Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay: A Review

On the 2018 Reading Challenge list is a book about feminism. This isn’t a topic I have had much interest in pursuing, so I wasn’t really sure where I wanted to go with it. However, the writing of Roxane Gay must have recently come to my attention because Bad Feminist was the first title to come to mind when I went looking for a book to fill this prompt.

I decided I would listen to this book on audio. I’m not convinced that was the best choice for me. The only time I have for listening to audio books is on my commute from work. Since this is a collection of essays, the timing of my commute didn’t work well with the natural breaks of the book. As a result, my experience sometimes felt a bit disjointed.

Still, it is a good book. Gay takes on a number of difficult subjects, not just feminism. She also writes about racism, rape and rape culture, abortion and other issues facing women. Several of the essays are basically a literary criticism of a variety of popular books, movies and television shows, most of which I’ve never read or viewed.

In the first essay, Gay describes herself as a “bad feminist.” She goes on to explain what she means by this. The essays that follow are well organized, and they flow pretty easily from one to the next. She concludes the book with a two part essay referring back to the original, “bad feminist” idea, defending her position as such.

I found myself agreeing with most of what she had to say in this book. I think I too might consider myself a “bad feminist,” if I can be considered any kind of feminist at all. I don’t agree with everything she said, but she gave me much to think about on a lot of different subjects. Occasionally, Gay uses strong language, and at times that felt forced and out of place. That may have been more about the narrator reading the book than the writer herself, however.

The essays in Bad Feminist are well written and thought provoking. Sometimes they are funny, sometimes, not so much. Gay speaks openly and honestly about tough and sometimes deeply personal subjects. I would like to read this book again, though I’d like to be able to focus on just one essay at a time.

Unlock the Muse – March 7, 2018

Happy March! Did it arrive as a lion or a lamb? So far, it’s been rather lamb-like where I live. The robins have arrived, daffodils are blooming and the trees are wreaking havoc on my allergies. But it has still been so cold.

A good time to warm up with some epic adventuring. I’ve dusted off my middle grade adventure manuscripts and I’m preparing to dive back into the imaginary realm of the Silver Compass Adventures. One of the boys in this series is a huge baseball fan. As Little League teams gear up all over, what better time than now to get back to work on these stories?

On that note, this week’s writing prompt seems oddly appropriate:

Go to a sporting event, and then picture yourself in the game. Write what it would have been like to be a participant.

Two of my sons have just finished playing basketball and are getting ready to start soccer. I’ve been to a lot of sporting events over the last couple of months, though I’m not sure that first/second grade boys’ basketball is what the prompt writer had in mind. Still, as someone trying to write stories for middle grade boys, it might be exactly the right sort of event to put myself into.

If you can’t get to a live sporting event, watch one on television. Watch the latest pay-per-view fight event. It’s March Madness time and college basketball is in full swing. Imagine yourself as one of the players. Alternatively, put one of your fictional characters out there on the court.

Writing Down the Bones remains on my bookshelf unopened. It hasn’t been a great week for starting new books. However, there’s another excellent essay in the Writers of the Future, volume 29 that I think offers good insight to writers, even if it is written to artists/illustrators.

In his essay, “Journey For a New Artist,” Larry Elmore says:

For many occupations there is a set course to follow: go to college, get a degree, make good grades, then apply to companies for jobs in your appropriate field. … There has never been a set path for creative people such as artists, musicians, writers, actors and all occupations that would include the Arts.

He then gives four tips from his own journey:

  • Educate yourself in your field – Though this is specifically the journey of an artist, I still think these principles can be applied to the writing. A writer’s education might not be formal college training in literature or creative writing. But every writer should be familiar with the workings of their chosen genre. Read, read, read!
  • Drawing is the foundation – The foundation for every writer should be the act of writing itself. That’s why I offer these writing exercises each week. Write, write, write!
  • Learn perspective – Learning perspective for the writer is about learning empathy. See the world through the eyes of another. Put yourself into the minds of others. Dare to imagine life from their point of view.
  • Learn to see – Finally, learn to see. Be observant. Pay attention to what is happening around you, and focus on the details.

March is Women’s History Month. In light of that, the question of the month is: how have women shaped your fiction – real life women as well as fictional?

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here:

Maplecroft, by Cherie Priest: A Review

This book is #6 on my 2018 Reading Challenge list, a novel based on a real person. I found this book on a Goodreads list while searching for something to meet this prompt. I found the cover attractive and the premise interesting, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

The story is based on Lizzie Borden and the familiar double murder case that has entered the realm of near-myth. It is a horror story that – according to one description, at least – is written in the Lovecraftian style. I can’t confirm that as I’ve never read any Lovecraft. What I do know, is that it involves horrible creatures from some other realm. These creatures are invading the small town of Fall River, Massachusetts, and Lizzie Borden is at the center of it.

Maplecroft takes place some time after Lizzie Borden stood trial and was exonerated for the murders of her father and stepmother. Over the course of the novel, through letters, journal entries and newspaper clippings, we learn the true horror of that double murder. 

This novel is written in the epistolary style, told through the various notes and journal entries of Lisbeth Borden, her sister, Emma and a local physician. These are supplemented with newspaper articles, correspondence between characters, and even a telegram. Personally, I found this style somewhat lacking in flow. It felt as though the narrative was constantly being interrupted by personal rants, complaints and various other tangents.

It is an interesting story, and well written if you like this style of novel. The scenes leading up to and including the final climactic moment are well done, and I did enjoy that part. I’m glad to have read it, but it doesn’t seem likely I’ll continue with the series.