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.

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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