Sep 29, 2014

Examining Families Here and Abroad and Opening Up to the World of Audio Books

My Weeks in Books

It's a lesson I've learned the hard way, but when there is a movie based on a book, I always try to read the book first. Sometimes a book is so good, I just won't see the movie afterwards at all because I don't want to alter the image the author has created for me. The main reason, though, is that I don't want to imagine characters in books as actors instead of who the author describes.

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper has been on my To Read list for a while. When I started seeing movie previews, which looked fabulous, I knew I need to get a move on it. On page fourteen of the book, I paused to text my mom. "Don't see the movie yet! You have to read this book." Quite the endorsement so early into the book!

Unfortunately, the previews had already done their work and so I read the novel imagining Judd Foxman as Jason Batemen and his siblings as Tine Fey, Corey Stoll and Adam Driver. In this case, I fully endorse the casting for this book adaptation so I didn't mind how it changed my reading. This Is Where I Leave You was so funny. The family is crazy and neurotic, but in a way that so many of our families are.

Life for me has been a little nuts lately so I haven't seen the movie version of This Is Where I Leave You yet, but I've been assured it's funny and am looking forward to it sometime soon.

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In my ongoing "research" for travels to Nepal, I read While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey Through Love and Rebellion in Nepal by Elizabeth Enslin. I would highly recommend about 90% of this book as a great way to learn about Nepal and, specifically, the status of women in that country. The author lived there for a period of time and had a traumatic childbirth experience that she uses to tie together the beginning and ending of the book. Fail. I slogged through the beginning, wondering what it had to do with anything. I skimmed the end. I think it was meant to be some powerful insight into women in Nepal versus the US but it missed the mark.

The rest of the book, though? Ach! Loved it. Enslin lives with her extended family in a relatively small town and discusses some of the rituals and festivals taking place in Nepal. I was especially interested in the practices around women and menstruation, which looks weird now that I've typed it, but was actually pretty interesting. If you want some anthropological reading or are planning a trip to Nepal, check out While the Gods Were Sleeping. Just be forewarned about the first 10 or so pages and the last 20ish.

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I've caught up on too many of my podcasts, by which I mean I have gone back and listened to all past episodes. While I try and discover some new ones to check out, I thought I would give audio books a try. Scholastic shared a listing of places where you can get free audio books and I'm starting with some classic Sherlock Holmes. The first book was A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle. I think I used to read Sherlock Holmes in grade school. I definitely read a lot of Agatha Christie then, so maybe I'm confusing the two.

A Study in Scarlet is good but I just kept thinking what a conceited bastard Sherlock was the whole time. I'm hoping that doesn't hold true for future books or that I get over it. I like listening to story lines while I drive and do monotonous chores around the house. It helps the time move faster! As a first attempt, I think audio books might work as a good podcast alternative for me.

At the end of the book, which I downloaded from Project Gutenberg, it launched straight away into a story about Mormons. I'm not sure if that was a mistake or a thinly veiled attempt at proselytizing... But free is free.

This is Where I Leave You, While The Gods Were Sleeping and A Study in Scarlet.

Sep 14, 2014

Defining and Representing Gender | The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance In Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg

When my mother was pregnant with me, if I was a girl I would be named Kate and if a boy I would be named Jake. My next sibling would have been named Jake if she had been a boy. The sibling after that also would have been Jake had she been born a boy. It wasn't until child number four that my parents finally got their Jake.

For my parents, Jake was a name they liked. They wanted kids and I am sure were excited when they had a son, but they were also excited about their three daughters. Had they been living in Afghanistan, things might have been different.

In Afghanistan, not having a Jake earlier would have been a sign of weakness in my mom. A defect. And, what I'm learning from The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance In Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg is that me or one of my sisters might have been assigned the role of a bacha posh, or a girl who lives as a boy until reaching the age of puberty. This gender swap is thought to bring luck to the mother, making it more likely that she will later give birth to a son. It makes it easier for females in the household to have a male to act as chaperone when going out in public, because even a small boy is a suitable chaperone. It saves the mother the shame of being thought to be defective and unable to birth males. For the girl-turned-boy, it gives her freedoms she might not otherwise know. She can come and go freely from her house, wear pants, continue in school, work outside of the home. Once puberty hits, the girl-turned-boy turns back into a girl.

As I'm reading this book, I'm struck by how arbitrary our definitions of gender are. Sure, some of the biological functions are pretty clear. But other ways we express out gender identity are purely made up. The ways we define and treat gender so often leads to inequalities, although perhaps not always as dramatic as Nordberg describes in The Underground Girls of Kabul. My immediate reaction during my reading is to be angry at how little freedom women in that country are experiencing. But I also make a conscious effort not to immediately condemn another culture, even if that's my initial reaction.

When I stop and think about women in this country, I'm reminded of when my friend Delicious shared an article about calling girls "pretty" and suggesting that people might compliment his daughter instead by commenting on how clever she is. I think of the six-week-old baby I got to hold last week that was a pile of squishy cheeks and thighs, wearing a dress made of layers and layers of tulle and sporting an anklet. I look outside at the college boys and girls going out on dates, or whatever the equivalent is of a date in college-going culture now, where the boys are in casual shorts, tees and sneakers and the girls are strapped into skirts that barely cover their butt crack and heels that are an accident in the making ands boob hoisted up as high as they will reach.

And so I am still reading about these women in Afghanistan, living as boys. Sometimes living as men. Usually transitioning back to being women and going on to be mothers and leading successful, feminine lives. And I'm reminding myself, sometimes every page, that the definitions I'm reading of gender are different. Not better and not worse. But different. (I don't curtail my opinions about the freedoms the women are experiencing.)

And I'm trying to be a little more critical of how I'm choosing to define and represent my own gender. How I'm seeing it represented in pop culture. How I'm helping to instill it into nieces and nephews. That bit about a bacha posh helping give a prospective mom better luck in giving birth to a boy aside - because I can't really speak to that, the gender definitions we assign shouldn't cause so dramatic a difference in the life of a person as what Nordberg details in The Underground Girls of Kabul.


I read The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg as part of the From Left to Write book club.

I read The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance In Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg as part of the From Left to Write book Club. Nordberg discovers a secret Afghani practice where girls are dressed and raised as boys. Join From Left to Write on September 16th as we discuss The Underground Girls of Kabul. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Sep 8, 2014

When I Interviewed Tig Notaro on Huffington Post Live

Yesterday I got a Twitter notification from someone at The Huffington Post asking me if I’d be interested in interviewing Tig Notaro. I immediately said yes.

She contacted me because back in July at BlogHer, I tweeted this:
And from that, I had the opportunity to interview Tig Notaro! I mean, now when people ask me why bother with Twitter, I'll have an answer!

I assumed the whole thing would be a Twitter chat, which would be ironic since she doesn’t use Twitter. Then I found out I’d be using a webcam, which I thought was odd for Twitter, but whatever. Then today I find out it’s a video chat. And that there’s only be one other person on the line.

I almost passed out with excitement.

So this afternoon I took an afternoon call in a huddle room at work (I came in early to make up the time!) and got to interview a comedian I love and who I'll be seeing perform live in Cincinnati next month. Watch the complete interview with Tig Notaro.

I was able to interview Tig Notaro on Huffington Post Live.

History in the Details: Looking at Jackie O’s Famous Pink Suit

My Week In Books

So many jobs take patience and concentration that I just don’t have. I like detail-oriented work and I actually weirdly enjoy repetitive tasks, but moving slowly and paying attention to tiny details… Forget about it. In The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby, a seamstress named Kate spends hours upon hours crafting clothing for the First Lady. In this fictional story about the romance between John F. Kennedy and Jackie, readers learn about the effort that went into being one of history’s most stylish first ladies.

While Kate works to create fine clothing for the president to give as a gift to his wife, she finds herself unexpectedly in a romance with a long-time friend, Patrick. Through their relationship, Kelby is able to share the nuances of being working class in America and having a family in the White House who is anything but working class. Unions expect Jackie to wear American-made clothing and hats made by American milliners, and she goes to great lengths to do just that, technically.

I am, of course, familiar with the famous pink suit that is the focus of this book. I love the idea of telling history with one artifact at the center of the tale. This book didn’t do it for me, though. While I enjoyed learning about the suit itself and how much painstaking work went into it, I was bored by the romance between Kate and Patrick. I’m glad I read The Pink Suit and know it will inform how I view couture clothing and how those designs make their way to the US, but I’m not sure that knowledge was worth the time investment.
The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby.