Reading Challenge: Being Female

I am writing this post a month before it will be published at 730 pm with a beer after my son was sent to bed record early due to his repeatedly poor behavior at daycare.

I have been trying to form my comments on the three books I am talking about in this post for days and maybe beer, defeat and ire will help give a narrative shape to the reading challenge books about being female.

A Book Set in the Middle East (BookRiot):

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Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi

I don’t know what it is about the explosion of memoirs this year in my reading, especially after barely reading them at all. I have read Running With Scissors and The Glass Castle, both haunting and somewhat traumatizing recollections of unstructured parenting, and if they didn’t turn me off to the genre, maybe I have a future in enjoying memoirs.  This did not even have to be a memoir and it won out over other Middle East books (my third this year but the other two had other categories).

The narrator copes with the oppressive changes to her life as an educated woman through reading.  Through wars and scary new laws, she reads, talks intelligently about books, and gathers women together to talk about books as well as their lives in the ways women all over the world are the same: dealing with identity, self-expression, finding and keeping love, raising kids.  The book discusses the political activities of Iran in a macro as well as a micro view.  As an educated woman myself, I can respect her journey and remember to treasure my own freedoms in this country.  And although one need not have read Lolita to appreciate the discussion of the novel in the book, I want to reread it now.

A Book About or Written By a Transgender Person (BookRiot):

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Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

One has to be in the right mood to read Eugenides.  In all the writing advice I troll on the internet (and I am always trolling the internet for writing advice.  Some of it I even invite into my inbox) an oft shared gem is that there need not be too much backstory  revealed in the plot.  One should write out backstories, something I have been doing for the novel I am slowly hobbling into being, but copious backstory slows the action and disconnects the reader.  (Incidentally, that is why I kept the backstory of this post succinct:  all you need to know is the impetus of motherhood and La Cerveza Mas Fina to get me in front of the laptop.)  Eugenides, however, is such a master that he is untouched by this basic tenet of a gripping novel.  This book rides through half the story before the main character, who is intersex (I know, not really transgender, but 500 + pages later I am counting it as a book involving gender identity struggle/confusion) and his carnival ride of identity confusion is really tackled.  What did it mean to be a female in upper middle class mid century America, and then how was it different to be male? And to be an immigrant making ones way?  All the books in this post define female in a certain time and place, and this one looks at what both genders possibly mean.  When in this day and age they mean less and less.

Two other thoughts: one, I am disturbed when I read about incest and this is the second book I have read this year dealing with incest and it’s fabled consequences.  It is not as rampant as it was in One Hundred Years of Solitude, but in this book, the consequences, a person born with male and female genitalia, although he was XY, comes into being.  No iguana tails, just more genitalia and confusion than one usually bargains for. I might read more memoirs but I can’t say the same for stories involving incest.  Has not made me more incest-friendly. And second, I would like to know how Eugenides knows about being female.  In both this and The Virgin Suicides he describes what it is like to live in a woman’s body and experience her pattern of emotions.  He writes about boys, too, but I don’t think I could write about living in a male body so well, despite my education and having treated boys and I think have a passable idea of their frame of mind.

A brief third thought:  Don’t know if I will make it to The Marriage Plot.  If I want more long winded storytelling goodness I am going to wander into some more of John Irving.  The reviewers for The Marriage Plot make it sound dry and pretentious.  I imagine I will like Cider House Rules more.

A New York Times Bestseller (Popsugar):

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The Girls, Emma Cline

This one was all over in front of my face and I was shocked when I snagged it on a limited time price reduction.  All the critics were right when they comment that this book is more about being a teen girl in the late sixties than it is about the ranch and the murder that hangs over your head as the plot unwinds.  You know something terrible was done by common, if unmoored, people, and we all want to know how such things happen, but it is the intense discomfort of being the narrator that stands out.  Not the brief flashes of carnage. That is really what this is about. And, like in Middlesex, there are girls in love with girls.  Romantic love with girls.  In Eugenides the male character falls in love with a girl before he knows he’s actually a man, so it can pass as same sex.  Anywhoodle.  Cline’s prose is riddled with those powerful metaphors than surprise you with their truth. I started to stall out halfway through for reads less depressing and complex.  I wandered into some of the books I posted about last month before I read The Girls through to its conclusion of near misses and vague renown.  I needed some guilty pleasures to break up this book’s intense sadness and loneliness.  The Girls is wildly intense and I predict will win something.  Books I tend to need breaks from tend to be the shining stars, and I get that, but we need the books for breaks, too.  I vacillate between wanting to write a big star or a guilty pleasure, and then I think, I just want to write something that someone in the world wants to read.  I can’t be Cline or Nafisi or Eugenides, because they are already taken.

More women pushing boundaries and defining their worlds, I know.  I can’t help myself.  All these books were just too good.

The blitz to finish my challenges in the next 8 weeks presses on.

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