3/06/2019

book report - lady edition


Heeeeeey, she started reading again. Or more accurately--she started reading fiction again, which in turn, helped her start reading non-fiction again.

I said on Coffee & Donuts a few weeks ago that once I get mired down in too much non-fiction, I'm hopeless to finish anything until a good novel jumps my literary battery and gets me rolling again. So the pic above shows said battery-jumping novels, plus two non-fictions, but somehow ALL of it skewed toward the feminine, hence the "lady edition" of this book report.

First up: Christy!

In my quest to find some rather squeaky-clean picks for a book club, I stumbled upon a fantastic resource on Goodreads: LDS Book Club Reads. Turns out the Mormon ladies join the great Mama Needs Coffee in seeking books that won't make you blush.

So, Christy. City girl/woman heads to Appalachia in the early 1900s to teach the little wild mountain children some reading, writing and religion. She falls for the preacher man (kind of) and stays for the typhoid. I hated the first 5 pages, and then loved the rest. Author Catherine Marshall has some sweet takes on bringing Christ's love to the world--even if that world is openly hostile and suspicious of it. Sweet ending and fine characters. When I posted on IG that I was in the middle of it, a veritable gaggle of lovely ladies commented to say "Ooohhhhmigosh, I read that book 3 times when I was 14--and I loved it, but of course, I was 14, so I can't actually say if it's any good."

To that I say: Yes it is good, and your 14-year-old-selves have fine literary taste. :)

Next: What Alice Forgot

Yeah, everyone has already read this. Maybe you already read it and forgot about it. Ha! Liane Moriarty's books are best sellers for good reason--she writes humorous women-centric stories set in everyday life, with a streak of either mystery or medical trauma thrown in. Big Little Lies (which I read a couple years ago) turns on a murder case; What Alice Forgot takes amnesia and shows what would happen if a mother took a hard hit to the head and forgot the last 10 years of her life--including the births and very existence of her three kids. I enjoyed the commentary on marriage and friendship; I eye-rolled over the IVF and the nonchalant attitudes on divorce, contraception, and sex outside of marriage. I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading; I just wouldn't exactly recommend it.

On to A Return to Modesty!

LOVE. Back in 1999, Wendy Shalit was talking modesty, embarrassment, and sex ed--and she did it with more humor than I could ever muster. Shalit wrote A Return to Modesty while still an undergrad pursuing her Bachelor's in philosophy. That fact alone makes her pretty legit, but the book itself is a triumph of research, source notes and just damn good perspective at a culture that's been turned upside down by the quest to eradicate any embarrassment associated with sex.

While reading at one point, I had 10 internet tabs open on my phone to look up her cast of characters: Simone de Beauvoir, Camille Pagila, Kathryn Harrison--the list of infamous feminists (who, with Shalit's treatment, begin to look incredibly like misogynists) goes on and on and can seem daunting. However, the balance of Shalit's source material is taken straight from the desperate "letter to the editor" pages of Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, and YM magazines. And it is those letters that paint a clear picture of women being duped, dated and dumped by their supposed feminist champions. A must-read (although I'm 20 years late with that enthusiastic recommendation).

Last: Dressing with Dignity

Ok, yeah, I admit it: I'm on a modesty kick. Strangely enough, I picked up A Return to Modesty, thinking it could be alternately titled A Retreat from Pants. (I was completely wrong.) It is Colleen Hammond's little treatise on skirts vs. pantsuits that is the real anti-pant book.

I appreciated the guidelines Hammond gives for what truly makes an outfit modest. For instance, do not kid yourself: If you bend over and can see down your own shirt, EVERYONE ELSE CAN TOO. Cami up, girl.

Hammond references papal statements and Vatican documents on modesty that I hadn't read before, as well as the proper (read: required) dress code for visiting the Holy See. She also included a story about St. Padre Pio that was new to me: A woman came to his confessional (behind the screen, of course), and without seeing her, he dismissed her from the confessional, saying that her skirt had to be 8" below the knee. Hearing things like this make me wonder how women seemed to survive for millennia  wearing dresses and skirts, and yet here I am in 2019 with a wardrobe firmly built upon pants--and "skinny" pants, at that. The evolution of it all boggles my mind. Hammond's book gives her take on how we got to this point, and her own personal plan for reclaiming modesty in dress.

Have I thrown out all my pants? No, not at all. Have I been thinking more deeply about why I wear pants in the first place? Yes. Do I think this is a moral issue? For the most part, no. Have I been sucked down the dressing-modestly rabbit hole on instagram? Aaaaaabsolutely.

I've also felt the pull in this age of gender absurdities and rampant gender role confusion to present myself in a more clearly feminine way to my kids. I don't know how to say it more gently than that. I'm not an anti-pant crusader, and my selection of skirts is currently pathetic. I'm also a woman who bore four children in six years--and I look like it. The slender me of my pre-married working days used to be able to pull off a high-waist set of trousers, tall heels and crisp button down. These days, everything in my closet is at least 5% spandex, and my heels house little dust bunny colonies.

I don't know where this all goes, but I'm grateful for writers and women who continue to write about this subject and discuss it with openness and grace.

One note: most all of the book links here are to my new favorite place to buy books online: Thrift Books! Most used book copies are $3.79-.99, and shipping is free at $10. Purchases also earn points towards free books. All that to me screams "BETTER THAN AMAZON!!" (Also, this ain't no ad, and Thrift Books doesn't know me from Eve.)

My next book report here will include Bud MacFarlane Jr.'s Pierced by a Sword, which I'm so excited to start. Happy reading!

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for reading "Dressing with Dignity", Mary and for the kind words.

    Wendy Shalit and I spoke ogether at the same conference a few years ago, and we had a great discussion about society, culture, women, and trousers. It's truly fascinating how women's choice of clothing, how they carry themselves, and how they speak can impact culture.

    (And, yes — I do own and wear pants!) ☺

    Blessings!

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    1. Thank you so much for reading, Colleen! I'm loving all the "dress your shape" posts you've done on instagram. And that's very fun, hearing about you and Wendy meeting. I had a hunch you'd probably crossed paths before!

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  2. I told myself I wouldn’t buy any new books this year. But then I read this post and I’m reconsidering!!

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