women

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!