Tag Archives: books

Book Reviews of 2003

File this post under blasts from the past(s). As my 10 years blogiversary approached last year, I was feeling nostalgic about my old, hand-coded website, so of course I looked it up on the Wayback Machine. I was braced for something really amazing, and instead I found a website with roughly ten book reviews and three recipes on it. Below you will find the un-edited book reviews from 2003 aka most of my website back then (spoiler alert: they’re kind of pretentious). I hope someone on the internet finds them useful someday.

The Rise of the New Woman by Jean V. Matthews

The Rise of the New Woman by Jean V. MatthewsThis book was released just recently (May or June 2003) and I picked it up while browsing the new releases in the library at school. I’m fairly good with early American feminist theory and this looked to be more of a historical book which is why it caught my eye. I was impressed pretty much right away, it’s a really easy read but at the same time it’s not dumb’d down or artificially zazzed. The book begins with the struggle to vote and ends in the first anti-feminist backlash after the vote was won, making it a really great cultural study of Feminism’s first wave.

The great thing about it was that even though it would be a perfect introduction for a new Feminist, it’s still great for people who know a little about theory because it really covers American culture in a more holistic, pop culture oriented kind of way. For example the implications of fashions trends at the turn of the century are closely analyzed, it’s easy to forget that at one time having a skirt you could walk in and a shirt you didn’t sew yourself was the trademark of a liberated woman. In other words: it includes the little things that you really miss if you only read theory or are completely ignored if you only read contemporary feminist texts. All of the major thinkers, movers and shakers in the movement are also in the book. They’re covered in a way that will familiarize newbies without boring seasoned Feminists like myself (snicker). Par example, did you know Charlotte Perkins Gilman thought that sex, as in the biological function, was completely undesirable? It’s true!

A lot of the antifeminist backlash post suffrage was because the next issue on the agenda was birth control. It ended up alienating most older feminist and almost all of the southern women who turned their efforts to the church or the KKK. It’s things like this that are left out of textbooks and are assumed in theory so I would definitely and absolutely recommend this book to any student of feminism no matter their skill level.

Continue reading

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson was originally published in 1959 before being being turned into two movies and (soon) a Netflix series. After terrorizing students for years with her short story, “The Lottery,” I became intrigued by this novel when a friend read it for a book club. A year later, I’m happy to say that I finished the novel, and in two readings nonetheless. The night I started it, I stopped reading it when I was about 80 pages in because I could tell something terrifying was about to happen, and I didn’t want to be up all night either reading it or worrying about ghosts.

The novel has a relatively small cast of characters: Dr. John Montague, a paranormal scientist; Eleanor Vance (Nell) a shy woman of 32 who has taken care of her mother for the last 11 years; Theodora (Theo) who seems to possess some sort of telepathic or psychic abilities; and Luke Sanderson who is the heir to the house, a charming rake, and whose aunt seems to want to get rid of him. If four people from diverse backgrounds staying overnight in a haunted mansion where terrible events took place seems trite, don’t blame Jackson: she invented these tropes. As much as I hate horror movies, I absolutely love terror in books, and Jackson’s novel is a slow, atmospheric build. Once events start happening you know that it’s already out of control, and many questions remain unanswered at the end of the novel.

The Question of Eleanor and Theodora

One of the main questions that I ended the novel with is about Eleanor and Theodora; are they in love? I talked about “lesbian disruptions” in my The Return of the Soldier writeup, but this is something more. Eleanor is the shy mousy girl in the story, she’s living with her sister, Carrie, and her brother-in-law three months after her mother, who she was forced to take care of, died. She hated her mother, and kind of slept through her mother’s demand for medicine, which may have been what killed her. Oops! At 32 years old we get the impression that she’s never had a boyfriend or relationship of any kind, and that she sees herself as essentially unwanted. She has a wild, immersive imagination that fills the beginning sections of the novel, and she covers up the banality of her own life with pieces of these early daydreams. It’s only at the end of the novel that she reveals that she truly has no place to go home to, and it’s crushing.

Continue reading

Five (More) Classic Novels Every Young Woman Should Read (and Why)

Yes, it’s Part 2 of a post I wrote a long time ago! Here is Part 1 if you’d like to check it out and/or see the criteria I used to choose these novels.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)

The story sets up a parallel narrative of one day split between two people: Clarissa Dalloway, who is throwing a party that night, and Septimus Warren Smith, who is going to commit suicide. Told by interspersing flashbacks with present action the narration tells the story of these two seemingly unrelated people and how they came to these points in their lives before linking them together at the end.

Continue reading

Five Classic Novels Every Young Woman Should Read (and Why)

This list was inspired by a good friend of mine who complained that every list she saw of “novels every young woman should read” was full of children’s books and trash. Then she asked what would be on my top ten list, which of course opened the floodgates, and I sat at work randomly scribbling down titles when one popped into my head. I’ve been delaying the list for too long, so I’ve decided to make it a “Top Five” for now and post a follow up at a later point.

Since what are loosely referred to as “classics” are my area of interest I decided that my own list would be made up of “classics.” This list is biased, which I have no issue with, because it’s my top five and I have no designs on universality. The criteria for this list is that 1) I had read the novel so I could recommend it with authority; 2) that I could still remember the plot, proving that it made an impact; and 3) that it dealt with women’s lives in a central way. Additionally, these are all English-language books because that is the only language I speak/read, and they are arranged alphabetically by title.

Finally, I am not endorsing a binary standard of gender by making a list for “young women,” but rather acknowledging that we live in a society where you are forcefully assigned one of two genders at birth. Keeping that in mind, no matter how you self-identify, I believe that if your socially-assigned label is “woman” as you come of age, this list would apply to you because the novels deal with how society treats people with that label. The “young” part is not intentionally ageist, it was the original list idea, and also I selected novels that had the greatest potential for impact when read early in life. Because of this, I have also included novels that change as you enter adulthood and can be re-read impactfully.

Well, I’ve used the word “impactfully;” I think that means I need to stop coughing up ten dollar words and get to the actual list.

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (1958)

This novella is a captivating story of an iconoclastic young woman (Holiday “Holly” Golightly) during the time that the narrator knew her in New York. Holly rejects societal values and replaces them with her own, but she is essentially unable to fit in, and she responds by perpetually “traveling.” Holly is always searching for a “home,” but she is unwilling to change who she is to find one. Home, Holly feels, will eventually find her.

Why: Anyone who knows me knew that this would be on the list since it’s my favorite novella and probably my all-time favorite work of fiction. Also, the novella is nothing like the movie of the same name (see also my list of reasons why the novella is better). A century previous the only place for the artist/eccentric/writer in society was death (see also Melville), but with Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Capote turns this convention of its head by writing a character who is seeking not to fit into society, but instead seeking a society that will fit in with her. Importantly, the novel has no romantic ending, but deals extensively with many different kinds of love. The narrator and Holly have a type of hetero-non-sexual relationship, the bartender Joe Bell loves Holly romantically-non-sexually from afar, and there are a slew of minor characters that fall all along the spectrum for gender and sexuality. Capote writes of all of these types of love as valid and, rather than having the characters change to fit in, shows how they each has strengths that they must embrace to be happy. If there were only one book on this list it would be Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Continue reading