I’ve never been a huge TV watcher, but I definitely have always a roster of shows that I’ve dedicated myself to at any given time. I’m also in the NO SPOILERS EVER camp, so I tend to avoid television and movie reviews and stay off social media if a popular show — say, Game of Thrones and its wretched final season — airs before I can watch.
That said, I’ve been a fan of Emily Nussbaum’s Pulitzer Prize-winning culture critiques for as long as I can remember. I loved reading her Approval Matrix in New York magazine, back when I read it religiously in college. And even though I’ve become more of a lurker than an active tweeter, her Twitter feed remains one of my favorites. I was thrilled to learn that this book, a collection of both new and previously published essays, was coming out.
In her opening, Nussbaum writes about how she fell in love with television — Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to be exact — back before the concept of “prestige TV,” when people could still sniff their nose at television and get away with calling it lowbrow, inferior entertainment. It was before The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, before the concept of showrunners. Nussbaum took it all seriously, interacting with it intellectually, miffed that shows like Buffy and Sex and the City — women’s TV — never got their due credit as Important Television Shows™ began earning critical acclaim.
I received an advance copy This Will Be My Undoing a couple of months ago, but then life happened and I didn’t get a chance to dive in until the week it went on sale. Unbeknownst to me, at the same time, there was a bit of a storm brewing on Twitter over some of the book’s excerpts.
The book is a collection of essays about the author’s experiences living as a black woman in America. The first chapter is the thing that seems to be getting everyone up in arms. Jerkins, seeing all the popular white cheerleaders around her and wanting to attain that status, admits to wanting to be white when she was growing up. Fine, but then she goes on a cringe-worthy confession of the — shall we say, uncharitable — thoughts she had towards an early bully of hers. In her mind back then, the bully was the wrong kind of black girl, whereas Jerkins was a light-skinned, smart, go-getting, educated, wannabe-white black girl:
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:
In 1963, James Baldwin published The Fire Next Time, a book about race in America. More than half a century later, Jesmyn Ward soberly reflects in her introduction, “It is as if we have reentered the past and are living in a second Nadir: It seems the rate of police killings now surpasses the rate of lynchings during the worst decades of the Jim Crow era. There was a lynching every four days in the early decades of the twentieth century. It’s been estimated that an African American is now killed by police every two to three days.”
In The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, contributors including Edwidge Danticat, Kiese Laymon, Daniel José Older, Claudia Rankine, and Isabel Wilkerson pick up where Baldwin’s book left off. Most of the essays look to the past, several consider the present, and a couple look to the future. Considering we’re living in a period where it’s still considered radical to insist that black lives matter, the publication of this collection couldn’t be more timely.