Teaser Tuesdays: Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter by Nina MacLaughlin

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

hammer head

When I saw this book, it reminded me immediately of Dirt Work, which I loved. Similar concept: young woman is educated to be an academic, a writer, a journalist with a background in the classics in this case; fed up with that world, but having few or no skills in the other, she nevertheless gets out there and takes on something new. Nina MacLaughlin answers an ad for a carpenter’s apprentice, and learns a physical trade.

But clearly, also, she couldn’t leave the writing behind. Check out this sentence.

I was usually alone when I walked the bridge, occasionally drunk, a few times crying, one time kissed by someone I didn’t like too much.

It is constructions like that that make me want to be a writer, too.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

movie: She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry


I’m really pleased to have gone to see this movie locally with my dad. It was so good that I went back a few days later to see it again with my mom, so now it’s a family affair (as these things should be). She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry is a recently produced history of the women’s movement of the 1960’s and 70’s. It was nice to see it with my parents, who were there, and involved.

The movie includes historical footage of protests, speeches, news media, and interviews; contemporary interviews of activists who were involved in that history; the odd performances by actors; and reenactments. So many things struck me, and I’d like to point out that while I was often shocked by the horror, and the bravery, I was not surprised. Does that make sense? For example, the divisiveness of the movements – civil rights, women’s rights, peace – is unsurprising but will shock and dismay me every time. When a woman leader got up to speak in front of a crowd of “New Left” men, and they booed and catcalled her, I was (sadly) unsurprised, but astounded nonetheless. When the women’s movement ostracized its lesbian members, likewise.

"Lavender Menace," photo credit: Diana Davies, accessed here

“Lavender Menace,” photo credit: Diana Davies, accessed here

I enjoyed learning for the first time about the “Lavender Menace” action at the Second Congress to Unite Women in New York City on May 1, 1970. The need was unfortunate, but the demonstration was great fun, gave me joy. For that matter, another of the revelations of this film, for me, was the sense of fun associated with certain direct actions throughout the movement: that’s a part of the story that I hadn’t heard before, I don’t think. I also didn’t know how close we had gotten to having legislation passed supporting universal child care (thank you Nixon for this among other criminal shortcomings).

The first night I saw the movie, it was followed by a panel discussion with faculty members from local Western Washington University. These women were younger than I’d expected, in their thirties and forties, and the theatre was sold out – all good signs. We touched on the movie’s title: a criticism of the patronizing statement that we’re cute when we’re mad? or a sincere celebration of every woman’s beauty as she pursues right? (I think it’s both.)

I’m glad to have been reminded of that slogan of the women’s movement, that “the personal is political.” I’ve used some variation on this myself, because it makes so much sense: when politicians talk about forcing ultrasounds, we are quite literally talking about the inside of my reproductive organs; what could possibly be more personal? And I’m sure I knew on some level that I was citing my parents and their fellows, but I’m glad to have been reminded.

I cried when the movie got to present-day Texas, all those women in the capital protesting Senate Bill 5. I’m sorry I wasn’t there; I should have been there. Other interesting or affecting points in the film: the portrayal of our rage as a good thing (when emotion has come to be something we’re supposed to be ashamed of); and the excellent statement that the United States doesn’t like to credit radical movements with positive change in our history. Of course this only makes sense: it doesn’t behoove the powers to acknowledge that protest and civil disobedience do good. But revision of our history is a vile and insidious weapon being used all around us, and it bears noting (over and over again). Another statement of the film – I forget who made it – is that merely speaking truth aloud is a revolutionary and powerful act. Let’s not forget it.

"8-26-1970 March," photo credit: Diana Davies, accessed here

“8-26-1970 March,” photo credit: Diana Davies, accessed here


Thanks, ladies. I owe you.

Rating: 9 consciousness-raising groups.

book beginnings on Friday: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

love song

A sequel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: hooray! I’m so excited! Well, let’s not wait around, here’s the beginning:

Your letter arrived this morning. We were in the dayroom for morning activities. Everyone was asleep.

And I think that says quite a lot right there, don’t you? If you recall the original, the book about Harold, you’ll know what letter the narrator is talking about. And that’s a change from the original, which was told in third person: apparently we get to hear Queenie’s own voice here. I am excited, and you should be too.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Jam! on the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett

The vivid life of an African American newspaperwoman, civil rights activist and lover both entertains and inspires.

jam

LaShonda Katrice Barnett’s debut novel, Jam! on the Vine, is filled with color, suffering and feeling. Barnett’s protagonist Ivoe Williams is inspired by the life of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, newspaperwoman, suffragette and civil rights leader, and she sparkles from the first page, when she steals newspapers from her mother’s white employer to revel in the smell of the ink and the magic of print. Her mother, a Muslim and a former slave, is a talented gardener and cook, her father a masterful storyteller, so she is surrounded by art and encouraged in her education. The plucky Ivoe, a native of rural Texas born just after Emancipation, receives an unlikely scholarship to attend college in Austin, where she studies printing and journalism. She returns home overqualified for the kind of work available to young black women. Under the forces of power and prejudice, the Williams family will ultimately fracture and be forced to migrate to the city, where new challenges await. Ivoe finds love and purpose in work, eventually founding a Kansas City newspaper called Jam! on the Vine, which pursues the rights of African-Americans and women.

The connections to Wells-Barnett’s life are vague; the vibrancy of Ivoe’s trials and loves are a credit to Barnett the author. Sensual evocations are among Jam!‘s greatest triumphs: the Texas dirt and the tomato vines it sprouts, the savory jam crafted by Ivoe’s mother from their fruit, the family’s music and laughter, blood and pain and pleasure. Ivoe is stimulated by her study at the university, the tactile challenge of setting type and the intellectual exertions of politics and social justice. She grows from a gutsy child to become a famished student, then a frustrated young woman and, finally, finds love and joy and danger, in the Red Summer of race riots in 1919.

It is no exaggeration that the beautifully written Jam! on the Vine recalls Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston. Sensuality, pleasure and pain, as well as the righteous difficulties of the early civil rights movement, yield a story that is passionate, inspired and lively. Barnett’s (editor of I Got Thunder and Off the Record) prose flows with rhythm and feeling, and her characters both major and minor are intriguing. While Ivoe’s hard, important work and her love of written words will endear her especially to readers interested in the history of journalism and the civil rights movement, this literary novel has broad appeal.


This review originally ran in the February 3, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 7 jars.

The Sweetheart by Angelina Mirabella

The unlikely, humorous, heartrending story of a teenaged female wrestler in the 1950s.

sweetheart
Angelina Mirabella’s debut novel, The Sweetheart, opens with an older woman’s reflections, then quickly flashes back to 1953 Philadelphia. Leonie Putzkammer is an awkward, bookish teen with no self-confidence, despite a figure her peers would kill for and some tumbling skills left over from gymnastics. When she is recruited to attend Joe Pospisil’s School for Lady Grappling in Florida, a star-struck Leonie is sure everything will change. She gains a tag-team partner, Screaming Mimi, and a boyfriend, Spider, as well as an intimidating coach. Soon she is assigned a new name, Gwen Davies–later, Gorgeous Gwen Davies and, finally, the Sweetheart.

Many readers will sympathize with the older protagonist when she addresses her younger self: “What you have wanted more than anything was change… but the idea that the old life would no longer be waiting here for you is hard to accept.” The heart of this story addresses questions of autonomy, self-determination and regret: how to become someone different without entirely losing your past, how to recover from making the wrong choices or even how to tell when you have made wrong choices. Told from an unusual retrospective second-person perspective and perfectly evoking 1950s culture, The Sweetheart is often hilarious but also filled with the wholly realistic yearnings and heartbreak of young-adult reinvention, and is peopled by familiar, sympathetic characters. Mirabella’s impressive debut offers laughter, tears, failure, redemption, striving, success and a sweetheart we can’t help but love.


This review originally ran in the January 30, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 7 MoonPies.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

unraveling

I’ve only just started this book, so this teaser comes from the early pages, and I am nearly as ignorant as you are about Mercy Louis and her setting.

The whole world falls apart in summer. Murder rates rise with the heat, hurricanes brood off the coast, waiting to batter us.

One thing I do know is that she is an unusual teenager, dreading rather than happily anticipating summer. There is a sense of foreboding from the very first pages.

I fancy myself familiar with her small town, on the Gulf Coast and on the border between Texas and Louisiana, because that’s not far from where I grew up. But the differences between the big city (mine) and the small town can be huge.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (audio)

**AVOID SPOILERS!** (There are none below.) As a commenter pointed out, there may be spoilers even on the dust jacket or other coverings for the book or audiobook itself. Proceed cautiously. Just trust me and read the book itself.


beside

This is one of those with a big reveal to it that *makes* the book. For the love of whatever you love, please, avoid all discussion of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves until you read it. Excepting this review, of course, which promises to be spoiler-free and is therefore safe, and brief.

I’m glad Liz recommended this one to me, on audio specifically, and I shall do the same. Get the audiobook, which is beautifully and feelingly narrated by Orlagh Cassidy. Our young female protagonist/narrator Rosemary is a little troubled, but likeable right from the start. She uses the unusual second-person voice, breaking down the fourth wall to talk directly to her audience: “you may have the impression from what I’ve just said, that… but here’s another thing I’d like you to know…” Her story is compelling from the beginning, and involves a number of different threads and an occasionally disjointed timeline. I don’t know what else I can tell you without giving it all away. It’s about family, self-determination, the nature of memory. Life. You will laugh and be amazed. Go out and get this book now, and don’t let anybody tell you anything about it. Oh – a little bird told me Karen Joy Fowler gave away the big secret in a book talk somewhere. She is an outstanding writer, but apparently a potentially disastrous speaker. Avoid her talks til you’ve read the book. Go read the book. That’s all.


Rating: 8 studies quoted.
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