Book Review: The Female Persuasion

the female persuasionThe Female Persuasion
by Meg Wolitzer
Contemporary Fiction
454 pages
Published April 2018

So this book came to my attention through an ad on Facebook for Barnes & Noble’s first official book club meeting. I tossed around the idea of going – I haven’t had good experiences with book clubs (nor bad ones, just – ambivalent experiences) – but we wound up at a Barnes & Noble on Sunday, because we were bored, so I decided to snag the book and read it. And then I went to Book Club on Wednesday! We had a small turnout at my Barnes & Noble – only four of us, including the employee leading the discussion. But after seeing a couple photos of larger turnouts, I’m glad for it – I wasn’t afraid to speak up in the small group. I’m a pretty shy introvert, a bigger group would have led to me being pretty quiet.

I feel like I was more intrigued by our book club members than the book! S., who led the group, was a natural at it, and really got us talking. I.R. opened the meeting with “I want you guys to change my mind about this book” but wouldn’t tell us her original opinion of it! And T, who was the oldest of us, brought a completely different viewpoint to the discussion, which was invaluable. (I’m pretty sure IR and S, like me, are millennials.) At the end of the discussion, T revealed she has a Ph.D. in Sociology, specialized in Gender and Sexuality, and she’s writing a book! We all agreed we wish the Book Club was monthly instead of quarterly, so S. is going to talk to her bosses and see if we can’t do a monthly book club at our location, which would be AWESOME. She also said Barnes & Noble was hiring and encouraged us to apply, and – not gonna lie – that was tempting. It’s a bus ride and a short walk away, though, and while my health and energy levels are improving drastically, I’m not sure they’re quite up to holding down a job yet. Not and get anything done around the house.

Anyway. On to the book! The Female Persuasion was billed as a feminist novel, and in some ways it is, but we all agreed it’s not REALLY about feminism. The main character, Greer, works for a feminist foundation, but you could have changed what the foundation’s purpose was, or made her work for a corporation, and the essence of the book would have been exactly the same. It was only tangentially about feminism. It was about women supporting each other, though, and the mentor relationship between an older woman and a younger woman, so in some ways, yes. If I was asked to make a list of books about feminism, though, it certainly wouldn’t make the cut.

All of the characters have some major flaws. Greer is selfish, and doesn’t understand when things don’t go according to plan. Cory’s life gets entirely derailed by a tragedy he couldn’t prevent, but in some ways he lets the derailment happen. If he’d really wanted what he said he wanted (and perhaps he didn’t) he could have fixed his trajectory. Zee is a little brash and headstrong, but the most likable character in the book. Faith – oh, Faith. Faith is the older feminist mentor who turns out to be far more jaded than expected.

I have lots of conflicts about Faith. She is one of those feminists who doesn’t seem to care for individual women – she can’t even remember most of the women who credit her with changing their lives – but she keeps her eyes on the big picture. And as I brought up in book club, the movement does need people who see the big picture. Those people are important – but they still need certain principles that I think Faith lacks.

IR mentioned that Cory was a good foil to all the female characters in the book, and he needed his flaws, because otherwise he would be the perfect feminist boyfriend. And no one is perfect.

We were all a little disappointed with the ending; it felt like Wolitzer skipped a whole section of the story. How did Greer get from point A to point B? (Well, really, it’s more like the book covers Points A, B, C, and E. And skips D.)

I think one of my favorite quotes from the book (I misattributed it to Faith at the book club, it turns out it came from Greer) was the one about being given permission:

“I think that’s what the people who change our lives always do. They give us permission to be the person we secretly really long to be but maybe don’t feel we’re allowed to be. Many of you here in this room…..had someone like that, didn’t you? Someone who gave you permission. Someone who saw you and heard you. Heard your voice.”

I think that really sums up mentorship, in some ways. Women are often still socialized to not trust their own instincts, to lean on outside opinions for validation. (I know I was.) To be given permission and encouragement to trust yourself can be a life-changing event.

I really enjoyed this book. I saw bits of myself in all four characters – Faith’s practicality, Greer’s impressionability, Zee’s idealism, and even a little of Cory’s foggy despair and lack of ambition. I wouldn’t call it a feminist classic. But it was a good book.

From the cover of The Female Persuasion

Sometimes the person you admire most recognizes something unusual in you and draws it out, opening a door to a bigger, electrifying world.

Greer Kadetsky is a college freshman when she meets the woman who will change her life. Faith Frank, dazzlingly persuasive and elegant at sixty-three, has been a pillar of the women’s movement for decades, a figure who inspires others. Hearing Faith speak for the first time, in a crowded campus chapel, Greer feels her inner world light up. She and Cory, her high school boyfriend, have both been hardworking and ambitious, jokingly referred to as “twin rocket ships,” headed up and up and up. Yet for so long Greer has been full of longing, in search of a purpose she can’t quite name. And then, astonishingly, Faith invites her to make something out of her new sense of awakening. Over time, Faith leads Greer along the most exciting and rewarding path of her life, as it winds toward and away from her meant-to-be love story with Cory, and the future she’d always imagined. As Cory’s path, too, is altered in ways that feel beyond his control, both of them are asked to reckon with what they really want. What does it mean to be powerful? How do people measure their impact upon the world, and upon one another? Does all of this look different for men than it does for women?

With humor, wisdom, and profound intelligence, Meg Wolitzer weaves insights about power and influence, ego and loyalty, womanhood and ambition into a moving story that looks at the romantic ideals we pursue deep into adulthood: ideals relating not just to whom we want to be with, but who we want to be.

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Happy World Poetry Day!

Today, March 21, is World Poetry Day. Started in 1999 by UNESCO, World Poetry Day is meant to celebrate linguistic diversity. I actually didn’t realize this was a thing until yesterday, so I don’t have any recent poets to talk about. I do, however, have a copy of T. S. Eliot‘s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats on loan from the library at the moment! I actually did not know until very recently that Cats, one of my husband’s absolute favorite musicals, was based off a book of poetry! It seems that many, if not most, of the songs from Cats are almost direct lyrical pulls from the poems. If you haven’t seen Cats or read the book, well, first, FIX THAT! (I can’t seem to get the entire thing to embed, but you can follow this link to the playlist of the entire musical.)

The book is tiny, only about 50 pages long. It’s a fun little read about different cats, from the obstinate Rum Tum Tugger who only wants the opposite of what you’ve offered him, to the lazy Gumbie Cat who sits around all day but teaches the mice manners at night. There’s our badass alley cat Growltiger, and the magical, mysterious Mr. Mistoffelees. If you’re a cat lover, you’ll enjoy the poems. They’re cute.

And then there’s this twitter thread I ran across today that I was amused by – and it eventually mentions my T. S. Eliot book!

Are you reading anything for World Poetry Day?

Book Review: Tears We Cannot Stop

tearsTears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America
by Michael Eric Dyson
Nonfiction
228 pages
Published 2017

I’m always trying to continue to educate myself on my white privilege, America’s racist history, and civil rights and activism in general. Tears We Cannot Stop fits neatly into that category, but it’s not an easy-to-read book. I mean, it is – in the sense that it’s well-written and flows very well. But it’s not easy to read because of what it says. Dyson is a black pastor, and he wrote this book as if he was preaching to the white people of America, trying to make them understand the plight of the minorities we oppress. Black people specifically.

It’s a short book, but a very powerful one. It’s separated into sections like a sermon would be, with a Call to Worship, Hymns of Praise, Scripture Reading, the Sermon, a Benediction, and more. He’s correlated these sections of a sermon with that of the book – The Offering Plate, for example, is a short little section talking about how one university – Georgetown – apologized for their past use of slavery, and established an institute to study slavery and its effects. Tried to make reparations, in a way. In the scripture reading he quotes a lot of Martin Luther King. In the Benediction he actually talks about a lot of other books to read about the subject of slavery, all of which I’ve added to my already extensive Goodreads shelf on the subject of civil rights and activism. (I’ll be attempting to read as many of those books as I can.)

Tears is a really good opening book to read on the topic, especially for white people. It’s eye-opening, and both invites and provides guidance for further investigation into just how big of a mess we’ve made of things in this country. I highly recommend it.

And, if you happen to be local to Baltimore, the author will be speaking at the Baltimore Book Festival this Friday, September 22nd! Unfortunately, I can’t make it on Friday, so I’m going on Sunday. Sunday I’m planning to catch Daniel Jose Older, the author of the Bone Street Rumba series and Shadowshaper, and Kevin Shird, the author of Uprising in the City, about the Baltimore Riots in 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray. I’m really excited about it, even if it is going to be the hottest day we’ve had in a couple of weeks. (Still only mid-80s, though, so it could be worse!)

From the cover of Tears We Cannot Stop:

As the country grapples with racial division at a level not seen since the 1960s, one man’s voice is heard above the rest. In his New York Times op-ed piece “Death in Black and White,” Michael Eric Dyson moved a nation. Now he continues to speak out in Tears We Cannot stop – a provocative and deeply personal call for change. Dyson argues that if we are to make real racial progress we must face difficult truths, including being honest about how black grievance has been ignored, dismissed, or discounted. In the tradition of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time – short, emotional, literary, powerful – this is the book that all Americans who care about the current and long-burning crisis in race relations will want to read.

More Nerdfighter-y stuff

In the same vein as my last post, I’d like to plug another Youtube channel. This is one I only discovered a couple of days ago, and promptly watched all the videos. It’s called “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” and it’s a retelling of Pride and Prejudice as a vlog. It’s also absolutely AMAZING. It was produced by Hank Green, of the vlogbrothers, and he won an Emmy for it. (Learning he’d won an Emmy for something is what brought it to my attention.) It’s hysterical at times, and tear-inducing at others. It’s beautifully done.

I’m a big fan of re-imaginings of old stories. I’ve read (and own!) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. I have not yet read Android Karenina, but it’s on my list! In finding the Amazon links for what I just listed, I also discovered several more – Mansfield Park and Mummies, Little Vampire Women, and Jane Slayre. Given my unending love for Jane Eyre, I will DEFINITELY have to get my hands on that last one! There also appears to be both a sequel and a prequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Looks like I have whole new slew of books for my to-read list!

(Edit: There’s now a movie in the works of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!)

I’m not sure why I love retellings of Pride and Prejudice so much – maybe because the plot is very similar to Much Ado About Nothing, which is my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays. I love the back-and-forth verbal sparring between two prickly characters. (Perhaps because it reminds me of my relationship with my husband!)

Without further ado (see what I did there?), the first episode of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries:

Crash Course Literature is coming back!

Today is Digital Learning Day, so I feel it’s appropriate to plug one of my favorite Youtube channels!

If you’ve followed this blog for a few months, you know I’m a Nerdfighter. If you haven’t, and have no idea what a Nerdfighter is, well. A Nerdfighter is someone who, instead of being made of flesh and blood and inner organs is instead made of pure awesome. …..actually a Nerdfighter is someone who is a fan of John and/or Hank Green, also known as the vlogbrothers of Youtube fame. Several years ago, the two started making Youtube videos to talk to each other, EVERY DAY – and developed a following. These days they run several successful Youtube channels (all educational!), like SciShow, Mental Floss, Crash Course, and the original vlogbrothers. They started VidCon, the Con for Youtubers, and dftba Records, a recording company for Youtube artists. They’re kind of internet famous. (Oh, and John is a highly successful young adult author whose latest novel is being turned into a movie set to release this summer, so there’s that, too!)

ANYWAY. John and Hank make videos for the Youtube channel Crash Course, and they generally do a series of videos on a topic. Past topics include a 40-video series on Biology, a 43-video series on World History, an 8-video series on Literature, 12 videos on Ecology, and the two currently running, U.S. History (at 46 videos so far) and Chemistry (at 47 videos.) Hank handles the science, and John the humanities. When Chemistry and U.S. History wrap up, they’re moving on to Psychology (Hank) and another round of Literature (John).

The last Literature course covered Romeo & Juliet, The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, and the poetry of Emily Dickinson. And they were EXCELLENT. So I am very excited for the next round. (I’m excited for Psychology too, but it’s not on topic for this blog!)

I thought I’d post the reading list for the next round of Crash Course Literature, since I’ll be reading it in the next few months and posting the accompanying videos with my reviews of the books. The Course is supposed to start sometime in February.

nerdfighterThe list of books John is covering:

The Odyssey by Homer
Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
Hamlet by Bill Shakespeare
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Beloved by Toni Morrison

I’ve started reading The Odyssey already, and it’s surprisingly good. I expected it to be hard to read, but it’s actually easier than Shakespeare. And I love Shakespeare. So it’s going pretty quickly! I’ve read a few of the others on the list – Oedipus, Hamlet, Jane Eyre – but actually have not read the rest. So this should be fun!