Summer reading

I don’t usually read memoirs. I feel like I have no time to read so whenever I get some, I go for my favorites: fiction or social commentary. But in the past few months, ever since I took 2 solo flights to NYC, I can’t stop with the memoirs. I’ve read 6 amazing stories about women’s lives. These books have been so good and original, they remind me of that Muriel Rukeyser much repeated quote:

What if one women told the truth about her life?

The world would break open

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

Here are my recommendations in reverse chronological order– what I’m reading now back to what I started with:

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman This is the story of a woman who got involved in low level drug trafficking (carrying/ picking up suitcases, other errands like that.) When the big time head of the operation was arrested long after Kerman had given up the drug crowd, moved to New York, and had a career, she named names and the feds came for Kerman. This book makes you feel as if you’re with Kerman behind bars, her silent cellmate. I’ve never read a memoir about a women’s prison before or any prison life. It’s fascinating and makes me feel like I will never break the law (though I did just get a ticket for an expired car registration and, at the same time, for not having my wildly tantruming kid seatbelted properly. Double ticket. Hadn’t stared the book yet.)

Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies, a memoir about Gillies husband leaving her for another woman after she’s given up her acting career and moved to Ohio with him and their two young kids. I think there are other ‘divorce’ memoirs, but I haven’t read them. This is a total page-turner.

Some Girls by Jillian Lauren. Lauren writes about her experience as a sex worker, traveling to Brunei. I’ve read other sex work memoirs but none as insightful and raw as this one. I blogged about it here.

Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert This is the sequel to Eat, Pray, Love and chronicles Gilbert’s travails after she decides to marry the hot guy from Bali in order to get him citizenship after the restrictions of the Patriot Act threaten to keep them apart. I feel much the same way Gilbert does about marriage, and I loved reading her personal story about how she came to peace with age old institution. I blogged about her book here.

Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman. Silverman, you probaly know, is a comedian; this book is hilarious but also poignant. She wet her bed until she was sixteen years old. One passage totally sticks in my head: Silverman is just back from sleepaway camp, a traumatizing experience for a bedwetter; she secretly wore diapers at night. When she gets off the camp bus, full of shame, her mom is frenetically taking pictures of her. Silverman has a strange feeling of getting attention yet being completely ignored. When I read this, I thought it was a great way to describe the experience many women have of being looked at but not being seen. I blogged about the book here.

Lit by Mary Karr, best-selling author of The Liar’s Club. Her memoir of recovering from alcoholism. There are many, many memoirs of addiction/ recovery of course, but Karr is such a beautiful writer, she could write about my refrigerator, and I’d love it.

Interview with

Margot Magowan on Dieting, Blogs, and Raising Healthy Kids

by Emily on June 1, 2010

We recently discovered ReelGirl, a blog by writer and commentator Margot Magowan. She also co-founded the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership, which provides professional training for young women. We decided to pick her brain about raising three daughters, her favorite blogs, and why dieting bored her to tears.

How do you instill a healthy body image in your daughters?

I tell my daughters they’re beautiful “on the inside and the outside,” all the time. It’s kind of cheesy but I think it works, and it’s true! I also tell them how smart and strong they are. When I hear them ask each other what pet, animal or creature in a book illustration is the “cutest” or “prettiest” I interrupt and say, “But what does she do? Is she smart? Is she strong? Does she have fun? Is she happy?” Whenever possible, I try to take the emphasis off of appearances. I try not to say disparaging things about how I look or the way other women look, even positive stuff, actually, like comment on the hair or make up or outfits of women on TV or in magazines. I hide my Us Weekly!

You wear a lot of hats–writer, speaker, mom, wife–what do you do when you need to recharge?

My kids go to bed at 7 p.m. I get dates confused, I’m often late for appointments, but those kids are on a schedule and that schedule hardly changes! That way, I know when it’s my time. I love spending that time with my husband, reading, hanging out with friends, or seeing a movie. I love to walk the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. I’d love to say I wake up at five a.m. and meditate, but I don’t. It’s on my list.

What do you see as some of the greatest internal or self imposed barriers that keep women from succeeding professionally?

I think a lot of women for one reason or another have bought into a split (that men aren’t subject to at all) that they have to choose between being a “good mom” or being successful professionally. I don’t feel that division emotionally. Having kids has made me more ambitious and much more financially responsible. I’m a better mother and more present for my kids when I spend time away from them in other ways that fulfill me.

For the rest of the interview see