As Women's History Month comes to a close, this month's Now Reading column features an all female cast. With essays, short stories, and memoir suggestions, we're offering a little bit of everything, and celebrating women from all walks of life. This collection of staff picks highlights a group of role models important to the next generation of women, including a historian, a senator, a musician, a mom, and of course, a writer.
If you're short on time, but looking for a powerful read, check out Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me. The book of seven essays is compact, but packs a big punch. Starting with the viral essay that sparked the book and title, Solnit describes a party wherein a male guest attempted to explain her own book to her, a book he hadn't read, yet assumed she could not have written. Each essay calls attention to the hurdles and power struggles women continue to face even in the 21st century, proving why we still need the feminist movement all these years later. She illustrates how society has perpetuated misogyny and oppression through concepts such as slut shaming and rape culture, bringing attention to why the onus is on a woman to avoid rape on college campuses, instead of suggesting the opposite. Prepare to be at least a little outraged after finishing this powerful collection.
Juli Anna J. Herndon, Poetry Editor, recently finished listening to the audiobook version of Amanda Palmer's The Art of Asking. She writes, "I enjoyed Palmer's book so much that I followed her advice and immediately purchased a ukulele online. Palmer is a musician and performer (best known as the leading member of the band The Dresden Dolls), and this book is part memoir, part manifesto, and deeply infused with her sensitivity and raucous humor. Her thoughts regarding the vulnerability of asking, the need that we have as humans to be seen, and the power of communicating with one another, are universally affecting messages, but speak to women and to artists of all sorts. Palmer's ability to write about her own flaws and failures is inspiring, and her sense of humor is delightful. Ultimately, this is the memoir of a rock star and, necessarily, there is a certain amount of ego involved, but I found it easy to forgive and look past, especially since the message of the book affected me so much. Asking for and receiving help gracefully do not come easily to me, and it's easy to justify such a flaw. But Palmer's arguments and anecdotes here have helped me to understand how the act of asking can become powerful unto itself. I highly recommend the audiobook version of this book. Not only does Amanda Palmer have a scintillating speaking voice, but the audio version includes embedded recordings of many of the songs that she references, making for a multidimensional experience."
Senior Editor and Creative Nonfiction Editor Amanda Jaros shares, "I just raced through Off the Sidelines, by Kirsten Gillibrand, the junior Senator from my state of New York. The book is less of the literary persuasion and more of the famous-person-co-written variety but I was willing to overlook the peppy writing because I am so inspired by Gillibrand's work. She started out as a Congresswoman, but was appointed to Hillary Clinton's New York Senate seat when Clinton joined President Obama's Cabinet in 2009. After that, Gillibrand won her Senate seat outright and since then has been working hard for the people of New York. What truly awed me is that Gillibrand was only the sixth woman to give birth while also serving in Congress, and the book shows how she sometimes adeptly and sometimes clumsily tried to do her job while also being a wife and mother. Mostly though, Gillibrand's book spotlights the battles she has faced and continues to face as a powerful woman in a traditionally male, and still sometimes hostile to women, role. More women are needed in politics and Gillibrand is a strong advocate for just that. I'm so grateful for this book’s encouragement to get off the sidelines and into the game."
Blog Editor Laura Roberts is currently reading Sonya Huber's Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System. She writes, "The author and mom to a young son suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, both of which are autoimmune diseases. In her essay collection, she considers pain: what it means to be in pain, to live with pain, to try to explain pain to both doctors and friends, and fail to receive the understanding she needs. It's not a memoir, but an exploration of a life and a body that have gone from healthy in the traditional sense to one that fights a constant battle—an ebb and flow of good and bad days—and the isolation that a chronic pain patient feels when doctors and the health care system fail her. She struggles as a mother, a friend, and a writer, and her essays have brought a lot of comfort to readers like me who also suffer from the chronic pain of an autoimmune disorder. I’ve found it very helpful to read an account of another woman working to find peace with constant pain while knowing there’s no cure. There’s no triumph of recovery in these pages, only the beautiful words of a woman who represents a growing chunk of the population, a voice for those of us who pretend we don’t feel lousy most days." Editor's Note: We're proud that Sonya is a former contributor to our pages. Read her work here.
Rae Pagliarulo, Creative Nonfiction Editor, shares her recent read, "The protagonists in Roxane Gay's Difficult Women are just that—women who struggle, who go after what they want, who make heartbreaking compromises, who weather storms with grace. Each one of the short stories in this collection hits a distinctly different note: in one sitting, I met two female friends who show their love in a dystopian fight club, a stripper who suffers a very complicated attack from a devoted customer, and sisters running from a hurtful past into the arms of imperfect saviors. Each woman I've met in this book has been complex, flawed, and gritty, determined to make life work no matter what hardships come her way. It can be troublesome to look for strength in characters who make bad decisions, like many of Gay's do, but that's the point—female strength comes in many forms, some of them worrying and counter-intuitive. It has been a heart-opening exercise to work my way through this collection and practice empathy towards every woman Gay introduces me to, to confront my internal bias, and to see myself in each imperfect hero."