Eclectic and always engaging.

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WAVEFORM

TWENTY-FIRST-CENTURY ESSAYS BY WOMEN

Essays by 30 contemporary women writers whose work has helped remake the nonfiction literary landscape.

In this collection, Aldrich (English/Michigan State Univ.; Companion to an Untold Story, 2012, etc.) shows how women writers have transformed the essay into a “shape-shifting thing…[that] can do many turns, take on any subject and assume any structure demanded by the writer’s aims and the requirements of the materials she wields.” Toward that end, the editor has selected pieces from bestselling nonfiction writers like Cheryl Strayed and Leslie Jamison as well as work by lesser-known, but no less talented, individuals such as cultural anthropologist/women’s rights advocate Adriana Paramo and San Francisco chef Dana Tommasino. The essays are mostly personal in content. What distinguishes each is the manner in which the writer manipulates form to tell her story. In the opening essay, “Tiny Beautiful Things,” Strayed writes a brief second-person account—in the guise of Rumpus advice columnist Sugar—to her 20-something self about the small things (like concerns about her weight) that she should have ignored and the small things (an imperfect gift from a soon-to-be-dead mother) that she should have honored. In “This is How I Spell My Body,” Paramo considers her various body parts—from ass to zygomatic bone—in light of her relationship to men. Tommasino merges the language of fact and poetry into a fluid, lyric whole in “birdbreath, twin, synonym,” her chronologically fragmented meditation on the twin ex-convict brother from whom she has grown apart. “In Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain,” Jamison considers the topic of female pain by examining the various forms of self- and other-inflicted wounds that both famous and ordinary people have experienced. Aldrich’s collection not only rides the “new wave” in nonfiction essay writing with bravura, intelligence, and sensitivity. It also reveals the depth and vastness of the contemporary female literary ocean that produced it. Other contributors include Meghan Daum, Roxane Gay, Eula Biss, and Margo Jefferson.

Eclectic and always engaging.

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8203-5021-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

THREE WOMEN

Based on eight years of reporting and thousands of hours of interaction, a journalist chronicles the inner worlds of three women’s erotic desires.

In her dramatic debut about “what longing in America looks like,” Taddeo, who has contributed to Esquire, Elle, and other publications, follows the sex lives of three American women. On the surface, each woman’s story could be a soap opera. There’s Maggie, a teenager engaged in a secret relationship with her high school teacher; Lina, a housewife consumed by a torrid affair with an old flame; and Sloane, a wealthy restaurateur encouraged by her husband to sleep with other people while he watches. Instead of sensationalizing, the author illuminates Maggie’s, Lina’s, and Sloane’s erotic experiences in the context of their human complexities and personal histories, revealing deeper wounds and emotional yearnings. Lina’s infidelity was driven by a decade of her husband’s romantic and sexual refusal despite marriage counseling and Lina's pleading. Sloane’s Fifty Shades of Grey–like lifestyle seems far less exotic when readers learn that she has felt pressured to perform for her husband's pleasure. Taddeo’s coverage is at its most nuanced when she chronicles Maggie’s decision to go to the authorities a few years after her traumatic tryst. Recounting the subsequent trial against Maggie’s abuser, the author honors the triumph of Maggie’s courageous vulnerability as well as the devastating ramifications of her community’s disbelief. Unfortunately, this book on “female desire” conspicuously omits any meaningful discussion of social identities beyond gender and class; only in the epilogue does Taddeo mention race and its impacts on women's experiences with sex and longing. Such oversight brings a palpable white gaze to the narrative. Compounded by the author’s occasionally lackluster prose, the book’s flaws compete with its meaningful contribution to #MeToo–era reporting.

Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4229-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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