by Susan Maushart
2003 (originally published 2002) • 270 pages • Bloomsbury
One of the most amazing things that happened on the Internet in 2015 was the epic conversation about gender and emotional labor on Metafilter in July. And when I say epic, I don’t say that carelessly—it boasts over two thousand comments, ran for a month, and took me nearly three whole days to get through. (Touchingly, several of the last comments are commenters essentially raising a glass to how much the thread meant to them). It really changed the way I think about emotional labor and helped me identify my own problems with identifying and articulating my emotional needs.
Naturally, a lot of the discussion in the thread is about different-sex marriage by married women, and several of them mentioned Susan Maushart’s 2001 book, Wifework, as a text they’d read and found useful in the context of this discussion. Eager to continue the discussion after the thread closed, I sought it out.
I myself have a very medieval view of marriage—marriage is about pooling resources or, to put it slightly more romantically, heaving together in this strange thing we call life. I’m not sure how I’ve managed to escape internalizing a lot of the social narratives of marriage flying about Western culture, but I imagine it has plenty to do with being queer and being an introvert who doesn’t like to share. (I’d need to get to a point where I’m willing to share my pizza before considering a lady wife.)
Wifework does end up reading a lot like a less sweary Cliff Notes version of that Metafilter thread. (Alas that Maushart had no concept of Crone Island at the time!) Baffled by the inequity in her marriages despite being a card-carrying feminist, American expat Maushart explores the theory of wifework—the vast, interconnected list of things that a wife is expected to do for her husband. This ranges from everything to putting a hearty dinner on the table when he comes home from work (regardless of her schedule or the kids) to heavy emotional labor (like being the one to remember the important dates of his family members) to putting his needs first at all times almost instinctively. Maushart lays it all down in her accessible but workmanlike prose, occasionally interjecting personal stories when they’re relevant. None of this is new territory if you’ve done any reading on emotional labor, but if you haven’t? This can be world-changing.
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
As a child during the Disney Renaissance (Waking Sleeping Beauty claims The Little Mermaid to The Lion King; I extend that all the way up to Tarzan), whatever the Walt Disney Animation Studios said about a fairy tale was law. I was not a bookish child (no matter how loudly I whined that I was), so if a fairy tale didn’t have a high profile animated adaptation, I didn’t know it existed. (Unless it was Little Red Riding Hood. For some reason, I remember knowing that one very early.) This has left considerable gaps in my fairy tale consumption, leaving me in trouble whenever I have to write out “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” or pick up a fairy tale retelling of a fairy tale I know nothing about.
Decades by Cameron Silver
There’s something very alluring about coffee table books, especially ones that could function as coffee tables all on their own. (This sucker is heavy!) While my editing side finds their lackadaisical publishing information pages frustrating, I can’t help but find them very glamorous. As someone who appreciates the codex, they’re a bit like finding a gorgeous version of a very functional object. Which is exactly why I picked up Decades, even as I tried to justify it by trying to learn more about twentieth-century fashion design. (And even that is just a way to hug the eighties just a little bit closer.) But a coffee table book isn’t really the place to start to get yourself properly contextualized…
Magic Under Stone by Jaclyn Dolamore
Look, I know some people would call this series a “duology”, but I vastly prefer the term “duet”. There’s something so charming petite about a two book fantasy series that I want the term to reflect that. In any case, I loved Magic Under Glass (to the tune of including it in a paper on social issue representations in young adult fantasy aimed at young women), so I was delighted to find its sequel available on NetGalley last year. I made the request and almost forgot about it until I got an e-mail last month telling me that it was ready for reading! I promptly threw myself in.
Sixpence House by Paul Collins
Sixpence House certainly has an arresting subtitle–Lost in A Town of Books. While that might conjure up more fantastical images (am I the only fantasy geek who gets disappointed when she discovers that, say, Crescent Dawn is not a fantasy novel?), it’s a slim little memoir in the “year in the life” vein, albeit without any wacky experiments. It came to me by way of Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust, as many of my books do. After the dizzyingly wonderful ride of The Sundering, I needed some nonfiction to bring me back down to earth and cleanse the palette.
Ophelia by Lisa Klein
I found Lisa Klein’s Ophelia while picking over the Teen section of a Barnes & Noble. For whatever reason (probably the very nice cover), I wrote it down and it ended up on my list, from which it could not be revoked. On a lazy afternoon, picking through the Young Adult section at my local library, I found it and decided to take it home. Okay, I thought, A retelling of Hamlet from Ophelia’s perspective. How bad can it be?
Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore
Earlier this year, Magic Under Glass caused a controversy; the first cover Bloomsbury put on the book had a white girl–despite the fact that the heroine is a woman of color. It’s since been fixed, thankfully, as you can see above. I’m always on the look out for fantasy with heroes of color, so when I heard of Magic Under Glass during that controversy, I put it down on the reading list. (It certainly helps that Nimira was the first name for a character in one of my writing projects.)
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
by Susanna Clarke
This came highly recommended to me–I mean, Neil Gaiman adores Susanna Clarke and this novel. That’s really all I need.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a very physical experience. I like to tuck books into my bag, but you can’t do this with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. At least, you can’t with the hardback. It’s 782 pages long, and it’s like carrying a child, to be honest. It’s a sensation I haven’t had since reading the Harry Potter series, which is quite fun.
I have described the plot as “Napoleonic wizards!” to everyone who asked, but it’s much more than that. Although, if the phrase “Napoleonic wizards” doesn’t interest you, we may have to stop seeing each other.