Women We Read This Week

A gathering of some of the best pieces by women we’ve read online this week.

Hot Metal Bridge Interview with Eula Biss

When I read Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss (Graywolf Press, 2009), I identified with Biss as a conflicted public school teacher and as a traveler who struggles with borders both official and unspoken, but her thoughts and ideas are so unconventional and so smart, that Biss has instilled in me a counterpoint perspective, a re-vision on my own experiences and made me see more than I did or could see before. In fact, Biss may be the first really literary writer I’ve encountered who is of my own cohort, and there is a real pleasure to reading a writer who is writing a life parallel to my own. I will have to wait for Biss’s next book, but in the meantime, in this latest interview with Hot Metal Bridge (and Vela‘s own Amanda Giracca), Biss speaks to the struggling, conflicted writer in me about the writing process, about taking risks and seeing the value in failure. — Molly

“Animal Sacrifice” on This American Life

I spent a lot of time driving this week, so I did more listening than reading, which allowed me to catch up on some past This American Life episodes. The recent “Animal Sacrifice” episode (aired on November 30th) quickly became a new favorite for me. I’m already a huge fan of essays that explore morals and ethics involving human/animal interactions–in the Intro to Nonfiction course I taught this semester I had my students read David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster” and Sherry Simpson’s “Killing Wolves” back to back, and closed out the term with David Samuels’s “Wild Things,” three pieces that by far sparked the most debate in class discussions (and not just because of subject material–they’re great pieces to look at for constructing narrative). I’m considering adding two pieces from “Animal Sacrifice”: Susan Orlean’s segment on dogs who were trained for combat in WWII and Camas Davis’s story about working for the Portland Meat Collective and what happened when some rabbits meant for slaughter were stolen and released to an animals’ rights advocacy group. Both are incredibly well-told, without being didactic at all (not that I think TAL is capable of going that route), and both totally got me thinking. — Amanda

Anne Hull’s “In Rust Belt, a teenager’s climb from poverty” in The Washington Post

This was one of the most arresting pieces I’ve read online recently. Hull slams us early with some starkly spot-on descriptions of Tabitha Rouzzo, her family and the town of New Castle. But what grabbed me most was the deft and unsentimental accuracy with which Hull captures Rouzzo’s life. To draw a picture of the way endemic poverty tentacles through generations and communities is not easy, especially in a relatively short feature piece. Hull not only achieves this but does so with startling clarity. The end of the piece reminded me of a childhood friend who also joined the military as a way out. Definitely one of the most stand-out pieces I’ve read in a while. — Lauren

Molly Fischer’s “On Ladyblogs” in n+1

I found this piece via a letter to the editor in the most recent issue of n+1, from the novelist Kate Zambreno. Zambreno was referenced in the original Ladyblogs piece, and she takes (gentle, patient) issue with that piece and the way its arguments are framed. She writes, “Part of the discomfort I have with the authoritative stance is its pretense of knowing, of already having known from the start. What about a feminist epistemology? Or even an epistemology of the girl? Isn’t a mode of not knowing, of doubt, of openness, of play, a more potentially generative and generous one?”

I immediately sided with Zambreno, having never read the first piece and wary of n+1’s smug, snarky New York intellectualism (this is a magazine with a section entitled “The Intellectual Situation”). But then I went back and read “On Ladyblogs” and started to wonder. In this piece Fischer explains how what she calls “Ladyblogs” (there is an essay to be written on the revival of the word “lady”) have come to replace women’s magazines for a younger generation of feminists, and how she loved these blogs until she actually had to write for one. Then, she found herself reluctant to adopt their default playful, “BFF”-esque tone. When she ended up writing a piece about how she’d come to question that tone and its instant intimacy, she was attacked and pitied as a woman who only wanted to impress guys and who’d obviously never enjoyed a slumber party.

Her latest piece thus questions why so many ladyblogs end up “gussying everything up in the trappings of intimacy, swaddling tricky subjects in chattiness” and how she sees this particular epistemology as “infantilizing.” She writes, “instant friendship regardless of individuality is the kind of assumption that parents make about children (‘They have a daughter your age, you’ll have fun!’) and bosses about subordinates and majorities about minorities, but not one equals in power typically make about one another.”

Her analysis, and Zambreno’s, raise unsettling questions about what it means to be a woman writer writing in a female context, whether there is such a thing as a “feminist epistemology,” and whether certain rhetorical modes demean or empower women.

And on a lighter note, Dana Goodyear’s “Toques from Underground” in The New Yorker.

On the rise of underground supper clubs, particularly Wolvesmouth, “the toughest dinner reservation in L.A.” I was skeptical that this was going to be a bougie foodie extravaganza fetishizing radish buds or the like, but it ended up being a fascinating study of a new kind of restaurant and relationship to chefs, and of Craig Thornton, whose childhood of poverty and bad food has, ironically, given him an extraordinary palette. — Sarah



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