Thursday, May 31, 2018

What I Read in May

I'm happy to report that my eye is basically de-wonkified at this point, although my vision still gets somewhat blurred after a long day at the computer or if I'm super tired. According to my neuro-ophthalmologist (I've got my own personal neuro-ophthalmologist!), I may end up enjoying blurry vision when I get stressed, overheated, or tired for quite some time.

This meant that though I was able to get back into reading this month (and a couple of super weighty tomes, as you'll see below), I'm still not quite back to my usual reading pace. I only read two actual books, and the other two were audio books.

Still, I'm delighted to be reading even a little bit like normal again, so no complaints.

So, without further ado, let's get into what I read in May:

27. How to Suppress Women's Writing by Joanna Russ

Neil Gaiman tweeted something about this book back in March or April, saying that it was a real eye-opener for him to read way back in the 80s when it was first published, and I decided I needed to check it out.

In this book, Russ explains the ways that women's writing (and writing by others from marginalized groups) is demeaned, separated from its tradition, assumed to be written by another, considered a one-off fluke, or otherwise othered in order to keep it from getting the recognition it deserves. This book was originally written in 1983, and while there was not much that was a surprise to me (with one exception), everything that Russ describes is still happening.

What was the one thing that surprised me? The fact that one of the ways to suppress writing and art by marginalized voices is to make the artwork seem as though it is unrelated to anything that came before--separating it from its tradition, in other words. I had felt this separation before, but had never understood just how damaging it could be for writers who come afterwards. If you believe that the only writer who is like you sprung up out of nowhere, with no influences, teachers, mentors, or other help, then it becomes all the more difficult for you to emulate her example.

According to several reviews I read, the original version was not very intersectional in its feminism. This update seems to have addressed that problem (as far as this white feminist can see, and recognizing that my blind spots may have concealed issues from me). I was pleased to see that Russ included far more than just white women as having their voices suppressed.

While this book was hardly an uplifting read--the damn thing is 35 years old, and it's still apropos--it did help me let go of several of the remaining fcks I still have regarding my fiction writing. Onward?

Started: April 26, 2018
Finished: May 7, 2018

28. The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean

After reading How to Suppress Women's Writing, I suppose I needed a pick-me-up palate cleanser, so I decided to listen to The Rogue Not Taken on Audible. (It was part of a two-for-one deal on the site, and I purchased it, along with The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, below).

This book reminded me of how my mother used to worry that I'd be willing to date a serial killer, as long as he made me laugh. The hero of this book was such a complete and utter asshole, and I didn't even notice because the book was incredibly funny. The banter between the hero and heroine was delightful and hilarious and I had a roaring good time, until I got to the end of the book and realized that the hero was an abusive ass.

Apparently, just like teenaged me, the author also missed the memo that a sense of humor does not make up for treating someone like shit, because humor =/= kindness. (Would that I had received that memo at age 15, prior to my need for it!)

I truly enjoyed the story while I was listening to it and laughed out loud many times. Ultimately, it left me feeling kind of bad and gross. So it really was kind of like some old boyfriends.

Started: May 20, 2018
Finished: May 22, 2018

29. Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny by Kate Manne

In my quest to read the least related books possible, I was also reading Down Girl during the middle of the month, which meant it overlapped with my listening to The Rogue Not Taken. Reader whiplash, I has it.

Manne breaks down the internal logic of misogynist thought and behavior, and it was incredibly satisfying to see her cogently explain the things that I have been thinking for years in a more inchoate manner. For instance, she talks quite a bit about the Isla Vista killings (I refuse to name the killer here), which was the first time I heard the term "incel."

At the time, it was abundantly clear that the killer was motivated by deep misogyny--and yet, many people refused to believe that. Since the killer loved his mother, he couldn't be a misogynist, according to the "naive conception of misogyny" (as Manne describes it) because that means a blanket hatred of all women. Something that still bothers me four years later is the fact that a progressive and pro-woman friend of mine actually parroted these beliefs about misogyny by saying misogyny could not have been a motivation for the killer, since he killed four men and only two women.

Manne broke down where this kind of blindness to misogyny comes from (the naive conception, in part) and I felt like I had a better grasp of how to push back against this kind of thinking when I encounter it in the wild.

I also really appreciated how she described sexism as being the belief system of the patriarchy, while misogyny is the policing mechanism. Misogyny is what happens when women break the "rules" of sexism, which explains why women who do anything outside of the narrow confines of what is expected are subject to so much abuse.

The book was definitely written in an academic style that had me sometimes scratching my head. There were several sections that I had to read a couple of times to understand. Still, I'm recommending this book to everyone. It's illuminating and infuriating and can help to pare down those last few fcks. (After reading this one in the same month I read How to Suppress Women's Writing, I'm down to my last one or two fcks left to give. I'll burn them in a grand bonfire when I turn 40 and dance naked around the flames.)

Started: May 8, 2018
Finished: May 26, 2018

30. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

This was the second book I got for the two-for-one sale on Audible, and I think I loved it.

I'm not entirely sure because there were aspects of the book that I really wasn't happy with. It was a story that let its seams show, so the construction was on view.

Like when A.J. has a blackout due to his seizure disorder early in the book--and then the seizure disorder doesn't show up again until the book's final chapter, that bothered me. When a hateful character gets exactly what's coming to him in a way that is a little too on-the-nose, it bothered me. When A.J. manages to convince a social worker to let him adopt the child who was abandoned in his bookstore, even though he has no experience with children and has only known the baby for two days, it seemed really far-fetched. When there were only glancing references to the upheaval his life would experience at becoming a sudden father, I was wondering what planet this perfect child who always slept was supposed to be from.

But...even with all of those seams that were so very obvious, A.J. was a wonderful character. At the beginning, he's a bitter young widower who owns a bookstore, and he has some very decided views about books, which already made me like him. He believes short stories are the most elegant form of writing, and each chapter begins with his notes on various famous short stories. His absolute love for the written word, which he passes along to his daughter, was so endearing and relatable.

As for what really made me feel connected to this book, it was how it ended. Spoilers below:

I have been thinking about A.J. ever since I finished the book, and the visible seams have not really seemed so terrible. Any story that can make me feel what this book made me feel gets a pass for some obvious construction choices.

Started: May 26, 2018
Finished: May 28, 2018

What have you read this month?


  1. i loved AJ Fikry, but it's been a couple years so i don't remember specific details. i quite like Sarah MacLean books, though i remember that one and do agree with you about the hero.

  2. I loved A.J. Fikry so much. It sat with me for a while too.

    If I approach all books as an English Major, I find I enjoy them much less! LOL

  3. LOL about the Sarah MacLean book. I loved AJ Fikry but I know what you are saying about it. Glad to hear that your eye is feeling better!

  4. You are my art goals.

    I loved AJ Fikry. So much.

    GIVE AWAY ALL THE FUCKS. It is very freeing.

  5. I Feel like a lot of people read AJ Fikry this month, but I had never heard of it before! Maybe it was because of the sale! Hopefully your eye will continue to improve so you can keep reading!

  6. AJ Fikry is on my TBR - hopefully this summer I'll finally get to it. Down Girl sounds really intriguing and I'm adding it to my TBR.