Book Marks

cropped-reading_is_coolEntertainment Weekly shows its appreciation for the late Terry Pratchett.

Book Con is May 30th and 31st in NYC. It will be kicked off by Mindy Kaling and BJ Novak, and Mindy will discuss her upcoming second book. Book Con will also feature such notables as Sherman Alexie, Meg Cabot, James Patterson, Taye Diggs, Julianne Moore, John Hodgman and David Levithan.

Japanese library restoring books that were nearly destroyed by the tsunami.

Want to write a book that people will actually want to read? Then you need these 10 elements.

Is this the ultimate book bag or what?
book bagGuess what, Sheryl Sandberg? Not all of us can afford to “Lean-in.”

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

bad-feminist1True story. As a child, I began to call myself a feminist because Gloria Steinem was much cooler than Phyllis Schlafly. Gloria was so pretty with her long, streaked hair, aviator glasses, and stylish outfits. Phyllis Schlafly had that stupid beehive and dressed like a frump. Plus, she looked really, really mean! Gloria was the beautiful, sweet princess, and Phyllis was the evil witch who would probably cast horrific spells on naughty girls like me. My mom taught me I shouldn’t judge people on their looks, but I just couldn’t help it.

Yes, girl child Bookish Jen, a fledgling woman’s libber, was a “bad feminist.”

And thank goodness, I’m not alone because Roxane Gay is also a bad feminist. And she writes about it in her collection of essays called Bad Feminist. Bad Feminist not only focuses on feminism, but also focuses race, sexuality, media, politics, and at times—Gay, herself. Bad Feminist is both heartbreaking and hilarious, and often made me think in whole new ways. And with Gay’s wise and witty writing style you almost feel like you’re talking with a dear friend.

Gay is a professor, writer and novelist. In Bad Feminist’s introduction, she proudly calls herself a feminist, but perhaps not the type of feminist she thinks she should be according the an ever-shifting “concept” of feminism. She loves the color pink, is nostalgic for the “Sweet Valley High” books, has teenage-like crushes on famous dudes, watches cheesy reality television shows, and can’t help but groove out to catchy hip hop songs despite their often misogynistic lyrics.

Gay is bad feminist, and she’s bad enough to realize feminism has its flaws. Feminism is often seen as “middle class white lady” thing. Sometimes feminism is viewed as overtly academic or only for those strivers aiming for the executive boardroom. Feminism has often been accused of ignoring women of color, lesbians, working class women and the poor. However, feminism is better than nothing and is constantly evolving and changing, hopefully, to be more inclusive. And if Gay is a so-called bad feminist it is because she’s a flawed human and sometimes she messes up. Hey, don’t we all?

And lots not forget that a lot of misguided people construe feminists as man hating shrews. The term “feminazi,” anyone?

After the introduction, Gay focuses on herself, as black woman, a child of Haitian immigrants, a long-time college student and finally a professional with a good job. I especially liked her essay “Typical First Year Professor,” in which Gay documents the triumphs and tribulations of being a novice professor. Her love for her students (and her frustrations) is touching and at times maddening. To Gay, teaching means more to her than a decent paycheck every month, though she admits she admits she likes earning that paycheck after years of being a broke student.

Gay’s essays on gender and sexuality focus on how entertainment portrays women. She has opinions on everything from Lena Dunham’s HBO show “Girls” to the huge comedy hit “Bridesmaids,” both praising and criticizing these pop culture sensations. Gay also gives a shout-out to the woefully underrated sitcom, “Girlfriends,” which ran for several seasons portraying black women as multi-faceted human beings. Gay also offers her opinions on the Miss America Pageant and the first black Miss America, Vanessa Williams, body issues, Hanna Rosin’s controversial book “The End of Men: And the Rise of Women,” Jerry Sandusky and Penn State, Chris Brown and the girls who still love him, and gay celebrities coming out of the closet. Her dissection of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series of erotica made me realize I could laugh myself silly while also holding back my vomit (Fifty Shades’ writing is just awful). And Gay’s essay “How to Be Friends with Another Woman” should be read by every female by the time she reaches middle school.

But it’s her essay “What We Hunger For” that nearly broke my heart. In this essay, Gay discusses her love for the “Hunger Games” franchise, and her brutal rape as a young girl. Reading “What We Hunger For” made me want to comfort Gay and take all of her pain away while get revenge on her attackers. I was filled with sorrow and filled with rage. This essay also got to me on a personal level because I was also a victim of a violent crime. I was mugged and beaten years ago. Gay’s essay made me ask, “How women stay strong after being so violated?” Well, we just do. We don’t have a choice.

In Gay’s collection of essays on race and entertainment, she forced me to look at the best-selling book The Help and its Hollywood adaptation with a new mindset. Gay admits her reservations about the critically-acclaimed movies Django Unchained and 12 Years a Slave. And she takes Tyler Perry to task for his portrayals of black women and the working class.

However, it’s her essay “The Last Day of a Young Black Man” that truly got to me and made me think of the issues of race, privilege and prejudice in our so-called “post-racial” society. In this essay Gay discusses the true story of Oscar Grant, a young black man who was killed by the police on New Year’s Day at an Oakland BART station and the outrage and protests that followed. Oscar Grant’s tragically short life was made into a movie called “Fruitvale Station,” which showed not just Grant’s heartbreaking death, but also showed who he truly was as a son, a boyfriend, a father, and a friend. Oddly, enough I read this essay soon after we all learned of the death of another young black man, Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, at the hands of a police officer and the subsequent cries of outrage and protests, police brutality (often aimed at young black men) and our often misleading 24/7 media.

In another collection of essays Gay calls “Politics, Gender and Race,” Gay discusses the trouble black people have with behaving in the narrow parameters of what black people are supposed to “act.” She discusses Twitter vs. mainstream journalism and how even in 2014 women are still fighting to control their own reproductive rights.

In “A Tale of Two Profiles” Gay dissects the “rock star” treatment of suspected Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the less-forgiving portrayals of black victims of violence like Trayvon Martin (and now Michael Brown). This mind-blowing essay is more than food for thought; it is a damn buffet!

In the final collection of essays, Gay circles back to herself, feminism and her place in feminism. In Bad Feminist, Gay readily admits feminism gave women privileges our grandmothers couldn’t even dream of—access to furthering our education, professional success, reproductive rights, the right to vote, having our voices heard via various types of media. Even with all her self-perceived flaws, Gay knows she owes a lot to feminism. Or as she so rightly puts it, “I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a big shout out to Milwaukee’s very own Boswell Book Company, a wonderful independent book store. On August 8th, Boswell hosted a book discussion and Q & A with Ms. Gay about her book Bad Feminist and it was an amazing evening. I don’t think I would have discovered Ms. Gay and her book if it wasn’t for Boswell. Thank you Boswell Book Company!

An Evening With Author Lisa Mattson

Cheers to mullets, rattails and never settling in your life!”
Lisa M Mattson

Lisa Mattson inscription in my copy of her book The Exes in My iPod: A Playlist of the Men Who Rocked Me to Wine Country

Kristine Hansen and Lisa Mattson discuss Ms. Mattson's novel "The Exes in My iPod to an enthusiastic audience at the Milwaukee Public Market June 5th.
Kristine Hansen and Lisa Mattson discuss Ms. Mattson’s novel “The Exes in My iPod: A Playlist of the Men Who Rocked Me to Wine Country” to an enthusiastic audience at the Milwaukee Public Market June 5th. Photo courtesy of Christina Plum

This past Thursday I was fortunate enough to attend an author event at the Milwaukee Public Market. Thief Wine hosted wine expert and marketer Lisa Mattson who just released her first novel The Exes in My iPod: A Playlist of the Men Who Rocked Me to Wine Country.

The evening started off with the sizable crowd of mostly women, sampling some delicious wine. I must say the J Cuvee sparkling wine I drank was fabulous and I highly recommend it.

Once settled, the audience was treated to a Q & A session with notable Milwaukee food, wine and travel writer, Kristine Hansen, getting the scoop on The Exes in My iPod and what inspired Lisa to write her book.

Lisa told us her husband bought her an iPod, and as she downloaded songs into her new gift she realized many of the songs reminded her of her past loves. These songs inspired her to make an exes playlist. The playlist sent her back in time when she didn’t always make the best decisions when it came to men, romance and sex, but somehow she lived to tell the tale. Thus, Lisa decided to write a book about her exes and how they ultimately led her to the exact place she was meant to be—happily married with a thriving career in the wine industry.

At first Lisa thought she would write a memoir, but then decided a novel would be a better choice. The Exes in My iPod was a writing exercise that took her seven years. Lisa really had a lot of past romantic baggage to deal with, not to mention a busy professional and personal life. Lisa’s novel features a character, Harley Arbele, who went from naïve small town girl rushing from one bad relationship to another to a sophisticated, accomplished and happily married career woman, not unlike the journey Lisa herself took when she was younger.

When asked what her ex-boyfriends think of the book Lisa answered some of them were mortified. Her ex-husband expressed his displeasure at the novel, and one ex dramatically proclaimed, “This book will destroy my family!” But some of Lisa’s exes had no problem and a few mentioned they wanted an autographed copy. She mentioned she didn’t write the book to hurt anybody and after reading the book I can safely say, Lisa is as hard on her doppelgänger, Harley, as she is on her exes, maybe even more so.

In the book, Harley has a difficult time figuring out the difference between sex and love, something a lot of people struggle with. Harley also had to learn self-respect and the ability to trust herself, which is something a lot of us can relate to. From hearing Lisa speak, it almost as if writing The Exes in My iPod was a form of therapy, a form of therapy that also reflected her love of music and her passion for wine.

Lisa also mentioned the process of her writing novel allowed her to embellish and make some stuff up. Her husband supported her 100% (he pretty much deserves some type of husband of the year award for this), and her employer also gave her a year-long sabbatical to work on the book. However, Lisa’s mom had a hard time with parts of the book.

Lisa chose to self-publish The Exes in My iPod. Why? Well, her job is very demanding and too many times unknown writers get ignored by traditional publishers. Standard inquiries and emails often go unanswered. Furthermore, by self-publishing her book, Lisa had some control in the promotion and marketing. Lisa is a big fan of e-books, and the e-book version of The Exes in My iPod feature links to the songs mentioned in the book. During the Q & A session Lisa took time to tell the audience on the book’s selected musical playlist and how they connected to certain ex-loves going into great length on how Dido’s song “Hunter” connected to her ex-husband. “I didn’t choose the songs; the songs chose me,” Lisa claimed.

And yes, Lisa did read a passage from The Exes in My iPod. And she chose to read a passage with a lot of steamy sex. She figured with the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, the audience wouldn’t mind—we didn’t.

The temperature of the Milwaukee Public Market rose a few degrees as Lisa read about a tussle in the sack between Harley and her Latin Lover John. At first, Harley and John’s venture into the horizontal sweaty was a lusty affair. But sadly, it soon turned to disappointment. And if you read The Exes in My iPod you will never regard Gummy Bears in the same way. Written with a good dose of humor, this passage showed how the erotic can turn us quite neurotic.

Beyond her novel, Lisa also described how she became a topnotch wine maven, which began when she took a wine class in college. Today Lisa is the Director of Marketing Communications for Jordan Vineyard and Winery.

The evening was a load of fun and everyone seemed to be having a great time. Both Lisa and Kristine handled themselves with aplomb, both down to earth and charming. After the Q & A session ended, attendees were able to sample more wine and buy a copy of The Exes in My iPod. Lisa autographed copies and spoke at length to everyone who approached her table. I was able to talk to Lisa and we further bonded over our shared small-town girlhoods and our love of the band Everything but the Girl.

Ultimately, an evening of wine, one woman and a whole lot of songs was a true delight and the perfect way to cap off a warm spring evening. And now it’s got me thinking of how certain songs connect me with an ex. Hey, Mike! Jann Arden’s “Insensitive” is totally about you!

What Will It Take to Make A Woman President?-Conversations About Women, Leadership and Power by Marianne Schnall

womanpresbookAs many of my fellow citizens know, men have been running this pop stand we call the United States since 1776. I fully expect we’ll have a lady President in my life time and it won’t be when I’m an old lady dribbling into my Depends.

However, I can’t help but wonder, “Why haven’t we had a female President? Other countries have been led by women, including Great Britain, India, the Philippines, Israel, Switzerland, Ireland, Chile, Germany, Liberia and Pakistan. What is taking the good old USA to get with the program?”

Marianne Schnall, writer and founder of the website, wonders this herself and now she’s asking other noteworthy people on why we haven’t had a woman President and what will it take to make this happen in her book, What Will It Take to Make A Woman President?-Conversations About Women, Leadership and Power.

Schnall’s quest started innocently enough. Shortly after President Obama was elected in 2008, Schnall’s then 10-year-old daughter asked, “Why haven’t we had a woman President?”

This simple inquiry put Schnall on a quest to find out why America has never had a woman President and she found some pretty big guns to ask them this very thought-provoking question.

Not surprisingly, many of the people Schnall interviews are women who have spent time in the political trenches. These people include Republicans like former US senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Olympia Snowe, GOP political strategist Ana Navarro, and the Governor of Oklahoma, Mary Fallin. On the Democratic side, we have current US Senators, Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill, former Speaker of the House and current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Vice Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee Donna Brazile.

Other notables interviewed by Schnall include feminists both young (Jessica Valenti) and not so young (Gloria Steinem). Journalists, broadcasters and writers include Soledad O’Brien, Pat Mitchell, Maya Angelou and Melissa Harris Perry. The world of business and academics is covered by Sheryl Sandberg, and Anita Hill. Celebs like Joy Behar, Kathy Najimy and Melissa Etheridge also give us their two cents worth.

And don’t worry; this book isn’t a total estrogen fest. Schnall also includes the men by interviewing Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, Lieutenant Governor of California Gavin Newsom, and former member of the NFL and social activist Don McPherson.

Now just why haven’t we had a women president? Answers vary, but many agree that sexism still plays a major part every time women dip their toes into politics. Don’t agree with me? Well, people have actually questioned whether Hillary Clinton can be a grandmother and President at the same time. Seriously, did anybody ever question George H.W. Bush or Jimmy Carter if they could be grandfathers and President at the same time? ::Crickets chirping::

And let’s not forget that because of sexism women are often judged on their looks and their outfits, or are seen as too emotional who can’t handle the rough and tumble world of politics. Or if they can handle the rough and tumble world of politics they’re branded as cold, bitchy or bossy.

What else could be keeping a woman from becoming president? Until recently, there was a dearth of strong female political role models. Often women are not encouraged to get involved in politics, whether it’s running for office or running a campaign. Women sometimes don’t have access to the huge amount of money that men do (running for office ain’t cheap, kids). And speaking of kids, undoubtedly a majority of childcare falls on women and a lot of them may eschew politics until their children are grown.

Furthermore, our media can be brutal when covering female political candidates. The mainstream media may be considered liberal (it’s not), but it can be downright reactionary or irritatingly condescending. Years ago the New York Times did a piece on women in politics, specifically the chance of having a woman in the Oval Office. This piece was published in the Times’ “Style” section (as opposed to the news or opinion section) and was illustrated with a fancy pink purse emblazoned with the Presidential seal because we all know ladies love pink and purses!

However, at the same time we are dealing with sexism, lack of role models and political leaders, family challenges and the media, women also put up their own personal barriers. Some of us don’t believe we have what it takes to run for office. We still see power, leadership, self-promotion and ambition as unfeminine and unattractive. Hopefully, as more women gain access to higher positions in politics, business, academics, media and entertainment, these antiquated ideas will dissipate. Or as Senator Claire McCaskill puts it, “Women have to be taught that ambition is ladylike.”

We know the reasons why we haven’t had a lady President. Now what can we do about it?

Answers vary, but the interviewees offer several ideas on how to get women to run for office. They include women demanding more access, increasing our confidence and willingness to put ourselves on the line politically, and promoting women as ideal political candidates who can bring a fresh perspective to governing.

And just what are these fresh perspectives women can bring to governing? According to the interviewees women bring new perspectives and are willing to reach across the aisle to build consensus. Women are collaborative and acknowledge the importance of relationships. Now this may sound like stereotypes (I’ve worked with women who exhibited none of these traits), but don’t they sound like things desperately needed in the world of politics?

I enjoyed reading What Will It Take To Make a Woman President, and I appreciated everyone’s thoughts, ideas and opinions. I would have appreciated Schnall interviewing the average woman and man off the streets to get their input, but I also understand the importance of people who have actually been there and done that political-wise.

The year 2016 may seem a long time from now but it is a Presidential election year. And not surprisingly Hillary Clinton’s name is mentioned a lot as a potential candidate. But there are countless other women who can run for President. Is the United States ready for a President with lady parts asks What Will Take To Make a Woman President? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” And it’s only a question of when this will happen and what action steps we can take to make this a reality.