Oops, I accidentally did that thing where I finish books & forget to talk about them…

Hi! Happy official summer. My apologies for the radio silence – things have been generally crazy. I try to soldier on and read through the craziness, though, and I’ve finished books #37 – #41, so that’s exciting! #37 and #39 fit into the category of memoir, and the group that I’m finishing up right now is short story collections.

Because I have to catch you up on my thoughts about 5 books rather than 3 (or even just 1), I’m going to great pains to shorten this as much as I can. We all know how wordy I can be… sorry in advance.

Book #37: The Fortress by Danielle Trussoni

A memoir about Trussoni’s devastating, messy, failing marriage, with elements of both good and dark magical realism, a lot of emotion, heartbreak, and redemption.

Book #38: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

This one shirks the memoir trend, but I was suddenly reunited with all the books that had been stashed in my childhood home in Iowa (shout-out to my parents for driving 4 incredibly heavy totes of books across America so I could find creative ways to fill my incredibly tiny room with them <3).

Upon this touching reunion with the majority of my books, I felt compelled to reread something. I chose A Wrinkle in Time, and I’m glad I did. I had forgotten so much of this book, but it’s so magical and cozy and smart. It’s also tiny and definitely for children, but I loved it then and I love it now.

Book #39: Sex Object by Jessica Valenti

THIS BOOK. I really, really, really loved it. Bear with me, because I’m going to make no effort to shorten my feelings about it. Sex Object is not prescriptive at all. Valenti’s not telling everyone to adopt feminist politics, she’s not reprimanding men or women or pop culture or the media. She’s simply talking about her experiences as a woman.

It’s a short book that quickly became discouraging, numbing, horrifying. As a narrator, Valenti comes across as exhausted and fed up and more than a little beat up. It also had funny moments, and tentatively hopeful ones. It was an illuminating, raw memoir, and it felt very important. I would highly recommend it to anyone.

Valenti grew up in New York, so her experiences varied quite a bit from what I experienced growing up in Iowa. The graphic depictions of the sexism she experienced in a huge city were shocking and horrifying. Her deadpan narrative voice keeps the story of her life moving as she addresses the never-ending psychological strain of being a woman in the world. She addresses the constant waiting for someone to say something to you as you walk down the street, to tell you to smile so they can mutter “bitch,” when you don’t, to ask for your number so you can risk physical violence when you decline. This memoir is a jarring look at all of this and more, and again, I think everyone should read it.

There’s been backlash in response to Valenti before – she seems to have a really polarizing effect on people, and she addresses the angry reactions to her work in this book, from death threats to insulting, nasty emails.

I was reading reviews of this book, and was surprised by the amount of hatred she was receiving even there. Several comments touched on the state of the world for women elsewhere in the world; these comments seem to imply that Valenti writing a memoir about her own experience with sexism was a purposeful slap in the face to these women with less freedom in different areas of the world.

That sentiment is interesting to me. Valenti is a feminist, one who (I believe) uses her voice and her platform to fight for equality to all women. It seems insane to scold her for writing about her personal experience, and not writing about something that she’s never experience (genital mutilation, for example) on behalf of the women who have. That’s not what a memoir is. I realize there are many facets of feminism, and intersectionality is important to keep in mind always, and that no one woman will have the same experience as another woman, especially women of different races.

But no one is going to read a Ta-Nehesi Coates memoir and get upset that he doesn’t touch on the microaggressions toward Asian-Americans, and that’s what confuses me about backlash to Valenti. Just because one person’s experiences with sexism aren’t as violent or life-altering doesn’t make them less valid. And it’s frustrating because, should Valenti write a book touching on sexism abroad, there would be backlash for different reasons. It’s frustrating that she’s been put in this can’t-win situation when she’s just trying to tell her story and make the world a better place for women.

Oops, I just ranted. Read this book, find out about the day-to-day struggles that come with being a woman in America, and learn from it. And stop cat-calling.

Book #40: Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

This was the first Neil Gaiman I’ve read, and it was magical. He’s a great writer, and it really made me want to read one of his novels. His short stories were gripping, absorbing, tense, scary, funny, sad, hopeful, and tragic in so few words!

The idea with the title was to address this trend of including a “trigger warning” on various stories, videos, and forms of media. Gaiman wondered when his books would be labeled with a trigger warning, then he decided to take out the guesswork and just warn us all himself. It’s a really great collection of short stories, and a great introduction to a great author.

And finally…

Book #41: Hot Little Hands by Abigail Ulman

I loved this book. It’s also a collection of short stories told by mostly unrelated girls and young women from several different backgrounds, coming from different places, and with various levels of experience in the world. To me, the collection is about being on the cusp of womanhood. For some girls, that comes at the young age of 13; for others, it’s a fluid period from age 27 into the early thirties.

Some stories were shocking, some were heartbreaking and scary, some were funny, but they were all really beautiful. I tore through this book and really didn’t want it to end. The thing that usually trips me up about short stories is the jarring change; I’m used to living in a character’s world for at least 250 pages, but ideally way more than that. Short stories have always thrown me off because I’m just learning about a character and then he or she is gone. Ulman is so good at softening that blow, though. I’m not sure how she does it, but I was immediately drawn in to every single story and felt close to the characters by the second page.

She has the warmest voice, even as she discusses some of the saddest and most nostalgic parts of growing up. I absolutely loved this collection and can’t wait to see what she comes out with next.

So I’m just finishing up the last collection of short stories that I’m reading for this last little grouping. Hint: it’s Russian! So I obviously love it already. ◊

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