book review: Scandalous Women

While Heathrow Airport in London, waiting to board my flight back to the States after several amazing months travelling and studying in Europe, I found myself in the worst situation known to reader-kind.

I had nothing to read.

Thankfully, there was a shop with books only a few feet away. My plane was delayed and I needed a distraction. Into the shop I went.

Among all the bestsellers and YouTuber books was a section about history. As I’d just spent three months going to historical sites, I was drawn to this section for a few more moments of history before I returned to the US. On the shelf was a book that caught my eye: Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History’s Most Notorious Women. Bingo.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon’s short, historical book was very enjoyable. Firstly, it was about some pretty badass women, which I will absolutely always enjoy. Joan of Ark, Cleopatra, Calamity Jane, and Ida B. Wells are only a small selection of the historical figures covered.

Second, it told the truth about these ladies. Cleopatra got the reveal she deserved. After centuries of old men turning her into a sex symbol, she got the credit she was due as a statesman and leader of her country. The woman was willing to do anything to keep Egypt independent, and she succeeded for quite a period of time. This is in comparison to countless other countries that fell to Rome quite early on. And then she was erased by men who were threatened by her. Ask anyone who Cleopatra was, and they’ll reply that she was the lover of Mark Antony. Ask them about her skills as a leader, and you’ll often come up with nothing.

Can you tell I’m a fan of Cleopatra?

Finally, the book was short. The stories were nicely condensed. Despite only being less than 300 pages long and covering over thirty fascinating women, Mahon is able to make each story easily readable and quick.

That said, the ratio of white women to women of color in the book is a little staggering. The section that features the most women of colors, “Amorous Artists”, is very near the end Even the section called “Warrior Queens” has only Cleopatra listed, when in fact there are countless queens around the world who could have been used.

The issue with this lack of diversity is not only that there are people whose stories are missing, but also that the stories begin to sound…similar….after a while. Most of the women were born into poverty, found love and fortune, then lost it and ended up alone and desolate. There are only so many stories I can hear about the same situation in one single book. Asian and African women are completely missing. I attribute that to a lack of intense research, as it cannot be hard to find pioneering women who stand out from history in either of those continents. I feel like the book missed an opportunity to talk about women who aren’t quite as well-known in the West, but notorious in other geographic regions. I would be insanely interested in reading something like that.

Scandalous Women is an interesting work. It covers so many periods and countries (in the West, mostly). The book is great on many accounts, but I did begin to feel the stories were repeating themselves. In addition, the writing style wasn’t that sophisticated (I’m a firm believed that slang doesn’t belong in anything not written in first person). But, I would definitely read another book by Elizabeth Mahon, especially since I think time will help her writing style grow and improve. The more you write, the better it gets. Simple as that.

I also really appreciate that she picked a topic that many people dismiss. These are women that actually had immense power and influence, and they are often pushed aside for the male figures, or to extol their sex appeal. This was a refreshing change.

the interview.

I have a real interview scheduled for tomorrow. In person. Live people. I’m driving over four hours to get home so I can do it on Wednesday. During my phone screening, the woman asked if I wanted to interview for two other positions, as well. She said I seemed far too qualified for the first and that the other two might fit me better. Then, crazy lady, she asked if that was “alright?”

Of. Freaking. Course.

Did she expect me to say no? “No, thank you, but I’d only like to have one single chance at a job after you’ve pretty much told me you won’t hire me for it because I have too much experience”. Could you imagine?

And that’s the other thing. This may be the first time in my life that someone has said I have “too much” previous experience to do anything. I’m usually stuck convincing someone that I can do the job while learning on-the-go. Or that I can even learn the job.

I was ecstatic when she told me there were other openings where I would fit. I’ve sent in over thirty applications for jobs and internships, hoping to the damn skies that they’ll at least interview me over the phone. And in the span of about ten minutes, this woman offers me the chance to personally convince her I have skills. I find that once I can meet someone in person, I’m very good at turning it into a done deal. The worst situation is if the company only wants my resume, no cover letter or personal statement. My skills don’t translate into only a few words. I need time, I need to convey my tone of voice to the person.

The fact that she even had to ask me if I was okay with interviewing for other positions within the company really makes me think I’ve tricked her. “Yes, I am a skilled human. You want me.” I’m crafty like that. I’m just hoping I can convince one out of three to give me a chance once they read through that resume and say “…I’ve seen better”. Maybe Better didn’t apply for these jobs? Maybe Better already has a job and is going to go ahead and give me this one so I don’t wake up at 5:30am stressing?

Basically, yes, you can sign me up to interview for more positions.

Until then, please enjoy this humorous stock photo I found that oddly depicts me:

Image result for interview stock image

Portugal.

The sun is out with a brisk wind and I keep thinking of Portugal. I was there for all of two days while I was abroad and each day was full of sunlight and warmth. It was an amazing feeling. I was travelling from England and I had a few extra days without class Flights to Faro were €9.99. Being something of an opportunist, there was no way I was going to pass that up. I’m so happy I took that trip.

First of all, Faro is not a tourist city. Everyone and everything is local, and no one is trying to cheat you. The city itself isn’t crowded or congested, but there are people going about their everyday lives.

It isn’t on the sea, but there’s a small marina so that you can smell the freshness in the air. It smells like heaven. The sun beats down on you and it feels like summer. It was 65 degrees when I went there, and I soaked it all up. I sat by an old church in the sunlight and wrote in my travel journal.

Faro is so peaceful. There are cars and buses and whatnot, but when you walk even a little further away the place goes silent. All you hear are the birds and rustling winds in the trees. There are mini parks all over, so it’s not hard to feel like you’re not in a city at all. There’s even a park with peacocks roaming around it, as though they were just meant to sit with humans.

The shops aren’t spectacular, but that just adds a little something to the city. Instead of searching for souvenirs, you look around. I don’t want to sound like one of those hippies who doesn’t think we should have cell phones, but it is very relaxing to almost forget that world exists.

I spent a lot of time laying on a bench like a homeless person (or a whale) feeling the sun on my face. Coming from England, I hadn’t gotten a lot of sun for a few months. I appreciated every day that fell on me.

I didn’t have time to do any of the site-seeing—I was there for only one full day. But my hostel had beautiful reed blinds and light coming from all directions. I didn’t get to see the famous Bone Chapel, but I got to explore a new city. My feet were on brand new ground. Everything was beautiful. I miss it. If I could go back to any of the wonderful countries I saw, I’d go back to Portugal.

the essay.

Image result for the mortal storm book cover

I’ve submitted an essay to a competition. I’m terrified. It’s just within my college (I think the winners get $150) and it’s for a paper on women—sponsored by the Women’s Studies program, but the paper doesn’t need to be for a Women’s Studies class.

For some reason, I’ve never sent an essay into a competition. Not sure why. Could be something to do with my low self-confidence when it comes to my own work. The world may never know. But, I’ve officially emailed in my paper, and I’m nervously shitting myself while I wait for two weeks to pass so they even start reading submissions. I don’t even know how many people can win.

The paper is from my sophomore year, written about Phyllis Bottome’s The Mortal Storm (now that picture at the top is finally making sense, huh?). It was, in my opinion, a fantastic book despite being pretty melodramatic. I’d forgotten how much I’d enjoyed reading it until my parents brought my flash drive of old essays with them to visit on Saturday. I was looking for things I could add to my portfolio of work, but when I came across this particular essay I started feeling the excitement for the story again.

In short, Bottome was writing at a time when fascism was on the rise (World War II), and her book was a reaction against both the anti-Semitism of the period and the tendency of some formerly militant feminists to turn to fascism. There were so many women who, after suffrage, ran for office and weren’t elected. They had these rights, but they didn’t seem to be able to really use them. Typical. So, many of them gave up on democracy altogether, believing it had failed them as an institution. Apparently the natural next step was fascism? Still not entirely convinced about it, but fascists had this terrifying way of making things that were terrible seem wonderful. The emphasis on a woman’s place being “in the home” was twists to mean that women were valued.

Bottome’s book has fantastic commentary on this. Her main character, Freya, is studying to be a doctor when the book begins. She is first prevented from continuing her schooling for being a woman, and then given further obstacles because she’s Jewish. She is most of the issues of fascism wrapped into one character.

She goes on to fall in love with a Communist, have sex with that Communist (which she does not regret in the least), watch that Communist die, and then have that Communist’s baby. Basically a huge “eff off” to fascists. Freya then leaves the baby to be raised by the Communist’s family and goes to England, where she studies to be a doctor. Badass as hell.

Rereading my essay brought a fire back to me that I had kind of forgotten. I attended the Women’s March, and I’ve been supporting women’s organizations all my life. With all this, reading Freya’s story again made me desperately want to do something more, especially right now. The world needs people who will tell fascism to eff off, in all its forms.

top five TBR

Besides Anna Karenina (which I’ve already posted about) I have a lot of books I want to read this year—though hopefully this list of my top ten won’t take all year. I’ll try to review/post about each one when I complete it, just to keep myself writing and paying attention. I always have such a long list of “to be read”, but I never really keep track of how well I complete it. This year seems like the perfect time, since I’ve decided to attempt the 50 Book Challenge. I obviously need to keep track of my reading

  1. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

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This is the book I selected from my Book of the Month subscription box, and I’m so excited to start it. The blurbs I’ve read say that it’s one of those books that span generations of a family, which is really just excellent. The story follows a Korean family, beginning with a daughter who becomes pregnant and marries in a hurry to prevent disgrace. She moves to Japan with her new husband, and from there she and her family struggle to make this new country ‘home’. I so rarely read books set in Asia or about Asian families, so this should be a wonderful learning experience.

  1. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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I first heard about this book through Youtube (John Green) and I’ve had its title stuck in my head since then. I admit, it first caught my attention because the author shares a first name with me, but after doing a little research I got interested in the actual story. It’s an autobiographical account told through poetry about the author’s experiences growing up in the 60’s and 70’s.

This seems like one of those books that is Important, with a capital ‘I’, one that will stick with me for a long time. And, again, I’m trying to diversify my reading, so that the author is African American is just a bonus. It seems like a story kind of similar to Pachinko in that it’s going to cover a long time period, but it is fixed on one person so I can really get into the narrator.

  1. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Image result for going home book cover yaa

After reading Americanah, I got very interested in African literature. It’s not something we often study in classes (the focus tends to be African American authors, not African), and I’d like to close that gap in my knowledge a little bit. This story follows two half-sisters born in Ghana, one sold into slavery and another married to a slaver. Apparently, the enslaved sister is taken to America and her future generations grow up in slavery and the story, again, follows each set. I seem to be very interested in generational stories, it would seem. I assumed from the title that it is the story of how the future generations return home to Ghana? I’m not sure though. Reading two stories in such direct contrast with each other in terms of their experience should be fascinating.

  1. The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

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This book came into my life while I was watching booksandquills’ latest video about her trip to Essex, in which her friend is reading this exact book (most appropriate). After looking through the Goodreads description, it seems to be a mystery covering the conflict between science and religion through two characters who “agree on absolutely nothing…[but] find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart”. I’ve heard great things about this one, and it should make a nice changeup in my reading.

  1. Fig by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz

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I found Fig through a Pin specifically about books that deal with mental illness. The story follows a mother and daughter, both struggling with mental health problems. The mother is slowly losing her grip on reality as her schizophrenia gets worse, while her daughter struggles to take care of her mother and herself. It’s been described as a very honest portrayal of mental illness which, as someone with mental health issues, I always appreciate. I’m also desperate to know more about schizophrenia, since it is so incorrectly portrayed in most media. It is a very misunderstood illness, so reading a book that treats it appropriately should be enlightening.

when I am silent…

Prompt: When I am silent I have thunder inside…

When I am silent it means you are not worth my time. You are not worth articulating my thoughts in a coherent phrase so that you can follow my thought process. Some would say this equals arrogance. I say it equals a screening process.

I offer my opinion when you say something interesting…or incorrect. I can’t help it, I want to put you in the right. It is in my nature to tell you when you’re wrong, and to help you correct it. Because I know what you’re saying, but chances are no one else does. Your clarity is important to me, so I will help you at any cost—especially if you’re nice to me.

I understand. I’m not an easy person to get along with. I know this about myself, and I’m constantly working on it. I know my own failings, and I’m mad about them, too.

But I ask you to look to the light. Look at my good characteristics rather than what I’m lacking. Because it’s so much. But isn’t that so human? I am human. I am living and I am breathing and I am struggling. I’m doing my best. I’m sorry if that doesn’t translate.

the difference.

There’s such a difference between happiness and fulfillment.

What is it? It’s a feeling. Happiness, I think, is very in the moment. Someone has made you feel wonderful and you smile all day. You’re spending time with friends and enjoying their company. A good grade on a test validates all your work for a couple of hours.

Fulfillment is something so much larger. It is the feeling when you go to sleep every night, or when someone asks you about your career/family/etc. and you feel completely satisfied. Fulfillment is your entire life. It isn’t a snapshot like happiness is, it isn’t brief. Fulfillment is found with so much more difficulty and so much more work. It can take decades, half a century, even.

Happiness is fleeting. It will go away at the first bad thing that happens. Fulfillment stays with you though, once you’ve found it. It’s more difficult to obtain, but it’s also more reliable. Feeling fulfilled can bring you happiness, but I don’t think the other way around works.

Fulfillment is a mind state. Happiness is temporary.