Book Review: All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister

all the single ladiesSociety has always looked at single women with a mixture of pity, apprehension, fascination and at times a wee bit of jealousy as if they might be threatened by ladies who don’t sport Mrs. before their names and whose left hands are sans a wedding ring.

Believe me, I’ve had plenty of men and women (mostly women) who look at me with a wee bit of side-eye and I’ve felt the sting of their judgments. So I was pretty happy to find Rebecca Traister’s book All the Single Ladies where she examines the various experiences of single women and how they are woven into the history of American society, both in the modern age and days long ago.

Today there are more single women than married women, much of this is due to women having more options than older generations when it comes to education, careers, sex and children. Women are holding off on getting married until they are older and have gotten an education and have established some semblance of a career or some type of work history. And despite much pearl clutching, most single women do end up married and having children, often before they are in their thirties.

All the Single Ladies is a combination of statistics, anecdotes, historical facts and a variety of personal stories from a wide variety of single ladies, some by chance, some by choice and some by circumstance.

Each chapter of All the Single Ladies covers a wide range of topics regarding lasses who haven’t found their Mr. or Ms. Rights (but perhaps have found a quite a few Mr. or Ms. Right Nows.) Singles ladies are dissected from the past, the present and in the future realm. Singles ladies of all stripes are considered amongst Ms. Traister’s well-written prose. This includes never married, divorced and some widowed ladies. She examines single ladies and their pursuits to achieve both educational and career success. She tells stories of women and their friendships with each other and how they evolve as they get older and arrive at different benchmarks in their lives, both professional and personal. Traister covers women as single mothers and those whose lives aren’t always so rosy and glamorous. She examines single ladies impact on American society, much of it very positive, and how society often views single ladies, sadly, much of it not so positive. And yes, Traister covers, or should I say uncovers, single ladies and their sex lives. And believe me, single ladies have been doing the horizontal sweaty long before the sexual revolution and pretty much having a grand old time, too!

If I do have any problem with All the Single Ladies, it is this. Traister does a little too much of what I call, “Me and My Friends Journalism,” meaning a majority of the women she interviews are very much like herself—college educated, middle class and of the professional caste. Nothing wrong with any of this, I’ve been all three at various times of my life. Furthermore, a majority of her subjects live on either the left or right coast (probably mostly the right—mostly New York City). I would have liked to have read more stories from women of color, non-college educated women, recent immigrants, women wearing collars both blue and pink, and places in the USA that the mainstream media ignores. Hey Ms. Traister, did you know my ‘hood, Milwaukee, was just named one of the best food towns in the country?

Milwaukee isn’t all about cheese. Well, actually Milwaukee is a lot about cheese. We even have artisanal cheese.

But I digress…

Still, I think Ms. Traister (who recently found a husband to “put a ring on it”), offers a very well-researched, thoughtful, witty, and empathetic tome on one of the most misunderstood demographics around—single ladies, not all of them, but definitely a notable bunch.

 

 

 

Book Review: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

modern romanceI’ve always had a soft spot for comedian and actor, Aziz Ansari. A fan of the TV show “Parks and Recreation,” I could have easily found Ansari’s character, Tom Haverford, an annoying hipster blockhead. But Ansari’s natural humor and charm, made young Mr. Haverford a bit palatable. Plus, Tom, along with Donna Meagle (played by the incomparable Retta) gave us “Treat Yo Self,” which is wise advice indeed.

Now with “Parks and Recreation” being a fond televised memory and “Treat Yo Self” being a notable Internet meme, Mr. Ansari has published his first book, Modern Romance.

When I first found out about Modern Romance, I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, “Oh, no. Not another comedian writing about romance, love, sex and the like.” I wondered if Modern Romance would be a memoir of sorts featuring muses on Ansari’s romantic history. Or would it be a tired trope of endless jokes like, “What’s up with women and shoes?” Yes, the tired women and shoes joke, the airplane food joke of relationships.

Or goodness, even worse—a millennial’s version of Steve Harvey’s Think Like a Man, Act Like a Lady.

Fortunately, Modern Romance is none of those things. And it is a delightful and eye-opening read on the current state of dating, sex, relationships in the 21st century, giving us the good, the bad and the ugly.

Now, Ansari does not do this alone. He joins forces with notable sociologist Eric Klineberg in dissecting our dating culture in an age of on-line dating, texting and sexting, speed dating, hooking up and other assorted romantic encounters and  unknown to our parents and grandparents when they were young.

Speaking of our parents and grandparents, in Modern Romance, Ansari begins by asking older folks how they met their spouses. Most of them met their spouses simply due to their proximity—in other words—location, location, location. These people lived in the same neighborhood, on the same block or sometime even in the same building. Many of the couples met at their houses of worship or while in high school or college. My mom met my dad through her older brother. And Ansari’s mother and father met through a marriage arranged by their families.

For the most part, the older interviewees met their spouses this way because they didn’t have the options we have today. Many of the couple got married very young, especially the women. Those whose marriages survived described their marriages as happy and strong. Maybe they didn’t initially feel the bolt of instant attraction, but they grew fond of each other as time went on.

However, many of the women interviewed were a bit wistful, wishing they could have spent their younger years getting an education, traveling, working, dating and just working on themselves before they got settled into their lives as wives and mothers. And they were thrilled their daughters and granddaughters got to experience these very things they wished they could have had when they were in their twenties.

Today we meet our potential betrothed old school, but we also meet them in ways our elders couldn’t even imagine—online dating sites, speed dating, dating apps, swiping left and right on Tinder and various hook-ups. But are these almost infinite options of finding l’amour allowing us to look over our shoulders (literally and figuratively) for someone “better?”

Also leading to romantic confusion in this modern age is our various ways of communicating, especially when it comes to those gosh darn smart phones. Sure we talk to each other face to face and have actual conversations on the phone. We text and we Skype. We send selfies and sexts. As for me, well, I have a confession to make. I have never taken a selfie. As for sending sexts of my yoni? Out of the question.

As for sending texts? Well, I don’t have a problem with sending texts regarding minor things. But I miss the actual art of conversation, especially when it comes to the opposite sex. Not to brag…okay, I’m going to brag. But men have told me I’m a delightful conversationalist and I’ve been told I have a beautiful speaking voice, no vocal fry here, my friends. So you can imagine my frustration when guys only want to converse in texts, and not have actual conversations.

But enough about me…back to the book.

Ansari also leaves the confines of the USA and travels to Japan, where everyone seems to have their genitals on ice, to Argentina, where icing up the genitals a wee bit might be a good idea. In Japan, people don’t have sex, but they sure like to cuddle up. And in Argentina, the sexual energy vibrates from every corner. Ansari also travels to France where people just expect their spouses to cheat and for the most part are “c’est la vie” about the whole thing.

Throughout the dating detective work Ansari puts into Modern Romance (with a lot of analysis and data most likely due to Klineberg’s help and expertise), provides us a glimpse into his own issue with dating and relationships, and admits at times, he truly screwed up. But being a self-aware kind of gent has learned from his mistakes and is now in a lovely relationship that is going quite well.

Now I’m sure some people reading Modern Romance will have justifiable complaints. Ansari and Klineberg mostly focus on heterosexual, college-educated, middle class professional-types, which leaves out quite a few demographics, those in the LGBT community, non-college educated, working class, etc. Perhaps someone out there can write a book on romance for certain varying demographics.
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In the end, I found Modern Romance to be at turns funny, wise and filled with empathy and charm, and one quite comforting in a time when our Facebook relationship status is might be, “It’s complicated.”

Meaty by Samantha Irby

MeatyIf Samantha Irby didn’t exist we’d have to invent her. Ms. Irby is a Chicago-based writer and performer who writes a blog called “Bitches Gotta Eat.” She’s hosted Chicago’s “Sunday Night Sex Show” and performed at various shows throughout the Windy City. She also opened up for comedian Baratunde Thurston on his “How to Be Black” tour and wrote an advice blog with her writing partner Ian Belknap. Oh, and with all of that on her plate, Irby also works regular job.

Irby is funny, profane, opinionated and brutally honest about herself and life in general. And now she’s sharing more of her wit and wisdom in collection of essays in her debut book Meaty.

Meaty is a hodge-podge of opinions, advice, rants, observations, recipes and personal memoir. Irby writes of bad dates and ever worse sex, white people she likes, her love of tacos, her struggles with body image, and her epic battle with Crohn’s disease.

She’s also not shy about talking about her less than ideal childhood where she grew up poor and black in an upper middle class mostly white Chicago suburb with two parents who died when she was very young.

In the opening essay “At 30” Irby takes assessment of herself at this milestone birthday and like a lot of people, finds herself lacking. She doesn’t have a career; she has a job. She’s sans husband and kids. She doesn’t own a house, is behind on her electric bill, owns a busted laptop and her fridge shows off her lack of grocery shopping skills. She claims she needs to work out and work on her unfinished novel. She’s in need of a therapist and nutritionist. She also desires some half-naked hot dudes, a decent parking space in her Rogers Park neighborhood and for people to declare her “the funniest person they know.” Well, if Irby keeps expressing herself she just might get the last one.

In “Forest Whitaker’s Neck,” Irby gives a full description of her naked body from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. And from the graphic description of her private parts I am now more familiar with Irby’s vagina than I am with my own. Reading this essay might be a good idea for any of her future bed partners or doctors so they’re not too shocked.

“I fucking love white people” Irby claims in the essay “Milk and Oreos.” However, Irby does have certain standards. She likes white people who shop at farmer’s markets and eat the free samples at Whole Foods. She’s not fond of white teen moms who smoke Newports and are named “Destiny” with 19 Es. In other words, she likes white people like me—farmers’ markets and free samples at Whole Foods? I am so there!

In the essay “I Want to Put a Fat Bitch on Television”, Irby describes her idea for a sitcom featuring a character oddly similar to herself called “Nell in a Hand Basket.” After reading about her idea for a sitcom I want Hollywood to make this happen. NBC just cancelled “Community” (sniff), and now they have a space to fill on Thursday nights. “Nell in a Hand Basket” would make great “must-see TV.”

And speaking of black women on TV, Irby doesn’t take Lena Dunham to task for not having a whole lot of black folks on her HBO show “Girls” in the essay “Elena Tyler. AKA Why I Can’t Be Mad at Lena Dunham.” She fears the show just might make the black character a token or a stereotype. And she also thinks we should appreciate a very young woman making a ground-breaking television show. And just so you know Elena Tyler was Felicity’s roommate on the late 1990s early 2000s TV show “Felicity.” Was Elena Tyler a token? Perhaps. Personally, I was too busy drooling over dreamy Ben Covington.

But interspersed with Irby’s hilarious rants and observations are moments of pathos. In her essay, “My Mother, My Daughter” Irby describes how her own mother pretty needed her care when Irby was still a child. Irby’s mother suffered from Multiple Sclerosis, a disease of which there is no cure. When Irby was around nine, her mother was in an awful car accident, which just exacerbated her MS. Irby betrays no detail in describing that horrific day and its aftermath that altered both their lives completely.

And in the essay “Skillet” explains her relationship with a mostly absent alcoholic father (who suffered from both alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder) through a dirty skillet Irby accidentally washed in soapy water. Just reading about the pain—physically, emotionally and mentally—inflicted on a young Irby made me want to invent a time machine and go back to give girl child Irby a huge hug and tell her nobody will ever hurt her again.

Then there is Irby’s battle with Crohn’s disease. Irby tells the brave readers that Crohn’s disease is a harsh mistress that can flare up at any time. She may shit in your car and she may crap all over some poor guy’s dick. Sure, it’s gross, but it’s Irby’s reality. Deal with it.

Meaty is probably not for everyone. If you are uptight, not comfortable with graphic descriptions of sex and shit or just lack a sense of humor, you probably won’t like Meaty. However, I found myself laughing, nodding in agreement with Irby, cringing on her behalf (or in recognition) and at times, feeling nothing but compassion and good will towards her.

Ultimately, Irby’s attitude seems to be “take me or leave me.” I’ll definitely take Irby and I hope she has enough material to write a sequel to Meaty, especially if it includes more recipes.

The Hypothetical Girl by Elizabeth Cohen

Hypothetical GirlFinding love has always been fraught with challenges, and in our modern age of on-line dating it’s become even more perplexing. In Elizabeth Cohen’s collection of short stories in her latest release The Hypothetical Girl people turn to the Internet to find true love.

Well, replacing face to face contact with digital dating doesn’t exactly make things easier in the romance department. In fact, it often makes things harder and hearts do get broken as Cohen conveys in this mostly satisfying book.

In “People Who Live Far, Far Away” a man and a woman meet on Catch.com (get it?). He pretends to be yak farmer and she pretends to be a poet, model and actress whose sole film credit is her legs the opening credits of a Jim Carrey movie. Are these two trying to “Catfish” each other or do they think they have to make up on-line personalities because they don’t think they are worthy of love the way they truly are?

“Death by Free Verse” a couple bonds and flirts through sassy limericks, but things just might go awry when the lady half of this would-be couple sends the man a heartfelt love poem.

Love triangles hurt on-line as much as they do in real life, and in “The Opposite of Love” one woman stricken with breast cancer finds herself being edged-out of a support group on-line forum as two others forum residents bond, meet and fall in love. However, love doesn’t always run smoothly and can end in sorrow.

In “The Man Who Made Whirligigs” on-line flirtation leads to a one-night stand, which then leads to being stood up at a truck stop. Hmm, sounds like a couple who should meet again on “Jerry Springer.”

And “Love Quiz” examines those hideous quizzes we find in “Cosmo” magazine that we take against our better judgment as if they are a true reflection of who were are and what we are looking for when it comes to romance.

Some stories don’t always work. I found the opening story, “Animal Story” a bit too slow-paced, which could have kept me from reading further. And the final story “Stupid Humans”, which is a about a polar bear and deer falling in love via Skype just seemed out of place in a collection of stories filled with flawed humans. Or maybe I just wasn’t able to suspend my imagination that day?

Still, I did enjoy the book. Cohen is able to write characters that are fully-dimensional and stories that ring true even if you’ve never tried on-line dating. The Hypothetical Girl examines themes of romance, lust, heartbreak, delusion, connections, flirtation and yes, hoping that there truly is that soul mate out there…somewhere.