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“The women from Johnson & Johnson had come to the school, and separated us from the boys so that they could tell us secrets about our own bodies.”
On Menstruation In Fiction From All Over The World

Author Farah Ahamed from Ploughshares, looks at menstruation in fiction:

“A period is something I deal with, without thinking about it particularly, or rather I think of it with a part of my mind that deals with routine problems. It is the same part of my mind that deals with the problem of routine cleanliness.” In Doris Lessing’s 1962 novel, The Golden Notebook, the protagonist, Anna, worries about her period and how it will affect the integrity of her writing. In the early 1960s, it was unusual and brave for a work of fiction to mention menstruation, let alone explore it in such detail. Broadly speaking, in mainstream fiction, examples of menstruation are few and far between.

Until recently, the topic of menstruation has been universally regarded as taboo, shrouded in secrecy and mythology. Historically, in some cultures, men refused to acknowledge it, in order to maintain a romantic image of women. In others, it is still linked with ritual impurity and lunar madness, while in certain hunter-gatherer and mountain communities, it is viewed as a sacred time for female solidarity, associated with healing and psychic powers. These ideas and practices are reflected in those few works that deal with the subject, which incorporate themes of learnt shame and the existence of women “elsewhere” due to some form of negative transformation.

Bapsi Sidhwa, in her 1978 novel, The Crow Eaters, which is set in Pakistan, gives a clear depiction of the exile to which Putli, the wife of the main character Freddy Junglewalla, is subjected during her period:

Every Parsee household has its other room, specially reserved for women. Thither they are banished for the duration of the unholy state. . . . Putli quite enjoyed her infrequent visits to the other room. It was the only chance she ever had to rest. And since this seclusion was religiously enforced, she was able to enjoy her idleness without guilt.

It is in fact only when Putli is kept isolated in “the other room” that she finds some form of freedom. Nevertheless, she is reminded every month that, “Even the sun, moon and stars are defiled by her impure gaze. . . . She knew she couldn’t help herself to pickles or preserves for they would spoil at her touch. Flowers, too, were known to wilt when touched by women in her condition.” As much as Putli is “able to enjoy” the segregation, she knows during these days she is considered by everyone to be other: “The family was permitted to speak to her through closed doors—in an emergency, they could speak directly, provided they bathed from head to foot and purified themselves afterwards.”

In The Dark Holds No Terrors, Shashi Deshpande’s 1980 novel, set in India, the protagonist, Saru has a similar but opposite experience: while Putli is sent to the other room, Saru is banished from rooms:

It was just torture. Not just the three days when I couldn’t enter the kitchen or the puja room. Not just the sleeping on a straw mat covered with a thin sheet. Not just the feeling of being a pariah, with my special cup and plate by my side in which I was served from a distance, for my touch was, it seemed, pollution. No, it was something quite different, much worse. A kind of shame that engulfed me.

Unlike Putli, Saru resents every aspect of the experience—she associates it with becoming like her mother, whom she hates. Deshpande uses melodramatic language to show her anger and resentment: “You’re a woman now, she said. If you’re a woman, I don’t want to be one, I thought resentfully, watching her body.”

Contrast this with Pettinah Gappah’s short story “The Maid from Lalapanzi,” from her 2009 collection An Elegy for Easterly. Like Putli and Saru, during her period, Chenai is put in another space, but it is a metaphorical one: “When my period came, SisiBlandina was there to say, ‘Well you are in Geneva now, and you will be visiting regularly.’” For Chenai, “Geneva” undoubtedly connotes a foreign, distant, cold, and unfriendly place.

Throughout the story, Gappah maintains a natural rhythm in the dialogue, suggesting Chenai’s situation is the norm. Even when Chenai discusses a visit from Johnson & Johnson, in which the girls in the community are taught about their menstrual cycles by marketing representatives, the tone is matter-of-fact:

The women from Johnson & Johnson had come to the school, and separated us from the boys so that they could tell us secrets about our own bodies . . . It was an unsanitary time, they said. Our most effective weapon against this effluence was the arsenal of the sanitary products that Johnson & Johnson made with young ladies like us in mind, they said, because Johnson cared.

Similarly, in My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante’s first Neapolitan novel, Elena is kept in ignorance about the menstrual cycle by her mother. When Elena gets her first period, she is “terrified by I don’t know what, maybe a scolding from my mother for having hurt myself between my legs.” The lack of shared knowledge illuminates how shame is learnt and passed on. Later, when her friend Lila begins having her period, Elena wonders whether Lila will become pretty, or ugly like herself. As it was for Saru, the onset of menstruation for Elena is fraught with anxieties about becoming something like another, or even “other.”

Read full post on pshares.org

“I couldn’t help but wonder: Can New York City survive without strong public libraries?” Sarah Jessica Parker invokes the ghost of Carrie Bradshaw to protest library budget cuts

Sarah Jessica Parker throws shade at de Blasio’s proposed library cut says Natalie O’Neil from PageSix.com.

Actress Sarah Jessica Parker and Big Apple bookworms are fighting to save the city’s libraries from massive budget cuts with a creative online campaign.

The former “Sex and the City” star is urging folks to post virtual “sticky notes” on a petition-like Web site to oppose Mayor de Blasio’s proposed $11 million in funding cuts, which would force city libraries to scale back their hours, programs and days of service.

“As Carrie Bradshaw might, I couldn’t help but wonder: Can New York City survive without strong public libraries?” Parker wrote in an e-mail encouraging library users to take action.

“Could, I as a New Yorker accept cuts to our wonderful, important, necessary, and beloved libraries? I’m sorry. I can’t,” she said.

The 54-year-old star said her family adores the Jefferson Market Library in Greenwich Village.

“It is not only a regular neighborhood stop for books, programs, and more, it is a cornerstone, a beacon, and one of the most beloved buildings in our community. I don’t know what we’d do without it,” she wrote.

By Sunday, hundreds of people had posted “sticky notes” with their names and that of their neighborhood lit house, including beloved ones in Midtown, Battery City and Yorkville in Manhattan.

Read full post on PageSix.com

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Modern Library and Penguin Classics have both launched series aimed at rediscovering forgotten books by marginalized people.

Constance Grady from Vox looks at how to publish classic books that aren’t just by dead white men.

As the canon of English literature slowly, gradually opens itself up to books by women and authors of color, Modern Library and Penguin Classics have just launched two new series aimed at rediscovering forgotten books by marginalized people.

It’s an on-trend choice. Over the past few years, more and more people have been announcing their intention to read more books by authors who aren’t straight white men, to focus their reading on people whose voices have traditionally been pushed to the margins. If you’re mostly reading contemporary fiction, that’s not too difficult to do: While publishing continues to skew white and male, especially for literary fiction, there are lots of great writers and publishing houses out there devoted to celebrating voices from the margins.

But if you’re interested in older books, things get harder. Historically, the books written by straight white men have been preserved and made part of what’s thought of as “the canon” of English literature, the important books that everyone reads in school and that are readily accessible to us all — the classics. Books by other people of different identities, meanwhile, tend to get forgotten and ignored.

Part of how we determine the canon comes from what is available to us as readers, which means what publishers have made available to us.

“A chief enforcer of the canon appears in middlebrow anthologies, those hangers on of high culture that in the Victorian period took the form of pop anthologies like Golden Treasury and today that of major college anthologies in America,” Brown University English professor George P. Landow wrote on the scholarly website Victorian Web.

“To appear in the Norton or Oxford anthology is to have achieved,” he wrote, “not exactly greatness but what is more important, certainly — status and accessibility to a reading public. And that is why, of course, it matters that so few women writers have managed to gain entrance to such anthologies” — and, we might add, so few writers of color.

Read full post on Vox

Activist-turned-crime-writer Barbara Neely, and her iconic protagonist, Blanche White, the first black female sleuth to be embraced by mainstream publishing

Long before #BlackGirlMagic became a thing, a black mystery writer named Barbara Neely was showing the crime fiction community how it’s done, says Kellye Garrett from CrimeReads.

As many writers will tell you—even if takes them awhile to admit it—you can in fact judge a book by its cover. And the original cover for Neely’s groundbreaking debut, Blanche on the Lam, definitely tells you all you need to know. It features the back of a dark skinned black woman in an orange dress, with her hair up and her hand on her hip. She faces a house, one that would be at home on a Southern plantation. Even though we don’t see her face, we can tell she’s not intimidated. If anything the house—and its occupants—should be worried about her. #BlackGirlMagic indeed.

This was our first introduction Blanche White. Although it wouldn’t be a long relationship—lasting just four books over eight years—it would most definitely be a memorable one, especially for readers and a generation of black mystery writers.

The first in the series, Blanche on the Lam, won the 1992 Agatha Award for Best First Novel, 1993 Anthony Award for Best First Novel and the 1993 Macavity Award for Best First Novel. It would be years before another woman of color won those same awards.

Read full post on CrimeReads

Thomas Harris did not invent the serial killer novel, but he elevated it… A look at how Harris and his Hannibal Lecter series transformed the culture.

Thomas Harris introduced the world to Hannibal Lecter, and and according to Bill Sheehan from the Washington Post, pop culture would never be the same.

From time to time, a work of fiction appears that exerts a powerful influence on the culture of the day, generating admiration and imitation alike. After John le Carre published “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” in 1974, spy stories about the hunt for a Soviet mole proliferated. Stephen King’s “The Shining” inspired a host of lesser novels that featured paranormal children and such titles as “The Piercing” and “The Suiting,” a phenomenon that serious horror fans referred to as “The Gerunding.” Further back, Robert Traver made what was then an unusual decision: using a real murder trial as the basis of his 1958 novel, “Anatomy of a Murder.” The legal thriller that we know today arose directly from that decision.

Thomas Harris did not invent the serial killer novel, but he elevated it. His best work — for me, that would be the interconnected novels “Red Dragon” and “The Silence of the Lambs” — displays a level of craftsmanship that rarely falters. More than that, these are deeply empathetic books in which horrific acts stand side by side with subtle, sympathetic portraits of the damaged souls who commit them. In Harris’s hands, the roots of incomprehensible violence become shockingly, often heartbreakingly clear.

Harris began his career as a crime writer for the Associated Press in the early 1970s. His debut as a novelist was the 1975 publication of “Black Sunday.” A bestseller in the mode of Frederick Forsyth, it remains the odd man out in Harris’s modest body of work. A novel of terrorism rooted in Middle Eastern politics, it tells of an attack on the Super Bowl by a rogue pilot flying a weaponized Goodyear Blimp. Though a bit dated, it remains a solidly entertaining narrative but gives little hint of the fictional transformation to come.

That transformation began with the appearance in 1981 of “Red Dragon,” a crime novel unlike anything that had come before. Novels dealing with serial killers were certainly nothing new and include Ellery Queen’s “Cat of Many Tails” (1949), Lawrence Sanders’s “The First Deadly Sin” (1973) and Shane Stevens’s masterful “By Reason of Insanity” (1979). “Red Dragon” transcended them all.

The plot is relatively simple. An unknown culprit is murdering entire families in the southern United States. Will Graham, a retired FBI agent with an unusual ability to enter the darkest corners of the human mind, is called in to investigate. Will’s journey takes him into the orbit of two very different murderers: the lost and damaged Francis Dolarhyde, and the brilliant Hannibal Lecter, who has since become one of the great fictional boogeymen of our time. The investigation that follows is one of the most enthralling in modern fiction, and one of the most tragic.

Read full post on the Washington Post

Rachel Held Evans, Hero to Christian Misfits, Dies at 37

The firebrand writer died unexpectedly over the weekend at the age of 37. Emma Green from The Atlantic takes a look at the life of a Christian blogger, author, and joyful troublemaker online.

Rachel Held Evans died on Saturday from massive brain swelling after being hospitalized for an infection, according to her family. She was 37. Evans leaves behind two little kids, a husband, and four books to her name. Her death has been met with an up-swelling of grief and appreciation from loyal readers, famous pastors who sparred with her, and, especially, young people who saw her as a mentor.

This bevy of tributes is a testament to the distinctive role Evans developed over her decade-and-a-half-long writing career: She was part of a vanguard of progressive-Christian women who fought to change the way Christianity is taught and perceived in the United States. Especially for people who have felt hurt by or unwelcome in the Church, Evans provided a safe shore, full of encouragement and defiant acceptance. Many of those who befriended her and followed her work have, in turn, become well-known figures in the progressive-Christian world, such as Reverend Jes Kast and Austin Channing Brown. Evans helped forge new space for diverse voices who are denied authority or power in the Christian world—a legacy that will last far beyond her death… Read full post on The Atlantic

Discover Rachel Held Evans‘ Kindle books:

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband 'Master' by [Evans, Rachel Held]A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband ‘Master’

4.5 stars – 706 reviews

Kindle price: $4.99

What is “biblical womanhood” . . . really? 

Strong-willed and independent, Rachel Held Evans couldn’t sew a button on a blouse before she embarked on a radical life experiment–a year of biblical womanhood. Intrigued by the traditionalist resurgence that led many of her friends to abandon their careers to assume traditional gender roles in the home, Evans decides to try it for herself, vowing to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year.

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by [Evans, Rachel Held]Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church

4.6 stars – 552 reviews

Kindle price: 99 cents

Like millions of her millennial peers, Rachel Held Evans didn’t want to go to church anymore. The hypocrisy, the politics, the gargantuan building budgets, the scandals–church culture seemed so far removed from Jesus. Yet, despite her cynicism and misgivings, something kept drawing her back to Church. And so she set out on a journey to understand Church and to find her place in it.

Centered around seven sacraments, Evans’ quest takes readers through a liturgical year with stories about baptism, communion, confirmation, confession, marriage, vocation, and death that are funny, heartbreaking, and sharply honest.

Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions by [Evans, Rachel Held]Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions

4.5 stars – 158 reviews

Kindle price: $2.99

How an evolving spiritual journey leads to an unshakeable faith.
Eighty years after the Scopes Monkey Trial made a spectacle of Christian fundamentalism and brought national attention to her hometown, Rachel Held Evans faced a trial of her own when she began to have doubts about her faith.
In Faith Unraveled, Rachel recounts growing up in a culture obsessed with apologetics, struggling as her own faith unraveled one unexpected question at a time.
In order for her faith to survive, Rachel realizes, it must adapt to change and evolve. Using as an illustration her own spiritual journey from certainty to doubt to faith, Evans challenges you to disentangle your faith from false fundamentals and to trust in a God who is big enough to handle your tough questions.


Not All Disgraced Politicians Get Book Deals: Ex-Congressman convicted of sexting with a 15-year-old girl, Anthony Weiner, is having a tough time finding a publisher interested in his book proposal

Anthony Weiner is on the prowl for a book deal and Ian Mohr from the New York Post looks at the publishers that have passed.

Anthony Weiner is trying to transform himself into the next Longfellow.

The serial sexter and former congressman — who is now living in a Bronx halfway house after doing hard time for sexting a teenager — is skulking around Manhattan’s publishing houses trying to shop a book proposal, literary sources say.

So far, interest has been flaccid.

“Every Simon & Schuster imprint has passed,” an insider told The Post.

The project is being repped by the hot downtown boutique agency Foundry Literary + Media — which was behind nonfiction best-sellers by “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and “Jersey Shore” star Vinny Guadagnino.

It was unclear what sordid chapters Weiner’s book would address — or if he would write under his nom de perv, Carlos Danger.

But there is certainly enough material in his Shakespearean fall from mayoral candidate to registered Level 1 sex offender.

Not to mention plot twists like his now-defunct marriage to Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin and his cameo in the 2016 presidential election as the man who may have sunk the former secretary of state’s chances when the FBI found hundreds of thousands of her emails on a laptop belonging to him.

Weiner, 54, certainly had enough time to write a manuscript as he served 21 months for sending lewd messages to a 15-year-old before being released in February.

Read full post on the New York Post