Reviewletts: Feminist Manifesto and Historical Thriller

by Kim on October 10, 2012 · 17 comments

In an effort to maybe, perhaps, hopefully get caught up on all the books I haven’t reviewed, I’m planning to start doing mini-reviews every couple of weeks for books that I read but didn’t have much to say about. If you have more specific questions about any of this week’s titles, leave them in the comments!

How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

how to be a womanThough they have the vote and the Pill and haven’t been burned as witches since 1727, life isn’t exactly a stroll down the catwalk for modern women. They are beset by uncertainties and questions: Why are they supposed to get Brazilians? Why do bras hurt? Why the incessant talk about babies? And do men secretly hate them?

Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women’s lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own, from the riot of adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother. With rapier wit, Moran slices right to the truth – whether it’s about the workplace, strip clubs, love, fat, abortion, popular entertainment, or children – to jump-start a new conversation about feminism. With humor, insight, and verve, How To Be a Woman lays bare the reasons why female rights and empowerment are essential issues not only for women today but also for society itself.

Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman is a feminist memoir/manifesto that I really enjoyed. Her argument is, essentially, that women have a hard time being honest with each other about what it’s like to be a woman and about the value of feminism. More important, feminism itself has ground to a halt, “shrunk down into a couple of increasingly small arguments, carried out among a couple of dozen feminist academics, in books that only feminist academics would read…”

The problem with this, Moran argues, is that feminism should be broader – about all the things that are part of becoming and being a woman today – because the day-to-day indignities are just as insidious and damaging as the larger inequalities women face. It’s a sensible and smart argument that Moran makes in a truly funny way. How To Be a Woman is a great read (if also a little vulgar and embarrassing and cringe-worthy as some of the moments of becoming a woman can be). I thought this one was excellent!

Midnight in Peking by Paul French

midnight in pekingPeking in 1937 is a heady mix of privilege and scandal, opulence and opium dens, rumors and superstition. The Japanese are encircling the city, and the discovery of Pamela Werner’s body sends a shiver through already nervous Peking. Is it the work of a madman? One of the ruthless Japanese soldiers now surrounding the city? Or perhaps the dreaded fox spirits? With the suspect list growing and clues sparse, two detectives – one British and one Chinese – race against the clock to solve the crime before the Japanese invade and Peking as they know it is gone forever. Can they find the killer in time, before the Japanese invade?

Historian and China expert Paul French at last uncovers the truth behind this notorious murder, and offers a rare glimpse of the last days of colonial Peking.

The next time I need an example of how the time or place I read a book can have an impact on how I feel about it, I’ll be citing Midnight in Peking. I started this book at the airport on my way back from Book Expo America back in June. It’s hard for me to read in an airport – I’m always stressed and unfocused, despite my best efforts to shut out fellow passengers and sink into a book.

For some stories, this level of distraction isn’t really a problem. But Midnight in Peking does a lot in the first several chapters, building up both a horrific crime and explaining how the first investigation was deeply flawed. Without really paying attention to those early details, it’s hard to appreciate the skill of the rest of the book – Paul French’s investigation and expertise reveal a lot, but I just didn’t appreciate the book the way other reviews made me think I should. I can’t really rate this book because of what I feel was my poor reading, but I do hope I’ll get pick it up another time and appreciate it more.

Disclosure: I received How To Be a Woman from the publisher for review consideration, and received a copy of Murder in Peking at Book Expo America. 

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeanne October 10, 2012 at 5:55 am

I’m going to find How To Be a Woman and see if it’s one I could share with my daughter. Her generation has an alarming streak of anti-feminism, and I’m always trying to counter it.

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Kim October 21, 2012 at 6:00 pm

At the very least, I think this could spark some great conversations with your daughter about what feminism means and how it can be applicable today.

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Joanna October 10, 2012 at 12:32 pm

I have the Caitlin Moran book on audio, have heard great things. I’m glad to see how much you liked it, the subject of women can be done very well and can be very funny but it’s been done badly so many times too…

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Kim October 21, 2012 at 6:01 pm

The book is definitely more… coarse, maybe, than the book I might write, but I enjoyed it quite a bit anyway.

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Mandy October 10, 2012 at 1:19 pm

There’s a hairpin.com book club meeting this month where I live, and Caitlin Moran’s book is the reading choice. It’s going to lead to such great discussion!

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Kim October 21, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Absolutely, I hoe you’ll write about it!

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Aarti October 10, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Ooh, the Moran book sounds fantastic! I am adding it to my wish list – thanks for the heads up on it. I’ve never heard of it before.

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Charlie October 11, 2012 at 3:08 am

I’ve had Moran’s book on my list since it was released, she’s writes such funny and spot-on articles. Interesting that she focuses more on the general idea, I hadn’t heard that about the book, makes it more appealing.

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Kim October 21, 2012 at 6:02 pm

I’m curious to read more of her writing. I have a collection of her essays coming in the mail sometime, so I’m excited about that.

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Jennifer October 11, 2012 at 9:18 am

I’ve been meaning to read that Moran book since I first heard about it. Midnight in Peking is right up this girl’s alley!

Tah dah, requested both from my library. Thanks Kim!!!

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katiejonesoneword October 11, 2012 at 10:10 am

I will definitely get Caitlin Moran’s book next (once I finish all my other books) possibly put down for my Book Club that I’m now running. I’m excited just thinking about it because I do think that there are some really anti-feminist things happening right now and I think a lot of them do stem from the struggle and confusion on being feminine/feminist/female. Thanks for the mini-review!

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Kim October 21, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Yes, good point. I think sometimes it can be hard to imagine that we still have to stand up about basic things about being a woman, but Moran makes the point that feminism can encompass a lot. I’m curious what you think of this one, if you read it!

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Liz October 11, 2012 at 11:57 am

Glad to see that you liked the Moran book. It’s high up in my Autumnal TBR pile and will probably be my next NF choice. I have noticed that some of the younger women (I work on a college campus) do have an alarming and quite lackdaisical attitude towards feminism. Perhaps the history of feminism is not being taught so there is a lack of appreciation for where they are and the choices they have? Or is it too many cupcakes? :-}

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Kim October 21, 2012 at 6:04 pm

I think maybe for younger women (myself included), it often seems like we have what we need. And then phrases like “binders full of women” happen and we get a reminder that feminism still has a place :)

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Athira October 11, 2012 at 5:07 pm

I just recently read How to be a Woman and loved it. I agree it is fantastic.

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Trisha October 12, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Why whenever I see mini-reviews do I feel a need to like pick one?!?! In this case, I have to say I am more interested in How to Be a Woman.

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Kim October 21, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Lol, that’s funny! I do like it when I can pair books that have similar qualities for a mini review, but in this case that didn’t really happen :)

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