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

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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.

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.

Women of Words: A Celebration (aka as My Fantasy Book Discussion Panel)

Not too long ago, the lovely people from Eventbrite burned up some cyberspace and contacted me on writing about my ideal book panel discussion featuring my favorite authors and/or characters. I Googled Eventbrite to see if it was legit or not. Looking pretty darn legit, I quickly contacted them and said I’d love to do it, just give me some time to figure out what authors and/or characters I’d like to have on my panel.

Saying yes to this project was the easy part…coming up with authors and characters was quite another. There are so many authors and characters I adore and nearly worship. I would need a round table as large as Lambeau Field to house them all. What authors and characters do I pick? There are times when just picking out what earrings to wear on a particular day is a monumental task.

First I decided to pick authors only. And then I decided the authors would all be women. This is no slap at the male authors I adore or men in general. It’s just four authors popped into my lady brain and they just happened to be women.

Dorothy Parker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judy Blume
Caitlin Moran
Roxane Gay

What else does a panel discussion need? Well, moderators, of course! We can’t let this discussion run amok, right? Now who would I choose to moderate (well, besides me, of course). I immediately thought of my favorite journalist, Bill Moyers, a lovely gentleman whose curious, thoughtful and empathetic interviewing style would be perfect for this panel and our sure to be scintillating discussion.

Afterward the panel discussion I’d host a post-discussion casual meet and greet for the authors and the audience. I’ll even bring snacks.

Following are the principle players in the Book Self’s First Women of Words: A Celebration (and Potluck).

Writers: Judy Blume, Roxane Gay, Caitlin Moran and Dorothy Parker

Moderators: Bill Moyers-see pic (and me, of course)

Audience: Men and women who love to read (and maybe even write).  I’d pretty much invite fellow bookworms who have a mad love of the written word.

Special VIPs: My mom who got me to read in the first place and introduced me to the wonders of libraries and book stores. My friends, both in my off-line universe, and those I adore via the Internet. They include long-time friends Nora and Elaine Takagi, Jen Locke, Rosie Blythe, Cobalt Stargazer and Tari. I chose these ladies because they are talented writers who have written guest reviews at both my blogs, have blogs themselves and are just incredibly talented writers as a whole.

As for the potluck I’m providing post-discussion and during the meet and greet? Well, I’d offer various types of cookies and brownies, including my treasured sugar mint cookies and dark chocolate brownies with a sea salt caramel glaze, chocolate chip cake, zesty pretzels, various chips and dips including my goat cheese dip, veggie with dill dip, guacamole, hummus and salsa, fruit and veggie platters, a tasty cheese plate with homemade crackers, and various liquid refreshments including my mom’s Brandy Smash.

As I mentioned, I selected four distinct ladies of letters-Judy Blume, Dorothy Parker, Roxane Gay and  Caitlin Moran. The following are reasons why I want them on my panel:

How could I not have my discussion and not feature Judy Blume? When I was a mere lass feeling like a 4th grade nothing, battered by bullying, confused by puberty, and vowing to never name my future male offspring Ralph, Judy was the Man…I mean Woman!!! Whereas other writers wrote about tweens and teens in a way that were both saccharine and unrealistic, Judy wrote about the adolescent experience in realistic ways, which never sugarcoated the issues we faced whether it was getting our periods, sex and masturbation, schoolyard bullying, family strife, religion and social issues. She knew these distinct moments in our lives were of monumental importance and treated the topics and her readers with so much respect.

No panel discussion of mine would be complete with the ghost of Dorothy Parker, whose poetry continues to inspire me. However, I must admit I was initially not a fan of Parker’s. I first heard of Parker when, as an insecure, bespectacled pre-teen, I read her line saying, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” Stomping in my Nike sneakers, I thought to myself, “What a mean lady!” But it wasn’t long before I realized the Divine Dorothy was just being snarky and probably pitying those men who didn’t quite get the erotic allure of a girl in glasses. I’m now a huge fan of Parker’s and I consider her to be the patron saint of all witty women too smart for their damn good. How could I not invite her to Women of Words.? You know she’d have plenty to say, and she’d love the Brandy Smash!

Then there are two of my favorite writers I have recently grown to appreciate who are not only fabulous writers, but who are also very proud to claim the word feminist. These women are Roxane Gay and Caitlin Moran. Both of these women write about the female experience, with clarity, wisdom and richness fully capturing the beauty and ugliness of what it means to be a female in the 21st century. Both Bay and Caitlin have written non-fiction and fictional books that are near and dear to my heart. Both Gay’s collection of short stories in Difficult Women and Moran’s novel How to Build a Girl received rave reviews by the Book Self. And their individual collection of essays, Bad Feminist and Moranifesto are two feminist-minded must-reads.

This discussion could also be a way for Gay to promote her memoir Hunger, which chronicles her experience as a survivor of a gang rape and how it led her to using food as an escape, comfort and shield. Interestingly enough, in Moranifesto Moran tells men two things they need to know about women one is we fear them, that they will hurt us physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. This topic alone could make for a very intriguing and mind-blowing discussion.

However, I want this to be so much more! So even though I want this to be a free floating discussion of writing, I also have some questions Moyers and I could throw out to the panel. They are as follows:

  1. What did they read when they were little girls and why?
  2. When did they start to write and why? What did they write? Who are their favorite authors and books from their girlhood to today? Who are these authors and books and authors their favorites?
  3. When did they realize writing was their vocation?
  4. What inspires them to write?
  5. Describe their version of writer’s block. How do they cope with writer’s block?
  6. Describe the good, bad and the ugly of being writers, especially women writers.
  7. Describe what it is like to write non-fiction, fiction, poetry, journalistic features, and so on, both the similarities and the differences.
  8. What is the one book they wish they wrote?
  9. Discuss their future plans.
  10. Advice for writers.

After the panel discussion we’d have a Q & A session where the audience gets to ask the panel their own questions.

Later, we’d sum up the occasion with a casual meet and greet/potluck. However, we’d have to tell Dorothy Parker she has to smoke outside and keep her from bogarting the Brandy Smash.

I must admit I had fun writing this and I’m so happy Eventbrite asked me to be a part of this. I also realized there is so much I want to discuss with these ladies that it might take up more than one session. We could make this a week-end event!

Eventbrite offers great book-related events all over. If you ‘d like to find a book event near you check out this registration online tool.

Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran

It’s probably not a secret that I’m a fan of British pop culture critic, author, feminist and all-around cool British bird Caitlin Moran. Ms. Moran began writing about pop music when she was still a teenager growing up in a struggling family that lived in a council house and later hosted a TV show. Later Moran proved her feminist street cred via her funny, soul-searching, thought-provoking columns on everything from her budding sexuality as a teenager to her challenges combing marriage, child rearing and writing. She also writes about serious issues that affect women (and the men who love them) with the same aplomb she writes about pop culture. I’ve been a fan of hers ever since I picked up to of her earlier books Moranthology and How to Be a Woman. And her novel How to Build a Girl is a must read if you’ve ever been a teen-age girl (or, just human).

So when I found out Moran had released another book of essays, Moranifesto, I did a little jig in my leopard-spot flats and got myself a copy, which I can safely say is another feather in marvelous Ms. Moran’s chapeau! And it’s the perfect feminist elixir in a time of the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief, #marketplacefeminism, Brexit, the sad loss of pop culture icons like Bowie, and a host of other issues that affect women across the big pond and women who live in your neighborhood.

Moranifesto is divided into four distinct parts:

  1. The Twenty-first Century—Where We Live
  2. The Feminisms
  3. The Future
  4. Epilogue

In The Twenty-first Century—Where We Live, Moran examines why her utter disdain for the late Margaret Thatcher to her despair over the death of David Bowie. She muses the hatred of her printer (always a letdown for writers on a strict deadline), famous people she has annoyed and taking a rather unpleasant ride through the streets of New York City. Her chapter on her love of bacon will resonate with anyone who thinks bacon is the food of the Gods. And I adored her essay on smells that remind us of childhood—our mother’s perfume, pencil shavings, calamine lotion, puppies, lilac trees—scents that make us a wee bit nostalgic for perceived simpler times when anything and everything seemed possible.

In Feminisms Moran pokes fun at her face, which she describes part potato, part thumb and asks why we have to make everything “sexy?” She implores us to find another word for rape, her support of Hillary Clinton, giving up high heels, the most sexist TV show called “Blachman,” the type of show I hope never makes our shores, and speaking of TV, spends a day with Lena Dunham on the set of “Girls.”

And in part three, Moran looks into her crystal ball to figure out the future. In this batch of musings she claims reading is fierce yet she thinks it’s okay if her children aren’t big readers. She validates the importance of libraries. She also gets serious discussing Syria and refugees. And when she muses about women who mess things up things for the rest of us you might find yourself nodding your head in agreement.

The fourth part of Moranifesto, the epilogue, is brief, yet probably the most important part of the book. The epilogue is a letter to Moran’s daughter Lizzie. In this letter, Moran is dead (yes, a wee bit morbid). Lizzie is about the turn 13 and Moran want to share some advice Lizzie might find useful. Moran tells Lizzie “try to be nice.” Niceness will always shine and bring people to you. Also, keep in mind that when you think you are on the verge of a nervous breakdown have a cup of tea and a biscuit (British term for cookie).

Other sage wisdom, choose friends in which you can be your true self and avoid trying to fix someone or avoid someone who thinks you need fixing. Though it may difficult in our shallow culture with its fixation on women’s outer shell, make peace with your body. Make people think you are amazing conversationalist by asking them questions; what they say might prove useful one day.

And probably the most powerful piece of Moran’s letter to Lizzie can be summed up in the following sentence.

“…life divides into AMAZING ENJOYABLE TIMES and APPALLINGEXPERIENCES THAT WILL MAKE FUTURE AMAZING ANECDOTES.”

True…so true.

Throughout Moranifesto, there are essays that really got under my skin, but I can’t really share why because they are way too personal; and at times, I need to keep certain experiences close to my vest. But to give you a sneak peak, these chapters include:

  1. The Rich are Blithe
  2. Poor People are Clever
  3. Two Things Men Need to Understand About Women
  4. How I Learned About Sex
  5. Let Us Find Another Find Another Word For Rape

And some other interesting chapters I think a lot of women will find fascinating include:

  1. The Real Equality Checklist
  2. What Really Gives Me Confidence
  3. All the Lists of My Life

So my lads and lasses, grab a cuppa (cup of tea), enjoy some fish and chips (or as we call it here in Wisconsin a Friday night fish fry with French fries), ring up your mates (call your besties), and keep calm and carry on (Netflix and chill). Caitlin Moran is back and better than ever!

P.S. Moran’s sister works at a perfume shop and she let Moran smell the fragrance David Bowie wore and Moran claimed it smelled of pineapple and platinum. Well, I know what pineapple smells like, but what about platinum? What does platinum smell like? I suppose it smells cool and metallic. But this Bowie were talking about. I bet it smells warm and ever ch, ch, ch, changing to whatever we desire. For me this would smell of a special amber oil in my possession, vanilla as I pour it into some cookie batter, a match after I blow it out, the lavender growing in a mug on my window sill, freshly made bread, the pages within a book, my mother’s chicken soup, and yes, bacon.

Book Review: You Gotta Be Dirty-The Outlaws Motorcycle Club In & Around Wisconsin by Michael Grogan

31827805As someone who is more “born to be mild” than “born to be wild,” and who is more likely to watch a rerun of My Three Sons on a retro TV channel than an episode of Sons of Anarchy, I have to admit the biker culture is one I am not at all familiar with even though I live in Milwaukee, the home of the iconic Harley-Davidson. The motorcycling enthusiast I’m most likely to come across is probably a well-heeled baby boomer whose biggest act of rebellion is not having granite kitchen counter tops.

So needless to say reading You Gotta Be Dirty: The Outlaws Motorcycle Club In & Around Wisconsin by Michael Grogan was a total culture shock. For the longest time, I thought “outlaw” biker culture consisted of some rebellious rabble rousers who drank, smoked weed, did a line of coke every now and then, got involved in bar brawls and petty crimes, and had a thing for strippers and hookers. But reading Grogan’s well-researched book was a complete eye-opener.

You Gotta Be Dirty focuses mostly on the Outlaws Motorcycle Club (OMC) from its inception to the modern day. The Outlaws Motorcycle Club was based mostly in Wisconsin with some activity in bordering Midwestern states, mostly Illinois.

In the first couple of chapters, Grogan tells us the formation of the OMC and biker culture in general. It’s very extensive. Grogan clearly did his research, and I was happy to get some of the nuts and bolts of this unfamiliar lifestyle before I proceeded with my reading.

Formed sometime in the mid-1960s, the OMC initially just seemed like a rag tag bunch of somewhat disheveled rebellious young men (and their “old ladies”) who had a mad fetish for motorcycles and motorcycle culture. But by the 1970s, the OMC was feared and notorious for their extreme violence and acts of terror, especially towards people of color and women, even their old ladies. To say, members of the OMC were both racist and sexist is putting it mildly. But among the OMC’s victims included people who were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Men, women and children often met tragic ends due to OMC’s actions.

Among these actions including shootings, stabbings, rape, assault, torture and bombings, which educated me while also upsetting me greatly.

Several of these actions continue to haunt my thoughts; one story was about the brutal torture of one young woman whose palms were impaled with nails and later she was nailed to a tree. Then there is the horrifying death of a teenage paperboy named Larry Anstett, who while delivering the Milwaukee Sentinel, died when he picked a package left on a customer’s car. The package contained an explosive device. It went off and Anstett died from his injuries, just at the wrong place at the wrong time.

And in 1994, the Chicago chapter of the Outlaws detonated a car bomb. This bomb was the third largest of its kind, just after the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and later, the 1995 of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168, including 19 children; and over 800 other people were injured.

The Outlaws didn’t become famous; they became notorious and feared. Their violence went far beyond Wisconsin, causing fear among their enemies, innocent civilians, the media and law enforcement at local, state and national levels. Even their own members weren’t safe, and several of them met atrocious fates at the hands of their “brothers.”

While reading You Gotta Be Dirty I had to put it down a few times because I was so overwhelmed by the senseless violence and hateful activities of the OMC. And I must admit, I sometimes thought of keeping an Excel spreadsheet of various people involved with the OMC, some innocent, some guilty, because it was so overwhelming, yet informative. I am truly in awe of Grogan’s research ability and fortitude and at the end of each chapter, he properly provides his resources. His willingness to get the “story behind the story” is a true testament to solid journalistic standards and reporting fortitude.

You Gotta Be Dirty is a very interesting book for anyone who is interested in fugitive biker culture as whole, a total history buff or anyone interested in a world beyond their wildest nightmares. I know I certainly got an education.

Book Review: We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement by Andi Zeisler

we were feminists onceI’ve always considered myself a feminist, ever since I was a little girl. I’ve seen feminism evolve over time, having most of my feminism honed by the third wave of feminism when my fellow Generation X-ers began to make their mark in the early 1990s. This was a time of Riot Grrrl, ‘zines, girls picking up instruments and kicking out the jams in bands like Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy and Bikini Kill. Young women read books like Backlash and The Beauty Myth, and realized when it came to feminism, we still had a lot of work to do. A new teen magazine called Sassy celebrated feminism and soon two other magazines, both which can be found at any major bookstore in 2016, emerged. One magazine named Bust and the other named Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture.

And that brings us to Andi Zeisler’s latest book We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. Zeisler is a founding member of Bitch. And boy (um, grrrrl) does she have a lot to say about the current state of feminism, and how it has evolved and devolved in the last twenty-odd years.

Yes, women today definitely have more rights than they had as little as a hundred years ago. We can vote, run for office, get an education, run a company, compete in a sport, get credit in our own names, make reproductive choices and so many other things our foremothers couldn’t even comprehend. But for all the rights feminism has gained, these hard won rights are being contested and chipped away on a daily basis, one being our access to proper reproductive health services. And still others scoff over our concerns regarding rape, sexual harassment, equal pay for equal work, and domestic violence. To make sure we don’t lose these rights we have a lot of nitty-gritty work to do, which includes everything from contacting our political representatives to raising funds for our favorite female-friendly causes.

And believe me, none of this is easy, fun or pretty. It’s a lot of hard work and can be very frustrating. So why worry about doing any of hard work of feminism when we can justify our feminist street cred by using market place feminism to become empowered women? And we become empowered not by voting or writing an op-ed in favor of feminism, but by purchasing the right yogurt, underpants or following celebrities via social media, many who seem to use feminism as a way to further publicize their “brand.”

We Were Feminists Once is divided into two wonderfully written and well-researched parts. Part One, The New Embrace, focuses on how feminism is seen through the lens of Hollywood, celebrity worship, the products we buy, and various forms of pop culture. Part Two, The Same Old Normal, revisits the waves of feminism and how all this market place empowerment is harming women in the long run even though it’s supposed to make feminism look fun and cool because apparently wearing a pair of panties with the word Feminist on them is more empowering than maintaining my access to birth control.

Still, Zeisler is quick to point out, marketplace feminism isn’t exactly something new. It’s been around since the advent of Madison Avenue and furthered sharpened by unfettered capitalism and neo-liberal thinking. Several decades ago market place feminism was expressed by Virginia Slim cigarettes telling us “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” and perfume ads for Charlie and Enjoli. Today we have Dove soap’s “Real Beauty” ad campaigns, Sheryl Sandberg’s admonishments to “Lean-In” and Beyoncé, Emma Watson and Lena Dunham’s embracing feminism as the thing all the cool girls are doing,. Yea, it’s great so many celebrities identify as feminists, but feminism goes much deeper than the fame, wealth and privilege these ladies all share. Feminism also encompasses the intricacies of race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation none of which market place feminism examines.

Zeisler writes in a way that is audience-friendly, but not dumbed down. She writes in a way that is never preachy but explains in depth the harm of market place feminism and how it impedes the actual hard work of feminism. Zeisler doesn’t offer any clear cut solutions but recognizing there is a problem is a first step, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who read this book and said, “I thought I was the only one bothered by market place feminism!”

In the end We Were Feminists Once fully exposes how marketplace feminism is nothing but “you go, girl” advertisements, a collection of hashtags and sound bites, celebrity worship, pop culture slim pickings and more power at the cash register than at the voting booth. Feminism, women and society as a whole deserve so much more.