Book Report

Here is a quick book report on Daniel Torday’s novel Boomer1.

IMG_20181211_205509This novel explores the battle between boomers and millennials from the perspective of three people, Mark Brumfeld, his mother Julia, and Mark’s ex Cassie. In the beginning Mark has it all-a great career in media, a stellar education (he’s getting his PhD), a place in a bluegrass band, and Cassie. And then Mark loses it all and moves back in with his parents. Bitter, Mark dons a disguise, calls himself Boomer1 and uploads videos to YouTube solely blaming baby boomers for his lot in life. His videos go viral setting off a revolution and Cassie’s attention. Meanwhile Julia is dealing with her own issues.

Boomer1 seemed so promising, but Torday’s writing is pretentious and moves at a snail’s pace. Mark and Cassie are unlikable. And Julia is just meh.

Grade D

Readin’, Writin’ and Rantin’

To my readers, I know a majority of you are fully woke (or whatever the vernacular is called these days) and keep abreast of social issues. And in the age of #Metoo, #Timesup or as I like to call it The Days of Weinstein and Roses, you probably heard of a less than pleasant date and sexual encounter a young woman named “Grace” had with actor, stand-up comic and author Aziz Ansari (more on Mr. Ansari later).

This incident was first reported by Katie Way for the website Babe.net. Babe.net, a website whose existence I was not aware of until several days ago. You can read Way’s article here.

But to sum it up, Grace and Asiz went on a date. Later they went back to his place where they proceeded to have sex. Grace wasn’t exactly too enthused to have sex and expressed herself using both verbal and non-verbal cues. Aziz would stop and then proceeded in ways that are both awkward and icky.

Not surprisingly Way’s article, not to mention Babe’s existence, became the ultimate clickbait and was fodder for all kinds of media, including Jezebel.com, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Samantha Bee from “Full Frontal,” and TMZ.

One person who made her opinion on this article and the murky world of dating and sex, included legal analyst Ashleigh Banfield who made her opinion known, not just on the situation but on Babe.net and Katie Way.

With her feelings hurt, Way stomped her little feet and sent a childish, snot-nosed email, which insulted the color of Banfield’s hair and her burgundy lipstick. Way also insulted Banfield’s place in journalism. Banfield wasted no time responding to Way’s hissy fit in a way that made me cheer. Here it is:

Hey, Ms. Way, when you were eating paste, Banfield was proving her journalistic mettle from ground zero at the ruins of the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Okay, Katie I’ll let you off easy for insulting Banfield’s looks and age. I’m not exactly fond of your some your generation’s use of vocal fry, up speak and thinking a quick tweet is the same of doing the hard work of fighting for women’s rights.

However, I must instruct you on Banfield being a product of second wave feminism. Banfield was a child during the heady days of second wave feminism. She came of age of the third wave a feminism, which included books like Susan Faludi’s Backlash and Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth. It was a time of Sassy magazine and when both Bust and Bitch were being launched by Generation X feminists. It was also a time of Riot Grrrl. It was a time when Generation X women were doing everything from starting their own bands to fighting for their reproductive rights. Such notable names when it comes to third wave feminism include Kathleen Hanna, Carrie Brownstein, Amy Richards, Jennifer Baumgardner, Liz Phair, Ani Di Franco, Margaret Cho, Janeane Garofalo, Jessica Valenti, Inga Muscio, Queen Latifah and Salma Hayek. It was a time of Lilith Fair, the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, movies like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and books like Cunt: A Declaration of Independence. And it pretty much kicked ass with a well-worn Doc Martin.

Furthermore, Katie. What is up with your solipsistic view that nobody under the age of 45 has heard of Ashleigh Banfield? Girl child learn your herstory. If I had told the advisor of my college newspaper I had never heard of women like Barbara Walters, Katherine Graham, Jane Pauley, Eleanor Clift, Nellie Bly, Linda Ellerbee, or Martha Gellhorn not only would I have been stripped of my title of editor I would have been kicked off the staff.

Now as for Aziz. As a fan of his, I must admit I am disappointed in his behavior if Grace’s story is true. He’s always come across as a male ally and totally feminist. But I find his behavior with Grace disturbing. It isn’t exactly rape or sexual assault, but it isn’t exactly the kind of behavior I would want from a man during sexy time. At best, he seems to a be a man in a state of arrested development who hasn’t built up the skills to decipher a woman’s words and gestures properly, which perhaps is something he should have a bit of handle on at 34 years old. At worst, he is rude and not respectful of a much younger woman with not as much life experience including when it comes to dating and sex. Aziz needs to keep that in mind.

As for Grace, part of me wants tell her to put on her big girl panties and tell her what she had was a bad date and regrettable sex. Next time be more assertive in her words and actions. Then I remind myself I’ve been in her situation and I forgot all about putting on my big girl panties and being assertive, too.

Relationships, even in our more enlightened times are still blurred. There is black and white, and murky shades of gray. Sexual situations often resemble a pot of noodles in various curlicues of confusion. And I hope as time goes on men and women will open up and discuss our individual experiences situations with compassion, mutual respect, open-mindedness, and a willingness to listen fully. I truly want all of us to get along.

 

Book Review: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

I think one of the first reasons why I became a feminist is because of Gloria Steinem. To be honest, it wasn’t due to her tireless work on behalf of women’s rights, committed activism towards other causes, and her exceptional writing. It was because I thought she was so pretty with her long streaked hair, her mini-skirts and her trendy aviator sunglasses.

You’ll have to forgive me…I was around seven years old at the time.

Of course, I’m now a grown woman and my love and admiration for Steinem goes beyond her looks. She is so much more than a fashionable feminist (yes, we do exist). So I was overjoyed when my friend Nora gave me a copy of Steinem’s latest book My Life on the Road. I thoroughly adore Steinem’s past books like Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions and Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem. And I’ve been reading Ms. Magazine since middle school. To this day my nickname for Steinem is “Cool Auntie.”

Living a life on the road as an activist, speaker and writer came naturally to Steinem. Her father was a traveling salesman so it’s in her DNA. As a young woman Steinem spent time studying in India. Her career as a journalist had her traveling all over interviewing and covering all kinds of topics whether it be going undercover as a Playboy Bunny or interviewing the likes of Cesar Chavez. Always an activist Steinem was drawn to feminism, acting tirelessly for the rights for women whether it be access to their reproductive rights or issues they may face in the workplace. She helped create Ms. Magazine and has been a dominating force of feminism for decades, not only inspiring women around her own age but also inspiring women young enough to be her daughters and granddaughters.

“Wandering Organizer” is just one way Steinem defines herself and to me this book proves just that. Her life on the road has influenced her in a multitude of ways, especially in the world of politics. She also admits how being a wandering organizer has influenced her physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. And her travels makes for one hell of a read.

Steinem was at the 1963 March on Washington when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream Speech.” She worked on the behalf of farm workers. She campaigned for Geraldine Ferraro in 1984.She was also a big supporter of Hillary Clinton in both 2008 and 2016.

She’s worked along with activists Florynce Kennedy, Dolores Heurta, and Wilma Mankiller. She admits her relationship with Betty Friedan was less than cordial. She joined forces with Generation X feminists like Amy Richards. And now millennial feminists are discovering Steinem and her work. Now in her 80s, Gloria is still traveling, writing and speaking.

Every essay is written in a down-to-earth, yet moving way. She is a powerful voice but one that never seems intimidating. She fully admits things weren’t always rosy on her travels. She dealt with a lot of backlash, especially from the radical right, but kept on fighting on the behalf of not just women, but society as a whole.

I found all her essays fascinating, turning each page as Steinem went on her amazing journey. Her life on the road would make for one hell of a movie. One chapter of My Life on The Road would make for one hell of the movie.

This novel is an impressive and mind blowing account of the people, places and things Steinem encountered on her travels. At times I felt like I needed an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of it all. I feel fortunate to have learned more about this brave and inspirational woman. As with Steinem’s other books My Life on the Road is a must-read for all feminists, one to be visited again and again.

Book Review: Startup-A Novel by Doree Shafrir

The workplace always has a way to inspire a good book, and it definitely inspires author Doree Shafrir in her spot-on satirical release Start Up: A Novel.

Startup is about a collection of driven and talented millennials and how they are making their way in the world of social media, work culture, and high tech in the world of startups in New York City, a culture where often you’re only as good as your last tweet and a text read by the wrong person can ruin people’s careers. However, it is also a novel that examines the complex relationships between men and women, both professionally and personally, and all too relatable no matter what generation you got slid into (FYI-I’m a card-carrying member of Generation X).

The world of startups is one that both baffles me and intrigues me even though I’ve spent some time in newly formed entrepreneurial organizations. Sometimes I hear the word “startup” and I feel my blood turn into icy cold rivers. A lot of the startup culture seems to be about making something out of nothing valuable or meaningful to our society. Yet, at the same time one of my favorite shows is Startup on PBS, which examines new companies and entrepreneurs who are creating products and/or services that are creative, useful, and add value to their communities.

Sadly, the latter doesn’t seem to be the startup in Shafrir’s novel, but does it make for a fun and witty read.

Startup focuses on several characters, who are both infuriating and intriguing. There is Mack McAllister, the CEO of the startup Slack who is having an affair with Isabel Taylor, one of his employees. There is Katya Pasternack, a tough reporter for a high tech media publication and her boss, managing editor Dan Blum. And then there is Dan’s wife, Sabrina Choe Blum, back to work at the startup, trying to fit in and get back to speed after several years as a stay at home mom.

Mack may seem to be on the top of the world as CEO, but in reality he is lonely so he hooks up with Isabel. Isabel is initially fine with the casual hook ups she has with Mack but is now at the point where she wants their sexy time to stop and get back on track to focusing on her career.

Katya, sees several texts sent from Mack to Isabel on Isabel’s phone at a networking party. Three of these texts feature Mack’s fully-engorged member saying, “don’t tell me u don’t miss this.” Katya wonders if she should she ignore the texts or should she publish the photos and write an exposé that could blow up the entire world of Slack, not to mention the careers of both Mack and Isabel. Gee, which option do you think she’ll pick? I bet you can figure that out.

Meanwhile, Dan is at this tether at both the tech magazine and with his marriage and home life. He just figures he is worth of more respect by both his colleagues, especially Katya and his wife Sabrina.

And poor Sabrina feels in over her head at her new job; she feels a bit out of the loop when it comes to her tech savvy, eternally smart phone watching and social media updating co-workers and questions how she measures up.

Furthermore, she’s got a shopping addiction and the credit card bills to show for it. She tries to hide this addiction (not to mention the bills) from her hubby Dan. To pay for her bills, Sabrina starts selling her dirty undies on-line and actually gets a nice cash flow coming in. Yes, it sounds disgusting but everybody has their kinks and Sabrina is just providing a product some people are willing to buy.

From the opening line of Startup to the last closing line, I found myself caught up in the whirlwind of these characters’ lives both professionally and personally. Though a lot of them made some bad decisions, I truly had their best interests at heart. I wanted things to work out for all involved, and I could relate to a lot of their problems. Yes, even Sabrina selling her unmentionables. Nope, I’m not going to sell my dirty dainties on Craigslist, but I have been told more than once I should make extra money via phone sex due to having a “hot and sexy” speaking voice.

But I digress…

In the hands of a lesser writer, these characters could be written in broad non-dimensional strokes, the men all douchebro cads, the women all overly ambitious shrews or weak milquetoasts. But all are fully-dimensional. You both root for them while at the same time shake your head in disgust.

Plus, I could totally relate to this novel even though I’m a generation older than the characters and live in Milwaukee, not the Big Apple. I’ve worked in the world of media and newly formed organizations. But I also dealt with these issues while working in older companies and retail establishments. It seems like the more things change , the more they stay the same. From Mad Men to the mad world of startups, Startup: A Novel is both timely and timeless.

Book Review: I’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb

I first became familiar with Wally Lamb when I read his novel She’s Come Undone many moons ago. It was an Oprah’s Book Club pick, and though I’m usually not subservient to the Big O’s charms, I decided to read Mr. Lamb’s novel and really liked it. I was delightfully surprised a man could write a female character with such understanding, richness and depth. Now years later, I am not surprised a male writer can do this, just as I’m not surprised a female writer can write a male character with the same talent and skill. All it takes is some common sense and some empathy, which are traits of good writers.

But I digress…

Now Lamb is back with his latest novel I’ll Take You There, which features one Felix Funicello, who was first introduced in Lamb’s early work Wishin’ and Hopin’.

Felix Funicello (yes, he is related to the late Annette Funicello) is a film scholar. He has an affable relationship with his ex-wife Kat and is quite close with his daughter Aliza who is a feminist-minded writer for New York Magazine.

On Monday nights, Felix hosts a Monday night film discussion group at an old vaudevillian theatre where he shows films from Hollywood’s earliest days.  There are tales that old film legends haunt the dusty nooks and crannies of this old theater, but Felix figures that just a bunch of silliness until one night he is visited by the ghost of silent movie director Lois Weber and film star Billie Dove.

At first, Felix thinks he’s going a bit nuts as most of us would if ghosts visited us. But soon Lois Weber is taking him on a nostalgic journey of both the heartbreak and bliss of Felix’s childhood.
It is during this celluloid journey where Felix relives memories that at times are trivial and silly. But he also comes to grips with one memory that seared the very psyche of the Funicello family.

One of Felix’s earliest memories is of watching the Disney move Pinocchio with his older sisters Frances and Simone. From this moment, Felix is hooked on movies and everything related to cinema and Hollywood. And somehow just knows the movies will impact him long before the final credits of Pinocchio scroll on the movie screen before him.

Another early memory for a wee Felix is the Rheingold Beer search for a spokesmodel. Now remember, this is 1950s Brooklyn. You can’t vote for your favorite Rheingold Beer candidate via social media and the company’s website. You have to vote via a ballot box, and the winner gets a host of goodies and the possibility of fame and riches, how exciting! The Funicello children take it upon themselves to hustle up some votes for their favorite candidate Dulcet Tone, who they know better as Shirley Shishmanian, a local neighborhood gal. Miss Shishmanian changes her name because Shishamanian is way too ethnic, too Armenian. I have to admit this made me giggle considering today it’s a Kardashian world, and we just live in it.

But darker times loom for Felix and his family. Frances develops a serious eating disorder that throws the Funicello’s into a distressing episode of confusion, despair and hopelessness. Felix also learns the truth about Frances’ birth, which involves a ne’er do well uncle and a fallen southern belle.

And then there is Felix in the present. Just as his past is unfolding before him, his daughter Aliza is dealing with pressing issues, both professional and personal. One issue includes writing about the Rheingold Beer model search, a topic she finds rather unsettling as a committed feminist. However, the feature she does write is not one of self-indulgent finger-wagging. It is well-researched and nuanced and I really enjoyed reading it. She also makes decisions regarding her personal life that will bring true joy to both herself and her parents.

Once again Wally Lamb has written a novel that is both thought-provoking and just a satisfying read. I’ll Take Your There, does just that, takes you there, which means in my case, reminds me why I love books so much.

Book Review: So Sad Today by Melissa Broder

so-sad-today

I initially picked up Melissa Broder’s book So Sad Today because like me, Ms.  Broder suffers from depression, and I’m always interested in how other people with depression deal with this very misunderstood ailment. Even further, Roxane “Bad Feminist” Gay gave So Sad Today a very positive review. I value Gay’s judgment so I started this book with a great deal of enthusiasm.

And this enthusiasm quickly evaporated from the moment I read the first chapter of So Sad Today, “How to Never Be Enough,” in which New York-based Broder, went into great length her mother’s difficulty in breastfeeding Broder to Broder’s fondness of eating her boogers.

And from there So Sad Today became a den of shock and vulgarity detailing every stomach-turning aspects of Broder’s life (like her mad fetish for vomit) from her childhood turmoil to her very open marriage, and then some. Clearly other people’s struggles with depression are vastly different than mine and everybody has their freaky-deaky kinks and quirks. I’m not completely without empathy and I’m certainly not close-minded when it comes to other people’s idiosyncrasies. We all have them…

Furthermore, I’m now questioning Gay’s particular taste in literature.

But let us proceed further into the madcap adventures of Melissa…

In another chapter, named “Love Like You Are Trying to Fill an Insatiable Spiritual Hole with Another Person Who Will Suffocate in There”-or as I like to call it “Sexting for Crummies,” Broder shares sexually-graphic texts between herself and a total stranger that are so horrific my eyes nearly fell out of their sockets. I am no prude; I have read my share of erotica and once wrote an article about sex toys. But these sexts had all the erotic lure of a Donald Trump, Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich gang bang. Sorry, but I just have to share a few of sexts between Broder and this up-standing feller:

Him: “I want to fuck you in an air duct, flattened out with our whole bodies touching, at first slow and careful, then really hard until I come in you and the bottom of the duct falls out and we into a boardroom meeting at Walmart, like into a bucket of fondue.”

Broder later sexts to this charming lad: “I want u to take a picture of yr cum on the screenshot of ‘Melissa Broder likes this’ and send it to me, and I want it signed by the cummer.”

Hmm, who says romance is dead?

But wait! There’s more! In chapter, Broder tells you about every dimension of her lady parts, including one labia is slightly longer than the other. Hmm, you don’t say? After reading this I do believe I could pick out Melissa’s yoni out of a line up (hmm, that’s a sentence I never thought I would write).

Throughout the book Melissa waxes on about eating disorders, suffering from anxiety, musings on gender differences like men want sex and women want love, more bodily function gross-outs and a very graphic exchange about getting a “vaginal massage” from an older man. Of her bat mitzvah, Broder muses, “I had this weird intuition that if I could just make it to my Bat Mitzvah I could both prevent the Holocaust from happening again and also get all my friends back.”

Gee, during my first communion I mused, “I wish I could dip this bland Body of Christ into some guacamole and end the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.”

But just as I was getting ready to toss this book, Broder gets very real and touched me as a reader that made me feel tender towards her, not tetchy. In the chapter, “I Told You Not to Get the Knish: Thoughts on Open Marriage and Illness,” Broder discusses her open marriage with her husband (who she refers to as Ron Jeremy). In their open marriage, Broder and Mr. Ron Jeremy agree they may have sex with other partners as long as they remain casual and don’t turn these encounters into full-fledged affairs, and for the most part, an open marriage works for both of them.

And in this chapter, also Broder discusses in heartbreaking detail Mr. Ron Jeremy’s very serious and debilitating disease and how it affects their marriage. Broder’s commitment to her husband is both challenging and proves she is capable of deep caring and compassion. I really wish she would have devoted her memoir on this aspect of her life and her fierce love and commitment to her husband.

Broder is a fairly decent writer and possibly a very nice person in real life. Apparently So Sad Today started out as an anonymous Twitter feed, which later turned into this very book. Broder claims to be very self-conscious, riddled with anxiety and constantly wonders what people think of her, so it’s baffling why she’d be so open to such extremes via her book. But then again, in a world where people get famous by doing a sex tape, opine about the most private moments in their social media and Instagram their butts, I should probably not be surprised Broder probably thought TMI was the quickest way to get published. Sure, more may be less, but in 2016 more is MORE and the fast track to fame and notoriety.

 

Book Review: Girls and Sex-Navigating the Complicated New Landscape by Peggy Orenstein

girlsexWriter, author and all-around cultural critic, Peggy Orenstein, has pretty much focused her career on the complex worlds of girls and women. She wrote about adopting her daughter Daisy in her memoir Waiting for Daisy. She wrote about the girls and their sense of self-confidence in Schoolgirls and the current state of women’s lives in Flux. And her last book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Orenstein took a hard look at the marketing of “Princess Culture” and how it affects little girls.

Now we are at the next phase, and it is a doozy, Girls and Sex. Our little girls are now in high school and college and they are dressing provocatively, waxing their nether regions, hooking up, having sex and doing all kinds of titillating things. But are they actually experiencing any joy, any pleasure? Are they having orgasms? In Girls and Sex, Orenstein does her homework, and what she finds out is at turns shocking, depressing, intriguing, heartbreaking, but in the end proves there is hope.

Girls and Sex is divided into several well-researched and well-written chapters. In the first chapter, Orenstein examines how girls willingly choose to be sex objects, often via their outfits, instead of being fully-actualized sexual individuals. In chapter two Orenstein asks if girls are enjoying sex as much as they should. Sadly, the answer is no, not exactly. But they make sure the boys are enjoying themselves. Chapter three wonders “what exactly is a virgin these days?” The answers the girls give you will surprise you…or maybe not. Chapter four examines the world of hook ups and hang ups. Chapter five takes a look at sex and all of its complexities especially when it comes to girls and boys, both online and in real life. Chapter six tackles the thorny topics of drugs, alcohol and rape, especially on school campuses. And finally, in chapter seven, things get real when girls and boys are finally given the straight dope on sex and can fully embrace who they are as sexual beings.

Orenstein interviewed over 70 girls and women about their hopes and dreams, and about their sex lives, both literally and figuratively. A majority of these young women are bright, educated, have promising futures and often consider themselves to be strong feminists (or at least, feminist-minded). Some are virgins, some are not, and some are everything but “that kind of virgin” (I think you get the gist). Most of them are straight, but a few identify as lesbians or question their sexual preferences.

A majority of these young women want to look sexually alluring, which includes provocative outfits, plastic surgery and waxing one’s private parts. Yes, today, young women feel the pressure to look like porn stars. Unlike ages ago, porn easily invades our lives via the Internet. And though there is some women-positive porn out there, most of porn found on-line is very exploitive of women (Orenstein describes certain acts that nearly made me sick to my stomach, and I am no prude). And it is the latter porn that shapes both young women and men and how they should be sexually.

At the same time, the abstinence-only educational curriculum, which includes purity balls and shaming seminars, gives our young people mostly false information when it comes to sex. This false information does nothing to deter sexual activity. And it often leads people to make bad sexual choices, which leads to unintended pregnancies and STDs.

In other words, thanks to both porn culture and abstinence, girls are either seen as “sluts” or “prudes,” and neither words are very apt descriptions to describe the intricate landscape of female desire.

What’s that, female desire? Sadly, so many of our young women feel it is necessary to be sexually desirable but feel no sexual desire. Many women admitted to never masturbating or being strangers with their clits, a fact I find hugely depressing. Ladies, you have this wonderful bundle of nerves between your legs that is made solely for pleasure. Embrace it!!!

But I digress…

Orenstein also goes into length about everything from casual (and often unsatisfying) sexual hook ups. She examines the culture of rape on our college campuses and on how alcohol abuse often leaves both boys and girls at horrific sexual risk. She is also quick to point out, how far too many girls think if they are raped or sexually assaulted they asked for it and how young men often find these sexual violations entertaining, using social media to further exploit the violation of these women. It is these passages that truly made my blood boil.

However, not is all lost for our nation’s young women, and this is explored in the final chapter. Fortunately, there are educators who want to tell our young people the truth when it comes to sex, and their lessons are done with wisdom, compassion, the facts and a dose of good humor. In this chapter, girls realize it is okay, in fact, it is wonderful to both feel and fulfill one’s sexual desire. And many boys realize it is okay not to treat girls as sexual objects and it is also okay to want to find meaning in sex, not be the mindless horndogs they are often encouraged to be. I believe this chapter will be of comfort to girls, boys, parents, and educators. I know I found it comforting, and though I’m not a mom, I’m glad this book was written.