and vegan-friendly recipes.  One of the many to die for recipes–vegan mac and peas.  The dairy-free cheese is confusingly delicious because it’s made with whole foods such as potatoes and carrots, but somehow the end result tastes like melty dairy cheese. Liddon’s recipes are simple but excitingly different (no crust of bread with iceberg lettuce and an ice cube, here), and you should just probably buy it.

5. We Should All Be Feminists (2014) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

You really have no excuse not to read this book, it’s like, fifty pages long, and the pages themselves are small.  During this transcript from a 2012 TEDx talk, Adichie ruminates about growing up in Nigeria and the sexism that she has faced due to its cultural norms.  However, as you flip from page to page, you quickly realize that “its cultural norms” aren’t indicative of Nigeria, but of the planet.  Her experiences are universal, and if I were ever to say that women are linked via one particular aspect, its by the discrimination we experience based on gender. Adichie, through concrete examples in her own life, so beautifully and succinctly in this teeny tome argues that sexism against women is thorough, and it affects both men and women alike.  If you’re reading this, please read that book.  Especially if you’re a man.  Or if you voted for Trump.  I have an extra copy at home, just ask.

6. My Best Friend’s Exorcism (2016) by Grady Hendrix

I was lucky enough to interview Grady Hendrix before its publication and has been described as “Heathers meets the Exorcist,” which is true in a general outline kind of way, an affluent high school and a group of girls with a possession thrown in, but it’s more meaty than a simple Heathers plot (no dis to the movie Heathers, Heathers is sublime).  Here, we’re privy to the internal workings of high school friendship with all its platonic intense intimacy as expressed through the terrifying sojourn into adulthood.  The culture of the 1980s background and how Hendrix recollects the time period is terrifically precise, sending you flying back in time to recall your own days of Aquanet and sweet Cherry Pie (get it, Warrant?  Maybe a little Quiet Riot?).

7. When Breath Becomes Air (2016) by Paul Kalanithi

Published posthumously by his wife after being diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer, New York based neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi writes a terse but oh so weighty recollection of his life, specifically as a lover of the arts by examining the work of writers and scholars, seeking the secrets of life, death, virtue and morality.  At times this book breaks your heart (especially when Paul’s wife Lucy finishes the last chapter after his passing), encouraging you to reflect on your own relationships, values, life, and how you, or if you, consider your death and if you will do that with grace. Paul makes a compelling case for grace, and though most of us may not so concretely meditate on our own passing, his call to action for a life well lived is what readers will most certainly take away.

8. My Life on the Road (2015) by Gloria Steinem

What can you say about Gloria Steinem that hasn’t already been said?  The book is a fascinating recollection of the tales and trials of a life-long nomad, beginning with her childhood.  She recounts her life as an organizer, an activist, a receiver of love, friendship, aggravation, struggle and hope.  In Shrill, West tells you how she feels, and if you’re worth a damn, you listen.  In My Life on the Road, Gloria talks about the importance of listening to those around you, ever changing, ever growing.  She gives a damn and she empowers you to as well.

9. Wishful Drinking (2008) by Carrie Fisher

Due to the magnificence of technology in 2017, shortly after Debbie Reynolds passed I downloaded the audiobook of Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher immediately and for free (thanks library!).  It’s a shitty thing, but I didn’t have the urge to read Carrie Fisher’s books until she died, justifying, I’m not a Star Wars fan.  The real shame is that it wasn’t until after her death that I realized how completely bad ass she is.  You can knock the book out in a day, so it’s a good primer on Fisher if you know very little about her.  Plus, she narrates her memoirs so you get that perfectly timed and felt inflection.  The book is comprised of brief anecdotes about her life relayed with the honesty, humor and incredulity that is (was) her life.

10. 99 Coffins (2007) by David Wellington

99 Coffins is the second in Wellington’s Vampire series and given the somewhat comical book jacket, there’s much more lurking behind the cover.  Though I didn’t read the first in the series, I was able to catch up quickly with the plot.  We’re set up with a run of the mill contemporary horror story: protagonist and state trooper Laura Caxton is hunting vampires.  Wellington then expands the narrative by inserting historical fiction, the Civil War, alternating narratives, and an enchanting world where humans accept that vampires exist and that they are a bloody thirsty nuisance that needs to be checked.  The novel is story based, teasing out the lives and therefore the motivations of the lead characters, as opposed to gratuitous violence as the book cover would suggest.  The book is light, fun, thoroughly well-written and if you’re looking for a different sort of beach read, this is your gal.  Highly recommended on audio, the narrator is wonderful.

Some Thoughts Inspired by Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West

When I like a book so much, I run into the age-old problem of not being able to put into words shrilljust how much I like it, besides saying, “I liked it so much!”  The only way it can be described is that the book is just so full of goodness and truth (observations into her own life regarding body image, judgement, harassment, everyday sexism, being a crazy person in relationships, all of which 100% mirror my own) that a summary would only fail to capture the feelings, the right ons, the “yes, I feel that way, toos!”

Here is just a nibble of what provoked my imagination:

  • Shaming others does nothing to inspire change; it creates stagnation.
  • Marching in an anti-Trump rally this weekend in Chicago, we chanted, “My Body, My Choice.”  After reading West’s book, this took on an entirely new meaning.  “My body” doesn’t limit itself to reproductive rights, but the “body” itself.  Your choice to embrace your body: an aging body, an any-sized body, a disabled body, a tall body, an acne filled body (check and check).  In total, it’s no one’s business what the fuck you look like, and we need to stop judging each others bodies because we don’t want people judging our own.
  • This book is laugh out loud funny.  Like, really funny.  We all need post-election moments of distraction, and this made me laugh for the first time in a looong time.
  • Commenting on people’s weight out of “concern” is fat shaming.  You’re not concerned, their body sizes don’t conform to your idea of beauty, and that makes you feel weird.
  • West talks a lot about “being fat,” and this flooded me with several insights into my own life:
    • I have judged others.
    • I have been extremely insensitive to those with body types larger than mine (“I look so fat today!” I’m a size 8.  To myself: gurl, please.  And no, shhhhh…).
    • The talk surrounding weight is a sticky, icky trap.  Especially in the workplace, talking about others weight is one of the most pervasive:
      • “Wow, she looks like she’s lost weight!”
      • “I don’t remember her being so big.”
      • “Did you lose weight?”
      • “You look so skinny!”
      • “Your desk looks like a buffet!” (Hey, I like variety.)

These sentiments are made on a daily basis, and they are damaging.  So on the days where you don’t “compliment” me on my weight, do I look “fat,” also meaning, bad?  When she looks like, “she’s lost weight,” does that make her more beautiful now?

  • Probably one of the most genius quotes in literature to date:

    “…when you hit puberty you don’t magically blossom into a woman…only now once a month hot brown blood just glops and glops out of your private area like a broken Slurpee machine.”

  • Hearing her encounters with male comics, their subsequent minion trolls and their relentless defense of rape culture, sexism and racism made me feel incredibly despondent and also gave me so much respect for her and those who aim to disrupt the status quo.  Calling out sexism, for example, is extremely daunting because it’s a constant uphill battle because it challenges the very fabric on which our culture is built upon, and when people are faced with change, or an accusation that they are upholding inequality, oftentimes they’d rather push you in front of a bus than work through their shit.  And I get it, in a “post-Trump world,” I’m dealing with my own issues of being a crappy feminist to a lot of other women.  The growing pains suck, but are necessary.
  • I listened to the audiobook and the woman has the voice of an angel.  All we need to do is pair her buttery voice (insert Linda Richman here, “it’s like buttah!” with Milton’s Paradise Lost and I’d fall asleep like a damn baby in about five seconds.

My one complaint: that the book had to end and I hope she writes another.  Soon.

Readalikes:
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Meaty: Essays by Samantha Irby
Yes, Please! by Amy Poehler
You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson
You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein

Feminist Short Stories: Horror & Sci-Fi (Part 2)

Spotlight on Five Feminist-Minded Short Stories with Elements of Horror & Sci-Fi

Joyce Carol Oates once so perfectly wrote, “One criterion for horror fiction is that we are compelled to read it swiftly, with a rising sense of dread, and so total a suspension of ordinary skepticism, we inhabit the material without question and virtually as its protagonist: we can see no way out except to go forward.”  This quote perfectly encapsulates why so many love the horror genre; it transports its reader to another world where one can observe, and be an entirely new entity, whether person, monster, witch, or troll.  When you combine horror with the feminist short story, you enter a whole new realm that’s even more terrifying than any Pinhead from Hellraiser or Damien from the Omen.  The horror delves into reality, where much can be hidden beneath the facade of such vanities as a life of wealth, the perfect marriage, or an idyllic community.

The tales below are a sampling of five feminist short stories that do indeed leave us with a “rising sense of dread” because sometimes, the horror is too personal.

tananarivedueghostsummerThe Lake
Tananarive Due

The Lake is the introductory story in novel and non-fiction writer Tananarive Due’s first collection of short stories.  After reading a positive write-up in a library review journal, I immediately purchased Ghost Summer for the library in which I work.  After reading The Lake, I promptly returned the book and requested that my local feminist bookstore carry it and order a copy for me.  The entirety of the book is so excitingly engrossing that it’s a burden to have to choose one as “best,” but being the first story that I read by her, it hooked me.

The story opens with Abbie, a 36 year-old Bostonian who has opted for a fresh start by moving to a small town in Florida to begin teaching at a preparatory school following her divorce.  We are introduced to her bit by bit as she ruminates on her past and explores the new experiences of a life in Gracetown, making you both root for her and question her sometimes disconcerting internal monologue.  She is alone in a new town with her own 3,000 square foot colonial and private lake, though her solitude is anything but lonely as she opens herself to swimming, something foreign in her previous life.  Each time she wades through the water, the reader can identify with her burgeoning sense of freedom and tranquility, though we quickly become confounded.  As she begins teaching, you begin to ponder her motivations as she mentally dissects and analyzes her male students, whittling them down to find the exact specimen that will suit her needs.  Ostensibly, we are to believe those needs are to fix a home that has fallen into disrepair due to Florida humidity.  Yet as Abbie’s swims in the natural lake increase over the summer, she begins to undergo a physical metamorphosis prompted by the advice she hasn’t heeded: “…one must never, ever go swimming in Gracetown’s lakes during the summer.”  Her human calculations of the fresh young male student physique mirrors her growing appetite for raw flesh as she transforms into something of an aquatic predator.

Abbie is a compellingly tricky character because you don’t know whether you want to be her, or to steer clear while passing in the street once you know what goes on inside her head (but isn’t that true for all of us?).  The allure of transforming into a creature that can navigate other worlds,  the ability to leave a life of sameness and broken relationships and start anew would be tempting at the very least.  On the other hand, what comes with the freedom of anonymity and  solitude for some may be too tempting when one’s vices are able to flourish without scrutiny.

Pop Art20th Century Ghosts
Joe Hill

When I first read the short story Pop Art from the collection, 20th Century Ghosts, I was flooded by an intense feeling of sorrow, leaving me in complete awe that such a short story could completely knock my socks off.  Reading it again years later in June of 2016, I found myself sobbing on my lunch break, gazing up at a vast blue sky in the middle of a prickly field, which was eerily and beautifully appropriate given the ending of the story.

The plot is a seemingly common one that graces the pages of so much teen-centered fiction; new kid in school gets relentlessly pummeled because he’s different than the vast majority of the student body, new kid makes a friend.  In Hill’s design, the narrator saves Arthur (Art) from bullies who are literally kicking his ass, but into the air because Art is actually inflatable.  Throughout the story, Hill creates a simple yet so on-point description of the jungle that is a teen’s life in high school: abusive, mentally ill or deceased parents; disability; religion; forging friendships; bullies; and dealing with death before our minds can grasp it.  The boys, through the bond of their outsider status, explore these matters that are thrust upon by chance, strengthening the alliance to one another, especially as the narrator continually attempts to keep Art from being popped.  Much like the film Lars and the Real Girl, the storytellers create a world that transcends the one as we know it, enabling us to empathize by accessing those tricky, basic human emotions like love, empathy and loss that seem to so easily reel so many of us in.  Like Art’s best friend, we are also suspended in a state of flux–we delight in his insight, dread his future and mourn his fragility.

Though Pop Art may lean into the science fiction genre, Hill relates horrors of the mind–the unknown, loss, endings, and the mere terror of living on this planet without someone who understands you.  I don’t know about you, but I’d argue it’s enough to keep you up at night.

Secret Life, With Cats
Audrey Niffenegger

catsniffennegerTaking place in South Evanston (Illinois) and its closest bordering Chicago neighborhood, Rogers Park, we are introduced to Beatrice with her life of newly acquired wealth, her realtor husband and his metaphorical baby, their ever-evolving house.  Out of an antsy-ness springing from a void that’s bigger than the beautiful house she lives in, she volunteers at a local cat shelter where she meets Ruth, an older, no nonsense volunteer with whom she forms an instant, deep sisterly bond.

As the story unfolds, a subtle but palpable sense of loneliness lingers between the lines, only erased as Ruth and Beatrice’s friendship blossoms over cards and cats.  Author Niffenegger enables the reader to relate to Beatrice’s feelings of estrangement from others because of the universal plight of any of us humans–the rare occurrence of a true connection with another person during our adult lives.  The author may also be tapping into a fairly accepted universal truth, that people with a love of cats can typically be introverts, thereby making it difficult to forge friendships, and that lovers of cats are to be trusted.  Let’s be real, it takes a special person to understand their oftentimes aloof personalities, as seen in Joy Carol Oates’ short horror story, The White Cat.  While Beatrice ultimately receives spiritual fulfillment from her bond with Ruth, Ruth’s ultimate bond is to cats and connects in a mutually supernatural, or psychic fashion.  As the friendship between the two women deepens as time progresses, it morphs into one that defies life or death, with cats as the conduit.

In the preface to the story in the above collection, Niffenegger describes the impetus for the story, a sense of loss from that of a cat and a friend.  Feelings of loss, abandonment, “aloneness and loneliness” in marriage and relationships is felt felt from start to finish as expressed through these two disparate women’s lives and their relationships to each other, themselves, and bonds to animals.  First published in the Chicago Tribune in 2006 with its occasional reference to Northwestern University, this story will also nestle nicely in the heart of any northside Chicagoian with a fondness for the furry types.

*Illustration by Audrey Niffenegger

You Have Never Been HereMemoir of a Deer Woman
Mary Rickert

In one of the most heart-wrenching stories of the list, we glimpse into to a short period of time in the life of “she/her” and her husband from a third person point of view.  From the get-go, she has begun her physical transformation from woman into a deer, beginning with the protrusion of antlers, followed by hoofs, to full embodiment, though she says later in the story that she had always been wild.  Coinciding with her metamorphosis is her diagnosis of stage three cancer, though there is some allusion to her previously having some form of it, and knowing that it had returned in an extreme iteration.

Both she and her husband’s handling of her cancer diagnosis are explored; she in a state of acceptance, or maybe shocked coping, and he in denial and panic, though the process of grief remains fluid between the cancer and her animal transformation.  The imaginative ways in which Rickert likens of the experience of cancer to transforming into an amazing animal, including growing antlers to losing her hair; the loss of control over one’s body as it becomes something that works against you (Gilda Radner discusses this in her biography, It’s Always Something); the loneliness of experiencing something that you can’t explain to another, is a heartbreaking and ingenious comparison.  As her transformation comes to completion, a deer cannot live with a man, despite her husband’s agonized protests, she joins the animal kingdom.

The manner in which Rickert constructs the story closely mirrors the mood; set during winter in the woods, the writing is mournful, to the point, and resists flowery language.  Much like Tananarive Due’s book, every story is a powerful declaration and as a whole, creates a powerful collection that is hauntingly original.

The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planetvandana
Vandana Singh

The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet enables us to glimpse into the less than idyllic household politics of wife and mother Kamala Mishra, and much like in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, her plight is revealed through the eyes of a man, in this instance, her husband. Though the story is told from his perspective, we can suppose much of what her life has been like through his rigid and self-serving diatribes, leaving little to ponder as to the reasoning of why Kamala begins her transformation into a host body.

The story begins with patriarch Ramnath Mishra’s annoyance as his wife disrupts just one of his plethora of rituals, coffee on the veranda while reading his newspaper.  What he had envisioned as a relaxing future in his new retirement from government is soon “inconvenienced” by his wife’s seemingly mental breakdown as she tells him that she, amidst a lifetime of a shaky identity, is a planet.  As his wife begins to exhibit more unwieldy, unpredictable behaviors that baffle him, including trying to take off her sari (in their home), buying balloons for poor children (“…you are spoiling these good-for-nothings!”) , and welcoming a colony of small beings into her body (though not the most pressing of his concerns), Ramnath panics.  We learn that he is a rigid man, finding comfort in a life consisting of sterility, routine and a strong adherence to social honor codes that would prevent any modicum of disgrace upon him in the eyes of the community. As Kamala begins to shed concern of judgement, including addressing her husband by his first name, to him it is a threat to his value system, causing him to reveal through internal dialogue his self-absorption as he ruminates over the constant “irritations” his wife has thrust upon him, further exemplified by such further recitations: “What did I do to deserve this?”  “His day was completely ruined.” “Ramnath felt a surge of anger and self-pity.” When the issue of Kamala’s emotional well-being is seriously considered by her husband, it is in relation to how it inconveniences him.  His extreme rigidity can further be seen as he chides himself for becoming slightly aroused when seeing his wife naked after having ghettoized her to the role of strictly mother and housemate.

Kamala’s life of marital expectation and servitude can further be glimpsed as Ramnath reflects on their past, suggesting that she visit her ancestral village, commenting that he had “not permitted” her to visit her mother in over five years because of obligations he had put upon her, “the marriage of their sons, his retirement…somebody had to run the house and supervise the servants.”  The irony is that Kamala interprets his suggestion as kindness, but in actuality, being rid of her is preferable to any sort of personal growth on her part, even to the extent of murder, of which he easily justifies.

Singh’s writing is a profound examination into the couple’s intimate relationship, expressed through the inner thoughts of a truly selfish man.  Though his wife’s body begins to morph into not only uncharted territory, but also a home for otherworldly beings, Ramnath is unabashed, and has always been, about the extreme control he exerts over his wife and how they interact. It’s difficult as a reader to remain objective, identifying with Kamala’s urge to break free both mentally and physically from the constraints role as obedient wife.  Luckily for her, us, and the creatures which inhabit her, she does.

Part 1 can be viewed here.

A Prospective Presidential Candidate’s View on Sexual Harassment

Today Eric Trump, Donald Trump’s son shared he and his father’s stance on sexual harassment on CBS’s This Morning in reference to Donald’s view on sexual harassment and his daughter.  Eric stated: “I think what he’s saying is, Ivanka is a strong, powerful woman, she wouldn’t allow herself to be subjected to it [sexual harassment]. She definitely would (address it with HR) as a strong person. At the same time I don’t think she would be subjected to that,” he added. “I think that’s the point he was making…” (via USA Today).  Point taken.

In June of this year, I was groped and sexually harassed near my home by a young man while his female companion stood there and laughed.  I have been groped on the Red Line. While standing on the el platform on my way to work, I was once told by a man that he would, “like to rape me.”  It was 8:00 in the morning.  I’ve been sexually abused more than once in my life.  I’ve been propositioned for sex at least twice by cab drivers, asking for sex in lieu of payment.  I’ve stood there as a child while adult men of male family members have ogled me, only to be told, “oh, it’s nothing, he just hasn’t seen you in a while.”  And it goes on.  Have I subjected myself to repeat harassment because I’m not a strong woman?  Did I “allow myself to be subjected to it?”  If you’re reading this and you’re someone who’s had similar experiences, whether you’re a woman or man, or this has happened to someone you love, then your response is most likely no, this didn’t happen because you weren’t, “strong enough.”  The Trumps don’t think I was strong enough, and they don’t think that you’re strong enough either.

Eric Trump thinks that you and I are weak, and that his sister, a white woman of immense unearned privilege, is stronger than you, because a woman of her stature, her class, would never allow such a thing, as if she had a choice.  Did I allow harassment as I sat silently in a cab, minding my own business?  Did I not conjure my game face?  When I was groped at 2:00 in the afternoon in front of a grade school, did I look weak?  If memory serves, I was actually feeling pretty damn good walking down the block after an empowering therapy session.  I bet that right before you may have been harassed, you might have felt fairly on point yourself.

After reading Eric Trump’s feelings on sexual harassment, I feel angry and sick to my stomach. This isn’t about Democrat, Republican, Green, et al affiliation.  Eric Trump is a slut shamer and a victim blamer. He is the person who says: you drank too much, it’s your fault. Your skirt turns men on, you did this to yourself. It’s because of your choices that men abuse you. Boys will be boys. Men are born this way, it’s in their biology.  He believes that women have the executive power to prevent harassment and assault, and if it happens to you, then you’re culpable.

I actually agree with Eric, he’s damn right that his sister “wouldn’t be subjected to it.”  This is a family who has never known poverty or discrimination and therefore yes, would never be harassed because the Trumps have the money and the power, and no one is sexually harassing Donald Trump’s daughter.  Her father’s status buys her immunity.  The rest of us, not so much. The rest of us live in a Brock Turner world where the racially and financially privileged buy them the luxury of a carte blanche life.