Women We Read This Week

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

Rebecca Solnit’s “Diary: Google Invades” in London Review of Books

Solnit‘s dispatch on the current state of rent inflation and socioeconomics in San Francisco really hit home for me. She begins lightly with a description of the commuter buses corporations like Apple and Google provide for their staff–common sights for residents of the inner Bay Area. It’s like she uses this almost playful depiction to charm readers, to draw them in to what is a very uncharming phenomenon of cut-throat, high-speed gentrification. She places the current situation–what my friends back in the Bay are calling “another Dot Com Boom”–in the greater historical context of San Francisco, a place dreamers have flocked to for centuries with hopes of striking it rich. But Solnit succeeds in relating what makes this current boom so worrisome: the vicious way in which it is bleeding the city of its long-term residents, its diversity, its legendary arts and culture.

This piece was a tough read for me, mostly because Solnit nails the phenomenon perfectly and unsentimentally. I vividly remember the changes in San Francisco during the first Dot Com Boom, when I was a teenager; basically, the entire punk scene was priced out and moved to Oakland or Portland. This next wave seems to be placing the final nails in the coffin constructed by the first. During my recent trip home, I was struck by how much less diverse San Francisco felt. We’ve still got a couple family friends holding on to their rent control for dear life, but others have been shadily evicted and had to relocate to other parts of the country. It’s really heartbreaking.

Since visiting the Bay for the first time since moving away in 2011, I’ve been fantasizing about moving to San Francisco. Mostly because the crime and violence of Oakland seemed terrifying and absurd after no longer living in it, but the gingerbread Victorians and cute cafes of SF didn’t hurt none. So I of course trolled Craigslist in an attempt to fuel my fantasy. But something about paying $1300 for a room seemed just wrong. Solnit’s piece has pretty much killed my fantasy of returning to the Bay, at least for now. — Lauren

Amy Butcher’s “Sick” on The Rumpus

Amy Butcher‘s essay on The Rumpus this week is the most affecting piece of writing I’ve read to date in reaction to the shootings at Sandy Hook. In it she describes visiting a friend in a psychiatric ward, a friend whose mental illness has done real and lasting damage. Butcher writes, “I never asked him how he felt, or how it was that he felt now. Mental illness seemed too taboo, too intimate a conversation to share between two friends. It seemed some secret, private burden—one I, and many others, thought he could carry on his own.” But her mind, her thinking on the mind, is changed when that private burden gives rise to public tragedy, and I find mine changed as well by her telling of it. — Molly

Jessica Benko’s “The Electric Mind” from The Atavist

“The Electric Mind” tells the story of Cathy, a paralyzed woman who’s a participant in a study aimed at eventually allowing people to circumvent their damaged spinal cords and control robotic limbs – or even their own limbs – with their minds. Benko‘s story is absolutely jaw-dropping in its implications. Go read it. — Eva

Elissa Bassist and Cheryl Strayed’s “How to Write Like a Mother^#%*&” in Creative Nonfiction

I was talking last night with the editor of a literary magazine about Cheryl Strayed, and why everything she writes these days seems to generate a frenetic outpouring of goodwill. I am part of this outpouring, one of the devotees, adding my cries of “Yes, yes!” I think I am finally beginning to understand why. It’s not just because I loved Wild. It’s because, as the editor pointed out, “she’s a good literary citizen.” After Wild was published, Strayed responded to the refrain “she came out of nowhere!” that kept popping up in reviews of her work. She had not come out of “nowhere,” she clarified, but rather out of a vibrant and successful literary community. Any group or outlet not in the top echelons of New York’s literary scene is not “nowhere.” Strayed champions emerging and women writers and the varied communities of writers and readers who believe in literature, keep it alive and celebrate it, even if they are not bestselling authors or are not in a recognizable “somewhere.” Her success is their success, and for that she has been idolized. This piece, a conversation between Strayed and Elissa Bassist featured in Creative Nonfiction‘s wonderful Female Form issue, should only reinforce that status. — Sarah

J. Nicole Jones’ “Why’s Everyone So Down on Memoir?” in Salon, originally published in The Los Angeles Review of Books

I am just beginning work on a memoir — a form that until recently I always shied away from and even sometimes disparaged — and I keep hitting a wall, keep hearing the naysayers rattling on in my brain: You’re too young, too uninteresting, too commonplace. This is therapy, not literature. Who do you think you’re kidding? And yet. Writing memoir, it turns out, is hard work, and at its best, the form offers us something that perhaps a novel cannot. In her funny, poignant essay, Jones argues that the faulty nature of our memory may not be a handicap, as Lorrie Moore says in a recent critical essay about memoir, but a tool for “exploring the temporal, emotional distance among past selves.” There are so many smart, insightful lines in the piece, I find myself wanting to quote the entire thing, but I’ll leave you with this, a passage that, at least for the afternoon, has quieted the naysayers in my head:

Maybe there is at least one more reason for memoir, ever so slightly more legitimate than an extended therapy session: because a story is better that way. While some require the freedom of fiction, what if some stories need the pressure of truth — not because a writer perceives reality or confession as more interesting or so different from fiction, but because there is a unique dialogue that happens only in memoir between the present and the past.



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