A few months back, I read Gay’s An Untamed State and did not like it very much at all. It was a tough read in several ways, and I just couldn’t bring myself to appreciate the reading experience. But I liked Gay’s writing and I knew this book was coming out and I kept my fingers crossed that it would be good.
It was pretty good!
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, as I’m not the widest reader of essay collections, so I just dove right in and hoped for the best. Gay starts off the book talking a bit about the state of feminism and the state of her own feminism, which is, like mine, somewhere along the lines of “I’m a lady and ladies are awesome and we shouldn’t put down ladies for the sake of putting down ladies.” She’s willing to expend a little more effort than I am in getting the “ladies are awesome” word out, as evidenced by the collection of feminist-y essays that follows the introduction.
Gay’s essays are primarily about the intersection of women and pop culture, from Girls to Sweet Valley High to The Hunger Games, and how pop culture needs to get its act together because it’s not cool to make a really awesome rap song for Gay to blast with her windows down and then have all the lyrics be about abusing women. There are also several essays about race and politics and general public discourse on feminism, and some closing essays reiterating Gay’s feminist stance or lack thereof.
I think my favorite essay from the collection is one near the beginning that is also available on Gay’s tumblr, in which Gay details the steps women can take to be better friends. These include not belittling other women, not being mean for the sake of being mean, not believing that women suck (something it took me several years to figure out between high school and college), telling the truth, and enjoying a friendship for what it is. Really, it’s a good primer for embarking on any kind of relationship, and you should share it with all of your friends, especially those of the adolescent variety because I just read another book where the lack of this knowledge caused a murder and yeah it’s a fiction book but YOU NEVER KNOW.
Ahem. Anyway. There’s also an essay about Scrabble that follows shortly after the friends essay which baffled me a little at first because it is in no way obviously about feminism, but it’s a fun essay and if you read enough into it you can come away with some good metaphors about feminism, so that’s a win.
All of the essays are written in a very personal style — I think at least a few of them come from her tumblr and others are opinion pieces from various media outlets — and while it’s fascinating getting into Gay’s head and learning more about her personal opinions and beliefs, it turns out that she is juuuuust a little bit prone to run off on tangents. They’re not uninteresting tangents, but sometimes the connections are jarringly tenuous, as in her essay that is about either Miss America or Sweet Valley High or fitting in at school or the terrible writing in Sweet Valley Confidential, which left me wondering more than once if my ereader had skipped a page or seven accidentally.
But overall I found this book a fun read, reinforcing a lot of my already-held beliefs and introducing me to some new ways of thinking about race and privilege that will hopefully lead to me being a better person in the future. Not bad!
Recommendation: For those who want to spend some time thinking about social issues and also terrible teen book series.