Review: When Everything Changed

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present
Gail Collins
Published 2009 by Little, Brown and Company
480 Pages

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This book opens with an incident in 1960, in which a 28-year-old woman was sent home from an appearance in traffic court – to pay her oil-executive boss’s speeding ticket – because she was wearing slacks. Collins quoted the magistrate who sent her home:

“I get excited about this because I hold womanhood on a high plane and it hurts my sensibilities to see women tearing themselves down from this pedestal,” the magistrate told reporters. It was a convoluted expression of the classic view of sexual differences: women did not wear the pants in the family – or anywhere else, for that matter. In return, they were allowed to stand on a pedestal.

Ugh. Vomit.

What follows is a wide-ranging survey of the (almost) 50 year span between that incident and the book’s publication. Collins uses news articles and interviews to document the big-picture changes through individual lived experiences of American women:

One day coeds were in school just to earn an MRS degree, and then – whoops – there were so many qualified, competitive young women winning the best places in the best colleges that the media worried about what would become of they boys. One year little girls were learning the importance of losing gracefully, and the next they were suing for admission to the Little League. It left many people shaking their heads, wondering what propelled such extraordinary change so rapidly.

This book was a good conversational starting point, to be sure. Collins covers a lot of ground, including the differences between reformers and radicals in the women’s movement, the role of black women caught between movements for their race and for their gender, how women were able to rise in their careers thanks to the availability of lower-class women to help with childcare and housework, and how Gloria Steinem “served as a symbol – whether she liked it or not – that women could be both militant and sexually appealing.”

The movement’s various factions had little in common. The reformers did not want to overthrow the existing system – they wanted to open the gates so that women could become part of it…the leaders of the radical wing of the women’s movement wanted to go much farther than simply leveling the playing field when it came to things like job opportunities. They were going to examine everything about American womanhood…they intended to figure out what had kept their sex in such a secondary role…If you could connect all the dots and examine the patterns, you could identify the patriarchal forces that were keeping women down.

Mostly, this book left me wanting more. Of course, that’s not so much a statement on the book as it is a statement on 2016 society, folks.

One piece of history that seems to have been lost at some point, was that in “in the early 70’s, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives actually passed legislation that would make child care available to every family that wanted it.” Huh. Did you know that? However, it was vetoed by Nixon – in a move that surprised many – and we’ve never had that kind of support again.

So in a world where women have certainly earned a seat at the table in schools and corporations and politics, there’s still a relegating to “women’s issues” things like healthcare and maternity leave and education and childcare, as women are left to solve those problems on their own.

When the young activists of the ‘60s and ‘70s had imagined what life would be like for the liberated woman…they did truly believe that the structure of society would change to accommodate their new ways of living. They thought the humanistic corporations of the future would offer flexible schedules so both the husband and wife would be able to pursue success on the job while having time to take care of the responsibilities at home. They expected that men would automatically do their share of household chores. And they believed the government would start providing early child care the same way it provided public education. They had not considered the possibility that society might remain pretty much the same as always, and simply open the door for women to join the race for success while taking care of their private lives as best they could.

I’ve paid close attention to opportunities for women in America since 2nd grade, when my mother called out my teacher for saying that the girls in our class can grow up to be mothers. “Of course they can. Mothers and what? Or did you also tell the boys they can grow up to be fathers, full stop?” I’m paraphrasing here, but the story is definitely a true fact. Anyway, for being in-tune with the topic, I did learn a few new things and new perspectives from this book. I’m glad I read it, but it’s not going to go down as an oft-quoted favorite.

Reading this general overview reminded me of some more topic-specific reads I’d like to get into.

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights (link to Shannon’s review on River City Reading)

The Birth of the Pill (my sister’s review)

Notorious RBG (my sister’s review)

Bad Feminist (my sister’s review)

Anything else you would add to this list?

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Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Fictional Couples

Today for a Valentine’s themed Top Ten Tuesday from The Broke and the Bookish I present to you:

My Top Ten Fictional Couples

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Pic from the BBC

  1. Elizabeth and Darcy of Pride & Prejudice 
  2. Finnikin and Isaboe and of course Froi and Quintana of the Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta
  3. Ron and Hermione of Harry Potter 
  4. Lou Clark and Will Traynor, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes 
  5. Sybella and Beast, Dark Triumph, Robin LaFevers
  6. Georgia and Shaun Mason, The Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant (ok sort of strange but I don’t care)
  7. Sydney and Adrian, Richelle Mead, Bloodlines
  8. Miles & Henrietta, The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig (The cutest of all the series!)
  9. Cormoran Strike and Robin, The Cuckoo’s Calling etc by Robert Galbraith  (THIS HAS TO HAPPEN. They are meant to be)
  10. Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy, Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding (and never will I ever read you Bridget Jones #3 NEVER!)

What’s on your Valentine’s List?  Or who is your #1 fictional couple?

 

 

 

Review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Michael Chabon
Published 2000 by Picador USA
639 Pages

 


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I didn’t know very much about The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay when I added it to my 2015 TBR Challenge List, other than it had something to do with comic books. The novel is divided into 6 parts, each one adding a layer of richness to the story of two Jewish cousins, and the rise and fall of their comics empire.

At the outset, teenage Joseph Kavalier is living in pre-WWII Prague, with his family’s hopes pinned on sending him to start a new life with relatives in New York. The first of the many layers of storytelling is Joe’s escape, involving his magic teacher and the Golem of Prague. At this point, I was all-in for wherever Chabon was going to take the story. (Thanks in part to The Golem and the Jinni for kicking off my fascination with golems.) Joe makes it to New York, and meets his cousin Sammy, who suffered in childhood from polio and an absentee father. Sammy’s dreams coupled with Joe’s artistic talent lead to great things – as well as terrible things – for the cousins.

Scrolling through the Goodreads reviews for this Pulitzer Prize winning novel, I see comments that are all across the board. Not every book is for everyone, but here’s my two cents: I’m not into comics in general, and there is a definite shortage of female characters with agency in this book, but neither of these things diminished my enjoyment of getting caught up in Joe and Sammy and their successes and heartbreaks.

Nor did Chabon’s immense vocabulary – I was happy to be reading this book on my Kindle, where I was able to look-up a words at least once a chapter. In fact, I wish I had made a list of words as I went, like I found from this reader. I’d be interested in the other 158 words that made his list.

Have you read this one, or any other Michael Chabon books?

Rosa shook her head. It seemed to be her destiny to live among men whose solutions were invariably more complicated or extreme than the problems they were intended to solve.

 

2016 TBR Challenge Review: The Valley of the Dolls

The Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Sussan

Paperback, 448 pages

First published 1966

Source: Library

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Dolls: red or black; capsules or tablets; washed down with vodka or swallowed straight—for Anne, Neely, and Jennifer, it doesn’t matter, as long as the pill bottle is within easy reach. These three women become best friends when they are young and struggling in New York City and then climb to the top of the entertainment industry—only to find that there is no place left to go but down—into the Valley of the Dolls.

Oh my goodness this book!  

I expected a good trashy read and this book definitely begins as that.  Starlets and sex, movie stars and affairs!  I didn’t expect this book to evoke a real connection to the characters and so many emotions!  I was up and down and hopeful and crushed and then the cycle would begin again.  Addiction, infidelity, sexism and the ruin caused by celebrity – this book got heavy!

Anne, Neely and Jennifer – my heart broke a bit when those dolls appeared, knowing their individual paths might to go into the bottles, but I absolutely did not expect their paths to vary so much.  The Valley of the Dolls left me thinking about how far women can go for love and how little we love ourselves.   

This is the 50th anniversary of publication and I think this is a book that holds up to the years.  I’m already pushing it on my friends (watch out Holly)!

Now I have to see the movie!  

Review: The Language of Secrets

The Language of Secrets, Ausma Zehanat Khan

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published: February 2nd 2016 by Minotaur Books

Source: Goodreads giveaway

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Detective Esa Khattak heads up Canada’s Community Policing Section, which handles minority-sensitive cases across all levels of law enforcement. Khattak is still under scrutiny for his last case, so he’s surprised when INSET, Canada’s federal intelligence agency, calls him in on another potentially hot button issue. For months, INSET has been investigating a local terrorist cell which is planning an attack on New Year’s Day. INSET had an informant, Mohsin Dar, undercover inside the cell. But now, just weeks before the attack, Mohsin has been murdered at the group’s training camp deep in the woods.

INSET wants Khattak to give the appearance of investigating Mohsin’s death, and then to bury the lead. They can’t risk exposing their operation, or Mohsin’s role in it. But Khattak used to know Mohsin, and he knows he can’t just let this murder slide. So Khattak sends his partner, Detective Rachel Getty, undercover into the small-town mosque which houses the terrorist cell. As Rachel tentatively reaches out into the unfamiliar world of Islam, and begins developing relationships with the people of the mosque and the terrorist cell within it, the potential reasons for Mohsin’s murder only seem to multiply, from the political and ideological to the intensely personal.

I was blown away last year by Ausma Zehanat Khan’s debut, The Unquiet Dead.  I can’t think of another mystery that had me so caught up in the plot and also left me in tears.  So I was very excited to start her next book about Detectives Khattak and Getty.  A Muslim police officer investigating in a mosque for a murder suspect – while there is also a terrorism investigation happening.  Sounds almost as intense as Khan’s last book about a Balkan war criminal sneaking into Canada and ending up murdered.  Khattak is so different than a basic murder cop you might read about – he has so many layers and his story as I know it so far is fascinating.   There is so much beauty to Islam and I really liked getting Khattak’s interpretation of his faith – especially interesting juxtaposed with a suspected violent extremist.  

Again I was caught up until the very end of this book as to who the actual murderer was and it was no one I suspected!   I was so sure I knew what had happened but Khan definitely led me down the wrong path.  I like how Khattak and Getty work together, and I will definitely hope for a 3rd book with more about Rachel again.  Here we had much more of Esa and his family which was great, but I would have liked both of them.  

I might have been better served by rereading the Unquiet Dead before starting The Language of Secrets.  There are references to the previous case and the fallout it caused – so while this works as a stand alone I would recommend starting with book one.  While Rachel Getty is definitely a lighter foil to her partner she’s not really so light herself.  These are pretty heavy books overall.  The dramatic past between Esa and his fellow police is plot relevant, but also felt like it bogged the flow down at times.  That is what kept this from being a 5 star read for me.  

This cover fits so well and is totally creeping me out when I look at it now that I’ve finished. This is a perfect match for this mystery – it was creepy and dark!  

4 stars!

Thank you Minotaur Books and Goodreads for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Library Checkout: January 2016

Seriously, I have library issues.  Thanks Shannon for starting this check-in and making me face my addiction!

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Two December books worth noting!

  • Manners & Mutiny by Gail Carriger  (great ending to this series! and I am totally going to miss the covers. Still not sure about steampunk)
  • Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff – WOW.  Definitely a book I’m still thinking about

January

Checked out and Read:

  • Blood Kiss by JR Ward
  • A Monstrous Regiment of Women (Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes #2) by Laurie King
  • Lumberjanes Volume #1 Beware the Holy Kitten by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen
  • The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
  • Hedgehugs by Steve Wilson (If you have kids get this for Valentine’s! Hedgehogs who hug – could it be cuter?!)
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • Breaking Bad Season 3 (Holy S&%T.  We’re only halfway through. There’s a library fine in my future)
  • Concealed in Death JD Robb (I’m all out of order and its messing me up!)

Returned Unread

  • The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
  • Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Still on my Bookshelf

  • Ms. Marvel Volume 1 by  G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona
  • Nil by Lynne Matson
  • Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
  • Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt (Next up for sure!)
  • DVD of This Is Where I Leave You (I loved this book!)
  • Festive in Death by JD Robb
  • Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Sussan
  • Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber, MD.  (Sigh.)
  • Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 (any opinions on these books?  Babycakes loves the movies. Debating requesting a book)
  • Jurassic World DVD
  • The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
  • Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood (2016 TBR I will own you!)
  • Art Institute of Chicago pass – (my favorite museum in the world!)

On Hold

  • Lady French Toast and Sir Pancake by Josh Funk
  • Breaking Bad Season 4
  • The Radiant Road by Katherine Catmull
  • After the Crash by Michel Bussi
  • Obsession in Death JD Robb
  • Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed – I think Holly and Eva have convinced me to take this off the list and just buy the damn book already
  • My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
  • My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
  • The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
  • Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

What do you have from the library this month?  What should I put on hold when I break down and buy Tiny Beautiful Things?

Review: The Gracekeepers

The Gracekeepers, Kirsty Logan

Hardcover, 320 pages

Published May 19th 2015 by Crown

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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As a Gracekeeper, Callanish administers shoreside burials, sending the dead to their final resting place deep in the depths of the ocean. Alone on her island, she has exiled herself to a life of tending watery graves as penance for a long-ago mistake that still haunts her. Meanwhile, North works as a circus performer with the Excalibur, a floating troupe of acrobats, clowns, dancers, and trainers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance.

In a world divided between those inhabiting the mainland (“landlockers”) and those who float on the sea (“damplings”), loneliness has become a way of life for North and Callanish, until a sudden storm offshore brings change to both their lives–offering them a new understanding of the world they live in and the consequences of the past, while restoring hope in an unexpected future.

This was a very strange book.  It was I think a future on Earth in which water has taken over most of the world.  We have the damplings who live on boats vs. the landlockers who live on what islands are left or what they can build out from those islands.  North dances with her bear on a circus boat and Callanish is a Gracekeeper.  If this had been a story just about the Gracekeepers I might have been into it.  The Gracekeepers perform ritualistic burials at sea for the damplings – this was still odd but kind of beautiful.  I think more worldbuilding in the beginning might have set me up to enjoy this book more.  I felt like I was just dumped onto a boat without enough perspective.

North was born to circus life, while Callanish chose to leave her island and live in a hut at the equator to perform restings.  What exactly brought Callanish to this decision was never totally laid out which frustrated me.  North’s path seems fraught with danger and I read with a feeling of dread throughout.  Oddly enough that’s what kept me reading, but that really didn’t pay off for me.  I knew something terrible would happen, I just thought something amazing could still come from it.  The writing was beautiful at times, but this book was just not for me.  All around I just would have liked more – what was given of each character’s story could have had so much more depth and too many questions were left unanswered.

The sea was an endless battlefield, and the deeper you went the worse it got, because everything that died had nowhere to go but down.  In its darkest depths, the sea was nothing but an endless rain of bone, teeth, scales and flesh.

2 stars

Thank you Crown and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

All quotes taken from an unfinished copy in advance of publication.