What I Read | APRIL 2017

28092902Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson

Bryson, known mainly for his European travelogues, here documents his return to the USA through a series of newspaper essays.  Having tasted life in Europe, his musings about his home country are mostly exasperated.  Occasionally, usually at the prodding of his British wife, he remembers something lovely about the United States, which just goes to show that it’s easiest to love greener grass elsewhere than to love what we were given.

NorseMythology_Hardback_1473940163Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

The first creation stories were not especially amazing, and I almost lost hope for this book!  But once we dive into character-driven narratives, there is a distinct Gaiman-sparkle that elevated the book and helped the story feel more cohesive.  I’m becoming more and more interested in Norse mythology, especially because the gods seem especially unfair, and unrepentantly so.

51nBwU944QL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist

A true memoir of one guy’s journey of Not Dating, and how this could have happened.  It’s funny, and there is meaningful growth, which is good because I spent most of the book yelling “you’re self-sabotaging!” at him until he heard me and said so himself towards the end.  The premise is even more fun because he frames each story through the lens of a scientific hypothesis to be proved or disproved.  It was fun to see that he was mostly wrong, and had to learn that we see what we want and/or fear, not what is really there.

28588459Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King

King is one of my all time favorite authors because she walks a fascinating “is this mental illness OR magic OR reality” line that she refuses to clarify.  This book in particular dealt with a subject I haven’t really seen represented before.  King confidently asserts that abuse, big or small, endured or witnessed, is traumatizing and deserves to be acknowledged, addressed, and healed.  Through the lens of a teenager girl meeting other-aged versions of herself.  Fun!

25528801Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

This book is a little more PSA-y, telling the “ideal” rape scenario in which the victim knows it’s not her fault and is believed and supported by everyone.  It’s not very realistic, but it’s very encouraging to see a future to work toward.  Secondarily, I was very impressed that Johnston made me question my cheerleader-stereotypes, and by the end I really admired the sport.

51vR3C-ZWpL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

I don’t usually like books written in the form of diary entries, but Schlitz pulled the form off wonderfully.  The break between entries, and how the time in between is explained either in a rush or with embarrassment, really added to the narrative.  It’s set in the early 1900s, and the journey from country (which felt vaguely Little House on the Prairie) to city (which felt modern…ish) highlighted just how drastically technology changed people’s lives during that time period.  It was a fun read!

27230789Honestly Ben by Bill Konigberg

This is a sequel to Openly Straight, now told from Ben’s perspective.  And thank goodness, because Ben is so good!  He’s so lovely!  He’s thoughtful and deliberate, and we all need a Ben in our lives.  There was also so much good gender and sexuality talk going on in this book, with a gender fluid character who is almost immediately embraced by their all-male high school (if only!) and a main character who is something like demisexual…but not really?  I hope there’s a third book from Hannah’s perspective.

41d41DLmZwL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron

I LOVE St. Francis, so reading a fictional book about a Protestant pastor who goes to Assisi and also falls in love with the saint was right up my alley.  I mean, it’s history/travel/theology all in one!  It was actually a little heavy-handed for a novel in the way that it presented a model for how the Church could be remade, but I found it quite inspirational.  Definitely a book for the postmodern mystic/skeptic.

25665016The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

A seriously uplifting book about four teenagers struggling with mental disorders (rage, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia) inside a mental health hospital.  I loved how they helped each other in their brokenness WITH their brokenness.  Stork’s amazing ability to write about depression and suicide attempts is apparently based on his personal experience, but his ability to write female teenagers believably is all skill.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Flirt with a Total Stranger without being an Asshole

When I think of men flirting with some on the street, I think of catcalling and stalking and rude gestures. I think of feeling uncomfortable at best and unsafe at worst. So when in public, I tend to avoid meeting men’s gazes because I want to minimize those possibilities as much as possible. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when an encounter in Italy, country of notorious womanizers, taught me how to enjoy being flirted with!

In Venice, I stood in a shop waiting for my mother to buy us water taxi tickets. A man walked in a stood next to me, also waiting in line. He was well-dressed, with a button down shirt, khakis, and grown-man shoes. He caught me looking, and as always, I cut my eyes away in order to pretend nothing had happened. But when I glanced back, he was still looking at me. He held eye contact and smiled. I smiled back. He turned to the counter. A few minutes later, he paid for his whatever, and as he walked past me, he made meaningful eye contact again, smiled, and said, “Ciao.” I whispered “bye” after him and was left with a really pleasant heart palpitation. 

That’s how flirting should be!! I was left feeling admired AND empowered, and I thought long and hard about what set this apart from other unwanted male attention. Here are my thoughts. 

  1. He looked like he cared about his appearance. There is some kind of weird power imbalance when schlubby men catcall women in dresses. I’m not saying you’ve got to be hot to flirt with someone, but the attention feels a lot more flattering coming from someone who looks like they understand personal grooming.
  2. He made eye contact. There was no gross lingering looks up my body. He looked at my face. 
  3. He smiled. Smiling is so hot. Yelling or sticking your tongue out is not.
  4. He didn’t expect anything. He left the shop, and we got to have a nice “ooo opposite sex attraction feels!!” moment without making a big thing of it. 

And…that’s it. It’s REALLY that simple. I dream of a world where male/female interactions are characterized by pleasant flirtations more than “oh God is he a rapist?” fears. And I think if everyone follows these four steps, we will be a little closer to getting there!

No Slut Shaming in Hamilton

I was listening to Hamilton for the 500th time, and I noticed something strange when I got to “Say No to This,” the song during which Hamilton has an affair with Maria Reynolds.  I thought, ugh, she ruined his life.  When the affair goes public, his political career crashes and burns and his wife understandably distances herself from him.  All because of Maria.

Then I realized….the song was decidedly not placing the blame on her.  So why was I?  My “internalized misogyny” bell started ringing in my brain, and I was horrified to realize I was doing what culture does best:  blame the woman.  After all, Alexander Hamilton is the hero of the musical.  We’ve seen him through years of his life, we’re rooting for him, and we want the best for him.  When something goes wrong, surely it’s someone else’s fault.  Surely it’s hers (because she seduced him, she corrupted him, she tempted him).  Surely she’s the slut, and Eliza is the saint.  Surely women exist as a dichotomy, served to bolster or destroy the male hero.

A lesser musical would have followed these old familiar tropes, but Hamilton is not a lesser musical!  Throughout the song, Maria is portrayed as a fully developed person and the onus of decision is placed firmly, and repeatedly, on Hamilton’s shoulders.

Maria:
My husband’s doin’ me wrong
Beatin’ me, cheatin’ me, mistreatin’ me…
Suddenly he’s up and gone
I don’t have the means to go on

Maria must bear the fault of intentionally seducing a married man, that’s true.  But she isn’t only a seductress.  She’s the wife of an abusive, horrible man.  (Tellingly, the only time slut shaming happens in the song is when James Reynolds calls her his “whore wife.”  We’re obviously not meant to trust his judgement, since he says this in the middle of blackmailing Hamilton.)  She seems desperate for a better life with a better man, and let’s face it, during that time in history the only way for her to move upwards was by attaching herself to a man.  She’s in a horrible situation, and she makes the wrong choice, but the song never minimizes her or demonizes her.

Hamilton:
I am helpless—how could I do this?

Instead, the blame is placed firmly on Hamilton.  No matter how fiercely Maria might have flung herself at him, the musical is adamant:  he could have said no.  That is, in fact, the name of the song: “Say No to This.”  Throughout the piece, Hamilton goes from praying “Lord, show me how to say no to this” to admitting “I don’t say no to this.”  To make it even more obvious, the end of the song concludes with a chorus of voices:  the ensemble shouts “NO” while Hamilton and Maria sing “Yes!” to each other.  If that’s not consent, I don’t know what is.

The fact that Hamilton cheated on Eliza with Maria is a tragedy.  But in the face of cultural schemas that portray women as sluts begging for it or temptresses ruining men’s lives, Hamilton says “no.”  Maria Reynolds is responsible for her actions only.  Alexander Hamilton is responsible for how he responded.  It is so refreshing to listen to a musical that does what it can to diminish our dangerous stereotypes.