Review: Who Cooked The Last Supper?

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Who Cooked the Last Supper?

★★★★½

2001 (originally 1988) • 352 pages • Broadway Books

Who Cooked the Last Supper? is not the original title of Rosalind Mile’s formative women’s history text; that would be the American subtitle, The Women’s History of the World. For some reason, her publisher thought that American audiences would rather a slightly less dry title, even if the women who provided the Last Supper are not discussed in specifics (although they’re certainly covered in the abstract.) For some, this might be a turn-off, but I am of the opinion that whatever gets it into as many hands as possible is perfectly fine. (Nobody gets shamed for reading in this house.)

What that title also does is get across Miles’ quietly furious and deeply arch tone, with increasingly clever and occasionally vulgar punning as she digs deep into the last two hundred years of women’s history. I’m tempted to compare it to Bill Bryson’s affable and cozy work, but I find his humor frustratingly heteronormative, and he completely lacks Miles’ righteous and incandescent anger that boils over from time to time, especially in the later chapters. Miles knows her stuff so well that she’s able to find the humanity, humor, and outrage in all of these facts.

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Review: Champagne Supernovas

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Champagne Supernovas
by Maureen Callahan

★★★★☆

2014 • 288 pages • Touchstone

Defining the nineties as a contained cultural unit is something that has long frustrated me. For me, specifically, it’s a very unique decade. I encountered every decade prior as an already shaped narrative and the aughts marked the first time I was conscious of the larger pop culture we’re all swimming in. But the nineties? I was a very sheltered small child at the time. That’s not my fault, obviously, but it has thwarted my attempts to knit a coherent narrative out of the disparate cultural artifacts of the nineties. There’s something willfully futile about such an exercise—how can you truly boil down ten years to a pat assessment?—but I need somewhere to start.

Champagne Supernovas posits that that somewhere to start is, in fact, fashion. The cover copy argues that the fifties were defined by rock and roll, the sixties by the Beat poets, and the eighties by punk rock and modern art. But the maximalism of the eighties, embodied by the first true supermodels, made no room for the recession’s fascination with emotional and physical trauma that eventually blossomed into what author and journalist Maureen Callahan characterizes as wound culture: Continue reading

Review: Candy And Me

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Candy and Me
by Hilary Liftin

★★★☆☆

2003 • 224 pages • Free Press

For me, it was always Shockers (née Shocktarts). Just typing out the name makes my mouth water. They are (and, despite my ability to restrain myself from purchasing them all the time, remain) the perfect confection for me. Wholly artificial sugar rounds with a gloriously tart and hard exterior that, after some sucking, gave way to a soft, chewy, and sweet center. (Warheads, being all sour, do not appeal to my love of texture.) I bought them in the rolls, I bought them in the bags. I found one at the bottom of my purse once and had to talk myself out of eating it, because I’m an adult and not a feral child. I unrolled the roll one pellet at a time, always hoping that it was mostly red, purple, and the most treasured flavor—blue.

When I discovered, in college, that you could buy entire theater boxes of them, I practically exploded. Invited to a repeat viewing of Sherlock Holmes, I brought along this newfound glory. After perfunctorily offering my friends some, I set to devouring the entire box. Halfway through the film, my mouth started to feel like it was vibrating. In the bathroom after the film, I bared my teeth and stuck my tongue at my reflection. My bleeding tongue. I had, by sucking on the sour coating, managed to scrape a great deal of skin off of my tongue.

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Review: She Matters

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She Matters
by Susanna Sonnenberg

★★★☆☆

2013 • 272 pages • Scribner

The storied Bechdel Test caught some flack last year in the wake of Pacific Rim. Faced with such a fully realized female character that was, nonetheless, the only woman with a major speaking role in the film, fans coined the Mako Mori Test, which focused on testing a film’s development of a female character.

Of course, passing the Bechdel Test doesn’t mean that a text is feminist or not. Showgirls, as you may hazily recall, passes it several times, and John Carter squeaks by with a single exchange. What the Bechdel Test means that the film’s female characters have the potential to exist, however briefly, in a world where they are not defined by the men in their lives and where they can connect to each other. The test indicates a breeding ground for depictions of female relationships, be it in the film itself or in the fanworks created around it. Representation in media is incredibly important, as we’ve been over time and again. In a culture where teenage girls pat themselves on the back for not being like “other girls” and mainstream films tell us that (heterosexual) marriage is the only important relationship in your life, seeing female friendships not only validated but celebrated onscreen disrupts those harmful narratives on a visceral, immediate level. Which, to bring it back to Ms. Mori, is why fans were so unsettled to realize that Pacific Rim fails the Bechdel Test: it’s the rare—and, perhaps, only—action movie that posits that friendship is more than capable of being the defining relationship of a lifetime.

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Review: The Good Girls Revolt

The Good Girls Revolt by Lynn Povich

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Consciousness raising, that beloved tool of second wave feminism, has been making a comeback on Twitter in the last week. In the wake of the horrific Santa Barbara shootings, #YesAllWomen collected (and still collects—bless the perpetual present tense of the Internet!) stories of what women have to put up with in the patriarchal rape culture that birthed the attack. During the second wave, consciousness raising was a way for women to identify what they previously thought were personal problems as, instead, systemic ones; last week, several men admitted to never realizing what it was like for women. And to make good on the fact that feminism will be intersectional or it will be bull, #YesAllWhiteWomen and #CisGaze soon followed.

Given the nature of Twitter, there are plenty of morons trying to hijack the hashtags, but they can’t keep a good conversation down. Consciousness raising was first started to combat how isolated women were from each other at the time, but the demise of the monoculture and the nichification of everything, including politics, can occasionally have the same effect. Seeing a wide rainbow of feminists taking to Twitter to speak up for each other without talking over one another—that’s feminism.

Against this particular backdrop, reading The Good Girls Revolt is an interesting experience. In 1970, on the same day that Newsweek ran a story about the burgeoning second wave of feminism, forty-six female Newsweek staffers announced that they were suing their employer for gender discrimination. Frustrated by being trapped in the research department despite having credentials identical to their male coworkers, this committee banded together to protest the casual sexual harrassment and dismissal they faced every day. It’s fleetly written by Lynn Povich, one of the staffers who ended up becoming Newsweek’s first female senior editor. Her journalistic style stretches a little thin to accommodate the book. She breezes through decades in just a little over two hundred pages, never delving too deeply into the emotional turmoil caused by the harrasment or the demise of her marriage.

Largely, The Good Girls Revolt is a feel-good piece about second wave feminism, complete with a heartwarming coda of three new Newsweek staffers discovering the story, writing a piece about feminism inspired by their lawsuit, and feeling a kinship to their foremothers. But, tellingly, these staffers express disappointment when Jezebel calls them out for not touching on the voices of the women of color, bemoaning that Internet feminism is so cliquish. (They took the ensuing debate to the Internet.) The kind of feminism that The Good Girls Revolt champions and wants to pass down is mainstream white second wave feminism—complete with blinders.

Povich demurs that the ladies of Newsweek were hardly radicals. (Their insistence on working within the system rather than dismantling it and feasting on its bones already says that in spades.) Povich and company weren’t the man-hating, bra-burning, granola-crunching feminists they so feared—oh, she insists, they were ladies. Like a nervous kid trying to convince the Sorting Hat that they don’t belong in Slytherin, she even prefers the word “drive” to “ambition.” For the most part, the book is about the rather gentle feminist awakenings of the women involved, although it still giggles at the idea that a lawyer was relieved to see them as clients because they were straight feminists! (They then go one to call Floyrence Kennedy the lunatic fringe, despite her help.)

I see this kind of feminism—narrowly focused on well-to-do, well-educated, white women to the exclusion of others—rearing its ugly head recently, especially in the form of Lean In. It’s very disappointing, albeit not totally unexpected in a book like this. There’s a way to write about the second wave and its problems without indulging in them yourself, and The Good Girls Revolt misses that mark.

Still, as with everything I read, there’s something to be learned here. Namely, that Anna Fels’ Necessary Dreams sounds awesome, if the quotes included from that book here are anything to go by. Her book is only called upon to explain ambition and the power of child care, but having someone specifically point out that our work cycle is expressly designed for the male life cycle is mind-blowing.

Bottom line: There’s a way to write about the second wave of feminism without indulging in the way it erased various groups, but The Good Girls Revolt isn’t it. Fleetly written. If you’d like.

This book was made available to me for publicity purposes.

Review: Make Good Art

Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman and Chip Kidd

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Every graduation season, amazing people make amazing commencement speeches. And because we’re lucky enough to live in the digital age, their stories, advice, and inspiration is available to everyone, not just the graduates. In 2012, Neil Gaiman joined in the fun with his “Make Good Art” speech delivered to the graduating class of Philadelphia’s the University of the Arts. I remember it absolutely blowing up around this time last year, as I was facing my own graduation from college.

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Review: The Supergirls

The Supergirls by Mike Madrid

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A few years ago, I bought a LEGO Wonder Woman keychain to keep me flying true. I have a lot of little totems like that—my hot pink skull snowglobe is a pretty fabulous memento mori, while the “don’t panic” fortune I keep in my wallet has stopped me from panicking on many an occasion (including the theft and subsequent return of said wallet). My little plastic Wonder Woman is a perfect storm of reminders; that I, too, come from several strong communities of women, from my mother to fandom to my alma mater, that I’m a fan through and through, and that the best version of myself is just as strong, compassionate, and hard femme as Diana of Themyscira. As I go through my day, she’s a comforting, vague notion in the palm of my hand, even if I slip my keys through my fingers on my way home.

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Review: Wild

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

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As you can imagine, working at a bookstore has done some serious damage to the reading spreadsheet, which is large enough to start looking for a job. Books used to haunt me by turning up under my questing fingers in libraries or thrift stores; now, they stare me down as I refresh displays and make sure the overstock piles aren’t going to fall over and knock me unconscious. While the exposure is much more constant, I still get those serendipitous hauntings. A used copy of Mystic Vision: The Making of Eragon turned up at the store months ago and I’m still pretending that it’s not going to come home with me. At this point in that film’s life, it’s pretty clear that it was meant to cross the path of someone who loves crap fantasy films.

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Review: Louder Than Hell

Louder Than Hell by Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman

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As you might surmise by my love of Rock of Ages and all things eighties, I like glam metal. I was practically reared on a copy of ABBA Gold, so I’m instantly drawn to anything with a singalong chorus and a look. But, as a kid, the only musical genres I really understood were “eighties,” “emo,” and “country.” (The only extent to which I indulged in defining my identity musically in middle school and high school was to sneer at country, a time-honored but ultimately cruel tradition.) “Metal” encompassed too many seemingly disparate elements for me to wrap my head around—KISS was definitely metal; Rammstein was German and therefore inherently metal; but where did Fred Durst come into all this and why was he so terrifying?

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Review: The Queen of Whale Cay

The Queen of Whale Cay by Kate Summerscale

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I’ve been so good about noting where I’ve picked up recommendations lately that it feels weird to not know where I heard about The Queen of Whale Cay. I assumed I picked up The Queen of Whale Cay from Autostraddle, as that’s where I get the bulk of my queer lady-focused reading, but a quick Google search disabused me of that notion. So where did this come from? Who told me about it? Surely my reading spreadsheet hasn’t gotten so big that it will start spontaneously generating book titles. (Yet, anyway.)

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