4 Strategies for the Dreaded Reading Slump

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Do you ever get that feeling that you just can’t read another word? That you can’t stand a book you loved just a few days ago? A reading slump, for the avid reader, is painful. It’s like having a fight with a best friend.

I recently went through a slump from a variety of reasons: too ill to think, starting a new office job, and being in the midst of some very heavy books (The Meaning of Freedom, Tainted WitnessIf This Is A Woman: Inside Ravensbruck). Even articles and magazines lost their allure – and I’m one of those people who will read the oven manual if there’s nothing else around!

I managed to overcome the slump with a few tactics:

1. Take a break from reading

When you don’t feel like reading, don’t force yourself. Instead of picking up a book to read on the train or in the evening, I looked at dream interiors on Pintrest, watched How to Get Away With Murder, and listened to podcasts. Working on non-bookish projects and getting outdoors are other options.

2. Go book shopping – at the library

I love the library for many, many reasons, but one of the best is that an unread book can be returned, rather than sitting on the bookshelf making you feel guilty for not reading it. I browsed the shelves for a while, picking up interesting titles and covers. One book had a recommendation from Diana Gabadon on it – one of my favourite pleasure-read authors. It was much shorter than her books, so I figured I’d try it.

3. Read something light in a favourite genre

The book was Shadow on the Crown, about Queen Emma of Normandy, who was queen of England from 1002-1035 and mother to two subsequent kings. Her remarkable life, about which not much is known beyond a book she commissioned in 1040, is brought to life by Patricia Bracewell in a scheming court with a side romance for good measure. Unfortunately, the third book is still in progress, but reading the first two in the trilogy was enough to jump-start my reading habits.

4. Ask a friend for a recommendation

I was talking to my friend about the Queen Emma trilogy. She recommended another historical quasi-romance series, the Maggie Hope mysteries.  I still felt the need for something less involved than social justice non-fiction, so I found the books at the library and devoured the first two (the third is sitting in my pile of Bailey’s Prize longlisters waiting patiently). I can’t recommend bookish friends enough – we’ve all been there! No IRL bookish friends? The Books and Feminism community is here for you.

What are your best strategies for overcoming a reading slump?

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2016 Reading In Review

Lots of travel and (f)unemployment means that (according to Goodreads) I read 44 books this year from my goal of 24. For the curious, my full list is here. There were good books, okay books, books I read for book club meetings I never went to. Here are four of the best I read in 2016:

Best FictionHomegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing is gripping, beautiful, and sad. The story of two branches of a family, one sister sold into slavery, the other sold as wife to a British slaver in Ghana. In a series of stories and vignettes, Gyasi traces their descendants in both America and Ghana. I’ll be reviewing it fully next week. Look for this one to be on a lot of awards lists.

Best Nonfiction: The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science by Will Storr (alternate title: The Heretics)

Why do people believe things that have been disproven? Journalist Will Storr sets out to find why, even in the face of contrary evidence, some people will believe something that seems ridiculous. Everyone knows someone (or is someone) who firmly believes something that has little to no evidence – or even contradictory evidence.

Best Memoir: Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh

I laughed, I cried, I read it again. Brosh is like me – a young person with variable mental health trying to cope with life. Some of the stories are repeats of blog posts, but it’s all fantastic. Her depiction of depression is spot-on.

Best Biography: Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang

Cixi wasn’t even the Emperor’s favorite concubine, but she was the only one who gave birth to a son. She leveraged her position when the Emperor died to rule a country that considered women to be property at best. Cixi brought China into modernity but ultimately ended her life with a mixed legacy. A fascinating look at a powerful, clever woman.

 

In 2017, I‘ll be reading books by only women authorssign up for the newsletter or follow #womenwriters2017 on Instagram

Book Review: The Memory Stones

Stars: Four

Drinking: Twinings Spicy Chai Tea 

Osvaldo, his family, and their friends think nothing of the coup. They’ve lived through coups before. This one isn’t much different at first…until people start disappearing. When Osvaldo’s daughter Graciela’s fiance is taken, the family is pulled into the drama of the Desaparecidos – the disappeared.

The Guerra Sucia (Dirty War) in Argentina was a 9 year period of military rule. Anyone suspected of being a “subversive” was “disappeared” – taken into clandestine custody, tortured, and usually killed. Although the official Argentine government figure is 13,000, the true number of “disappeared” may never be known.

During this time, pregnant women or women with small children who were “disappeared” had their babies taken from them. These children were then adopted by military or government-supporting Catholic families. An estimated 500 children were taken from their families. Some are only now finding out their true histories.

The Memory Stones follows Osvaldo in exile and his wife Yolanda, still in Buenos Aires, as they search first for Graciela’s fiance, then Graciela, and finally, for the child Graciela was rumored to be carrying when she was arrested. Meanwhile, a young woman struggles to understand why she doesn’t fit into  the perfect life her parents and boyfriend want for her. It is well-written, if at times a bit overly metaphoric.

Heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful, The Memory Stones explores family, identity, and a part of Argentina’s history that the country would rather forget.

 

Don’t forget to sign up for the 2017 Women Writers Reading Challenge and newsletter!

Women Writers 2017 Reading Challenge

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This reading challenge is pretty simple: only read books by women writers for one year. Bonus: Review it in as many places as possible – blog, Goodreads, Twitter, smoke signals, whatever gets the word out about fabulous women writers. I’ll be using #womenwriters2017 on Twitter and Instagram

What counts? Any writer who identifies as a woman.That’s it. Books co-authored by men are ok, but a woman has to be one of the authors. If it’s a collection, one of the editors should be a woman OR at least half the entries should be by women.

Find a book by a man you really want to read? Add it to your TBR and read it in 2017.

Need suggestions? Check out the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Amelia Bloomer Project, VIDA, Persephone Books, or Our Shared Shelf for inspiration.

Sign up here for the Challenge and to receive a monthly newsletter!

Review: The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

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Read: The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

Stars: Five

Drinking: Lavazza Prontissimo! Intenso

The Improbability of Love is a sprawling novel full of intrigue featuring the seedy underbelly of London’s high art world.  At first glance, it seems like the usual contemporary fiction, but Rothschild has crafted the story so well that the reader is immersed. I only put it down with regret for work and sleep. This book has everything: Nazis, dysfunctional parent-child relationships, a sweet love story, and MI5.

What made the novel so unique from others in its class was the characters, particularly the titular painting. Found – rescued – from a junk shop by Annie, a broken-hearted chef, the painting tells us its story interwoven with Annie’s and that of Rebecca, Annie’s boss and heir to an art auction house. From the painter’s short and tragic life to Nazi looters, and royal hijinks all over Europe in between, the painting represented love to all who owned it.

She has the eye. The heart. She may be bog poor but she knows, doesn’t she? She can feel and sense my greatness. Like anyone, I need to be loved and admired.

Jesse was another character that I loved. He knew that Annie was struggling with both herself, her past relationship, and her mother. Instead of pushing her into a relationship or whining about being “friendzoned,” he accepted that Annie did not want a romantic relationship and instead was actually a friend. As an artist, he was fascinated by the painting and its mystery. He was able to put aside his unrequited romance to support Annie in solving the puzzle, even when it

The mystery part of the book was gripping as well, especially in the last twists and turns of the painting’s history. I honestly did not see the twists and turns of the last quarter of the book coming.

The Improbability of Love is a fun, lighthearted mystery. I highly recommend it.

 

5 Essential Feminist Words

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feminism” by Jay Morrison is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Whether you are new to feminism or have been one for years, there are a lot of terms that get thrown around in the movement that you may not be familiar with. Here are 5 essentials:

1) Feminism is the idea that all people are equal and thus should have equal opportunities in life. Feminism seeks to identify and dismantle barriers to equality.

2) Intersectionality was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in the 1980s. Intersectionality is the idea that people have more than multiple identities that interact to create overlapping disadvantages.

3) Gender norms are the socially constructed ideas of how men and women should behave, dress, and interact. Those who challenge or do not adhere to gender norms can face negative consequences such as bullying, shaming, or ostracism.

4) Mansplaining is when a man explains a woman’s area of expertise to her, particularly when he is less educated about it.

5) Patriarchy is the system whereby men (usually white men) hold the power and authority. Patriarchy usually excludes or discourages women from gaining  any type of power. It interacts with gender norms to create a rigid system of behavior and roles for men and women that neither can escape easily.

Of course, these 5 terms are not an exhaustive list of feminist language. Share more below!

Feminist On Wednesdays We Smash The Patriarchy Feminism Ladies T-Shirt
Hallion Clothing on Etsy

Review: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

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Read: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

Stars: Two

Have you seen the trailer for the Wonder Woman movie yet? If not, stop everything, go watch it and then come back. It looks EPIC.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman, on the other hand, was disappointing. Jill Lepore found a fascinating, complex web of influences and family secrets. But the way the narrative was structured made it incredibly difficult to read. She jumped around in time and between characters with little to no transition or explanation. Given that the book is a biography of William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman’s creator, and his polygamous family,  more narrative structure would have helped immensely.

Marston was a con man who was entirely sincere. His life was full of lies and half-truths that he seemed to believe anyway. From the invention of the lie detector to the true author of various papers and books that he wrote, the truth was stretched in every way possible. He used this exaggerated credentials for publicity for himself and his creations.

Marston was an unusual man who believed in women’s rights and equality in a time when even many women did not. As an undergraduate at Harvard, he heard famous suffragettes like Florence Kelley and Emmeline Pankhurst speak. His feminism clearly influenced the creation of Wonder Woman and all she stands for.  The Marston family was polygamous at a time when bigamy was incredibly taboo, although the family kept it hidden. His two wives, Betty and Olive, and their families also influenced Wonder Woman’s creation. The younger wife, Olive, in particular, was a model for Wonder Woman. She wore two thick bracelets around her wrists following their marriage. Her aunt, Margaret Sanger, was also an influence on Wonder Woman’s principles and activism.

Lepore discusses the changes to Wonder Woman following Marston’s death. The character remained popular, but her focus turned away from gender equality. The new writer did not agree with Marston’s vision of Wonder Woman as a women’s rights activist. In the 1970s, Wonder Woman, controversially, was on the cover of Ms. magazine, sparking a discord among feminists and conspiracy theories that Ms. and Gloria Steinem were trying to destroy the women’s rights movement. A superhero born to be a feminist icon became a point of division.

And, while the Redstockings’ consipracy theory really was crazy, they did have a point about Wonder Woman. Who needs consciousness-raising and equal pay when you’re an Amazon with an invisible plane?

The most touching detail of the book is that Betty and Olive lived together following Marston’s death until Olive died in 1990. Their decades of family life, with Betty earning to support the family and Olive raising the children and writing articles for extra money, made the two women close. All four children considered both women to be their mothers. When the children finally found out the truth about the family, one son was angry about the secrecy, but the rest took it in stride.

Overall,  The Secret History of Wonder Woman has a lot of good history and facts. But the narrative structure is so difficult to follow that I really cannot recommend it. Lepore had unprecedented access to the Marston family and their documents, but unfortunately, that is not enough to overcome the reading issues. If you are interested in the feminist  influences on Wonder Woman and her history, it’s hardly worth trying to read.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, IMDB