Men Explain Things to Me

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I hope everyone had an excellent and restful weekend! I’ve been busy with work, and with various illnesses along with seasonal allergies. Throughout it all, I’ve attempted to keep up with my goal of reading more than YA. It’s been slow going, not due to lack of interest, but only a simple lack of free time.

When I saw Men Explain Things to Me at work, I knew that I absolutely had to pick up and read a copy. I’ve been hearing about it for ages, but having never picked up a book of essays as leisure reading I was a bit wary.

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I was already familiar with the now rather famous titular essay. It was wry, it was eloquent, and it had me nodding my head in agreement with the all-too-familiar situation. I’ve been patronised for both my age and my gender more times than a reasonable person would expect. It can be infuriating, but the author handled her situation with grace and good humour.

Still, the next essay gets very serious very quickly. A look at violence – specifically violence against women perpetrated by their partners or former partners – it would have been a jarring eye-opener had I not already familiarised myself with those statistics. For people who aren’t familiar with them, this essay is a short and painful one, with subtitles such as ‘who has the right to kill you?’, ‘the party for the protection of the rights of rapists’, and ‘the chasm between our worlds’.

The serious tone persists throughout the rest of the book for the most part, relenting occasionally to reveal Solnit’s excellent tongue-in-cheek brand of humor. You can almost see her smirk and raised eyebrow, and it’s great. The topics of discussion range through feminism, economics, politics, and literature, extrapolating upon the places in which they intersect and inviting further thought on the matter.

Certain themes or points are brought up in more than one essay, but that only serves as a reminder that they were first published separately and not as a collection.

It’s very hard to choose a favourite essay, but I think ‘Woolf’s Darkness’ and ‘Cassandra Among the Creeps’ are tied for me.

‘Woolf’s Darkness’ was an interesting exploration of ‘embracing the inexplicable’, backed up with the writing and thoughts of Virginia Woolf, along with other figures of literature, and of the author herself. It was the topic I was most unfamiliar with going into the book, which is most likely why I found it the most interesting.

‘Cassandra Among the Creeps’ explores the more familiar territory of society’s disinclination to believe women about – well, anything. It begins with the story of the seer Cassandra, who is cursed to see the future but always be met with disbelief. The author explores ‘female hysteria’, and the way that the media, society, and even other women, are led to disbelieve and malign women.

This entire selection of essays is exceptionally well-written, and something I enjoyed engaging with more actively than a fiction pick. Like I did in my school days, while reading I scribbled notes and thoughts to myself. Solnit writes in a way that makes it easy to imagine yourself having a conversation with her.

I’ll definitely be reading more essay collections, and more of Solnit’s work as well. Have you read Men Explain Things to Me? Any of Rebecca Solnit’s other books? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

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As you know if you’ve kept up with my posts for any length of time, I love reading YA. Lately, I’ve been trying to broaden my book horizons so I don’t limit my exposure to different kinds of literature. I’ve been browsing the Toronto Public Library’s Overdrive collection, and I came across this gem of a title.

Smoke gets in

As far as memoirs go, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes is certainly one of the most unusual that I’ve read. It details a young woman’s first forays into work at a crematorium and into the North American funeral industry.

Caitlin Doughty speaks in a frank and appealing way about her work and her evolving thoughts about death and the way it’s viewed in our society. The narrative is peppered with incidents that are morbid and hilarious – sometimes both at once. It’s a fascinating look into an industry that keeps civilians at a distance, often to their detriment.

The narrative is linear, and the reader follows Doughty as she goes from a rather naïve death idealist, to a realist seeking to promote a healthier understanding of death and all it entails.

She meets many interesting people, as you would expect from those who deal with the dead on a regular basis. Their insights added a lot to her evolving journey, as did the glimpses of the different ways that people dealt with their dead loved ones.

Peppered throughout the narrative were glimpses of the death rituals of various peoples all over the world, during various time periods. The reader also learns of the origins of the modern rituals we currently practice in North America. It was honestly fascinating, and I’m curious to learn more about many of the things I learned.

I loved this book.

Death is something I’ve thought about in a vague way, but Doughty encourages the reader to really examine it. She encourages you to talk to your friends and family about it, and to make plans for what will happen to your body once you’ve died.

Another great mark for this book is the bibliography in the back that lists all the sources quoted by the author within. There’s also a reading group guide in the back written by the author, along with resources for death and end-of-life choices.

I would absolutely recommend this book to everyone. We’re all going to die. We should all be able to face our own mortality with a sense of calm that few seem able to do. So read this book, think about life and death, and laugh at the ridiculous situations the author has witnessed and found herself in.

Have you read Smoke Gets In Your Eyes? What did you think? Can you recommend any other unusual memoirs? Let me know in the comments below!

Bad Memoir, Good Memoir

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I’m generally a fiction reader, but it so happened that I’ve started the year reading quite a bit of non-fiction, specifically memoirs. One I really enjoyed, and the other I really didn’t.

While reading, I couldn’t help but wonder what makes a good memoir. Do you have to like or empathize with the subject of the narrative? I don’t believe that’s necessary in every case. However, unlike a biography, there is no separation between the author and the story. They’re writing about their own lives, so if you have a personal problem with someone, best to stay away from their memoir!

Some people have very interesting lives, but aren’t good storytellers. If someone’s memoir is badly written its probably not worth the trouble – you might as well just read their Wikipedia page instead.

So, on to the mini reviews.

the-hungry-years

Let me sum up The Hungry Years to save you the trouble of reading it. A man gains weight. The man has a problem with overeating, alcohol, and cocaine. It takes this man an entire book to come to the conclusion that his problems stem from a psychological place.

This was a rather tiring read, the author’s own loathing of his fat self brought up constantly. It is vaguely linear, with many inserts disturbing the timeline enough to be irritating. Are you telling me a story or regurgitating past interview and facts from other sources?

Honestly this book felt a lot like a self-pitying and self-loathing life story that I didn’t sign up to read. I was hoping for a deeper insight into overeating, but I certainly didn’t get it.

a-three-dog-life

On the other hand, A Three Dog Life was an immensely enjoyable read. It’s a small book that spans five years, the aftermath of an accident that changed lives. A man undergoes permanent brain trauma, and his wife learns how to live with it.

This is a sad, funny, and insightful read about coping with loss. It’s a book about learning to be happy with circumstances out of your control. Most of all, it’s a beautifully narrated story. The author’s voice is consistent and interesting – you just want to keep reading.

The narrative is linear, at times providing flashbacks to juxtapose the past with the present. Context is always given, and you’re never lost wondering what’s going on.

I would definitely recommend this memoir to anyone even remotely interested in the subject. It’s an unassuming little book that turned out to be absolutely wonderful.

Do you read memoirs? What are some of the best and the worst you’ve come across? What do you think makes a good memoir? Let me know in the comments below!