Not That Bad

Rating: 
Author: Edited by Roxane Gay
Genres: Essays, Non-fiction
Pub date: May 2018 (read as audiobook Jul. 2018)

I listened to Not That Bad as an audiobook on audible and thank goodness I’ve finally found a new book that translates well to audiobook! I really should just stick to non-fiction when it comes to audiobooks because they translate so much better when read aloud than fiction (from my experience anyways). I read Bad Feminist, a series of essays by Roxane Gay, as well as her memoir, Hunger, and loved them both. This collection is edited by Roxane Gay; she’s not featured in any of the essays, but it was wonderful!

Not That Bad represents a diverse collection of stories about rape culture and how women condition themselves to hide their experiences or tell themselves their experiences aren’t valid because they “weren’t that bad” in comparison to other stories they’ve heard. How women brush off street harrassment because it’s not as bad as getting raped, how we’re taught to always be nice at the expense of our own comfort and safety, how a certain level of harrassment should be expected because of what we wore or how we acted, how we should be flattered instead of offended if we’re still getting catcalls when we’re older.

I’ll admit, because I listened to this as an audiobook over several weeks, I’m already struggling to recall a lot of the essays, but there are two that stick out for me.

The first was an essay about a girl in college who was pressured into attending a party (on a boat/island) with a guy who she obviously didn’t like and was afraid of – and how she spent the whole night hiding from him because she knew he expected sex and she didn’t want it. She watched him from a far as he angrily stormed around the island looking for her, asking “where’s that f***ing b***h”, and how she waited until she felt it was late enough to safely go back to their room, only to be woken from sleep to him raping her. “They will wake you up to rape you.”

It’s enraging that women can never win and can never really be safe. That many men feel they can expect sex for taking a woman out or buying her something, or in this case, taking her to a boat party. That they feel entitled to call women horrible, derogatory things if they aren’t interested in having sex and that they feel in any way entitled to a women’s body without her consent. In this case, the author later sees her rapist and he makes jokes about her rape and legitimately doesn’t think that he raped her. I’m not sure why this story stood out to me more than any of the others. This to me is very obviously “that bad”, just as all of the other stories are, but women still condition themselves to keep quiet about these horrible, invasive things that happen to them and are even forced to interact with their rapists after the fact. Some of these stories are about rape, some are about harrassment, some are about rape culture, but they are all “that bad”.

The second story that stands out to me is that of another woman who was raped and when she tells other people about it, she is routinely told, “you’re lucky he didn’t kill you”. I can’t even imagine having this response to a rape victim, but I can imagine it in a million other scenarios. He catcalled you? You’re lucky he didn’t touch you. He touched you? You’re lucky he didn’t rape you. It goes so well with this idea that as women we are responsible for the things that happen to us and not the people who actually perpetrate them. If you go drinking wearing a short skirt, you’re lucky if no one touches you. If you walk home alone a night, you’re lucky if no one bothers you. If you stay with a person who hits you, you’re lucky he doesn’t kill you.

This logic is so obviously flawed and yet it’s so pervasive in our society. This is a hard collection to read, but so important. I especially loved that many of these essays were narrated by the writers. I love when audiobooks are narrated by the writers because no one can convey tone better than the author. I only talked about two of the essays, but they are all meaningful and important in their own ways. A great collection!

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Scrappy Little Nobody

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: 
Author: Anna Kendrick
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Humour
Read: Nov. 2017

Wow, this was much better than anticipated!

I’m not really an Anna Kendrick fan, with the exception of Pitch Perfect, but Scrappy Little Nobody was surprisingly well written and actually really interesting. Kendrick spends a few chapters on her childhood to let us know she really does come from a normal family and then she jumps into how she got into acting and what it was like adjusting to fame and Hollywood.

I found her beginnings really interesting; I had no idea she started off on Broadway at the age of 12, but I guess that helps to explain why she’s been featured in so many singing roles. She talked about her first experience on a film set when she did Camp at 14 and how surreal it was when the film featured at Sundance. She was disappointed when she told her class she was going to Sundance and they didn’t seem to care, until she later discovered they just didn’t realize she meant THE Sundance because they couldn’t picture tiny little Anna occupying the same festival as mega stars like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

She moved to LA straight out of high school and landed the role of Jessica on Twilight. I got a kick out of listening to her talk about Twilight and how awesome it was to get a minor role like Jessica because you got to be in the film and hang out with the stars for a few weeks each film, without any of the crazy fan notoriety, because really, who cares about Jessica anyways. But the money from Twilight kept her afloat financially for two years because even after landing a role in arguably one of the largest teen franchises (AFTER HP YOU GUYS), she still lived with two guys in a crappy apartment.

The first time I remember knowing who Kendrick was with Up in the Air. I didn’t really care for it; I remember trying to read the book and then abandoning it, not liking the movie, and promptly forgetting about it. But this was really her first major role and she was nominated for an Oscar for it! I found it fascinating though because she still never really made any money until after this movie because it was never anticipated to do so well. So even when she attended the Oscars for the first time as a nominee, she was still pretty much broke and had to be forced by her stylist to buy a $1000 pair of Louboutin shoes because evidently these things matter. I enjoyed her commentary on how ridiculous it is that when you’re starting out that you have to spend money you don’t have on purchases like this, but once you legit become famous and can afford it, designers give you their stuff for free.

Kendrick had a lot of meaningful insight into Hollywood and I like that she never takes herself too seriously. I felt this was a very honest memoir and I really did feel that she wasn’t so different to me. Even though she obviously is, she now feels like a real, down-to-earth person versus just another famous person living in a fantasy world with no clue how the rest of us live.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter

AKA: One Day This Will Matter
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Scaachi Koul
Genres: Non-fiction, Essays, Memoir
Read: Dec. 2017 on audiobook

 

I listened to this as an audiobook and I loved it! It is narrated by the author and I really enjoyed both her writing and narration.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter is a series of essays written by Scaachi Koul, daughter of Indian immigrants who grew up in Calgary. She later moved to Toronto for university and I believe she currently works for Buzzfeed.

I didn’t really know what this was about before I picked it up. I selected it very quickly when I was looking for something to listen to on a run because I had seen some buzz about it and I like non-fiction audiobooks that are narrated by the author. I was thrilled to discover it was written by a Canadian and about her experiences growing up in Canada and the challenges of being the daughter of immigrants.

Scaachi is really funny and she is also very insightful. I can’t believe she is the same age as me, which made this book all the more impressive. Canadians like to be critical of America (especially in the Trump era) and we like to think we’re better and more progressive, but there is definitely still what Scaachi calls “casual racism” happening here. I wouldn’t say this book was necessarily “eye-opening” for me, but it was definitely a perspective I don’t hear very often and I really appreciated Scaachi’s observations.

She talks about what it’s like to grow up female and Indian. How she is envied for her lush, thick indian hair, but at the same time shamed for having hair everywhere else on her body. What it’s like to travel back to India and discover that while you don’t quite fit in Canada, you don’t fit here either and the life your parents so fondly remember doesn’t really exist anymore. How challenging it is to have to hide all your romantic relationships growing up and what it’s like bringing a white boy 10 years your senior home to your parents.

Her parents have had a large influence on her life and it was interesting to learn more about Indian culture – the stereotypes, inequities, and familial importance. I like to think I’ve learned a little bit about Indian culture since moving to Vancouver, but I was really interested in Scaachi’s thoughts on Indian weddings, arranged marriages, and the rites and passages of her culture. She has a contentious relationship with her father that I couldn’t relate to – I found her father very unyielding and sometimes even childish in his reactions – but she still made me like him and helped me to understand a little bit more about Indian families.

I think stories like Scaachi’s are important because they provide perspective and enable you to walk in someone else’s shoes to an extent. It helps when they’re really well written, which this was. Scaachi had a perfect blend of just enough humour to make it fun, but enough perspective to also make her stories meaningful.

It’s a quick read, even as an audiobook, and I would definitely recommend!

The Radium Girls

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Kate Moore
Genres: History, Non-Fiction
Read: Nov. 2017

Why do we always forget women’s history? Why do we never even record it?

The Radium Girls inspire me. Thank you Kate Moore for writing this book and reminding us of the struggle these women went through and the impact their fight has had on all those workers to come after them. This book was so well researched and so well written. Sometimes I have trouble with non-fiction, but this read like fiction and Moore infused a lot of emotion into her telling of history.

The Radium Girls tells the story of the thousands of girls who worked as dial painters in radium factories in small american towns beginning in 1917 and continuing into the 1970’s. Radium was still a relatively new discovery at this time and a luminous paint was developed using radium for painting the dials on watch faces and aviation and military equipment throughout the Great War.

The US Radium Corporation set up a factory in Orange, New Jersey and their competitor, Radium Dial, later set up another factory in Ottawa, Illinois. Hundreds of girls in both towns were hired as dial painters at the factories. While the dangers of radium were definitely known at this time, it was more often touted as a ‘wonder’ drug with many health benefits. The girls at the factory were taught to paint the dials using the ‘lip – dip – paint’ method. In order to get the brushes super fine for precision painting, they were taught to use their lips to wet the brush to a fine point. This resulted in them ingesting the radium-laced paint with each ‘lip and dip’ and due to poor cleaning procedures at the plant, they often took radium powder home on their shoes and clothes. They became known as ‘glowing girls’.

As you can imagine, ingesting radium daily on the job is not the best practice and the girls eventually started developing health problems, including fatigue, achy backs, limps and loose teeth. Some girls experienced a very rapid decline in health, while others experienced slower symptoms. However, all of the symptoms resulted in the deterioration of the women’s bodies, often resulting in death. Unfortunately, it can take years for symptoms of radium poisoning to develop and with many women having moved on from their dial painting jobs several years prior, and with little known about radium poisoning at the time, doctors had a really hard time diagnosing their issues.

Moore is unflinching in her storytelling of the events that took place in Orange and Ottawa in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Parts of the book are very difficult to read due to the immense suffering the radium girls went through. Both radium companies tried to deny any wrongdoing and it is shameful and literally evil the lengths they went to distance themselves from the girls and any wrongdoing. The US Radium Corporation were a bunch of snakes, but Radium Dial was downright criminal. Both companies repeatedly lied to the girls and to the courts and it was actually enraging to read about the ordeal they put the radium girls through.

Once a connection was finally made between the girls symptoms and radium poisoning, many of the girls brought legal action against the companies. They went through hell from both the radium poisoning and from the lengths they went to try and secure some kind of justice and compensation for their families.

These girls inspire me because despite suffering some of the worst pain I’ve heard described, they persevered and fought relentlessly for justice – mostly for the radium girls that would come behind them as they were unlikely to live long enough to enjoy any justice they might find for themselves. They literally birthed the laws that now exist surrounding workers rights and likely saved thousands of lives through the development of safety procedures and protocols when working with radium as a result of their case.

I was totally blown away by this book. It is some heavy subject matter, but I was completely enthralled by their story and inhaled this 500 pager in just 2 days. Even though this book takes place in the 20’s and 30’s, it is still hugely relevant today. Women are still routinely ignored and silenced. What frustrated me about this book was that nobody gave a shit about the women and that they were literally losing their lives on the job. In fact, people only even started talking about radium use in the plant when the first male employee died in New Jersey, even though several women had already died at this point.

Because the radium girls in Ottawa began pursuing litigation in the 30’s, when the Great Depression was at its worst, the community shunned them. They saw Radium Dial as a quality employer in a time when jobs were hard to come by and the community tried to silence the women when they came out saying they’d been poisoned and said they made it all up because they didn’t want to lose the plant. When the girls approached their boss after Charlotte Purcell lost her arm to radium poisoning, he literally looked at them and told them he saw nothing wrong with them. Women were second class citizens and the girls were routinely silenced and ignored.

Nevertheless, they persevered. I love that these types of stories about women are finally becoming mainstream. These stories deserve and need to be told. Women’s history is so important and so often forgotten or unrecorded. The post script of this book destroyed me because it proves how easily history is forgotten and repeated. That’s why I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone!

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body


Rating:
 ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Roxane Gay
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Feminist
Read: May 2017

 

I read Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist a few years ago and really enjoyed her essays, but I definitely think this a stronger book and one that takes a lot of courage to write.

“The Story of my body is not a story of triumph… Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story.”

This is one of the opening passages in Hunger and why I think Gay is such a brave writer. Her memoir is ultimately about her being gang-raped at the age of 12 and how that has since changed and shaped her entire life. Gay never told anyone about her rape and kept her fear and shame bottled up for most of her life, turning to food as a comfort. Making herself big as a way to feel safe within her body.

This is a truly heartbreaking story because Gay still suffers PTSD along with the added challenges of moving around in a world that is not built for people her size, much less black women of her size. She offers many anecdotes on what it’s like to live in a world where you’re medically classified under the horrible term of “super morbidly obese” (seriously, who decided this was okay?).

I’ve been trying to educate myself on intersectional feminism and Gay’s memoir was helpful in recognizing the ways I benefit from thin privilege. There are many obvious ways in which I benefit from thin privilege, but Gay’s memoir highlighted other ways such as the constant worries she faces about fitting in chairs and whether or not she’ll be able to easily access the stage at events she speaks at. She tells one story of a time she spoke at an event that had a stage about 2 feet off the ground with no stairs and how mortifying it was as she struggled to get onstage and then proceeded to have to crouch over her chair for 2 hours because she felt a small crack when she first started to sit.

One of the most helpful articles for me in understanding white privilege was Peggy MacIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack as well an imitation essay, The Male Privilege Checklist. This essay ends with the ultimate check of male privilege being that “I have the privilege of being unaware of my male privilege.” I was reminded of this while reading Gay’s memoir because it helped me realize some of the ways in which I am unaware of my thin privilege (as well as reinforcing some of the ways I was aware of).

Gay’s honesty is part of what makes this such a strong memoir, but I also really appreciated her insights into what it means to be a woman in our society. How we treat the thousands of girls and women who have been emotionally, physically, or sexually abused – how we treat black, fat, disabled, poor, or gay girls and women – and how that affects our body image, self-confidence, and the way we grow up and who we develop into.

Like I said, this is a heartbreaking story, but also a very important one.

“He said/she said is why so many victims don’t come forward. All too often, what “he said” matters more, so we just swallow the truth. We swallow it, and more often than not, that truth turns rancid. It spreads through the body like an infection. It becomes depression or addiction or obsession or some other physical manifestation of the silence of what she would have said, needed to say, couldn’t say.”