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  • Jeff Somers 4:30 pm on 2017/10/19 Permalink
    Tags: be like bill, , hag-seed, margaret atwood, shakespeare retellings   

    21 Shakespearean Books to Read If You Don’t Want to Read Shakespeare 

    Shakespeare’s impact on literature and culture cannot be overstated; put simply, his plays have had a monumental effect on literature and the English language in general, and continue to inspire to this day. Yet for some, puzzling through that archaic language can be an intimidating challenge. No worries: here are 21 novels based on or inspired by the Bard that give you at least a fraction of the benefits of Shakespeare’s genius—without the iambic pentameter.

    A Thousand Acres, by Jane Smiley

    Inspired by: King Lear. Smiley’s story of a family farm being incorporated and divided between three daughters follows the fundamental plot of King Lear pretty closely, mapping the major elements to a modern world. Smiley takes the story to an even darker place than Shakespeare, however, and as a result captures the terrifying chasm of darkness at the heart of the narrative in a way that faithful stage productions sometimes can’t manage.

    New Boy, by Tracy Chevalier

    Inspired by: Othello. By setting her reworking of Othello in a middle school in Washington state, Chevalier underscores the primal forces examined in the original: jealousy, rage, vengeance. Far from mocking the savage forces driving the main characters, by making the characters children, Chevalier gets to the root of the matter faster, making this a brutal ride from beginning to end and conveying the power of the original almost effortlessly.

    Gertrude and Claudius, by John Updike

    Inspired by: Hamlet. Updike wasn’t the first writer to rework a Shakespeare play from an inverted angle, and he certainly won’t be the last, but by making Gertrude and Claudius, the morally-challenged parental figures whose machinations drive Hamlet insane, the protagonists instead of supporting players, Updike manages to drill down into what makes Hamlet one of the great stories of all time, even without the pretty language Shakespeare seemed to effortlessly produce. Updike went back to the source material Shakespeare himself used to construct his story, making this a shortcut to deep research on the play as well.

    The Gap of Time, by Jeanette Winterson

    Inspired by: The Winter’s Tale. One of Shakespeare’s more difficult plays (to defend and enjoy), The Winter’s Take seems like a tough sell for a reworking in a modern novel, but Winterson’s transformation of sexual subtext into text slams this story into high gear. Hedge fund manager Leo has an unspoken sexual spark with video game designer Xeno, and when he jealousy comes to believe Xeno is having an affair with his pregnant wife, Leo launches into a rage of violence that resembles the shocking opening act of the play in a wonderfully evocative way.

    Hag-Seed, by Margaret Atwood

    Inspired by: The Tempest. Atwood’s great achievement with her novel is the fact that you don’t need to know a single thing about The Tempest to find the book pretty amazing. The revenge tale Atwood crafts is small-scale in the biggest way possible, centered on a theater festival and its wronged director. Atwood doesn’t hold back—one thing she carries over from Shakespeare is the idea that no idea is too silly, too shocking, or too broad, as long as you have the talent to pull it off.

    The Dead Father’s Club, by Matt Haig

    Inspired by: Hamlet. Haig chooses a different route from most authors re-working Shakespeare, in that his story, though modernized, is pretty faithful to the original: the ghost of Phillip’s father visits the young man and implores him to murder his brother to prevent him from marrying Phillip’s mother and taking over the family business. Phillip pursues this goal, but slowly comes to doubt whether his father is right, while the reader begins to doubt Phillip’s grasp on reality.

    The Taming of the Drew, by Stephanie Kate Strohm

    Inspired by: The Taming of the Shrew. One thing about Shakespeare’s plays: they sure were written in the 16th century. Offering all the sass and smart language of the Bard, plus some refreshingly inverted sexual politics, this take on the classic comedy switches the sex roles reads like a literary version of 10 Thing I Hate About You.

    The Madness of Love, by Katharine Davies

    Inspired by: Twelfth Night. Davies smartly ejects much of the madcap comedy inherent in Shakespeare’s original play, mining the confusion of the multiple couples in this story for pathos and a hint of horror. By following a small-scale modernization, the story’s complexity is preserved, but takes on a morose, solemn feel that rings truer on the page than the zany atmosphere of the play.

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

    Inspired by: The Winter’s Tale. Another brave author taking on a difficult story, Johnston captures the savagery and violence of the play in the sexual assault of the main character, competitive teenage cheerleader Hermione Winters. The bones of Shakespeare are at times hard to see in this novel, but the effect is similar; anyone who wants to know what it might have been like for an audience to watch The Winter’s Tale back in the day can read this and get a pretty good idea.

    Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion

    Inspired by: Romeo and Juliet. If there’s a less obvious way to retell Romeo and Juliet than through zombie apocalypse, we don’t know what it is. Marion’s classic is inspired, however, because star-crossed lovers is an eternal theme that always works, whether the reasons you can’t be with your love involve family politics or, you know, an undead epidemic.

    Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler

    Inspired by: The Taming of the Shrew. The Taming of the Shrew is in some ways the easiest of the Bard’s plays to adapt to modern life, dealing as it does with (regretfully) familiar gender politics. Tyler is one of the few authors who manages to retell the story and keep the Bardiness intact while also making a book entirely her own; from the quirky heroine to the setting, this is an Anne Tyler novel, full stop, which just makes the Shakespearean aspects icing on the cake.

    Shylock is My Name, by Howard Jacobson

    Inspired by: The Merchant of Venice. Jacobson explores the perpetual question of whether Shylock is a hero or a villain by transcending the play entirely and bringing Shylock—the character—to modern-day England to make a case for himself. That might sound kind of wonky, but it works brilliantly, allowing Jacobson to not so much re-tell The Merchant of Venice as to repackage its concerns for a modern generation.

    The Prince of Cats, by Ron Wimberly

    Inspired by: Romeo and Juliet. Not so much a retelling as a reimagining of the Shakespearean sensibility in a modern comic format, Wimberly’s striking images and ability to apply classic Shakespeare lines in new and startling contexts (as well as write fresh lines that have the same brilliance of rhythm and imagery) makes this an exciting way to get the sense of what makes Shakespeare so important without actually reading one of his plays.

    Something Rotten, by Alan M. Gratz

    Inspired by: Hamlet. Why rework Hamlet as a hardboiled detective story? For goodness sakes, why not? Gratz sees past the old-school flowery language and the endless school essays to the essentials of Hamlet‘s appeal: it’s a murder mystery and a revenge tale, two things that, when combined, produce a noir atmosphere almost spontaneously.

    Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, by Adam Bertocci

    Inspired by: The Two Gentlemen of Verona. You might think retelling this play with the characters and plot trapping of the film The Big Lebowski is a gimmick, but it’s actually a genius way of modernizing the spirit of the thing—and the general spirit of Shakespeare transforms a classic movie into a modern-day Shakespearean tour-de-force.

    Ophelia, by Lisa Klein

    Inspired by: Hamlet. When pivoting off of a classic play, you can reinvent it, you can reset it, or you can do what Klein does and tweak the plot in one important way. In this case, she imagines that Ophelia doesn’t drown in Hamlet, but rather fakes her death and runs off to a nunnery as advised. She then narrates the story of what happened at Elsinore from her perspective, offering the modern reader a way into the story that’s fresh and new.

    Speak Easy, Speak Love, by McKelle Gorge

    Inspired by: Much Ado About Nothing. It’s possible that Shakespeare was a time traveler who visited the 1920s, because Much Ado About Nothing almost perfectly evokes the wild energy of that decade—something Gorge uses to great advantage in this retelling of the play. All the characters and plot points are there, as is the effervescent energy of the source material.

    The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown

    Inspired by: Macbeth. Not so much a retelling of Shakespeare as a strange celebration of his work, in the context of a smart family dealing with tragedy. Brown’s characters will make you understand why some people are still more than happy to bend your ear endlessly about how fantastic Shakespeare’s plays really are. She takes plenty of bits and pieces of Macbeth for her story of three sisters crashing back into each other when they return home to deal with the illness of their mother (a Shakespeare scholar). You” come away with a love for her characters and a burning desire to read the Bard.

    Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty, by Jody Gehrman

    Inspired by: Much Ado About Nothing. If your worry about reading Shakespeare is the outdated language and impenetrable slang, rest easy: Gehrman not only sets the story in the modern day, she writes it in a sharp, thoroughly contemporary voice that is both hilarious and unflinching, following our narrator to the bathroom and back without missing a beat. As a result, all the lively energy of Shakespeare’s language is captured without directly quoting him once.

    The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey

    Inspired by: Richard III. One of the best mystery novels ever written uses Shakespeare’s Richard III as a catalyst. Playing with the idea that history is written by the winners, Tey has her convalescing policeman investigate the supposed crimes of Richard III from his hospital bed, referring to the play as a knowing perpetuation of propaganda and making the reader want to read it just to compare the Bard’s depiction of the king with the conclusion Tey comes to at the end.

    Macbeth, by Jo Nesbø

    Inspired by: Macbeth. If there’s one author whose plan to re-interpret Shakespeare should get you excited, it’s Nesbø, whose upcoming novel takes the Scottish Play and sets it in a small-town police department, with Inspector Macbeth dealing with a dark past of drug addiction as he investigates a drug deal gone horribly wrong. Macbeth is one of the easiest plays to relate to the modern sensibility, as its themes of power, guilt, and manipulation are unfortunately evergreen—as we fully expect Nesbø to demonstrate.

    The post 21 Shakespearean Books to Read If You Don’t Want to Read Shakespeare appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Monique Alice 3:00 pm on 2016/06/30 Permalink
    Tags: , , full frontal feminism: a young woman's guide to why feminism matters, jessica valenti, margaret atwood, , the purity myth: how america's obsession with virginity is hurting young women   

    Feminist Book Club: Sex Object, by Jessica Valenti 

    Welcome to Feminist Book Club! FBC is a monthly column in which we explore written works through a feminist lens. Each post features one book and announces the pick for the following month’s post. We cover everything from essay collections to novels, and from memoirs to plays. This column is meant to be inclusive of all gender identities and features works from many different perspectives. FBC also aims to present an intersectional view of feminism, meaning that race, ability status, sexual orientation, and many other factors are considered alongside gender issues. We hope you will read along and share your thoughts in the comments.

    This month’s selection is Sex Object, by Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti. The founder of Feministing.com, Valenti has been a leading voice within the online feminist community for over a decade. She has authored several books on the state of modern feminism that are fast becoming mainstays of Women’s Studies syllabi across the nation, including Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters and The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women. It’s easy to see why she’s everywhere—her work is deeply insightful and relatable, and cuts to the quick of our cultural ills with surgical precision. Their heavy subject matter notwithstanding, her books are always genuine pleasures to read—and her latest is no different.

    Sex Object is a memoir detailing Valenti’s transition from childhood through adolescence and adulthood and the concurrent changes in the ways in which she experienced the world. We see how, as early as age 10, Valenti has absorbed enough toxic cultural standards of beauty to hate her nose and to constantly compare herself to her sister. Valenti learns, as so many young girls do, that happiness is often seemingly correlated with how much we meet or do not meet these arbitrary standards, and acts accordingly. As she hits an early puberty, Valenti is plunged into another horrifying reality: that young girls are often the sexual targets of adult men. She’s in eighth grade when, after exiting a crowded subway on a beautiful sunny day, Valenti realizes someone has ejaculated onto her pants. Shortly thereafter, a man exposes himself to her on a subway platform, and not long after that, another man tries to pull her into his car after asking her for directions, all the while brandishing his penis.

    These terrifying incidents are the first in a never-ending parade of dehumanizing experiences in Valenti’s story—many of which will be all too familiar to female readers, especially those living in major cities. Valenti asks a question here that is central to the feminist conversation about objectification: what is the “right” way to deal with it? She discloses that her weapon of choice has often been humor—and she’s honest about the ways in which this strategy can fall short. It can feel empowering to mock one’s oppressor; to laugh in the face of those who seek to dominate. But, as Margaret Atwood famously said, “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” Humor can take us only so far in the struggle for equality. It is undoubtedly useful in some measure, even if only as a coping mechanism. However, it can begin to feel hollow when our emotional and physical safety hangs in the balance. For many of us, laughing works for awhile. But all too often, it dissolves into despair without solving anything.

    In one of the most harrowing—and timely—accounts in Sex Object, Valenti discloses that she was raped by someone she trusted while blacked out and very likely unconscious. She frankly describes the ways in which she second-guessed herself, avoiding acceptance of what had occurred and minimizing the entire incident. Of course, her reaction to such a violation is not unique—it is the default. Our culture teaches that rape is only rape when the attacker is a stranger and the victim screams and fights with all her might. Any other type of assault is minimized, questioned, invalidated, outright denied. Messages to this effect are so pervasive they become internalized within victims—which is precisely why so many rapes go unreported. In light of the recent Stanford rape case and the gut-wrenching letter the victim read in court to her attacker, it seems reasonable to hope the national conversation about consent may finally be getting the groundswell of attention it needs in order for the tide to turn. Of course, it’s likely the Stanford rape only made it to a court of law because there were two eyewitnesses, and the convicted offender received a paltry six-month sentence. It’s enough to make a reasonable person laugh—or cry.

    Valenti has lauded the Stanford victim’s courage on several social media platforms. Valenti’s memoir, however, is primarily concerned not with individual acts of objectification and assault—although these are treated with the gravity they demand. The larger question Valenti poses is, what happens to us over the course of a lifetime of such treatment? What are the cumulative effects of never being able to take mass transit, or walk down the street, or inhabit public (and sometimes private) spaces at all without fearing for our safety? How do we take care of ourselves in the midst of what can feel like a war zone? One thing is for certain—whether we do it with an unflinching letter read aloud in a courtroom, a vulnerable yet fierce memoir, or simply the refusal to blame ourselves for choices others may make to objectify us, nothing changes unless we continue to protest the status quo.

    Next month’s selection: Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, by Lindy West.

     
  • Diana Biller 6:30 pm on 2016/05/12 Permalink
    Tags: barbara ehrenreich, margaret atwood, michael lewis, reader-in-chief, sarah vowell, ,   

    6 Books the Presidential Candidates Really Need to Read 

    Election years are, perhaps, not our most dignified as a nation. Maybe once the candidates have tired themselves out with all the fighting, whining, and yelling, they’d like to take a load off with a nice book. Here are six we think they could really stand to read.

    Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines, by Richard A. Muller
    Written by a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, Physics for Future Presidents covers a multitude of scientific topics that any future president must understand. From biological terrorism, to nuclear waste, to climate change and what we can do about it, Muller pushes the reader to understand the science and context behind some of today’s most inflammatory subjects. Smart, accessible, and even amusing, Physics for Future Presidents is a good starting place for our presidential candidates—and for anyone who wants to understand our world a little better.

    The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, by Michael Lewis
    Since those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, let’s keep the 2008 financial crisis fresh in our minds for a little longer. The world of finance, with its derivatives and bonds and money markets, can seem as foreign and arcane as a magical universe from a fantasy novel, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Lewis (Moneyball) cuts through the confusion to paint a clear picture of the crash, the bond and real estate derivative markets that led to it, and the players who bet big on it.

    Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, by Sarah Vowell
    Vowell’s cheeky, humorous style brings the Marquis de Lafayette to vivid life in this enjoyable, irreverent account of his service as a teenaged major general during the American Revolution, his friendship with George Washington, and his return to the States as an old man in 1824, when three quarters of the population of New York City came out to meet him. This book is a particularly good choice for presidential candidates (or anyone) suffering from a surfeit of election-related nonsense, because it reminds the reader that elections have always been nasty and Americans have always been quarrelsome, but there’s always a glimmer of hope for a somewhat united future.

    Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich
    One major theme of this election is the feeling that people are working hard and still only barely getting by (or not at all). Written fifteen years ago, Nickel and Dimed still paints a harsh, clear picture of what it’s like to be poor and working in America. Ehrenreich spent several months undercover for the project, leaving her middle class income behind to live on whatever she could make in entry-level positions—an almost impossible feat that she documents in pragmatic, accessible, and biting prose.

    Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    Written from a father to his son, Coates’s latest is a deeply moving and profoundly important book about race, violence, and the United States of America, both past and present. Short, beautifully written, and accessible, yet enormously challenging, Between the World and Me debuted to rave reviews and created an immediate sensation (Toni Morrison called it “required reading” and John Greene said it was the book he was most grateful for in 2015). An important book for anyone wanting to make decisions about the future of our country.

    The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
    One of those books that continually ends up on “dystopian books that correctly predicted the year 2016” lists, The Handmaid’s Tale is the harrowing and too familiar story of a near-future world in which women are subjugated and defined by their fertility. Inspired by trends Atwood noticed at the time of writing in 1985, the book remains chillingly possible, and it’s about to take a larger stage once more—Hulu recently announced that an adaptation starring Elisabeth Moss. A good what-not-to-do primer for any politician.

     
  • Monique Alice 5:00 pm on 2016/01/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , margaret atwood,   

    Feminist Book Club: The Handmaid’s Tale 

    Welcome to Feminist Book Club! FBC is a monthly column in which we explore written works through a feminist lens. Each post features one book and announces the pick for the following month’s post. We’ll cover everything from essay collections to novels from memoirs to plays. This column is meant to be inclusive of all gender identities and will feature works from many different perspectives. FBC also aims to present an intersectional view of feminism, meaning race, ability status, sexual orientation, and many other factors will be considered alongside gender issues. We hope you’ll read along and join in on the discussion in the comments!

    This month’s selection is The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. The novel tells the story of Offred, a woman whose sole value is her ability to breed. The story begins after an abundance of pollution triggers a plunge in the birth rate, and civilization as we know it has been decimated in a calculated overthrow by a fanatical religious sect. What’s left is an oppressive dystopia in which women have been stripped of all personal freedoms, beginning with the right to hold jobs and maintain their own finances, and culminating in the loss of the right even to read. Offred has already lost everything when we meet her: her job, child, husband, friends, and family have all been taken, one by one, by the regime. Even her name is gone, replaced by the shorthand Of-Fred; that is, belonging to Fred, a Commander and the master of her household. Offred’s sole duty is to enter the bedroom of the Commander and his Wife (yes, Wife with a capital W—it’s a title), and to submit to sex with the Commander for the purpose of becoming pregnant. The encounters are ritualistic and perfunctory, leaving the reader both transfixed and horrified. In addition to her ovulatory bedroom visits, Offred also gets to go to the market once a day. Other than that, her schedule involves a whole lot of staring at the ceiling and remembering “the time before,” when she had her own family, her own desires, and the ability to be free outside of her thoughts.

    Offred’s thoughts are, in fact, nearly the whole of the novel. She’s a human whose presence in the outside world has been corralled, bound, tamed, and (no pun intended) sterilized. She’s not allowed an opinion, nor is she able to speak without constant deference to some patriarchal figure—whether it be her Commander or the decidedly male incarnation of God favored by the regime. As such, she lives almost entirely in her internal experience, regularly dissociating into memory or fantasy to escape intolerable circumstances. Given the injustice of those circumstances, the reader is often struck by the incongruence of Offred’s reaction to them. At rare moments in the novel, her anger flares briefly, as when she covets a pair of garden shears or marvels irately at the Commander’s entitlement. However, for much of the novel, her internal monologue is shockingly ambivalent and even complacent. Atwood shines here—she refuses to tell the reader what to feel. She simply sets a horrific scene, shrugs, and walks away. We’re left to wring our hands in Offred’s general direction and beg her to resist, to fight, to care. Of course, anyone familiar with trauma dynamics knows the dissociation, submission, and numbness Offred often demonstrates are not exactly out of the ordinary for trauma survivors. In fact, these responses are not only perfectly normal, but often are survivors’ only available tools for fighting to live another day. When Offred finally does dare to resist, we become the ambivalent ones—parts of us cheer while other parts are frozen in fear, certain she’ll be caught and wondering if it wouldn’t have been better for her to simply accept her fate.

    If we take Offred’s personal dilemma and stretch it to fit a whole society, we arrive at the crux of the novel: do we choose to preserve personal freedoms and bear all the risks a free society demands? Or do we give up our individual freedoms for the promise of order and security? Feminists know a version of this as the “Patriarchal Bargain,” or the notion that women can and often must agree to abide by the rules of a system that perpetually disadvantages them in exchange for whatever power that system doles out, or sometimes simply just to survive. The women of The Handmaid’s Tale know this bargain well. Their very lives hinge on their ability to continuously prove their value to men.

    It would be remiss not to mention the notable absence of people of color, the disabled, and other oppressed groups in this book. The story is entirely comprised of able-bodied, heterosexual white people and focuses almost completely on the plight of white women in their childbearing years. At first, this might appear to be an oversight endemic to late 20th-century feminist discourse—as though it simply didn’t occur to the author to include the plight of anyone other than white folks. And maybe that was the case. However, another angle is that Atwood says more with her choice to exclude other oppressed groups than she could have otherwise. The subtext of this choice is that they are all simply gone, having been summarily exterminated by an iron-fisted dictatorship, one imagines as a first order of business.

    Published in the U.S. in 1986, the book is nearing its 30th anniversary. It might seem counterintuitive, for that reason, to emphasize how modern it feels. Whether or not it’s a sign of our times, the book reads as though it was written yesterday. There are so very many reasons to read and love this book—from the richly poetic sensory descriptions of Offred’s world, to the author’s artful narrative neutrality toward the story’s villains. Perhaps most captivating of all, though, is the timeless quality of the novel’s central themes. After all, we still live in a world where the environment is treated an afterthought, where oppressed groups have to fight for basic human rights, and where speaking truth to power is often a risky proposition. I suspect Atwood would be pleased if, some day soon, her flagship novel began to read less like an apropos cautionary tale and more like a far-fetched dystopian fantasy.

    Next month’s selection: Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl, by Carrie Brownstein

     
  • Monique Alice 6:00 pm on 2015/12/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , margaret atwood, , ,   

    Feminist Book Club: Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist 

    Welcome to Feminist Book Club! FBC is a monthly column in which we explore written works through a feminist lens. Each post features one book and announces the pick for the following month’s post. We will cover everything from essay collections to novels, from memoirs to plays. This column is meant to be inclusive of all gender identities and will feature works from many different perspectives. FBC also aims to present an intersectional view of feminism, meaning that race, ability status, sexual orientation, and many other factors will be considered alongside gender issues. We hope you’ll read along and join in on the discussion in the comments!

    Selection #1: Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay

    When novelist and scholar Roxane Gay released Bad Feminist in 2014, no one knew quite what to expect. Her previously published works, Ayiti and An Untamed State, were well received, and her work is a regular feature on internet culture hubs like McSweeney’s and Tin House. The title of this new book, though, seemed to herald something different. Something brazen and unapologetic, yet reverent and hyper-conscious of its cultural responsibility. That’s exactly what this book is: a contradiction in terms that is serious as a heart attack, yet hilarious as all get out. Without pomp or bravado, Gay manages to lay out what could, without exaggeration, be the most important feminist manifesto of the decade. She does this, in part, by immediately setting the reader at ease—as if to say, don’t worry, I’m a bad feminist, too.

    Gay’s point is that it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to be a “perfect feminist” (whatever that means) in our current social climate. Although the push for equality continues to gain momentum, we remain immersed in a culture that tells us we have more value if we’re white, hetero, and male, preferably with a body mass index under 25. On the first page of Bad Feminist, Gay talks about how she sometimes catches herself singing along to songs with lyrics that degrade women. This is a microcosm of the effects of a toxic culture—the ubiquitous toxin gets into your bloodstream and before you know it, you’re showing symptoms. So, with all this doom and gloom, what’s the cure? Well, of course, there’s no simple solution, and Gay does not purport to provide one. What she does seem to prescribe is more critical thinking, less acceptance of our pre-defined social value, and more looking inward to ask ourselves how we participate in harmful cultural systems.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, the book is stellar in its treatment of toxic masculinity. Essays such as “How We All Lose,” “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence,” and “The Trouble With Prince Charming, or He Who Trespassed Against Us” provide keen-edged commentary on the ways in which our culture teaches men to disrespect women’s boundaries, and teaches women to accept that. Gay is unsparing in her critique of this cultural default setting, and equally honest about the ways in which toxic masculinity is as dangerous for men and boys as it is for women and girls. No less striking is Gay’s unflinching exploration of the Black experience in America today in “The Racism We All Carry,” “Surviving Django,” and “The Morality of Tyler Perry.” The pinnacle of this is perhaps the heartrending “The Last Day of a Young Black Man,” in which Gay delves full-throttle into the 2009 police shooting death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant and the subsequent movie about the tragedy, Fruitvale Station.

    Bad Feminist shines a bright light on many aspects of our present national experience, but some of the book’s most poignant essays are those told in the context of Gay’s personal reality. These chapters are often the funniest, too. (I guarantee this book will open your eyes to the merits of both competitive Scrabble and Sweet Valley High.) But on the deeper end, Gay shines in her willingness to be vulnerable while illustrating, say, the complex relationship between the lack of safety for women’s bodies and women’s relationships with food. Gay is beyond skilled in her writing prowess, and it’s clear she could have chosen to make her point without exposing what are clearly her most closely guarded wounds. But her compelling, brutally honest narrative gives the book a pulse and a voice. The reader does not simply grasp Gay’s ideas in a cognitive and abstract way but instead experiences them, viscerally. The result is often a galvanizing flood of empathy and solidarity that sparks a new fire in the belly—a hunger for change.

    Next month’s selection: The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

     
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