Essays, Non-Fiction, Sociology

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed edited by Meghan Daum

For some reason, the government feels the need to weigh in on a woman’s right to have, or refrain from having, children. For some reason, this is a controversial topic, and therefore this, a book of essays from (mostly) women who have chosen not to have children, is a controversial book. As a recently married young woman who is not sure about whether or not she would like to have children, I have found this book speaks to me.

Synopsis

One of the most commonly raised topics of cultural conversation during the last decade was the supposed “fertility crisis,” and whether modern women could figure out a way to have it all – a successful career and the required 2.3 children – before their biological clocks stopped ticking. Now, however, the conversation has turned to whether it’s necessary to have it all or, perhaps more controversial, whether children are really a requirement for a fulfilling life.

Review

I have not been asked why I don’t have children, but it has been mentioned, by people that I don’t know, that I must have children. Because I’ve said something nice to a child, because my “teacher voice” comes out occasionally, even just because I teach. The only people who pester me about when I’m going to have children are people I know. They don’t even ask if, always when, as thought the “if” is a forgone conclusion.

I’ve been making my way through this essay collection for the past year, pretty much since shortly after my husband and I got married. Until that point, everyone asked when we were getting married, so I figured once that happened, people would start asking when we were having children and ding ding ding! I was right! Thankfully, Ben and I are on the same page when it comes to having children or not, we are both in the middle – we haven’t yet decided. But I’d like the world to understand, just as the sixteen writers in this collection outline, it’s our decision.

While the collection claims to examine many different reasons for not having children, none of the authors really touch on anything besides choice. Infertility, fear for the safety of the world and future offspring, etc. are not topics that are covered. Most of the authors discuss simply not feeling the maternal instinct. While I enjoyed reading each of these essays, they do tend towards ranting rather than an actual sociological perspective which would be a helpful addition to society’s debate over women’s reproductive choices.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9781250081643 • 288 pages • originally published March 2015, this edition published April 2016 by Picador USA • average Goodreads rating 3.73 out of 5 • read in October 2017

Meghan Daum’s Website

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed on Goodreads

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Selfish Shallow and Self-Absorbed

Non-Fiction, Psychology, Sociology, Young Adult

The Fangirl Life by Kathleen Smith

This book was put in my cubby by one of my coworkers when it was still just an ARC about a year and a half ago, prior to its publication. I’m not sure if they were trying to send me a message, or if it was intended for me to pass along to my fangirl YA book club members, but either way, I’m glad to have been introduced to, and read, The Fangirl Life.

Synopsis

You’d probably know a “fangirl” when you see one, but the majority stay relatively closeted due to the stigma of being obsessed with fictional characters. However, these obsessions are sometimes the fangirl’s solutions for managing stress, anxiety, and even low self-esteem. Fangirling is often branded as behavior young women should outgrow and replace with more adult concerns. Written by a proud fangirl, The Fangirl Life is a witty testament to the belief that honoring your imagination can be congruous with good mental health, and it’s a guide to teach fangirls how to put their passion to use in their own lives.

The Fangirl Life encourages you to use an obsession not as a distraction from the anxieties of your life, but rather as a test lab for your own life story: How can a character girl crush be useful instead of a waste of time? How can writing fan fiction be a launching point for greater endeavors? How do you avoid the myths that fictional romance perpetuates?

By showing you how to translate obsession into personal accomplishment while affirming the quirky, endearing qualities of your fangirl nature, The Fangirl Life will help you become your own ultimate fangirl.

Review

Before starting to read The Fangirl Life, I would have considered myself a mild fangirl – I have my fandoms, I’m a book hoarder, I make everyone I know read Throne of Glass, I love Downton Abbey and the Jazz Age, I adore Hermione Granger, I can quote Gilmore Girls like there’s no tomorrow, I have an extensive collection of Eeyore mugs, and I buy everything I can get my hands on that has to do with Peter Pan. But my fandoms have never gotten in the way of my personal relationships. If anything, they’ve allowed me to bond faster with people when I feel socially awkward or anxious or when trying to make a new friend. I created a book club for the sake of meeting new friends and shamelessly used my obsession with bound tomes to do so.

But as I was reading The Fangirl Life, I began to hate myself and went though a self-doubt crisis – what if everything that I thought was normal and healthy was actually really bad for me? Was I using fandoms as a ways to escape from my friends and family when I just needed some alone time? Was I using my love of Downton Abbey to convince my now husband to have a ’20s themed wedding against his will? Did collecting Eeyore mugs mean deep down I was gloomy and depressed? Was my love of Peter Pan indicative of my inability to mature and act like a responsible adult? Was the article I wrote about how I’m like Paris Geller more accurate than I let myself believe?

I guess that’s the problem with reading Self-Help books – unless you, or someone you love and care about, think you might need help, you don’t. Don’t try to fix what isn’t broken. Thankfully, I realized that Kathleen Smith was not judging me. She was not telling me I had a problem, or problems, as I had myself convinced, but that I should be mindful of when I am using them to escape from reality in an unhealthy way. I also realized, I’d never read a Self-Help book before and that if I really am tearing myself apart over one that doesn’t necessarily apply to me, I could probably do with reading a few to help bolster my self-esteem a bit.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9781101983690 • 240 pages • published July 2016 by Tarcherperigee • average Goodreads rating 3.97 • read in April 2016

Kathleen Smith’s Website

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Fangirl Life

Non-Fiction, Photography/Art, Sociology

Strong is the New Pretty by Kate T. Parker

Shortly after Strong is the New Pretty came out and jumped onto the bestsellers list, my coworker’s stepmother came into the store and scoffed in disdain at the cover and claimed that we (society) were now turning girls into boys. I was livid, absolutely livid to say the least and my coworker had to restrain me to keep me from screaming at her stepmother. Far from my proudest moment, but one that inspired a passionate response, one that I shared in my review both and the store and below in this post here.

Synopsis

Girls being fearless. Girls being silly. Girls being wild, stubborn, and proud. Girls whose faces are smeared with dirt and lit up with joy. With more than 150 full-color and black-and-white photographs, Strong is the New Pretty is a powerful visual celebration of the strength and spirit of girls – athletic girls and bookish girls, artsy girls and contemplative girls, girls holding their best friends’ hands and girls running through the sprinkler. It’s the book that says to girls, be yourself because that’s what makes you strong. Divided into nine chapters, including Confident is Strong, Wild is Strong, Kind is Strong, Determined is Strong, and Creative is Strong, Strong is the New Pretty says beauty has nothing to do with looks – it’s showing the world what’s inside you that counts. It’s inspiring, it’s liberating, and it conveys a powerful message for every girl, for every mother and father of a girl, for teachers and counselors and mentors and coaches.

Review

There is nothing that makes me angrier or more upset than people criticizing anyone for trying to express themselves. Kate Parker opens the book with an introduction that starts with a story about her hair getting in her way when playing soccer and how happy she was to have it chopped off into a bowl cut. When I was 6, I did the same thing. I wanted to be just like Kerri Strug. I wanted to play ice hockey. I used to pester my parents for an older brother and was given the explanation that as the oldest child, I would not be getting an older brother to play hockey with. (Little did my parents anticipate they would get divorced and I would get my older brother! But that’s beside the point.)

Basically, I wanted to do everything – play sports, play instruments, run races, ride by bike around our lake, jump in the stream beside my dad’s house, take art classes, read constantly – I had more interests than there were hours in the day to pursue them, which is still the case. And the greatest thing about my childhood? My parents let me. Regardless of my parents’ differences, they were united on at least one front : my sister and I were allowed to pursue basically anything that we wanted, we were allowed to try anything we wanted, even shop in the boys clothing section if that’s what we wanted.

I wish there was a book like Strong is the New Pretty around when I was a child and had to explain to the boys in my class and my friends’ parents that being a tomboy was perfectly acceptable. Kate Parker takes the approach to raising girls that my parents did and for that, I am most grateful to her. As one of my friends is expecting her first child, a girl, in a few short months, I want her daughter to know that she can be whatever, and whoever, she wants to be, both when she’s a kid and when she grows up.

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $17.95 • 9780761189138 • 256 pages • published March 2017 by Workman Publishing • average Goodreads rating 4.56 out of 5 • read in July 2017

Kate T. Parker’s Website

Strong is the New Pretty on Goodreads

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Strong is the New Pretty (2)

 

Non-Fiction, Sociology

Dear Ijeawele by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A few weeks ago, I made a semi-major life change – in an effort to be more healthy, I decided to take up running on a regular basis. Struggling to find a way to do everything I wanted to in my free time (basically, I would rather be reading than running), I decided to finally download the Overdrive app and listen to audiobooks from my local library while I ran. Dear Ijeawele (Ee-gee-ah-way-lee) happened to be the first book that I searched for that was available, and I had been meaning to read We Should All be Feminists, so another book by the same author seemed fitting.

Synopsis

A few years ago, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie received a letter from a childhood friend, asking her how to raise her baby girl to be a feminist. Dear Ijeawele is Adichie’s letter of response.

Here are fifteen invaluable suggestions – compelling, direct, wryly funny, and perceptive – for how to empower a daughter to become a strong, independent woman. From encouraging her to choose a helicopter, and not only a doll, as a toy if she so desires; having open conversations with her about clothes, makeup, and sexuality; debunking the myth that women are somehow biologically arranged to be in the kitchen making dinner and that men can “allow” women to have full careers, Dear Ijeawele goes right to the heart of sexual politics in the twenty-first century. It will start a new and urgently needed conversation about what it really means to be a woman today.

Review

The audiobook for this short tome is only an hour and a half long – the perfect length for one of my long run workouts. I don’t know about other runners/walkers, but the time for me is one of contemplation, as a distraction from focusing on my allergy induced wheezing and agonizing over how much my muscles hurt. Running through Valley Forge helps me focus on my thoughts and nature, and what I’m listening to while doing so.

As I listened to Dear Ijeawele, I considered the following: Both my sister-in-law and a close friend are expecting their first children in October and I have lately been contemplating what type of aunt/quasi-aunt I want to be. My husband has a younger sister who is 9 years old and I find myself reflecting on the sort of example I set for her when she was a very small child. Did I encourage her to be herself? Did I ever unwittingly tell her that she could or couldn’t do something simply because she was a girl? Is her present obsession with pink something she truly enjoys, or does she love pink and princesses because we as a society have conditioned her to? Did she want to wear her Converse high-tops as flower girl in my wedding because I thought it’d be cool, or because she did? How much did I influence her versus how many decisions did she make on her own?

The more I thought about it, the more worked up I got. I felt like I hadn’t followed any of Adichie’s suggestions, not that I was/am responsible for how my younger sister-in-law lives her 3rd grade life, but I want to be a positive, feminist influence on her life. And then I realized, yes, language matters, and yes, the relationships that young children witness matter, but no, not every woman has to have the same definition of feminism. So long as girls and women have choices, and those choices should be the same as men’s, they can live their lives however they want. My definition of feminism is not my mother’s definition, or even the same as my sister’s definition. My definition of feminism is to be my own person, and so long as that is what I strive to show the young children in my life, then I believe I have embodied the spirit of Adichie’s suggestions, even if I haven’t followed them letter for letter, word for word.

So learn from me, read or listen for a new and unique perspective, but do not take Dear Ijeawele as feminism gospel. Interpret Adichie’s suggestions for yourself, your family, and those young girls in your life and simply embrace the idea that everyone should have the choice and freedom to be whoever they wish to be.*

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $15.00 • 9781524733131 • 80 pages • published March 2017 by Knopf Publishing Group • average Goodreads rating 4.56 out of 5 • read in April 2017

*so long as whoever you/they wish to be causes no harm to anyone else

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Website

Dear Ijeawele on Goodreads

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Dear Ijeawele

Non-Fiction, Photography/Art, Sociology

Pantsuit Nation by Libby Chamberlain

I requested a copy of Pantsuit Nation from one of the publisher reps who visit the bookstore that I work at. Often times, if a book is not released as an ARC, or Advanced Reader Copy, it is unlikely for a publisher to just send a free copy of a finished book… but this time, I got lucky and the finished copy of Pantsuit Nation was happily awaiting me in my cubby one morning at work!

Synopsis

Pantsuit Nation celebrates the power of collective storytelling. We amplify the voices of those who have been historically underrepresented, excluded, and marginalized. We listen. We are strong in our diversity. We invite conversation – true conversation – about the issues that are most fundamental to us and to our identities.

We believe that feminism is intersectional. We believe the “women’s rights are human rights.” WE believe that progress around racial justice, LGBTQIA+ rights, rights for people with disabilities, religious freedom, and the first to combat hatred and bigotry in all forms is most effective when emboldened and humanized through first-person narrative. We believe that politics is personal, and that progressive movement happens when the empathetic potential of a story is unleashed.

Stories spark change. Taken individually, a story can create a tiny opening in a once-closed space. It is a glimmer. As Pantsuit Nation, millions of glimmers combine to create the kind of bright light that can’t be ignored or overshadowed.

Review

Shortly before the election last November, my mother, who is far more present on Facebook than her two twenty-something daughters, shared with us that she had recently joined a Facebook group called Pantsuit Nation. Needless to say, Laura and I were most intrigued – we had all become a bit “news obsessed,” watching the media circus known as Decision 2016 and knew of both our mom’s, and Hillary Clinton’s, obsession with pantsuits.

My mother has worn her power suit for pretty much my entire life as she worked in just about every facet of public education, first for the state of Pennsylvania, and now on a national level. The idea of standing with Hillary in a pantsuit, appealed greatly to our mother’s sensibilities, it was a natural thing for her to do anyway, but for Laura and me, we didn’t usually dress in the power suit vein. But Mom invited Laura and me to the private Facebook group anyway, knowing there was little chance we’d don the garb, but we would enjoy the stories.

And the stories, oh the stories shared in that Facebook group that are now published in print in Pantsuit Nation. They made us smile, they made us cry, they made us angry, and they made us realize that we are not alone. And most importantly, the stories, coming from people off absolutely all walks of life, made us realize that voting for Hillary went so much deeper than wanting a woman in office. Voting for Hillary meant exercising our human right to vote, our human right to stand up to oppression, and our human right to be heard together as one voice, regardless of race, religion, gender identity, etc.

So, should you pick up a copy of Pantsuit Nation? Well, let’s see: Do you feel lost and hopeless in America’s current political climate? Do you need some inspiration and hope? Do you appreciate the power of collective story telling? Is your heart open to change and being inspired by the unexpected? Then yes. Yes, you should.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $27.99 • 9781250153326 • 288 pages • published May 2017 by Flatiron Books • average Goodreads rating 4.6 out of 5 • read in May 2017

Pantsuit Nation Website

Pantsuit Nation on Goodreads

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Pantsuit Power Flash Mob for Hillary

Pantsuit Nation