Nasty Women Read: A Book Club Roundup

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For a little more than a year, I facilitated a mostly online, sometimes-in-person, feminist book club. It started when I shared a link from somewhere about feminist books to read and then everyone on Facebook was like, “Yeah I'd be into that.” We rolled with it from June 2017 through November 2018 as an informal, sometimes forgetful and always low-key group. I deliberately let the group fizzle out at the end of last year, which is a major personal accomplishment because I am really slow to quit things that aren’t working for me. That’s an Enneagram Type 6 for you. But still! We read some great books and enjoyed some conversation and camaraderie through this exercise. I wanted to capture all of it here, for posterity.

The books that we read
(My top choices often lost in the monthly vote, and we also had a long list of books that we wanted to read but hadn’t gotten around to yet, but here’s what we did read together. My favorites are in bold.)

Art by val Barone

Art by val Barone

Our FB group also became a delightful repository of articles and recommendations, which I’ve rounded up and cataloged here as an archive for us all to enjoy.

Marriage, motherhood and relationships

  • “It’s Time To Get All The Shitty Men In America Fired” by Meg Keene (A Practical Wedding)

  • “Real Gender Equality Includes Femininity (and the Color Pink)” by Anne Thériault (Yes! Magazine)

  • “I Am the One Woman Who Has It All” by Kimberly Harrington (The New Yorker)

  • “Where do kids learn to undervalue women? From their parents.” by Darcy Lockman (The Washington Post)

  • “Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex” by Lori Gottlieb (The New York Times Magazine)

  • “Are Your Joint Finances as Feminist As You Think?” by Meg Keene (A Practical Wedding)

  • “How to Raise a Feminist Son” by by Claire Cain Miller and Illustrations by Agnes Lee (The New York Times)

  • “When I Became A Mother, Feminism Let Me Down” by Samantha Johnson (HuffPost)

  • “In Sweden’s Preschools, Boys Learn to Dance and Girls Learn to Yell” by Ellen Barry (The New York Times)

  • “Holiday Magic Is Made By Women. And It's Killing Us.” by Gemma Hartley (HuffPost)

  • “Women Aren't Nags—We're Just Fed Up” by Gemma Hartley (Harper’s Bazaar)

  • “Why all parents should care about kids and gender” by Julie Scagell (The Washington Post)

  • Video: “50/50” by Garfunkel and Oates (YouTube)

  • “Men Dump Their Anger Into Women” by Emma Lindsay (Medium)

Violence against women and #MeToo

  • “Kavanaugh Is the Face of American Male Rage” by Jessica Valenti (Medium)

  • “Brave Enough to Be Angry” by Lindy West (The New York Times)

  • “Why Are Men So Violent?” by JR Thorpe (Bustle)

  • “Aziz, We Tried to Warn You” by Lindy West (The New York Times)

  • “We Talk About Women Being Raped, Not Men Raping Women” by Valentina Zarya (Jackson Katz, PhD)

  • “I Have Been Raped by Far Nicer Men Than You” by Natalie Degraffinried (Very Smart Brothas)

  • “Paying to stay safe: why women don’t walk as much as men” by Talia Shadwell (The Guardian)

  • Video: “Baby It’s Cold Outside” by Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski (YouTube)

  • Podcast: “What’s Wrong With Men?” (To The Best of Our Knowledge)

  • “The Harmless-Sounding Phrase That Is Terrible for All Women” by Karen Rinaldi (Time)

Women’s bodies and health

  • “My wedding was perfect – and I was fat as hell the whole time” by Lindy West (The Guardian)

  • “Miss America Ends Swimsuit Competition, Aiming to Evolve in ‘This Cultural Revolution’” by Matthew Haag and Cara Buckley (The New York Times)

  • “Whatever’s Your Darkest Question, You Can Ask Me.” by Lizzie Presser (Type Investigations)

  • “Nature, Nurture, And Our Evolving Debates About Gender” (Hidden Brain by NPR)

  • Song: “'Thunder Thighs': The Summer Anthem That Celebrates Every Woman” by Samantha Balaban and Karen Gwee (NPR Music)

  • “The Troubling Thing About the “Fit Mom” Instagram Community” by Rebecca Onion (Slate)

  • “The Future of Personhood Nation” by the Editorial Board (The New York Times)

At work

  • “Dear Sheryl, Let’s Stop Giving The Patriarchy A Thumbs Up” by Natalie Shell (Medium)

  • “2 women entrepreneurs who invented a fake male cofounder say acting through him was 'like night and day'“ by Libby Kane (Business Insider)

  • “Donald Trump Is Not Homosexual, But He Is Definitely Homosocial” by Michelangelo Signorile (Huffington Post)

  • “A Study Used Sensors to Show That Men and Women Are Treated Differently at Work” by Stephen Turban, Laura Freeman and Ben Waber (Harvard Business Review)

  • “These cartoons hilariously describe the double standards women face at work every day” by Emily Baines (Hello Giggles)

  • “Poll: Discrimination Against Women Is Common Across Races, Ethnicities, Identities” by Joe Neel (NPR)

  • “Bill Maher Is Stand-up Comedy’s Past. Hannah Gadsby Represents Its Future.” by Matt Zoller Seitz (Vulture)

  • “Meg White Is The 21st Century's Loudest Introvert” by Talia Schlanger (NPR Music)

  • Video: “The Mushroom Hunters: Neil Gaiman’s Feminist Poem About Science, Read by Amanda Palmer” (Brain Pickings)

Other good reads

  • “How Feminist Dystopian Fiction Is Channeling Women’s Anger and Anxiety” by Alexandra Alter (The New York Times)

  • “Emma González Kept America in Stunned Silence to Show How Quickly 17 People Died at Parkland” by Katie Reilly (Time)

  • “Feminist Fairy Tales” by Laura Olin (The Hairpin)

Although I’ve let this book club meet its natural and graceful end, I’ve doubled down on my personal reading (largely as fuel for my personal writing, but also to maintain a sense of self). I actively log my reading over at Goodreads, if you’d like to find me there, and am thoroughly enjoying an ongoing “buddy read” with my best friend Alex. It’s like a book club but better: it’s just two people, so book selections are easy and the chat is informal and fun and unscheduled. We synchronize our library requests and send each other Kindle books to read. It’s lovely. You know I still have a weakness for book clubs though.

Oh the unspeakable visions of Kerouac

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The name of this site and subsequently-named Insta handle come from Jack Kerouac’s “Belief & Technique for Modern Prose”, where he shares his list of essentials for writing. In this 100 Days of Writer’s Block, I’ve been trying to bust through some closed doors of the mind. Closed doors like “Who the hell are you to write? You have nothing interesting to say.” And then! I’m reminded of all of the unspeakable, beautiful and vital visions in each of our minds. I’d love nothing more than for all of you to start writing too. I’m deeply curious— maybe too curious— about the visions of the individual. I’m also deeply grateful to live in time when self-publishing is so easy, inexpensive and accessible. Otherwise I’d be handing out written essays in the town square all day and that sounds exhausting. Although… wait. Should I start a ‘zine? I think I should start a ‘zine.

“Beliefs & Technique for Modern Prose”
by Jack Kerouac, published in The Portable Jack Kerouac, edited by Ann Charters
(I noted some of my favorites)

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy

  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening

  3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house

  4. Be in love with yr life

  5. Something that you feel will find its own form

  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind

  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow

  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind

  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual

  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is

  11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest

  12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you

  13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition

  14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time

  15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog

  16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye

  17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself

  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea

  19. Accept loss forever

  20. Believe in the holy contour of life

  21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind

  22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better

  23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning

  24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge

  25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it

  26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form

  27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness

  28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better

  29. You’re a Genius all the time

  30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

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I first met Jack Kerouac in the summer. I was in high school, working a summer job with the school district and came home each afternoon to read On the Road and lay in the sun. He stayed with me through college, where I hung a disturbing poster of him in my freshman dorm room (apologies to my roommate) and spent a fair amount of time writing bad poetry. I couldn’t get enough Kerouac and soon the book Dharma Bums took over as my touchstone. Sometime in my junior year, a fellow lost Beat poet lent me a copy of Minor Characters by Joyce Johnson and it opened my eyes even more to his world and, importantly, to a woman’s perspective of that world. Kerouac provided my first encounter with the pain of loving someone’s art even though I had my misgivings about him as a person.

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Years later, I read Big Sur while sitting on the porch of a yurt in Big Sur eating a California avocado with a Napa red wine. It’s an afternoon I remember well even though it was nearly six years ago. I found that particular book to be nearly incomprehensible but loved the moment all the same.

I think I’ll undertake the risky adventure of re-reading a bit of Kerouac soon. I’m eager to see whether they still live in my heart and imagination or, instead, if they’ve lost their charm and relevance for me. It’s sort of like when people warn you not to meet your heroes. These books were my heroes, and I’m nervous to meet them now in between loads of laundry and PBS Kids and a mortgage and juice boxes. Will J.K. be too bro-y for me now? Let’s find out.

Why I don't write

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In re-reading an old interview with Maria Popova of Brain Pickings, I found this:

 

Do you believe in “writer’s block”? If so, how do you avoid it?

I think the operative word here is “believe.” If you fixate on it, it’ll be there. It’s kind of like insomnia – the more you think about not being able to fall asleep, the less able to fall asleep you become.

It’s different for everyone, of course, but I find that you break through that alleged “block” simply by writing. As Tchaikovsky elegantly put it, “A self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.”

I’m fixating on my writer’s block. It’s now a friendship that I’ve neglected for so long that it’s awkward to try to reconnect. “Hey, how have you been? I heard about that thing. Sorry I haven’t been in touch.” Like when you accidentally let a phone call or text message go unanswered for too long and then bump into the sender at the store and try to hide behind a box of cereal.

I thought I’d make a list of reasons that I don’t write. And then dismantle them and start writing. Could be fun.

  1. Balancing privacy. It’s no secret that my #1 topic of choice right now is Clark. For writing to be shared publicly, though, I’m trying to figure out what is mine to share. My stories of motherhood versus Clark’s own stories of growing up, stories that he may wish I had kept private. When I take those topics off the table, a large part of what is left is about my work. I haven’t figured out that balance yet, the topics I’m comfortable writing about and the ones that are appropriate to share here. I’m in that strange position of having a sorta, kinda, just a little bit visible professional role and I’m aware of the need for discernment in which bits of my personal life and privately-held opinions to share.

  2. No conclusions. I’m firmly in an era of having very few conclusions to share. No parenting tips, no solutions for work-life balance, no well-researched and -tested perspectives on our current dumpster fire political and cultural climate. I hate the not knowing.

  3. My creative energy, the generative forces and ideas, is mostly directed at my work right now, with only a little bit of energy left over for personal writing.

  4. I don’t want advice, concern or sympathy. Each time I share something even slightly vulnerable, the messages start coming in telling me how I can fix it, reassuring me that I’m great and messages that generally just embody what Brené Brown calls an empathetic miss.

  5. Who am I to write? Why should my voice be heard?

  6. Perfectionism. That gets us all, doesn’t it?

 

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.

[…]

Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.”

-Anne Lammot in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (via Brain Pickings)

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In honor of this prolonged season of writer’s block, I’ve joined #The100DayProject. I found it through my mom, an artist, and grabbed onto it slightly late and off-schedule, but here I am nonetheless. I’m trying to write a little something every day and sharing about it most days on my Instagram stories. See you there.

A few helpful tips for making your holiday donations

If you’re feeling generous this holiday season and wondering how to make the most of your charitable giving, head on over to my recent post for All Over Albany and learn how to be a great do-gooder. Hint: give from the heart, give with trust and respect, give regularly, give unrestricted donations, give money instead of things (usually) and… ask your chosen nonprofit org what they need. No bizplaining or hysteria about “overhead” necessary :)

Our advent calendar & thoughts on good deeds

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I’d been itching to make an advent calendar ever since seeing a few examples on Reading My Tea Leaves. I appreciate the advent period as a seasonal call to contemplation and anticipation, even without belonging to an organized religion. So I tried to create a simple calendar with some really easy things we could do as a family, or that I could do alone, to savor the season. At first I laid out 25 new exciting Christmas-y activities to do and then realized that sounded miserable and overwhelming. So I swapped some out for things we’d already be doing, like reading The Snowy Day or making donations to causes close to our hearts. We’re halfway through the calendar and I’m happy to report that we also just absolutely bailed on some of these. “Have an indoor picnic” sounded easy because it’s literally just eating dinner on the floor, but nope, it didn’t happen. We read exactly three sentences of The Polar Express before Clark requested a book about dinosaurs. I haven’t send out our Christmas cards yet and we’ve switched some other ones around too. It’s delightfully low-pressure.

Clark is only two, so we have at least another Christmas before he’ll understand what this all is, but I’ve been thinking about the difference between acts of charity and acts of justice. So many of us enter the holiday season with beautiful intentions of “giving back”, but many of us don’t quite get it right. Consider the shift from thinking of a donation to Toys for Tots as a “good deed” to understanding it to be a small step towards a fairer, more just world. A reminder that it’s usually not about a family being “less fortunate” than it is about structural racism or other discrimination along with a broken economy, health care system and government. I’ll admit that I’ve really enjoyed filling the Christmas wish lists of some of our neighbors, but I’m trying to see it not as an exceptional act of generosity but as the only responsible way to move through this gift-giving season. Once I began to see my role in those forces that contribute to “less fortunate” situations, I had to start shifting away from the “good deeds” mentality to one more akin to reparations and justice-building actions. So, all of that to say, this has been on my mind as we move through the holiday giving season.

Back to the list. Here are our advent calendar activities. Family ideas with a toddler can be tough, so some of them are just for Chris and I, some are for all three and some are just for me. I think I’d love an advent calendar with ideas just for me, but I’ll save that for another year.

  1. Go to a holiday market

  2. Dry orange ornaments

  3. Deck the halls

  4. A midweek holiday feast

  5. Have an indoor picnic

  6. Christmas coloring

  7. Make a pot of mulled wine or cider

  8. Buy a Christmas tree

  9. Sunday soup

  10. Buy gifts for neighborhood friends

  11. Read or watch Polar Express in pajamas

  12. Make cards

  13. Mail cards

  14. Watch a Christmas movie

  15. Bake Christmas cookies

  16. Feed the birds

  17. Read Snowy Day

  18. Buy extra fresh veggies and donate

  19. Have a phone-free evening

  20. Donate to provide life-saving medical care around the world, including in Yemen

  21. Celebrate solstice

  22. Wrap presents

  23. Sit by the fire

  24. Nothing yet! Something festive. Something leftover from earlier in the month. Cookies for Santa. Staying up late to look at the Christmas tree.

Do you have any advent calendar ideas or traditions to share? As I mentioned above, this one borrows heavily in both style and substance from the ones that Erin has shared over on Reading My Tea Leaves (an updated clutter-free one, a peace and justice one and her original). I love their simplicity and thoughtfulness.