Wrap Up February 2021

I am trying to finish my PhD thesis this year and recently decided that this means that I will have to try to write something every day. This is going, well, not great, but better than before. But this also means that I do not have as much time for reading. I am still quite pleased with my reading month..

Books I read in February:

  1. Hall of Smoke by H. M Long: 3.5 out of 5 stars (review)
  2. Beautiful Mutants by Deborah Levy: 4 out of 5 stars
  3. The Unwanted Wife by Natasha Anders: 3 out of 5 stars
  4. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke: 5 out of 5 stars
  5. Women and Other Monsters by Jess Zimmermann: 3.5 out of 5 stars (review)

Favourite of the Month:

I adored Piranesi. I was fairly sure I would and Clarke delivered. Her prose is as excellent as ever and this tiny book packs such a punch. I loved trying to solve its mystery and cannot recommend it highly enough.

Stats(ish):

I read five books, all of them written by women. I read one non fiction title, one romance, one literary fiction, one fantasy, and one thing I would call literary speculative fiction.

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

I should just finish the books I am currently reading before my squirrel brain is allowed to start anything new again. I am, however, very excited for quite a few March releases, especially The Unbroken by C. L. Clark and Redder Days by Sue Rainsford – I hope this stays this way, so that I can actually read them.

Review: Women and Other Monsters – Building a New Mythology by Jess Zimmermann

Verdict: Interesting framing, worked best in the more personal moments and less in the more political ones.

Published by Beacon Press, March 9th 2021

Find it on Goodreads.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A fresh cultural analysis of female monsters from Greek mythology, and an invitation for all women to reclaim these stories as inspiration for a more wild, more monstrous version of feminism

The folklore that has shaped our dominant culture teems with frightening female creatures. In our language, in our stories (many written by men), we underline the idea that women who step out of bounds–who are angry or greedy or ambitious, who are overtly sexual or not sexy enough–aren’t just outside the norm. They’re unnatural. Monstrous. But maybe, the traits we’ve been told make us dangerous and undesirable are actually our greatest strengths.

Through fresh analysis of eleven female monsters, including Medusa, the Harpies, the Furies, and the Sphinx, Jess Zimmerman takes us on an illuminating feminist journey through mythology. She guides women (and others) to reexamine their relationships with traits like hunger, anger, ugliness, and ambition, teaching readers to embrace a new image of the female hero: one that looks a lot like a monster, with the agency and power to match.

Often, women try to avoid the feeling of monstrousness, of being grotesquely alien, by tamping down those qualities that we’re told fall outside the bounds of natural femininity. But monsters also get to do what other female characters–damsels, love interests, and even most heroines–do not. Monsters get to be complete, unrestrained, and larger than life. Today, women are becoming increasingly aware of the ways rules and socially constructed expectations have diminished us. After seeing where compliance gets us–harassed, shut out, and ruled by predators–women have never been more ready to become repellent, fearsome, and ravenous.

I don’t really have much to say about this. I did in fact enjoy my time with this and I thought the framework Zimmermann uses – speaking about different female monster from Greek/ Roman mythology and using that as a jumping point to write more generally about sexism – was really well chosen. I just do not think it was as great as it could have been and that is such a shame. This book sits squarely in an intersection of two of my great loves: feminism and mythology. I should have adored this. I think what makes this such a difficult review for me to write is that there is nothing wrong with this book – but I was not the right reader.

I like my non-fiction either highly introspective and navel-gazing, or perfectly structured and researched. This was somehow neither. As such, I vastly prefered the parts where Zimmermann was close to her own life, using mythology to make sense of her experiences. These parts worked extremely well and gave me much to think about. On the other hand, the more general political points did not always convince me, probably because this was not really the focus of the book or because I found them very narrow in their application while Zimmermann made them sound universal. I am, however, not from the US – so your milage may absolutely vary here.

Content warnings: discussions of sexism and racism, (mythical) rape, (mythical) miscarriage, abortion, emotional abuse

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of Edelweiss and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Most anticipated non-fiction releases of 2021

I love thinking about all the great books that will come out in an upcoming year. I am not always that great at following through and actually reading the books but writing these posts is always a favourite part of my blogging year. I have already talked about my most anticipated SFF releases of 2021 here, today I want to highlight some of the amazing sounding non-fiction titles I am excited about (although I should probably just call it as it is: my most anticipated memoirs with the odd essay collection thrown in). Clicking on the covers will lead to the books’ Goodreads pages because I am not good at giving summaries.

As You Were by David Tromblay (published by Dzanc Books, February 16th 2021)
I am already reading this and it’s as brilliant as I hoped but also as gruesome as I figured it would be. Tromblay talks about intergenerational trauma, PTSD, abuse, and growing up Native. It is written in second person, addressing himself, in a way that seems custom-made for me to love.

Women and Other Monsters: Bulding a New Mythology by Jess Zimmermann (published by Beacon Press, March 9th 2021)
A book combining Greek mythology, female monsters/ villains, and feminism?! Sign me right up! I have an e-ARC of this book and I am very excited to get to this. I haven’t read Zimmermann’s writing before but couldn’t just not grab this when I had the chance. This sounds RIGHT up my alley.

Girlhood by Melissa Febos (published by Bloomsbury, March 30th 2021)
I have wanted to get to Febos’ writing for ages and somehow never do read her. I am determined to change that in 2021 – and this collection of essays, combining theory and memoir (my favourite kind of non-fiction writing) sounds incredible. It has also been compared to The Argonauts, a book I really enjoyed.

Broken by Jenny Lawson (published by Henry Holt, April 6th 2021)
I enjoyed the previous two memoirs by Jenny Lawson and cannot imagine this one being much different. I like her tone and her unflinching honesty regarding her mental illness while remaining funny. Here she chronicles her experience with an experimental treatment of transcranial magnetic stimulation, and I am very interested in this angle.

White Magic by Elissa Washuta (published by Tin House Books, April 27th 2021)
Another memoir-in-essays about growing up, about addiction, and about mental health, this one connects these musings to cultural beliefs and, yes, white magic to explore “questions of cultural inheritance and the particular danger, as a Native woman, of relaxing into romantic love under colonial rule.” This sounds incredible and Washuta is brilliant on twitter.

Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger (published by Santa Fe Writers’ Project, May 1st 2021)
Somebody on Twitter said that this is already their favourite book of 2021, I cannot remember who but it instantly made me add this to my TBR. I am particularly interested in this angle of the book: “But what happens when a journalist interrogates her own rosy memories to reveal the instability around the edges?” What I’ve read of Dancyger’s writing so far, I enjoyed, so I will probably love this.

Well, This Is Exhausting by Sophia Benoit (published by Gallery Books, July 13th 2021)
I adore Benoit on Twitter and really enjoy her advice column (I love a good advice column). I also particularly like memoirs-in-essays, so I have high hopes for this. Especially because I already like Benoit’s way of talking and thinking about feminism. I also expect this to be funny and I could do with more funny books. The brilliant cover doesn’t hurt either.

Never Say You Can’t Survive by Charlie Jane Anders (published by tordotcom, August 17th 2021)
I adore Charlie Jane Anders – which is basically the only reason I am interested in a book about writing. Anders wrote this book during the lockdown and as such it might really help me deal with the way our lives have all been drastically altered. Her writing is usually optimistic which is something I really need right now.

In Open Country by Rahawa Haile (published by Harper, February 2nd 2021 or maybe September 21st 2021 or maybe January 11th 2022)
This sounds incredible: Haile hiked the Appalachian Trail as a Black woman and I am here for a memoir exploring that. I love a well-done travel memoir, especially if it includes hiking. I really hope the book publishes next year but I am finding many different publication dates, no final cover, and no final description. Still, I am stoked for this. (Goodreads page here)

What are your most anticipated non-fiction releases of the year? I am particularly interested in titles in genres other than memoir.