Review: ‘The Awakening’ by Kate Chopin

the-awakening-and-selected-storiesI started reading Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” a couple of years ago. Like many books I attempted to read during the semester, I only made it through a few chapters and set it down, never to pick it up again. Thankfully, my roommate had a copy on our bookshelf. No more excuses.

First published in 1899, the novel is a portrait of 28-year-old Edna Pontellier’s abandonment of her family, her seduction, and her awakening to desires and passions that threaten to consume her. It disturbed early critics and the public, leading to its banishment for decades. But not it is hailed as an early vision of women’s emancipation. In her introduction, Marilynne Robinson has this to say:

This seems to me a higher order of feminism than repeating the story of woman as victim … Kate Chopin gives her female protagonist the central role, normally reserved for Man, in meditation on identity and culture, consciousness and art.

The only writing of Chopin’s I had read before was her short story “Desiree’s Baby.” It was one of the short stories we read during junior year English class in high school. Aside from that, I knew very little of Chopin or “The Awakening.” Like many of the books I’ve read for this challenge so far, I saw this book on many lists — i.e. “Books to Read in Your 20s” or “Books Every Young Woman Must Read.” A college professor of mine, when hearing I hadn’t read it yet, told me I needed to (which prompted my failed first attempt.)

A feeling of exultation overtook her, as if some power of significant import had been given her to control the working of her body and her soul. She grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before.

—p. 36

I loved the character of Edna Pontellier. Chopin wrote about her so beautifully, and there were many times when I felt a connection to who she was. She was an outsider in her life — she grew up Protestant in Kentucky and married a Catholic Creole man. Edna doesn’t marry him for love, though she does marry him because of his adoration of her (which never truly fades at any point in the book). She has two children but isn’t a “mother-woman” — her close friend at Grand Isle, Adéle, is (“the embodiment of every womanly grace and charm”).

It is at Grand Isle, where the Pontelliers are for the summer, when Edna’s “awakening” begins. Part of it is her friendship with Robert Lebrun. Another part of it is her friendship with Adéle. But with each chapter I read, I never really got a sense of her “awakening.” Sure, there were slight changes and realizations, but, as Robinson says in her introduction, those gave “a new urgency to old impulses.”

The novel was initially titled “A Solitary Soul,” a fact I wish I had known before I had begun reading. Robinson suggests that it would be a different book if published under that title, and I have to agree. Edna was an outsider in a culture she was not raised in, and she was also raised not to discuss things that trouble her. This she admits to Adéle and Doctor Mandelet.

There were hints that a couple of characters might have been in and overcome the same emotional state as Edna faced. One was Adéle, which gives more understanding to their friendship. Another is Mademoiselle Reisz, the pianist who only seems to like Edna and my favorite character. Edna spends a lot of time with the pianist, especially when returning to New Orleans. True, one of the reasons for her visits is to read letters that Robert sent from Mexico to Reisz. But the other is the way the music affects Edna’s consciousness.

I think this is a novel I will have to read every couple of years. Sections that affected me this time around might be read differently when I’m 28, Edna’s age. Or when I’m 35. Chopin’s writing is so poignant and elegant that I don’t think I’ll ever tire of reading “The Awakening.”

The years that are gone seem like dreams—if one might go on sleeping and dreaming—but to wake up and find—oh! well! perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.

—p. 147

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Review: ‘#GIRLBOSS’ by Sophia Amoruso

Review: ‘#GIRLBOSS’ by Sophia Amoruso

Don’t ever grow up. Don’t become a bore. Don’t ever let the Man get to you. … #GIRLBOSS for life.
—p. 5, Introduction

GIRLBOSS_coverI heard about this book on Pinterest, of all places. I had been pinning various reading lists in preparation for this 50 book challenge, and this was in a list of “Best Books for #GIRLBOSSES.” As a wannabe Miranda Priestly, this definitely appealed to me. I would definitely need some #GIRLBOSS advice. So I put it on hold at the library and anxiously awaited for it to be available.

I’ve said this a lot, but this is definitely one of the books I will be buying for my bookshelves. I’ve highlighted so many phrases in my borrowed Kindle version that I’ll quickly jot down into my journal before my copy disappears completely in four days (or is it three?).

Since graduating from college almost a year ago (!), I’ve been wondering what path to take. Yes, I have a really awesome copy editing job right now but where do I want to be in five years? 10 years? And how do I get there? These are important questions for anyone to ask themselves. The main thing, for me, is to stop doubting myself and what I can do. I think that’s the case for many people, especially women. While I did read Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” I think “#GIRLBOSS” provided quite a bit more helpful information.

“#GIRLBOSS” by Sophio Amoruso is chock full of real-life examples and bits of advice Amoruso learned from building her Nasty Gal business from literally nothing. She never graduated high school and attempted community college. Without any business experience, she started an eBay store for vintage clothes she bought at various thrift stores, Goodwills, etc. That was 2006 and in January 2015, she stepped down as CEO of Nasty Gal.

The energy you’ll spend focusing on someone else’s life is better spent working on your own. Just be your own idol.
—p. 13, Chapter One

While reading “#GIRLBOSS,” I felt as if Amoruso was actually talking to me. Her writing style is very conversational and sections of the chapters are split into small, easy-to-read narratives. Along with Amoruso’s chapters, there are sections from other #GIRLBOSSES offering their own advice: Nasty Gal’s Christina Ferrucci, MPNAILS.com’s Madeline Pool and imboycrazy.com’s Alexi Wasser, to name a few.

Amoruso’s advice isn’t just statements to write on a Post-It note for your mirror (my favorite: “The only thing I smoke is my competition.”) She offers cover letter tips, how to save money, how to ask for a raise and how to run a successful business. And those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head.

I’m really excited to see if Amoruso writes another book, which she hinted at in “#GIRLBOSS” and in a blog post video. Just from reading this book, I can tell Amoruso has a lot of advice left to give. Her story gives hope to all #GIRLBOSSES that they can achieve what they work hard for, no matter what.

You create the world, blink by blink. It is entirely yours to discover and yours to create.
—p. 236

Review: ‘Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage’ by Elizabeth Gilbert

committed_book coverThere were three things that appealed to me about “Committed” by Elizabeth Gilbert.

  1. I’ve read “Eat, Pray, Love” a few times and I really love Gilbert’s writing.
  2. I want to know what happened between her and Felipe ever since I put down “Eat, Pray, Love” (duh).
  3. I, too, am very skeptical about marriage and what it is. Why not read one of my favorite author’s write about it? Logic.

I’m not going to make this into a post on what I don’t understand about the institute of marriage, etc., because that’s a whole other can of worms I don’t really want to get into. My brain always starts to shut down when I start thinking about it or when I see another Facebook friend get engaged.

So it makes sense that I read a whole BOOK about someone trying to come to terms with marriage, right? Right. One of my rules has always been “when in doubt, go to the library,” much like one of my favorite heroines, Hermione.

And Gilbert echoed similar thoughts at the beginning of the book: “It had always been my experience in the past, anyhow, that the more I learned about something, the less it frightened me” (Loc 447, Chapter One).

Much of the book is Gilbert rehashing all of the information and studies and books and people’s stories that she learned about marriage as she traveled around southeast Asia with Felipe.

I’ll catch you up real quick: Liz and Felipe, both divorcees, vowed they wouldn’t marry but that they’d be together. A couple years into their relationship (and after the end of “Eat, Pray, Love”), Felipe decided to sell his house in Bali and move in with Liz, who was living in Philadelphia. The problem was that visas only last 90 days, so he’d have to leave the U.S. for a couple weeks and return to get a new visa. When they were flying into Dallas/Fort Worth, Homeland Security wouldn’t let him into the U.S. The only way for Felipe to be able to stay in the U.S. with a permanent visa would be for him to marry Liz.

*pause for dramatic effect*

So they decided to do what they dreaded most: get married. But there were a lot of hoops to go with in order for that to happen. In the year or so between Felipe getting kicked out and the pair marrying, they traveled across southeast Asia and Liz studiously researched marriage.

Throughout the book, Gilbert weaves the research in with narratives of her travels. She writes about how she met with Hmong women, witnessed a Buddhist monk reading a love letter in a Laos Internet café and stories of her own grandmother and mother.

All of the research she presented I found very interesting. One section in particular was about the two worldviews the Western world has: Greek and Hebrew. She writes that we inherited our ideas about the sanctity of the individual from the Greeks and our sense of justice from Hebrew philosophy. (Note: When Gilbert refers to “Hebrew,” she is referencing the ancient worldview about tribalism, faith, obedience and respect, not Judaism tenets.)

In the Western world, we try to reconcile these two irreconcilable views.

On one hand (the Hebrew hand), we overwhelmingly believe as a nation that marriage should be a lifetime vow, never broken. On the other, Greek, hand, we equally believe that an individual should always have the right to get divorced, for his or her own personal reasons. —Chapter Seven

One other important point I gleaned from this book full of marriage facts is that the institution of marriage is so malleable — Gilbert compares it to Silly Putty. This was something I already had a sense of but reading all of the history she researched, it became more clear.

Gilbert put together an incredibly condensed, simple resource about marriage combined with her own experiences. Her writing voice shines through and like with “Eat, Pray, Love,” you get the sense of what her state of mind was when all of this was happening.

Do I have a change of heart about marriage after reading “Committed”? Nope. Not really. But maybe I’ll try to hash out my thoughts at a later date.

It is not we as individuals, then, who must bend uncomfortably around the institution of marriage; rather, it is the institution of marriage that has to bend uncomfortably around us.

—Chapter Seven

Supporting Women, One Day at a Time

Supporting Women, One Day at a Time

Happy International Women’s Day!

So far, I’ve celebrated by getting up early, going to my favorite Chicago coffeehouse (The Wormhole) and put my “gurl power” playlist on shuffle in Spotify. Right now, I’m scrolling through my Facebook and Twitter feeds to see how many people are mentioning International Women’s Day.

My Twitter feed is, of course, full of #SheInspiresMe, #MakeItHappen and #IWD2015 hashtags. I love seeing all the tweets, whether it’s statistic infographics about the lack of women leaders or the International Women’s Day march in London. And I know I’ll be following along with the #HeforShe Q&A Emma Watson is doing later today.

I don’t know if there was ever a period in my life where I didn’t consider myself a feminist. But there were periods where I kept it on the downlow, so to speak. A lot of it, I think, was due to not truly understanding what feminism was. Plus, the word has been in contention the past year or so in the media (a can of worms I don’t really want to get into).

Feminist: A person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.

—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I’ve been slowly realizing that I cannot not just stay in the background when it comes to feminism like I’ve been doing. I remember a conversation I had with a guy a few years ago where he joked that the pay gap wasn’t even real. He reassured me he was joking, but I was incredulous that he would joke about it.

But feminism is more than solely working to get rid of the pay gap. In the past couple years, I’ve been unsubscribing to “white feminism.” Is there such a thing? Yes, there is.

White feminism is a set of beliefs that allows for the exclusion of issues that specifically affect women of colour. It is “one size-fits all” feminism, where middle class white women are the mould that others must fit.  It is a method of practicing feminism, not an indictment of every individual white feminist, everywhere, always.

— Cate Young, BattyMamzelle

My former view of feminism wasn’t intersectional. It was, as Young puts it, “the feminism obsessed with body hair, and high heels and makeup, and changing your married name.” Every day, I work to correct my thinking to fit the following:

Intersectionality is a framework that must be applied to all social justice work, a frame that recognizes the multiple aspects of identity that enrich our lives and experiences and that compound and complicate oppressions and marginalizations.

“Why Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional,” Everyday Feminism

Starting today, I’m going to be more proactive when it comes to women’s issues. It’s one thing to post articles about the pay gap, lack of women leaders, violence against women, sexism, etc. It’s another to support all women in any way, such as volunteer at a women’s shelter or join an organization that supports women. I’ll be looking at places in Chicago where I can volunteer, bring donations, etc.

If you have any suggestions, comment below or tweet at me, @thebitter20s.

Review: ‘The Color Purple’ by Alice Walker

ColorPurple_coverI wasn’t sure what “The Color Purple” was about when I pulled it off the shelf in the living room. It’s on one of my many to-read lists I have lying around. I figure now was as good a time as any to read it, and I’m glad I did.

“The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker, is about Celie, who lives in Georgia in the 1930s. It’s an epistolic novel, meaning it is written in the form of letters. After having two children by her father and unable to have more, she is forced to marry a man who has children of his own and is a widower. Women who visit her in her new home, including her sister Nettie, tell her she needs to fight.

But I don’t know how to fight. All I know to do is stay alive. (p. 26)

She writes her letters to God, detailing best she can about her life with Mr. ______, how Nettie is gone and probably dead, and her friendship with Shug Avery, the blues singer and her husband’s lover.

The first few letters Celie writes are short, to the point and a bit jarring. She writes about how her father, whom she only refers to as “he” in most of her letters, rapes her, about how she gets big (twice) and how he takes her babies away. Her mother dies in the second letter and by the ninth letter, she’s married to Mr. ______, who’d rather marry Nettie.

Each letter Celie writes becomes longer and more in depth. By the end of the novel, the letters are three to four pages long on average. It’s one thing to have the novel in the first person point of view, but letters written by the narrator are so much more telling to character growth. Celie’s growth as a character is one of the best I’ve read. There’s no mistaking how confident Celie becomes, not only with others but in herself. This is shown especially through her interactions and friendships with various characters, Sofia and Shug Avery in particular. It is her relationship with Shug Avery that Celie truly blossoms.

I wasn’t surprised by Celie’s relationship with Shug Avery in the least. When the book began and throughout the beginning before she met Shug, I wondered if perhaps Celie was asexual. After her relationship with Shug began, it became more clear to me that perhaps she was gray-sexual. It’s all in how you interpret it.

There were so many memorable lines throughout the book, but there was one that stood out to me:

“Sometimes I feel mad at her [Shug Avery]. Feel like I could scratch her hair right off her head. But then I think. Shug got a right to live too. She got a right to look over the world in whatever company she choose. Just cause I love her don’t take away none of her rights. (p. 236, emphasis mine)

Once this book challenge is over, I think I’m going to go back and reread this. It’s such an excellent book, and it should be on everyone’s reading list.

Review: ‘Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead’ by Sheryl Sandberg

lean in_sheryl sandberg_cover“Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg has been on my radar for about a year now. I saw it in a few bookstores and honestly, after hearing how it was a go-to graduation gift, I thought I would’ve been given a copy. As a new addition to the workforce and a woman and a feminist, I figured I should read this sooner rather than later.

“Lean In” is a well-written, eye-opening book about women in the workplace. There were a lot of stats that I was aware of before I read the book, and there were other facts that I had assumed and saw proven.

– In a 2012 McKinsey survey of more than 4,000 employees, 36 percent of men wanted to reach the C-suite while 18 percent of women wanted the same.

– “Millennial women are less likely than millennial men to agree that the statement ‘I aspire to a leadership role in whatever field I ultimately work’ describes them very well.” (Chapter 1)

– When women evaluate themselves in front of other people or in stereotypically male domains, their underestimations of their skills becomes more pronounced. (Chapter 2)

– According to an internal report at Hewlett-Packard, women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed; men apply if they think they meet 60 percent of the criteria. (Chapter 4)

Those are just some of the statistics and facts as I scanned the beginning of the book once more. Are any of them surprising to you?

Sandberg addresses many things about being a woman in the workplace. She talks about negotiations, offering tips of how to better negotiate. She advises that women should sit at the table more and not be afraid to let their voices be heard to their male colleagues; along with that, senior women should encourage junior women to add to the conversation.

There are also a couple chapters devoted to being a mother in the workforce. Though what she discussed and advised doesn’t apply to me, I found the chapters and her advice important. She talks about how many women consider balancing work and family long before they might have a family — women make a lot of small decisions along the way, make accommodations and sacrifices they think is required in order to have a family (Chapter 7). Sandberg also calls on men to be more empowered at home and challenge the gender bias when it comes to raising children.

While I enjoyed reading “Lean In” and found much of her advice useful for my own career, there were two big perspectives left out: women of color and women who are not wealthy. Having more of those perspectives included would have helped round out this book.

There are many who are opposed to different aspects of this book and how Sandberg presented information. I saw a few reviews that call her out on her privilege. Or claim she is saying that women will never be happy unless we occupy every C-suite. But this book starts the conversation on how to tackle the status quo between men and women. Sandberg acknowledges this, and I give her kudos for tackling this issue. I didn’t read it thinking any of her advice was the end-all, be-all like many negative reviewers made it seem like. She, as a woman, is offering her advice and her perspective — you can take it or leave it.

We should strive to resolve our differences quickly, and when we disagree, stay focused on our shared goals. This is not a plea for less debate, but for more constructive debate. (Chapter 11)

Review: ‘Yes Please’ by Amy Poehler

yes please_amy poehler

I love saying “yes” and I love saying “please.” Saying “yes doesn’t mean I don’t know how to say no, and saying “please” doesn’t mean I am waiting for permission. “Yes please” sounds powerful and concise. It’s a response and a request. It is not about being a good girl; it is about being a woman. —xix, “instructions of how to use this book”

You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll nod your head in agreement. You’ll laugh again. You’ll grab your handy-dandy Post-it notes and flag the pages with your favorite quotes and Amy Poehler pearls of wisdom.

You’ll never want to return the book you borrowed to its original owner (sorry, Sarah). Well, at least until you’ve bought your own copy of “Yes Please” (I’m working on it).

I finished reading Amy’s memoir last Thursday, and it’s now Tuesday night. I would’ve written this review when I finished the last page like the other books, but I either didn’t know how to write the words or was just still crying about the “Parks and Recreation” chapter. I’m going to be such a mess during the finale. But I digress.

There were so many things I loved about reading “Yes Please.” I had to hold in my laughter at some of Amy’s stories as I was riding the Blue Line home from work. I couldn’t wait to turn the page and see which scrapbook element would be next. A handwritten list of reasons to cry on an airplane? Part of a Parks and Rec scene? A song she wrote when she was seven?

Each chapter was a roller coaster and an entire stream of thought. There were parts of certain chapters (i.e., “sorry, sorry, sorry”) where you could tell Amy did not want to admit certain things about the story. She’d go off and list famous actor friends of hers hoping to distract the reader. She even admits it. Now, here is where, as an editor, I would consider deleting the tangent and leading the reader right into the scary part. But leaving it in gives the reader the sense that you’re in the room with Amy as she’s telling you her story.

One chapter I really loved was “plain girl vs. the demon.” In it, Amy talks about the demons we face when we look in the mirror. She talks about how the demon (aka ourselves with a Darth Vader voice) comes and goes; you think you’re OK when WHAM! The demon returns. There was one section of the chapter I really loved:

But I was eventually okay. And you will be okay too. Here’s why. I had already made a decision early on that I would be a plain girl with tons of personality, and accepting it made everything a lot easier. If you are lucky, there is a moment in your life when you have some say as to what your currency is going to be. I decided early on it was not going to be my looks. … Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier. — pg 21-22, “plain girl vs. the demon”

I think I might open Illustrator and InDesign and create a poster of those last three sentences. Or just write it on a sticky note to put on my mirror.

There is one thing about this memoir that I had been warned about: Amy lets you know how much she hates writing this book. Well, writing a book in general. Her preface is solely about writing and how much is sucks. There are moments in the first section of the book where she’ll reference back to how much she hates writing. I knew this going into the book.

I thought I would find it as equally annoying, but I didn’t. I don’t think it would’ve been true to Amy (or at least, what I know of her now that I’ve read her memoir) if it was left out. And I can relate to her on some level.

No one tells the truth about writing a book. Authors pretend their stories were always shiny perfect and just waiting to be written. The truth is, writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not. Even I have lied about writing. I have told people that writing this book has been like brushing away dirt from a fossil. What a load of shit. It has been like hacking away at a freezer with a screwdriver. —x, “writing is hard: a preface”

Writing sucks. It’s not something that just magically flows from your brain through your fingertips into Microsoft Word. It took me forever to write this review (taking a chapter of Amy’s book, I guess). If you think you’ll be annoyed with it, skip the preface if you think you need to.

Again, this is another memoir to add to my shelf of “What Every Girl Needs to Read” along with “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me” and “Bossypants.” Excuse me while I add buying this book into my budget for next month.

Growing Up Ginger

3-year-old Frances (1995)
3-year-old Frances (1995)

I used to want blond hair.

Me, with the absolutely beautiful and gorgeous red hair. Blonde. Can you picture it?

In the safety of my room, my red hair was amazing. I was the reincarnation of Ariel or Elizabeth I. But outside of my room was a different story.

I was sick of grocery store clerks and old women telling me, “I wish I had your hair color!” Uh, no. You don’t. Why would you want a hair color that no one in your class had?

Having red hair guaranteed you’d stand out in photos, in class — hell, you stood out in general no matter the situation. There were barely five gingers, including me, in my high school graduating class. One girl added so many highlights that her hair wasn’t even red any more.

Red hair meant pasty, pale skin that sunburns in less than 30 minutes outside without sunscreen (true story). It meant that every time (EVERY TIME) you felt uncomfortable in a situation, your face turned a bright pink. Then people would point out how pink your face was. Thanks, person I’m conversing with. I didn’t know my face was turning pink. Really.

It also meant that you were automatically paired off with the only other ginger in your class, whether you asked for it or not. In first grade, there was a boy in my class who had dark red hair. So who did I hang out with during recess? This boy. Then he started writing me love notes. End of friendship. For the longest time, I thought no non-gingers would date me because of my hair color (I laugh hysterically about that now).

Just when I was getting more comfortable with having red hair, South Park aired its “Ginger Kids” episode. So not only did I have to worry about standing out in any crowd, getting sunburned at the drop of a hat and blushing like crazy, I didn’t have a soul? Great. Wonderful way to begin junior high.

I became more conscious of my freckles. There was a time when I enjoyed getting freckles; it meant I was outside repeatedly for extended periods of time without getting terribly sunburnt. Point for Frances. But now, I saw it as a blemish. Some sort of defect.

I can’t count how many times I’ve argued with people about how my hair isn’t orange. Trust me, I’ve seen orange hair and my hair is not it. I’ve corrected people on the “Carrot Top” nickname. Thank god I’ve never been called anything worse than “Red” or “Carrot Top,” at least to my face.

Another argument … ahem, discussion … I’ve gotten into is which hair color has the worst stereotypes — gingers or blondes? Nearly everyone I’ve talked to about which is worse says being called a “dumb blonde” is way worse than, for example, being called a “soulless ginger.”

Then, when I accepted my hair color, I still wasn’t happy with it. It wasn’t red enough, for goodness sakes. So I dyed it a darker red, hoping to achieve some sort of Ariel look. There are still days, few and far between, when I think my hair color isn’t ginger enough.

Where am I going with this?

Young girls (and boys) shouldn’t grow up hating their hair color. At least, because of harmful stereotypes or stigmas. I, at four years old, should not have been wishing for blond hair solely so I could fit in with my peers. I should have wished for blond hair because I loved the color and thought I could rock it.

If I felt this way just because of my hair color, I cannot imagine what people with more noticeable, unchangeable features feel like when they are singled out and made to feel different.

No one should feel ashamed of what they look like. Period. Especially at four or five years old.