To say that Rebecca Solnit’s last collection of feminist essays was a success would be an understatement; Men Explain Things To Me was a national bestseller, and I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone in my feminist circles who hasn’t read at least one of the essays in the collection (namely, the title essay). So, I was delighted to learn that Solnit had a new book of feminist essays planned for publication, the contents of which were written within the past few years; I believe they’re all from 2014 on. As such, The Mother of All Questions feels fresh and timely, part of a larger conversation on feminist issues that continues to grow.
Like its predecessor, The Mother of All Questions is a slim book packed with incisive cultural commentary. It’s split into two parts: Silence is Broken and Breaking the Story. The first part begins with Solnit’s newest and longest piece in the collection, “A Short History of Silence,” which explores the damaging roles that silence plays in society. Its opening paragraph immediately had my attention:
Silence is golden, or so I was told when I was young. Later, everything changed. Silence equals death, the queer activists fighting the neglect and repression around AIDS shouted in the streets. Silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the prepressed, the erased, the unheard. It surrounds the scattered islands made up of those allowed to speak and of what can be said and who listens. Silence occurs in many ways for many reasons; each of us has his or her own sea of unspoken words.
Spanning more than 50 pages, the essay goes on to explore silence and masculinity, the silencing of those who have experienced various forms of trauma, and ultimately, the power of speaking out.
Other essays in the collection might seem more familiar. Two of my favorites, “80 Books No Woman Should Read” and “Men Explain Lolita to Me,” were widely read when they were published on Lithub in 2015, and I was pleased to see them republished in this collection because they’re awesome if you’re into discussions about the literary canon.
Whether she’s addressing the motherhood question, taking on rape jokes, or making the case for the inclusion of men in the feminist movement, most of Solnit’s essays are all accessible to a wide audience (a couple skew academic, but even then, I wouldn’t exactly call them inaccessible). I might even go as far as to say that this book is even more accessible than Men Explain Things to Me (but you should read that too). The Mother of All Questions is one of several “buzzy” feminist books that are being published within a small timeframe — one to quite the brouhaha — and frankly, I’m relieved that at least one of the authors I’m known to fangirl over has not let me down.
The Mother of All Questions was published on March 7, 2017 by Harmarket Books.