Biography, History, Non-Fiction

The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich

I’m not a big post-it note person when it comes to reading, but just in the introduction to this book, I put 6 notes. The content is so unbelievable, it just can’t be made up.

Synopsis

The Unwomanly Face of War is the long-awaited English translation of Svetlana Alexievich’s first book, a groundbreaking oral history of women in World War II across Europe and Russia. Alexievich chronicles the experiences of the Soviet women who fought on the front lines, on the home front, and in the occupied territories These women – more than a million in total – were nurses and doctors, pilots, tank drivers, machine-gunners, and snipers. They battled alongside men, and yet, after the victory, their sacrifices were forgotten. Alexievich traveled thousands of miles and visited more than a hundred towns to record these women’s stories. Together, this symphony of voices reveals a different aspect of the war – the everyday details of life in combat left out of the official histories.

Review

Recently I saw a question asked on a Goodreads forum about whether or not a book was “another Holocaust book.” The asked wanted to know because she was sick of reading that narrative. The population of the internet, being the internet, set about roasting her alive. How, they asked could she be so callus and cold? And no one was forcing her to read such books, etc, etc. She later clarified that she simply wanted a different perspective on the war, a different take, a different story. And to that, I could relate.

Given my present nonfiction binge, added to my fascination with the women’s role in WWII (also the topic of Laura’s masters thesis), I began reading both The Unwomanly Face of War and The Women Who Flew for Hitler. And I’ve now convinced Laura to read them, but that’s a bit besides the point. There are two predominant WWII narratives, the harrowing narrative of the Jews, such as the narrative of Anne Frank, and the narratives of the battles, such as Dunkirk, with some political intrigue thrown in (Churchill, Roosevelt, etc.). The narratives of individual servicemen and women are often overlooked in favor of the larger narrative. The narrative of war is collective, suffering individual.

Many of the women Alexievich interviewed were a bit shocked that she wanted to hear their stories and their husbands were incredibly shocked that their wives were sharing such stories. Because they are far from pretty. They are far from decent. Their descriptions of what life was like in the Soviet military are absolutely shocking. And most importantly, their narratives deserve to be heard. Take the time to read this atypical WWII narrative I you will not be disappointed, I promise.

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $18.00 • 9780399588747 • 384 pages • originally published in English in July 2017, this edition published April 2018 by Random House Trade • original Russian publication 1985 • average Goodreads rating 4.52 out of 5 • read June 2018

Svetlana Alexievich’s Website

The Unwomanly Face of War on Goodreads

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Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction, Political Science

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco

Like my present obsession with the Royals (well, persistent obsession since I was 7 years old and Diana died), I’ve recently become entranced by the the American version, and no, I absolutely do not mean the Kardasians, but those who occupy the White House. Prior to the current occupants. Wow, there are a lot of stipulations on my interests… anyway, White House memoirs and bios are my jam lately apparently.

Synopsis

Alyssa Mastromonaco worked for Barack Obama for almost a decade, and long before his run for president. From the then-senator’s early days in Congress to his years in the Oval Office, she made Hope and Change happen through blood, sweat, tears, and lots of briefing binders.

But for every historic occasion – meeting the queen at Buckingham Palace, bursting in on secret climate talks, or nailing a campaign speech in a hailstorm – there were dozens of less-than-perfect moments when it was up to Alyssa to save the day. Like the time she learned the hard way that there aren’t nearly enough bathrooms as the Vatican.

Full of hilarious, never-before-told stories, Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? is an intimate portrait of a president, a book about how to get stuff done, and the story of how one woman challenged, again and again, what a “White House official” is supposed to look like.

Review

I had a whole clever introduction figured out in my head earlier today, but, as is the case with my most brilliant phrases, they were lost to the sands of time because I didn’t write them down. That happens more often these days it seems. When I first picked up Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, I did so with the intention of giving it to my mother for her birthday. And then I really hoped she’d read it, and then I’d read it, and we could talk about it. I don’t think she’s read it yet though, so I’m going to share all of my thoughts with you lovely readers!

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly how to classify this book – part memoir, part job search assistant, part political insider knowledge, part humor, part everything, and I enjoyed each and every facet of it. Lately I’ve been trying to find the motivation to take the steps necessary to move back into the world of teaching and, once I realized that the intended release date was meant to coincide with graduations, the job advice part really made sense and stuck. It’s been quite helpful, and I’m glad I’ve finished it before high school graduation season here at the store so that I can recommend it to those looking for insightful and helpful presents.

The timeline of Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? is not chronological which, for a memoir, takes some getting used to (I would make memoir its primary genre, though I found it in domestic affairs at a B&N which I disagree with – we shelve it in biography). As with First Women, Mastromonaco tends to share things thematically, which I appreciated. There are some continuing threads, including stories of her cat and family (some of my personal favorites) and travel, mostly with Obama. I would strongly recommend it to anyone who is looking for an enjoyable book about political life that really has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with growing up and figuring out who you are while you attempt to change the world and bring hope to America.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $15.99 • 9781455588237 • 272 pages • originally published March 2017, this edition published March 2018 by Twelve • average Goodreads rating 3.89 out of 5 • read May 2018

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History, Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

First Women by Kate Andersen Brower

I’ve always loved biographies of the royals and, as an #ImWithHer girl, when I realized that First Women existed, I figured it would be one that I should take a look at.

Synopsis

One of the most underestimated – and demanding – positions in the world, the first lady of the United States must be many things: an inspiring leader with a forward-thinking agenda of her own; a savvy politician, skilled at navigating the treacherous rapids of Washington; a wife and mother operating under constant scrutiny; and an able CEO responsible for the smooth operation of the White House resident. Now, as she did in The Residence, former White House correspondent Kate Andersen Brower draws on a wide array of untapped, candid sources – from residence staff and social secretaries to friends and political advisers to the former first ladies themselves – to tell the stories of the ten remarkable women who have defined the role since 1960.

Brower offers new insights into this privileged group of women. The stories she shares range from the heartwarming to the shocking and tragic, exploring everything from their friendships with other first ladies to their public and private relationships with their husbands. She also presents a new portrait of one of the most-watched first ladies of all time, Hillary Clinton.

Review

I poured through First Women with an obsessive attitude. I devoured all of the information about the first  ladies from Jackie to Michelle (I read the hardcover and therefore did not read the afterward about Melania). First Ladies includes glimpses into the lives of the following ladies: Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, Rosalind Carter, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush & Michelle Obama with a few illusions to Mamie Eisenhower and the first truly modern first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt.

I’ve always had my personal favorites, Jackie, Nancy, Hillary & Michelle, and the others I really didn’t know much about. My favorite line emphasizes the regal aspect of the Kennedys, when Grace Kelly’s daughter, and real life princess, Princess Caroline, refers to Caroline Kennedy as Princess Caroline Kennedy. I’ve always been fascinated by Jackie and so learning more about her thrilled me. Learning more about Rosalind, Pat & Barbara, who just recently pasted away, was also enlightening and enlivening.

Each chapter is divided by topic, not by first lady as I anticipated. This was mostly helpful, though occasionally confusing. Brower has a penchant to use lots of pronouns, which means I would often lose track of which first lady she would be referring to. Additionally, her primary source in regards to Michelle Obama was clearly her hair dresser and every time Michelle enters the narrative, Brower feels the need to emphasize, repeatedly, that Michelle did not want to be first lady. Over and over again – we get it, she didn’t want to be there. It seemed like the life of Michelle was shunted aside in favor of Lady Bird and Nancy particularly.

Because of this, what I feel was an, extreme oversight of the value of the first lady beloved by the country, I did not have the most favorable opinion of the book, and yet, I couldn’t stop reading.

Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $15.99 • 9780062439666 • 416 pages • first published April 2016, this edition published January 2017 by Harper Paperbacks • average Goodreads rating 3.70 out of 5 stars • read in May 2018

Kate Andersen Brower’s Website

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First Women

Essays, Non-Fiction, Sociology

We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

After reading Dear Ijeawele, I figured it was probably about time that I picked up We Should All be Feminists. Many friends and coworkers and customers at the store all raved about it, so time to jump on the bandwagon!

Synopsis

What does feminism mean today? In this personal, eloquently argued essay – adapted from her much-admired TEDx talk of the same name – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, award-winning author of Americanah, offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century, one rooted in inclusion and awareness. Drawing extensively on her own experiences and her deep understanding of the often masked realities of sexual politics, here is one remarkable author’s exploration of what it means to be a woman now – and an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists.

Review

I think my comprehension is suffering of late, or I’ve inundated myself with so many feminist reads that they’re all starting to blend together. I read We Should All be Feminists just a few days ago, and I enjoyed it while reading, but now, a few days later, I cannot, for the life of me, remember details. Shorter works just don’t seem to stay in my head as long, I’m guessing because I don’t have the time to settle into the topic and really think about it for a few days – I read We Should All be Feminists in half an hour.

That being said, I apologize to anyone who was expecting a really in depth analysis of these 64 pages, but I have to admit, I sat down to write this review six or seven times in the last three days and nothing has come to mind. It didn’t leave a lasting impression, which is awful – I enjoyed it while reading, the subject matter is important, but it’s been lost to the thousands of pages of feminist prose and essays I’ve read in the last four months.

Does this mean I recommend it? Of course I do – it’s my next staff pick at the bookstore. But that doesn’t mean I have any idea what to say about it…

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $7.95 • 9781101911761 • 64 pages • published February 2015 by Anchor Books • average Goodreads rating 4.47 out of 5 stars • read April 2018

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Website

We Should All be Feminists on Goodreads

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Essays, Non-Fiction, Sociology

The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

In my continuing quest to find the perfect audiobook, I decided to take a chance on a book I know I have an ARC for around my apartment somewhere… And I’d been meaning to read it for ages but then lost it. So the audiobook, perfect solution!… for the most part.

Synopsis

The Geek Feminist Revolution is Hurley’s manifesto and her call to arms, her life story and her moving personal experiences. Beyond addressing the ongoing conversations in the science fiction community, the core themes of her essays – fighting against the suppression of women, finding perseverance to thrive as an artist, and encouraging cultural change by critiquing its media – resonate with everyone. Her voice adds to today’s growing canon of feminist writing. Assembled herein are dozens of entries from her blog, including the 2013 Hugo Award-winning “We Have Always Fought,” and nine new essays written specifically for this collection.

Review

The audiobook needs a new reader. I don’t like being yelled at. I like being yelled at even less when I agree with what the yeller is saying. I think that The Geek Feminist Revolution is an important book for the post election, current #MeToo universe that we are living in today. And I really wish I had read it, instead of listened to it. However, I think it is also important that women remember that everyone is taken more seriously in their arguments when they maintain a level tone and refrain from screaming and yelling. But that’s not really the point of the book, just my point that it should be read, not listened to.

Feminist geeks come in all shapes and sizes. Today, the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs have started – I think it’s safe to call myself an ice hockey geek, I’ve been one from 2/3 of my life. But, as with most things when it comes to women liking things that have traditionally been “Male Things,” a heavy dose of sexism has accompanied it – how many times have I been called a “puck bunny” (a hockey groupie) instead of just being called a fan? More than I can count.

In The Geek Feminist Revolution, Kameron Hurley raises many points that a lot of geek girls can relate to – from the importance of Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road (my favorite essay) to how to effectively take criticism from the masses in a world of constant Twitter wars. What I didn’t particularly care for, were the personal parts of the book that I found had nothing to do with the content of the other essays. It felt like a pity party for the author, instead of furthering the geek feminist revolution.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $15.99 • 9780765386243 • 288 pages • published May 2016 by Tor Books • average Goodreads rating 3.93 out of 5 stars • read in April 2018

Kameron Hurley’s Website

Geek Feminist Revolution on Goodreads

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Geek Feminist Revolution

Bookish Friday

Good Little Feminist

The Inspiration

On Saturday, I almost got into a fight. I rarely say such things, or even contemplate turning to any sort of violent behavior to settle a disagreement, but hear me out.

My husband and I went to a concert in Philadelphia, something that we often do but that frequently causes anxiety for me. I don’t want to say that I attract any sort of trouble, this doesn’t seem to be the case. But I seem to frequently find myself in a position of discomfort with another concert goer with whom I was not previously acquainted. Last time, I guy kept bumping into me from behind every time he would go to the bar behind me, then would turn around and lear at me afterwards. After this happened for the third time, my husband and his two friends made a ring around me and then magically, the next half dozen times this man came up, I was left alone. After the concert, he was escorted from the building by security for harassing another female concert goer who spoke up. But I had kept quiet.

On Saturday, a man continuously backed into me from the front row of a standing room only concert. I asked him politely once to step forward because I didn’t want to spill a beverage on him, and a second time to stop backing into me when he repeatedly swayed back into me, clearly intoxicated. I finally put my hands up in a fist in front of me so that he could tell each time he did so. When I asked him to stop a third time, he turned around and screamed at me saying he was doing no such thing. Instead of doing something productive, I froze. We live in a country of concealed weapons and mass shootings. How did I know that this man wasn’t about to pull a gun or knife on me if I made a scene in regards to his behavior? When did I become so terrified? Eventually I found a different place to stand and this man continued to do the same thing to three men who were behind me, all of whom became clearly annoyed. But, given the society that we live in, I had a double edged sword in my pocket.

My word to any member of security would have carried more weight than any man’s. If I had punched him, I would have been defending myself, if my husband had done so, he would have been arrested for assault. But again, I did nothing, this time out of fear. Out of fear of retribution or anger.

If I ever have a daughter, I want to make sure that my husband and I raise her to be a feminist. And if we have a son, I want to make sure we raise him to be a feminist too. But ultimately, I hope that by the time I’ve reached the point in my life that I’m having these conversations with my hypothetical children, the world has come far enough that I don’t have to teach said hypothetical daughter about sticking a key between her fingers when walking by herself at night, or how to unlock pepper spray, or use her ice hockey skills to injure a potential attacker. I don’t want to know these things, but I do, despite my fear to utilize them. I don’t want to have to pass such knowledge on to my offspring. I want to share with them all the wonderful things that women have contributed to this world. I want to share with them my favorite anthologies of great women below this, my favorite feminist picture!

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Books I’ve Reviewed

  1. Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo
  2. Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win by Rachel Ignotofsky
  3. Strong is the New Pretty by Kate T. Parker
  4. Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  5. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik
  6. It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Guide to Love & War by Lynsey Addario
  7. Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors & Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs
  8. Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions & Heretics by Jason Porath
  9. Selfish, Shallow & Self-Absorbed: 16 Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids edited by Meghan Daum
  10. The Little Book of Feminist Saints by Julia Pierpont & Manjit Thapp
  11. Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
  12. Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard
  13. Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You! by Marley Dias
  14. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
  15. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Books I Love But Haven’t Reviewed Yet

  1. Why I March: Images from the Women’s March Around the World by Abrams Books (pictured above)
  2. Bygone Badass Broads: 52 Forgotten Women Who Changed the World by Mackenzi Lee & Petra Eriksson
  3. Why We March: Signs of Protest and Hope – Voices from the Women’s March by Artisan
  4. The Atlas of Beauty: Women of the World in 500 Portraits by Mihaela Noroc
  5. Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu
  6. The Pink Hat by Andrew Joyner
  7. Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World by Ann Shen
  8. Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels & What the Neighbors Thought by Kathleen Krull & Kathryn Hewitt
  9. The Secret Loves of Geek Girls edited by Hope Nicholson
  10. The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen: Awesome Female Characters from Comic Book History by Hope Nicholson

 

History, Non-Fiction

The Little Book of Feminist Saints by Julia Pierpont

Welcome to Women’s History Month! This month I will try to focus my reviews on books that discuss women in history and as I’ve read quite a few, it shouldn’t be too hard!

Synopsis

In this luminous volume, New York Times bestselling writer Julia Pierpont and artist Manjit Thapp match short, vibrant, and surprising biographies with stunning full-color portraits of secular female “saints” champions of strength and progress. These women broke ground, broke ceilings, and broke molds including:

Maya Angelou – Jane Austen – Ruby Bridges – Rachel Carson – Shirley Chisholm – Marie Curie & Irene Joliot Curie – Isadora Duncan – Amelia Earhart – Artemisia Gentileschi – Grace Hopper – Dolores Huerta – Frida Kahlo – Billie Jean King – Audre Lorde – Wilma Mankiller – Toni Morrison – Michelle Obama – Sandra Day O’Connor – Sally Ride – Eleanor Roosevelt – Margaret Sanger – Sappho – Nina Simone – Gloria Steinem – Kanno Sugako – Harriet Tubman – Mae West – Virginia Woolf – Malala Yousafzai

Review

Julia Pierpont starts off The Little Book of Feminist Saints with a story in her prologue about playing Peter Pan as a young girl. Immediately I knew I was going to enjoy reading little stories about the women she included in the book because of that story – I always played Peter Pan. Always.

Each of the women included are given their own day, just as Saints are, and the information on each page includes unique and inspirational information. The women included are a fairly diverse bunch and I enjoyed learning more about each of them. It is the perfect gift book for your favorite women!

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $18.00 • 9780399592744 • 208 pages • published March 2018 by Random House • average Goodreads rating 4.18 out of 5 stars • read in March 2018

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Essays, Non-Fiction, Sociology

Women & Power by Mary Beard

Oh the thoughts and tirades this book stirs up. But for the sake of review, I’ll try to keep it short and too the point. Add this to my growing pile of feminism reads.

Synopsis

At long last, Mary Bread has decided to address in one brave book the misogynists and trolls who mercilessly attack and demean women the world over. Few, sadly, are more experienced with this kind of hateful barrage than Beard herself, who has been subjected to a whole onslaught of criticism online, in response to her articles and public speeches.

In Women & Power, Beard presents her most powerful statement yet, tracing the origins of misogyny to their ancient roots. In two provocative essays, Beard connects the past to the present as only she can, examining the pitfalls of gender and the ways that history has mistreated powerful women since time immemorial.

As far back as Homer’s Odyssey, Beard shows, women have been prohibited from leadership roles in civic life, public speech historically being defined as inherently male. There is no clearer example than Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, who seals her lips and proceeds upstairs when told to shut up by Telemachus, her son. Other mouths in public or, against all odds, gained power – from would-be Roman orators, though the great queen Elizabeth I – have been treated as “freakish androgynes,” attacked or punished for their courage – regarded with suspicion at best, contempt at worst. From Medusa to Philomela (whose tongue was cut out), from Hillary Clinton to Elizabeth Warren (who was told to sit down), Beard draws endlessly illuminating parallels between our cultural assumptions about women’s relationship to power – and how powerful women provide a necessary example for all women who must resist being vacuumed into a male template.

Review

Emma Watson, hero to many young women, recently acknowledged that her position as a feminist comes with a dollop of white privilege. All things considered, as white, straight women raised in Western cultures, we are considerably better off in society than any LGBTQIA+ woman or women of color. This recently has made me realize that we are not only campaigning for equal rights for women, but that an additional hurdle, one that has been too often overlooked by straight, white women, needs to be addressed as well. I do not have the experiences of someone other than myself and I hope that as I continue to advocate for change, I embrace change for all, and that I do not rest on my laurels once I have achieved change for myself and those just like me, but that I continue crusading for all women.

Now, on to the review! Women and power, what a Pandora’s box of discussion topics such a title evokes. While I don’t have any recollection of being told to shut up, I have definitely been talked over until someone assumed that I would give up and be quiet. Which I wouldn’t. My mom always taught me that I was as strong as my voice and my voice was as strong as me. Basically, the only way to effect change would be to keep talking until I could no longer be ignored. It didn’t always serve me well, but I would always stand up for myself though throughout most of my high school years, I was called a bitch behind my back. Thankfully social media was not widely used back in the early ‘aughts.

My mom worked in education administration and would often be the only woman at meetings. Which always seemed to weird to me – the majority of teachers are women, but most principals and administrators are men. As her daughter, who also pursued a career in education, I struggled to get a reaction that wasn’t “Oh, you’re Amy’s daughter.” So I did the most patriarchal thing I could – changed my last name, my whole identity, when I got married, just so I wouldn’t constantly be compared to my mother or judged by some men’s perceptions of her position in the state educational system.

Every sentence, every phrase, Mary Beard hits the nail on the head. And, like most women, she doesn’t have an answer for how things can change. I don’t think any of us do. Sexism and misogyny is so rampant in cultures world wide that it is going to take a lot more than a few speeches for things to change. But I have to believe that they will. I have to believe that the great reckoning is coming for all those, men and women alike, who have aided in the silencing of women and, in the case of women, their peers. Until we all stand together and listen with respect to each other, we will fail to see forward progress.

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $15.95 • 9781631494758 • 128 pages • published December 2017 by Liveright Publishing Corporation • average Goodreads rating 4.17 out of 5 • read in February 2018

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Essays, Non-Fiction, Sociology

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

This seems like an apt title for this week! I am an unabashedly HUGE Eagles fan and I have been, according to my mom, since birth. It helps that her father, my grandfather, played for them briefly in the 1950s. We are an Eagles family, we bleed green. And nothing, well, almost nothing, frustrates me more than when I am trying to answer one of my female friend’s questions about the sport and a man feels the need to jump in and explain what’s going on to both of us.

Synopsis

In her comic, scathing essay “Men Explain Things to Me,” Rebecca Solnit took on what often goes wrong in conversations between men and women. She wrote about men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don’t, about why this arises, and how this aspect of the gender wars works, airing some of her own hilariously awful encounters.

She ends on a serious note – because the ultimate problem is the silencing of women who have something to say, including those saying things like, “He’s trying to kill me!”

This updated edition of the book features that now-classic essay as well as Solnit’s recent essay on the remarkable feminist conversation that arose in the wake of the 2014 Isla Vista Killings.

Review

The great reckoning, in terms of sexual assault, had been bubbling beneath the surface of society for years, decades, even centuries, before it burst through the surface and made headlines in late 2017. The most important aspect I want to make sure that I state in regards to this review is that Men Explain Things to Me is not an essay collection that bashes men.

Rebecca Solnit’s purpose in collecting together the essays that make up the book Men Explain Things to Me is, like any good journalist’s intention, to make her readers aware of things that are going on in the world today. Each essay in the collection deals at least in some small way how we interact with each other, both as members of society and within personal, intimate relationships. It is about encouraging women to find their voices and encouraging men to think about how their words and actions are perceived and interpreted.

For a fairly short book (less than 200 pages), it took me the better part of three weeks to read. Not because it was dense, or because I didn’t like, but because I wanted to make sure that I remembered Rebecca’s words and used them to do good in the world. One of the biggest strengths and challenges with the written word is that they can be interpreted in many different ways. Reading Men Explain Things to Me can be twisted and turned to make anyone’s point, and I don’t want to do that. I want to take what Solnit writes and make myself a better contributing member of society. And I have to believe that’s what she would want as well.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $12.95 • 9781608464661 • 176 pages • first published May 2014, this edition published September 2015 by Haymarket Books • average Goodreads rating 3.92 out of 5 • read in February 2018

Rebecca Solnit’s Website

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Essays, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Short Stories

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

Fantasy author Brian Staveley once told me he was haunted by the yellow coat on the cover of The Opposite of Loneliness, and for good reason – he was one of Marina Keegan’s high school teachers. He knew her before the rest of the world knew her. The Opposite of Loneliness would never had been published had Marina Keegan not been killed in a car accident shortly after her college graduation. But because she did, we, the world, and specifically millennials, have a tome of her works to pour over and continually hypothesize about what could have been.

Synopsis

An affecting and hope-filled posthumous collection of essays and stories from the talented Yale graduate whose title essay captured the worlds’ attention in 2012 and turned her into an icon for her generation.

Review

The Opposite of Loneliness is a book that should not exist. The Opposite of Loneliness is the book that I’m glad I didn’t write. These two statements may sound contradictory and my logic and reasoning are complex and circular to say the least. But most importantly, damn can Marina Keegan write. Could. Marina Keegan could write.

Marina Keegan is the new enigma and “could have, would have, should have world of possibilities” now haunting my mind. Her fiction is the writing of a slightly angsty, yearning-to-be-edgy college student exploring the themes of young love, changing families and drug use. She explores complex themes and extended metaphors that a fellow millennial can relate to. Her work, though, sadly leaves so much room for more. There is always room for more to the story. Her work doesn’t end neatly and cleanly wrapped up with a bow on top but open-ended and messy. By all accounts, her life was stereotypical in many ways, her experiences perfectly relatable which leads her fiction into a trap. She doesn’t have the life experience to make it credible.

Following the dozen or so fiction stories come some hard hitting and brainy non-fiction works, including the one about the artichokes that set Wall Street and the world of post-graduate consulting firms and hedge funds on edge. But my favorite, is “Stability in Motion,” Marina Keegan’s ode to her car. There’s a special bond that a teenage girl forges with her car and everything Marina said rang true of my experience as well. I think it’s funny that of all the pieces included, it was that one that stood out to me most. Marina’s writing is sarcastic and sharp, a literature or English professor’s dream. Unfortunately, she’ll never have the chance to grow, to evolve. She will always be a good college writer but held to the standards of what she could have been. The Opposite of Loneliness is worth a read for millennials, but I fear others just might not “get it.”

Marina Keegan, author of The Opposite of Loneliness, and I were born 39 days and 400 miles apart (I was first and further south). By a stroke of luck and the persistence of my mother, I wound up in the graduating college class of 2011 and Marina in the class of 2012. I went to the University of Pittsburgh, Marina to Yale (though I applied, I didn’t have the necessary background and stature required for admission as Marina did). I moved to southeastern Pennsylvania 5 days after my college graduation on May 1, 2011. A year later, five days after her own graduation, Marina died in a car accident.

I don’t know what I was doing on May 26, 2012 – it was the Saturday before Memorial Day, odds are I was shopping or possibly helping my grandmother get ready for her annual picnic to be held that Monday. I didn’t feel any great cosmic shift in the universe, I just went about my business on a typical, hopefully warm, May Saturday. But on that day, Marina Keegan died. And my millennial generation lost a giant that we weren’t even aware of, a literary giant who had spent the last two years of her life sitting in the hallowed halls of my dream school, doing what I love to do more than anything – writing. Writing stories, essays, everything. Marina put a voice to the generation who isn’t sure what they want to do with their lives but is sure of one thing – we wish to make a difference.

I’m heartbroken that Marina’s death is what brought her work to the masses, I’m heartbroken that I can never stand in line at Book Con or an NYC Barnes & Noble hopping up and down excitedly on the balls of my feet, anxiously waiting to meet her and ask her to sign my book. Anxiously waiting to tell her how much I identify with her writing and then getting tongue tied when the moment arrives (invariably this happens to me anytime I meet anyone I really respect in the literary world).

I flew through The Opposite of Loneliness and it was like reading a letter from a long-distance friend. I realized, while reading, that Marina said all the things I was never brave enough to say in college and that the way her professors described her is probably very similar to how mine would have described me. Would Marina and I have been friends if I went to Yale? Probably not – we seem to be too similar – but we would have respected each other, of this I am certain.

Marina’s path represents, to me, one of my many paths not taken. I’ve been writing like a fiend since I was 12, but never thought to do so as a career except for a marvelous three months while studying film at Pitt and indulging in my screenwriting passion and then realizing that I’d never take a screenwriting class at Pitt (long story…) – I wasn’t heartbroken, I moved on to history and theater and political science and studio arts – my interests were (and still are) quite varied. But there is always a thought that strikes me every time I start teaching a new writing class – I absolutely cannot imagine a world without writing. I cannot imagine not having the opportunity to put pen to paper and tell a story or share my thoughts. Such a world is incomprehensible and I’d rather, well, I don’t know what I’d rather, but I refuse to bear witness to such an atrocity as the world without writing.

And that brings me to my ever-eventual point of tying everything in my life back to education. Without writing, without a strong literary culture, the world would have never cultivated the great mind and talent of Marina Keegan. So, I plead with schools, never forsake the written word. Never give up on teaching 2nd graders the importance of writing.

Rating: Essays 8 out of 10 stars, Short Stories 6 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $15.00 • 9781476753911 • 256 pages • first published April 2014, this edition published April 2015 by Scribner Book Company • average Goodreads rating 3.82 • read in May 2015

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Opposite of Loneliness