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How to Be a Woman

womanHow important is a good title? I know that it’s important not to judge a book by its cover, but I do it a fair amount, and if a title is too stuffy or weird or preachy I’ll usually pass over it unless someone has specifically recommended the book to me. In this case my book group recommended How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, and so I gave it a chance.

In memoir form, Ms. Moran has managed to lay out all the juiciest paper topics for a women’s study class near you! Now with more emphasis on porn! I laughed through chapter one and was tempted to buy the audiobook, but then I kept reading and, well, my teacher’s brain just latched onto what seemed to be the first chapter of a dissertation on a multitude of topics that any women’s studies major would delve into. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve laid out the themes for you here.

Chapter 1: masturbation discovery; the need for passion in porn

Chapter 2: public hair, why how we deal with pubic hair is related to porn, why other areas of the body aren’t as sexualized as pubic hair and don’t matter as much to shave. “If we asked men to shave this much they would laugh at us”

Chapter 3: naming your vagina (and porn’s effect on the process) and boobs.

Chapter 4: tasting menstrual blood (yes, really), feminism is about having a vagina and wanting to control said vagina, using the word feminism incorrectly

Chapter 5: underwear and how it oppresses us, love-hate relationship with bras

Chapter 6: fat is not just a descriptor, it is a swear word and a weapon, say it until it loses its power and feels normal; confused about whether she thinks fat is okay or not; enjoying eating/consensual relationship with fat vs. eating problem

Chapter 7: The most tangled issue of all: systemic sexism

Chapter 8: Love as woman’s work; bachelor vs. spinster; being in a relationship for the sake of being in a relationship instead of because it makes you happy; alone in a room with other people

Chapter 9: Strip clubs bad, burlesque good, if gays go wild for it it makes it okay for women (yes she actually makes this point)

Chapter 10: weddings; women care, men don’t. women get “one day all about you” before going back to obscurity, men don’t obsess about having the perfect day, they get treated as special all the time.

Chapter 11: clothes, handbags, and shoes and why women worry more than men about them

Chapter 12: having kids, raising kids (I got really angry with her as I read this chapter. She spends 11 chapters explaining feminism, spends chapter 12 spitting the usual bullshit about having kids)

Chapter 13: Then she makes it up to me with a chapter about why not to have kids and why it isn’t any better or worse than having kids as long as you are doing what is right for you.

Chapter 14: choose role models carefully; just bc rich doesn’t mean inspirational; how we are in a codependent relationship with the media that tears down actual role models (she spends a fair amount of time talking about Lady Gaga here)

I’ll leave the last two chapters for your own discovery because I enjoyed them the most and they are the most difficult subjects for feminists to agree on and come together about.

I have the same complaint about this book as I had about Luvvie Ajayi’s “I’m Judging You” – lack of depth. Moran’s stories are cute and funny and sometimes gross, but we only get glimpses of the deeper issues she is trying to address. It’s like every chapter is a version of yelling SQUIRREL! at a very excitable golden retriever. Masturbation in girls is something we should encourage and celebrate SQUIRREL! women dress for work much differently than men because we are expected to make a statement SQUIRREL! we ask women when they are having kids because we want to know when they are going to go away and do what’s expected of them SQUIRREL! My mind was reeling from feminist issue to feminist woe without any time to either grasp the issues tightly enough or connect with Moran personally.

I would recommend this book as one to be included as required reading for a college course on feminism, women’s issues, education, psychology, or any field dealing with children and relationships. It has the greatest hits of why the patriarchy must be smashed with a small helping of encouragement to keep trying. Because some of this shit is INGRAINED and isn’t going to go away overnight. Chapter 7 spoke to me the loudest, because the dangers of trying to enact feminism in the workplace without alienating oneself or worse, being fired, is a briar patch.

I’m just not sure if I enjoyed this book. I feel like I just got more depressed as I read on, thinking of how a lot of this will never change in my lifetime. Other times I felt thankful that I didn’t feel the societal pulls that most women do (clothes, handbags, shoes, kids, makeup, shaving, etc.) but felt equally separated from my sisters who may struggle with these expectations. When I was done I put the book down and said “what now?” I guess I would recommend it so that it can tear down some of the walls you might have up, expose ways that you might be unwittingly supporting your own oppression, and give you permission to bypass that next pair of uncomfortable heels. You might even catch a belly laugh or two in the process.

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Now in Technicolor!

I couldn’t sleep because I kept thinking of more ways I could expand my book review empire so I got up and figured out how to make a Facebook page for my blog. So I’m now on facebook and if you look to the right in the sidebar you’ll see the little f-in-a-box and if you click on it it will take you to my facebook page for Angry Angel Books.

I also can’t stop thinking about doing a video review once in awhile, so maybe I’ll try that out sooner rather than later. I’m in the holiday spirit so what the hell.

So follow me on facebook at Angry Angel Books!

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All The Bright Places

bright-places

Part 2 of books about suicide week here at Angry Angel Books brings us to All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. I did not want this book to end because I knew what was coming and I felt myself flinching away from the later chapters.

Our story begins with Theodore Finch in the bell tower of his school, and Violet Markey who finds herself there also and is talked off the ledge by Finch. (Sidenote – Every time I read her last name I read it as Malarkey instead of Markey, shout out to Joe Biden I love you please don’t leave.) Since Violet is the popular one, people assume that she talked “Theodore Freak” down and doesn’t get into trouble. Finch totally falls for her and we get the beginning of what seems like a typical YA romance in high school type book. They pair up for a Geography project which requires them to wander around to Indiana’s famous sites and away we go.

I knew immediately. The signs of manic depression/bipolar were too bright and clear to miss. Finch is just coming out of the depressive phase and is climbing into the mania phase when the book begins. A young reader might mistake this for the usual falling in love trope that you see in so many other YA books, but Jennifer Niven keeps it very real. Finch is able to distinguish between the asleep (depressive) and awake (manic) stages of his emotional and psychological status, but when his counselor suggests that he might have bipolar disorder, he rejects the idea and the help, not wanting to be labeled.

Violet is also a possible risk. After surviving a car accident in which her older sister was driving and was killed, she is struggling with letting go, with her guilt that she might have been responsible, and the reality of being a survivor which comes with its own questions and issues. Finch’s mania comes across as encouraging and exciting to her young eyes and he draws her out of her shell and brings her back out into the world. She is swept away by his unbounded enthusiasm for life.

This is an absolutely beautiful book, and the last section just tore me apart. I had to work very hard not to cry as Violet moves through the final wanderings that are required of the Geography project that she and Finch were partnered up on. I’ve mentioned books that would be excellent for teaching before, and Niven’s book must go on that list. I would not use it at the high school level though; I would want to use it in a college level psychology or education curriculum and ask students to describe the signs, suggest interventions, and highlight the risk factors that led to the ultimate result. This is labeled as YA fiction but it is instructive for all ages.

The end of the book provides a list of many places you can go to or call for information or help with mental illness or suicide, and Niven takes the time to emphasize that the person who is thinking about committing suicide isn’t always the only one that ultimately needs help. The survivors of suicide also require support. People who live with mental illness every day need support and we need to break down the stigma surrounding the discussion and labeling of mental illness so that people will not be afraid of asking for the help they need.

Please read this book. It is beautiful and heart-breaking and real, and while I do read to escape the world, sometimes it’s nice to read a book that is real life. We can experience something horrifying, terrifying, or sad in book setting so that maybe we are more prepared to recognize and deal with these kinds of issues when we meet them face to face.

If you think something is wrong, speak up.
You are not alone.
It is not your fault.
Help is out there.

violet

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End of Watch

end-of-watchApparently it’s suicide week here at Angry Angel Books. I didn’t do this on purpose, it just happened that way. Today we have the final book in Stephen King’s Bill Hodges trilogy, and boy oh boy for those of you that might have issues with suicide or reading about suicide, tread lightly in the last few chapters of this one.

My reviews on the previous two books are linked here:

Mr. Mercedes
Finders Keepers

When we arrive in End of Watch, it is apparent that Brady Hartsfield a.k.a. the Mercedes Killer, has become something more. The drugs that his doctor has been using to experiment on him with and the knock upside the head from Holly Gibney have combined to create a telekinetic monster. When in close proximity to others he can attempt to enter their consciousness and take over their mind, and he has created a way to access the minds of others from a distance through the use of a Game Boy-esque device called a Zappit. As I was reading I kept picturing a touchscreen tablet but really it’s more like a buttons and directional handheld game console. At some point his consciousness leaves the body of Brady Hartsfield for good and takes over the body of another, and we’re off to the races.

This book was released in 2016, and I hear Mr. King sending several messages with this book. First, and perhaps most loudly, that engagement with technology is a double edged sword. He celebrates technological intelligence with his characters Holly and Jerome, showing how technology can be used for good or at least against evil. As we see Holly thwarting plans, we find children walking like zombies, guided by the voices within their screens, ready to commit suicide as a result of being seduced by the programs on their devices. The hypnotizing effects that have been well documented in video games are used as weapons. The very supernatural movement of Brady from consciousness to consciousness speaks not so subtly of the easy access bullies, predators, and other unsavory characters have to the internet and anyone connected to it. There is plenty of research that speaks to the harmful effects of social interaction online and the constant need to perform and be accepted; when you add people who are purposefully doing harm to that environment the results could be disastrous.

Secondly, that suicide resulting from interactions online is more dangerous than just the individual death. I learned about suicide clusters and how they are exacerbated by the internet and social networking sites, and I was thankful that King took the time to reveal these new aspects of suicide as they exist today as if to say “this isn’t just about being wary of technology or finding a balance in your life, this technology is a weapon of mass destruction.”

Finally, and to my own sensitivities most disturbingly, King lets his readers know that this can touch anyone. We read about a gay teenager dressing in drag and blowing his brains out in front of his terrible father. A fat woman who had been bullied and teased all her life (fat and rural). A Christian teen that takes out his entire family with a shotgun to get their reward in heaven. We fly through multiple suicides as a result of Brady’s website and device setup and we’re treated to a kaleidoscope of how devastating the internet can be with or without the presence of supernatural mind control. No one is safe, but we can be prepared.

The book is full of small joys. I love Holly Gibney and her desire to maintain her relationships with Jerome and Bill despite her battles with anxiety and mental illness. Jerome’s battles with his blackness in the face of his family’s success and separation from what he feels is traditional blackness. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but I thought I saw a small nod to traditional Maine direction giving towards the end, which whether I saw it correctly or not, was enjoyable.

One large difference was that this book did not leave me with a sense of foreboding, as though the threat had been dealt with but it could return, but a sense of purpose. So many Stephen King novels end but then you’re still scared or on edge. This trilogy ended with a feeling that it was over, and a short epilogue by King says if you need help, call the hotline, get help, you are not alone. I think this is a major reason that this book has been included on many “best of 2016” lists. It is the first King book I have read where I felt hope at the end, and not nervousness. The plot attacked a very real, growing societal concern and offered hope and closure and growth.

From Mr. Mercedes, to Finders Keepers (which was my favorite of the three), to End of Watch, King takes us on a magnificent journey through human behavior and the dangers of getting lost in technology and our own psyches. If you’re looking for some books to keep you company this holiday season, seek out the Bill Hodges trilogy. You won’t be disappointed.

 

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Self-Care Steps

As I’m working through the Stephen King Bill Hodges trilogy, there is a significant emphasis on suicide. The books highlight the many life events and circumstances that might lead to someone thinking that their life is over or that it would be better to just stop living.

Since our new president-elect became a part of my reality I have been struggling with a lot of thoughts and emotions. I had already been battling my ever-present depression prior to this, but boy did election day ramp up my efforts. I’ve never really been the suicidal kind of depressed, but in the first week after election day my mind got a lot more…creative.

So I don’t want to get too personal here, but I figured that I am probably not alone when I say that I needed to re-evaluate what I do to manage stress. Usually I just zone out and play video games or read (mostly reading) but that just wasn’t cutting it anymore. After I ate myself into multiple naps over Thanksgiving and bought some stuff on Black Friday, I did some research on stress busting stuff, which is just stuff I already knew anyway, and I decided to implement some techniques starting this week.

1. Get active! This is the WORST RECOMMENDATION EVER god do I HATE this suggestion and especially at this time of year because it is usually attached to LOSE WEIGHT YOU LAND WHALE! but I thought about what I could do without stressing too much about the weight side of it. I’m one of the weirdos in the world that doesn’t mind treadmills or walking/running, but I’m too poor to buy a treadmill, but I’m NOT too poor to buy a new pair of sneakers and a sports bra, so I’m gonna just walk up the road and back to my house and see how far it is. It’s 2 miles! And I did it 3 times this week because apparently walking 2 miles at a VERY leisurely pace is too much for my feet because I have wicked blisters and had to let them rest in between. The moral of this story though is that being more active does chemical/biological stuff in your body to make you feel better and increase your defenses against bullshit so find how you can take a walk or be more active and do it, even if it seems small. We only have like 7 weeks left before our country gets lit on fire so get walking please.

2. I’m trying out Headspace, a meditation website/app, as a way to calm my thoughts and mind on a daily basis. I’ve never been much for these kinds of things, but I’m on my 5th day and it’s really nice to take ten minutes and just be quiet. It’s $94 or something to have access to it for an entire year and that’s what I pay for Amazon Prime for crying out loud so I’m not sure if I want to invest, but I definitely want to look into my options. Feel free to drop websites or recommendations in the comments if you have something that works.

3. Drink water. That doesn’t mean you can’t drink soda, coffee, tea, all those other things, just make sure you’re getting enough water. Since Monday I’ve had the 8-8oz glasses recommended each day, but I drink two 32 oz Nalgene bottles and not 8 separate glasses. Again, chemical/biological things that are beneficial to you happen when you drink this much water, so just do it.

4. Pick something you’ve always wanted to try that is within the realm of possibility to do, and do it. Starting this blog and reading more was mine, and now it’s a habit (“library addiction”) so I’m getting back to Duolingo to start building my French skills back up. I’m having fun with it and I feel like I’m achieving something so hooray!

These 4 things don’t take a lot of time. The walk takes about 40 minutes, meditation sessions are 10 minutes, Duolingo is about 5 minutes, and I drink water throughout the day. My struggle is that it takes so much effort to do them in the first place. Just getting started is my struggle. But I have to be ready, I have to be prepared, I have to be ready and mentally stable. So I’m gonna keep reading, walking, drinking water, being peaceful, and learning. Join me, won’t you?