Men Explain Things to Me

This #fridayreads inspired by @lizfaw. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. #365photoproject #day344


Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me is a slim volume, just 7 essays comprising 130 pages, but it gave me a lot to think about. Although the book is decidedly feminist, the essays are not, for the most part, about the stereotypical feminist issues. Although I could certainly relate to the titular essay (in which Solnit writes about a time that a distinguished older gentleman spent a great deal of time telling her about a book on Muybridge that she really must read (although he clearly hadn’t), which turned out to be one she had written), the essays that resonated with me most were about activism and uncertainty and the space to think. About how activism is important and has an effect, even if it’s not the one we expected. Solnit spent several years protesting at a nuclear site in the U.S. The protests were unsuccessful, in that they didn’t achieve the goal of shutting the site down, but that protest inspired a protest in Kazakhstan that did manage to shut down a Soviet nuclear site. This week especially, as we all sit here with what has happened in Ferguson, with the knowledge that it is just one killing of an unarmed black man, in a long history of the killing of black men, that was good to read. That activism is important and worthwhile even if you can’t see the end point, that to stand up for beliefs is vital and beneficial, even if the benefit is not what you expect. Sort of the butterfly effect of activism, which is something I hadn’t considered. I tended to think, up to this point, that you protest and speak out and it’s futile and futile and futile, until the moment things changes. And that you keep doing things, because you are waiting for that moment. But maybe the earlier protests weren’t futile at all. Maybe we just didn’t see the way they built the broader web of justice. Such a hopeful thing to think.

“Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable” was probably my favorite essay in the collection. It certainly made me want to read more by Woolf. The essay praises uncertainty, celebrates the unknown, reminds you that there a truths that you can only see sideways. Or that you glimpse for a second, and then they vanish, never to be seen again. Or perhaps they pop up again at some point in the future, in the words of an author or the image of artist that has managed to capture something so TRUE that it stops you in your tracks. As a librarian (and as a person – let’s be clear, my profession didn’t come from nowhere), I classify. I organize and arrange and make things fit. I write lists. But there are so many things that are amorphous. Hard to describe, hard to pin down. This essay reminded me to celebrate those. To give myself space to think, or more importantly to not think. To not fill up my time and my space and my brain and my life so much that there isn’t room for the unknown, for ruminating, for mysteries. It was a good essay. You should read it.

H/T to Liz for encouraging me to pick this book up!

Men Explain Things to Me

What I Read: July

I read 8 books in July, all fiction. 6 were on the Kindle, 2 were in print.

Bertie Plays the Blues by Alexander McCall Smith (2013).
The next book in the fun, light 44 Scotland Street series. 7-year-old Bertie’s struggles with his mother continue. Domenica and Angus are engaged. Matthew and Elspeth are now the parents of triplets! Life, in other words.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (2011).
It feels a little bit like sacrilege to admit it, but this is the first book I’ve read by Rainbow Rowell. I really liked it, one of my favorites of a month of reading. Lincoln gets a job of “Internet security officer” at a Nebraska newspaper. In practical terms, this means reading emails by the paper’s employees that get flagged for “inappropriate” content. He comes to know and like two friends through their email exchanges, which they don’t know he is reading. A fun twist on an epistolary novel and a really quick read.

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante (2011).
This had been on my To Read list for a while and I picked up when it was a Kindle Daily Deal. It’s a mystery that circles around the murder of a retired schoolteacher. Suspected is the teacher’s best friend a world-class surgeon with Alzheimer’s. I didn’t love it but it was solid. Not sad to have spent $1.99 on it.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (2011).
The Sisters Brothers was on a lot of Best lists when it was first published in 2011. I am not really much of a Westerns reader, but it got enough good press that I thought it was worth checking out when it too was a Kindle Daily Deal. Eli and Charlie Sisters are professional killers working in the Western territories in 1851. Given that, I should have been prepared for how violent the book was, but I really wasn’t. Reviews call it darkly comic, but I didn’t enjoy the humor. It’s definitely well written, accolades well deserved, just not really my cup of tea. I’d recommend True Grit if you want to try a Western, but they aren’t your usual genre.

Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich (2013).
Oh Stephanie Plum. You are always there for me when I want a super quick, amusing read. If life is feeling hard, well, at least I am not a fairly-inept bounty hunter in Trenton!

The Little Lady Agency by Hester Browne (2006).
I picked this up because it was recommended by Everyday Reading and the premise sounded amusing. If I haven’t made this clear yet, I am definitely focused on quick, easy, amusing reads this summer! After getting laid off, Melissa starts her own agency helping socially inept men with the social graces. There is a love interest of course. It’s sweet and fluffy and fun. First in a series.

The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham (2014).
A thoroughly enjoyed Children’s fantasy novel about the Village Drowning, ruled by an evil earl and threatened by the terrifying Bog Noblins. Will the banished secret society, the Luck Uglies save them? The book reminded me of novels by Tamora Pierce. Definitely a keeper.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009).
This book made me like Thomas Cromwell. I didn’t really have an opinion about him before, didn’t know anything about him other than he was a non-royal ruler of England, and that that fact wasn’t without, um, conflict. The events Wolf Hall predate that – you see him as very much self-made man, smart, sympathetic, and very, very competent. Not sure if it’s a fair portrayal, but it does make for a very good read.

What I Read: July