American Women Part 1

I’ve been reading books by mainly American writers lately. I don’t know how to explain that. There’s possibly the urge to reassure myself of the existence of the America I know exists: intelligent, literate, liberal. It’s also that there are many new, interesting books by American women available at my local Waterstone’s just now. It’s also that I’m a sucker for the East-coast Ivy-league “walls covered in ivy/maple leaves in autumn colours rustling on the ground”- type of romance. I have no idea why I’m so taken by the flora surrounding university buildings, by the way. I pretty much chose my alma mater (The University of Edinburgh since you insist) based on the image in my head of me larking on the fields covered in, well, autumn leaves. Whatever that has to do with the institution offering the education I don’t know, but ancient university buildings, preferably covered in some kind of leafy plant with a couple of maple trees thrown into the mix are pretty much my thing. Anyway. 

My all-time favourite American fiction writer has got to be Joyce Carol Oates. Her latest, the “Book of American Martyrs” I featured earlier on the blog. I shall be returning to her later with deeper things to say about her writing, but given that she’s probably finished another brick of a world class fiction by the time I manage to publish this post, it is going take a minute until I have the necessary research done. If you don’t follow her on twitter yet, please start asap.

I am going through a huge stack of recently published feminist literature, mainly non-fiction, but I wanted to give heads up on something I just finished and something I am massively looking forward to finishing.

First up is “Hourglass” by Dani Shapiro. I stumbled upon her on my quest for books about writing, and her brilliant writer’s guide “Still Writing” convinced me to plough through the rest of her oeuvre. She’s mainly known for her highly intimate memoirs, which are not for everybody but totally up my alley at the moment. Hourglass is beautiful as a text and also as an object. Shapiro’s language is really honest and open, as well as extremely carefully curated. The subtitle of the book is “Time, Memory, Marriage” so that kind of gives you a hint of what’s being discussed. But yes, East-coast: check, intelligent writer couple: check, residence in New York: check, possibly vote for Democrats: check, presence of university-related plants: check (I think). So do read. It’s a joy. I have some of her other books stacked up for later already.

Then we have former journalist Julie Buntin’s “Marlena”. A book about teenage friendship between two girls, one of whom has an escalating drug problem and the other who one survives to tell the story. Kind of makes you a voyager who keeps scanning the pages for more of the gory details, of which there are plenty, at the same time knowing exactly where all that is going to end. But again the mastery is on the language that Buntin uses. How significant some mindlessly small details become just by how she describes them, making the reading a bit eerie at times. Most of the events take place in Michigan but rest assured New York features big (check) as does ivy-covered university walls (check). Nothing earth-shattering in the story but I felt very drawn to this book.

Rebecca Traister’s “All the Single Ladies – Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation” came out last year already, but hasn’t aged a bit. I’ve only just started this one but damn it’s interesting and repeatedly hits the nail on the head. The books is basically a snapshot of the American society, seen by a single woman. As fewer and fewer people get married in the first place, this has created a whole new challenge (as well as an opportunity, I’d like to add) to how we organise our societies in the future. Recent European statistics show that in Sweden (Stockholm) already more than half of all household are single households. That speaks of a massive reversal in the trend (was there ever one?) of getting married and having a family. I truly recommend this book, also for anyone who’s not single. Traister dedicates the book to her parents, “who never gave her a hard time about it”. I wish more women could say that about their parents (including myself). (Because being single obviously is an issue for women only, why else would columnists write stuff like “(Women’s) financial independence is a great thing, but you can’t take your paycheck to bed with you”?)

Really, read this book. I’ll come back to it later.

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