Saturday, March 4, 2017

How to start a book club and not hate yourself: Women's History Month Edition

Well, it has been a hell of week...and I'm mostly talking about the weather. Freakishly warm weather has been here making the end of February feel like the middle of May. Then yesterday it was freezing cold and windy bringing us all back to winter. This is how everyone gets sick AND how we know we're one step closer to living underground in a bunker and becoming mole people. That's how it works: freakish weather pattern, return to "normal", end up as a mole person. Get your bunker ready now.

Before we have to start living underground, we get to celebrate Women's History Month! It excites me that we have one whole month a year to celebrate the accomplishments of women. I promise there's limited sarcasm in this comment. I think it's wonderful that we can celebrate women this month. You can join in the fun by finding women artists when you visit museums this month; use #5WomenArtists to tag your posts. I'm proud to say this campaign was started last year by the museum where I'm a docent. Or maybe you can join in on A Day Without a Women on International Women's Day (March 8th). There are lots of ways to participate; find the way that works for you.

I thought I'd kick off Women's History Month by tackling one of my favorite things (books) and one of my least favorite things (book clubs) all at the same time. Book clubs are one of those things I've never really gotten into. I've been in three book clubs in my life and all three were limited in enjoyment. One was for work and while I enjoyed the premise, it was definitely one of those things people were phoning in. It became just another chore so we disbanded. The other two book clubs were social ones; attempts by me to meet new people who shared my love of reading and talking about books. The first one never actually met. The organizer assigned the book (The Life of Pi) and then got so overwhelmed by the prospect of organizing 85 people (no joke) that she canceled the first meeting and closed the group. The last book club I joined was a women's book club. I should have known this was code for "we're going to read Fifty Shades of Grey and drink wine and talk about the "sexy parts" despite the fact that this is a terrible book and women can find much better options out there if they want to read this sort of thing." I politely declined after the organizer sent out the first four book titles (the Fifty Shades books and the first Twilight book). I support your life choices if you want to read these books but I don't need to add them to my collection. It's better I stop writing about these books right now so I don't offend anyone who loves them. That's more fun if I've had a glass of wine.

I love talking about books and sharing them with others which is why I don't know why book clubs and I have never figured out how to work together. People are always asking me what I'm reading (I read a lot) so what better way to share my books with you than a list? Like my past recommendations of movie marathons and music, this list is in no way exhaustive or complete. It's not particularly feminist (although it's a little feminist). It's not one genre. It's a little bit of all the things I love. The books are either by women or about women (or both). There's only one book on this list that I don't physically own (I have the Kindle version). What's even better is this: we don't have to get together in my apartment or at a coffee shop, drink adequate wine or coffee, and make polite conversation until we get into the book. And then we'll only talk about the book for 15 minutes before we start talking about dating or children or whatever else women talk about at book club.

If you want to talk to me about the books, you can post a comment and I'll reply back! Or maybe one day I'll actually start a book club for people who are not convinced books clubs are for them and then you can join. It'll be fun and only mildly awkward. For now, let's get to the list.

A Book Club That Involves No One - Women's History Month Edition

Books About Music
  1. Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon: Do you like 90s indie rock? Do you like strong female voices? Do you think girls should move to the front at rock shows? Then this book is for you.
  2. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein: I'm a huge Sleater-Kinney fan and this book is a great look at the band and Carrie's life before, during, and after.
  3. Girls to the Front by Sara Marcus: Read this before Brownstein's book if you don't know a lot about Riot Grrls. I like that Marcus was there and part of what she's writing about.
  4. Just Kids and M Train by Patti Smith: These books are and aren't about music but I'm putting them here because it feels right to do so. Patti Smith is one of my heroes. Read Just Kids first.
Books About Art
  1. Lee Krasner by Gail Levin: The woman behind Jackson Pollock and in my opinion, the better artist. If you come visit NMWA (my museum), you can see one of her paintings in the collection. It's one of my favorites.
  2. Diane Arbus by Patricia Bosworth: This is the first biography of Arbus I read. I'm in the middle of Arthur Lubow's new book about her. Bosworth's biography is good for a casual Arbus fan; Lubow's is here for those who really want to dive in.
  3. Hubert's Freaks by Gregory Gibson: This book is also about Diane Arbus. A rare photography dealer finds photos he believes are Arbus originals. He goes on a quest to prove it.
  4. Edie by Jean Stein & George Plimpton: Edie Sedgwick is one of those figures in the Pop movement that is both loved and loathed. This book captures both well but doesn't malign her as others have done. 
Memoir and Biography
  1. My Life in France by Julia Child: I've read this book a few times (a good sign) and absolutely love it. Child lived a fascinating life before she became famous for bringing French cuisine to home cooks. Her love story with Paul Child is lovely; may we all find our Paul Child.
  2. Daughters of the Samurai by Janice P. Nimura: Fascinating account of three Japanese women sent to the US by the emperor to learn more about American life and bring that knowledge back to Japan. It's beautifully written for a historical biography. It was not a story I had ever heard of before picking this up and I was captivated.
  3. Queen of Bohemia: The Life of Louise Bryant by Mary V. Gibson: I watch Reds every Valentine's Day. Diane Keaton's portrayal of Bryant is amazing. This was a great read to learn more about Bryant with and without John Reed. Sappy me also enjoys their love letters.
  4. Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott: I love Civil War history. I'm particularly interested in the role of women at home and on the battle front so this book was wonderful to read. It's well researched, fun, and full of adventure. I would also recommend Drew Gilpin Faust's books if you like Civil War history.
  5. American Rose by Karen Abbott: Abbott's style is perfect for a biography of Gypsy Rose Lee, the queen of burlesque. It's funny, sad, and oddly glamorous. If your only knowledge of Gypsy Rose Lee is the musical, grab this book and enjoy.
  6. The Scarlet Sisters by Myra MacPherson: I'm going to admit that I'm only halfway into this book but it's great. This book has everything: scandal, the suffrage movement, a woman running for President, and the primness of the Gilded Age.
  7. Bossypants by Tina Fey: I'm a huge Tina Fey fan. I miss her on Weekend Update but love her stories here. There's a reason so many women respond to her humor; Fey is one of us in all our awkward glory.
  8. Yes Please by Amy Poehler: Great look at Poehler's rise to comedy stardom and the focus on what a hustle is it to be a women in comedy.
  9. Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem: I consider this a primer of sorts for reading Gloria Steinem. The collection includes work for the first two decades of her writing including her time undercover as a Playboy Bunny and work about her mother's struggle with mental illness. It's so freaking good.
  10. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: I love this collection of essay's from Roxane Gay. She talks about everything from Sweet Valley High to her love of trash tv to issues facing women of color. Her style is open and funny and accessible.
  11. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West: I identify with Lindy West in a lot of ways. It's challenging to be a loud woman with opinions and feelings and ideas in a world that would prefer quiet, demure women who don't take up a lot of space. 
  1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: This is a magical book. It's beautifully written with vibrant characters, fantastical landscapes, and a love story that isn't overdone or trite. I both want and don't want to see this as a movie.
  2. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood: Please read the book before you watch the Hulu series (I'm not sure it's started yet but you get my point). Probably one of my favorite novels of all time, you owe it to yourself to read it. Set in a future version of the US, the book is both cautionary tale and satire of what can happen when power goes unchecked. 
  3. The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean: Combines my love of vintage fashion with a story of a woman trying to figure out who she wants to be. The characters are fun and real which is not always easy to do in fiction.
  4. Peyton Place by Grace Metalious: For it's time Peyton Place was incredibly controversial for its depiction of sex, domestic abuse, and the way in which small towns create terrible people. It's one of the biggest selling novels of all time and was made into a film starring Lana Turner. It's frank and gossipy all at the same time. I would recommend the sequel too.
I hope that's enough recommendations to get you started. As I said before, this is not an exhaustive list but some of my favorites. Share yours in the comments!

Next week: Lazy Movie Weekend gets into the suffrage movement with our viewing of Iron Jawed Angels. 

Don't forget to support A Day Without a Woman. I'll be wearing red in solidarity since I can't take off work. Show your support in whatever way you can!

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