Tag Archives: Women Writers Reading Project

Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong-and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story by Angela Saini

Title: Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong-and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story
Author: Angela Saini
Publisher: FourthEstate, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0008172022
Genre: Non-Fiction, Science
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The title of this book tells you exactly what the book is about and I urge you to read the book if you are a sexist or not. You must. Everyone must. I am recommending it of course because I loved reading this book, but more so because of the times we live in, such books and more of this nature will sadly continue to be relevant till a change is seen on the horizon. Until then, the least we can do is keep ourselves adequately informed about women who make a difference in every sphere of life and are not given credit, in this case, science.

“Inferior” is one of those books that defies all that you might have known about science and women (which is very few and far in between) and rightly so. I don’t think defying would be the right term, but more so challenges premises and with accurate data, research and insight. You think there is equality of sexes but you don’t know zilch about it till you live it – either through experiencing it yourself or reading about other people’s experiences.

“Inferior” by Angela Saini is about science and women. It seems so simple when I put it this way, but it isn’t. Saini sheds light on gender wars in biology, psychology and anthropology and how women and their role to science in these streams need to be rediscovered. The book is about all the experiments and research covered by Saini to prove one simple fact: Women’s research and discoveries were completely either ignored and that’s when she shows us how white men feel that the old science is still what holds true and the new science is rubbish.

Might I also add here that just because this book is about science doesn’t make it a tough read. It is a very easy read with terms that easy to comprehend and at no point did I get lost and I am one of those people who cannot read books on science. Angela adopts a conversational tone to the book which does wonders – every story, anecdote and bits of research lend in seamlessly to the book. There is intelligence and a whole lot of emotion – not the kind that gets you a lump in the throat but the kind that can make you empathetic and that is what is needed the most, in my opinion.

“Inferior” rediscovers women and makes them look as individuals contributing to society than just being sidetracked with no mind of their own. There is a lot of history and politics as well which again ties up very well with what the author wants to objectively put forth. This book will debunk so many myths surrounding men and how they stereotype women’s brains and bodies and do not give them a chance to show their true mettle. All said and done, “Inferior” is one of the most important books of our times and like I said before, every single person must read this.

The Answers by Catherine Lacey

Title: The Answers
Author: Catherine Lacey
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374100261
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

It is not easy to write a review for a book like “The Answers”, however I shall try. The book essentially is about love, it is also about dealing with life, mental disorder, some more life, and how is it possible to live in isolation and still love? The book questions – at every step – about relationships, love, friendships and technology. But don’t be fooled in getting answers to how to live. “The Answers” by Catherine Lacey is a primer for our times – where we constantly yearn for love, but perhaps want it pre-programmed for us, so the investment is minimal.

Mary needs a change. In fact, she needs a new life. She is burdened by debt, works at a travel agency – a job she doesn’t particularly like, seems agonized by multiple ailments and just needs a change. Her best friend, Chandra recommends she finish a course of Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia (PAKing) which helps her get rid of the physical ailments. However, the course is expensive and Mary has to think of another way to make more money to be able to afford this.

The second job comes in the form of playing an “emotional girlfriend” amongst several other girlfriends (anger girlfriend, IT girlfriend, redundant girlfriend, etc) to a Hollywood actor/director in the name of a research project to gauge how these women would react and behave given the certain need they would fulfill for that star. The project is called GX – The Girlfriend Experiment and of course that forms the crux of the story. What makes it more exciting (so to speak) is that Mary has never heard of this film star, so she is the only one who can approach him neutrally. How come she hasn’t heard of this star? That is because she was homeschooled by her parents and escaped to live with her aunt Clara, ending up in New York. This in a nutshell is the plot of the book.

A book like that needs a deft emotional hand and Lacey’s writing proves that no one could have written this book better. Jumping from first and third-person narratives, the book tries to encompass almost everyone’s point of view and that is the only time I thought it felt kinda short but got up right back due to the nature of love and its treatment. At first, it does take some time to warm up to Mary but when you do; you can actually hear her thoughts in your head long after you have finished the book. The writing is taut and at no point I felt that the book could do with some more editing. The Girlfriend Experiment project is scarily real and could easily be a possibility where you are told how to love and you make money instead of loving with all your heart and the way you feel becomes artificial.

“The Answers” is a take on modern love. I think I can say that. It is also a meditation on the nature of loss, acceptance and above all whether or not we need to define ourselves by the constructs laid out by the society in order to live or not. At the end of the day, this book will leave you with more questions but it is worth it every step of the way.

South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion

Title: South and West: From a Notebook
Author: Joan Didion
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-1524732790
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

Joan Didion’s works are not easy to read. But once you read her books, there is no stopping. I remember reading “The Year of Magical Thinking” when it was first published in 2005 and wrenched completely to the gut by its honesty. Since then, I haven’t missed reading a single book by her. My copy of her latest, “South and West: From a Notebook” came all the way from Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, a gift from my sister. Anyhow, now back to the book.

Her essays are introspective unlike her fictional works. Don’t get me wrong here, I adore her writing, just that I feel her non-fiction is stronger than fiction. This thin volume contains two pieces: the first, a collection of assembled jottings in her notebook from a road-trip through the South in 1970; the second piece is about the Patty Hearst trial.

The first piece forms the bulk of the book – with details on everything South as they traverse that landscape – from its swimming pools in motels, to meeting regular people, knowing their views on class and racism (nothing has changed since then or so it seems) to the sedentary life lead there. At the same time, her keen eye for detail and candidness, makes you wish there was more to this book and more so to this piece.

Didion makes the South alive for you – every nuance, twitch of the faces of the people she observes and interacts with to the weather (more so important for the South) is pat down to the last nitpicking detail and as a reader you are only too happy for it. At the same time, you also feel that it could very well have been a travelogue (or is it?) with rich descriptions of the landscape and the minor details that are paid attention to.

What struck me about the book the most is that though written in the 70s, it still is so relevant today given the views of the people in the South – where discrimination – racial and classist are taken as the norm and no one seems to object – it was almost as though this were a warning for the times to come with the current President of the United States of America.

The second piece in the book is too brief – it finishes even before you have started reading it which is quite a pity. It is just a collection of notes and sketches (which of course what the entire book is) and nothing else adds to it. In fact, I had to go to Google to know more about the Patty Hearst trial.

All said and done, “South and West: From a Notebook” is a book which perhaps isn’t meant for all – or I don’t even know if it will be enjoyed by all. I wouldn’t recommend it to a beginner to Joan’s works but for someone who is familiar with her writing, you will love it, just as I did, so please pick it up.

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Title: Homegoing
Author: Yaa Gyasi
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-1101947135
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

There are books you read that make you want to be a better person, they make your heart sing and leave you breathless because of their sheer beauty. There are books that break your heart, they keep stabbing at it with a curved blunt knife and you are in pain and you know that, but the magic of words doesn’t make you stop turning the pages. There are also books that do all of this – books that have the power to do it all, so to say and “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi (I still cannot believe that this is a debut novel) is one such book.

I love and enjoy books about families on a grand scale – something about them that makes you relate to what is going on and not so much – perhaps which is what makes it so desirable and not so. “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi is about two sisters who never meet during the book. One grows up in a sort of prosperous family where she is promised in marriage to a powerful man and the other grows up in a tribe where she is captured and caught into slavery. This action takes place in Ghana – more exacting would be in the coastal region. The book is about the sisters of course but also about their children and grand-children and great grandchildren and it is marvelous to see Gyasi loop through all these characters and give them a logical start, beginning and end every single time with every single chapter.

At given point I didn’t think the writing was overwhelming because of the several sub-plots. In fact, if anything, I found Gyasi’s writing to be quite simple, empathetic and most easy to read. The trials and tribulations of these sisters and their progeny makes you think of what goes on in this world as we live safe, protected lives. The narrative switches back and forth between each generation of the sister’s family lines and to me that was a lovely way to link stories of families and to know of the songs and tales passed down from one generation to the next.

Yaa Gyasi projects the conflict of the Asantes and Fantes – the tribes of Ghana and the readers will be pulled into their lives, customs and how one of them even work with the British to sell them slaves. Honestly, it didn’t even surprise me given what some people go through in India at the hands of their so-called “community people”. I felt a little cheated in the last couple of chapters and wished there was more to the characters and their lives – but I guess those can be overlooked.

“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi is a novel that will take your breath away. It is meshed intricately with people across generations, timelines, emotions, men and women who are stuck with decisions they make and the ones that are forced on them. Most of all, the book is about what it takes to be human above everything else and what it really takes to make it through all the pain and hardship.

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Title: Just Kids
Author: Patti Smith
Publisher: Ecco Books, HarperCollins Books
ISBN: 978-0060936228
Genre: Literary Non-Fiction, Memoirs, Rock
Pages: 320
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Just Kids is one of those books that you’d want to read over and over again. This was my first reread and I know I will go back to it. I read it about nine years ago for the first time and as I read it again this year, I found my perspectives and opinions change a lot as the book moved me in different places, which perhaps it didn’t the first time I picked it up. That’s the beauty of some very good books – they make you see, feel and think differently with each read and that to me is a single most parameter for a reread.

Back to Just Kids: This book is the first part memoir written by singer and songwriter Patti Smith. Before she took over punk and rock and roll, she was just another girl who had come to New York to search herself and understand what she wanted to do. She had her poetry and the intrinsic lack of trust in society. In New York she met future photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and “Just Kids” is a document of their life together – as artists, lovers, friends and a trip down memory lane.

The book is razor sharp and has no holds barred. Smith says what she has to and without apology. Robert and Smith’s relationship was mercurial and yet there is something so fulfilling as you turn the pages and don’t want the chapters to end. You want to know more about their lives and for that I recommend you read M Train (where Robert doesn’t feature at all or does but hardly so). Patti Smith just like her songs has this ease of writing to her prose as well – it becomes poetry in so many places and has the capacity to take your breath away. Read it. Be mesmerized.