Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Book Review: The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant: An Adoption Story, by Dan Savage


The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant: An Adoption Story
by Dan Savage
Plume
1999
246 pages

Can I just say, right from the get-go, that I love Dan Savage? Love. Him. I'd heard of his sex-advice column "Savage Love" before his phenomenal "It Gets Better" project, but The Kid is the first book of Savage's I've read.

And I love this book too. I mean, I don't think there was a page - hell, probably a paragraph - that didn't have me either laughing or or smiling knowingly (as knowingly as I could smile without actually not having gone through the adoption process per se - we came pretty close to it - but especially at the parts early in the book where Savage writes about being at a seminar with other infertile couples pursuing adoption.)

"When I hit puberty, I got the news that I was functionally infertile. But the straight couples at the seminar had only recently gotten that news, and they were still adjusting to it.  How much we had in common with them was driven home by the rhetoric the counselors used during the seminar. It was the rhetoric of coming out. The straight couples were encouraged to accept what they could not change. In time, they'd see their 'problem' as a blessing. It was important to tell family and friends the truth, even if they might not understand at first. They might in their ignorance ask hurtful questions, but be patient and try to answer. And while it is possible to live a lie, possible to adopt a child and pass it off as your biological child, no one can spend a lifetime in the closet. Now we all had some common ground." (pg. 26)

Savage takes his reader through the entire adoption process, from his and Terry's decision to adopt, to the seminar mentioned above, to asking their neighbors (whom they either didn't know well or not at all) for letters of recommendation, to writing a Dear Birthparent letter and meeting a birthmother. (Savage's satirical "anti-birthparent letter" makes for some of the most hilarious reading in The Kid):

"We are Terry and Dan. Yes, we are both men, and we would like to adopt your baby! .... We have been with each other for three months. We hope to adopt a baby soon, as gay relationships don't usually last longer than six or seven months. ....Dan is fifty-nine years old, has heart trouble, smokes three packs a day, and will be the sole means of support for our little family.  Terry is seventeen years old and emulates Martha Stewart in every possible way, including Martha's emotional distance and passive-aggressiveness.  ....Most of our friends are in the music industry and addicted to hard drugs. They are all very excited about baby-sitting! As most of them use only heroin and not dangerous hallucinogenics, the odds that one of them will pop the baby into the microwave are pretty low."  (pg. 89-90)

At one point, you begin to wonder if this adoption thing is really going to work itself out for Dan and Terry.  (I'll let you read the book for yourself to find out.)  I was completely hooked and invested in this story and could not put this down, especially for the last third of the book. In a very good way, Dan takes his reader along for the the good, the bad, and the ugly of this adoption ride - a hilarious one, by the way, because his descriptions of arguing with Terry over the music played in the car during their frequent seven hour rides from Seattle to Portland are priceless ... and universal to all relationships, gay or straight.

Now, that all being said, this book is not going to appeal to everyone ... say, umm ... folks identifying with certain religious or political groups. Savage is no-holds-barred here when talking about his life and relationship with Terry (and, well ... certain religious and political groups). There's more than a decent share of description of certain private acts and whatnot, which might offend some people ... but then again, if you're offended by certain words and different lifestyles, you're probably not going to be picking up and reading a book with the subtitle "What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant."

Savage knows that, and that's okay with him.

It's a surreal experience, knowing that this book was published in 1999 and reading it 14 years later.

"Until same-sex marriage was legal, something I expected to happen around the time my children's children's children were long dead, I could only call Terry my husband or spouse if I was willing to say those words with little quotation marks stuck on each end. This I was unwilling to do." pg. 11

Savage is akin to Nostradamus with some of his thoughts ("If the religious right is serious about 'washing the stain of homosexuality off the face of this great nation,' as one fundy web site I read puts it, there will have to be more murders. Few gays and lesbians will subject themselves to 'reparative therapy' quacks and the vast majority of us have no interest in becoming 'ex-gay.' Homosexual behavior cannot be eliminated without eliminating homosexual people." pg. 19). 

Remember, this is 1999.


As funny as The Kid is, this is also an incredibly personal book.  Savage's writing about the impact of his parents' divorce and his relationship with his father are especially revealing. By bringing his family and Terry's into the narrative, too, and again, we see dynamics of our own extended family relationships and realize that perhaps ... maybe we're not so different after all.






copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

anticipation; for we have wintered enough


Here, then, are the (unedited and uncropped) daffodils, almost full to bursting with the anticipation of spring. This photo was taken last Friday, March 15. Today on this first day of spring, the daffodils look much the same.

You can almost hear them saying that they, too, have wintered enough. As I do every year (because I love it so much), I share one of my favorite poems, by Unitarian Universalist minister Jane Rzepka, on this much-awaited first day of spring.


O Spirit of Life and Renewal
Rev. Jane Rzepka

We have wintered enough,
mourned enough,
oppressed ourselves enough.

Our souls are too long cold and buried,
our dreams all but forgotten,
our hopes unheard.

We are waiting to rise from the dead.
In this, the season of steady rebirth,
we awaken to the power so abundant, so holy,
that returns each year through earth and sky.

We will find our hearts again, and our good spirits.
We will love, and believe, and give and wonder,
and feel again the eternal powers.

The flow of life moves ever onward
through one faithful spring,
and another,
and now another.

May we be forever grateful.
Alleluia.
Amen.




I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!


Monday, March 18, 2013

The 35 Day Project: Kindness #1 - Bus Stop Waiting



Yesterday I told you about my friend and fellow Pittsburgh blogger, Tiffany Harkleroad. She's launched "The 35 Day Project," a spread-as many acts-of-kindness-as-you-can initiative for the 35 days leading up to her 35th birthday, which is on April 20. She's encouraged her friends to join in. If you can do one act, great! If you can do all 35, even better. No pressure.

These acts don't have to cost much money (and in my case, they can't, given that I'm still unemployed and trying to make a go of this freelance writing, editing, and consulting business). But kindness doesn't have to have a big price tag, so I'm all in. (Plus, you know I love this kind of thing.)

Today is a miserable weather day here in Pittsburgh, no question. I didn't expect a snow day, but I was pretty sure the freezing rain and "slippy" (see, this Philly girl's gettin' da 'Burgh lingo dahn!) roads would be enough for a 2 hour delay.

Not so much.

As I waited with my kids at the bus stop, it occurred to me that today is probably a pretty tough day to be a bus driver. Not only with the crappy, unrelenting winter weather, but also with the emotional heartache of Saturday's bus crash involving the Seton Hill University women's lacrosse team and the loss of their coach and her baby. My kids have only been taking the bus since early February, but every morning and every afternoon, the bus driver - a kindly, grandmotherly type - waves to me as she drives off.

This afternoon, this will be waiting with me at the bus stop. Some Little Bites muffins, some packets of tea, and a thank you note that says, inside:

"It's not easy driving a school bus on regular days, especially days like these. Thanks for all you do to keep our kids safe today and every day! Enjoy some tea, muffins, and relaxation on us." 


Want to be part of Tiffany's 35 Day Project, too? Go here.



I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles.

Book Review: The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin

The Orchardist
by Amanda Coplin 
Harper Perennial, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers
2012
426 pages 

"And that was the point of children, thought Caroline Middey, to bind us to the earth and to the present, to distract us from death. A distraction dressed as a blessing: but dressed so well, and so truly, that it became a blessing." (pg. 124) 

I am tempted to make this review all of five words (You. Must. Read. This. Book) and then call it a day.

Somehow, though, I think the folks at TLC Book Tours, which provided a copy of The Orchardist to me for review, might be expecting a little more.

I'll tell you this, though: The Orchardist exceeded all my expectations and then some. I'd heard this was a good book, but that's insufficient praise. This is simply astounding, made even moreso by the fact that this is a first novel. The Orchardist is the kind of novel where every single word - every single syllable, really - is deliberately included and weighted with meaning. Everything is intentional. And everything works, beautifully.

In my view, The Orchardist is absolutely flawless. (And you know I rarely say that about any book, but in this case, it is true.)  This is, quite simply, a spectacular novel, one that has landed among my all-time favorites and one that will be among my most-recommended.

As soon as one opens this book, you're immediately drawn back in time to another era and place. It's the turn of the century in the Pacific Northwest, a time when people travel by mule-drawn wagons and wash their clothes by the side of the creek, their lives dependent on the whims of the weather and the rhythms of the land.

It is to this land of canyons and ridges and two diseased fruit trees that young William Talmadge first arrives with his mother and his sister. In time, the land becomes fertile again and Talmadge (as he is referred to during this sweeping, expansive novel) makes a modest, simple living tending his many acres of apple, apricot and plum trees.

One day, while Talmadge is in town selling his fruit, he dozes off at his stand. Two pregnant girls rob him of his cash; they're hungry and savage-like, described as feral. 
"Her anger at him was deep, but finally had little to nothing to do with him. The anger was the mask of an emotion that would not show its true face. She fought against the same force against which he fought. Fate, inevitability, luck. God. He would fly in the face of this force now, for her. If she could be freed from it, he would free her. He would make it all up to her, now." (pg. 342).

The girls - Jane and Della - follow Talmadge to his orchard and out of kindness and generosity (for honest to God, there is not a more benevolent person on Earth than Talmadge) he begins to feed and shelter them.

And that is probably all I can say about the plot without giving too much else away, yet there's so much to tell you about this novel. Amanda Coplin's writing is gorgeous, poetic, and fluid; she swept me up into the story (one that is, admittedly, often tension-filled) immediately and did not let go for 426 pages.

This is a novel of big, overlapping themes: both the moral ones - to everything there is a season; an eye for an eye; do unto others - and the religious symbolism represented by the apple orchard (the Garden of Eden) and all that happens within (those who have read the book will know what I refer to, specifically; in general terms, life, death, babies placed in baskets, prodigal children, Talmadge himself as a forgiving and loving presence) and the communion of being one with the earth and returning to the earth after we die, the eternal struggle of good versus evil.

The layers of themes would be more than ambitious enough for a first novel, but then add in the spectacular character development, sustained brilliantly over decades encompassing these many pages. As Beth Kephart said in her review ("The Orchardist/Amanda Coplin : a work of utter genius") "No one will ever convince me that Talmadge didn't live, or that the baby Angelene isn't living, still, or that somewhere in the northwest, a grove of gnarled trees isn't recalling two ruined sisters." 

Indeed, for these are more than simply characters, more than just words on a page. The depth of feeling and emotion that we get from these souls - each one of them - is more than some people evoke from their so-called closest friends and relatives. By the end of the novel, we know them just as well.

Or perhaps even better.
"This look of sorrow as she walked among the fires - it was familiar to him, he had felt that way too, when he was younger. How to talk about it, how to talk about such things. When he was a boy he was happy when the men arrived, and in a way wanted them to remain forever - but he was also anxious that they had arrived, that he was no longer alone. The sorrow came from those two feelings - the happiness of company, the anxiety of uninterrupted solitude. That was what he had felt, he thought, and what to some extent he still felt. But never to the extent he had then, when he was young, when he did not know what to make of his feelings. When one is young, he thought, one thinks that one will never know oneself. But the knowledge comes later, if not all, then some. An important amount." (pg. 251)
"She wept now, silently, for herself and for the girl. Her hands rested on either side of her on the soft boards of the bench.
We do not belong to ourselves alone, she wanted to say, but there was no one to speak to." (pg. 355)
In regards to The Orchardist, the word "classic" has been used in connection with this one, alongside the names Steinbeck and other great American novelists. I believe this has earned its rightful place with them (it is even better than some of them, I think). It is more than worthy enough to be studied and discussed in English classes. I can think of very few modern day novels that could stand the test of time to become classics.

With The Orchardist, Amanda Coplin may have just written such a book.

5+ stars out of 5


Thank you, thank you, thank you to TLC Book Tours and Harper Perennial for sending me a copy of this novel in exchange for only my honest review. I was not otherwise compensated for this post.

Find out more about The Orchardist, author Amanda Coplin, and visit other stops on The Orchardist blog tour here. 

I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Sunday Salon: A Bit O'Randomness




Top o' the morn' to all of you and a Happy St. Patrick's Day! Whether you are Irish or not, it's a good day for spreading a little luck because, as Sir Paul McCartney sings, we can all use a little luck to make this whole damn thing work out, can't we?

Anyway, I've had a bunch of things I've been meaning to make mention of here, so I thought I'd do a bit o' randomness for you.
  • This week, I finished The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin (my review will be up tomorrow, as part of the TLC Book Tour). You're going to hear me talk about this book for a long time. It has more than earned a spot on my All-Time Favorite Books List. Yes, it's that good. As Beth Kephart says in her review of this book, "[n]o one will ever convince me that Talmadge didn't live, or that the baby Angelene isn't living, still, or that somewhere in the northwest, a grove of gnarled trees isn't recalling two ruined sisters."  My thoughts exactly. 

  • Loved this guest post ("I Read the Book ... Or Did I?") on Book Riot from Andrew Shaffer. I could write a whole post of my own about this very subject, but that's precisely why I'm participating in the Little Women read-along currently underway (and being hosted by Florinda and Fizzy Thoughts). Had you asked, I would have said unequivocally that Little Women was absolutely a book I've read. But now ... I'm not so sure. I know I've started this (several times, actually) but never finished it. I just started this (again!) last night. 
  • Have you heard about Hand-Picked Words yet? I am SO IN LOVE with this idea. (Full disclosure: One of my essays has been chosen for one of the boxes, but I would love this anyway.) You know how some farmers offer boxes, where you get an assortment of fresh produce on a weekly basis in exchange for a subscription fee? Well, Hand-Picked Words is the same thing in literary form. It's a monthly box for book lovers: hand-picked stories, novel excerpts, essays, poems, and the like. At the same time, it's a new way of self-publishing, which helps authors market their work and and retain the rights to it. It's the well-thought out brainchild of Danica Stone, who launched a Kickstarter campaign for this project. I'm overjoyed to see this morning that Hand-Picked Words has reached its goal!
  • I got a new editing project! This is the second novel I've had the privilege to work on, which I'm very excited about. 
  • If you missed my announcement on Friday, I was asked to do a reading and talk about blogging for Words in Process. They gather monthly (April through October) at Allegory Gallery in Ligonier, Pa. to hear a featured writer read from his or her work, which is followed by a Q and A session and open mic. If you're anywhere near Ligonier, I'd love to have you join us on June 18 at 7 p.m. (It's open to the public and free of charge.) 
  • Finally, since this has been a bit of a self-promotional post, I'll end with spreading some kindness. Tiffany Harkleroad is a Pittsburgh blogger (and a book blogger, to boot!) and today kicks off what she is calling The 35 Day Project. To celebrate her birthday, Tiffany has launched a 35 day act-of-kindness-a-thon and everyone is invited to the party. All that's needed is to commit to doing one act of kindness on one day between today (March 17) and April 20 (Tiffany's 35th birthday). Of course, more acts are encouraged, too. 
Hope this Sunday treats you kindly - and may a little luck come your way, too! 

I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you! 

copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

    Friday, March 15, 2013

    in which i will be reading my words in process, in ligonier, in june



    So, I've been sitting on some exciting news for the last couple days.

    It has been like that lately with us book bloggers, hasn't it? Seems like a bunch of us have new projects and all sorts of new wonderfulness to announce. It has been head-spinning, in a good way.

    I have been turning my attention more to this writing life of mine, trying to see what possibilities might be out there professionally and personally.  For reasons that I have been struggling to understand, the profession I know and the work that I've been doing for 22 years is not working here for me, in this new place. As I said to The Husband the other night, I really thought more things would have fallen into place by now, nearly two years into this.

    But some new things are happening.

    One of them has led to my being invited to read my work during this upcoming season of Words in Process.

    (I know. Me. A reading. I would have been less surprised if the Vatican had called to say I'd been named the next pope.)

    Words in Process is a group of local (western Pennsylvania) poets, writers, and literary enthusiasts who present their work and their thoughts on writing at a monthly Reading Series in Ligonier, Pennsylvania. Afterwords, an open mic is held for audience members to share their work. It's all coordinated by the wonderful Amy Yanity, who I only know from Facebook and only through another writer friend.

    My reading is scheduled for June 18 at 7 p.m. at Allegory Gallery in Ligonier, Pa. I've also been asked to speak about blogging and this book blogging world of ours. The talk is open to the public and free of charge. And no, I have no idea what I'll be reading ... although there's a good bet there will be some of the novel in progress and maybe a blog post or two. We'll see.

    To say that I am thrilled and honored and incredibly excited about this is an understatement. If you're nearby and able to make it, I'd love to have you in the audience.

    Photo is of one of my very first stories, written when I was about 6 or 7. Photo taken in December 2012. 



    I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

    copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

    Tuesday, March 12, 2013

    The Nonprofit Strategist: Two Words



    Some of you may know that I have a monthly nonprofit column writing gig going on with the folks at Benchmark Email. We've given this little feature of mine a name - The Nonprofit Strategist - and the creative folks there designed a logo. (They came up with the red pen; I laughed when I saw that because you know that's so me.)

    My March post, then: How Two Words Can Change the Tune of Your Nonprofit Organization.

    (With special thanks to my friend Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan of Sweet Tooth Communications, LLC.)

    Previous Nonprofit Strategist columns:

    3 Ways to Turn Your Nonprofit's Presence into Presents 
    Blogging: The New Professional Networking Event






    I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

    copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

    Sunday, March 10, 2013

    lifelong commitment



    On that very first night, the first of many long, sleepless, tear-filled nights after Boo was diagnosed with autism, I turned to The Husband and admitted something I hadn't wanted to admit before.

    "We are really, really going to need Cheryl," I said.

    Cheryl is The Husband's cousin. And even though nearly two decades separate them in age, she and our daughter Betty have more in common than some shared genetics.

    They both have brothers who have autism.

    Over the years, I have come to admire and respect and understand Cheryl in a way that I never, ever imagined. And I've come to feel grateful and appreciative that Cheryl is there for Betty now and will be there for Betty in the future.

    These are rocky times in Betty and Boo's sibling relationship, but Cheryl gives me hope in so many ways that everything might just turn out to be OK. Because with the gift that is time, Cheryl herself has turned out to be more than OK. 

    Cheryl and her brother Adam, are profiled in the Courier-Post (Southern New Jersey) newspaper today, in this gracious and sensitive article by Kim Mulford discussing adult siblings preparing to assume the care of their brothers or sisters with special needs.
    Cheryl Resnick was perhaps 7 or 8 years old when she suddenly piped up from the back seat of the family car.
    “Mommy, I want you to know it’s OK,” she told her mother, Ilene Resnick. “When Mommy and Daddy die, I’m going to take care of Adam.”
    Read more from "Lifelong commitment: many adults are woefully unprepared to assume care for disabled siblings" here. 


    photo of bird's nest taken by me, September 2012

    I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

    copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

    Saturday, March 9, 2013

    The Sunday Salon: Losing an Hour of Reading But Gaining Two Great Books


    I'm more grumpier than usual about losing an hour this weekend. It's not that I'm upset about missing an hour of sleep (I don't sleep all that much to begin with) or that our schedules are in flux.

    It's just that I am fully immersed in reading Amanda Coplin's debut novel The Orchardist and ...well, if you've read this, you know that you don't want to lose any time reading this book.

    Because, my God almighty, this book is literary gold. I knew within the first dozen pages that The Orchardist would be getting 5 stars from me (I'll be stunned if that doesn't hold true by the end) and that this would be among my favorite books of 2013. By page 64, I was shouting its praises to all my friends on Facebook.

    This has been compared to Steinbeck. It deserves that comparison - and then some. (This is better.) This deserves to be shelved in the classic literature section, to be studied in English classes forevermore, to have papers written about it.

    I'm on the TLC Book Tour for this one on March 18 and I'm liable to just say something like, "Get your hands on this book NOW."

    I am purposely not saying much about the plot. I don't know how much I can say about it without giving too much away. But yeah, it's going to be 5 stars, one of my best reads of 2013, and one that I am going to be recommending for a long, long time.

    The funny thing is, I wasn't initially sold on The Orchardist at first. Just for a second. I'm more of a contemporary fiction kind of girl and this one is set at the end of the 1800s.

    But, y'know, sometimes it pays to break out of your literary comfort zone. I've long believed that about the young adult genre. I'm one of those adults who feels no shame in perusing the titles in the teen section of the bookstore or the library.

    I haven't delved much into the YA paranormal romance world, though, but I found myself hanging out there earlier this week with The Spirit Keeper. A disclaimer: author Melissa Luznicky Garrett is a friend of mine, I've worked with her in the past on an online magazine she once published, and I'm thrilled to be providing her with some edits and critiques for The Spirit Keeper's sequel ... which meant I needed to fire up my Kindle and read The Spirit Keeper. 

    Which I did this week.

    And finished this in less than two days.

    I'll have a full review of this one soon, but for someone who normally doesn't read this genre, I was pleasantly surprised. This is a suspenseful, tension-filled page-turner about 17 year old Sarah Redbird. Her mother, along with her grandparents, died in a house fire six years prior and Sarah now lives with her aunt and uncle. They've kept some secrets from Sarah, but thanks to a new family (and new love interest) across the street, Sarah discovers more about her past - and her future - than she ever imagined.

    So, we may have lost an hour of reading this weekend ... but the end result is still two pretty terrific books gained!



    I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

    copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

    Friday, March 8, 2013

    An International Women's Day Inspired Book List



    In honor of International Women's Day today, I thought I would put together a post with some books that I think are especially worthwhile for what they convey about women's and girls issues, both in the United States and throughout the world. (I will admit, this list is more United States-centric than I would prefer.) As regular blog readers know, women and girls issues are a particular passion of mine. 

    Entire blogs could be (and probably are) devoted to the many books about this topic - and awhile back, we book bloggers had the Women Unbound reading challenge which was really interesting, enlightening, and fun.  

    I've only included those that I've read and written reviews of. I know there are many, many more from where these 12 came from. These are excerpts of my previously published here reviews; the links take you to the full review and the italics are quotes from the book itself. They're in no order, except alphabetical, with fiction first. (Except for the last one, which I added at the last minute. Whatever.) 

    1. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood 
    The Handmaid's Tale is a thought-provoking book, about so many things: women's rights, the influence of religion in society, relationships, politics, identity, betrayal, forgiveness, power and control. There are so many themes running through these pages. I know that's been a criticism of this novel, that Atwood is trying too hard to have the book serve as commentary on too many issues. But that's part of what makes a novel a classic, in my view, and I truly believe that The Handmaid's Tale is definitely a classic. 

    “My name isn't Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it's forbidden. I tell myself it doesn't matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter. I keep the knowledge of this name like something hidden, some treasure I'll come back to dig up, one day. I think of this name as buried. This name has an aura around it, like an amulet, some charm that's survived from an unimaginably distant past. I lie in my single bed at night, with my eyes closed, and the name floats there behind my eyes, not quite within reach, shining in the dark.” 

    "That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn't even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction. There wasn't even an enemy you could put your finger on." 

    Sound familiar? 


    2. Because I Am Furniture, by Thalia Chaltas
    On the second page of Thalia Chaltas' first novel Because I Am Furniture, a tumult of an emotional young adult novel written in poetry, you find this:

    When the garage door goes up
    he's home.
    We close up conversation
    and scuttle off like crabs
    each to our room - 

    Shut the door.
    Shut the door. 
    Shut the door. 

    Mom alone in the kitchen 
    where she should be
    before the garage door goes down 
    and we are locked in hell.


    3. The Heart is Not a Size, by Beth Kephart 
    People disappear, go missing, vanish without a trace. It happens everyday, in communities big and small, rich and poor, around the corner and across the globe. Sometimes we're unaware of this, and sometimes we know exactly what we don't want to - or are afraid to - admit to ourselves and to others. It is then that this knowledge takes hold, becomes suffocating, too much for hearts to bear.

    Such is the case with Georgia, the teenage narrator of Beth Kephart's exquisite novel,The Heart Is Not a Size, set amid the stifling heat of Juarez, Mexico. There, in the community of Anapra, exists the ghosts of las muertas de Juarez ("the dead women of Juarez"), this horrible true-life phenomenon that has been occurring for years where women routinely disappear and are found (when they are found) murdered and often disfigured.


    4. She's Come Undone, by Wally Lamb

    She's Come Undone is a novel about Dolores Price, a child of divorce living with her mother and grandmother in the 1950s. The three live in the grandmother's home. Dolores' "undoing" comes at the hands of Jack Speight, one of her grandmother's tenants, who befriends 13 year old Dolores and rapes her. Lamb's prose in this scene is searing, hot stake-through-the-heart writing. 

    Dolores carries this albatross of the rape with her, understandably so, throughout the next several decades of her life. As she does, I found myself alternately cheering her on. I so desperately wanted something good to happen to Dolores, for her to heal emotionally, for her to find happiness.




    As the title promises, Collins truly does pack 400 years of American women's history into what is a chunkster of a book. Make no mistake, though: this is no dry textbook. Collins presents a comprehensive and thorough view of American women's history in a way that is incredibly informative, engaging, shocking, and entertaining. At some points, I couldn't put this down.

    Beginning with the very first settlers at Jamestown, Collins traces the history and the stories of strong, formidable women through an ever-changing America during the Revolutionary War, slavery, pre-and post-Civil War, the pioneer days, the Gilded Age, the Depression. There are the names from the history books: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Elizabeth Blackwell, Carrie Nation, Annie Oakley, Margaret Sanger and countless others - but whose individual stories and accomplishments we may not have ever quite completely learned or fully remember. Collins brings all of them - the dolls, drudges, helpmates, and heroines all back to life on these pages for her reader. (The title comes from a Susan B. Anthony quote: "When I was young if a girl married poor, she became a housekeeper and a drudge. If she married wealthy, she became a pet and a doll.")

    6. Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win, by Anne Kornblut
    In the beginning, back in the good old days of 2007, I was a Hillary supporter. Unbeknownst to me, I was somewhat in the minority demographically. Kornblut explains why.  (Although, I don't think I meet the standard for "young woman," but just play along with me here, 'kay?) 

    "[Young women] considered themselves postfeminists, to the extent they thought about it, and preferred not to view the world in terms of gender. Supporting Barack Obama was proof of their liberation: they were free to choose whomever they favored for president, unburdened by any old-fashioned notions of loyalty or sisterhood, a sign that women were now diverse and evolved enough to disagree. 

    And if young women felt fully liberated - or were even totally oblivious to the barriers that had once existed, in many cases before they were born - it was hard to blame them. Nothing in 2008 felt unequal. Women had worked alongside men as peers in every profession for decades, with discrimination and sexual harrassment laws on the books. Women were heads of corporations and universities, as senators and governors and chiefs of police .... Every year seemed to bring a new achievement, making the next one less remarkable." (pg. 82-83) 

    7. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

    Half the Sky is a transformative book.  It is one that changes people after reading it, if only by knowing more about our world and those in it. As difficult of a read that it is, it is also hopeful.  Kristof and WuDunn show how it is possible for everyday, average people to make a difference through simple acts.  Half the Sky should be required reading for every person, just as it is at some colleges.  It is that important of a book.  

    8. The Generosity Plan: Sharing Your Time, Treasure, and Talent to Shape the World, by Kathy LeMay 

    We all have the power within us to become a philanthropist, to support the causes we care about regardless of how much or how little we have to give.  It doesn't matter if we have five million dollars or five dollars, if we have five days a week or five minutes a day.  What matters is being bold enough to take that first step toward becoming your own definition of a philanthropist.

    "Boldness asks you to come out of your comfort zone, if only for a moment.  How do you know if you're stepping into boldness? You know you are being your best bold self when you feel excited, nervous, and hopeful in the same moment. You know you are being your best bold self when the action you are about to take will change you inside. Again, bold doesn't have to be big and flashy, but it should be daring for you. When you are bold for you and your own life, you can feel the change. When you are bold for something bigger than you, you make change." (pg. 147-148) 

    What if we want to be bold, to do something more meaningful with our gifts, but don't know how to get started - or even what causes we are drawn to? Kathy LeMay shows us how.  She takes the reader step-by-step through examples in her personal life and others, and from there, the reader begins to learn how to create his or her personal generosity plan based on causes and issues that you were attracted to as a child, or ones that were important to your family, or those impacting your life now. 


    9. Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls, by Leonard Sax 

    Sax identifies sexual identity, the cyberbubble, obsessions, and environmental toxins as four factors that are causing more girls than ever before to become depressed and to turn toward self-destructive behaviors.  He presents each issue in detail, with supporting case stories from his psychology practice as well as visits to schools throughout the United States and all over the world.  While these issues are familiar ones, the insights Sax provides were surprising to me and are ones that make this a must-read for anyone raising a girl or working with girls in any capacity.  


    10. The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence, by Rachel Simmons  

    In The Curse of the Good Girl, which I found incredibly well-written, informative and enlightening, Rachel Simmons draws from her experience as founder of the Girls Leadership Institute and her extensive work with tween and teenage girls. In explaining this phenomenon, she writes that


    "The Curse of the Good Girl erodes girls' ability to know, say, and manage a complete range of feelings. It urges girls to be perfect, giving them a troubled relationship to integrity and failure. It expects girls to be selfless, limiting the expression of their needs. It demands modesty, depriving girls of permission to commit to their strengths and goals. It diminishes assertive body language, quieting voices and weakening handshakes. It reaches across all areas of girls' lives: in their interactions with boys and other girls, at school, at home, and in extracurricular life. The Curse of the Good Girl cuts to the core of authentic selfhood, demanding that girls curb the strongest feelings and desires that form the patchwork of a person." (pg. 3)

    It begins with society's perception of what a good girl is - a little blue eyed girl who is quiet, has no opinions on things (but speaks well), does everything right, is popular and wealthy, organized and intelligent, has a boyfriend and tons of friends, a Barbie with natural hair who doesn't show any skin. (This is from a list of qualities of a Good Girl, as listed on pg. 2.)

    By striving for these impossible and unrealistic qualities, girls fall into life-long patterns of behavior where they begin to do things like end their sentences with questions? Because they aren't confident of their thoughts and ideas?

    11. Women Lead the Way: Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World, by Linda Tarr-Whelan 

    If you're interested in and an advocate for women's issues (for lack of a better word, for these are everyone's issues), then much of the information in Women Lead the Waydoesn't come as much of a shock or surprise. Most of us know statistics like these, or perhaps guessed at some of them. They are well worth repeating, because they need to be kept in the forefront (this book was published in 2009):

    From pages 50-53:

    - Women now earn an average of 58% of bachelor's and master's degrees. 
    - The sales generated by women-owned businesses equal the GDP of China. 
    - Would you believe the United States is 27th in the world in women's advancement? 
    - Women now make up 24% of state legislators - up from 20% fifteen years ago.
    - The U.S. Congress is made up of 83% men and 17% women.  This representation of women places the United States 69th in the world. 
    - Women make 80% of consumer decisions in this country. 
    - It will take 73 years to reach parity between men and women on corporate boards in our premier Fortune 500 firms. 

    - Could you use another $440,000?  The wage gap really does add up.  Mid-career women today are missing out on close to one-half million dollars when you compare the average earnings of college-educated women and men employed full-time and full-year who were twenty-five to twenty-nine in 1984 and are now in their mid-forties.  

    (My note:  I'm kind of wondering if there is, perhaps, a typo there?  I mean, I'm 41 and in 1984, I might have acted like I was in my mid-twenties and wanted to be, but in reality I was only 15. Just sayin'.) 

    - Only 20% of married women employees - virtually all of them professionals or managers - making $75,000 or more have a nonworking spouse.  

    In the first half of her book, Linda Tarr-Whelan presents the issues matter-of-factly, with numbers galore, and champions the idea of The 30% Solution.  That's the premise that in any organization, women should comprise 30% of the decision-making power because only then is when real change can happen due to women's voices being heard. 

    12. Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, by Peggy Orenstein


    "The first Princess items, released with no marketing plan, no focus groups, no advertising, sold as if blessed by a fairy godmother. Within a year, sales had soared to $300 million. By 2009, they were at $4 billion. Four billion dollars! There are more than twenty-six thousand Disney Princess items on the market, a number which, particularly when you exclude cigarette, liquor, cars, and antidepressants, is staggering." (pg. 14)  "Of course, girls are not buying the 24/7 princess culture all on their own. So the question is not only why they like it (which is fairly obvious) but what it offers their parents." (pg. 22)

    Yes, what indeed?

    That's just one of the psychological factors that Orenstein explores in this book that is a must-read for any parent or relative or teacher of young girls, which I found absolutely fascinating. 


    A few others that I read but didn't write reviews of:

    Living History, by Hillary Clinton
    The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women, by Susan J. Douglas
    Poems from the Women's Movement, edited by Honor Moore
    Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected Journeys on the Way to Motherhood, by Naomi Wolf

    What other International Women's Day inspired titles (fiction or nonfiction) would you add to this list?


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    Wednesday, March 6, 2013

    the one


    r-word.org


    I spent considerable time yesterday looking for my friend's words.

    They matter. I want to get them just right. It is important to me.

    But they've gone missing, as many words tend to do in the abyss of Facebook posts, in the land where words get shortened to acronyms and emoticons stand in for what we really mean.

    My friend wrote about how she was trying really, really hard to stop saying "retarded." That she knew how hurtful and wrong it was, about how offensive it was to people with disabilities and those who loved them.

    (I really wish I had her exact words.)

    Of course, I clicked "like" on her post.

    Of course I did.

    When we worked together several years ago, this friend was a habitual offender in the misuse of the r-word. There's a slight generational gap between us. She's part of a demographic that supposedly grew up using the r-word to mean something other than someone with a developmental disability. But to me, that's the only definition that there possibly can be.

    During the years we worked together, my son was in a preschool classroom with other 4 year old children like him who also had autism and special needs. It was easy to tell that my son was different: he didn't transition well, he didn't take kindly to new surroundings or changes in his routines (even those as seemingly mundane as needing to take a different road home because of a traffic accident), he didn't interact well with his peers.

    My coworker knew about my son. Everyone in our small office did; we were in the black hole years of finding our way through therapies and special education and fighting insurance companies and paying out of pocket to help him. I was fortunate to have a boss who was highly supportive of people with disabilities and who welcomed my son into the office on occasion.

    When my friend posted her Facebook comment about trying not to say the r-word as often, I thanked her for doing so. It is an important first step.

    And then she surprised me.

    She said it was because of working with me that she realized how hurtful that word was.

    And for once, I didn't have any words.

    I thought back to what I did back then - and what I didn't do -  because I don't know what made the difference for my friend, if it was one thing or a combination of things. Whether it was because of seeing my son in the office on occasion or our boss starting to change the culture in terms of the language. I don't remember having a one-on-one conversation with my coworker about this. I know that I certainly should have. (See "How to Discuss the R Word with Others")

    What I do know is this:

    Sometimes change (in the world and in people) is slower than we would like it to be.

    Sometimes even when we feel like we are making progress and think that others finally get it and understand, we still feel a gut-punch when someone we love uses the r-word.

    And that sometimes, we are having an effect on people even when we don't realize it.

    We all have the one friend or relative or coworker like mine. The one who uses the r-word too often and the one we struggle to find the words to tell that it isn't okay. Perhaps you recognize yourself or someone you know in this post. Today is the annual day of awareness of the hurtful use of the r-word.  It is time we Spread the Word to End the Word and build awareness for society to stop and think about its’ use of the R-word. 

    Starting today. 


    My previous Spread the Word to End the Word posts:

    It's Not Just Another Word  (March 7, 2012)

    Today's the Day (March 31, 2009)




    Most people don’t think of this word as hate speech, but that’s exactly what it feels like to millions of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families and friends. The R-word is just as cruel and offensive as any other slur. 

    We’re asking every person - young and old - to help eliminate the demeaning use of the R-word–a common taunt used to make fun of others.  Often unwittingly, the word is used to denote behavior that is clumsy, hapless, and even hopeless.  But whether intentional or not, the word conjures up a painful stereotype of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  It hurts. Even if you don’t mean it that way.

    Language affects attitudes. Attitudes impact actions. 

    Make your pledge to choose respectful people first language at www.R-word.org.