Karbo (Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life, 2013, etc.) sketches the lives of 29 extraordinary women.
The author defines “difficult” women as those who believe their “needs, passions, and goals are at least as important as those of everyone around” them. In this book, Karbo creates word portraits—accompanied by drawings—of modern women who refused to let any social, cultural, or personal barriers stand in the way of their respective “mission[s].” Her subjects run the gamut from writers, artists, and performers to athletes, politicians, and media executives and include luminaries such as J.K. Rowling, Josephine Baker, Billie Jean King, Helen Gurley Brown, and Hillary Clinton. Karbo begins each portrait with one word that helps describe the woman: Rowling is “feisty,” Baker “gutsy,” King “competitive,” Brown “relentless,” and Clinton “ambitious.” She then highlights those parts of her subjects’ lives that have earned them reputations as “difficult.” Despite monumental success as a novelist, Rowling refused to allow herself to be “imprisoned by her role as creator of one of the most beloved fictional universes in literary history.” Dancer Baker dared to shake “body parts no one knew you could shake” up until four days before her death at age 68. King, who beat fellow tennis player Bobby Riggs in a 1973 “battle of the sexes” tennis match, fought tirelessly for “equal pay, equal treatment [and] equal respect” for women athletes. For more than 50 years, Brown advocated that women should not only enjoy the glamorous life, but also become sex objects, the better to enjoy the sexual freedom. Clinton kept moving forward toward lofty goals like the presidency despite the sexual and political scandals that rocked her husband’s administration. Refreshingly frank, Karbo’s book celebrates women who forged provocative identities and found life fulfillment despite the odds they faced.
Inspiring reading about women who have shown “that it’s all right to occupy our humanity.”