Book Review: Shrill by Lindy West

Book Review: Shrill by Lindy West

“Women matter. Women are half of us. When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time- that moves the rudder of the world. It steers humanity towards conservatism and walls and the narrow interests of men, and it keeps us adrift in waters where women’s safety and humanity are secondary to men’s pleasure and convenience.”

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Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

Book Cover for Shrill by Lindy West

Publisher’s blurb (taken from Amazon): “Shrill is an uproarious memoir, a feminist rallying cry in a world that thinks gender politics are tedious and that women, especially feminists, can’t be funny.

Coming of age in a culture that demands women be as small, quiet, and compliant as possible–like a porcelain dove that will also have sex with you–writer and humorist Lindy West quickly discovered that she was anything but.

From a painfully shy childhood in which she tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her big body and even bigger opinions; to her public war with stand-up comedians over rape jokes; to her struggle to convince herself, and then the world, that fat people have value; to her accidental activism and never-ending battle royale with Internet trolls, Lindy narrates her life with a blend of humor and pathos that manages to make a trip to the abortion clinic funny and wring tears out of a story about diarrhea.

With inimitable good humor, vulnerability, and boundless charm, Lindy boldly shares how to survive in a world where not all stories are created equal and not all bodies are treated with equal respect, and how to weather hatred, loneliness, harassment, and loss, and walk away laughing. Shrill provocatively dissects what it means to become self-aware the hard way, to go from wanting to be silent and invisible to earning a living defending the silenced in all caps.”

What I liked:

West does a good job of blending serious discussion topics with funny and heartfelt anecdotes. **Sensitive content warning** A lot of discussion points in this book are really heavy. Lindy talks at length about rape and rape culture, as well as threats of violence and trolling** Some of the comments she’s received (and published in the book) are truly horrifying, but unfortunately they aren’t uncommon. West is honest about the psychological effect of those comments, yet still manages to pull something positive out of the troll swamp.

This book is honest in a way that is sometimes uncomfortable, but I liked it. West doesn’t shy away from anything; body functions, family crises and humiliation are all on full display. At some points it’s a little cringe-worthy, but only because it’s so relatable.

‘Shrill’ isn’t just about being a woman. It isn’t just about being fat. It isn’t about being a comedian, or having an online presence. It’s a mash-up of all those life experiences, as told by someone who’s currently living them. This is a collection of essays, but it’s also a memoir about finding your voice when people just want you to shut up.

What I didn’t like:

I was hoping I’d come away from ‘Shrill’ feeling empowered and energized. Instead, I felt a little depressed about the realities of the world. I mentioned this same feeling in my review of ‘I Am Malala’. I think the book is meant to be inspirational, or at least heartening, but I didn’t feel that way when I set it down. I felt demoralized by how cruel and hurtful humans can be. Lindy is happy to claim the small victories, but for me they highlighted how far we have to go.

Would I recommend this book:

Yeah, but I’d let you know up front that it’s a solid “like”, not “love”.

Additional thoughts:

I appreciated the fact that West made sure to touch on issues of race and social class. She doesn’t go into a ton of detail, but those elements are mentioned. As a white, well-educated woman, her experiences aren’t totally universal, but I think most of us can relate to her basic points.

I’d categorize ‘Shrill’ as an essay memoir, or a collection of think-pieces about feminism. I’m not saying that categorization is either good or bad, but I’m not sure I agree with the publisher’s “rallying cry” description. To me, “rallying cry” implies a call to action, which ‘Shrill’ doesn’t do, or at least didn’t for me. If you’re looking for something that’s more instruction-oriented, I’d recommend ‘Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls’ by Jes Baker.

I wanted to end on the same note that West does, because I really loved this closing quote: “Fighting for diverse voices is world-building. Proclaiming the inherent value of fat people is world-building. Believing rape victims is world-building. Refusing to cave to abortion stigma is world-building. Voting is world-building. So is kindness, compassion, listening, making space, saying yes, saying no. We’re all building our world, right now, in real time. Let’s build it better.”

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