{the life} Reading into it

by Rachel on October 2, 2012

Lately, my reading list has been looked more like gender studies syllabus. Here is what was on my Kindle in August and September!

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. I LOVED this book; it is probably the best book I’ve read this year. Moran is so funny and she seamlessly blends her memoir with her thoughts on feminism; I laughed out loud throughout the book. While I was reading it, I kept talking about it with my coworkers because so much of what she was saying was so relevant to our conversations about women, men, politics, and home life. She writes about porn, about pubes, about periods. There are two chapters on motherhood; one deals with her first pregnancy and the birth of her daughter and one deals with her decision to have an abortion after already being a mom. I felt like the chapter on her abortion was really important, for lack of a better word. She wrote about the taboo of having an abortion as a mother and described the procedure itself, something I’d never read in that kind of detail before. (Not particularly graphic detail, just more detail than I’d ever read before.) She also wrote about how she didn’t regret it or feel particularly sentimental about it, something else that I feel like we don’t hear a lot of in the discussion on abortion.

Overall, I just loved the book and would buy it for any or all of my friends. (I also know it would have blown my mind — in a good way — if I were in high school or college, so I think it’s worth giving to younger sisters/friends.) Whether or not you consider yourself a feminist, I think this book is worth reading.

Great quote: Great quote: “These days, sexism is a bit like Meryl Streep in a new film: sometimes you don’t recognize it straightaway. You can be up to 20 minutes in, enjoying all the dinosaurs and the space fights and the homesick Confederate soldiers, before you go, ‘Oh my God — under the wig! THAT’S MERYL! Very often, a woman can have left a party, caught the bus home, washed her face, got into bed, read 20 minutes of The Female Eunuch, and put the light out before she puts the light back on again, sits bolt upright, and shouts, ‘Hang on — I’VE JUST HAD SOME SEXISM THROWN AT ME. THAT WAS SOME SEXISM! WHEN THAT MAN CALLED ME ‘SUGAR TITS’ — THAT WAS SEXISM AND NOT AN HONEST MISPRONUNCIATION OF THE NAME ANDREA!'”

Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy. I read this book on my way to the Healthy Living Summit; it was a quick read. It was written in 2006 and it wasn’t quite out of date, but it was kind of funny to think of a time when Girls Gone Wild and Paris Hilton were hot topics. A lot of it is still relevant; I particularly liked her argument that women exhibit chauvinistic behavior toward other women (or themselves) because they see it as a way to get ahead in a man’s world. Kind of a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” kind of thing. It wasn’t my favorite book, but it was a fast read (it just felt like a long magazine article). I’d say it’s definitely worth checking out from the library.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Over the past year, I’ve heard a lot of people saying that all the threats to women’s rights are bringing us toward a sort of Handmaid’s Tale-esque country, so I decided to read it for myself. I read it on my way back from the HLS and just didn’t like it as much as I expected to. I like a good dystopian novel, but this one didn’t do it for me, simply because I didn’t like the way the story itself was told. I don’t mind being in the dark at the beginning of a book, but by chapter two or three, I’m expecting for the backstory and for things to start making more sense. (I blame Ann M. Martin and the second chapter of the Baby-sitters Club books that told you everything you needed to know.) I got frustrated by the lack of information and backstory and just felt like giving up; even the epilogue left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied. Feeling like I had missed something, I went to the Wikipedia page and found that when the info was presented directly, I connected with it a lot more. That said, I don’t want that to turn anyone away from reading it because I know other people love this book; I’m willing to accept that it might just be me.

Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti. After reading an interview with Valenti a couple weeks ago, I borrowed this book from the Kindle library (free for Prime members!) and read it in a night. As with Female Chauvinist Pigs, I felt like I was reading a very long, very interesting magazine article. I really liked her discussion on the anti-vaccination movement (led by Jenny McCarthy); even though she is pro-vaccinations, she argued that when women feel like they don’t have autonomy or a voice, it’s empowering for them to take back some control and declare that they know what is best. She covered a lot of familiar ground (the mom as martyr, working parents, stay-at-home-parents) but one of the things I liked most about this book is that she wrote with an awareness of the racism and classism that is part of so many of these kinds of discussions. This book left me feeling even more sure that if Eric and I do decide to have kids, it needs to be a conscious, informed choice.

The End of Men: And the Rise of Women by Hanna Rosin. I kept hearing about this book everywhere, so when my friend Ashley asked if I wanted to read it with her, I was totally in. Rosin argues that while things are not perfect for women right now, they are getting better and better; meanwhile, men are falling behind in several areas. She writes a lot about “plastic women” and “cardboard men” — basically, the idea that women respond well to change while men aren’t quite as flexible, which I found fascinating. She writes about how boys are falling behind in school at an early age and not really recovering, and how women are outnumbering in college to the point that some private schools are using affirmative action — to help more men get in. She also covers how women are stretched thin and still doing the majority of the housework, even when they are the breadwinners. And I found her chapters on women in South Korea and women pharmacists particularly interesting.

Great quote [on women burning out and leaving the work force]: “Many great working women get to the point where they stop and wonder whether the mad daily rush is worth it. Sometimes the moment is forced on them by some job frustration or layoff, but sometimes it starts to preoccupy them for no apparent reason at all. The typical male midlife crisis tends to hit out of the blue and take men by surprise, but for women it’s been lingering there all along. They might have felt it during maternity leave, or on the day they walked into the fourth meeting of the morning and desperately wanted to walk back out and find some quiet place to sit and read a magazine. What they need is not a room of their own — they probably have one at home, even if it’s called an office — but just more room, in the crammed, minute-by-minute calendars that are their lives. Maybe they think, I could get away with slipping away — not for an hour, with a magazine, but for good. There are, after all, usually children to tend to and a household to manage; it could be justified.”

While there was a lot of interesting discussion in the book, one of my favorite historians/authors, Stephanie Coontz, had an article in the New York Times this weekend about “The Myth of Male Decline” — basically saying that Rosin is way off and women are not poised for widespread success quite as much as The End of Men claims they are. I like the third page of the article because I feel like that gets to the meat of what Rosin and Coontz agree on: that men are being held back by gender expectations that are similar to the ones women have historically experienced.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Caity @ Moi Contre La Vie October 2, 2012 at 9:39 am

Thank you for the great recommendations! I’ve already added some of these to my Amazon basket!

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2 Paul (@minutrition) McConaughy October 2, 2012 at 9:45 am

As someone who never had kids, I thought I’d share this article: “Not Wanting Kids is Entirely Normal” http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/09/not-wanting-kids-is-entirely-normal/262367/

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3 Rachel October 2, 2012 at 10:36 am

I started reading that and then I was like, “This sounds familiar…” Turns out it was an excerpt from Why Have Kids?…so you can probably see why I liked that book so much!

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4 grace b October 2, 2012 at 10:05 am

The #1 book I am recommending to everyone I know is Straphanger by Taras Grescoe. It’s all about public transportation–buses, light rail, trains, subways, etc–all over the world. He writes about differing U.S. cities, Asia, South America, and Europe. It sounds like it would be a dense read but Grescoe is really engaging and I learned SO MUCH while reading it. I am currently car-less, have driven since I was seventeen, had cars that got good gas mileage and bad, bad gas mileage so this idea of focusing on cities WITHOUT cars is really interesting to me. I definitely want to honeymoon in Copenhagen now….

I wrote down the Moran book on my freakishly long (and categorized!) books-to-read-list. Thanks Rachel!

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5 Rachel October 2, 2012 at 10:35 am

That sounds fascinating! I prefer non-fiction books and that is right in my wheelhouse. Thanks!

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6 Stina October 2, 2012 at 10:24 am

I started The Handmaid’s Tale several months ago and didn’t make it more than two chapters in because I just felt lost or disconnected or something with the story. I keep telling myself I’m going to go back and tackle it, but I’ve been too busy reading young adult fluff.

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7 deva by definition October 2, 2012 at 11:06 am

I have read Female Chauvinist Pigs, it was actually part of my undergrad curriculum (Women’s Studies major, here). I found it to be a good book but felt that the “very long magazine article” aspect of it left me wanting more from her, more fleshed-out ideas, more considerations for the future (I was reading it as Girls Gone Wild was seriously waning), but I think as a stand-alone book it’s really good.

If you haven’t already, I’d recommend checking out Lynn Peril’s “Pink Think,” which is in a similar vein of feminist non-fiction.

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8 RAIN October 2, 2012 at 11:29 am

Thanks for the recommends…some of these sound very interesting.
Someone had told me that How to be a Woman book was really good!

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9 Emily Susan October 2, 2012 at 1:12 pm

To me the fact that this little gem even exists, says volumes about the pressures of women.

http://disgruntledclassicist.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/housewife4.jpg

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10 erin @WELLinLA October 2, 2012 at 1:32 pm

I had the pleasure of connecting with Hanna in a Twitter chat about her book last Friday (#YFEchat + CNN). I’ve downloaded it as a little ‘light reading’ for my upcoming vacation – love your synopsis and cannot wait to dive into the book in its entirety.

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11 Mandi October 2, 2012 at 3:12 pm

I seem to have posted this in reply to someone else accidentally. Whoops. Here we go again:

I have How To Be A Woman in my stack of books to read! I’m going to pick it up as soon as I finish 1Q84, actually.

As for The Handmaid’s Tale, well…Margaret Atwood is actually one of my favorite authors. But that book does unfold VERY slowly in terms of revealing itself. I would, however, recommend strongly The Blind Assassin by the same author.

Which leads me to ask: have you ever read anything by John Irving?

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12 Rachel October 2, 2012 at 4:44 pm

I have not! Recommendations?

PS I removed the misplaced reply. :)

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13 Mandi October 2, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Thanks! I was very facepalm about it.

Irving is my favorite author! I would highly recommend: A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Cider House Rules, or my favorite, A Widow For One Year. It’s a somewhat dense style of fiction and the man is outright obsessed with bears, New England, and wrestling, but he does such beautiful things with words.

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14 Mandy October 2, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Love this list! I’m dying to read Moran and Rosin’s books, and Valenti’s seems really interesting too!

Did you read this article in The Daily Beast about the status of women “having it all”? I thought it was a great sum up of the issues out there right now!
http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/09/23/why-women-should-stop-trying-to-be-perfect.html

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15 Rachel October 2, 2012 at 4:45 pm

I read that! I had mixed feelings — it was LONG article and covered a lot — but there were a lot of great points in it!

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16 Jess-ThatJessGal October 2, 2012 at 8:59 pm

I’m sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s one of my favorite novels but admittedly it does read in a confusing way. If you still trust my taste in books after admitting my love for HT, try With by Donald Harrington (or anything by him, frankly). It’s a hidden story of feminism and adapting to a forced life.

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17 Rachel October 2, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Honestly, knowing you recommended it is why I couldn’t write it off completely! I am totally willing to believe it was just me who didn’t connect with it!

And I’ll check him out! :)

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18 kayla October 6, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Omg, I’m so glad you read How to Be a Woman…i just finished it and it was the first time i used the highlighter on my kindle because there were so many hilarious lines i didnt want to forget.

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