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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.”

Book Reivew: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

Book Reivew: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

“When people talk about the way I was shot and what happened, I think it’s the story of Malala, “a girl shot by the Taliban”; I don’t feel it’s a story about me at all.” -Yousafzai

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I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, with Christina Lamb

Publisher’s blurb (taken from Amazon): “”I come from a country that was created at midnight. When I almost died it was just after midday.”

When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.

Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she became a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize.

I AM MALALA is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.

I AM MALALA will make you believe in the power of one person’s voice to inspire change in the world.”


Do you ever feel like your contributions to the world aren’t being heard, or like your voice gets drowned out?

I certainly do.

‘I Am Malala’ will make you feel better, and worse, about that fact.

This book is, obviously, inspiring. I’d be an idiot if I didn’t mention that point. It highlights the impact that one voice can have. It demonstrates the amazing power of standing up for what you believe in, and how one teenager could reach the hearts and minds of the entire world.

For me, though, it also drove home the depressing points about humanity: how far people are willing to go to silence their opponents, and how deeply rooted humanity’s problems are. I’m not going to lie- there’s also the inevitable element of guilt- Malala won a Nobel Peace Prize before she turned 18, and what the heck am I doing with my life?!

As for the book itself, though, it’s well done, and a quick read. The writing is simple, yet powerful. Summing up the history of Pakistan to create context for this event is a tall order, but it was fairly easy to follow and I learned a lot about this area of the world (culturally, militarily and historically).

There are a lot (A LOT) of names, places, and acronyms to remember, which got a little bit overwhelming, but it made it clear how multi-faceted the conflicts are. We can pretty clearly label the Taliban as the bad guys, but other than that, things get a little murkier; where, exactly do the military stand? Who is truly an ally?

I think I was hoping for more information about Malala herself. The history of the region is necessary to understand the events, but I definitely preferred the sections about Malala’s day-to-day life. I think the quote I used above explains this, though. Malala doesn’t spend a ton of time talking about herself or her direct experiences. Instead, she presents herself in the context of her family, of her friends, of her school, of her country, and of Islam.

‘I Am Malala’ was published in 2013, and my copy has an additional intro and interview from 2015, after Malala was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. There’s a lot that has happened since then, and it’s particularly interesting to have read this book in the current political climate.

“He vowed to end corruption and go after those “guilty of plundering and looting the national wealth.” He promised he would make his own assets and tax returns public… [he] promised to end the old feudal system by which the same few dozen families controlled our entire country, and bring fresh young clean faces into politics. Instead his cabinet was made up of the very same old faces.” (Yousafzai and Lamb)

Fun fact: this passage is referring to General Musharraf, who became the controversial President of Pakistan during the “War on Terror”. Do his campaign promises sound at all familiar?

I don’t know- ‘I Am Malala’ put me in a weird head-space.

Is this book worth reading? Yes! Absolutely!

Will it make you question humanity and worry about the future? Probably. At least it did for me, because while her story is extraordinary and touching, it also brings to light how little things have changed. It highlights the ways in which politics, religion, money and extremism don’t play well together. It makes it clear that history repeats itself with different faces, in different places.

If you want to read about Malala’s story, but want something a little bit less involved, there’s a young reader’s edition of ‘I Am Malala‘, as well as picture books and introductory non-fiction.

Blood, Marriage, Wine & Glitter by S. Bear Bergman

Blood, Marriage, Wine & Glitter by S. Bear Bergman

“You feel like you can’t because that’s the message we get when we’re different. That’s how the culture punishes people who are different: it tells us that if we don’t make ourselves “normal,” then we can’t have the benefits “normal” people get. Family, friends, kids, work and so on. That’s bullshit.” -Bergman

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Blood, Marriage, Wine & Glitter by S. Bear Bergman

Publisher’s blurb (from Amazon): “S. Bear Bergman is an acclaimed writer and lecturer who travels regularly across North America to speak on trans issues. Bear’s first two books, Butch Is a Noun and The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You, are considered seminal texts on the subject of trans life. In his third essay collection, Bear enters, describes, and rearranges our ideas about family as a daughter, husband, father, and friend. In Bear’s extended family “orchard,” drag sisters, sperm-donor’s parents, Sparkles and other relations provide more branches of love, support, and sustenance than a simple family tree. Defiantly queer yet full of tenderness and hilarity, Blood, Marriage, Wine & Glitter is a beautifully thought-provoking book that redefines the notion of what family is and can be.” (Arsenal Pulp Press ©2013)

I’ve been thinking about what adjectives I want to use in describing this collection of essays, and not be be redundant with the blurb, but ‘tender’ is the one that keeps coming to mind.

I don’t think I’ve ever seriously used the word ‘tender’ in my life, but it fits. This books is thoughtful and sweet, but doesn’t shy away from challenging issues. Instead, heavy topics are discussed in a loving, compassionate way, even when it’s clear that the author was hurt or angry.

I was introduced to Bergman through the (sadly discontinued) Ask Bear series on It’s sort of like Dear Abby, except Bergman is so much gentler and more helpful than any other advice columnist I’ve ever read. His response to letter writers is always practical, but emotional, and reads like it’s genuinely a letter from a friend, instead of a stranger on the internet. He ends each response with ‘love and courage,’.

So I already knew I liked his style, and was excited about reading a full-length work. I decided to start with ‘Blood, Marriage, Wine and Glitter’ for two reasons. 1- the title is freaking amazing and 2- I think essays about families tend to be the most complex- there’s love there, but also disappointment, anger, regret and the million other feelings that come along with family ties.

Bergman didn’t disappoint. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone, of any of gender, sex, or sexual orientation.

I want to do this book justice. I want to explain it in a way that will convey how touching it was. Bergman’s essays weave together his experiences as a spouse, as a parent, as a child and as a friend. It’s about the family you create for yourself, but it’s so much more than that too.

It’s about how your identity is shaped by the people around you, yet how your identity is wholly personal. It’s about the complexity of navigating societal expectations, and the pull between personal information and educating others. It’s about mundane things, like tea and matchbooks. It’s about life-altering things like love and connection.

Some of the essays focus on trans-specific experiences. Some don’t. Some focus on polyamory. Some don’t. Some are about being Jewish. Some aren’t. In any case, each essay ties back into the idea that family isn’t a cut and dry concept. I don’t want to downplay the role that sex and gender play in Bergman’s essays- they’re a vital piece of the storytelling, but I also don’t want to give the impression that this book will only be understood by people who can relate directly to those issues.

If you have a family, whether they’re related by blood or not, this book is for you. It touches on those deep truths that cross cultures and religions: the people we love, and the families we live in are complicated. They can be joyous and enriching, but it isn’t always easy. Life isn’t straightforward, and neither are the people we share ours with.

The only downside (if you can call it that) is that Bergman’s style is a little ramble-y. There are lots of interjections and it sometimes reads like stream-of-consciousness. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it might take a little bit of adjustment before you can follow his rhythm.

It’s well worth the read. My TBR pile is totally unmanageable, but I’m going to add Bergman’s other works anyway. His warmth and humor shine through, even when the topics are rough, and I set the book down feeling a sense of contentment and satisfaction that I can’t seem to describe. It reaffirms all of the good things about love without becoming unrealistic.