Book Review: Eloquent Rage-A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper

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Already a fan of Brittney Cooper’s work at the website Salon I was pretty excited to get my hands on her book of essays Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower. I was especially thrilled after I read all the praise this book was garnering from notable women like Joy Reid, Rebecca Traister, and my beloved Roxane Gay, who calls Cooper’s work “provocative and engaging.”

Provocative and engaging? Yes, and so much more.

Cooper is a professor of women and gender studies, and Africana Africana studies at Rutgers University. She is also co-founder of the Crunk Feminist Collective.

Eloquent Rage focuses on black women and black women’s feminism. Her essays offer commentary on topics like politics, pop culture, relationships, sex, and other things affecting the black community. Much of these topics reflect Cooper’s experience but she invokes the experiences of others.

Cooper’s writing is both academic and accessible. And these essays are a much needed education for this white feminist.

To give you a sneak peek into the pages Eloquent Rage, the essays focus on topics like bothersome sassy black woman stereotype, strong female leads in pop culture, Michelle Obama’s silent defiance of the Trump regime expressed through her hair and body language, and the problem with white feminists.

Eloquent Rage is a treasure of a book and should be used in both the classroom and at book discussion groups.

 

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Book Review: The View from Flyover Country-Dispatches from the Forgotten America by Sarah Kedzior

When not being ignored by the two coasts, flyover country is being celebrated as where the “real Americans” live, usually by conservative pundits. And to these pundits, real Americans are defined as white and for the most part living in the suburbs or rural areas who define themselves as conservative Christians.

But not so fast, living in flyover country, I know we are a much more diverse bunch and so does Sarah Kedzior, which she sums up in her collection of essays The View from Flyover Country-Dispatches from the Forgotten America.

A reporter for Al Jazeera America and residing in St. Louis, Missouri, Kedzior’s essays focus on such thorny topics as race, income inequality, the friction among generations, education, foreign policy, the media, women’s issues and so much more.

Kedzior starts off The View from Flyover Country with an introduction rolling out what her collection of essays is all about, giving the reader a clear idea on what to expect among its six parts.

In Part One, Flyover Country, Kedzior defines flyover country and topics such as how expensive cities are killing creatives and hipster economics.

Part Two, Post-Employments, explains issues of survival, how workers are paying a steep price, zilch opportunities and how sometimes these issues make people do extreme things like lighting themselves on fire.

Race and religion define Part Three, where Kedzior writes about the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s murder, Black Lives Matter, and what happened in Ferguson in the wake of Mike Brown being gunned down by police.

In Part Four Kedzior examines the broken promise of a higher education, and how school debt has crippled countless smart, hard-working and talented graduates. She also decries the deplorable pay of adjunct professors who work tirelessly to educate our students.

Part Five is a careful examination of our media and how gaining access seems to be only available to the well-connected elite (don’t I know it!) and the problem of fringe media in the Internet age.

Foreign policy makes up Part Six when it comes to gender, Edward Snowden, the situation in Iraq and basic human rights.

Finally, Kedzior sums things up with a standout essay on the importance of complaining. If people didn’t complain, women wouldn’t have the right to vote, black people would still be at the back of the bus, and gay people wouldn’t be able to marry those they love.

While reading The View Flyover Country, I marked several pages with post-it notes and wrote down some key quotes and passages in my well-worn notebook. Kedzior writes in a down-to-earth way with smarts and clarity. She truly cares about these issues and implores us to also care about them.

The View from Flyover Country is a treasure of a book and is ideal for both the college classroom and book discussion groups everywhere.

Book Report

In the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture edited by Roxane Gay is very timely.

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Being a fan of Gay’s I knew Not That Bad would be a compelling and upsetting read about society’s deplorable rape culture. Gay is a survivor of a gang rape.  Rape culture includes sexual violence of all kinds, incest, molestation, sexual harassment in the streets, the schools and workplace, and one’s worthiness based solely on one’s perceived sexuality and sexiness. And this rape culture affects women, men and children from all backgrounds.

Written by well-known (and should be well-known) writers these essays are painful not only for the sexual violence these writers suffered but also for the vile ways they were treated once they spoke out.

Grade A

Book Review: You Play the Girl-On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks & Other Mixed Messages by Carina Chocano

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Is there a book you wish you had written? Is there a book you would have written if you had the ambition? Well, thank goodness Carina Chocano had both the desire and motivation to write a book and that book is her collection of essays, You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks & Other Mixed Messages.

I love pop culture, and I’ve been studying and writing about pop culture since I was in high school. But despite my mad love for film, TV shows, music, and obviously books, I’ve often been dismayed (if not downright pissed off) by how girls and women are portrayed in these various works, and how they affect society and those we care about.

Chocano shares this loathing,  wonders these same issues, and writes about them in this dazzling collection of essays (which also acts as a caring and concerned love letter to her daughter, Kira).

After a brief introduction, You Play the Girl is divided into four distinctive parts:

Part One: Down the Rabbit Hole covers topics like Playboy bunnies, the classic Good Housekeeping column, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” and MTV-inspired movie Flashdance.

Part Two: The Pool of Tears muses on the concepts such topics like ingénues and bad girls.

Part Three: In You Wouldn’t Have Come Here, Chocano writes about the surrealism of the “Real Housewives,” awkward men who choose “Real Girls” over real-live women, and the singular, life-changing journey of redemption of eating, praying and loving.

Part Four: In Mad Tea Party, Chocano acknowledges that girls love math even if Barbie claims, “Math is hard,” women as a trainwreck, the phenomenon of the Disney movie Frozen, and wraps up things with her desire for a feminist dance number (personally, I suggest bellydancing).

There are several reasons why I Iove You Play the Girl. First, Chocano is an excellent writer. Sure, she’s technically proficient but most importantly she has a distinctive voice, down to earth, wise, but also funny and charming. Plus, she just makes you think. Her essays are deeply researched and make you reflect on how pop culture affects you in ways you never thought possible, whether it comes to classic sitcoms like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie to the current day of reality television with its collection of real housewives, bachelors and bachelorettes.

Chocano also has interesting opinions when it comes to classic movies like The Philadelphia Story and a movie I hope is never considered a classic, Pretty Woman. And when it comes to how boys and girls are portrayed coming-of-age books, films and TV shows, Chocano sums things up with this passage:

“In the male coming-of-age story, the boy creates himself. In the female coming-of-age story, the girl is created by forces around her.”

She questions why in an age of diversity and women making strides in business, academia, politics, technology, activism, arts and entertainment, and business our definition of what makes a woman attractive and sexy grows more and more narrow.

Chocano likewise has a very interesting take on women’s magazines and how they prey upon women’s insecurities and perceived failings as wives, mothers, workers, and just human beings as a whole even in this age of “You go, girl!”

Throughout You Play the Girl, Chocano looks at the details but also gives us the big picture on so many attention-grabbing topics. Simply put, You Play the Girl is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

 

Book Review: Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

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I’ve been a feminist since a tender age and not ashamed to admit it. And in the age of Trump bragging about grabbing pussy to the importance of the #MeToo movement, not to mention the Kavanaugh hearings, feminism is more important than ever.

Though some anti-feminist naysayers are still stereotyping feminists as man-hating, pussy hat wearing, slutwalking dykes (or whatever), I know feminists (and feminism itself) are women and men with varying ideas, opinions, and lives who continue to shape and inspire me.

One of these feminists is writer Rebecca Solnit and her book of essays, Men Explain Things to Me. If the title seems familiar it is because Solnit wrote an essay of the same name in 2008 and it hit a nerve with every woman who has to put up with some man who wrongly assume her lady brain didn’t understand certain things, in other words, “mansplaining.”

Starting with her book with the title essay, Solnit’s collection of keenly-observed and passionately-written essays focuses on issues like rape and other sexual violence, global injustice, the meaning of marriage equality and so much more. Most essays are brief, but pack a wallop of thoughts that at are turns funny and tragic. And Solnit is smart enough to back up her essays with references and facts.

While reading Men Explain Things to Me I found myself nodding my head in agreement with Solnit’s evocative and intelligent musings, thinking to myself, “Yes, I’ve felt this way, too. I’m not the only one.” Or I found myself shaking my head, as if to say, “Damn, things are still messed up. What can we possibly do?”

Fortunately, in the final chapter, Solnit provides guidance on how we can join forces to make things better for women in our communities and throughout the globe.

Men Explain Things to Me is a slim volume but packs a meaty punch to feminism and is food for thought for feminists of all kinds.

 

Bipolar Disorder Days: One Woman’s Experience by Jen Locke

I met Jen Locke when we were freshman in college. We both shared a love of books, pop culture, cats, political discussion and writing. You best know her as a guest writer whose reviews and various opinions have been published at this very blog.

There is another thing Jen and I share, battles with mental illness. Jen has chosen to share her battle with bipolar disorder by writing this essay. Thank you Jen for sharing your store. You are a very brave woman.

It’s a full-time job in itself. That’s why I’m not working. Bipolar disorder is tough. There’s no finding the right medicinal cocktail and just leaving it. Every day is another self-assessment.

Am I feeling happy? Am I thinking faster than I can keep up? I know that doesn’t seem to make sense, but it’s a unique, surreal experience. Am I talking fast? Jumping from topic to topic? Is it the normal topic jumping or excessive topic jumping? Am I being inappropriately boisterous? Am I confident that I’m invincible? Am I seeking out risky situations? Am I aggressive? Am I getting angry easily? Do I think I have an unrealistic amount of power? Am I scaring others? Yes? No? To what degree? Is this just a one-off? Should I be worried?

Truth is, if I’m cognizant enough to ask those questions, I’m not fully manic yet. Chances are, though, that it feels too good in this state to want to attempt to rein it in. So even if the answers come up as yes, I won’t bother doing anything about it. I want to feel this way. This is feeling good. This is the me that people like. This is the me I like to present to people.

If I’m truly manic, I won’t be able to even consider the idea that I’m manic. Good luck trying to get me to look at my behavior. It’s not going to work. You’re going to have to coax me from that state into being calmer without me knowing it. You’re going to have to trick me into mellowing out. And then I might consider your suggestion that I might have been manic. Most likely, though, I’ll just keep going until I crash. I’ll survive without much sleep for weeks and become productive in ways you don’t think I can. I’ll feel like, and perhaps claim that, I can do anything.

When my medications are right and I’m doing well, I’m pretty even-tempered. I can laugh, cry, and feel much of what ‘normal’ people can. There’s a limit, though. I can’t find that elation that used to make me do leprechaun leaps on the sidewalk. I can’t feel the deep sorrow appropriate in tragic situations. The intensity of those emotions is dampened. It’s probably for the best. Feeling intensely up or down, even fleetingly, may be enough to trigger a coinciding episode. No matter how good the cocktail of drugs is, it can’t prevent episodes being triggered.

Sometimes I’ll be tired all the time for no reason. Sleeping 9 or more hours a day. Feeling unmotivated when I’m alone. I’ll have to be like this for a while before I notice that it’s happening. I’ll skip work. Or volunteering. Or social events. Yet often, to everyone else I seem fine. Sometimes someone will tell me how I appear, and I might listen. Sometimes they’ll ask me if I’m okay. I’ll brush it off the first 700 times. Keep asking if my behavior doesn’t change or gets worse. Please keep asking until I realize and open up. If I catch myself here and get a medication change to help, I can recover fairly quickly from the slight depression. By fairly quickly, I mean a month or two. If this goes unchecked, it will only get worse.

I’ll stop showering. I’ll stay home from everything. I’ll stop reading, knitting, playing with the pets, talking to people, listening to music, and doing anything that makes me feel good. I’ll skip cooking and only eat things I can eat straight out of the cabinet or fridge. I’ll stop going to bed and just sleep on the couch night after night, or day after day. Or I’ll stop getting out of bed and just spend all day, every day, in bed. I’ll think about how I’m a drain on everyone I know, that no one would really want to be associated with me if they knew who I really am. I’ll see my existence as a negative splotch on the Earth. I’ll consider different ways of dying. Ways to make it look accidental. Ways to be sure it won’t fail. Absurd ways that might at least make people laugh. Devastating ways to make other people understand the pain I feel every day. If I feel this bad, why shouldn’t everyone? I’ll hate myself, my life, and everything in existence. Ultimately, after contemplating all of this, I’ll be too depressed to kill myself. Suicide would be too much effort. But I’ll stop doing everything, so if left alone I’ll die of starvation or be forced into some sort of action. Luckily, I have people around me forcing me to stay alive when I’m in this state. As much as I may hate them when they’re doing that job.

I must keep tabs on my emotional state every day. Morning and night. Checking in with myself. Others asking about how I’m doing. If I notice something, keeping mental track of whether it continues (and for how long) or whether it changes. Trying to pinpoint a cause or trigger for a change. Trying to notice if there’s a pattern. If something is getting better. Or worse. Trying to figure out how to fix it. This takes up so much time. And sometimes the mental effort is overwhelming. And I want to do anything other than think about my mental state.

These states have cost me jobs. I’ve been fired and walked off jobs more than I can count. I’ve quit classes. I’ve lost friends because I say no too much. I’ve lost friends because they can’t take the rollercoaster. I don’t blame them.

The cycle happens. Treatment is reactive. It will keep happening. Coming out of a depression I won’t realize I’m getting better and keep taking the same meds. Then I’ll start heading into mania. And at first it feels good, so I won’t do anything about it. Sometimes it’ll break on its own. Sometimes it’ll escalate and send me into a full-blown episode. Then my meds change, and I’ll come down to normal. Maybe adjust my meds again. Then a trigger. Or the meds are heavy on downers and not heavy enough on antidepressants. And down I’ll go, into the deep tunnel of depression. And round and round we go. I’ll quit another job. And get fired from another. I’ll burn bridges like no tomorrow. Yet I will try oh so hard to keep those bridges intact. And balancing all of this becomes a full-time job. And it follows me around. It’s not something I can leave in the office. And then there are all the psychiatrist visits and the therapy sessions. And sorting through causes, learning to deal with them, learning new coping methods, creating new coping methods.

I think the biggest falsehood I have believed about it is that it can be controlled. That if I just learn enough techniques to cope and keep my medicine right, I’ll never have an episode again. But that’s not how it works. Again, treatment is reactive. And living with this is a full-time job. Everything else is a hobby. Maybe someday dealing with bipolar disorder will be a part-time job.

Maybe.

Someday.

Book Review: Shrill-Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West

I’ve been a fan of writer Lindy West since her Jezebel.com days. Whether she was writing about pop culture or social issues, I found her writing voice to witty and wise,  a welcome relief from tiresome clickbait and lazy listicles.

So it was a thrill to read West’s memoir Shrill: Notes From a Loud woman.

Growing up,  West was nerdy, shy and fat, not exactly a recipe for success. Yet, she was able to find success, both professionally and personally, once she became an adult and found her voice.

And though her voice brought her admirers it also brought her haters,  mostly obnoxious trolls.

You see West is a woman with an opinion. She’s also fat. How dare she!

Through her feature articles and opinion pieces, West expressed her disdain for rape jokes and the struggles with body shaming. In response, she often faced horrific comments telling her she should be raped and ripped her apart for not being a tiny size two.

West fully describes in Shrill what it was like to be caught up in hail storm of hatred. It was a time of loneliness and tears,  vulnerability and anger, but it was also a time where West found support, decency, empathy and a the will to go on as a writer and just person trying to live her life

But in the end West triumphed. She triumphed so much a troll even reached out to her to apologize.

Today, West is having the last laugh. Shrill is gaining lots of praise, including praise from two of my faves, Caitlin Moran and Samantha Irby. Now based in Seattle West now writes for GQ,  The Guardian,, and other assorted highly respected publications. She founded the advice blog for teenagers called I Believe You/It’s Not Your Fault. West is also blessed with a loving family and a happy marriage. Hmm, maybe being shrill isn’t such a bad thing.

Though Shrill is West’s story, it’s also the story of every woman with an opinion and  one who doesn’t fit into our society’s slender notion on how to behave…and look like. I highly recommend it.