Bad Feminist

Roxane Gay writes in the introduction to her 2014 collection of essays: "I openly embrace the label of bad feminist. I do so because I am flawed and human. I am not terribly well versed in feminist history. I am not as well read in key feminist texts as I would like to be." And she spends the rest of the collection proving that she is not in fact a "bad" feminist. Rather, she makes the point that feminism is not perfect. And it contains multitudes. And contradictions. And it demands intersectionality. I wish I was more educated on feminist theories and feminist writings, but there's no good time to just tackle everything. So I downloaded Bad Feminist onto my kindle and read it in between studying for my midterms (eventually, I got to a point where I was so absorbed in the essays that they stopped becoming my "study breaks" and just became my night). Gay has a strong internet presence; even if you don't end up reading this collection of essays, she has a lot published online and is very active on twitter. If you just want to read one of her pieces, I recommend How America Profiled Trayvon Martin and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (on media and terrorism and representation). And if you want to read another, on a totally different topic, Not Here to Make Friends is a fantastic look at likability and the importance of unlikable female protagonists (think Amy in Gone Girl). Even though you could probably read most of the essays online in isolation, the collection worked together very cohesively. The essays are divided into five groups: "Me," "Gender & Sexuality," "Race & Entertainment," "Politics, Gender & Race," and "Back to Me." Some essays are responses to specific cultural things (like "The Solace of Preparing Fried Foods and Other Quaint Remembrances from 1960s Mississippi: Thoughts on The Help") or some essays are more address more general things (like "The Careless Language of Sexual Violence"). She covers a lot of ground, and I really appreciated the breadth of topics. A tighter focus may have made the collection a smidgen better, but I understand the importance of touching on a wide variety of topics. Rating: ★★★★


3 Historical Fictions

Some mini (ish) reviews for you as I start spring term... here are some thoughts on three fantastic (and very different) historical fiction books (spanning geographies and centuries) that I've recently read:

1. Brooklyn - Colm Tóibín
The novel focuses on the tale of Eilis, a young Irish immigrant who moves to (surprise) Brooklyn. She finds love, but must return home to Ireland because of a death in the family. Once back in her homeland, she cannot decide whether or not she should return to Brooklyn. Basic premise, a little predictable, but wonderfully told (and beautifully adapted into a movie) (even if you're not going to watch the movie, listen to this cover of  "Casadh an Tsúgáin" by Iarla Ó Lionáird). Tóbín explains “I could not have written the novel – I would not have bothered – had the emotions surrounding exile and loss not been close to me at that time.” Exile, loss, longing.... these emotions color the novel so strongly I finished reading it wanting to find out everything there is to know about my great-grandparents' journeys through Ellis Island. While the narrative of Eilis, her story is so universal that there's a magic in reading it.
Era: 1950s Where: America & Ireland Rating: ★★★★

2. The Book of Night Women - Marlon James
I read this Marlon James novel after reading his man booker prize-winning A Brief History of Seven Killings (another wonderful work of historical fiction, read my thoughts about it here). It was a harrowing read; The Book of Night Women tells the tale of Lilith, born a slave on a Jamaican sugar plantation. The Night Women are a clandestine slave sisterhood plaining a slave revolt, and Lilith is indoctrinated into their cohort. The story is told from Lilith's perspective, capturing her voice (think Beloved by Toni Morrison). The story starts: "People think blood red, but blood don't got colour. Not when blood wash the floor she lying on as she scream for that son of a bitch to come, the lone baby of 1785. Not when the baby wash in crimson and squealing like it just depart heaven to come to hell, another place of red..." As the NYT book review deftly points out, "James has conducted an experiment in how to write the unspeakable-- even the unthinkable." It was really difficult to read at points; the brutal, dehumanizing violence of slavery characterized the story to such an extent that I had to pause reading at times. But ultimately, worthwhile read; because slavery is a part of the history of the Americas that cannot be sanitized or forgotten.
Era: late 1700s/early 1800s Where: Jamaica Rating: ★★★★

3. The Secret Chord - Geraldine Brooks
The life of King David, the second king of the united kingdom of Israel, is told through the prophet Natan (Nathan)'s eyes in Brooks' deeply engrossing tale. I initially picked up the book from my library due to my faith in Brooks' narrative prowess (The People of the Book and Nine Parts of Desire) but I was a bit dubious, thinking that the only interesting part of the story was David & Golialth. And oh was I wrong!! Brooks tells NPR in an interview that one of the things that inspired her to write retell the story of David was "the well-drawn women in it." The women shine through in the narrative (here is my plug for Geraldine Brooks to write a sequel just focusing on Batsheba!!!). It morphs into a tale of power, love, faith, and family. The story of David does not really matter; while he does form the backbone from which Brooks writes, she focuses more on the peripheral characters of his narrative (his wives and sons and advisors) and imbues them with passions and politics and backstories. It doesn't matter if you're familiar with his biblical story or not - I promise that you will be sucked into the emotions of the tale.
Era: Biblical Where: Ancient Israel Rating: ★★★★★