We Should All Be Feminists (Duh)

It’s worth noting that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie originally gave the Ted Talk that We Should All Be Feminists is a transcription of in 2012 but it still/again feels like a super relevant topic.

Largely this under-50-page book is about societal (world-wide) misconceptions about what feminism is and who it benefits – perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that at one point in her life the author referred to herself as a “Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men And Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss and High Heels For Herself And Not For Men.” And the rest of the book is sort of her explanation of how none of those qualifiers should have ever been necessary because the basic tenet of feminism is that men and women are equal and should be treated as such. It’s the most radical, okay? But then people project their own beliefs (or, who knows, the beliefs of that one super angry person they met one time) onto feminism and then everyone’s fairly certain that to be feminist women have to hate men, want to dress like men, all be lesbians, practice witchcraft, etc.

“Some people ask, ‘Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?’ Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general – but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. […] For centuries the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that.”

ANYWAYS

This book is, as previously mentioned, super short and full of Adichie’s personal life experiences that led to her understanding of feminism. But also to a really friggin’ excellent explanation of how feminism benefits everyone:

Patriarchy doesn’t only hurt women – it also hurts men by super narrowly defining masculinity and requiring that men in patriarchal societies ONLY EVER display masculine traits AT ALL TIMES. Which is an impossibly small box to live inside.

 

“The problem with gender is that prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.”

So, everyone please read or watch this. Either way it’ll only take like half an hour.

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Books I Don’t Want to Read

There are a lot of books in the world that I know I should read because they will, theoretically, make me a better person. Not, like, self help books (although I’m sure some of those would be beneficial too…how do people ever save money?). Books that will teach me about parts of the world I’ll likely never see, in the first person, in the past or the present. Books that will broaden my empathy and understanding.

But I don’t want to read them because THEY’RE UPSETTING. And not in the way Gillian Flynn is upsetting. Upsetting in a way that stays with me for a long time after I finish reading them because they are about the real cruelties that humans regularly inflict on one another. And usually they show how both the perpetrators of violence and their victims are, in fact, victims of the same circumstances. And the whole world is to blame.

We’ll call that the introduction to my book club’s newest choice, An Untamed State by Roxane Gay. I haven’t finished it yet. I’m actually nowhere near finishing it… I’m on page 19 and I’m stalled. The book is about a woman of Haitian descent who goes with her husband and their baby to visit her parents in their upper-class home in Haiti and gets violently kidnapped while they’re on their way to the beach. And…that’s all I know because all that happens in the first 19 pages. Other than that all I know is that one of my friends from book club texted me “So the word “gun” was just used as a euphemism multiple times in this book and I’m now hoping it can’t possibly get much worse… Upon further reading, I’m not even sure it was a euphemism and that makes it so much more disturbing.” And although I have reasonably deduced what happened already, really, I just don’t want to read that.

I also felt this way about Half of a Yellow Sun (a wonderfully written book about the 1960s civil war in Nigeria that made me empathize with a rapist and then gradually grow to hate everyone on the entire planet and want to never go outside again). Every time they left their house I was like “Nooooo! Stay home! Stay safe!” And they never listened. And that was a long ass book to worry through.

This one too.

So I’ll let you know more when I finish it… So, in like a year probably.

My ongoing, completely one-sided, love affair with Amy Poehler

As I mentioned (forever ago, in a blog post I’m totally sure she read) I really wanted Amy Poehler to write a book. And then she did! (In 2014, I’m way late to the game on this one.) I’m going to pretend she did it as a special favor to me. It’s called Yes Please and it’s wonderful.

I suppose I should acknowledge that even if this book were bad I would probably still love it because of Amy Poehler’s general awesomeness. Parks & Rec is one of my favorite TV shows. And generally everything she touches is gold: Broad City, Mean Girls, Arrested Development, Inside Out… Her level of involvement in those things varies drastically. But she is somehow related to all of them and they are all great. Also she seems like an excellent person in real life. And Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls warms the cockles of my cold, cold heart. [Side note: Had to look up cockles to make sure I was spelling it correctly (I was) and apparently only in this idiom it means depths. If it’s not in this specific phrase it means mollusks. Words are weird, you guys.]

So the book is…not really a book. It’s kind of an overview of an autobiography with a lot of snippets of life advice and random pictures thrown in. All of which I felt was hilariously accurate and pretty obvious if very hard to follow in practice. I aspire to someday be as self aware and strong as Amy Poehler advises people to be in this book. Also, from the stories, it sounds like Amy Poehler does too. A lot of the stories are stories of her past mistakes and how she acknowledged and moved on from them but somehow makes them all sound very universal. Here’s an example quote full of things that are obviously personal examples but that is still, somehow (I assume), true for everyone:

“That voice that talks badly to you is a demon voice. This very patient and determined demon shows up in your bedroom one day and refuses to leave. You are six or twelve or fifteen and you look in the mirror and you hear a voice so awful and mean that it takes your breath away. It tells you that you are fat and ugly and you don’t deserve love. And the scary part is the demon is your own voice. But it doesn’t sound like you. It sounds like a strangled and seductive version of you. Think Darth Vader or an angry Lauren Bacall. The good news is there are ways to make it stop talking. The bad news is it never goes away. If you are lucky, you can live a life where the demon is generally forgotten, relegated to a back shelf in a closet next to your old field hockey equipment. You may even have days or years when you think the demon is gone. But it is not. It is sitting very quietly, waiting for you. This motherfucker is patient. It says, “Take your time.” It says, “Go fall in love and exercise and surround yourself with people who make you feel beautiful.” It says, “Don’t worry, I’ll wait.” And then one day, you go through a breakup or you can’t lose your baby weight or you look at your reflection in a soup spoon and that slimy bugger is back. It moves its sour mouth up to your ear and reminds you that you are fat and ugly and don’t deserve love. This demon is some Stephen King from-the-sewer devil-level shit.”

I would argue that this is excellent life advice (that I am personally terrible at):

Figure Out What You Want (image from Yes Please)You can see how many post-its I put in this book for things I liked and might want to come back to in this picture. It’s basically all the pages.

But that this, while still completely true, is somewhat less important (although I did text a picture of it to a bunch of tall jerks I know the second I read it):Short People DO NOT Like to be Picked Up (image from Yes Please)

Also, as you can see from these images…this book does not have all that many words in it. I mean, sure, it is not all artsy-layouts, but there’s more of them than you’d think. So it’s a pretty quick read if you’re bored sometime. I hear the audio book is also excellent because she reads it herself (and Seth Meyers reads the chapter he wrote) and that it’s hilarious. (Disclaimer: I have not actually listened to the audio book. People have just told me that it is also good.) I know some people who were a little indignant about how short the actual text was and how some of the text is dedicated to writing about how hard writing is. And while those things were not my favorite, this book still is.

So, in conclusion, here’s one more quote from this wonderful human’s book: “Can we figure out what we want, ask for it, and stop talking? Yes please. Is being vulnerable a power position? Yes please. Am I allowed to take up space? Yes please. Would you like to be left alone? Yes please. I love saying “yes” and I love saying “please.” Saying “yes” doesn’t mean I don’t know how to say no, and saying “please” doesn’t mean I am waiting for permission. “Yes please” sounds powerful and concise. It’s a response and a request.”

Do Whatever You Like (image from Yes Please)

 

Gillian Flynn???

I think I am in love with you, Gillian Flynn.

You also scare the bajeezes out of me.

Probably this is partially my fault for only reading your books when I’m alone in strange cities on business trips. Somehow I read Gone Girl alone at night in a hotel in Pittsburgh, Dark Places alone at night in a hotel in Boston, and Sharp Objects at night in an AirBNB also in Boston where I was alone with the stranger whose room I was renting (who turned out not to be a murderer, but I didn’t know that at the time). None of those were a great time to be reading interpersonal horror* (a phrase I’m making up now but for which there probably already exists better terminology…someone let me know what it is and I’ll fix this). Why do I make obviously poor situational reading choices? Like when I started reading Preacher comics on the airplane while I was sitting in a middle seat. My seatmates definitely assumed I was a monster. I should definitely work on that.

Back to you: you are an excellent writer. You and Tana French are the only two people who write books that I genuinely cannot put down once I’ve started reading them. I worry about your characters while I’m out in the world unable to read more because I’m doing dumb things – like working. Your characters and the world you writer for them feel real – and, again, terrifying. I’m honestly sort of annoyed I’ve never seen any of your books shelved in the horror section of a bookstore. (To be continued: I have a whole rant about how book stores sort things based on useless trivia like the author’s gender. BUT ANYWAYS.) And I will fight anyone who says they could have guessed the endings of your books before they read them. A+ for plot twists that don’t seem cliche.

And on top of all that, you seem like a really kickass person, based on the few interviews I’ve read of yours. Particularly this one with the Guardian where you respond to the recurring accusation that your books are misogynist because none of the women in them are likeable. But there are a bunch of others that are also excellent.

I especially liked this bit from a post on your website:”I’ve grown quite weary of the spunky heroines, brave rape victims, soul-searching fashionistas that stock so many books. I particularly mourn the lack of female villains — good, potent female villains. Not ill-tempered women who scheme about landing good men and better shoes (as if we had nothing more interesting to war over), not chilly WASP mothers (emotionally distant isn’t necessarily evil), not soapy vixens (merely bitchy doesn’t qualify either). I’m talking violent, wicked women. Scary women. Don’t tell me you don’t know some. The point is, women have spent so many years girl-powering ourselves — to the point of almost parodic encouragement — we’ve left no room to acknowledge our dark side. Dark sides are important.”

In conclusion, please write more books before I go on any more business trips so I can have something terrifying to read while I’m gone.

*Interpersonal horror: (as defined by me) horror but where the monster lives inside someone you love. Like how interpersonal violence is the smaller cruelties that people exact against each other every day instead of, like, the bombs of movie violence.

The Dark Tower Series aka What is Wrong with You, Stephen King (Pt. 2)

My biggest problem(s) with the book can be summed up simply enough with the statement that I think Stephen King needs an editor. I understand that he is a famous, award winning author and I am an English major with a blog. But I think even die hard King fans agree with me (especially after the release of 11/22/63).

My second biggest problem – my problem with so many books – is basically “Uhg, why do you hate the ladies?!?!” There are SO FEW OF THEM. And they are all tropes. Susannah has all the tropes. Smurfette? Yep.  Mystical pregnancy? Yep. Evil demon seductress? Yep, only slightly qualified by the fact that this is technically her sharing her body and brain with a demon. But seriously, that demon’s only purpose in life up to mystical pregnancy was to seduce roadside dunces to death. (Side note: those are all links to YouTube videos of Anita Sarkeesian being a smart, well-spoken feminist. At which she is amazing.) Susannah is also the token POC and on several occasions mistaken for their servant/wench. It is rough to be Susannah in these books.

I also hate Eddie Dean. Hate is a strong word to use about a fictional character but in this case it is appropriate. He starts off an annoying junkie and through thousands of pages of character growth turns into an annoying human. Yes, he does stop doing cocaine and heroine which is, perhaps, worthy of a back pat. But certainly he doesn’t stop talking about them. Also, it’s hard to do drugs in a world where you don’t know anyone and there don’t seem to be any drugs lying around. So he probably didn’t even really earn that back pat. And he’s constantly quoting his even more annoying, drug addled, dead brother – who, incidentally, is the giver of some of the worst advice I’ve ever heard (here’s a hint: the solution to everything is to get high, even if the problem is being too high and owing drug dealers more money than you have) – and telling terrible jokes and then laughing at them. Alone. But somehow he is chosen to be in charge of their group in the event Roland’s absence. Susannah is both older and the most responsible one of them. Even Jake, a preteen, would do a better job.

WHY COULDN’T IT HAVE BEEN POST APOCALYPTIC?! It would have been so much better that way!

Something that bothered me throughout the last few books but is perhaps not a legitimate criticism of their content -19 and 99 are not, in fact, the same number which everyone seems to be utterly confused about.

The Dark Tower Series aka What is Wrong with You, Stephen King (Pt. 1)

I realize that the title doesn’t indicate it but I did (and do) love this series. As a whole. Mostly.

I’m going to tell you what I loved about it first so that you’ll know I really mean it. The world is AMAZINGLY well developed. It’s mostly called Mid-World but that’s always just felt like a filler title until someone came up with a better one (like Snakes on a Plane – seriously, how did that get released) so I’m not going to refer to it as such. Anyways, it is extremely well thought out and explained. There is just so much detail and foreshadowing which is especially crazy considering how long King took to write the whole series and how unlikely it seemed at the beginning that it would ever be published. I did feel as I was reading it as thought those places were real and, of course because this is Stephen King after all, terrifying.

The characters were equally well thought out. Roland is amazing and, in all honesty, the only reason I finished reading the series. He is not a good person or a nice person but he is an amazing character. And he is basically the human embodiment of purpose. It’s so interesting to watch him survive without ever really changing. He does occasionally develop feelings but the narrator always makes it clear that these are just old feelings reawakened – the person he loves now is essentially just a replacement for someone he loved long ago (often also with basically the same face). Usually when I read or see representations of the Old West it is romanticized as being a place full of white hats and damsels. But this interpretation feels more honest – being a gunslinger (or a knight on a quest) is impossibly lonely and, as historically demonstrated by Wyatt Earp and basically everyone else in the Old West.

Gilhead is something I would love to know more about – beyond simply that it was Roland’s childhood home and basically Camelot but then fell. I know it’s addressed in some of the prequel graphic novels (which I haven’t read) and maybe in some of the spin-off/tie-in books that I know of but haven’t read.

In Part 2 of this review, the title will make sense.

Let’s All Worry About Jaunting!

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

So, on a personal point I have a problem with books where I don’t want to know the main character – not legitimately nice or endearingly crazy * cough * Wuthering Heights then it’s not for me.

But this book is really good. I love some smart sci-fi and this definitely fits the bill. Interplanetary war? Check. X-Men-like evolutionary capabilities? Check.

And still, and I wonder this a lot not just with sci-fi (but pretty often with sci-fi) to write a female character so poorly…do they have to have never spoken to a female human? Probably including their own mothers? Because, if you’re going to acknowledge that men’s actions are motivated by something external you can’t then turn around and say “She did that because she is a lady and, as we all know, they are crazy.” It’s one or the other – everyone’s crazy or everyone’s motivated.

So yes, I would definitely recommend that people (who already like sci-fi) read this – I will, in fact, be giving it to a friend for their birthday this weekend – but I would also preface that recommendation with “You know the reason I am the most frequently off put by books? This has that in it.” The friend I am giving it to thinks Richard Feynman’s book is good so it’s safe to say they aren’t often offended on behalf of ladies in books.