The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

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Hello, World.

When deciding what to read this summer, I looked for books that were popular among readers whose opinions I admire. This worked well for the first two novels I read this summer (Little Fires Everywhere & The Great Alone), so I hoped I’d continue to have luck with my next pick: the highly anticipated The Female Persuasion, Meg Wolitzer’s 11th novel. Hailed as the “#MeToo novel” that we all need, I expected a female-centric, feminist expose of sorts in novel form. What I got, however, was a bit different. I’m going to preface this review by saying I really enjoyed this book. The writing kept me engaged and I honestly expected it to take me a long time (it’s 454 pages!), but it took me just over a week. I liked Greer, the protagonist, and related to her in many ways. I, too, was once the shy, self-doubting young woman who entered young adulthood as one person and became much more empowered during my college years, and began finding “my outside voice,” as Greer would say, in recent years.

Now, what I also want to start with is the fact that I disagree with the notion this is the “#MeToo” novel. In fact, I don’t really feel any single novel can be the Me Too novel because each experience is legitimate and different and personal. No two experiences are identical, so how can one voice speak for them all? While the novel opens with an incident involving shy, unassuming Greer and a belligerent fraternity brother touching her boob, the novel does not tackle sexual assault in a fleshed-out way. In fact, the incident serves much more as a catalyst for Greer to find her voice and invest in a cause and care more about feminism and the female experience than she had ever even thought about. The incident sets up Greer’s future endeavors and is the foundation upon which the awe and admiration grows for Faith Frank, an old wave feminist who comes to speak at Greer’s college following the encounter with frat guy who believed he had license over Greer’s body. The real focus of the novel, in that sense, is not about sexual assault or the Me Too movement, but rather about female relationships, mentorship, and what causes us to admire certain people, to hold them in such esteem we forbid ourselves from recognizing their faults until their faults smack us in the face almost as palpably as unwanted caresses from men as we navigate the roads of being female in this world. So, while I don’t think this book is the next great american novel on sexual misconduct, sexual assault, and holding men in power and men in general accountable for inappropriate and damaging actions, I do think it says a lot about where we are with feminism.

And by where we are, I mean the muddled, unclear definition of feminism that attaches to so many encounters and choices and lives. I will say, this novel is marketed as having tackled feminism with a capital F, but I don’t think it does that and that by not tackling Feminism as a whole, it is actually a better read. This story is much more personal than feminism with a capital F. It’s about Greer’s relationship with feminism, and Greer only begins to explore what feminism is and get involved with the feminist movement after being assaulted at the frat house in college. That’s what made this book work: it’s one person’s experience with feminism and her discovering what kind of feminist she wants to be. I’ve read some reviews that chastise the story for being too much “privileged white girl” feminism. I think that’s a fair assessment in some ways. Did it annoy me when Greer complained about going to a “sub par” college when some women do not have the opportunity or access to attend college at all? Yes. Did I hope that women of color would be better represented? Yes. But I think part of my disappointments with the shortcomings I sometimes felt while reading were rooted firmly in the marketing of this book. I was expecting the expose on feminism, modern feminism specifically, and I expected the novel to tackle all that feminism encompasses. However, had I gone into this book expecting it to be more about mentorship, finding your voice, and young womanhood, I would have been satisfied and not as critical at points.

I will say, discussing feminism can be a bit daunting. You don’t want to say the wrong thing or inadvertently imply something that’s incorrect. That’s why I appreciated that this novel showed that feminism and the methods through which to achieve equality for women is a personal journey and the reasons that women become more assertive about female issues are unique to each woman. Further, female-ness and femininity is also personal. Also, with the stigma about feminists being man-haters, I think this book begins to address how a woman asserting herself more forcefully and demanding to be heard can affect her relationships with men. In one story, however, the affect is more internal to Greer and she ends up isolating herself. Cory, Greer’s high school boyfriend, suffers a terrible tragedy that sends him home to assume traditionally feminine roles. Greer, a now self-proclaimed feminist seems to believe that in doing so Cory has swerved severely off-track and lost his way and is no longer “good enough.” Though this isn’t explicit, it’s heavily implied. What I liked about this was that it shows that even women who hail themselves a feminist sometimes miss the mark. If equality is what we want, we should not be baffled by men who assume traditionally feminine roles just like we should not be baffled when women occupy traditionally masculine roles. I wanted a bit more from male-female dynamics in this book, but I was still content with what I got.

I would prefer to classify this book as a coming-of-age story that uses various relationships to illustrate Greer’s journey into womanhood and NOT the “Me Too Movement book of the year.” Another important note that I learned about myself as a reader is that I often reach for dialogue driven books. I like to learn about characters through their actions, their words, etc. This book is written much more as a decade-spanning story that is being told through the eyes of a third person narrator. So, it almost feels as if you’re sitting down with a strong woman, say your grandmother or female mentor, and she’s recounting people’s lives to you. There is minimal dialogue and you are told how the characters are much more than you are shown. This bothered me a bit, but honestly the writing kept me so engaged that I just kept reading. I rarely reach for a pen to underline the fiction I read (surprising for an English major? maybe, but I prefer to keep my books pristine when reading for pleasure). However, with this novel, I felt like a few lines just had to be underlined, and I kept saying “yessss!” to myself about certain observations made.

For those who want to pick up this book, I would say go into with no more expectations than you do for other novels. Do not assume this book holds all the answers about feminism because it doesn’t. The book itself doesn’t end with an answer about what we do with feminism, but rather ends by merely observing there is more work to be done to achieve true equality. And that seems appropriate, as there is always more work to be done.

I do recommend this read and I’d love to have a discussion with any of you who have read it! It gave me a lot to consider, and I need to discuss!

Truly,
Callie leigh

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Winter Reads: Two Books I Read Recently

Hello, World.

I’m sorry for my hiatus toward the end of last semester. I had a terrible finals schedule, which meant I was studying from about November 4th until I went home for the holidays. The holiday season flew by, and before I knew it I was back in Williamsburg for the spring semester. Honestly, I had so many blog posts planned for November and December and they just didn’t happen. As most of my planned posts dealt with the holiday season or were more relevant in the past months, I’ve decided to start fresh with a new slew of posts in the new year.

First and foremost, I wanted to share two books I read while I was home in California over the holiday break. One book I picked up with the intention of reading post-finals and the other I had on my shelf for a while before picking it up. One of my goals for myself this year is spending less money, and that includes not purchasing new books. I have quite a few books on my shelves I haven’t picked up, so I’m hoping that if I’m not buying new books it will force me to reach for books I own but haven’t read.

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Anyway, onto the books I read recently. First up is The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Lousie Miller. I picked this novel up after seeing it on Carly the Prepster’s Instagram stories. I was also sold by the Bon Appetit review on the cover that reads: “Ok, it’s Gilmore Girls.” Anything with Gilmore Girls on it is something I will purchase! So, I ordered the novel from Penguin and allowed it to gather dust on my shelf until finals were finally over and I packed it in my tote bag to head to the airport. Once I started the novel, I loved it. For reference, the book’s summary is as follows:

When Olivia Rawlings—baker extraordinaire for an exclusive Boston dinner club—sets not just her flambéed dessert but the entire building alight, she takes a much-needed weekend break in the idyllic leafy town of Guthrie, Vermont. A weekend soon turns into something more permanent when Margaret Hurley, the cantankerous, sweater-set-wearing owner of the Sugar Maple Inn, needs to recruit a new baker who can help her reclaim the inn’s blue ribbon status at the annual county fair apple pie contest. On paper, at least, Livvy seems to be just who she was looking for.

Livvy’s love life’s a mess and so she does what she does best: relocate. Along with Salty, her gigantic, uber-enthusuastic dog with almost too much personality, Livvy, as the Sugar Maple’s new baker, brings her mouthwatering desserts to the residents of Guthrie, home of Bag Balm, the country’s longest-running contra dance, and her best friend, Hannah. And when Olivia meets Martin McCracken, the Guthrie native who has returned from New York to nurse his ailing father, Livvy comes to understand that she may not be as alone in this world as she once thought. With the joys of a warm, fragrant kitchen, the sound of banjos and fiddles being tuned in a barn, and the crisp scent of the orchard just outside the front door, Olivia Rawlings may finally find that the life you want may not be the one you expected—it could be even better.”

I loved the storytelling and cozy vibes that leaped from the page. While it may not have been the most well-written book I’ve read, I appreciated the pacing and development of the story. I adored the cast of characters, and I had a hankering to uproot to small-town Vermont by the book’s close! This was the first book in a while that I thoroughly enjoyed cover to cover. While there was a plot twist that took me by surprise, I ended up appreciating the decision. I highly recommend this read to anyone who needs a cozy story with great characters.

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Second, I read Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. This book sat on my shelf for a while before I finally picked it up. I think I bought it last summer because it was showing up everywhere on my Instagram feed. I love a good family drama, and I was excited to start this. Though I wish some of the storylines lasted a bit longer or were delved into a bit deeper, I enjoyed the book. The writing was very good and it was easy to keep the characters straight because they were written so distinctly. I would recommend this book to people who like family dramas, who are interested in how family dynamics change and impact our lives, or to someone who just loves a well-written novel that makes us reflect on our own lives.

For reference, the inside flap for this novel is as follows:

“One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly – thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.”

So, what have you read lately? Any books I should add to my to-be-read list?

Truly,
Callie Coker

3 Steps to Improved Grades

Photo by Prasanna Kumar via Unsplash.png

Hello, World.

As the school year is now in full swing, and our social media feeds become riddled with fall-inspired photos, I figured this is an appropriate time to talk about grades. For those of you just starting your academic program, you may be thinking, “but it’s still so early.” Well, it’s honestly never too early to think about grades. I’m sharing my top 3 steps that will lead to better grades, whether in college or law school or some other academic career. The steps worked for me and I believe they will work for you as well if you follow them! To give you my perspective, I did very well throughout college. I did not do as well as I wanted my first semester of law school. So, I implemented the three steps I’m about to share, and my grades improved drastically.

Step One: Do Not Study with People Who Make You Feel Dumb8d1f223a-7dd3-43c3-8556-2f25086c3fe6_text_hi.gif

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This may seem straight forward, but I think a lot of people encourage study groups and as a result, people feel pressured to study with people. Most people don’t really care who they’re studying with, they just want to be in a study group. While it is completely okay to study in groups, who are in your study group is actually what is most important.  My first semester, I studied with people who made me feel inferior or as if I was really dumb for not getting a certain concept. Let’s just say by the second semester, I’d said my goodbyes to them and no longer studied with them. My confidence increased immensely.

Step Two: Review at the End of Each Week 

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In college, you get a lot of review days as you learn and it’s a lot easier to cram. However, to truly perform well on a final, it’s good to take time to review throughout the semester. Additionally, some professors move very quickly and if you don’t understand a foundational concept, you’ll be lost later. Even if you feel like everything is cake, review!!! I spent my Friday afternoons my second semester of law 1L reviewing, typing up my handwritten notes, and re-reading areas that I thought I understood while reading but was confused by in class discussion. This small change greatly helped me understand how each concept fit together by the end of the semester.

Step Three: Find a Non-Academic Hobby and Take Time to Indulge Each Week

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This may seem like the last thing that will lead to better grades, I know. Here’s the thing, though: burn out is very very real. There’s a reason senioritis exists and there’s a reason people who do very well one semester fall by the second. It’s hard to sustain a state of constant work and learning without becoming overwhelmed. The spring semester of 1L I started working out regularly and it transformed my mental state. I had greater focus, more energy, and more motivation. While your hobby doesn’t have to be working out, find something that allows you to take mental breaks and focus on something other than academics.

Do you have your own tried and true tips for improving grades?

Truly,

Callie leigh