Current Reads - 2019

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Current Reads - 2019

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Jan 3, 2019, 7:29am

I'm taking the initiative to start a new "currently reading" thread since I don't see one for 2019 yet.

I enjoy hearing what we're all reading by female authors - hope everyone is having a great start to 2019!

Jan 3, 2019, 7:30am

I'm reading SPQR by Mary Beard.

After reading her brief essays titled Women & Power, I picked up her nonfiction about Rome as well. Women & Power was a brief but excellent look at the history of women's voice and power and how our history influences our present.

Jan 3, 2019, 9:20am

Thanks for posting about SPQR! It's going on my wish list.

I'm in the US & since the Kavanaugh thing I've been reading almost exclusively novels by women. It'll be good to get back to nonfiction. Not so sure when I'll be ready to read anything by a cis white het guy again, tho -- I've listened to them long enough.

I just finished Speak by Louisa Hall. It was so good! Multiple narrators whose stories come together to form a sort of meditation on what it means to feel, to love, to be human. And there are robots, lots & lots of robots. It was beautifully written, too. I highly recommend it.

Jan 3, 2019, 9:35am

I'm reading My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, about a woman in Nigeria who is always cleaning up her sister's messes - usually involving a murdered boyfriend. I'm almost done and it's really fantastic!

Jan 3, 2019, 2:31pm

Currently by women, started at about the same time: The faces of injustice by Judith N. Shklar and The production of money by Ann Pettifor

Feb 14, 2019, 2:54pm

I've read 4 books by women so far this year, and hope to keep up a good pace. Chernobyl Prayer by Svetlana Alexievich was very good - I would describe it as an oral history of what happened in the immediate aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; haunting. Then Still Alice by Lisa Genova about a woman who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease at age 50. Then two books in Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire Mysteries, which were fun rides - All Together Dead and From Dead to Worse.

I'm also reading Dorothy Richardson's Pilgrimage as a year-long read and completed Pointed Roofs in early Feb.

On deck in Feb are Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford, The Lost Traveller by Antonia White and Backwater, the second novel in Pilgrimage

Feb 14, 2019, 3:36pm

I've just finished The Colour by Rose Tremain - historical fiction set in the New Zealand gold rush. I'm also reading Proust and the Squid which is nonfiction about the development of reading and writing and what it does to the human brain, by Maryanne Wolf. This is fascinating!

And I'm reading An American Marriage by Tayari Jones which has gotten tons of buzz as an Oprah pick.

Feb 15, 2019, 7:14am

>6 LisaMorr: Chernobyl prayer is on my list of books to read this year. Recent coverage of the exclusion zone on the BBC will probably move it nearer the top.

Link to BBC article about life in Chernobyl exclusion zone

Feb 17, 2019, 9:52am

>6 LisaMorr: The Pursuit of Love was my book club's choice back in the fall and since my copy also included Love in a Cold Climate, I read that one as well. I'd love to hear your thoughts when you're finished!

Currently I have a lot of middle grade/teen books on deck. Most recently I finished The Crims, which I didn't care for all that much. I just started reading Superstar but it's too soon to have a formed opinion. For my audiobook read, I'm listening to The Hazel Wood, which I'm quite enjoying. Hopefully the second half is as strong as the first half.

Feb 18, 2019, 11:44am

>4 norabelle414: Thanks for the recommendation -- I'm adding that to my library list!

>6 LisaMorr: Svetlana Aleksievich's work is so important and valuable.

I recently read Koren Zailckas's new novel, The Drama Teacher, but I strongly preferred her first novel, Mother Mother . Up next, I'm reading Riane Eisler's The Chalice and the Blade, which my cousin gave me years ago but it's been sitting on my shelf unread...

Mar 1, 2019, 1:37pm

>8 Sakerfalcon: Thanks for the link to the BBC article - fascinating!

>9 sweetiegherkin: My copy is the same, so I started with The Pursuit of Love, and it is great so far. Sooo funny!

Mar 13, 2019, 1:46pm

Greetings! I just discovered this group. Among the books I've completed so far in 2019 have been the following written by women:

Milkman by Anna Burns
Canaries in the Mineshaft: Essays on Politics and Media by Renata Adler
Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation by Laura Silber and Allan Little

I am also gradually reading through the excellent collection, The Norton Book of Women's Lives edited by Phyllis Rose. This is an anthology of excerpts from memoirs written by notable women.

Since I'm new to the group, I'll take the liberty of listing here the books written by women that I read in 2018:

Commencement by Roby James (extremely irritating science fiction)
Murder in Bloom by Lesley Cookman (from a good/not great English cosy mystery series)
Speak to Me, Dance with Me by Agnes de Mille (a fascinating memoir by this famed dancer/choreographer)
Madensky Square by Eve Ibbotson (an entirely charming and entertaining novel about post-WWI Vienna)
The Epic of Gilgamesh translated by N.K. Sandars
The Incarnations by Susan Barker (a gripping novel spanning centuries of Chinese history)
The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (I think this Eliot kid's got some talent!)
The Grandma Stubblefield Rose: The Life of Susan Stubblefield, 1811-1895 by Edna Beth Tuttle and Dennie Burke Willis (local history about Mendocino County, Califorinia, where I live)
The Hangman's Whip by Mignon G. Eberhart (a "Golden Era" murder mystery)
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion (the classics never go out of style)
The Appointment by Herta Müller (a chilling novel about life in totalitarian Romania)

Not a great total, I guess. That's 11 out of the 50 books I read last year. I don't look at author gender when I choose my reading, but it is interesting to see how low the total sum of the books written by women is for me generally. Still, some very interesting and rewarding reading on that list.

My next book, by the way, will be Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively.

Mar 14, 2019, 7:05am

>12 rocketjk: Welcome! You will probably find your wishlist of books by women growing as a result of time spent in this group! So many good books are recommended that otherwise wouldn't have found their way onto my radar.

For the record, I'm currently reading Chernobyl prayer by Svetlana Alexievich, Long live Great Bardfield, the autobiography of Tirzah Garwood, and Harbinger of the storm by Aliette de Bodard.

Mar 14, 2019, 12:20pm

>13 Sakerfalcon: Thanks for the welcome. I had to buy a birthday card for a dear friend, yesterday, and just by "coincidence" I decided to look for the card in a local independent bookstore. I don't know how it happened, exactly, but when I got to the counter to pay for my purchases, I discovered that I was looking down at three birthday cards and a copy of Trailblazer: A Pioneering Journalist's Fight to Make the Media Look More Like America by Dorothy Butler Gilliam. Gilliam was the first female African American reporter at The Washington Post, and the book is her brand new memoir. My wife and I saw her being interviewed about the book by Trevor Noah on The Daily Show.

Here is a link to that interview, for anyone interested:

Mar 18, 2019, 12:36pm

Just popping back in to quickly note that Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively was extremely rewarding. But you all probably knew that already!

Mar 18, 2019, 12:49pm

>9 sweetiegherkin: I finished both Mitford books a couple of weeks ago, and I just loved them and consider myself a Mitford fan now and want to read more by her. They were really funny, but meaningful and wistful as well, if you know what I mean.

I'd like to finish Pilgrimage 1 in March and also a short bio of William Henry Harrison by Gail Collins.

Edited: May 7, 2019, 2:55pm

I recently finished A Soldier's Wife, a first novel by Irish writer Marion Reynolds. Reynolds based her book on her grandmother's diaries. The story follows the life, trials and joys of Ellen, one of four sisters in a rural family in County Mayo, from the earliest years of the 20th century through the Irish Civil War of the early 1920s. Within a few pages of the book's start, Ellen has married James Devereux, an Irishman but a member of the British Army. While the prose style is far from sophisticated, it is clean. We see the story wholly through Ellen's eyes, as she deals with the tedium and frustrations of being an English sargeant's wife in the Raj during a seven-year tour of India, through holding her family together through semi-poverty in Dublin during James' years in the trenches of France in World War One, and then through the events of the Easter Rebellion, the Irish fight for home rule and the Irish Civil War, and finally navigating the pitfalls of having growing sons drawn every more strongly to the fight for Irish freedom in the same house with a husband who has spent most of his prime serving the British as a member of the Connaught Rangers. The characterizations could certainly be deeper, but all in all (especially in the book's second half) an interesting view of the times, given a ring of authenticity by the reader's knowledge of the material's source.

May 8, 2019, 7:45am

As usual I'm reading several books by women.
The recent SF novel, A memory called Empire is a great read, complex, twisty and political with excellent worldbuilding and interesting characters.
Black wolves of Boston by Wen Spencer is an enjoyable urban fantasy, closer in style to Emma Bull than Charlaine Harris.
In non-fiction I'm really enjoying Mastering the art of Soviet cooking which is a personal history of 20th Century Russia through the theme of food (or lack thereof), based on the experiences and memories of the author and her family. It is excellent.
And I'm dipping into the essays in Bad feminist, which are every bit as challenging and engaging as I hoped.

Jun 4, 2019, 11:08am

In May, I finished eight books, five of which were by women:

William Henry Harrison by Gail Collins
My Body My Choice: The Fight for Abortion Rights by Robin Stevenson a very timely early reviewer book
Things That Fall From the Sky by Selja Ahava
Pilgrimage 1 by Dorothy Richardson
Six Moon Dance by Sheri S. Tepper

A great reading month!

I'm working on The Tunnel, the first novel in Pilgrimage 2 now, the only book by a woman I have on the docket at the moment.

Edited: Jun 27, 2019, 7:29pm

I finished In Shelly's Leg this week. Published in 1981, In Shelly's Leg is a novel about a group of friends who congregate in Shelly's Leg, a bar in a small Montana town. Mostly the story centers around Margaret, a divorced mother of two, and her boyfriend, Woody, who wants to hit the road with his country band and wants Margaret to come along. Also, there is Sullivan, the bar's owner, who is still mourning the death of his lover, Shelly, the bar's founder. Margaret and her best friend, Rita, are the pitcher and catcher for the bar's fast-pitch women's softball team, league champions six years running. The novel suffers from some of the usual drawbacks of books about groups of ne'er do wells congregating in bars or cafes or the like. Some of the characters remain shadows, and there is a romanticizing of their backstories, their problems, and their quirky personae. But I do think Sara handled those issues better than many authors before or since, and the problem was fairly minor in scope, here. What I liked best was that the story moves along nicely, and that characterizations of the main players were well done; their interactions seemed realistic and struck a chord. And though I did not agree with or care for the judgements the other characters made regarding Margaret, the decisions she makes and the reasons she makes them, I'm not sure that I was meant to.

Book note: Sara Vogan was a teacher of mine when I was studying for my MA in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University in the late 1980s. She died at the age of 43 just a few years after I finished up my degree. I cannot really say why it's taken me all this time to read In Shelly's Leg, Sara's first and best novel. At one point Diane Keaton owned the movie rights, though, obviously, that movie never got made.

Jun 29, 2019, 8:18am

>18 Sakerfalcon: I'm a huge fan of Bad Feminist (and all Roxane Gay's work). Would love to hear your thoughts.

As for me,
I just finished Sally Rooney's acclaimed Normal People and placed a library request for her first novel, Conversations with Friends.

I'm about to start Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt. I've read only one of her novels before (Ripley, of course -- seems like that is everyone's entre into Highsmith) so I'm excited to read this one.

Edited: Jul 1, 2019, 8:37am

>21 sparemethecensor: I've been reading other things recently but I will make sure to feed back here when I go back to Bad feminist. I was very impressed with the first couple of essays.

I'm currently reading some F&SF by women - Double vision by Tricia Sullivan which appears to be set in our world and another reality - but is it actually another world or hallucination? And The priory of the orange tree is fantasy with lots of great female characters and several compelling plot threads. I'm really enjoying it. I'm also reading The hunger by Alma Katsu, which is a historical horror novel based on the Donner party incident. It's very atmospheric and suspenseful. And in YA I'm enjoying Eliza and her monsters which is about a girl with extreme social anxiety who, unknown to her classmates, is the creator of a wildly popular online serial.

Jul 19, 2019, 12:27am

I don't know whether this will be translated into English (I see there are Italian, Spanish and Dutch editions already on LT), so a few notes here...

Sexe et mensonges au Maroc (Sex and lies in Morocco: sexual life in Morocco) is novelist's Leila Slimani's nonfiction book published in 2017, based on conversations she started structuring around this theme in 2015. Her focus was on women (practically all of them contacted her on their own initiative, finding her through Facebook, the media and personal networks), and all the personal stories come from those women. The father of one of them wished to talk to her as well, and there are in addition various male experts' opinions on some specific issues.

To begin with Slimani's concluding remarks, she supports Kamel Daoud's opinion about the "sexual misery" of the Arab world (which he published in an essay in 2016 in the wake of the mass sexual assault on New Year's Eve in Cologne).
Certainly the picture she paints is troublesome and miserable--but not without some hope and very many acts of personal courage, large or small.

Morocco is currently tensed between (maybe getting to) liberal modernity and conservative traditionalism, struggling with poverty, illiteracy and many problems of the infrastructure. The basic mentality is common to all Mediterranean cultures--patriarchal values, machismo, misogyny, loudly advertised puritanism hiding a pathological obsession with sex, overvaluation of virginity (in women only, of course) and the resulting objectification and commodification of women. Like many societies in transition, it's riven by tremendous hypocrisy because, as one of Slimani's interlocutors says, the practice goes far ahead of the norms. Cowed by external and internalized bigotry and pressure to conform, people live immersed in lies as much as in ignorance, be they conservative, moderate, atheist.

Thirty years of Islamist influence are still being felt and perhaps even growing. Several women Slimani talked to mention that they are the only ones in their jobs or study not to wear a hijab, and feeling this difference as something very "marking" (to others and themselves). The pressure to marry is relentless and comes from strangers as well as family. All sexual aspects of life, everything pertaining to gender, is seen in black or white--either you're a "good" girl, or a whore; if you're wearing a skirt, you're asking for sex etc. This is evident even among boyfriends, who will conduct relationships with single women for years, and yet plan to marry a young virgin.

Doctors issue "certificates of virginity" to girls before marriage, extramarital sex is illegal, as are abortions (both punishable by imprisonment), public displays of affection are illegal, divorced women lose access to their children on remarriage, and any male-female couple is liable to be stopped and interrogated about their relationship at any time.

On this background, there is yet a growing trend of women completing education, working, and even living alone (still difficult to find landlords who'll rent to such, but possible).

Prostitution, for centuries Morocco's hidden industry, and pornography are rife. The Western colonisers may be gone but the Gulf Arabs stepped in, as depraved as their interpretation of Islam is dour.

Overall it's a depressing state of things, most of all perhaps because the uncertainty about the future is so high, there is no reason to believe things WILL get better. They might, but they might also get worse. Anything an independent woman in the West may lack, her Moroccan counterpart lacks a thousand times more--support, security, freedom to exist unmolested, even "to talk louder than the present men".

Jul 19, 2019, 12:36am

>23 LolaWalser: I am reading The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates. She talks about her work as head of the Gates Foundation. She has traveled a lot to the poor countries where women do not have access to contraceptives, education and equal rights with men. By interacting with the people she is trying to help and listening to their stories she may be having a transformative effect. At least it seems that way to me. Worth reading. Perhaps it will give you some hope that things can change.

Jul 19, 2019, 2:00pm

I don't think Morocco's situation and similar will be significantly improved by rich Western do-gooders, no matter how well-meaning. The problems are complex and structural. Moreover, accusations of selling out to the West, neocolonisation, importing decadent Western customs etc. are common already even in the absence of links to Western interests. Moroccan feminist and human rights organisations find themselves seriously hampered by such claims.

It's not sheer lack of contraceptives, say, that is the problem so much, when the entire society is built on the premise of woman's inferiority, submission, and unique role of a breeder (of sons).

Jul 19, 2019, 2:50pm

>25 LolaWalser: It's sad that things are so bad for women there. Melinda Gates does talk about sex workers, who do that work because it is the only way they can feed their children and possibly send them to school. They are the lowest of the untouchables. She and some people in the country (India?) organized places the women could meet and talk about their problems, since they are beaten on the street if seen and not allowed in anywhere. They were able to organize a campaign of safe sex and she says in doing so prevented a large increase in the spread of AIDS among the vulnerable population, which basically includes everybody.

Jul 21, 2019, 11:58am

I just noticed there is a review of this book here, very good imo:

A few remarks on two points the reviewer brings up, the notion that Arabs "invented erotology", i.e. that the current puritanism is somehow, hmmm, artificial I guess, at any rate not pre-determined by Islam... and also, that the current criminalization of homosexuality is due to the legacy of colonialization (i.e. Arabs in the past having been more tolerant of homosexual practices)...

I often find these ideas misused to present a false vision of some lost Arab hedonistic civilization. In some respects Muslim Arab societies of the past may have been more permissive, but, similar to ancient Greeks, they limited that broad-mindedness to men. Their "sex manuals", like those anywhere else, invariably treat the man as the subject and the sole person whose enjoyment and health matter (illustrated particularly dramatically in the many "cures" that recommend fucking virgins, even if they are children). Pleasing women is sometimes mentioned en passant, but it's never the goal, just something that might make the proceedings more pleasurable to the man or enable him to use her further.

As for children, male or female, they are treated as acceptable sex partners, to be used and abandoned with age (their "childrenness" being the attraction).

So yes, this is not what we might call puritanical, but neither is it enlightened. As for the criminalization of homosexuality, that's obviously a terrible problem and obviously worse than the situation in which there is no criminalization of homosexuality. The current society is worse for homosexual men (some of them at least) than it was in the past. But the past didn't confer advantages on them out of some pretty humanism, nor did it respect their identity as gay men--ALL men, to be considered men, were expected to marry and procreate.

(And, pedantically, I think the question of who "invented erotology" remains an open one--one might want to consult Indians, for instance.)

The second point relates to abortion in Morocco, the reviewer finds Slimani's number of 600-800 abortions daily difficult to believe, comparing it to the UK numbers. Without insisting on any absolute number, difficult as it is to ascertain, I'd point out that there's nothing theoretically impossible about those Slimani quotes or the reviwer's comparison to a more populous country. The use of contraceptives is presumably higher in the UK than in Morocco. Women in poor countries often have no other recourse for "family planning" than abortion, the more so the lower the social class they belong to.

Jul 28, 2019, 2:15pm

I finished The Longest Debate: a Legislative History of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by Charles W. Whalen and Barbara Whalen. This is a fascinating, in-depth, day-by-day account of the creation, debate and passage of one of the most important pieces of legislation to ever come out of the United States Congress. Charles Whalen served in the U.S. Congress from 1967 to 1979, so although he wasn't part of the proceedings described in his book, he knew a lot of the participants and was intimately familiar with the workings of the two chambers. Barbara Whalen, Charles' wife, was, among other things, a newspaper columnist in their native Ohio.

The book takes the bill from its inception during the John F. Kennedy administration, urged upon the president by his brother, Robert, the attorney general, as a moral imperative, through Kennedy's assassination and to the legislation's passage with even stronger support than Kennedy's by his successor in the White House, Lyndon Johnson. Committee meetings, caucuses, amendments, pressure and support from civil rights leaders, individual arm-twisting and cajoling, all are delved into here in a riveting, detailed presentation.

I have, however, found a more mixed review that discusses the book's historical inaccuracies and omissions:;s...

Edited: Aug 4, 2019, 6:00pm

fyi: This week, The Paris Review is featuring Women in Translation month. There's a free interview with Elena Ferrante as well as Hiromi Kawakami’s short story “Mogera Wogura” and Iman Mersal’s poem “A Celebration.”

Here's the link:

Note that the link also includes an ad for subscribing to the magazine, so I hope it's OK to post that here. Thought it would be of interest, though.

Oct 15, 2019, 1:30pm

During this past September, my lovely wife took a cross-country drive with her friend Kathy. They passed through Santa Fe, NM, where they went to a book fair, where my wife bought a book called Saturday Matinee directly from the author, Maxine Neely Davenport, who signed it for her! Anyway, this is a collection of interlocking short stories about a family that decided to stay on their Oklahoma farm rather than lighting out for California during the Great Depression. I decided to sit down with this volume last week. Quite a few of these stories are quite well written. Some are a little less so, but those are still enjoyable. The collection's drawback, I would say, is that while many of the stories effectively show various aspects of family dynamics, often from the point of view of a young girl, and describe farming life as well, there is very little of what we'd expect to read of the hardships of rural life in Oklahoma in the Dust Bowl days. However, as I said, the stories, other than that one proviso, are pretty good, taken on their own merit.

Oct 16, 2019, 8:01pm

My commute read is Un brillant avenir (hmm, no English edition, really?--A brilliant future) by Catherine Cusset, an author I hadn't read or heard of before. It's grabbing me, which doesn't happen often with "family" type stories. The protagonists are a couple of Romanian immigrants to the States whose son marries a French woman--to their displeasure because they fear she'll lure him to France where his future will be ruined (the French society, unlike the American, being closed to foreigners--at least that's their conviction).

There are multiple storylines in the present, the near past, and the parents' past in Romania.

Cusset herself moved from France to the States so I'm guessing that's informing the premise a lot.

Oct 16, 2019, 9:34pm

I am reading The Testaments. Had to reread The Handmaid's Tale first because it was so many years ago. Typical beautifully written Atwood so far. The only problem is that the book jumps around a bit between characters as narrators and I was confused at first. Now I am getting used to it.

Oct 18, 2019, 11:58am

I started Pilgrimage 3 by Dorothy Richardson last week - still hoping to finish all four books by the end of the year, but I fear my goal is slipping a bit! The stream-of-consciousness style makes for slow going at times, but I'm still finding Miriam's head to be interesting.

Oct 26, 2019, 5:42am

>33 LisaMorr: I read all four volumes in a year and really enjoyed most of it, although there were a few books where I struggled. Miriam's head is a very interesting place to be. Good luck!

I just read My sister the serial killer and enjoyed it a lot, although the ending was abrupt. It's an unusual take on family (especially sibling) relationships and the importance of beauty in determining how an individual will be treated by society.

Oct 26, 2019, 7:45pm

>34 Sakerfalcon: I also liked that novel quite a bit and really enjoyed the unique view of familial relationships.

Oct 26, 2019, 9:00pm

I’m reading Siri Hustvedt’s latest novel Memories of the Future. As all of her books are, it is smart and philosophical and challenging.

Nov 29, 2019, 1:16pm

I recently finished Rampart Street by Everett and Olga Webber. This is the second book I've read this year by a husband and wife team. First published in 1948, Rampart Street is part swashbuckler, part romance that takes place in New Orleans from the years just after the Louisiana Purchase, through the War of 1812 and up into the 1830s or so. Woven into the intrigue, murder and passion, however, are lots of interesting historical threads about life in New Orleans during that time, provided in matter-of-fact exposition that lets us see the conditions as the characters would have seen them. For example, we observe the cultural conflicts between the older Creole society and the upstart American newcomers. When the Yellow Fever epidemic hits it is noted that the rise in the mosquito population is a good thing, as mosquitoes are known to help clear the miasma over the swamps that causes the illness.

As we begin our story, the brave and noble merchant captain John Carrick has just fought off an attack in the Gulf of Mexico by a Barbary pirate ship. Carrick is an American is trying to win the hand of the beautiful young Elizabeth, from a Creole family and already betrothed to a rich but (of course) dastardly Creole adventurer. Adventure and intrigue ensues. This book is a lot of fun, if one is in the mood for this sort of thing. Also, while I was prepared to wince at the treatment of race and slavery, expecting a "that's just the way things were" sort of attitude, the book does hold some mildly nice surprises in that regard. The workforce on the property our hero eventually acquires is noted as being all black, but we are told specifically that Carrick will have only free, hired help, and will not own slaves. Also, the last half of the book deals strongly with the absurdity and tragic nature of the city's race laws, wherein a person with even a single drop of black ancestry is black, and therefore of low caste if not an outright slave. That's a distinctly mild form of social consciousness, certainly, but given the time of publication, the setting and the genre, any amount of thoughtfulness in those regards was welcome.

Everett and Olga Webber both taught at Northwestern State University (in Louisiana) so I'm assuming that's where they met. Here's a link to Olga Webber's obituary:

Dec 4, 2019, 6:56pm

The latest book by a woman I read was Il était deux fois ...--actually, by two women, sisters Flora and Benoîte Groult. The latter one was a well-known feminist activist, in France at least.

The book is from 1968 and the title is a play on the classic intro in many fairy tales, "once upon a time", so I suppose an English translation might go for "Twice upon a time".

Just like Cusset's book previously this was a very white-straight-middle class story, but I liked it much more and find myself still thinking about it.

Two women in their early forties who used to be schoolmates with "frenemy" overtones, one bookishly brilliant and mischievous, the other conventional, pretty and non-intellectual (dropping out to marry at seventeen), reconnect when a couple of their kids start dating. The tone is humorous but the lightness is only on the surface, underneath it there's an astounding set of themes touched on--the submissiveness and second-classness imposed on women, the pathos of ageing (with, for women especially, even exclusively, imminent devaluation in marriage as in society at large), the death of romantic illusions, the attractions of sexual freedom and temptations of adultery for women as well, the relationship to one's children and the difference, in a sexist, totally gendered society, in how a mother feels about sons vs. daughters, abortion, personhood, how a woman can recover her personality and independence after decades of serving others etc.

All this conveyed in lively dialogue (the two women either meet and talk or write to each other), with nary a lecture in sight.

Pity it hadn't been translated back when, as it's hardly likely to be deemed of more interest today. But, in fact, I was also dismayed at how many things seem to me to have stayed the same in France, as far as attitudes go. So I wouldn't say it's dated, only that it's the type of material not in shortage in the US (I imagine).

Dec 4, 2019, 9:21pm

>34 Sakerfalcon: Thanks, still making progress - I'm about halfway through the second novel in Pilgrimage 3, and still a chance to finish this and Pilgrimage 4 this month, we'll see!

>38 LolaWalser: That one sounds very interesting and I will try to find it.

Dec 4, 2019, 9:41pm

>39 LisaMorr:

I'd be very interested to hear what you thought. I can't say I identified deeply with the two women, but they reminded me strongly of my mother and that whole generation, and really everything appeared most familiar.

I'm also guessing the stuff relating to teenage children and the generation clash is as fresh as if written today.

Dec 5, 2019, 5:15am

I'm reading Little boy lost by Marghanita Laski, about a father searching for his lost infant son after WWII. It's a fast and gripping read.

Also by women I've recently read Spinning silver, a lovely fairy-tale inspired fantasy but marred by unhealthy romances; Wakenhyrst, a historical supernatural novel which was superb, especially at showing the infuriating attitudes to women that persisted into the 20th century; and The ice, a near-future thriller by Laline Paull.

Dec 31, 2019, 3:45pm

I finished up 2019 reading with Too Fat Too Slutty Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen. This is a series of essays about women who have gained success, fame and/or notoriety in American culture and the ways in which they've had to go against mainstream cultural expectations about the ways women should behave (hence: unruly) in order to attain their goals.

The premise--that American popular society places restrictive boundaries on its expectations for how women should behave and the ways in which they are and aren't "allowed" to achieve success--is hardly a new one. Nevertheless, while I found some of Petersen's examples and explanations problematic, these are issues that, in my opinion, need to be addressed and brought to our society's (especially male society members such as myself) attention endlessly and in many different ways.

I thought that the best two essays were the first two: "Too Strong - Serena Williams" and "Too Fat - Melissa McCarthy." The "Too Strong" chapter explores the ways in which Serena Williams' physical strength and muscular body--and her unabashed pride in both--confounded the culture's expectations and caused pushback against her successes. Also particularly good was, "Too Pregnant - Kim Kardashian" which examines the ways in which women are and aren't allowed to be pregnant and famous in public.

I did not find all of the chapters to be as strong or as coherent, however. For example, in "Too Old - Madonna," Peterson seems as critical of Madonna for trying to maintain a youthful-looking body and overall appearance as she is of the culture for forcing her into such choices in order to retain relevance in the pop music world. In "Too Queer - Caitlyn Jenner," Peterson criticizes Jenner's attempts to be transnormative, to attain as closely as possible the appearance of a "normal" woman and follows Jenner's progressions and growth via the episodes of her reality television show. So, not until the very end, is Jenner unruly enough to gain Petersen's approval.

Jan 2, 2020, 3:00pm

>42 rocketjk:

Interesting. I wonder what it's like for women who are not famous.

As I recall (must admit I was paying very little attention at the time), the big shock of the Williams sisters' success was that they were black, that a couple of black women dared be the best (in what was with a certain message called "the white sport").

Claudia Rankine writes, among other subjects, about Serena in Citizen: an American lyric--well worth reading.

Edited: Jan 2, 2020, 3:29pm

I'm three essays in in Stadt der Frauen: Künstlerinnen in Wien von 1900 bis 1938 (Female artists in Vienna 1900-1938), a monograph accompanying the 2019 exhibition.

In Austria women were allowed to the fine arts academy alongside men only in 1920 (philosophy was the first faculty to permit women to study, in 1897; medicine in 1900; law in 1919; theology (Catholic) only in 1945).

Even then, they were prohibited from full membership in various arts associations and depended for visibility within their exhibitions, galleries etc., on piecemeal approval, "extra"-member status, personal connections.

Nevertheless, at the great exhibition in 1908, more than a third of the artists representing were women!--a record that would not be matched practically to this day (anywhere, it seems), whether in permanent museum settings or in general retrospectives.

A big part of the story is how the telling of this history, as with any history told mostly by men, omitted and obscured the women who were part of it, so that even today we learn and repeat a lot of this partial picture--strengthening old prejudices and re-committing injustices, as it were.

And of course there was the great annihilation of people and records in the WWII, especially of the large number of Jewish and antifascist female artists, and then the conservative freeze of the postwar decades (really a triumph of sorts for the Nazi ideology in respect to the status of women and the disappearance of the Jews).

Edited: Jan 2, 2020, 4:03pm

>43 LolaWalser: "Interesting. I wonder what it's like for women who are not famous."

fyi, The review of the book here is a shortened version of my longer reaction, which I posted on my 50-Book Challenge thread and also on my Club Read thread ( That longer review includes the following . . .

"These are all, of course, essays about famous women, which may or may not reflect the experiences of "everyday" women (for lack of a better term off the top of my head). This is in one way predominantly a book about celebrity. While the overarching issues discussed in this collections are crucial, I think, across the board, the Kardashian essay about the perils of being pregnant in the media may not necessarily resonate with all women. Peterson, who, according to the back cover of the book, has a Facebook page titled "CelebrityGossipAcademic Style" spends a lot of time describing the reaction to many of her subjects from media outlets like People Magazine. Certainly, the ways in which we measure ourselves against the images and attitudes expressed in mainstream popular media is an important factor in our overall culture. It was problematic at times for me, though, because I have little interest in such publications. I'm so out of the loop culturally, in fact, that I hadn't even heard of some of her subjects. That didn't prevent be from being interested in Petersen's explorations of her topics, however."

Re: The Williams sisters, I would say that in the tennis world the issue was that the Williams sisters were black. But in the world of celebrity media (as opposed to the sports media), within the context of her book Petersen is saying is that the issue with Serena is that she did not fit the cultural norms for feminine appearance and that, especially, as she broke out of the sports world as a product endorser and as the face of her own fashion line, and she didn't try to.

Jan 2, 2020, 4:56pm

But t's not new for white media to find that black women look "non-conforming". Even long before Serena appeared it was practically unheard of having a black woman on the cover of magazines etc.

And what about all the white athletes who don't conform to the notions of "feminine" appearance. If "femininity" is an issue, only racism explains why it would be problematised more for black than white athletes.

Jan 2, 2020, 4:58pm

Ooops, maybe the next person would usher in the new year for us?

Edited: Jan 2, 2020, 9:46pm

>46 LolaWalser: "And what about all the white athletes who don't conform to the notions of "feminine" appearance."

Well, I do recall the French tennis player, Amelie Mauresmo, who ran into the same sort of attacks a few years back.*

But we've gotten off track in terms of the content and intent of the book. Again, its title is "Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman" (italics mine). The book's purpose is, for the most part, to exemplify and applaud women who have succeeded on their own terms despite the fact that they do not adhere to the limits and proscriptions that mainstream society places on women's behavior and/or the standards for beauty that the culture promotes, particularly via mainstream media.

Pedersen's point about Williams is that she a) stood up to the criticisms about her body type and behavior (such as wearing non-traditional, skin-tight outfits during major tennis tournaments), and thrived in that environment despite such blowback, and then succeeded in moving herself into the realm of mainstream celebrity, and even fashion, despite the fact that she did not fit the "pretty woman" stereotype generally called for in the world of glamor.

I don't recall any of the white athletes you're referring to, those who also "don't conform to the notions of 'feminine' appearance," attempting (or at least succeeding) in crossing over from the playing field/court into the mainstream media consciousness in the way that Williams was able to do. I could certainly be missing quite a few, as mainstream media consciousness is not my general area of interest.

The title of the chapter is "Too Strong." I'm sure white America is more threatened by an unabashedly in-your-face, tall, broad-shouldered black woman with muscular arms and thighs than by a similarly built white woman with an attitude to match. Nevertheless, I still think it's fair enough to present Williams as an example of the "Too Strong" issue.

Again, as my review states, I found many of the chapters in this book problematic for a variety of reasons, and I didn't always follow Pedersen's logic. So I don't want to spend any more time defending the book.

But, as I said in my original review, I do think these issues are worth discussing in many ways and in many places, whether or not any particular iteration covers any particularly new ground, so that maybe someday, we should live so long, these concepts finally sink in and are finally reflected across the board in mainstream American culture.


Edited: Jan 3, 2020, 11:54am

>48 rocketjk:

I'm not out to quarrel with your review or the book; leaving aside the whole insanity of lending any legitimacy to complaints about how sporty sportswomen look in the first place, it's the idea that racism can be discounted in the treatment of the Williams sisters that I find bothersome and generally in need of comment.

The Williams sisters are black women absolutely superior in this, up to their appearance, predominantly white sport. They'd have been called unfeminine and worse if they were brown replicas of Botticelli's Venus herself. We should recall that black women have been and are routinely called unfeminine by the racist white environment and media. This is a classic racist argument, iow, and it exists to justify the dehumanisation of black women. If a woman is called "unfeminine", it justifies treating her as not-a-woman, which typically means abusing her. Black women are by racist definition unfeminine so they can be abused to the extreme (as with black people in general--call them "unhuman" i.e. animals and proceed to treat them like animals).

There is a certain comparison to be made to white players like Mauresmo who were attacked homophobically, for their gayness. The real "problem" with Mauresmo too, as with Navratilova and other gay sportswomen, wasn't their looks, but their sexual orientation. That is, their looks were problematised in the light of their sexual orientation (and as with Navratilova and other older players, before coming out, in the light of suspicions about their sexual orientations.) We didn't see people ripping with the same hatred into Lindsay Davenport or any number of less-than-princess-pretty straight white women in sports.

But the point is that these accusations hurled at black and gay women are never "just" about their looks--the accusations purportedly about their looks are rooted in something else.

Edited: Jan 3, 2020, 2:40pm

>49 LolaWalser: "I'm not out to quarrel with your review or the book; leaving aside the whole insanity of lending any legitimacy to complaints about how sporty sportswomen look in the first place, it's the idea that racism can be discounted in the treatment of the Williams sisters that I find bothersome and generally in need of comment."

I would not say that Pedersen is lending legitimacy to that, but instead attempting to point out (either more or less successfully, depending on the chapter) the women who are succeeding in the face of that sort of b.s.

More importantly, as to your point about racism, yes, certainly. The fault is mine for not specifying in my review that Pedersen does address the issue. I actually read the book gradually, over several months, a chapter at a time, and the Williams chapter is the first in the book. I went back and looked it over again this morning and found, for example:

"In some sports, there's an indelible marker that divides the history of the game--a particularly excellent team, a match, a player who slices the entire understanding of the sport in two . . .That's what the Williamses did to tennis--they reset the game. It's not as if there hadn't been black tennis players before: Arthur Ashe, most famously, but also Althea Gibson, the first black player in professional tennis, and Zina Garrison, who won a gold medal in doubles tennis at the 1988 Olympics But those players always, as Essence put it, "stood alone." The Williams sisters had something else: each other, and their absolute dominance.

"And then there was the confidence, the pure, delighted swagger, with which they approached the game. Like so many male greats before their time, they knew, unequivocally, that they were the greatest. And Serena, in particular: she served "like a man," had muscles "like a man," threw "tantrums" "like a man." She dressed in ways that were either not womanly enough (at least not for the historically demure delicate world of tennis fashion) or too womanly, which is to say, too sexy, too confident in the announcement of her muscular curves.

"Williams was, and remains, too strong: in her body, but also in her personality, her resilience, and her fortitude in the two decades she's spent hollistically reorganizing the standards of a sport from which people with her skin color, class, and background have been historically excluded."


"To understand what makes Williams' body and strength so unruly requires an understanding of how black bodies, and black female bodies in particular, have been depicted, understood and policed throughout history--and just how much friction resulted when the Williams sisters entered one of the most exclusive sports in the world. That friction has exposed the rotting wood at the center of an aging, if beautifully glossed, institution, forcing an uncomfortable examination of both the legacy of tennis and what a female athlete can and should do in public."

"They'd have been called unfeminine and worse if they were brown replicas of Botticelli's Venus herself."

Well they'd have been called something, surely. But I think it's worth pointing out that Williams and Mauresmo were both complained about in terms of their physical strength, not just their looks, per se. It was said that because they were so muscular that they had an unfair advantage on the court. But, for example, I can't find any examples of people making comments about Zina Garrison's (she came before the Williams sisters) body/strength although there are plenty of examples of her experiencing racism.

Jan 3, 2020, 2:22pm

Not at all; I'm always happy to say ten times what is worth saying once. :)

Jan 3, 2020, 2:39pm

>50 rocketjk: I know, right? Me, too.