Photo: Dick Vos

Women We Read This Week

Lynsey Addario’s “What Can a Pregnant Photojournalist Cover? Everything.” in The New York Times

I could not put this piece down, and after reading it I wanted to run around whooping, “Holy hell, yes, yes, yes!” There is no more eloquent argument for a woman whose work is her life and her passion than this article, which is part of Addario’s forthcoming book, It’s What I Do. Addario, who works as a photojournalist for The New York Times, did not sacrifice her work to find a relationship or have a child. In an era when we continue to tell women of a certain age that they need to settle down and have children, and to do it in a particularly domesticated way, it is important to have role models like Addario providing another example of what motherhood means.

She traveled to Mogadishu, Gaza, and all her regular assignments while pregnant. To accomplish this, she hid the pregnancy for as long as possible, because she didn’t want to be denied work or treated differently. She was successful, and hopefully in the future women won’t have to hide pregnancy as if it were a disability to continue to do the work they love.

Alice

Carine McCandless’ The Wild Truth

The Wild Truth isn’t an easy book to read. It’s a memoir studded with physical, emotional and verbal abuse, and instances of breathtaking cruelty. It is all the more difficult to read if, like me, you are one of the people who inspired its author to finally write it — if, like me, you have publicly criticized Christopher McCandless, the protagonist of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, for spending two years as a vagabond, cut off from his family by his own choice, before walking into the Alaskan wilderness where he died.

Carine McCandless, Chris’ younger sister, writes that after more than 20 years, she was finally compelled to come forward with the story of the childhood she shared with Chris because she was tired of seeing him described as selfish, or callous, or spoiled. The result is a powerful book that will confirm the suspicions and assumptions of some Into the Wild-watchers, and shake the assumptions of others. For me, reading it was like finding a crucial missing word in the middle of a crossword puzzle: once those letters were filled in, the answers to the blank spaces around them also cascaded into place. Many of the things that were mysterious about the McCandless story – why on earth wouldn’t he ever call or write his parents? why was he so angry? what is so terribly offensive about a father wanting to buy his son a new car? why did he feel so recklessly driven towards the wilderness? – are, after reading Carine’s perspective, much less so. The anger and the icy silence are logical. Her depiction of a toxic household covered up by a proper, affluent, manicured facade goes a long way towards explaining her brother’s violent aversion to consumerism and displays of convention, of wealth. When she writes that childhood hiking trips offered a rare reprieve, an oasis of family calm, his fixation on the wilderness makes perfect sense.

The Chris McCandless saga has gripped readers for more than 22 years now. I would recommend this latest chapter to anyone who’s followed along all this time – even if reading it might be uncomfortable for some of us.

Eva

Susan Gubar’s “Coming to Terms” on The New York Times Well blog

Susan Gubar, who writes the “Living With Cancer” column for The New York Times, spends this week reflecting on the very words that surround the cancer experience. At first seeming simple and straightforward, Gubar’s collection of language offenses reveals the insidiousness of words that are in no way designed for patients—and not just medical jargon; even the most familiar words are used in ways that seem counter-intuitive: “In the topsy-turvy world of cancer, anything ‘positive’ or ‘advancing’ spells trouble. Yet a brain labeled ‘unremarkable’ after an M.R.I. hardly conveys the good news it contains.”

Quoting W.H. Auden, Gubar writes, “Words will tell you things you never thought or felt before.” Then she extends it, “Some of the vocabulary swirling around cancer leaves me feeling what I never wanted to feel or unable to think what I need to think.” The whole essay is, in this way, an extension. She not only reflects on the infractions of language, but begs for words that would describe the actual shared experience of cancer—“Don’t we need a rubric for the growing population that must turn down the unpronounceable drugs because they are unaffordable?”—and reflects on the growing patient-coined language: scanxiety, for example, for the fear that precedes testing, or Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s clever set of acronyms including “BBP (Bald Barfing Person)” and “QIBIFA (Quite Ill, But Inexplicably Fat Anyway).”

Gubar writes with both seriousness and levity. In the end, a sort of clarity emerges: seeing these sets of terms pushed up against each other reveals the frequent disconnect between patient and the medical establishment, something that, on the very level of words, begs to be bridged, to be healed.

Katie

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