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

 

My Top 5 Post-Election Recommendations

I don’t think that I’m alone in saying that the results of the recent US election have left me feeling pretty down. But more than anything, they have left me wanting answers. How could this have happened? Why did it happen? What can we do about it? Almost every day customers come into the bookstore and ask me to recommend something that will lift them out of their post-election depression, which has inspired me to put together this list of my top five post-election recommendations.

1. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis – J.D. Vance

Written by a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, Hillbilly Elegy is a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, this book is a fascinating study of class, culture, and the American dream (or rather, the loss of the American dream for many). While this book does not explain – at least not directly – why Trump won the election, it certainly is a touching and troubling meditation on the lives and experiences of those who made up his largest voter base.

2. Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities – Rebecca Solnit

Although it was published in 2004, this book could not be more relevant at the moment. In Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit makes a radical case for hope as a commitment to act in a world whose future remains uncertain and unknowable. Drawing on her decades of activism and her extensive research into political, social, and environmental history, Solnit reflects on the often-neglected victories of activism and argues that the positive consequences of our actions are not always immediately seen, directly knowable, or even measurable. As usual, Solnit’s writing is beautiful, but more than that, she hits home with her hope-filled message for anyone who feels overwhelmed, discouraged, and desperate about the current state of political affairs.

3. The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead 

While most of the books on this list are non-fiction, the power of a novel should not be underestimated. This book deals with America’s disturbing racial history and reimagines the path that slaves took to escape the Deep South as an actual railroad that runs beneath the earth. To be honest, I haven’t read this one personally, but quite a few of my coworkers attest to its brilliance. Oh, and it won the 2016 National Book Award, so there’s that.

4. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America – Nancy Isenberg

This book is a fascinating history of the class system in America, extending from colonial times to the present, and challenges all comforting myths about equality. It’s well-written, thoroughly-researched and very relevant today. Would definitely recommend reading it in conjunction with J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. 

5. Year of Wonders – Geraldine Brooks 

Sometimes I think that the best cure for post-election depression is a little bit of perspective, which brings me to my final recommendation. Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders is set in 17th century England in a small, isolated village gripped by the plague (how’s that for perspective?) and tells the story of a brave young woman struggling to survive and to prevent the disintegration of her community. While it sounds pretty depressing, this book is actually incredibly uplifting and weirdly relevant to the US election.

Anyway, that’s it from me. Which post-election reads do you recommend?

~Anna