International Women’s Day 2017

March 8, 2017 § Leave a comment

This time last year, who’d have thought IWD would be quite so much more urgently necessary than usual? Right now I’m reading Anne Garreta’s erotic memoir Not One Day and Nalo Hopkinson’s novel Sister Mine. Very different voices and subjects; both, by happy coincidence, easily sailing through the Bechdel test.

I’m not in a position to write much about either of those books, but today seemed like a good day to mention a couple of books I’ve been wanting to write about for some time.

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My friend Megan Bradbury published Everyone Is Watching last year and kindly sent me a copy when I couldn’t buy it in Canada. Set in New York, and something of a love letter to the city, it’s a fragmented narrative that tells the (semi-imagined) stories and city lives of four men: the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, the writers Edmund White and Walt Whitman, and Robert Moses, the abrasive city planner who had an enormous effect on what New York City looks like today. The book itself has a great deal of the feeling of a Mapplethorpe photo, or of a film Mapplethorpe might have made. I am often nervous about novels that feature real people, but in Everyone is Watching it has a purpose and it works. The novel not biographical (and it’s not designed to set up some kind of spec fic meeting between these four men). It’s about journeys, and building, and creating; it’s about how people become themselves, in a way. The writing is deceptively simple and beautifully poetic. It’s not not realist, but neither is it any sort of traditional realist novel. You’ll just have to read this fascinating hybrid book for yourself to see.

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Do you remember a time (at least, I think it wasn’t mythical), when you could have things called discussions? When it was possible to talk in a group of people who didn’t all have identical opinions? People would feel safe enough to disagree; sometimes people would mention things you’d never thought about, and you’d go away and ponder them and change your mind, and nobody would be shamed or humiliated or excommunicated for having a different opinion. Reading Erin Wunker’s Notes from a Feminist Killjoy, published by the unfailingly excellent BookThug, was like having this kind of conversation. The title comes from the name of Sara Ahmed’s fabulous blog (and her book, Living a Feminist Life, came out last month). Let’s be honest–if you’re a feminist, it’s pretty impossible not to be a feminist killjoy at least some of the time. You have to be one when someone makes a sexist joke, when some loudmouth in the street tells you to “Cheer up, love, it might never happen,” when people at your workplace don’t see the problem with pinning pictures of naked women on the lunch room walls. Wunker muses on turning this oft-dreaded accusation–that of being an uptight, humourless feminazi–into a badge of honour. If we let the status quo go unchallenged, how will it ever change? Wunker acknowledges the problems of privileged white feminism and aims to find some ways of addressing its shortcomings and the harms for which it bears direct and indirect responsibility.

Notes from a Feminist Killjoy is a hybrid book, combining factual essay with self-interrogation as well as memoir–the book was written when Wunker’s daughter was very new, in the snatched moments-to-oneself of perplexing and absorbing early parenthood. You can buy it today from BookThug for nearly $10 off the usual price!

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