Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Reading Women by Stephanie Staal

Reading Women:  How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life by Stephanie Staal is a book that intrigued me from the moment it was recommended to me but which I also hesitated to embrace.  I simply wasn’t prepared for another angry young feminist to shout at me about how far we have not come, baby, and how my generation an my mother’s generation and her mother’s generation failed this one author who feels she has a right to be very angry at all of us.

I am so glad that I didn’t avoid this book altogether.  Staal has written a lovely, lucid text in which she shares her experience of returning to her alma mater to revisit the feminist texts that excited and frustrated her before she graduated.  But now she comes to them with new eyes because she is a married mother, struggling to maintain her sense of self while still keeping up with the laundry and diapers.

I’ve been there. It isn’t easy.

What gives this book its remarkable sense of centeredness is Staal’s ability to reflect upon her initial response to the texts while sharing her honest reassessment of what the texts mean to her now that she is in a different time and place.  I recently started rereading Gone With the Wind with a book group and my feelings about the text were very different from what they had been when I first read the novel as a prepubescent girl.  It should be an obvious statement that when we reread a text it is bound to stir different responses from what it did the first time we read it and the author is able to not only share these conflicting approaches to the texts but she contextualizes them remarkably within in her own life.

In other words, she manages to take these theoretical and philosophical discussions about women and feminism and relates them directly to her relationships with her own mother, her father, her husband and, of course, with her own daughter.  I can’t imagine any mother reading this book and not having a similar response.  I found myself aching to create a reading group with my daughter and daughter-in-law and maybe a few other women of different ages, reading our way through the list that Staal shares at the end of the book.

I recommend this book with almost uncompromised enthusiasm.  Unfortunately, Staal does what so many seem to do and doesn’t cite her quotations.  Yes, I realize that this book is more memoir than academic study but I still find it tremendously frustrating to read still another book where the author/editor/publisher do not make the effort.  Clearly, this is something that is becoming the norm but I can list the many things that are becoming normal that irk me and this one will probably go with me as a pet peeve to my grave.

So love love love the book . . .

And now I am off to write an email to the lovely and beloved women in my life.  Maybe they will be more open to the idea of such a book group than I give them credit for being.  You never know . . .

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