February in Books

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I Know I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee

As it turned out, February was the perfect time to read Samantha Bee’s memoir because after the first episode of her new show aired, I was hungry for any extra morsel of Sam Bee hilarity I could get. This was as whacky and wild as anticipated, and maybe put me off getting a cat forever…

Rather than an autobiography, Bee’s book is more a collection of amusing anecdotes from her upbringing through to the early years of her career – including her days performing as Sailor Moon in a show she describes as “so vague and ridiculous that it could have been written by a basket of acorns that had fallen onto a laptop by accident.” Naturally, it was performing as Sailor Moon that led to meeting her husband, fellow former Daily Show correspondent, Jason Jones. (A story as surreal as it is sweet.) Basically, expect the unexpected. Most of Bee’s tales involve a calamitous sequence of events that were probably borderline traumatic to experience but, in retrospect and when retold by Samantha Bee, are so ridiculously amusing that reading in public is no longer an option. Also, an alarming number of them involve animals: cats, horses and even dolphins.

Writing a Woman’s Life by Carolyn G. Heilbrun

The perfect preparatory read for the Women’s Lives Club project (which I mentioned in more detail in January’s post), Carolyn G. Heilbrun’s Writing a Woman’s Life was fascinating, enlightening and all too short. In it, Heilbrun explores the specific pitfalls of female biography, the gendered documentation of history and, at least anecdotally, the stories of women lost to it. Wonderful, captivating stories. It feels like essential reading going into a yearlong reading project focusing on women’s stories, providing my analysis with a solid, structured foundation.

Heilbrun’s text is full of references to incredible women and my favourite of these were Vera Brittain and her soulmate-best-friend Winifred Holtby, who both seem astonishingly ahead of their time (bearing in mind their time was the 1930s). Heilbrun asserts that, “friendship between women has seldom been recounted” and introduces the pair as a rare, documented example. But I got so excited reading excerpts of their writing, most particularly this one, by Holtby, written in her book Women and a Changing Civilization (1934):

“I think that the real object behind our demand is not to reduce all men and women to the same dull pattern. It is rather to release their richness of variety. We still are greatly ignorant of our own natures. We do not know how much of what we usually describe as ‘feminine characteristics’ are really ‘masculine,’ and how much ‘masculinity’ is common to both sexes. Our hazards are often wildly off the mark. We do not even know – though we theorise and penalise with ferocious confidence – whether the ‘normal’ sexual relationship is homo- or bi- or hetero-sexual. We are content to make vast generalizations which quite often fit the facts enough to be tolerable, but which – also quite often – inflict indescribable because indefinable suffering on those individuals who cannot without pain conform to our rough-and-ready attempt to make all men [and women] good and happy.”

She wrote that in 1934. 1934.

To sum up, this was a dream read filled with similar excerpts, and had me yearning for my old Gender Studies days. I am always attempting to satiate that feeling through the recommendations of other likeminded, feminist readers and Writing a Woman’s Life really delivered, even if the enjoyment was disappointingly brief. If you’re participating in the Women’s Lives Club, even if you missed the first month, I would definitely recommend taking the time to pick up a copy of this.

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