Lollygagger’s #CBR5 Review #18: I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids by Jen Kirkman

Full disclosure: when I first heard about this book I got annoyed for two reasons. The first was jealousy – “Oh man why did she get to write this book? I so could have written this book. Damn it.” The second was annoyance at the title – saying “I Can Barely Take Care of Myself” seems to play right into the stereotypes so many of those with children have about us childfree folks. I can take care of myself just fine and I STILL don’t want children. But as the author so kindly reminded me herself on twitter when I made such a comment, you really shouldn’t judge a book by its title.

Well, I’m no longer annoyed by the fact that she wrote this book before I could – because is it GOOD. Ms. Kirkman (a writer for Chelsea Lately) did a much better job with this material than I could have done. The book feels honest, self-aware and not obnoxious. Of course I’m probably her target audience (happily committed to the childfree life) and I’m not sure what the Eileens of the world (Chapter 11 – man I’ve met many of them) will think of it. But screw that – who cares? It’s nice to read a book that doesn’t assume that every woman in her 30s without kids is just waiting to get pregnant.

I’m still annoyed at the title a bit to be honest, just because even though she spends a lot of time explaining why she really wouldn’t be the best parent, and even though this is (cringe) her truth, it’s still sort of frustrating that such an awesome book’s first impression is “No, you’re totally right, people who don’t want children are a little broken and just recognize that we aren’t as good at life as you parents are.” But that won’t keep me from recommending the content to all my friends (the ones with kids and the ones without).

The book gives us some of Ms. Kirkman’s background, although it doesn’t feel like a full-on memoir. I bought the book on Thursday and read about 40 pages. I wasn’t able to pick it up again until today (Sunday), and I basically read through the last 160 pages in one sitting. While the early chapters were interesting, she really gets into the meat of the different ways childfree folks find themselves in uncomfortable situations. So many people say (sometimes in the comments of articles Ms. Kirkman herself has written) ‘why do you non-reproducers feel the need to talk about your choice?’ We really, really don’t. But because (some, many, a lot of) people won’t accept no for an answer, we’re repeatedly ‘defending’ a position that is really only our (and our partner’s, if relevant) business. Sometimes it’s easier to just preemptively strike.

I don’t want to take away from the joy of any potential readers by spoiling too many of the great insights Ms. Kirkman shares, but here’s one of my favorites. She spends the better part of one chapter talking through this idea that having a child somehow makes someone selfless (the opposite of us selfish childfree folks) and this whole “I really didn’t know the meaning of life until I had a child” concept. I can’t do it justice here but she basically points out that all of these parents making those claims are essentially suggesting that they had no moral compass until they reproduced, which – huh. Interesting thing to admit. She also points out that many childfree folks are contributing to society in a selfless and meaningful way, such as contributing to charity and doing all sorts of things that people with young children may not have the time to do.

She also takes on such fun responses to “I’m not having children” as “But you’d be such a good mother!” and “It’s all worth it!” while addressing how amazingly insulting it is for some people to just assume they know someone better than they know themselves (the “you just think you don’t want kids” condescension). The liberties people take when they hear ‘no’ in response to ‘are you having children’ is mind-boggling, and Ms. Kirkman does a pretty great job in the Eileen chapter of pointing out how horrible and violated it can make us childfree folks feel. We actually DON’T owe anyone an explanation, and yet somehow we always end up having to defend our choices to people at cocktail parties and weddings even if we really would rather be talking about literally anything else. We also really don’t like being forced to essentially lie to try to make small talk easier for the person with the child who cannot understand.

She does veer a little into a sort of ‘huh’ realm with what I think might be an ill-advised analogy in the last chapter but I do get what she’s aiming for. And it doesn’t take away from the rest of this well-written book. If you’re interested in hearing her perspective before committing to buying the book, check her out on the April 18 episode of Citizen Radio – it’s what convinced me that I really needed to read this book.

One last quote I’ll be keeping in my back pocket in case I find myself facing boorish folks at a cocktail party thinking I just rolled out of bed at noon: “I get up at seven on weekends because I love my free time. Not every childfree person sleeps late and parties all the time. I am still a grown-up.” Preach it.

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Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #28: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

Even more than with her debut novel Mudbound, Jordan has a powerful story to tell in When She Woke, and a moral (or two) she clearly wants to impart to her reader. Jordan has a highly creative imagination and a strong feminist streak, and her story—loosely modeled on Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and drawing inspiration from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale—packs a punch. All that said, I think Jordan was a little too busy trying to get her point across to notice that her story was morphing from sci-fi to romance to action thriller to political tirade, and getting weaker all along the way. And it’s a pity, because the conceit of the book is fascinating.

Hannah lives in the near-future, where nuclear war has ravaged some American cities, where right-wing religious zealots have taken over the U.S. government, and where crimes are punished by “chroming” the skin color of the criminal—yellow, blue, green or red. Hannah wakes up in a cell, bright red all over after she is convicted at trial for murder. Brought up properly in a Christian family, Hannah had nonetheless been seduced into a love affair with a widely-loved and respected—and married–evangelical preacher, and upon discovering her pregnancy, chose to abort it rather than endanger her lover’s reputation and marriage. Abortion is illegal and she is caught, tried, and punished with an indelible scarlet, all the while refusing to name names.

Thus begins the story, but it rapidly escalates as Hannah is released into a half-way house with other “Chromes” who are being “re-educated” under the dominance of uber-religious sadists disguised as teachers. When she and her friend Kayla abandon the facility, they face the uncertainty of survival on the streets—not only is the general populace violently hostile to Chromes, but there is an association of vigilantes called “The Fist” which hunts and kills Chromes. Fortunately for Hannah and her friend, there is also an active “pro-choice” underground movement which plucks the women off the streets in the nick of time and funnels them towards Canada, where abortion is legal and where they can be “de-Chromed.” So far, so good, even if we get the distinct feeling we are reading a cross between Hawthorne’s “Letter” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

And that’s where the action stumbles, the plot crumbles, and the book loses a few stars in my view:  Hannah faces a rather creepy kidnapping, a brief side-trip into red slavery, a steamy divergence into lesbian action, a philosophical tete-a-tete with a female priest, and a final inexplicable and doomed reunion with her former lover, the evangelical celebrity now promoted to head the government’s Ministry of Faith. No matter how Jordan chooses to end her story at this point, the creative momentum is lost in a swirl of melodrama and political harangue.

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #16: How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

I first discovered How To Be A Woman (2011) by Caitlin Moran back when it wasn’t really available in the United States. I wanted to read it right away, but  I waited until it was available How To Be A Womanat my library. Now that I’ve finally gotten around to reading it, it seems to be one of the most read books on Cannonball. I guess that makes my review easier. Since everyone’s already read and reviewed it, I don’t have much to add.

According to Wikipedia, Caitlin Moran is a British broadcaster, TV critic, and columnist at The Times. I had never heard of her before reading How To Be A Woman, but this book is more about what Moran has to say than her public figure. Moran discusses growing up poor and unpopular in Wolverhampton, England as she opines on feminism and other issues often faced by women, such as: high heels, Brazilians, handbags, pornography, strippers, and abortion. Moran has strong, clear, well-thought out opinions, and she comes at each of her topics with enough humor that even if I disagreed with her, I could still understand her point.

Read the rest of my review here.

 

Petalfrog’s #CBR5 Review #11: How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

I unabashedly love this book. Part memoir and part self-guide book, Caitlin Moran loads up her debut with wacky anecdotes, but also a brash look at her emerging womanhood. She talks porn, masturbation, feminism, cursing, drugs, baby making, random sex, weddings, and abortion. When I read this book over Christmas break, I devoured it in just a few days and was laughing out loud on the plane. I highlighted so much of the text on my Kindle, that you’d think I was studying for a major exam.

I love this cover

I read so many mystery thrillers, and choose books that make me feel escapist and not like I need to think too hard. I get enough of that when I look up Yahoo news and feel my mind boggle over some of the ways people think and view the world. I think that’s why, while much of this book really struck me, I most enjoyed the discussions on sexism and feminism.

I’m a feminist too!

“Most sexism is down to men being accustomed to us being the losers. That’s what the problem is. We just have bad status. Men are accustomed to us being runners-up or being disqualified entirely.”

“In more primitive times—what I would personally regard as any time before the release of Working Girl in 1988—the winners were always going to be those both physically strong enough to punch an antelope to the ground and whose libido didn’t end up with them getting pregnant, then dying in childbirth.”

As someone who doesn’t appear to have a biological clock, even at age 30, and is fortunate enough to not have felt societal pressure in that regard (thank God for still being in grad school… best excuse!), her discussion of the choice to have kids felt so true and real to me:

“Every woman who chooses—joyfully, thoughtfully, calmly, of her own free will and desire—not to have a child does womankind a massive favor in the long term. We need more women who are allowed to prove their worth as people, rather than being assessed merely for their potential to create new people.”

She’s a mom and doesn’t think I HAVE to be one too? Love it!

“While motherhood is an incredible vocation, it has no more inherent worth than a childless woman simply being who she is, to the utmost of her capabilities. To think otherwise betrays a belief that being a thinking, creative, productive, and fulfilled woman is, somehow, not enough.”

This book has been reviewed so much on the Cannonball Read and all over the internet, so I won’t go on too much except to say that I love this book and I can’t recommend it higher to all women and people who love women. Caitlin Moran will get you laughing, crying, and most importantly, thinking. What a woman!

Read more reviews on my blog!

Kira’s #CBR5 Review #10: Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg

LeanInSherylSandbergCoverThe woman of Sheryl Sandberg’s world is a timid creature. She’s smart but not savvy, ambitious but afraid to appear so, confident and driven but plagued by self-doubt. She’s wary of participating in meetings, wary of asking for promotions, wary of taking on new assignments. And don’t even get me started on motherhood—this woman has been ruminating on the work/life balance basically since she learned where babies come from.

For this woman, Sandberg has a wealth of advice, which in its entirety boils down to the central conceit of her book: Lean In. This woman—this hyper-sensitive, underutilized and challenge-averse woman—needs to stop sitting in the back row at meetings, stop taking flak from colleagues, and stop turning down opportunities because she’s unsure about her abilities. She needs to build organic and mutually beneficial relationships with coworkers, and worry less about being liked and more about being respected. She needs to speak her mind with colleagues and bosses, and if and when she decides to throw a bun in the oven, not start sacrificing her career the second she realizes she’s pregnant. She could also stand to snag an understanding, supporitve and equally driven husband, who won’t hesitate to pitch in on 50% of the child-rearing and housework. In short, Sheryl Sandberg wants this woman to sack up (which, incidentally, would have been a way better book title.) Continue reading

Kira’s #CBR5 Review #8: How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran

howtobeIt’s only through sheer fortuitous timing that the week I read a book on feminism, Seth MacFarlane goes on national television to offend a zillion people with uninspired jokes about actresses’ boobs. And since I’ve been presented with such a timely opportunity to discuss gender as it’s portrayed in modern society, let’s conduct a big of a thought exercise—looking at Seth MacFarlane’s Oscar performance through the lens of Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman.

Throughout her book’s 300-odd pages, Moran eschews characterizations of feminism that rely on lofty terminology or soul-searching investigations of social mores. Her own definition on the subject essentially boils down to two key tenets: 1) An environment of equality is one in which, quite simply, “everyone is being polite to each other” and 2) When  one is unsure whether or not they’ve been presented with a bit of sexism—or, as Moran sometimes puts it, a bit of  ”total fucking bullshit—one must simply ask oneself: “Are the men doing it?” That’s it, feminism deconstructed. Continue reading

dsbs42’s #CBR5 Review #3: How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

howtobewoman

I’ve read a lot of reviews that criticized Moran’s condemnation of the word “fat” while simultaneously calling people “retards” and making outlandish comparisons between that darned patriarchy and, for example, starving orphans, and I’m not sure this is entirely fair. For one thing, I didn’t read the “fat” chapter as an order to stop using the word, but more of a caution raising the awareness of what it can do to people. And for another, having scanned some reviews on Goodreads, it seems that the version I’m reading has been edited for the States, and I may be missing some of the more offensive phrasing.

However, even when I disagreed with Moran’s points or conclusions, the tone of the book is friendly and conversational. I think part of what irritates people is the fact that her manner tends to suggest that her thoughts and opinions are the be-all and end-all, but I talk like that too, and that doesn’t mean I think that my word is the final word – it’s just a manner of speaking. We think it makes us sound funnier. So I’m less inclined to get my back up about the things I disagree with.

Really, How To Be a Woman succeeded far more as a funny memoir in the vein of Jenny Lawson‘s, and less as a feminist screed, but Moran has a lot of interesting things to say, and is fearless in saying them. Whether you agree with her or not, she gives you a lot to think about, and new ways to think about it. If you’re looking for something to read the next time you’re snowed in the house, you could do a lot worse.

Read the whole review here!