A little over a year ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. when the oral arguments for Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt were presented before the Supreme Court. I’m a clinic escort at one of the clinics that was central to the case, and after two frustrating years of political ping pong, it felt good to just stand outside the Supreme Court and rally with our people. In the midst of it all, I spotted Dr. Willie Parker nearby, at which point I fangirled hard and ran over to ask to take a selfie with him.
In the reproductive justice world, Dr. Parker has celebrity status. He’s an outspoken black abortion provider in the South, and after being featured in Dawn Porter’s documentary, Trapped — which, by the way, is on Netflix — he became an even more recognizable figure in the fight for abortion access. He’s also an outspoken Christian who applies his religious beliefs as a type of liberation theology towards reproductive justice. It’s a radically different take on what people imagine in regards to abortion clinics and religion (trust me: as a clinic escort, I see and hear the shaming, fire-and-brimstone versions of “Christianity” outside the clinic with relative frequency).
I’m doing Book Riot’s Read Harder 2017 Challenge, and, once again, I’m doing it with a feminist bent. In putting together my feminist book recommendations, I came across a whole bunch of interesting titles that I probably never would have heard of otherwise. That’s how I stumbled across Elissa Shevinsky’s Lean Out: The Struggle for Gender Equality in Tech and Start-Up Culture.
The book is filled with personal essays by cis, trans, and genderqueer women who work in tech and venture capital. Most of the authors are white, but those who are not are very blunt about the added struggles of being a person of color in a field filled with straight white men. A few of the contributors took on high-profile roles within the industry, speaking out on GamerGate, or linking their names to articles addressing sexism in tech. Most, however, are just average people who have decided to come forward and voice their personal experiences with sexual harassment and rape, poverty, sexism, and trying to pave a way for marginalized groups to be heard and valued.
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:
Ayelet Waldman suffered from severe mood swings for years. She went through a lot trying to get a diagnosis — she was even misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder for a few years — and she dutifully participated in therapy and tried almost every medication out there. That worked to varying degrees, but it was all taking a toll on her life and her marriage.
In the midst of this, Waldman heard about an experimental treatment in which people microdose with LSD. At about 10% of a typical dose, people who microdose don’t feel any of LSD’s trippy effects and instead begin to experience…nothing. The doses are too minuscule to cause any discernible mood alteration. And yet, the little research that does exist on microdosing points to its usefulness in treating mood disorders and illnesses like PTSD.
A Really Good Day is part memoir, part investigation on the LSD and drug laws in the United States. Waldman, a self-described nerd and chicken when it comes to breaking the law, chronicles the events that led to her finally receiving a little blue vial of diluted LSD in the mail from “Lewis Carroll.” As a former lawyer who often represented clients accused of drug-related offenses, Waldman had personal experiences with drug laws that gave her book some unique insights.
Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova
Publisher/Year: Algonquin Books, 2016
What it is: Khosrova takes readers around the world to examine the cultural and religious significance of butter. She also looks at the history of butter making and its subsequent commercialization, then turns her focus to contemporary butter artisans. Only about half the book deals with butter’s history; the other half consists of butter-filled recipes.
Why I read it: Because butter is awesome.
What I thought: I’m glad to be alive now and not back in the day when butter sold on the market was filthy and sometimes loaded with rocks to make the butter seem heavier. But in all seriousness, the science behind butter making is really interesting, and Khosrova packs a lot of information into a few chapters without making it too dense. As someone who travels a few times a year, I kind of want to start hitting up butter artisans from now on to see what I’ve been missing out on!
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Publisher/Year: Random House Audio, 2013
Narrators: Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, and 164 others
Length: 7 hours, 25 minutes
What it is: Willie Lincoln died of typhoid fever in 1862. A grief-stricken Abraham Lincoln was said to have entered his son’s crypt in the middle of the night to be alone with him. On the other side, in the Bardo — a Tibetan term that refers to a sort of in-between place between the living and the dead — Willie Lincoln doesn’t understand what’s going on and why his father won’t take him home. Several other people, who are buried in the cemetery and are stuck in the Bardo alongside Willie, are touched. A plan takes shape as to what should happen next.
Why I listened to it: I preordered the audiobook partly because of the hype, but mostly because Nick Offerman and Carrie Brownstein are narrators. I was also curious about how an audiobook with 166 narrators would sound.
What I thought: I know this is an unpopular opinion because everyone raves about George Saunders, but I don’t get the hype. That’s not to say that the book doesn’t have its moments; there were parts that genuinely made me laugh, and there were several parts where the grief is palpable. It’s a unique spin on historical fiction, and I could appreciate what he was trying to do, but I just couldn’t get 100% on board with it. As for the 166 narrators thing, it’s…a lot. I do think that Offerman and Sedaris, whose roles are bigger than everyone else’s, were perfectly cast, though.