What I Read in 2017

My friend Denton Loving published his list of books read in 2017, and reading his inspired me to do my own (Thanks, Denton). While I failed to keep my blog as updated as I would like, the good news is that I never stopped reading, even with all the challenges and joys daily life allots. So below is my list, and today I start my 2018 list! Happy New Year to all!

  1. Sex Object, Jessica Valenti
  2. The Girls, Emma Kline
  3. The Unbearable LIghtness of Being, Milan Kundera
  4. How to Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran
  5. MicroFiction, Jerome Stern, editor
  6. The Folded Clock, Heidi Julavits
  7. Ongoingness, Sarah Manguso
  8. I’m Supposed to Protect You from All of This, Nadja Speigelman
  9. Fast Girl, Suzy Faror Hamilton
  10. So Sad Today, Melissa Broder
  11. Evacuation, Wendy Ortiz
  12. Birds of Opulence, Crystal Wilkinson
  13. Inertia: A Study, Melissa Helton
  14. All Fall Down, Jennifer Weiner
  15. Department of Speculation, Jenny Offil
  16. Paint It Black, Janet Fitch
  17. i hate to see the evening sun go down, William Gay
  18. A Really Good Day, Ayelet Waldman
  19. Stag’s Leap, Sharon Olds
  20. Past Perfect, Cate McDowell
  21. Fierce Attachments, Vivian Gornick
  22. Dreadful Wind and Rain, Diane Gilliam
  23. The Camera My Mother Gave Me, Susanna Kaysen
  24. Imagine me Gone, Adam Haslett
  25. Innocents and Others, Dana Spiotta
  26. The Hot One, Carolyn Murnick
  27. South & West, Joan Didion
  28. More, Now, Again, Elizabeth Wurtzel
  29. Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward
  30. Heating and Cooling, Beth Ann Fennelly
  31. Misfits Manifesto, Lidia Yuknavitch
  32. My Fair Junkie, Amy Dresner
  33. Transit, Rachel Cusk
  34. Someone with a Little Hammer, Mary Gaitskill
  35. Chanel Bonfire, Wendy Lawless
  36. Sunshine State, Sarah Gerard
  37. The Guardians, Sarah Manguso
  38. 300 Arguments, Sarah Manguso
  39. Bukowski in a Dress, Kim Addonizio



Gypsy Moths and Radio Talk

Remember the days when you paid a small fee and CDs showed up in the mail?  Sometimes they’d pile up, with little time to extract them from their nail-breaking plastic wrap.  I was not familiar with Chris Cornell until a few years ago, when another writer waxed on about Soundgarden. I decided to give the group a try. Didn’t grab me. But shortly after, I stumbled on an unwrapped Out of Exile, Audioslave, hiding among the CDs I’d moved around with more than once. Things changed.

I was unaware that Chris Cornell was the lead singer of both groups, and for reasons I cannot yet articulate, I prefer Audioslave to Soundgarden. I cannot tell you Cornell’s long and rich history – that’s not what this post is about. It’s about discovering a voice that provided both relief and connection, and the sadness that there will be no more vocals from that source – a relationship, a life, that has ended too early.

I grew up with funk, hip-hop, and rap. My first concert was Lionel Richie and the Pointer Sisters. After that, Fat Boys and Whodini. Then, the ultimate: Prince (still reeling). Obviously, my musical background was not pure rock and roll. I played catch-up in college, starting with Steve Miller, on to Zepplin and another favorite, Hendrix. I scoured the vinyl my husband owns, which ranges from The Beatles, Waylon Jennings, Molly Hatchet, to Mother’s Finest (and all of Prince). Newer rock simply had not made it into my repertoire, and that writer whose admiration for Cornell’s vocals and lyrics prompted me to listen for myself.

Hence, the synchronicity of finding that unwrapped CD in my own dusty collection – particularly during a time when the CD player lies dormant, my cell phone my source of music. I may have been about ten years late in discovering Cornell’s voice, but that became a moot point. I listened. I balked at what I’d been missing.

The connection we make with voices and lyrics is, in a large part, personal. What makes me like the songs on Out of Exile ?  Cornell’s voice. It’s the vulnerability that it exudes – an excruciating balance of the masculine and the feminine, mixed with the authenticity and rawness of his vocals against screaming guitars. He soars and slays, and offers no apologies for what he conjures. His vocals were/are a vehicle for the fragile self that battles with the stuff of life. May he rest in peace, and may all of your tomorrows shine.

To Macro or Micro Dose?

In my year of women, I’m reading books written only by women, and I had a fun juxtaposition recently. Because I’m constantly drawn to memoir, I downloaded Cat Marnell’s, How to Murder Your Life. I read this book, though, after reading A Really Good Day by Ayelet Waldman. Both books are about drug use, but along different lines. Marnell chronicles abuse alongside what it’s like to be a beauty editor for a magazine (all that swag!), and Waldman documents her heavily researched use of micro-dosing to treat depression, along with delving into laws, discrimination, and some myth-busting around LSD and other drugs that society has deemed inexcusable. It was somewhat like a roller coaster ride to read these two back-to-back: Marnell is very fond of the exclamation point!!! And she does not hesitate to use it! Often! I had to adapt to this, but grew to appreciate the candor (along with the horror) of much of what she survived. I also got a glimpse into the world of magazines and fashion that I’ve never seen. I related more to Waldman, though, because I, too, deal with depression and PMDD, and reading her book made me reconsider my biases and beliefs when it comes to LSD, and allowed me to see how a small dose of such could have extremely positive results (but too bad, as it’s illegal and we’re all out of luck until the laws change). Waldman adds to the memoir structure by including a good deal of research, which really adds depth to the subject material; she moves between the personal and society-at-large very well. I recommend both books, and enjoyed the juxtaposition of reading them back to back.

Current reading is Sharon Old’s Stag’s Leap (thanks to my pal Julia who gifted me a copy). I’d had this on my list for a long time, but am happy to have a physical copy. Because I’m impatient and live in a rural area, I still download a good number of books. However, when I love one, I must own it. Therefore, a shout-out to a book of essays on depression (and so much more) that I read at the tail end of last year that was quite powerful: Melissa Broder’s, So Sad Today. It’s on my iPad, but now I must have a physical copy for my bookshelf.

Here’s to more sunny weather (and warmer) and, just as importantly, to good books!


Have You Met Alice?

Today’s post is about a woman I should have heard of, but have not. She is, for a large part, the reason why women have the right to vote, which was a 72 year battle that ended on August 26, 1920, with the passing of the 19th amendment. It just so happens that August 26 is Women’s Equality Day in the U.S. (Yet another fact I did not know.)

In light of the recent event where Mitch McConnell silenced Elizabeth Warren from reading a letter from civil rights activist Coretta Scott King (a silencing that he did not extend to his male counterparts, and a silencing that inevitably backfired), I think recognizing Alice Paul’s contribution to the equality of the sexes is very timely, as there’s still progress to be made (for example, how women earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man).  Interestingly, Alice Paul was raised as a Hicksite Quaker. The Hicksite Friends “endorsed the concept of gender equality as a central tenet of their religion and a societal norm of Quaker life” and it is obvious that this belief in equality influenced Alice throughout her life, worldviews, and activism.

While Paul led a comfortable life, she did not sit on her heels. After spending time in England and witnessing the suffragist movement there, Alice went from being “reserved” to being a “militant suffragist.” While in England, Paul joined up with the Pankhurst suffragettes, whose motto was “Deeds not words,” and this often meant the breaking of windows, heckling, and the use of other means to raise awareness of the suffrage movement. There were arrests, hunger strikes, and imprisonment. While in prison, Paul saw the following quote written on the cell wall, “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God,” a phrase that appears to be attributed in similar forms to both Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.  The phrase was also used by Susan B. Anthony (another activist for women’s rights who was a Quaker and whose name is much more familiar).

While there was some fracture in the various strategies among suffragists groups to attain equality for women in the U.S., Paul eventually formed the National Woman’s Party in 1916. This group was often deemed “unpatriotic” for picketing during wartime, and the women were often jailed. They even marched on Pennsylvania Avenue during President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration (unfortunately, that march ended with physical violence against the women). After being imprisoned in the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia, Paul and her comrades went on a hunger strike. The conditions of the Workhouse were unsanitary, the women were often beaten, and public outcry led to their release. At this point, President Wilson “reversed his position and announced his support” and in 1919, the House and Senate passed the 19th Amendment. It was then ratified in 1920 (thanks to Harry Burn’s mother, who asked her son on the Tennessee assembly to support the amendment).

Did Alice Paul stop with the 19th Amendment?  No. She pushed on. She persisted.  And, to this day, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), rewritten in 1943 as, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex” has yet to be ratified. Many Southern states have failed to support such.  It is obvious that the need to persist continues. Silencing someone for gender, sexual orientation, skin color, religious preference, etc. is not acceptable. While McConnell may have stopped Warren from reading King’s letter with his sexist rebuke, he only amplified the need to persist, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” McConnell’s sexism led to a timely reminder to women and other disenfranchised groups that persistence can, and does, pay off.  




Source sites:

Who Was Alice Paul?

Women’s Policy Research

Danse Sauvage

This is a part of a series of brief posts I’ll be doing that feature women — as writers, creatives, world-changers, or everyday people who’ve made a difference, yet we’ve likely not heard of them.

Today we celebrate Josephine Baker. I was thrilled to draw Josephine’s card not only because it is Black History Month, but also because Josephine was part of the Resistance – the French Resistance in WWII – and she is an inspiration to me as I also resist.

One of the things that appeals to me about Josephine is that she was multi-faceted: a performer who was both comical and sensual, a woman who did not depend on a male partner for financial stability (back when it was even harder to do so), and a woman who  vociferously opposed racism. While she saw success in the US as a performer, she was an overnight hit in Paris. One of her most creative costumes was one of bananas strung into a skirt. Josephine was so popular that she was photographed as often as Gloria Swanson and Mary Pickford, and in 1927 she “earned more than any entertainer in Europe.”

Josephine had nicknames such as “Black Venus, “ “Black Pearl,” and “Creole Goddess,” and she hailed from St. Louis, Missouri.  Of the many youtube videos I watched, this is one of my favorites.

So, in short: resist.  Dance.  And be sure to mix some humor into your life amid the stress. As Josephine saidSurely the day will come when color means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul; when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood.

Fannie Lou

This is a part of a series of brief posts I’ll be doing that feature women — as writers, creatives, world-changers, or everyday people who’ve made a difference, yet we’ve likely not heard of them.

Imagine going into surgery to have a tumor removed, only to wake and find out that you’ve also had your reproductive organs removed without your consent.

Imagine that you lose your job and get kicked off the land you’ve farmed for over two decades for simply driving to the county courthouse and registering to vote.

Imagine that while you were sick and tired of being sick and tired, you still fought for civil rights, even after being shot at and jailed.

Imagine being beaten so badly you suffered from permanent kidney damage.

Imagine the power and tenacity it took to be Fannie Lou Hamer, a black woman who took her rage and defiance and turned it into energy and actions that led to securing voting rights for African Americans and the creation of economic and community programs.

Imagine that, and act.


Oh, Be A Fine Girl — Kiss Me!

This is a part of a series of brief posts I’ll be doing that feature women — as writers, creatives, world-changers, or everyday people who’ve made a difference, yet we’ve likely not heard of them.

I am anxious to see the latest film, Hidden Figures, which tells the story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, three black women who were integral in the success of the U.S. Space Program. On that note, I found it interesting that the Women Who Dare knowledge card I drew today featured another hidden woman in history, in the related field of astronomy: Annie Jump Cannon.

Cannon had a strong academic background that included Wellesley, Radcliffe, and the Harvard Observatory. It was at the Harvard Observatory where she and other women (since labeled “Pickering’s Women” by science historians) that Cannon did some pretty impressive cataloging of stars, while taking existing classification systems and creating a more simplified one that “was adopted as the universal standard,” and led to the mnemonic device that many astronomers used, “Oh, Be A Fine Girl – Kiss Me!” According to Women Who Dare, Cannon classified over half a million stars.  And while she was the first woman to be awarded the Draper Gold Medal of the National Academy of Sciences, the male-dominated group never did allow her membership.

Take some time to get to know Annie’s work and contributions to astronomy here at Annie Jump Cannon Biography, and  Annie Jump Cannon.