Category Archives: sexuality

Hunger by Roxane Gay

hungerLike much of the literary world, I am obsessed with Roxane Gay and I LOVED her collection of essays that blended memoir, popular culture, and commentary on society, Bad FeministHunger: A Memoir of (My) Body dives more deeply into some of the pieces of Gay’s story that she alluded to within Bad Feminist.

The composition of this collection was different than a memoir I’ve read before: the chapters vary in length, some only a page long, as if they’re all of the thoughts Gay had while conceiving this book, some jotted in the notes app on her phone so as not to forget and then left in their brief form. Other short pieces signify emotions that simply have too much underneath them to be explored further.

This book is heavy and you should take your time with reading it and give yourself the space to unpack the things that have happened and persisted in Gay’s life. Her story will likely make you reflect upon your own life stories and you should give yourself the time to do so. Within Hunger, Gay details her trauma associated with a gang rape, which had been lightly brushed upon in Bad Feminist, how fat bodies often have trauma and stories underneath that people dismiss or assume the bodies are just in poor health out of choice, her challenges with romantic and sexual relationships post-trauma, with her body, and with her geographic location, and the ways that people assume large bodies are always indicative of poor health.

Hunger forced me to challenge some assumptions I didn’t even know I had about how people move through the world and some of the things people who are large are forced to consider that I simply take for granted (i.e., will the chairs at this restaurant be compatible and provide necessary support to my body?). While Hunger definitely made me aware of things I had previously been oblivious to, it’s also important to remember that the book is an account of one person’s experiences with a large, fat body and it shouldn’t be taken as how everyone with these bodies feels or what they want, an important point that Gay emphasizes throughout her work.

Speaking of her work, I haven’t read any of Gay’s fiction pieces yet, but maybe I should add Difficult Women to my 2018 reading list? Hunger makes me want to be a Roxane Gay completionist, something that I feel like is rarer and rarer for me to even consider pursuing while staring at my ever mounting To Read pile, but Gay’s writing encourages me to do so. If you haven’t read one of her works yet, pick up Hunger or Bad Feminist the next time you see them at a store or your local library!

As an aside, this anecdote is tangentially related to the book Hunger, but I’m going to share anyway. Last year, I was inspired by the podcast The Cooler to start a “long-distance book club” with a bestie. The idea revolves around you reading a book on your own, underlining your favorite bits that resonate with you, and then passing along the book to a friend who can reflect on your bits, add their own bits, and give you specific things to talk about when you catch up on the phone since sometimes long distance besties can get in the rut of not really talking about their lives. While I do this with my faraway friends, I also do it with two of my nearby friends wherein we read the book back-to-back and then have a coffee/beer date where we talk about the book, like a two person book club where you only have to buy one copy of the book. There’s something so intimate in seeing what lines specifically connect with a friend and it can be very revealing, especially with a book like Hunger. My friend and I shared Hunger and it ended up being a nice way to talk about very sensitive and personal topics without having to put all of the cards on the table. I do this with a lot of books, but the experience of sharing Hunger will always be a poignant memory for me. 

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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)

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

imageLast summer, I read and thoroughly enjoyed the graphic novel + memoir Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. The novel depicts the author’s relationship with her father and how she came to understand her sexuality and identity. While I really liked the book, I lamented that the author barely detailed her relationship with her mother. I was thrilled to learn that Bechdel had written and illustrated another book, Are You My Mother?, as a somewhat-sequel to Fun Home. It’s a “somewhat-sequel” in that it’s definitely a companion to Fun Home and alludes to the other book, but doesn’t continue the story chronologically.

I absolutely LOVED Are You My Motherand found it to be superior to Fun Home. That said, I do think you need to read Fun Home first in order to get the most out of Are You My Mother? This graphic novel grapples with Bechdel’s distant, yet extremely close relationship with her mother (who recently passed in 2013) — her mother kept her at a distance as a child, but called her extremely frequently as an adult, discussing trivial things instead of delving into the intimate details of their relationship, as is common for a lot of people with somewhat strained parental relationships.

The distance and childhood detachment was likely a product of the societal and psychological norms of childrearing which existed in the 1960s/1970s, something that Bechdel spends a lot of time exploring within the novel. As someone who has spent a lot of time pondering my own relationship with my mother since she died when I was a child, I ultimately spent a lot of the time considering the psychological theories (drawn mostly from psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott‘s beliefs) that Bechdel shared in relation to my own experiences with my mother. I found the book extremely enlightening and I enjoyed the reflective mood that it launched me into. If you’re someone who doesn’t want to spend time analyzing your own maternal relationship, I don’t recommend this book to you, but if that idea piques your interest in any way, you won’t regret delving into the graphic novel. 

Because of my #FindABook project, I’ve gotten into the habit of giving away all of the books that I physically own after I finish them in order to eliminate clutter in my apartment. Since living in New York for the last 1.5 years, I’ve only wanted to hang on to two books and Are You My Mother? is one of the books that will stay in my lifelong collection and that is the strongest endorsement that I can give to a book.

While I was still on a reading high from finishing this book, my neighbor and podcasting partner (shameless plug for my podcast, Friday Night Lives, about the TV show Friday Night Lights) and I got tickets to see Fun Home, the broadway musical, on stage for later this week! I cannot wait to see the first novel in action. Bechdel’s work is a true treasure and I’m sad I didn’t bring it into my life sooner! Maybe I’ll even write a review about the musical…

Publication Date: 1 May 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Format: Paperback.

Author: Alison Bechdel web/@twitter/facebook

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