I should have really started doing this sooner. I used to keep track of what I read in order to have some sort of a list/record of it on Goodreads, but I lost swing of it, sadly. It got too fiddly and another form of a social network account that I had to keep updated. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you will know that I regularly take pictures of whatever I read/borrow/buy. But I’m still going to start blogging monthly reads, not only to keep me on track with my monthly reading goals, but also so that I can talk about the books a little bit and get a bigger picture of the type of things I read. I would love to review (almost) every book I read, but I already do reviews every couple of months for Wales Arts Review, or whenever I’m contacted to for this blog, and because I’m so meticulous with them, it takes me a long time. Time that I should really be spending writing my own poetry/fiction (I have work coming up in upcoming issues of some lit mags so keep an eye out for that!).
I’m also trying to mix it up lately, from poetry, fiction, nonfiction, feminist essays, while making sure that I read books by non-white writers but not limit myself to only them, either. I do believe that there is a huge need for people to read and publish more writers of colour, and I’m currently compiling a list of Welsh writers of colour to read (throw me suggestions!!), but I don’t want to tunnel vision myself and close myself off from other brilliant texts. As a writer, and a reader, I’m thirsty to read almost anything and everything.
So, very delayed, but here are the books that I read in April, which was a very feminist month, with brief summaries/thoughts on them. The May one will definitely come in the first couple of weeks in June and not at the end of it!
Men Explain Things To Me, is a collection of 7 essays, written over many years, compiled together. The first starts off with the idea of ‘mansplaining’ and moves on to the issues of violence against women, rape, same sex marriages, Virginia Woolf, power and exploitation, domestic violence. I had mixed opinions on this book. I liked how compact these essays were but at the same time I yearned for more, for fuller explanations that took into account all experiences. For example, the amount of violence towards women of colour that goes unreported and overlooked. How a lot of the issues mentioned are global and not just American. How transgender and lesbian women and sex workers also face violence. At one point, Solnit also says, “violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender” and although I could see where she was coming from, I disagreed more than agreed. This also confused me when Solnit went on to give the example of a black maid being assaulted by a rich, white man, and tell a little tale about ‘Africa’:
“Her name was Africa. His name was France. He colonized her, exploited her, silenced her, and even decades after it was supposed to have ended, still acted with a high hand in resolving her affairs in places like Côte d’Ivoire, a name she had been given because of her export products, not her own identity.”
There’s also a part where Solnit generalizes the veil and says, “what I had taken for drapery or furniture was a fully veiled woman… Whatever all the arguments may be about veils and burkas, they make people literally disappear.” That pretty much made me struggle to read on, because when an intelligent person like Solnit does what most ignorant people do and reduce Muslim women to veils and burkas and assume they ALL have no choice in wearing them, you pretty much lose faith in humanity.
So in summary, yay for highlighting key topics (that are prior knowledge anyway), conversations. Nay for generalisations, only touching the surface, lack of intersectionality.
This Is How You Lose Her is actually the first book I have read by Junot Diaz. It is a collection of interlinked short stories mainly about Dominican men, Yunior growing up as an immigrant in New Jersey, infidelity in romantic relationships. Again, mixed feels about this one. I hated myself for reading a book with protagonists who were so sexist towards women, a book which had half-formed female characters, reduced to their looks and sex. Yet at the same time, the writing is raw, it is full of emotion, heartbreak, vulnerability. There is something broken about these men and it is obvious on the page without any need for overwriting. The writing is accessible, authentic, yet lyrical and energetic. The protagonist isn’t easy to like or empathise with. Even though I was moved when I finished the book, I still wasn’t feeling very warm towards Yunior, but I don’t think that is the point. The point is honesty. But again, if we’re being honest, I think we can do without male writers constantly being championed for writing that is reductive to women, feminism, and primarily contains beers, drugs, sex, and recklessness, but that might just be me.
Roxane Gay offers a pretty good criticism of This Is How You Lose Her in Bad Feminist when she says that, “I would have loved to see what a writer of Diaz’s caliber might do if he allowed his character to step out of the constraints of the environment he grew up in, one to which all readers are subjected.” In this collection of essays, she also offers criticism on other books and popular culture/media/films such as The Help, The Hunger Games, Django Unchained, Gone Girl, 50 Shades, Twilight, Chris Brown. She talks about her personal identity and upbringing as a Haitian-American, and most importantly, intersectional feminism (YAY). From a woman of colour, to a woman of colour, this was a breath of fresh air. The essays are personal, humorous, witty. They give credit where it’s due but don’t hesitate to call out and dismantle the more popular and loved writers and films. Yet Gay’s writing can seem overindulgent at times. From my point of view, some chapters could have been edited out (Did we really need to know that much about scrabble and tournaments or did I miss something there?) But this is was a good starting point for me read feminist views on women in the 21st century, and specifically, women of colour. I also like the idea of a “bad feminist” and not striving to be perfect or being an essential feminist (though I’m guilty of being an essential feminist sometimes when I talk about white feminism and lack of intersectionality). A bad feminist who indulges in TV shows feminists are stereotypically meant to hate. But it felt as though at points that became an excuse to not come across as too ‘radical’, which was a shame.
Bad Feminist certainly doesn’t have all the answers, but it is a nice start. It is very pop culture-y and does read kind of like a blog/memoir where you are still left wanting to seek more answers, and fuller conclusions on things. There are actually hardly any conclusions, which is frustrating, but I was still moved at the end of it and recommended it to all my friends. Arguably, this is accessible feminism.
Feel free to throw me any suggestions on more feminist texts, Welsh writers of colour, or share your own reads! 🙂