By Cole Bubenik, Lauren Ferguson, Frances Molina, Sarah Neal, and Jourden V. Sander
Continuing our reoccurring series “Women We Have Read,” in this second installment, staff members Jourden Sander, Frances Molina, Sarah Neal, Lauren Ferguson, and Cole Bubenik talk about what they’ve been reading over the holidays, and give us a look at what they’re looking forward to reading in 2015!
Cole Bubenik, Managing Editor:
I haven’t been reading a lot actually and that’s a shame. Or, if I have been reading, I’ve mostly been reading just news articles and I can’t remember for the life of me who those are all written by. I’ve been keeping up with a lot of political comic artists over at The Nib, and I’m always entertained by anything Gemma Correll, Jen Sorensen, Emily Flake, and Liza Donnelly create. I’d give you specifics but you really should just check out all of their work, they’re each unique but well worth the read. I have a special place in my hear too for Erika Moen’s “Oh Joy Sex Toy” comics, which we’ve featured on the blog before.
As for writers and novelists, I hammered through Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice and George Saunders’ In Persuasion Nation and while they’re not women, they’re both definitely worth the read. Next on the docket is Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State, which I started earlier in the year but then school got in the way. And for final measures a hodgepodge of other articles and things, by women, I’ve read or listened to: Jennifer Richardson writes “Big Pharma Wants to Date Me, and Other Quirks of Being Sick in America” which is incredibly informative, Willa Brown’s lovely essay in The Atlantic about the rise of Lumbersexuality entitled “Lumbersexuality and its Discontents” and, even though I shouldn’t have to say this because everyone already knows about it: Serial by Sarah Koeing is a real treat.
Frances Molina, Feature Writer and Lifestyle Section Editor:
After burning through Gone Girl in about two and half days, I was keen to dig into another of Gillian Flynn’s novels. I picked up Dark Places during winter break when I would be able to read and thrash about in literary ecstasy in the comfort and privacy of my home. The novel, Flynn’s second, was a thrilling whodunit that absolutely blew me away. I don’t know what I was expecting but once I picked it up there was really no putting it down. It stuck to me like a stain. Dark Places was scarier than Gone Girl and at times even a little obscene, but definitely not lacking in Flynn’s distinctively gritty voice. Once again, I am completely enthralled with the unflinching honesty with which Flynn approaches her characters, especially the women.
Amy Elliot Dunne, the leading lady in Gone Girl (I hesitate to call her the protagonist, for obvious reasons), can hardly be quantified or dismissed as an ordinary two-dimensional female trope and this seems to be Flynn’s trend when it comes to the women in her novels. Flynn really doesn’t shy away from the grotesque whether it’s in her characters or in the subject matter and I think that’s what I really appreciate about her. She opts for realness rather than niceness, never compromises the story for a neat happy ending, and never tries to convince the reader that her characters are anything other than what they are: human. Flawed and brilliant, disgusting and endearing. Her novels are certainly not for the faint of heart but her voice is just fantastic, as chilling and unforgettable as her characters. If you’re looking for a good – nay, phenomenal – read to kick off the semester, I highly recommend anything by Gillian Flynn.
Jourden V. Sander, Editor-In-Chief:
I fall in line with our Managing Editor, Cole, in that I too have let reading for pleasure fall by the wayside over the last few months. Still, I have several great authors that I can discuss, and reads that are on my to-do list. Last semester I was enrolled in a fabulous English class: Travel Literature. There I discovered travel authors that inspired a desire in me to boat, run, bike, train and travel all over the world in just about any fashion that I could–travel authors instill a wanderlust that comes from a different place than the typically upper class, bourgeoisie flavor that we tend to associate traveling with. My first recommendation comes from a well-known travel author: Robyn Davidson. With her I explored the deserts of Australia in her curt and introspective book Tracks. If her writing style interests you, she has a few other travel books as well.
Aside from travel literature, I recently finished a few stellar plays including The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl, and The Aliens by Annie Baker. If there’s anything on this list that I would hope you read, it’s The Aliens. This play is easily one of my favorite pieces of literature of all time. I also recently started Amy Poehler’s dearly anticipated Yes Please, and it’s somehow better than I was expecting. On a similar thread of thinking, I picked up Mindy Kaling’s book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? which I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time. And as one of my favorite authors, I’ve committed myself to reading more of Margaret Atwood’s collection. I also plan on reading Roxane Gay’s fiction debut, as well as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (as Frances has suggested!). Comics and modern poetry have made my to-do list as well, so please reach out to me with any suggestions!
Sarah Neal, Interview Section Editor:
This year turned out to be a good year for discovering women writers. For my fiction creative writing class, I was assigned both Flannery O’Conner and Lydia Davis to study, both of whom I ended up loving. These women I had heard about, but had never read before, and I can’t stress enough how refreshing it was to have contemporary literature written by women being assigned for a class.
We read miscellaneous stories by Davis, which wowed be endlessly, but after reading her beautifully poignant and zany story “A Few Things Wrong With Me,” I was lured in, and it was with much eagerness and anticipation that I purchased her collected stories. Her writing is highly self-aware, yet she maintains an interesting aloofness, an ambiguity of character and circumstance, which allows the reader to see themselves in the characters she creates, giving her stories a certain universal appeal. I am truly at a loss when it comes to grasping the secret to her writing—some of her stories are at once simple and inexplicably complex. I can only assume she intertwines fiction with truth, as most great writers do, because she’s able to touch such a deep part of the human condition through her characters’ experiences.
Flannery O’Conner blew my mind as well, but in a very different way. I read The Violent Bear It Away last month, and I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that. Her writing is dark and harrowing, and it constantly surprises. I find it particularly interesting how she writes characters, who I would have absolutely no interest in knowing, in a compelling way. These are characters who I cannot, by any shred of me, identify with, and yet O’Conner’s writing sucks me in. Religion, and corruption of religion, are big themes in her writing, and while that topic doesn’t particularly draw me in when I’m reading the back of a book, there’s something about the way O’Conner tells a story—she simply does not shy away from the grittiness, and as a result her writing is brave and unflinching, in both word choice and plot.
Lauren Ferguson, Feature Writer:
I spent most of my winter break being incredibly productive by sitting on the couch watching the entirety of 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, so it only seemed fitting that I’d read the books put out by the show’s stars, Tiny Fey’s Bossypants and Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. Although not quite beautiful literary prose, the books were an interesting insight into the comedy world and how hard Fey and Poehler had to work to establish a place for modern female comedians. I love the idea of the former Saturday Night Live queens dominating the comedy scene, and I’ve admired both women immensely.
However, from a feminist perspective, I can’t help but be disappointed in both books due to their rampant use of body shaming. Both women have a page where they portray the idea that they’re better than other women because they don’t have plastic surgery. To quote Amy Poehler, “fake boobs are weird”. Seriously? Furthermore, Fey’s Bossypants is filled with racist one-liners. For example, she mentions that viewers were upset for 30 Rock using blackface, but does so in a way that makes the viewers seem overcritical and the writers of the show to just have ‘slipped up’ instead of making a racist decision. There are dozens of other occurrences of problematic language in both books, and it is hard to enjoy these women when I know how problematic they can be. Perhaps Fey and Poehler aren’t the heroes of equality I once thought they were.
Bossypants and Yes Please are a good lesson on being critical of the media we imbibe. I’m disappointed and some of their writing was troublesome, but that doesn’t negate the fact that their books contain other beautiful messages of feminism, and what each woman has done for women in comedy. In a story from Bossypants about Poehler on SNL, “[Poehler] was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it”. At the risk of sounding like an apologist, Fey and Poehler wrote some awful things, they also worked against sexism and made huge strides for the perception of women in media. However, their books are easy-to-swallow feminism, and fail many women. My winter break books, while excellent examples of funny women, left a bad taste in my mouth. I expect more from my fellow ladies.