Katie Heaney’s Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date first came on my radar towards the end of 2014; it was a finalist for the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards in the humor category. By the age of 25, Heaney has had a lot of things: college degrees, a social life, general happiness…but no boyfriend. Ever (and not for lack of trying). The book’s subtitle is extremely misleading — she’s gone on plenty of dates, makeout sessions included, and was even in the unfortunate position of having of one potential boyfriend who kept stringing her along without committing — but Heaney has never been serious enough with anyone to consider having sex with them. Hers is a book about social and emotional awkwardness; her friends are always several steps ahead of her. They seem to intuitively know all of the rules.
At 35, Nicole Hardy was in a different place entirely. She was raised to be devoutly Mormon, and as a woman who had not yet married, she had also never had sex. Unlike Never Have I Ever, Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin grapples with some of life’s bigger questions, especially those relating to deeply held religious beliefs. Unlike Heaney, Hardy has dated. Quite a bit, in fact. The fact that she had to abstain from sex until marriage was never a question, but she did acknowledge her desires and seek out information. She even dated outside her religion, something that put her partially at odds with her faith (if she wanted to get married in a temple — which she did — she’d have to marry another Mormon). For a long time, especially in her twenties, she thought she could wait. As her twenties became her thirties, her natural sexual desires grew stronger, and she remained unmarried, that religiously-mandated waiting game started to become unbearable.
For all intents and purposes, these are two middle-class white women who both seem to have come from fairly stable middle-class backgrounds. They’re each dealing with different subject matter but are similar in that they’re late bloomers, so to speak, in one area of life that’s important to them.
But oh, what a difference a decade and some actual life experience makes.
Today marks the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade; before that, illegal abortions claimed the lives or the fertility of thousands of women around the United States. But though abortion has been safe and legal for decades, the battle over abortion access wages on. In Texas, for instance, there were 41 clinics providing abortion services. After the Texas legislature pushed the abortion omnibus through, we now only have 17, and most of those are only open pending an appeal currently in court; that decision is expected within the coming few months.
In Pro, Katha Pollitt puts her foot down and says enough is enough. All too often, because of pro-choice complacency or weak messaging or whatever, anti-choice narratives have shaped the abortion debate. The debate is all about the hypothetical baby, even though two-thirds of all abortions happen before the eight-week mark of pregnancy (the embryo stage). Women’s voices are only valid if they say they regret abortion — the scientifically refuted Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome (PAS) is often brought up to scare and shame people — while those who are vocal about their abortions bringing them emotional or financial relief are dismissed (they’re in denial but will experience PAS eventually, you know).
In her introduction, Pollitt writes of pro-choice complacency:
For many years, pundits dismissed the notion that abortion would ever be significantly restricted, and mocked as Chicken Littles pro-choicers who warned that both rights and access were at risk, and contraception, too. The conventional wisdom help the Republican Party would not risk waking the sleeping giant that is the middle-of-the-road more-or-less-pro-choice voter. Now we’re seeing the Chicken Littles were right. Where is that giant?…It’s the millions of pro-choice Americans who are so far uninvolved (and still complacent) that will ultimately decide the fate of legal abortion in this country.
It’s past time for the giant to rise.
Since I seem to have been living under a rock these past few months, I heard about Foxcatcher The Book about a month before I heard about Foxcatcher The Movie. And for some reason, even though I tend to stay far, far away from the true crime genre — I seriously went out on a limb here — the book grabbed my attention. Then I saw the trailer for the movie, which sealed the deal: I was interested.
In January 1996, millionaire John du Pont shot and murdered Olympic gold medalist Dave Schultz, who worked and trained at the facilities on du Pont’s family farm, Foxcatcher. Du Pont then holed himself up at the farm held police at bay for two days before surrendering. The book is written by Dave’s brother, Mark, who is also an Olympic gold medal winner who once worked and trained at Foxcatcher; he was there to witness many of du Pont’s dark moods.
According to Schultz, du Pont was “a loser” who was always high and constantly needed people to like him. He had once aspired to be an Olympian himself but didn’t have the talent for it, so he threw his money around to buy recognition in the form of buildings named after him, and eventually, a team of elite athletes of that he could gather at his farm and pretend to be in charge of. Enter Mark Schultz, who, like many champion wrestlers, had plenty of awards but no financial backing. He was living in poverty with no insurance, and when an offer came to coach and train at Foxcatcher — where he was supposed to be left on his own — he couldn’t pass it up.
I took French in high school. I took French in college, and my professor was actually French. I love French movies, I have a Paris-themed umbrella, I have a weakness for memoirs in which women drop everything and move to France — Je suis jaloux! — and I hope to be reincarnated as a classy, scarf-wearing Parisian in my next life. I planned the last part of my trip to Europe this past summer around being in Paris for Bastille Day, and I practiced my rusty French religiously for about an hour each night before jetting off. I knew my French would suck, but I at least figured I’d be able to bust out a few phrases without making a fool of myself.
And what happened?
I spoke English (or, in one instance, I panicked and blurted out Spanish…which, mind you, doesn’t even happen back home).
So I could completely relate to William Alexander’s plight: he fantasizes about moving to France and being accepted as one of them, but he can’t even speak the language. He’s determined to learn it, but there are numerous roadblocks. The biggest one is his age; in his late fifties, his far from the ideal age to be learning a new language (about fifty years too far, according to the experts). He throws himself into the language anyway, completing hours upon hours of Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, language meetups, immersion courses, a French PBS series, and social media encounters with French people, not to mention actual trips to France.
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, Karen Abbott’s latest nonfiction work, tells the story of four women — Elizabeth Van Lew and Emma Edmonds, Belle Boyd, Rose O’Neal Greenhow — who refused to sit idly by and watch the Civil War take its toll. There was little that women could do those days in any official capacity, but each of the women featured in this book, as well as several of their female servants, found a way to actively support their side.
In the Yankees’ corner, the wealthy and well-connected Elizabeth Van Lew was a Union sympathizer living in Confederate territory. She and her brother were abolitionists who treated their servants well and even sent one of them, Mary Jane, off to be formally educated in the North. By orchestrating a well-informed spy ring and finding Mary Jane work in Jefferson and Varina Davis’s home, Van Lew was able to send valuable information to the Union.
Emma Edmonds came from a much more humble background, escaping her abusive father by running away and disguising herself as a man. As Frank Thompson, she enlisted in the Union army, mostly working as a medic, but eventually also working as a spy and a messenger. She saw battle, and save for two confidants, had to keep her true identity a secret; plenty of women posed as male soldiers in order to serve their country and many fought in battle; however, women who were discovered were treated as little more than prostitutes and were cast out in shame. It wasn’t until old injuries flared up in her later years that Emma decided to come clean about her identity; she fought for the pension that male veterans took for granted.