Mini-Reviews of Short Reads: The Origin of Others & Dear Ijeawele

Over the past couple of months I read two short (~100 pages) nonfiction books that I definitely want to discuss, but don’t have that much to say about. Although I read the titles a few weeks apart, I think the books go quite well together, as they are both short pieces of nonfiction that focus on themes of social justice and equality. So with that, please enjoy (or don’t – I can’t tell you how to feel) my first ever mini-reviews post!

The origin of others by toni morrison

The Origin of Others is a collection of six essays which demonstrate how societal injustices and inequalities often occur through the act of excluding, or “othering,” minority groups. By characterizing minority groups as “others,” rather than human beings deserving of the same rights as everyone else, the in-group is able to justify its unfair advantages and even abuse of power over the oppressed. Morrison talks about distinct forms of othering including: romancing and romanticizing slavery, fetishization, and stereotypical depictions of minorities in literature and films.

Although short, The Origin of Others packs a powerful punch. The foreword alone (which is written by Ta-Nehisi Coates) had me nodding and underlining vigorously because, like the rest of the book, it is full of powerful insights. One of the reasons why this book is so powerful is because Morrison uses examples about slavery and the Civil Rights Movement to illustrate her points – yet her points are still incredibly pertinent to the current moment. There is something so striking and stirring about clearly seeing the parallels between slavery and contemporary society. I’m sure this was no accident on Morrison’s part, as The Origin of Others was published in 2017.

Overall, The Origin of Others was an incredibly powerful read. Despite being only 112 pages, this book is neither light nor easy to read – yet it is also so eye-opening and necessary. I highly recommend it.

Dear Ijeawele by chimamanda ngozi adichie

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions was born after a friend of Adichie’s asked her for advice on how to raise her daughter as a feminist. The result is this short book of – as the title says – fifteen suggestions on how to raise a feminist daughter, with elaborations and examples to accompany each suggestion. Adichie’s suggestions include rejecting gender roles/stereotypes, teaching women to aspire to more than just marriage, teaching girls to question why certain behaviors are criticized in women but not men, rejecting the idea that “likeability” is a measure of success, and talking openly about sex.

For the most part, I got on well with this book. I agree with most of Adichie’s suggestions, and think that her advice is valuable for raising a curious and socially conscious child of any gender – not just a daughter. However, as the need for intersectional feminism becomes increasingly apparent, I feel that this book isn’t intersectional enough. For one thing, many of Adichie’s examples – like teach your daughter about oppression, but don’t turn the oppressed into martyrs or saints – assume that the reader enjoys a certain level of privilege and is not oppressed themself. Additionally, the book is not very trans-inclusive, as it contains well-intentioned, yet problematic statements which equate being a woman with having a vagina (for example, in rejecting the notion that women in a cis-heterosexual relationship must do all the cooking for their partner, Adichie writes that “the knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina“).

Despite its limitations, though, I still think Dear Ijeawele is a good book with good advice. I recommend it, with the caveat that you should also read more intersectional books (such as Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism) in order to recognize the limitations of this one.

Revolutionary Women of American History

A couple weeks ago (in what now feels like a different universe), some friends and I went on a “Revolutionary Women” themed walking tour in Boston. As opposed to the walking tours that focus on more well-known parts of American history, this tour focused on the (largely invisible) women of the American Revolution and their fight for equality. I found this tour and the women that it featured to be overwhelmingly inspiring. In a time when we could all use some inspiration, I thought I’d share a bit of background on some of the inspirational revolutionary women of American history.

Statue of Mary Dyer at the Massachusetts State House

Mary Dyer (1611-1660) was a colonial American and a Quaker minister. Even in the 1600’s, Quakers allowed women to be ministers, and Dyer wanted to spread her progressive Quaker beliefs to Puritans in Boston. This was seen as heresy at the time, and Dyer was exiled from Boston on more than one occasion (she also returned more than once, undeterred in her mission). Ultimately, Dyer was hung as a witch on the “Great Hanging Elm” in what is now part of Boston Common. (Read more here)

Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643) was also a colonial American who advocated for reform in the Puritan community (but unlike Dyer, she practiced as a Puritan). She was also a practicing midwife. Hutchinson’s calls for reform garnered some support from the local community, but was met with opposition from the leading Puritan clergyman. Hutchinson and her family were eventually exiled from Boston and the Puritan community. First they moved to Rhode Island, and then to New Netherland. Unfortunately, due to mounting tensions between Colonists and Native Americans, the Hutchinson family was not considered welcome in New Netherland: the entire family (save for one of Hutchinson’s children) was massacred. Back in Massachusetts, Puritan clergyman openly celebrated Hutchinson’s death. (Read more here)

Dorothy Quincy (1747-1830) was the wife of founding father John Hancock. She is known for witnessing the Battle of Lexington, voluntarily taking on secretarial duties for her husband, and most importantly, not taking bullshit from men. When John Hancock forbade Quincy (his fiancĂ©e at the time) from visiting her father in Boston after the Battle of Lexington, she famously responded: Recollect Mr. Hancock, that I am not under your control yet. I shall go to my father tomorrow. She also gave her first child the middle name “George Washington,” which was most likely an intentional slight to her husband who was constantly overshadowed by the achievements of George Washington. (Read more here or here)

Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831-1895) was the first black woman in the United States to receive a medical degree and become a physician. Crumpler used her medical training to treat women and children in Boston, but later moved to Virginia because she believed her training would be of even more service to women and children who were impacted by the Civil War in the South. Unfortunately, she experienced so much racism in the South that she was unable to effectively practice medicine, and eventually returned to Boston where she continued to treat women and children. (Read more here or here)

Lucy Stone (1818-1893) was an abolitionist and suffragist who was passionate about securing equal voting rights for women. You have probably heard of Stone’s colleague, Susan B. Anthony. However, Stone broke from Anthony by supporting voting rights for black men before women were granted the right to vote. An abolitionist, Stone believed in voting rights for all, and she believed that if women supported suffrage for black men, then the black community would return the support for women’s suffrage. Despite her passionate advocacy, Stone lived her entire life without voting. She registered to vote in one local election (women could vote in some local elections in Massachusetts), but was denied at the polls for refusing to vote under her husband’s surname. (Read more here or here)

These are just a few important women from the walking tour whose stories I found to be particularly inspiring. Sometimes I find myself feeling powerless in my day-to-day life, so learning about these women who advocated for themselves and their beliefs in a time when women were given so much less authority really moved me. The work that the revolutionary women started isn’t complete, but their actions helped get us to where we are today.

Who do you find inspirational? Are there other revolutionary women from history (not just American history) that you would include in a history tour or a post like this?

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Longlist Reaction

This year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist has been announced and I am so excited! I learned about the Women’s Prize for Fiction last year, when many of the book bloggers that I follow posted their reviews of books on the 2019 longlist. Based on their reviews, I read some of the longlisted books (including ones that never would have made it onto my radar otherwise) and found some unexpected gems! In fact, my favorite book of 2019 was Lost Children Archive, which I heard about because so many of the book bloggers I follow were posting about it as part of their WP longlist review.

This year, it is my goal to read every longlisted book before the winner is announced on June 3rd. Before I announce my reaction to the books that were longlisted, I wanted to mention a few books that didn’t make the longlist:

  • Trust Exercise by Susan Choi: this book is critically acclaimed, but has a low rating on Goodreads. It has been on my TBR for almost a year now, but I can never seem to get to it. I had hoped it would make the WP longlist to give me the push I needed to read it!
  • Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid: this is another critically acclaimed book that I’ve been meaning to read for a while! This book is topically relevant in 2020, and I’ve heard great things about it from other book bloggers.
  • Frankissstein: A Love Story by Jeanette Winterson: another topically relevant book that is really hot right now. I’m in the minority of people that didn’t like this book (it was “meh” for me). But I thought that given the novel’s takes on feminism and the future of humanity, its positive reception, and its Booker Prize nomination, that it would end up on the WP longlist.
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. I didn’t care for The Handmaid’s Tale when I read it 10 years ago, and I don’t care to read the sequel now. I’m glad this book didn’t make the longlist because it doesn’t need any extra hype.
  • Death in Her Hands by Otessa Moshfegh: I had wishfully hoped this book would make the WP longlist because 1) this book is already on my priority TBR, and 2) I love Moshfegh’s writing.

And now…the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 longlist!

  • A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes: I’m cautiously optimistic about this book. I absolutely loved Circe, which was also a feminist re-imagination of a Greek classic. And more generally, I love books that give voices to those who have previously been silenced. So this sounds like something up my alley.
  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams: I was so pleasantly surprised to see this on the WP longlist! I already read this book and really enjoyed it. It is a story about a young 20-something trying to find herself and heal from a traumatic childhood…and it is really well-executed. So happy to see this novel getting more well-deserved attention. (PS – you can read my review of Queenie here)
  • The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel: I am not going to read this book. It is historical fiction that takes place in 1500’s England AND it is close to 800 pages AND it is the 3rd book in a trilogy that I haven’t read. Hard pass.
  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett: this is another “cautiously optimistic” one for me. It is a WWII book, but it is more about the aftermath of the war on a family relationship, which could be really interesting. I have also heard great things about Ann Patchett’s writing, so I’m excited to read her for myself!
  • Actress by Anne Enright: I’m neutral about this book. For some reason, I usually don’t like books about actors or writers…but I did like The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (a book about an actress). Could work for me, we will see.
  • Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie: another book that I feel neutral about. I don’t quite know what to expect based on the official description, so we will see.
  • Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara: I am pretty excited about this mystery/thriller novel that takes place in contemporary India. It sounds unlike anything I’ve read before, in a good way. My only potential reservation is that it is written from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy; whether or not this works will depend on the author’s execution.
  • How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee: I’m not sure how I feel about this book. It sounds like it will be a difficult read (because of the subject matter), but since the novel is written about Singapore by a Singaporean author, I think the book is more likely to be written from a compassionate perspective than an exploitative one.
  • Weather by Jenny Ofill: another book that I’m excited for. Based on what little I know about it, the characters sound compellingly complex, which is something I love in a novel.
  • The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo: a multigenerational book about family relationships and secrets, this one could go either way for me. I am intimidated by the book’s page count (532), but hopefully it will be a good read!
  • Dominicana by Angie Cruz: another “cautiously optimistic.” The novel is about a woman who enters into a loveless marriage for the opportunity to immigrate to the United States, and what comes of her life after she moves. It sounds like this book contains a lot of elements that I typically like: socially-relevant themes, complex characters, and morally difficult decisions.
  • Girl by Edna O’Brien: I am pretty hesitant about this book. It is a story about Nigerian girls who were abducted by Boko Haram…and it is written by a white author. Major red flag for me, as books about marginalized people written by non-marginalized people often end up in the realm of exploitation/trauma-porn.
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell: cautiously optimistic. On the one hand, it is a 1500’s period piece, which is not at all my thing. But on the other hand, it is a re-imagination of history from the perspective of Shakespeare’s wife, which sounds like it has the potential to be amazing!
  • Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson: lukewarm about this. It low-key sounds like the debutante ball episode of Gilmore Girls, but spun into a novel.
  • Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner: cautiously optimistic? I think I’m the only person who isn’t mad about this book making the WP longlist. I love a novel with an unlikeable main character, and books where unrealistic characters are forced to change their way of thinking. So it sounds like this book has a lot of potential to work for me.

Are you following/reading the Women’s Prize for Fiction? What are your thoughts on the longlist? Do you agree or disagree with any of my takes? What books are you most excited for? I’m so eager to discuss!

Book Review: Girl, Woman, Other

The book: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Earlier this week, I finished Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. This book of short stories – each from the perspective of a different black woman living in modern-day Britain – encompasses what it is like to live in post-Brexit Britain.

Girl, Woman, Other did an outstanding job of portraying many unique perspectives on modern-day Britain. Each character’s chapter reveals how their particular life experiences have shaped their perceptions of today’s world. As women (or non-binary people) of color who immigrated to Britain (or are recent descendants of immigrants), the characters have all experienced their fair share of struggle, and the book consistently addresses the issues that have affected them. Amazingly, author Bernardine Evaristo weaves these issues into the story in a very sincere and organic way – it never feels like the commentary on sexism, racism, xenophobia, or homophobia is forced or out-of-place.

To dig a bit deeper than that, I really appreciated how this book shows multiple perspectives on what it means to be a black woman in today’s world. So often, people of color are expected to be a “spokesperson” for their entire race. By featuring twelve women of color with very different life experiences, Evaristo refutes the idea that there is just one definition of what it means to be a person of color in today’s world.

I also found this book to be overwhelmingly positive, which was refreshing. While, yes, all the characters in this book have faced major obstacles in their lives, so many of the characters overcome those obstacles and achieve wonderful things. Amma, after years of being rejected by mainstream theatre companies, makes her way into the establishment and becomes wildly successful. Bummi, despite being orphaned as a child and then losing her husband at a young age, finally ends up living the peaceful life she has always dreamed of. I absolutely loved that this book balances great struggle with great triumph.

Finally, I loved the way this book was structured. There are no capital letters at the beginning of sentences, oftentimes no punctuation where there traditionally would be, and interesting line breaks in the middle of sentences. This made the book feel slower, gentle, and poetic – even when the events described in the book were quite dramatic (or traumatic). It also made sentences and stories flow in a way that felt very natural, making the book hard to put down.

Girl, Woman, Other was incredibly ambitious in the stories it set out to tell – and (in my opinion) it was wildly successful. This book is bold and sharp, but also poetic and beautiful. It is also incredibly astute, hitting the nail on the head with regard to pertinent issues in today’s world. I whole-heartedly recommend this book, and hope to see it on the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist.