Refresh your to-read pile with these books from the BUST Guide in April/May 2017's print edition. Featuring new books from Roxane Gay, Lidia Yuknavitch, and Patricia Lockwood — plus a collection of Dolly Parton interviews and a book on clit-eracy — this list has a little something for everyone.
By Roxane Gay
With Difficult Women, author Roxane Gay—already a celebrated novelist (An Untamed State) and essayist (Bad Feminist)—establishes herself as a master of the short story. For anyone who’s experienced trauma, reading these chapters may feel like pressing a bruise. Two especially potent selections, “Break All the Way Down” (about a woman’s unexpected second chance at motherhood), and “Strange Gods” (about the horrifying lineage of some deep scars) are so intense, it’s difficult to read them through in one sitting.
But taking in this collection from beginning to end yields many fascinating rewards. Vivid themes and images reappear throughout the book like the choruses of long, strange songs: twins, sisters, and twin sisters; lost children; moldy ceilings; deer turned brutally into venison; sex acts that instinctively lean toward violence. Amid these harsh strokes of realism, Gay also takes masterful detours into speculative fiction. Love blooms in the moonlight after the sun is extinguished in “The Sacrifice of Darkness,” and a rough man tiptoes around his fragile family in “Requiem for a Glass Heart.” A tribute not only to difficult women, but also to the circumstances that made them that way, this collection is destined for multiple “Best of 2017” lists. (5/5) –Emily Rems
Why Orgasm Equality Matters—And How To Get It
By Dr. Laurie Mintz
As feminists, we fight every day to achieve equality between the sexes. But there’s a lingering area we can’t seem to put our fingers on: the pleasure gap. There are many issues that arise from the commonly held belief that orgasms are achieved through penetrative sex alone. This myth teaches penis-having people that their members are a one-way ticket to ecstasy and tells vulva-owning individuals that there is something wrong with them if they need “extra stimulation.” Foreplay is treated as preparation for penetration instead of what it really is: very important, direct attention given to the clit that can cause life-changing, Earth-shattering orgasms.
Becoming Cliterate addresses all of the above and more. However, this read doesn’t just zero in on the politics of pleasure inequality, it also offers up solutions that help the reader become more hands on (literally) with their own sexuality. The only off-putting part of author Dr. Laurie Mintz’s writing is its lack of diverse pronouns; the fact that not all individuals with a clit are female and not all individuals with a penis are male is never addressed. (3/5) –Madison Nunes
The Book Of Joan: A Novel
By Lidia Yuknavitch
Lidia Yuknavitch follows up her acclaimed 2015 novel, The Small Backs of Children, with a sci-fi reimagining of the story of Joan of Arc. The Book of Joan takes place in the year 2049, a time when humans now live in a dystopian city in space called CIEL, ruled by the mysterious Jean De Men. On CIEL, the humans have skin that is bone white, they are unable to grow hair, and their genitals are deformed and useless. They also cover their bodies in architectural skin grafts, used to tell stories because paper no longer exists.
Readers follow two women and their separate but interconnected stories. There’s Christine, a skin-graft artist and revolutionary nearing 50—the age when she will be euthanized; and Joan of Dirt, a mythologized “eco-terrorist” on Earth whose death by fire was broadcast years ago—but who secretly survived. The two women’s stories eventually intertwine, helped along by both of their companions. These companions, and the women’s feelings for them, eventually form the center of the book: Yuknavitch posits that even in a sci-fi dystopia, love can save us all. (4/5) –Erika W. Smith
Every Body Yoga:
Let Go Of Fear, Get On The Mat, Love Your Body
By Jessamyn Stanley
If you want to learn yoga but are too self-conscious to jump into classes, Jessamyn Stanley’s Every Body Yoga is the perfect guide. It answers the question, “How do I start yoga?” for people of all shapes, sizes, ages, and “for anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed by the mere act of being alive.” Stanley divulges why, after struggling with body image, she decided to incorporate yoga into her life—and how we can, too. The instruction is in five parts, with titles like, “ABCs of Asana” and “What the Hell Is This?” Each part is then further broken down into subcategories, including, “What the Fuck is the Eight-Limbed Path?” and “Questions Asked by (Literally) Every Beginner Yoga Student.”
Important yoga-centric topics are tackled, such as motivation, (“Oh, motivation, you fickle little bitch”) and my favorite: the yoga accessories section. Numerous photos feature Stanley and friends demonstrating positions to address an array of situations, including “Yoga for a Complete and Utter Beginner,” and, “I Need to Chill the F Out.” As a bonus, Stanley’s delivery is LOL-funny, and the hilarious footnotes are true gifts. (5/5) –Whitney Dwire
Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism
By Camille Paglia
Camille Paglia has always been a divisive writer, praised by some and reviled by others, even among her fellow feminists. Her newest collection of essays offers an assortment of previously published works relevant to the wide umbrella of gender and feminism, both in regards to prior decades as well as our current cultural climate. Her topics run the gamut, including an essay praising The Real Housewives; her famous 1990 piece on Madonna in which she deemed her “the future of feminism”; and an astute essay analyzing the cultural, aesthetic, and historical implications of stilettos. An introductory essay offers a compelling glimpse into Paglia’s childhood in the 1950s that led her toward feminism and strong female role models like Amelia Earhart and Katharine Hepburn.
Though Paglia is polarizing when it comes to things like women’s studies and gender roles, her work is always thought provoking and laid out with an academic’s insight. She is most on point when she analyzes pop culture, design, and art—managing to put an intellectual spin on lowbrow entertainment and turn more obtuse academic topics into something relatable and enthralling. (5/5) –Adrienne Urbanski
Here We Are: 44 Voices Write, Draw, and Speak About Feminism For The Real World
Edited By Kelly Jensen
(Algonquin Young Readers)
As explained in a brief history of the word found early on in Here We Are, feminism is a term that has been used often in recent years, and just as often misused. In this new essay, photo, and even Instagram post collection, editor Kelly Jensen, best known for her coverage of young adult fiction at BookRiot.com, has assembled a guide to help teen readers find out for themselves what feminism can mean for them.
From YA author Malinda Lo’s essay on her admiration of her grandmother and how it connected to her love of strong female characters in literature, to a powerful discussion between authors Laurie Halse Anderson and Courtney Summers on writing about sexual assault, Jensen has assembled a collection of meditations on what it means to be a woman today that is both important and gripping. Tied together with a scrapbook theme reminiscent of a Rookie Yearbook or a Tumblr feed, Here We Are is a book every feminist will want to get for the teen in their life—and will end up reading and learning from, too. (5/5) –Molly Horan
Dolly On Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton
Edited by Randy L. Schmidt
(Chicago Review Press)
You don’t need to be a Dolly Parton devotee to appreciate these 25 in-depth interviews, spanning 1967 to 2014, which chronicle the journey of a talented woman coming into her own. They start just before she stepped out from the shadow of her mentor, Porter Wagoner, to prove her mettle. Her famous bust and blond coif made some underestimate her music-business smarts at the start, but she refused to downplay her looks and instead amped them up—knowing her songwriting would still outshine all else and make her a major star.
Reading these candid chats in one wallop reveals Parton to be a woman of contradictions: she likes looking artificial yet acts down to earth; she was a stickler for a positive attitude, then suffered from depression; and she’s a wandering free spirit who’s been married to the same man for decades. Of course, 50 years’ worth of quotes from anyone would show disparities, which makes her as relatable as she is special (another contradiction), and it’s the paradoxes of Parton that make this read so intriguing. (5/5) –Paula Sevenbergen
Priestdaddy: A Memoir
By Patricia Lockwood
In her memoir Priestdaddy, Patricia Lockwood explores the imperfect but persistent love of family. Hers is headed up by her dad, Father Greg—a married Catholic priest. Lockwood, a poet, applies succulent, Technicolor imagery to her prose. She is also wickedly funny, a balm for some of the memoir’s darker places. Everyone in this family is a character, from Father Greg, with his predilection for electric guitars, small dogs, and action movies, to a sister unencumbered by birth control who buys a rap group’s van to transport her brood.
Lockwood left home at 19 and doesn’t share her family’s faith. At times, she even seems to delight in ridiculing it, as she does when explaining Catholicism to her husband. Some of the memoir’s best parts see Lockwood trying to reconcile her parents’ divided love for their daughter and their church. She also wonders, without ever really asking, if they keep a complicit silence about priests who abuse children. Though the memoir may be a few chapters too long, Lockwood’s astonishing way with language is reason enough to keep reading. (4/5) –Aileen Gallagher
Ugly Prey: An Innocent Woman and the Death Sentence That Scandalized Jazz Age Chicago
By Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi
(Chicago Review Press)
In 1923, Italian immigrant Sabella Nitti became the first woman ever sentenced to hang in Chicago. Author Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi brings the reader into the courtroom of this controversial case, focusing on the court’s errors and the community’s prejudices: a language barrier, a bias against “ugly” women, and a horrifyingly incompetent defense attorney. While many reporters painted Nitti as a lustful monster, some were shocked that a mother was going to the gallows. Luckily for Nitti, a group of six attorneys (spearheaded by a female lawyer!) took on her case after her sentencing and successfully proved her innocent to a new judge.
While Le Beau Lucchesi notes the most consequential messages from the case, such as the racism and sexism, her true crime (versus general nonfiction) approach lends itself to simplistic retelling rather than deep analysis. The latter half of the book loses focus, and pages get filled with other concurrent murder cases, leading up to an anti-climactic ending. The subject matter in Ugly Prey is compelling, but the presentation is lacking. (2/5) –Ann Mayhew
Homesick For Another World: Stories
By Ottessa Moshfegh
In her first collection of short stories, Ottessa Moshfegh (author of the novels Eileen and McGlue) masterfully crafts heartbreaking tales about people’s interior crises and dilemmas. In “Mr. Wu,” a man in love with a cashier struggles to overcome his fears and pursue her, while in “The Beach Boy,” a man deep in grief confronts the possibility that his beloved wife is capable of unthinkable betrayal. In other selections, Moshfegh focuses on double lives: “Bettering Myself” and “Slumming” each follow teachers with self-destructive streaks who ricochet from the classroom into their shadowy free-time.
Moshfegh’s characters are on the fringes, either of society or of their social groups, and grapple with their places in the world. None see themselves as wholly part of their culture, be it a bizarre community in a run-down apartment complex or a small town of impoverished teen moms and drug addicts. By turns unsettling and funny, these stories are built on fractured relationships and dark impulses. Moshfegh’s prose captures a sense of place and environment into which she drops her flawed characters, letting the tension they feel permeate every page of this riveting collection. (5/5) –Bridey Heing
Is It All In Your Head?: True Stories of Imaginary Illness
By Suzanne O’Sullivan, MD
In her first book, Suzanne O’Sullivan shares tales of cases she’s witnessed as a neurologist working with patients who’ve exhausted doctors’ tests that relate to their physical symptoms. In all these cases, she was tasked with the difficult duty of telling a long-sick patient that their blindness or paralysis or other experiences were rooted in their psychology. O’Sullivan reiterates differences between disease and illness, reminding those reading, as well as her patients, that even if a symptom is tied to past trauma or imagined reality, the symptom itself is not imagined. In other words, while one patient’s seizures are real, her prescribed cure is not epilepsy medication, but therapy.
Addressing her own journey from dismissiveness to expert in so-called “imaginary” illness, skepticism is addressed head on in these pages. “Female Hysteria” and other historical diagnoses are woven in, too, alongside contemporary case studies. O’Sullivan earns the trust of the reader, and her storytelling is captivating. While she perhaps tells a few too many similar tales, this book is highly readable, and demystifies the ways in which the body is tied inextricably to the mind. (3/5) –Christine Femia
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