In our monthly book club, we discuss whatever we happen to be reading and ask everyone in the comments to do the same. What Are You Reading This Month?
After six—albeit nonconsecutive—years in Chicago, I’m moving to Philly, which is bittersweet. I’ve spent some of my most formative years in the City Of Big Shoulders, including three at Columbia College Chicago, where I earned an undergraduate degree in journalism. I’m proud of that piece of paper, and I’m proud to have earned it in a city that has such a storied history of great journalism and to date still has two dailies (something we’re seeing a lot less of) and a killer alt-weekly, among many other local publications.
With all that in mind, I decided to crack open Irv Kupcinet’s Kup’s Chicago. Kupcinet launched Kup’s Column in the Chicago Sun-Times in 1943, where it remained a fixture for six decades. The book focuses on Chicago in the ’50s and ’60s, covering everything from politics, literature, and crime to football, business, and art in straightforward and engaging prose. True to the reputation that Kupcinet had earned as a man about town, the book takes you back to a time of glamour and intrigue in Chicago and offers an affectionate look at a complicated city. It’s a great read for history buffs or journalism nerds alike.
Keeping with the Chicago-centric theme, I picked up Promising Young Women by Suzanne Scanlon from the wonderful Chicago-based Curbside Splendor store. Promising Young Women comes from Dorothy, a publishing project dedicated to publishing works of fiction or near fiction or about fiction mostly by women. The book follows Lizzie, a twentysomething who embarks on a long journey through psychiatric institutions, and was recommended to me by a Curbside employee after I requested something I could cry to. Although I’ve yet to shed a tear, I have been moved by the book’s ability to deftly capture human existence—one that allows a strong and smart woman to simultaneously be terrified of herself and the world around her. It’s an intimate read that’s reminiscent of Sylvia Plath and Susanna Kaysen before it, but for a new age.
I began reading Jessica Valenti’s Sex Object before the most recent tape (as of this writing) leaked of a presidential candidate bragging about sexually assaulting women for fun, but there could hardly be a better validation for the subject of Valenti’s collected essays. A loose memoir threaded with a frighteningly dense number of recollections about the destructive ways that women are viewed by men, Valenti’s writing is bluntly effective whether it’s discussing the near daily occurrence of men exposing themselves to her on the subway as a school girl or the flood of negative attention she received for having a picture taken with Bill Clinton.
In Sex Object, Valenti is forthright about her own sexual history. She freely explores what she considers her mistakes and how she was shaped by the impossible and often contradictory expectations women face. It’s an important discussion that works to dispel the notion that women must be pure, virginal things in order to maintain the right go unmolested in public. This, of course, should be obvious. But given the level of discourse in the wake of Trump’s remarks, there’s a damning amount of evidence that a woman’s fundamental personhood is still debatable to a depressing number of people. Valenti regularly asserts her autonomy and is threatened with harm and assault for doing so.
The whole book ends up feeling like a sick riff on Miracle On 34th Street, except instead of a trial proving the existence of Santa Claus, it’s the shitty ubiquity of sexism. Valenti’s countless anecdotes have the same effect as the line of mailmen entering the courtroom, upending bag after bag of stories to prove that, yes, the world is a hostile place for women in a way it can be difficult to understand if you’re not living it.
I sit right next to books editor Caitlin PenzeyMoog, so I hear about what she’s reading and reviewing, and she often passes recommended books to me when she’s done. This month, I finally made some headway in her recommendations, which were forming a precarious stack on my desk. First up was Blair Braverman’s Welcome To The Goddamn Ice Cube, which I’m still only halfway through (but only because I got distracted by some of Caitlin’s other recommendations). As the owner of husky—a breed that is basically the most difficult parts of a toddler and a teenager rolled up into one always-shedding package—I was delighted by the descriptions of the sled dogs, whose aroo-ing was so incessant that Braverman just stopped hearing it after a while. More than that, Braverman’s memoir is a lovely piece of writing that defies conventional tropes of women finding themselves amid stark landscapes, or while subjecting themselves to tests of endurance. She’s unapologetically feminist in describing how she was sexually assaulted and raped, and she’s just as unapologetic about conquering fear. I can’t wait to dive back in and finish it.
Ice Cube was interrupted by two books by English writer Tom Cox, whose cat-based memoirs are somewhat less emotionally difficult than Braverman’s (fair warning, though: There is cat death). Both Close Encounters Of The Furred Kind and The Good, The Bad, And The Furry bely their endearingly cheesy titles, each one a sweet and funny rumination of rural life, and, yes, life with cats. Though Cox is known for running Twitter accounts for three of his cats (@MySadCat, @MySwearyCat, and @MySmugCat), this isn’t one of those books, a compilation of silly tweets that will end up in a warehouse of remainders. Cox is wonderfully self-aware, wry, and funny, and unless you really hate the very idea of cats, suitable for non-cat-lovers.