Men Explain Things To Me – Rebecca Solnit

When I first picked up Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things To Me, I was expecting a collection of funny stories about things overbearing men have said to the author. Oh boy was I wrong. This book is a dark and very serious collection of essays about feminism, sexism, misogyny, rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, poverty, class warfare, and the silencing of women’s voices across the globe. In short, this is pretty heavy stuff.

Yes, the first essay is funny and has been cited as the piece that launched the term “mansplaining” (you can read it here), but this is just Solnit’s hook to get you reading. The other eight essays in this book are unbelievably depressing. Solnit uses a lot of anecdotes and statistics to make her points and show just how widespread violence against women really is (and not just physical violence). Maybe it’s because I was expecting this book to continue in a similar vein to the first essay, but I really struggled to get through this one and it took me far longer than usual to read 130 pages.

While Solnit is undoubtedly a good writer (I really enjoyed Hope in the Dark, which I discussed briefly here), I thought this collection of essays was very scattered and lacked an overarching structure. The essay about Virginia Woolf and Susan Sontag, although interesting, felt totally out of place, almost as if it had been added as an afterthought. Another thing that bugged me a little about this collection (especially all that Woolf/Sontag musing) was that Solnit made a lot of really tenuous links for the sake of… sounding poetic, I guess.

All in all, I wanted to like this book more than I actually did and it really did not go where I thought it would. It starts out strong, she ends on a decent note, but it meanders in the middle in a way that makes me wish it hadn’t been a book at all. It’s good writing, and the points she makes are important, but overall it was just a little, I don’t know, unfocused? Lackluster? Still, I’m glad that the issues Solnit raises are being talked about and I hope this book leads to more reading on the topic (and more social progress).

Have you read Men Explain Things To Me? Or any of Rebecca Solnit’s other books? What did you think? Would love to hear from you. 

~Anna

 

The Opposite of Loneliness – Marina Keegan

“We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life”. 

A few weeks ago, I was speaking to one of my friends about how strange it feels to be graduating soon and in response, she recommended that I read this book. And so I did. And I thought that while flawed, it wonderfully captured the hope, uncertainty, and possibility of my generation.

Marina Keegan graduated from Yale in May 2012 and it seemed that she had a bright future planned out. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at the New Yorker. However, five days after her graduation, she died tragically in a car accident. Shortly after her death, her final essay ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’ went viral, receiving more than 1.4 million hits.

The Opposite of Loneliness is a post-humous assemblage of Marina’s essays and stories and explores the universal struggle we all face as we work out what we aspire to be and how we can harness our talents to make an impact on the world.

What I liked about this collection is that Marina doesn’t try too hard to sound older. Rather, she embraces her youth and the result is wonderful – it’s raw, fresh, and authentic. I think that young writers often feel a great deal of pressure to appear older, more sophisticated, more literary. You can tell that Marina grappled with this pressure, but her voice is still distinctly original.

Of course, her writing is not perfect. I felt that she tried a little too hard to be profound at times (some of the lines were very dramatic and felt a little forced) and all the endings were sad. There’s nothing wrong with sad endings, but when every single ending in a collection of stories and essays is sad, it gets a little depressing. I also thought that some of her short stories were a little contrived, although I did enjoy most of her non-fiction, especially her opening essay.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and am sad that I will not get to see Marina develop as a writer. That said however, I think that we all have a tendency to idealise the dead. Last week, when Leonard Cohen passed away, we sold more copies of his CDs in one week than we had in the entire year of 2015. Does this mean that the quality of his music improved overnight? No. It means that people view him differently now that his is dead – their image of him has been softened somewhat around the edges. While Marina was certainly a promising writer, it is important to remember that this collection, in its current form, probably wouldn’t have existed were she still alive.

You can read Marina’s essay ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’ here.

~Anna