Tag Archives: Women Unbound

Challenges Finished: Women Unbound

The Women Unbound Reading Challenge ends tomorrow  (how is that even possible?!) and I’m delighted to mark this one COMPLETED.

I really enjoyed this challenge, as I knew I would.  (I think it was my favorite challenge of the year.) My goal was the Suffragette level, which meant reading eight books (including three non-fiction books). Links take you to my reviews.  

1. The Curse of the Good Girl, by Rachel Simmons
6. Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf
7. Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, by Charles Shields
I also read three other books worth mentioning that also fit the challenge requirements:
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (audiobook)

Thank you to the hosts of the Women Unbound challenge for a wonderful year of reading!

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo’s Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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The Sunday Salon


It is a nothing-to-do, nowhere to be type of Sunday that comes on the heels of a busier-than-usual Saturday, making it completely justifiable to still be pajama-clad on the couch at 2:30 in the afternoon.

I’m catching up on blogs, The Husband is watching our Eagles, and the crockpot is cooking this week’s Sunday soup (Slow Cooked Broccoli Soup with Garlic and Olive Oil), Hopefully I’ll have a chance to read some of what will be my 60th book of the year (Come to Me, Stories by Amy Bloom).

Yes, indeed … Come to Me marks a record number of books for me.  We’re at that time of the year when we start to see our reading year start to crystallize in terms of records set and challenges met, which is always kind of fun.  I’ve finished five of my Reading Challenges so far (Women Unbound, Support Your Local Library, All Things Alcott, Essay Reading, and my own Memorable Memoir Challenge).  Considering I signed up for a ridiculous number of challenges this year, I’m pretty pleased.

This has been another great reading week.  Earlier this week I finished Jane Mendelsohn’s American Music, which I’m now recommending to EVERYONE.  I absolutely loved this. I’m not sure if it actually is a book that will appeal to everyone, but that doesn’t matter … I just think more people should read and experience the wonder that is this one. 

I also started and finished Heather O’Neill’s debut novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals, one that I hadn’t heard of until I was browsing in the library stacks.  This is a Harper Perennial book, and while not quite as strong as some of the other HP novels I’ve read, this is very good.  It’s about a 12 year old girl named Baby (her real name) who is neglected by her 25 year old father Jules (yeah, do the math) and falls victim – despite her resistance – to the lure of street life.  Very sobering and kind of gritty. 

My audiobook is still Judith Warner’s incredibly well-researched We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication. It’s hard to say that I like this – because it isn’t the sort of book you enjoy – but I think that Ms. Warner is doing a tremendous job presenting the facts and stories of real children and parents in connection with what is such a controversial and hot-button issue for so many. 
I’ve read several of Amy Bloom’s short stories before in various anthologies, but never any of her actual books.  That’s being remedied by my being three stories into Come to Me.  “Sleepwalking” is my favorite so far.  It’s the sort of story where you can see so clearly what is going to happen, yet you’re surprised when it actually does. 
Now I’m off to catch up on some blogs and see what you’re up to today ….  

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo’s Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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The Sunday Salon: Work, Women, Music, and Meds


Instead of reading, I’ll be working most of today.  I like my paycheck so I’m not complaining about the occasional weekend of work.  What’s really bothering me is that I’m going to be near the beach and near one of my favorite independent bookstores … and no time to visit either one.  Kind of a bummer but nothing I can do about it.

Speaking of work, this week I started and finished Women Lead the Way: Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World by Linda Tarr-Whelan. I first saw this at the BlogHer bookstore and saw it again a few weeks ago on the library’s New Books shelf.
When I went to BlogHer this summer, I wanted so badly to attend The White House Project session that Linda Tarr-Whelan was participating in (as well as Marie Wilson, who I love and think is amazing and who I heard speak at a conference in Toronto … and then I wound up sitting next to her later in the airport!).  Alas, I had to make due with the recaps on the live blogs, including the Official BlogHer’10 Live Blog from a QandA with Linda. Much of what Linda mentions here is also referenced in more detail within her book, which found to be chock full of information and a fast read.  If you are participating in the Women Unbound challenge (which I read this for) and find yourself in need of another read, this might be of interest.

Back in July, Beth Kephart wrote about the literary luminescence that is American Music and oh my … she is so right, as she is about so many things. This book is breathtaking.  It is so hard to describe the wonder that is contained in these pages, but it is magical and sad and supernatural and oh-so-real and filled with love and history and so very much more. It is also written in a very spare and almost perfunctory style, which would otherwise not be appealing to me, but in this novel it works so very well. There are many, many passages of pure grandeur … so many that it is going to be hard to choose just one or two for reviewing purposes. It is the type of book with characters whose stories you want to read forever. Oh my goodness, I just love this one to no end.

My current audiobook is also one that Beth wrote about, but it was on my TBR list before reading her post about We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication.  I’m early into this one, but I already have to give Judith Warner much credit for writing this book, which is very different than the one she set out to write.  Originally, she intended to write about her theory that parents were willy-nilly medicating their kids in order to achieve some nirvana of perfection from their offspring.  Instead, she found that there are many families raising children with significant mental health issues … which makes for a changed mindset and a very different book indeed.  I’ll be listening to this one during my drive to and from today’s work event by the beach and the bookstore.
How are you spending this autumn Sunday?
copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo’s Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.
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Book Review (Audio): Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs, In Afghanistan and Pakistan


Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, In Afghanistan and Pakistan
by Greg Mortenson
published 2009
audiobook narrated by Atossa Leonni

A little more than two hours ago, we sent Betty and Boo off for their first day of school.  We take it for granted sometimes, don’t we, that our kids (especially our girls) have schools to go to in the first place.  That’s not the case for some parts of the world, as Stones Into Schools makes very clear.   

Even if you’re like me and haven’t read Greg Mortenson’s first book, the best-selling Three Cups of Tea, chances are you know someone who has told you about it.  I was somewhat familiar with Mortenson’s efforts from the many people who recommended Three Cups to me, which is why I picked up the follow-up book, Stones Into Schools, which apparently picks up where the first left off. 

I’m very interested in women and girls’ issues, which was why this book appealed to me.  (I read it for the Women Unbound challenge.) The stories of the actual students in schools were my favorite parts of the book, although there weren’t as many of those as I’d expected. Some of them are uplifting, while many of them are heartbreaking, and the devastation following the Kashmir earthquake is simply unfathomable. 

(I was looking on Greg Mortenson’s websites for information on how his schools were doing as a result of the Pakistani floods, but didn’t see anything.)

There is a tremendous amount of information in Stones Into Schools and for that reason alone, I’m not sure if this was my best choice for an audiobook.  (I thought the audiobook was fine in terms of Atossa Leoni’s narration, the length, and the production.) For starters, there are a lot of people mentioned in this book.  (I’d imagine there would have to be, given the scope and complexity of Mortenson’s work of building schools in the most remote of areas – a region which he has referred to as “the last best place,” and lands where even the Afghan officials disagree on what country the very ground is part of.)  It seemed that we were meeting someone new and travelling someplace new with every chapter (or, in my case, with every new CD).

The region’s history is also discussed in great detail, moreso than I would have preferred.  Someone with a strong interest in the history of the Middle East and our relations with that part of the world would probably especially enjoy this.  As I said, I wanted more stories about the girls themselves, what they were learning (we never really got much of an insight into this until briefly at the very end), how their lives were transformed because of having the school and what they wound up doing. 

There is a great deal of logistical detail too, extensive narratives and description about traversing the rough terrain and weather conditions and the lack of supplies.  Because the book goes back and forth between locales in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it was hard (not having a familiarity with the geography there) to keep track of where we were. 

One part I do have to mention, only because I could relate so well to this.  In one part of the book, Mortenson tells about the donations sent from overseas (I think in response to the Pakistan earthquake), many of which were of little use to the people in need of more basic supplies.  He relates an amusing story of the villagers receiving countless jackets of a particular well-known brand, which sells for a pretty penny here in the United States, and seeing goats attired with them on the countryside.

Maybe this would have worked better for me if I read this instead of listening to it.  Despite the flaws in the book, I came away with much appreciation and admiration for Greg Mortenson. His work (through his non-profit organization, Central Asian Initiatives) of building schools in areas where few dare to tread is incredibly admirable and he is an inspiration for truly making the world a better place and being an example to all of how one person can make a difference. 

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo’s Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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Book Review: Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism, by Alison Piepmeier

Girl Zines - Making Media, Doing Feminism

Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism
by Alison Piepmeier
New York University Press, 2009
248 pages

About a decade ago, before I had kids, I was part of a writer’s group that met every other week at a local Borders. (I know. Of all places, right? In those good old pre-Depression days, I bought dozens of books and magazines per month … sigh.) 

After one of our meetings, I found myself by the magazines, glancing at the latest Story or Glimmer Train and noticed a few zines. I paged through them briefly but didn’t quite understand them.  And because I didn’t, I summarily dismissed them.

Which is a shame, because now that I’ve read Alison Piepmeier’s book Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism, I understand them so much better now. Reading this was like a big a-ha! moment for me, as I realized girl zines hold an important place in our history, our literary culture, as well as within the context of feminism.

I think I was born a little too early to fully immerse myself in the zine scene, which occurred in the early 1990s.  Reading this I was reminded of my teenage years when I corresponded with dozens of pen pals.  Along with our handwritten letters, we often exhanged “lyrics books” filled with customized return address labels with our favorite Bon Jovi or Duran Duran lyrics, along with our interpretations of their meanings. (Among the varieties I had were ones with quotes from Bryan Adams’ songs.) We also exchanged “slams,” which were books that allowed us to share our thoughts and answers to questions. Creating these was so much fun – we spent hours on these – and they allowed us a form (albeit somewhat limited) of self-expression, and I remember thinking how cool it was that someone half a world away might read my words.

These weren’t zines, but zines do strike me as similar because of this tactile quality. Zines are more solitary in their creation, but operate somewhat on a familiar scale. They are, like the lyrics books and slams, part of a “gift economy.”  They’re created not for monetary gain (although some zines charge $1.00 per copy), but primarily as a means of self-expression and sharing, to give a piece of oneself in the form of writing about personal experiences in the hopes that someone else might begin to heal from their own pain.

Author Alison Piepmeier traces zines’ origins back to the scrapbooks kept by women in the 19th century, which were meant to be shared documents, complete with commentary about current events or opinions on newspaper articles of the day.  Later, the advent of health pamphlets provided women with an awareness of sexuality and sex education; with the invention of the mimeograph machine (remember those?!), the pamphlets could be more widely distributed on college campuses and at other public gatherings.

Given the ease of blogging compared to the time-consuming process of producing a zine, one might assume that zines would have become passe or naturally morphed into a blog format.  I know that was my own assumption.  If one of the purposes is for sharing one’s writing, one might think that could be accomplished more efficiently and quickly via a blog. That’s not exactly true for zines, for a variety of reasons.

Alison Piepmeier is one smart woman.  According to the book jacket, she directs the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at the College of Charleston, where she is Associate Professor of English. She knows of what she speaks with women’s issues and literature. Because of her academic background, there are parts of Girl Zines that read as such, which could be challenging for a non-academic lay person such as myself.  My advice? Try your best with those sections and think of those as stimulation for your intelligent senses.

I fear that I am not doing this book justice with this review, because there was so much information presented. Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism is an eye-opening look at the world of zines and their creators combined with how their work is impacting third-wave feminism by emboding feminist theories.  By no means am I an expert in this discipline. Still, women’s and girls’ issues are ones that I care deeply about and am very interested in reading more about.  If that’s the case for you, too, Girl Zines is a good place to start.

In her conclusion, Piepmeier writes a nice summary of the impact of zines:

“Grrrl zines demonstrate the interpenetration of complicity and resistance; they are spaces to try out mechanisms for doing things differently – while still making use of the ephemera of the mainstream culture. They demonstrate the process, the missed attempts as well as the successes. They aren’t the magic solution to social change efforts; instead, they are small, incomplete attempts, micropolitical. They function in a different way than mainstream media and then previous social justice efforts. Indeed, my work with these zines has helped me understand one of the central paradoxes of third wave feminism; the contradiction between the emphasis on the personal and intimate on the one hand, and the need for broader collective action on the other hand. In some ways, grrrl zines merge the two: they are clearly intimate, personal artifacts, and they create embodied communities. But these aren’t communities that become large protest groups or voting blocs. They are communities that operate in the cracks and fissures, that – as Moore suggests – aren’t equipped to bring down the megacorporations but to disrupt them, to offer some static, what Rodriguez describes as the bubbles in the swamp that show that democracy is still fermenting. They show that change is still possible – ‘even more than we are able to imagine.'” (page. 197)

I read this as part of my participation in the Women Unbound reading challenge. And, for the FTC disclaimer, this was borrowed from my local library.

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The Sunday Salon: Reading in (Heat) Waves


We’re going on a week now with no central air-conditioning in our house, an unfortunate miserable situation coinciding with a heat wave in our area.  Temperatures inside our house have been in the high 80s this week and outside, it’s in the 90s.  Wednesday appears to be the soonest that we might see central air-conditioning again.

To cope, we’ve become even more sedentary, staying in the coolest room possible with the strategically-positioned emergency-purchased room air conditioner unit going full blast. Perhaps the only good part to this is that I’ve been reading more than usual. (Well, that … and I’ve gotten an unexpected vacation from making much more than sandwiches and salads for dinner.)

Sometimes after reading a particularly well written, engrossing novel (I finished Pat Conroy’s South of Broad last week; see my review here), I have a hard time getting into another work of fiction. My new solution is to switch gears; instead of diving right into another novel and subconsciously comparing authors and writing styles, I’m finding that is a good time (at least for me) to read some nonfiction.

So I’ve been spending some time this week in the world of girl zines, reading Alison Piepmeier’s incredibly interesting, enlightening book, Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism. I heard about this from one of my favorite sites, Girl w/ Pen, then found it in the young adult section of the library. I’m enjoying this one, which I’m reading for the Women Unbound reading challenge. Piepmeier writes in a nice mix of academic and everyday language, which only a few people (in my opinion) can master. From the back cover:
“Bursting with collage art, stickers, glitter, and handwriting, the messy, photocopied, do-it-yourself zines created by girls and women over the past two decades provide a complex window into feminism’s history and future. Covering every imaginable subject matter, zinesters showcase idiosyncratic, surprising, and savvy arguments and issues, making feminism’s third-wave visible. Though they all reflect the personal style of their creators, they are also sites for constructing narratives, identities, and communities.
“Alison Piepmeier argues that these quirky, personalized booklets are tangible examples of the ways that girls and women “do” feminism today, persistently and stubbornly carving out new spaces for what it means to be a revolutionary and a girl. Girl Zines takes zines seriously, asking what they can tell us about the inner lives of girls and women over the last twenty years.”

I also started It’s Beginning to Hurt, a short story collection by James Lasdun, which won the National Short Story Prize in the UK. For whatever reason, the stories haven’t quite been grabbing me.  (Maybe because I was just finishing South of Broad.)  I was thinking of abandoning this one, until I read Dawn’s review at She Is Too Fond of Books, and now I think I might give it more of a chance. 

Coming up this week, I’ll have a review tomorrow of The Killing of Mindi Quintana by Jeffrey A. Cohen, a local Philadelphia author.  This will mark my first review for TLC Book Tours

And after that, if I haven’t melted from the heat in my house,  I might be seeking out books that make me remember what it felt like to be surrounded by this, only just a few short months ago:

(photo taken by me of the aftermath of the February 2010 blizzard that dumped over two feet of snow in our backyard, and our neighbor’s.)

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo’s Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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Book Review: Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win, by Anne E. Kornblut

Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win
by Anne E. Kornblut
2009
270 pages

Let me start by saying this: if you care at all about women’s issues, politics, and the future of our country, you need to read this book.

Anne Kornblut is a White House reporter, and has covered “from start to finish” the three most recent Presidential campaigns. Her reporting background shows, as this is an extensively researched and detailed book – but, make no mistake, it is exceptionally readable and riveting. In some places, it reads like a novel. (Maybe that’s because there were some aspects of the 2008 Presidential campaign that did seem stranger than fiction, no?)

I have a lot to say about this one, so let’s get to it.

In the beginning, back in the good old days of 2007, I was a Hillary supporter. Unbeknownst to me, I was somewhat in the minority demographically. Kornblut explains why.  (Although, I don’t think I meet the standard for “young woman,” but just play along with me here, ‘kay?)

“[Young women] considered themselves postfeminists, to the extent they thought about it, and preferred not to view the world in terms of gender. Supporting Barack Obama was proof of their liberation: they were free to choose whomever they favored for president, unburdened by any old-fashioned notions of loyalty or sisterhood, a sign that women were now diverse and evolved enough to disagree.


And if young women felt fully liberated – or were even totally oblivious to the barriers that had once existed, in many cases before they were born – it was hard to blame them. Nothing in 2008 felt unequal. Women had worked alongside men as peers in every profession for decades, with discrimination and sexual harrassment laws on the books. Women were heads of corporations and universities, as senators and governors and chiefs of police …. Every year seemed to bring a new achievement, making the next one less remarkable.” (pg. 82-83)

In regards to Sarah Palin, Kornblut has done for me what no other writer I’ve read has been able to: she has succeeded in making me sympathetic to Sarah Palin. (Just a leeettle, teensy-tiny bit.)

But before I get into that, what was most eye-opening about Notes from the Cracked Ceiling was the lack of women advisors and strategists who weren’t part of key decisions in either the Clinton or McCain campaigns. Writes Kornblut:

“[Clinton’s] women’s outreach division was a separate unit, cordoned off from the rest of the campaign and not involved in many of the core message decisions. The head of outreach to women, Ann F. Lewis, was not on the important strategic phone call each morning.” (pg. 39)

Well, duh. If we have any hope of getting behind the desk of the Oval Office, we’ve got to first get in the room. Or, for starters, on the damn phone.

Some of the strategies intended to capture more of the women’s votes went unheeded – even when proposed by men.

“One especially creative idea came from outside Clinton headquarters, from Joe Trippi [former campaign manager for Howard Dean] …. Very early in the 2008 campaign cycle, Trippi met with the Clinton campaign … to pitch the idea of an online fund-raising drive to draw in one hundred dollars apiece from 5 million women – half a billion dollars, in other words, with the imprimatur of Web-smart female contributors.” (pg. 42)

The idea was flatly rejected, quickly. Two weeks later, in a meeting with David Axelrod of the Obama campaign, Axelrod said, “You know, I read in a book somewhere that if you raised a hundred dollars apiece from five million contributors, you’d have a broad network of future support.” (pg. 42)

Look how that one worked out for the Obama campaign.

Similarly, “[n]ot one female strategist was involved in the [Palin] selection process – not out of hostility but because the already bare-bones McCain campaign had very few women on staff. Nor were there senior advisors with experience running women’s campaigns.” (pg. 93)

Had there been, Kornblut writes, “they might have cautioned McCain that women are usually held to a higher standard, especially on questions of toughness and competence – and that women won’t switch party affiliations just to vote for a woman. Female candidates also have to remember that women can be deeply suspicious and critical of one another. Palin’s appearance was another obvious red flag: a group of female advisors could have gently reminded the McCain men that women are not always thrilled to see a young, attractive woman step into the limelight, and they might need to prepare for the long knives.” (pg. 93)

The McCain camp didn’t think any of this was critical, and when people like Republican governor of Massachussetts Jane Swift (who had twins while in office) shared with the campaign some of her experiences as a female candidate, it appeared to have been dismissed.

So, if we as voters are rejecting Hillary and Sarah, the question remains if there are, in fact, any women who might be potential candidates and what characteristics, what background, what persona do they need to have in order to crack the ceiling of the Oval Office once and for all?

Kornblut gives us glimpses into several women and their qualifications, noting that there are several commonalities among them. She points out that many have a background in law enforcement as well as having battled breast cancer – and Kornblut shows that these are characteristics that are viewed as strengths in the light of a potential Presidential run.

What I’ve written here barely scratches the surface of Notes from the Cracked Ceiling; in fact, I have 17 additional passages Post-Marked that I didn’t even mention.  This book is chock-full of insider political baseball and reading it makes you feel like you have a front row seat to history.

Which, if you think about it, is what we had.

More information about the book:

The Washington Post has a special page on its website about the book and the issues raised.
Anne Kornblut’s website is here.


copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo’s Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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