Category Archives: gender

How to Fall in Love with Anyone by Mandy Len Catron

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 10.12.50 AMI had this book for a week and recommended it to more than 10 people before I had even finished it, which I think should be enough to convince you to add it to your To-Read list immediately! I knew about Mandy Len Catron from her 2015 viral piece in the “Modern Love” section of The New York Times. I loved the article — I forced my friends to do the first chunk of the 36 questions with each other during the first night of a trip when they all met for the first time. While Catron’s pieces for the Times are fantastic, this book is something else. It’s a better version of Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance and a more personal version of Moira Weigel’s Labor of Love
How to Fall in Love with Anyone details how the author has mythologized her parents’ and grandparents’ love stories and the effect that has had upon her own conceptualization and approaches to romantic love. She spends a chapter detailing the cultural scripts that Western culture passes down about love through romantic comedies or through what we’re told embodies a “good relationship”, who even “deserves” a “good relationship,” and discusses that while we’re told what the best end product is, we aren’t often taught about how to love others well. In fact, I think this book could be more aptly titled How to Love Better, in order to better convey its contents and to be more alluring than the current title. The book made me think a lot about how we could all be better to each other, if we all decided to value loving better more often. 
The author devotes multiple chapters to the love stories of her family, all situated within Appalachia, and details how the relationships allowed individuals to move beyond the circumstances they inherited. She contrasts these love stories with her own ten year relationship, which made me feel kind of queasy, simply because I identified with spending too much time in a relationship that slowly fizzled, unbeknownst to the couple, until its pulse flatlined.
Eventually the book shifts into describing the relationships Catron enters after her first big relationship, including the one detailed in her viral Modern Romance piece. This reminds me of something I made my boyfriend do on one of our first dates, where we played a question asking game that encourage medium-to-deep conversations instead of the polite, small talk that often occurs. I don’t remember the questions or the answers now, but I do remember the feeling of sharing a deeper version of myself than is traditionally expected on these early dates when I would try to present the shiniest version of myself. This book magically captures all of those feelings that I’ve felt and I loved LOVED loved reading while Catron ruminated on love. 
That was easy to do because Catron spins many pretty phrases, as you’ll see in the quotes that I’ve included at the end of my post. While I’m loaning this book out to a few friends (to underline their own favorite quotes), I’ve told them all that I want this book to be on my forever bookshelf (aka the highest honor I can bestow upon a book) so it absolutely must be returned to me.
Unfortunately, the book doesn’t include Catron’s latest piece for “Modern Love,” though she alludes to some of the content in the book. I’ve linked to it because I feel like it’s worth reading too. Read all of her things — each of them are special and wonderful and will sift through your mind for days. 
“I think of the four of us as subject to the same flash flood, all senselessly bailing water into our own boats in hopes the others might end up on dry land.” (p. 122)
“Our views of love — what we want from it, what we think it should feel like — are rooted in the context of our lives.” (p. 72)
“But now I understand that there are always two breakups: the public one and the private one. Both are real, but one is sensible and the other is ugly. Too ugly to share in cafés. Too ugly, I sometimes think, to even write.” (p. 134)
“I didn’t know what was real and what was scripted.” (p. 16)
“Nothing was funny, really, but we couldn’t stop laughing the manic laughter of people who know it will be a while before they hear themselves laugh again.” (p. 40)
Disclaimer: I was provided with physical and digital copies of this book for free from Simon & Schuster. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Simon & Schuster.
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Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 12.09.13 PMThis was good and I’ve yet to read something by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that I haven’t been impressed by or hasn’t provoked me into thinking about something slightly differently than I did before. This thin, little book is composed as a letter to a friend who was seeking advice on how to raise her daughter as a feminist. Adichie offers 15 suggestions, specifically linking them to Nigerian, Igbo, and western cultures, but even these specific examples are still universal. Adichie admits that these tenants may be hard to accomplish, but we must strive to embody them to create feminists in our children and in ourselves.

A few choice quotes are below:

“Be deliberate about showing her the enduring beauty and resiliences of Africans and of black people. Why? Because of the power dynamics in the world, she will grow up seeing images of white beauty, white ability, and white achievement, no matter where she is in the world. It will be in the TV shows she watches, in the popular culture she consumes, in the books she reads. She will also probably grow up seeing many negative images of blackness and of Africans.” (p. 40)

“We ask of powerful women: Is she humble? Does she smile? Is she grateful enough? Does she have a domestic side? Question we do not ask of powerful men, which shows that our discomfort is not with power itself, but with women.” (p. 24)

“If we stopped conditioning women to see marriage as a prize, then we would have fewer debates about a wife needing to cook in order to earn that prize.” (p. 15)

“Don’t think that raising her feminist means forcing her to reject femininity.” (p. 43)

“Social norms are created by human beings, and there is no social norm that cannot be changed.” (p. 51)

fun home by alison bechdel

funhomeatthebeachAs someone who hasn’t read many graphic novels (aka I’ve only read Persepolis prior to this), I wasn’t sure if I would like Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. I brought this book along with me to a weekend getaway at my friend’s earlier this month and it was the perfect beach read. By that, I mean, I was able to finish the novel after devoting a single day to reading it at the beach and it was absolutely lovely! If you’re looking for a book to read for a few hours on a getaway, plane, or train, I definitely recommend taking this along with you.

Fun Home is a graphic novel written by the oh-so-talented Alison Bechdel. Before reading her graphic novel, I wasn’t familiar with any of Bechdel’s illustrated works. I knew of Bechdel because of the now legendary “Bechdel Test” though Bechdel has since said she doesn’t actually deserve recognition for the creation of the test (she does deserve recognition for it becoming more known). I knew of the title because of the Broadway musical adaptation’s successful Tony award wins and decided to purchase this book to find out if I wanted to see the musical performed.

The novel is autobiographical and details Bechdel’s childhood growing up in rural Pennsylvania and details her exploration of self, sexuality, and gender identity from childhood through her early college years. The novel mainly focuses on her relationship with and interpretation of her father and concludes with her assessment of her father’s death and impact upon her life. While this book is autobiographical, I felt like it spent more time devoted to exploring her father as a character than detailing her own life and, at times, felt more like an exercise for Bechdel to explore how she actually felt about her relationship with her father. I found myself annoyed at the lack of exploration of Bechdel’s mother’s role in her life, who seemed like she often received the short end of the stick, but, as I’m writing this entry, I found out that Bechdel wrote a companion graphic novel entitled Are You My Mother? which I look forward to reading soon.

As someone with a complicated relationship with my parents who is seemingly constantly analyzing the impact of my parents upon who I am as a person today, I greatly enjoyed reading Bechdel analyze her father’s impact and her attempts to separate who he was as a person from who he was as a father. While I enjoyed the parental exploration, my favorite parts of the novel involved Bechdel’s exploration of sexual identity and gender exploration, which I think particularly lends itself to being told through illustrations. Bechdel perfectly describes the process of how she came to understand a piece of who she was sexually and that was the highlight of the reading process for me.

This book is dark and explores some heavy things that you might not expect from a graphic novel – “fun home” is short for funeral home, after all. If you’re okay with authentic storylines that are brushed with grimness and are at all interested in a young person’s exploration of sexual and gender identity, I recommend reading this book.

Do you have any recommendations for other graphic novels that I should try out? I just put a hold on Are You My Mother? from my local library and am interested in exploring other graphic novels if they come with a good recommendation!

Publication Date: 8 June 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Format: Paperback.

Author: Alison Bechdel web/@twitter/facebook

modern romance by aziz ansari and eric klinenberg

modern romanceModern Romance by Aziz Ansari departs from the typical comedian-writes-a-humorous-and-self-deprecating-memoir style that has been dominating the best seller lists as of late. While it’s not as a big of departure from the style as B. J. Novak’s fictional One More Thing: Stories and Other StoriesModern Romance tonally differs from Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling and his Parks and Recreation co-star Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, which are both memoirs.

Ansari’s nonfiction book focuses on the current state of dating within American society. The book documents online dating culture in a way that I haven’t seen done before, which is easily the highlight of the book. He also details how dating culture has radically changed since the 1940s and beyond and made me extremely appreciative of the fact that I am a woman who is able to date in 2015 rather than courting someone who conveniently lived on my block in 1953. The book frequently integrates different sociology relationship studies in accessible ways, which pairs nicely with Ansari’s easily digestible telling of the current state of romance in America.

That said, I was very familiar with most of the studies that Ansari includes in his book. I took a lot of Sociology courses while in college and a course entirely about Interpersonal Relationships, which ranged from discussing roommate to family to romantic relationships. Because of my familiarity with the studies detailed in the book, I felt like new insight on the studies were lacking and left me wanting either more comedic spin from Ansari or for him to talk more about the actual research and limitations of each of the studies detailed. Instead, it seemed like he took the easy road of briefly detailing existing studies, which ultimately made most of the book pretty bland for me. If Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist who is credited as having a huge influence on the book and has been appearing with Ansari on his book tour, had a larger impact on the work and had woven in some of his own sociological critique of the studies, I probably would have enjoyed the book as a whole much more. However, someone who wasn’t already aware of these studies would likely read the book very differently than I did and might not be thirsting for a more polished and academic version of Modern Romance like me.

Before reading this text, I was a pretty big fan of Aziz Ansari (and I still am!)… but I feel like being a fan is actually a disservice to readers of the book. I’ve consumed all of Ansari’s stand up specials and most of his television interviews, which means that I’m pretty familiar with the jokes that he has tucked safely away in his arsenal. Most of the funniest parts of Modern Romance were jokes or quips that I had already heard from him, which left me feeling like the judges who watch Kirsten Dunst’s cheerleading squad perform the exact same routine as the previous team in Bring It On (forgive me, I just watched this movie last night with my roommate and it’s very fresh in my memory) aka not as impressed as I was the first time around.

Overall, this is a decent read if you’re wanting to learn more about the state of online dating in America, but is not for you if you want a more robust, academic read on romance in America or if you’re looking for a funny memoir in a similar vein to many other books recently published by comedians. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Author(s): Aziz Ansari web/@twitter/tumblr/facebook/instagram and Eric Klinenberg web/@twitter

Publication Date: 16 June 2015 by Penguin Press

yes means yes! by jaclyn friedman & jessica valenti

yes means yes! by jaclyn friedman & jessica valenti

I received this wonderful book for free — not because I am a special snowflake and received an Advanced Reader’s Copy, but because the health center at my university gave it to me during a sexual health course because the course creators viewed Yes! as essential reading. Why oh why didn’t I listen to them when they said that this book would literally change the way that I thought about sexual assault and the way we talk about sexual health in America?

Instead of reading this book in its entirety when I was first given it by the sexual health goddesses at my university (because completing additional reading while poring through pile after pile of required reading is h-a-r-d), I read a few selected passages that were recommended by the coordinators of the course. I really enjoyed that the first chapter recommended to the course entitled “Hooking Up with Healthy Sexuality: The Lessons Boys Learn (and Don’t Learn) About Sexuality, and Why a Sex-Positive Rape Prevention Paradigm Can Benefit Everyone Involved” by Brad Perry as it really challenged me to view sexual health through a different lens other than the one I was born with (aka white and female-bodied). As someone who had never taken any sort of gender studies or sexual health courses before, this chapter was a huge eye-opener for me in terms of seeing how some different people interact with and understand rape culture within American society. I thoroughly recommend reading this chapter first to anyone who undertakes sexual health & assault as new reading territory.

Despite connecting with the chapter, I wasn’t able to set aside time to read the entire book while a student. Thus, it was one of the books I put into a pile of things that absolutely needed to be properly read whenever I finished my time as an undergraduate student and would hopefully possess eager eyes and a less stressed brain. I’m so glad that day finally came and I was able to give these essays a shot and read them altogether.

The book is compiled of essays written by different people who have had different experiences. The editors of the book, Jaclyn Friedman & Jessica Valenti — who also contribute their own chapters, tagged all of the essays with different themes such as Consent, Race, Sexual Healing, Media, Survival, Queerness, and Gender, though with much cooler names than I’ve simplified them to here. This allows a reader to jump around to specific issues that they’re curious about or to immediately look up similar chapters if they find an essay that really connects with them. For my first thorough read, I decided to read completely through and dive into the essays in the order that they were compiled by the editors. The order flows very smoothly despite covering a range of topics which may or may not seem related on the surface.

After reading this book, I feel like a more well-rounded individual who holds a more nuanced view on sexual health issues in America. I definitely recommend this book to anyone curious about different opinions and viewpoints on sexual health and assault, no matter what level of understanding and background you already have. New terms that you may not be familiar with are well explained, but also won’t feel like you’re being talked down to if you’re already cool with the lingo. Enjoy!

Publication date: 2 December 2008 by Seal Press Format: Paperback

Authors: Jaclyn Friedman web/@twitter/podcast & Jessica Valenti web/@twitter/column

On a blog-related note: Woohoo for finally publishing my first book review here! Though it’s clearly delayed (finished the book in January, posting the review in April), I’m excited to jump into action with publishing reviews of my backlogged reads (complete list can be found here) and to eventually be posting at the same rate that I’m reading books. Thank you for reading this first blog and joining me on this journey!