missoula

As a big fan of his work, I’ve been waiting for Missoula by Jon Krakauer to come up available through my local library’s Overdrive on audio since it was released this past April, and finally got to it last week. Edited from Goodreads:

Missoula, Montana, is a typical college town, with a highly regarded state university, bucolic surroundings, a lively social scene, and an excellent football team with a rabid fan base.

The Department of Justice investigated 350 sexual assaults reported to the Missoula police between January 2008 and May 2012. Few of these assaults were properly handled by either the university or local authorities. In this, Missoula is also typical.

A DOJ report released in December of 2014 estimates 110,000 women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four are raped each year. Krakauer’s devastating narrative of what happened in Missoula makes clear why rape is so prevalent on American campuses, and why rape victims are so reluctant to report assault. Acquaintance rape is the most underreported crime in America. In addition to physical trauma, its victims often suffer devastating psychological damage that leads to feelings of shame, emotional paralysis, and stigmatization. PTSD rates for rape victims are estimated to be 50 percent, higher than for soldiers returning from war.

In Missoula, Krakauer chronicles the searing experiences of several women in Missoula—the nights when they were raped; their fear and self-doubt in the aftermath; the way they were treated by the police, prosecutors, defense attorneys; the public vilification and private anguish; their bravery in pushing forward and what it cost them.

As you can imagine, Missoula is a difficult book to get through. Krakauer is a relentless, dutiful researcher, and his work on Missoula is no exception. The subject matter is intense, very real, and a very real problem everywhere—Krakauer uses the single example of Missoula to illustrate the epidemic crisis that rape/sexual assault has become across the country.

I fully admit I was a bit shocked with the depth and detail of the descriptions of rape and assault—not for the faint of heart. But it’s completely necessary to the book and respectful to the victims for not sugarcoating what they went through. I was completely incensed at the perpetrators, the justice system for frequently failing these women, and even some citizen bystanders for heartless victim blaming. The cards are so stacked against women in this society that accusing a man of rape—especially a young man on a popular football team—more often than not is an exercise in futility. I can’t imagine being doubted, mocked, and shamed for a violent atrocity committed to YOU, and having to recount and relive this traumatic life-altering experience over and over again to police officers and lawyers.

One reason I gravitate to Krakauer’s books is that he maintains a clear-eyed perspective throughout. His tone is fair and without judgement, though you can usually tell which “side” he’s on. Missoula is an important, informative book for our times, and I suspect will go down as one of Krakauer’s more controversial works.

Listened to audiobook from November 17 to 21, 2015.

mini-reviews: feminists, citizen, beard

I had a wonderful week celebrating the holidays in Wisconsin last week! I was able to squeeze in three short books before the end of the year, plus a couple of audiobooks (reviews coming soon for those). Here are my brief thoughts on each:

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the text of her 2013 TED talk, a short essay I read in one 30–40 minute sitting. Since it it so short, Adichie doesn’t go into extensive details or analysis, just lays out the topic in clear, concise language mostly based on her own personal experiences. This could easily be expanded into several essays, and was a great complement to a couple of the essays in Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist (my review). I appreciated that Adichie doesn’t get angry here, nor does she place blame on any group for the way things are, only urges everyone, women and men alike, to recognize there is a problem and to do all we can as a collective society to fix it. She recognizes there are fundamental, biological differences between men and women, but why the social differences? She gives a great example of cooking historically being a “female” thing, while men are generally off the hook (though feeding oneself is a necessary life skill, no matter your gender). I really enjoyed this, and just got Adichie’s Americanah in the mail and I’m looking forward to reading it in 2015! [Read on December 24, 2014.]

Next, I read Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. What a powerful, timely collection of prose poetry. Everyone—regardless of race, color, creed, socioeconomic status, etc.—should take a few hours to read this book soon. Formed in brief vignettes ranging from seemingly innocuous encounters in everyday situations (errands, appointments, job interviews, etc.) to more egregious aggressions on an national or international stage (Serena Williams’s televised tennis matches, for example), Citizen reveals expectations, assumptions, and behaviors that millions of Americans deal with on a daily basis in their lives, things that have very real after-effects on people, body and soul. This books is an accessible expression of the complexity and reality of race issues historically right up to today. [Read from December 27 to 28, 2014.]

My gift to my husband this year for Christmas (in addition to The Lego Movie… best wife ever!) was a copy of Stephen Collins’s The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil. Nick has a beautiful, glorious long red beard which looks fantastic on him, so beards have become quite a topic of conversation in our lives the past year. I thought this would be a fun gift and it was! I read it in one sitting after Nick finished. This strikingly illustrated black-and-white graphic novel is about Dave, a dude who lives on an impossibly tidy island called Here, surrounded by the ominous There (dystopia or utopia?). Several themes exist in Gigantic Beard—existential crises, general ennui, fear of the unknown and “otherness,” society being evermore connected but evermore alone, fitting in vs. individualism, and so on. This is just begging to be a Pixar feature-length film. Also, I thought it was hilarious that Dave’s iTunes suggested R. Kelly’s Ignition Remix after playing the Bangles’ Eternal Flame. [Read on December 29, 2014.]

bad feminist

Back in late September (where did October go??) I ordered Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay and finally got around to reading it a month later. From Goodreads:

In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman (Sweet Valley High) of color (The Help) while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years (Girls, Django Unchained) and commenting on the state of feminism today (abortion, Chris Brown). The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

I was so, so excited to start Bad Feminist. First off, though, the title is a bit of a misnomer. I don’t find Gay to be “bad” at all in regards to feminism, because it’s clear she holds its core values: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” The word feminism has become warped and demonized (“man-haters,” compared to nazis, etc.), which is really unfair to the movement and inaccurate. Feminism is about HUMAN equality and progress, social justice, for the good of society as a whole—it’s not just a movement for women because, of course, everyone benefits from women succeeding and flourishing.

Further, in the book Gay tackles feminist issues as a woman of color. Many of her essays deal with issues of gender and race, especially in relation to pop culture, like GirlsFifty Shades of Grey and Django Unchained. A few subjects didn’t resonate so much with me, like Girls and Fifty Shades (never saw/read myself), but it was fascinating to read her perspective on them and so many other topics, like The Help, for example. I both read the book and saw the movie a few years ago and enjoyed it cautiously… I remember feeling a little weird about it but couldn’t quite formalize my thoughts as to exactly why. But Gay voiced her criticisms of the film in a way that totally clicked with me. Before, I feel like I had an inkling of how poorly the black experience has been portrayed in film and TV—and again not that I can speak from any personal racial experience—but Gay really drives the point home in her essays especially about Django Unchained and the Tyler Perry movies.

There are a few essays that really stand out to me: “How We All Lose,” “Blurred Lines, Indeed,” and “Tragedy. Call. Compassion. Response.” in particular. I think I might have shouted out loud YES! when I read this in the “Blurred Lines” essay:

It’s hard not to feel humorless, as a woman and a feminist, to recognize misogyny in so many forms, some great and some small, and know you’re not imagining things. It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you’re going to float the fuck away. … These are just songs. They are just jokes. It’s just a hug. They’re just breasts. Smile, you’re beautiful. Can’t a man pay you a compliment? In truth, this is all a symptom of a much more virulent cultural sickness—one where women exist to satisfy the whims of men, one where a woman’s worth is consistently diminished or entirely ignored.

After a huge rush of excitement and fervent reading in the beginning, the middle third of the book started to drag just a bit for me, I think mostly just because it was super-critical essay after super-critical essay, and it just brought me down a bit one after another in succession. The ending, though, when the final two essays return to being more personal, clicked with me, too—that you can have contradictory feelings and still be a feminist. For example, I admit that my husband does much of the so-called “men’s work” around our house (garbage, car stuff, etc.) BUT, that doesn’t mean I’m not a feminist. Sometimes, gender roles are gender roles and it doesn’t mean anything. I do the majority of the cooking, and my husband and I split the laundry and dishes. So what, right?

I’m so glad I came across this collection—Gay’s writing is phenomenal and accessible—I’ve appreciated her viewpoints on social media recently regarding current controversies surrounding Lena Dunham and the viral NYC catcalling youtube video. I definitely look forward to reading Gay’s An Untamed State soon!

Read from October 20 to 30, 2014.