women

The Handmaid’s Tale and Other Dark Dystopian Dreams

The Handmaid’s Tale and Other Dark Dystopian Dreams

If the news has been feeling like some dark dystopian TV series for the past year, consider reading some speculative fiction exploring themes of gender and power. (And when is the next installment of The Handmaid’s Tale returning to Hulu, anyway?)

The Power : A Novel  by Naomi Alderman (2017)

“All over the world, teenage girls develop the ability to send an electric charge from the tips of their fingers. It might be a little jolt, as thrilling as it is frightening. It might be powerful enough to leave lightning-bolt traceries on the skin of people the girls touch. It might be deadly. And, soon, the girls learn that they can awaken this new-or dormant?-ability in older women, too. Needless to say, there are those who are alarmed by this development. There are efforts to segregate and protect boys, laws to ensure that women who possess this ability are banned from positions of authority. Girls are accused of witchcraft. Women are murdered. But, ultimately, there's no stopping these women and girls once they have the power to kill with a touch. Framed as a historical novel written in the far future-long after rule by women has been established as normal and, indeed, natural-this is an inventive, thought-provoking work of science fiction that has already been shortlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction in Britain.” (Kirkus Reviews 2017 August)

Future Home of the Living God : A Novel by Louise Erdrich (2017)

“Louise Erdrich, the New York Times bestselling, National Book Award-winning author of LaRose and The Round House, paints a startling portrait of a young woman fighting for her life and her unborn child against oppressive forces that manifest in the wake of a cataclysmic event. The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Thirty-two-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.” (Amazon.com)

The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley (2017)

“Hurley's latest stand-alone space-opera novel depicts the Legion, a group of organic spaceships or "worlds" orbiting around a shared sun, with the various lords of the slowly dying worlds competing for ever-dwindling resources. All of the inhabitants of the various worlds are women, with pregnancy and childbirth being automatic processes seemingly tied to the needs of their particular worlds. The bulk of the story follows Zan, an amnesiac continually sent by the lord of Katazyrna to try and capture the mysterious Mokshi, the only world to ever move from its place in the Legion's orbit. Another thread follows Jayd, a woman with intimate ties to Zan and her lost past, as well as world-altering plans for the Legion's future. As Zan explores not only space but the vast interior of Katazyrna itself, Hurley takes the reader on an exciting and at times breathtaking journey through the world of her creation.” (Booklist Reviews 2017 February)

Red Clocks : A Novel by Lena Zumas (To be published-January 2018)

"In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom. Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro's best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling herbalist, or "mender," who brings all their fates together when she's arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt." (Amazon.com)

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1986)

"In the world of the near future, who will control women's bodies? Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now.... Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid's Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force." (Publisher Annotation)

The Name is Yuknavitch

Lidia Yuknavitch.  That’s her name. 

I was racking my brain yesterday to recall the author of an emotionally intense memoir to recommend to someone, and tried every variation from Yanowitz to Yonavich. I tried to do a search on “amazing women authors from Oregon with Ken Kesey as writing teacher” but Google failed me.  I finally had to look in my list of books read since 2011. (Yes, I keep a list- I’m a librarian.) The title is The Chronology of Water: A memoir.  It was captivating, unforgettable, as was my impression of the author.

 

Yuknavitch. Yuk- like nuke, like the dropping of nuclear-strength honesty, and -vitch like… what women who fight ferociously for their expression and existence get called too often. Her memoir left me wishing I actually knew her, despite feeling not quite audacious enough. I love that magic of memoir - the intimacy it can grant between strangers.

In a satisfying bit of synchronicity, today I found that name on the cover of the latest Poets and Writers magazine (Amy Gall’s interview with Lidia Yuknavitch: The Other Side of Burning). Yuknavitch has a new book called The Book of Joan (not to be confused with Melissa Rivers’ 2015 biography of her mother).  Kirkus Reviews calls it “A retelling of the Joan of Arc story set in a terrifying near future of environmental and political chaos.”

Yuknavitch says that despite the dystopian theme, eerily prescient of recent history, The Book of Joan does inspire hope. “Part of this hope includes remaking our myths and our archetypes and taking the stories different places than they have been, because all our mighty myths lead to war and destruction.  And the hero’s journey doesn’t fit all of our bodies; it just fits the white male body. And that’s where Joan comes in.” (Yuknavitch in Poets and Writers, May/June 2017)

 

Lidia Yuknavitch’s novel The Small Backs of Children won the 2016 Oregon Book Award’s Ken Kesey Award for Fiction, as well as the Readers' Choice Award (her memoir was Readers' Choice in 2012).  She has also written Dora: A Head Case, 3 story collections, a book of criticism, and her TED talk will soon be a book: The Misfit’s Manifesto.

The Book of Joan is currently in processing and will soon be on the shelf at OPL.  There are already 6 Hold requests for the 2 copies; I am number 7. Get in line.

The ‘Reading Minute’ presents: Funny Ladies

                                                      

I’m only slightly ashamed to say that I am a librarian with little time to read these days. I read some wonderful books with my young children, and there are the informative journal articles I read for work, but my “spare” time is used for sleep, if I’m lucky enough to get some. It could be a good while before I revisit those long lazy days curled up with the perfect novel, I’m afraid. Worse, I don’t even think I have the capacity for sustained concentration anymore, having not had an uninterrupted moment for several years. I suspect my predicament is relatable by many. And so I bring you the 'Reading Minute'.

When I do pick up something to read for leisure I tend to look for the following qualities: Light and easy to digest, but still smart; discreet sections I am able to finish in one sitting without totally losing the thread when inevitably interrupted; finally, if it’s not too much to ask, just make me laugh and feel like I am connecting with a witty, insightful friend.

Lately I have been finding what I am looking for in these sort of autobiographical short essay-type books written by brilliant female comedians and comic writers. Most recently, I listened to the e-audiobook Seriously... I'm kidding by Ellen DeGeneres, which came out in 2011. I enjoyed listening to Ellen read her own book, with plenty of asides especially for audiobook listeners. Her quirky inflections made this series of silly stream-of consciousness musings (Some chapters are between 1-5 lines long, others are 20 pages.) delightful to take in while walking around Lake Merritt, laughing out loud and distractedly wandering into joggers. What I like about Ellen is that, besides being a naturally funny person and a writer with years of experience as a stand-up comic, she also has a profoundly kind take on everything and everyone. She wants us to feel great about ourselves, and to get along with each other, and to take care of the earth. And to laugh all the while, which I did.

Before that I read Bossypants by Tina Fey, also out in 2011. I have heard that this audiobook is worth a listen, too, as she is the reader, and you can’t beat a comic actress performing her own material. Tina, who was a longtime writer on the set of Saturday Night Live, knows how to punch you in the gut with funny. I came dangerously close to wetting my pants reading some of her thorny responses to ugly criticism of her found on the Internet. Bossypants is mostly about her time as the producer/writer/star of the popular sitcom 30 Rock, with hilarious yet affecting flashbacks to SNL, The Second City improv group and her awkward younger years. She goes deep, getting into what it is like being a woman in comedy and not following the lifelong conditioning of trying to please everybody. I think that, in large part, her success comes from giving an authentic voice to the way many talented women today still feel insecure and undervalued. Then she makes fun of the whole thing.

Here are a couple of books on the horizon on which I have already placed my holds with high hopes:

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham (just out this month), the twentysomething fresh-voiced dynamo behind the hit HBO series Girls, is called "really out-there honest" by The Library Journal. Says Lena of her book:  "No, I am not a sexpert, a psychologist or a dietician. I am not a mother of three or the owner of a successful hosiery franchise. But I am a girl with a keen interest in having it all, and what follows are hopeful dispatches from the frontlines of that struggle."

        

 Yes Please by Amy Poehler (out in late October), Tina Fey's BFF and castmate on SNL, as well as The Second City, is described by the publisher as a "big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real life advice". Amy is a veteran comic known most recently for her work on Parks & Recreation and, earlier in her career, for several seasons on the Upright Citizens Brigade.

Gotta run, now!