Reading Challenge Update: Women’s empowerment edition


Back in March I disappeared down the tbr rabbit hole of women’s empowering reads and have yet to resurface. Not all of these may seem to promote gender equality on the surface, but if one pays close attention, they encourage women to fight for rights inherent to any human being; from education, to the unrelenting search to i.d. a long ago attacker who must have haunted his victims’ dreams. 20180404_160442

Nonfiction--Feminism and literature--Solnit
--Social conditions|Sex roles
--Woolf, Virginia

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit | Non-fiction to tickle your brain cells ★★★★☆

“In her comic, scathing essay, Rebecca Solnit took on what often goes wrong in conversations between men and women. She wrote about men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don’t, about why this arises, and how this aspect of the gender wars works, airing some of her own hilariously awful encounters.” “This book features that now-classic essay as well as “#YesAllWomen,” written in response to 2014 Isla Vista killings and the grassroots movement that arose with it, and a terrifying survey of the scope of contemporary violence against women.”-Amazon summary.

Solnit delivers an eye-opening treatise on the methods, large and small, by which women and girls are made to believe their thoughts, voices, bodies and very lives are worth less than their male counterparts. Taking an unflinching approach in examining the ageless and institutionalized issue of the silencing of women, whether through discrediting one’s character or ending one’s life. Statistics confirming incidents of worldwide violence are staggering, anecdotes of women assumed by men to be less knowledgeable and unqualified are angering, and stories depicting everyday harassment and shaming, universal.

I had multiple visceral reactions to this book: nodding along to the battles over the right to speak as the supreme goal of feminism and that of humanism, my jaw dropping to the flippant remark of a college professor in regard to harassment, asking why a university “would start an investigation based only on one woman’s report?” My face crumpling in anguish over the passage describing the succinct delineation of the defense, used time and again, by perpetrators to cast doubt upon and silence their victims. Injustices recognizable daily in today’s world. But mostly I reflected upon my own past behavior. I questioned whether I was guilty of silencing females. Had I described a woman’s behavior as hysterical? Had I dismissed the claims of a friend, acquaintance, or relative because of gender? Had I sat silent in the presence of female-bashing and misogynistic jokes? I fear that I have those regrets.

Ironically, Solnit loses her way in the section of the book about wandering. Her critical analysis of Virginia Woolf’s essays felt like a stretch in relating to the arguments at hand; a conduit to introduce her other, lesser known works about the history of walking. Finding oneself through losing one’s way, meandering through introspection is fine, but felt forced into this collection. However, she pulled me sharply back with Cassandra of Troy and the discussion of the “tyranny of the quantifiable.”

My major takeaways-The ripple effect of these issues can be felt in every pool of society, by every woman. They are interconnected. An established pattern of misogyny exists, but it must be recognized and named in order to break the pattern, to give “voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless,” not just for our girls, but for our boys, just as importantly. **Take note: this is not a quick anecdotal read, it is a powerful contemplative battlecry, that, once acknowledged, cannot be unheard.

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Nonfiction--True Crime--McNamara
-Cold cases--California
-Flynn, Gillian-introduction.
-Oswalt, Patton-afterword.
-Serial rape investigation
-Serial murder investigation

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: one woman’s obsessive search for the Golden State Killer Michelle McNamara |  Book concerning an aspect of science ★★★★★

Reading this book wrecked me every which way. My attention gripped by the details, deftly woven from years of research by a natural, incredible storyteller. Held captive within the story, a case so astonishing, frightening and maddening, I had to sneak in a few pages whenever I could. Reading replaced all else, including human companionship, for a few days. But one doesn’t have to be a “true crime” reader to appreciate this book, I, for one, can rarely stomach that genre. The inclusion of Michelle’s personal story, her passion, dedication and obvious respect for and by the criminal investigators elevated the text. Not credited with solving the crime (in the book, it remains unsolved**) but she is credited with reinvigorating the case, tenaciously stoking the fire so it wouldn’t be forgotten and she “brought attention to one of the least known yet most prolific serial killers ever.”-Harper Collins.

I’ve already gushed about this book in a Teaser Tuesday post, so here I’ll defend a criticism: the crimes aren’t laid out in chronological order, which can be confusing. Michele starts with an early murder and jumps around between victims, counties and crimes. I believe this was an intentional editing decision to create a pastiche for the m.o. of the shadowy killer. The initial crime in the book was also a point when the forensics began to be connected to the earlier rapes. Some may find the timetable disjointed, but it made sense to me. There were 45 rapes, not all could, nor should, be laid out in detail. Finished by lead researchers Paul Haynes and Billy Jensen after Michele’s passing, we’ll never know how the book might have been completed from her half-finished draft, but considering the insane amount of case files and research acquired, they did an admirable job.

I highly recommend I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, if not the best written book, it’s the most absorbing I’ve laid my hands on this year. Readers should prepare to be dropped into these chilling crimes in startling detail, but the content is handled with care. Michele balanced the forensic aspects with human empathy. I found the scientific methods fascinating, especially the use of geo-profiling, crowd-sourcing and genealogy of DNA to enhance the endless search. **I refrained from looking up any news reports about the now known killer until after reading and I’m grateful I did. It would have changed the experience and lessened the compelling storytelling. But I am beyond relieved the GSK is an unsolved crime no more.


Historical Fiction--Quinn
--World War I
--World War II
--Spies like us
--underground movements
--rebels with a cause

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn | A sensual read ★★☆☆☆

audio narrator- Saskia Maarleveld ★★☆☆☆

“American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family in 1947. Searching for her beloved French cousin who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, Charlie heads to London determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves. In 1915, Eve Gardiner joins the fight against the Germans when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France during The Great War, she’s trained by Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents, right under the enemy’s nose. Thirty years later, a haunted Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in London. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launching them both on a mission to find the truth …”– Harper Collins publisher.

The Alice Network– with the aim of novelizing historical experience to bring female contributions to the collective attention, in the vein of Hidden Figures and The Bletchley Circle. In comparison to those based-on-real-events stories, Alice is far more contrived. I was never convinced by Charlie’s intermittent analogies comparing situations to math equations, it felt painfully forced. Eve, the hard-edged hermit, was slightly more believable. As so often occurs with dual past-present storylines, I get drawn into one, but not the other and get irritated when pulled out of the story. Even with the more engaging narrative, I developed eye strain from rolling them so much at the tiring counterfeit it became.

The premise equaled potential. I support women exhibiting agency over the course of their lives and their heroism during the wars, but the melodrama was too hard to swallow. I’d be keener on a biography of the real-life spy, Louise de Bettignies, than this overwrought depiction; women, operatives and readers, deserve better. If choosing to read, prepare for numerous descriptions of feeling things “bone-deep”, creepy poetry recitation, countless hands being tangled in the hair of a love interest and scenes of pain and torture. Even worse for me were the tortured metaphors and painful prose. Listing as my sensual read due to a few steamy moments, but it ultimately left me unsatisfied.


--Children's rights
--Juvenile literature
--Personal hero

I am Malala: how one girl stood up for education and changed the world by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb| Story set in the Middle East (East Asia) ★★★★☆

“Malala Yousafzai was only ten years old when the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley. They said music was a crime. They said women weren’t allowed to go to the market. They said girls couldn’t go to school. Malala refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. On Tuesday October 9, 2012, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way from school. No one expected her to survive. Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she became a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize. “–Little, Brown and Company

Malala was a typical teenager; reading the Twilight series, dancing along with friends, idolizing her father and competing for the best class rank in school, when her life changed dramatically as the Taliban gained a foothold in her region. Clashing with the Pakistani government in a violent escalation, the seeds of which were planted when she was only four, on Sept. 11th 2001, the story of the area’s growing extremism is interwoven with Malala’s childhood.

As the TNSM began to take over the Swat Valley, banning music, hijacking radio and police stations, sending the authorities running, Malala observed, “no one did anything.” Reading these depictions of misguided or frightened acceptance by the citizenry reminded me of the way the Nazi’s gained, initially incremental, then swift control of the Jewish communities in Poland described in Władysław Szpilman’s memoir, The Pianist. Like Spilman, Malala wished to survive, but more so, she wanted to learn, to thrive, and fulfill her dreams. Told with the simple innocence and matter-of-fact manner of a child, Malala’s passion and bravery is epitomized in her planned response to the terrorist threats she received: “OK shoot me, but first listen to me. What you are doing is wrong. I’m not against you personally, I just want every girl to go to school.”

Where did Malala acquire this strength of will and conviction in her beliefs in a country that didn’t accept females had rights and valued sons over daughters? There is no doubt it stemmed from her father’s influence, love and prioritization of female education. She toddled in his school as a baby, and grew up immersed in the value of learning as a gateway to making a difference. The voicing of these beliefs made her a threat to extremism. Many Muslims have become martyrs in their resistance, but Malala’s story has far greater reach. Responding with grace and renewed fervor for equal access to worldwide education and rights for women, to say Malala is an inspiration would be a grievous understatement. She shines as a beacon of peace, truth and hope for positive change in the present and the future.

Judging by these lengthy reviews, I was greatly affected by these reads and have more empowering titles added to my list. For now, however, I need a bit of lightheartedness as my own heart is heavy after two months of powerful, eye-opening accounts. Have you read any of these or have similar titles to recommend?

2 thoughts on “Reading Challenge Update: Women’s empowerment edition

  1. Great collection of reads. Funny we both read Men Explain Things around the same time. A friend loaned it to me and I agree with a lot of your thoughts on it. I used the spirit emboldened by reading the book to spawn some Girls’ Group talks I had with my 9-12 year old students about being brave, empowerment and blazing trails. I found a cool TEDtalk and a slam poem that was pretty moving to get the discussions going.


    1. It is serendipitous, but I have a funny story for why I selected Men…a young visiting children’s librarian was telling a story about assembling shelves for her office; she already had one hung and was constructing the second when the maintenance crew came by and started advising her on what to do, the tools, angles, etc. They were completely oblivious to the fact that she had just hung the same shelf and didn’t need (or ask for) help. In their defense, they don’t get to talk tools too much, as she related the story she mentioned, “it was like in that book, Men Explain Things to Me.” I had never heard of it, but knew it was a must read.
      Bravo to you for having what must be a challenging discussion with the students. You know my feelings on the subject, there’s no issue more relevant, but I would find it hard to be objective about it. I am curious about your thoughts, the pacing of the essays did leave a lot to be desired. I read the first 80 pgs in one sitting, but then it slowed way down. Although I consider myself a feminist and am not afraid of the label, I was surprised at some of the topics and ideas which I’d never considered-a great ‘tickle the brain cells’ read:)


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