Book Review: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

I became a fan of Roxane Gay when I first saw her speak at Boswell Book Company about her book, the part memoir/part assortment of essays, Bad Feminist. Bad Feminist blew me away so when I found her latest release, a collection of short stories called Difficult Women, I just knew I had to read it. I hoped Gay’s singular voice in writing non-fiction would translate into writing fiction.

I am glad to say I am not disappointed. Gay is a writer who fully recognizes the complex lives of women’s truth, from the most of grand experiences to the tiny minutiae that make of their daily lives (and ours). Some live in impressive privilege and others dreary lives of poverty.

Difficult Women is made of 21 stories, dissimilar yet fully connected. The opening chapter “I Will Follow” is about two sisters who were abducted as children and experienced deplorable acts. The sisters’ past makes them eerily, yet touching connected well into adulthood as they follow each other all over the country. Even though these sisters (by society’s standards) should have staked out their own separate lives, I understood how this might be nearly impossible for them.

The title story “Difficult Women” Gay defines “loose,” “frigid,” “crazy” women along with mothers and dead girls through vividly written definitions and descriptions:

Just what does a loose woman see when she sees herself in a mirror? “Nothing. She doesn’t look. She doesn’t need to. She knows exactly who she is.”

Where does a frigid women go at night? “There are places for people with secrets and she has secrets, so many of them that sometimes they threaten to choke her. She goes to the places for people with secrets for people with secrets and there she waits.”

What happens when crazy women snap? “She is sitting at her desk, working late, when her boss hulks his way into her office, sitting too close, on the edge of her desk, taking up space in the way men do. He stares down her blouse and it’s the presumption in the way he doesn’t hide his interest that makes her hold the sharp letter opener in the cool of her hand.”

As for mothers? Well, mothers can only be described in their roles as mothers on from what she sees in her child’s face to how she loves.

Dead girls, you are now wondering? What about them? Well, they are dead. How do you define them? Are they more interesting? Do you find them beautiful?

Another story I adored is Gay’s fable-like “Requiem for a Glass Heart.” In this story the wife is made entirely of glass, her husband is fully-human. The glass wife is smooth, hairless, and transparent. Day after day she takes care of child also made of glass. The husband has matted chest hair and calloused hands who earns his money as a stone thrower. He also has a mistress on the side, one made fully of flesh and blood. Does the glass wife know about the mistress? She just might. Perhaps being made of glass doesn’t quite this woman as transparent as she may initially seem….

Other stories are complete stand-outs—“North Country,” “Bad Priest,” and “Best Features” quickly come to mind. But to be honest, every single story in Difficult Women is so remarkable that choosing a favorite is quite, well, difficult.

As I came to Difficult Women’s close, I found myself not only thinking of Gay’s voice as a visionary writer, but how these stories played out like mini-movies in my mind’s eye. Difficult Women would make for a great TV series, perhaps all the stories adapted by female screenwriters and directed by female directors. Or maybe in an interesting twist, some stories adapted by male screen writers and directed by male directors.

But alas, Difficult Women is for now, is a book, one I implore difficult women everywhere (and the beguiled men who love them) to read.

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Book Reviews: One Step Closer-Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God by Christian Scharen

There’s cathedrals and the alleyways in our music. I think the alleyway is usually on the way to the cathedral, where you can hear your own footsteps and you’re slightly nervous and looking over your shoulder and wondering if there’s somebody following you. And then you get there and you realize there was somebody following you: it’s God.”— Bono

Rock ‘n’ roll has long been called the “devil’s music.” But for many U2 fans, it’s also been known to uplift and awaken our spirituality. Christian Scharen, currently Vice President of Applied Research and the Center for the Study of Theological Education at Auburn (he also taught at Yale), examines how U2′s music not only makes our feet move, but also moves our hearts, minds and souls in his thought-provoking book “One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God.”

Scharen is a long-time U2 fan who knows both the band’s music and how the teachings of Biblical scripture is infused into nearly every one of U2′s songs, not only in the obvious like “40” from 1983′s War album, a song taken from Psalm 40 and refrain from Psalm 6, but less apparent songs like “Discotheque” from 1997′s Pop.

One Step Closer is divided into three parts, which Scharen calls steps. The first part is called “Singing Scripture,” in which Scharen points to the ways scripture speaks of God’s work, using various voices of scripture like psalms, prophecies, parables and the apocalypse. Scharen takes these aspects of the scriptures and shows how these elements are evident in U2′s music.

In the second part of the book, “Singing the Cross,” Scharen uses such themes as faith, hope and love and explains how these themes are evident within U2′s music. He also discusses how these themes have tension with less lofty themes that we found ourselves struggling with like despair and selfishness.

In the final section, Scharen introduces the idea “Singing the Truth,” a way to live the cross. This section takes in account on how U2 lives out their faith. Most of us aren’t unfamiliar on how the members of U2 live out their faith beyond the boundaries of their music, especially regarding Bono’s tireless work on behalf of the African continent.

Throughout the book, Scharen gives examples of U2 songs and how they relate to different scriptures and themes found in the Bible. For songs embodying themes of faith and doubt, Scharen offers songs like “I Will Follow” from U2′s 1980 debut Boy and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” from 1987′s The Joshua Tree. In songs with themes of the saint and the sinner, Scharen mentions songs like “Bad” from 1984′s The Unforgettable Fire and “Acrobat” from 1991′s Achtung Baby. Scharen quotes lyrics from these songs to make the reader understand the themes and also asks the reader to think of other U2 songs that follow various Biblical ideas. I can imagine this inspiring U2 fans everywhere to run to their CD collections or grab their digital devices to find U2 songs that follow these themes. I also wonder if Christian U2 fans will open up their Bibles to find different scriptures that relate to U2′s music.

Though a Lutheran pastor and a professor of divinity, Scharen takes a critical look at the modern church and asks it to take a good, hard look at itself. Religious institutions have to ask themselves why so many U2 fans feel no connection to the church or religion as a whole, but find God’s word or a “higher power” in U2′s music. Scharen isn’t afraid to tell the modern church to get over “religion” to get over its obsession of piety and judgment of everyone and everything. The goal of the modern church, instead, should be to inspire, forgive, uplift and do good work in the world around us. I know as a lapsed Roman Catholic turned Unitarian Universalist full committed to my faith, I have more often felt the spirit of something greater than I at a U2 concert than I ever did in all my years of going to Mass (but service at my UU church comes pretty close.

I don’t think you have to be particularly religious or even a Christian to gain something from this book. Religion is a fascinating topic, especially in how it can relate to modern music. Furthermore, Scharen gives thorough explanations of different aspects of scripture for readers not quite up on their Bible studies. Fortunately, Scharen is respectful to those of all religious backgrounds. And though “One Step Closer” is a scholarly book, it isn’t dry and acts as a reference to both U2 fans and those looking to know the Bible more fully.

In a world where religion is often quite polarizing in these troubling times, Scharen offers U2′s music and its messages as a unifying force. In “One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God,” the secular and the sacred aren’t mutually exclusive.

Book Marks

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Experience vs. Reading according to according to Samuel R. Delany
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How books can alleviate anxiety.

Senator Al Franken discusses his latest memoir Al Franken, Giant of the Senate.

First Amazon book store located in NYC makes buying books a less than a delight.

With summer coming up, here are some beach reads for children of all ages

Douglas Ridoff brings slam poetry to the deaf community.

Feministing’s review of one of my favorites Whatever Happened to Interracial Love by Kathleen Collins.

Publisher Weekly’s thoughts on the future of mass marketing publishing.

Full Frontal’s Samantha Bee’s throws some epic shade at Ivanka Trump’s book.

Recently deceased Sir Roger Moore submitted his final manuscript before he died.

 

 

 

Writer’s Block

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Hello everyone. I hope everyone had a lovely Mother’s Day. But what else? Well, I’ve been keeping busy. Warmer weather after a dreary winter is always welcome and often inspires me to get busy with other projects and activities. So far, I’ve done a big spring cleaning, taught RE (religious education) at my church, attended an inspiring poetry workshop in Chicago, made some pretty bling, and baked up some lovin’ from my oven of an fundraising bake sale.

I’m also dealing with some professional issues, which includes everything, which include overhauling my resumes, cover letters, networking methods and other work-related issues. Just as I my home needs a good spring cleaning, so do I, mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually in both my personal and professional worlds.

However, I am reading. And I hope to have some book reviews and other assorted posts up soon. Thanks!!!

Book Marks

lets read book markI can see re-reading Fear of Flying or reading some Anais Nin, but 50 Shades of Grey?

Jeannette Walls memoir The Glass Castle is now a film and should open late this summer.

President Clinton and James Patterson are joining forces to write a  book.

Carrie Fisher (RIP) and 27 other celebrity authors’ most famous literary lines.

What if Hillary Clinton never married Bill? Curtis Sittenfeld imagines this scenario in her latest novel.

Millionaire Bash celebrates kids who are superstar readers and red carpet ready.

Chicago’s American Writers Museum opening May 16th.

Young Adult fiction and fans are rocking it at conventions..

Advice for authors who want to build up a mailing list.

Book Review: Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants? The Tale of a Teen Rock Wannabe Who Almost Was by Craig A. Williams

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Many a teen boy has dreamed of strapping on an electric guitar, joining a band, playing to cheering crowds, getting it on with groupies and achieving both fame and fortune. For most of them, this is just a dream. But for Craig A. Williams, this dream was nearly a reality, and he documents his experiences in his book, Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants?

While still in his teens, Williams played lead guitar in an LA-based heavy metal band, Onyxx (later, Onyxxx). Originally called Onyx, the band added the extra xx-s to avoid copyright infringement due to a hip-hop group also named Onyx. And perhaps because their band was just too much rock for one measly X. Managed by a Loni Anderson look-alike, Onyxxx journeyed from small school gigs to the hottest clubs on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip.

Williams first embraced his musical dreams when he wrote a song using his Casio keyboard. The seeds of musical greatness were sown, but Williams knew making music on a Casio keyboard was too dorky for words, so he picked up an electric guitar. Soon he joined forces with some high school chums — lead singer Tyler, bassist Sunil and drummer Kyle — and formed Onyxxx.

Laying the groundwork for rock and roll stardom, Onyxxx went from playing for their classmates in suburban LA to less than enthusiastic audiences at seedy dives. Despite these humble beginnings, Onyxxx’s manager believed they could make it big, and be the New Kids on the Block of glam heavy metal. It was the pre-grunge days where Guns ‘n Roses, Poison and Motley Crue were MTV staples. Before long Onyxxx were playing shows at such notable venues like the Troubadour and the Roxy. Their shows garnered them a sizable fan-base, including some very willing groupies. Williams thought he had reached the pinnacle of rock and roll paradise when he autographed a girl’s breast for the very first time.

But like lots of other rock bands on the verge of fame, Onyxxx had to deal with their share of problems. Tyler, though a charismatic frontman, was often a total jerk to those who crossed his path. Sunil was frequently bullied due to his East Indian heritage. And despite being a drummer, Kyle didn’t have the best sense of rhythm. Onyxxx also dealt with trials familiar to anyone who has seen at least one episode of VH-1′s “Behind the Music,” including rampant drug use, unsavory club managers, psycho fans and fighting among band members.

But Williams had other issues that probably weren’t bothering Axl Rose or Tommy Lee at the time: the life of a teenaged boy. When he wasn’t rockin’ out on-stage, Williams argued with his parents about doing his chores and his homework, studied for exams, and tried to maneuver the halls of his high school. Williams lived in two very different worlds, which kind of made him the Hannah Montana of glam heavy metal (egad, remember a time when Miley Cyrus was known as Hannah Montana and not a girl who uses a foam finger the way the inventor never intended?).

Sadly, Onyxxx was not meant to be. Even without the drug use, mismanagement and squabbles among the band members, glam heavy metal was about to be toppled by flannel-clad grunge bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots. By their senior year, Onyxxx was on the verge of breaking up. They were also on the verge of adulthood, which included college, jobs and other not exactly glamorous responsibilities.

Onyxxx’s loss is our gain. Williams proves himself to be an entertaining writer. He is able to look at his rock and roll past with both insight and humor. He’s self-deprecating and at the same time he is truly proud of almost grabbing the brass ring of stardom. Any rock fan who treasures his or her copy of Appetite for Destruction will get misty-eyed over days gone by. And kids who think of Bret Michaels as a reality TV star, not the lead singer of Poison, will be able to relate to a teenage Williams’ desire for freedom and fun. Williams is a fresh new voice, and has written a very honest book about the music industry. Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants? is a head bangin’ good time.