Thoughts on Bad Feminist

I'll admit: I stopped reading this book around page 196.

I did eventually come back and read the rest—I literally finished it 5 minutes before typing this—but only months later, after it had been sitting on my "Currently Reading" Goodreads shelf for what felt like too long. Contrary to her self-identified state as a feminist, Roxane Gay is (clearly) not a Bad Writer.

In fact, I blew through the first several essays in this collection simply because I found her opinion/point of view on everything from teaching to fucking Sweet Valley High to be nothing short of riveting. For a week, I carried my copy with me everywhere, receiving a strange, secret pleasure every time I pulled it out on public transit (I feel like anything with Feminist/m in the title carries an air of defiance). Her prose is inviting, and her writing style feels almost conspiratorial—like she assumes her reader is not only on the same page (ha) with what she is saying, but would, if given the opportunity, have several paragraphs of reasonably informed opinion to add. That is not to say that Gay assumes her readers will agree with everything she has to say, or even understand where she—an American woman of Haitian descent—is coming from. Gay simply writes with an air of relatability that is reflective, I think, of the current cultural climate.

Everything and everyone is subject to a think-piece.

This relatability is what makes Bad Feminist so interesting overall, but somehow made the final quarter of the book slightly tedious to wade through. I like that Gay seems like she could live in the apartment next door to me; she has a tumblr; we are friends on Goodreads. At the same time, it sometimes seemed as though 140 characters would suffice and an admittedly sharp analysis of, say, 12 Years A Slave just felt a little, eh, overgrown.

I think, really, I should have let the book breathe. In fact, I'll suggest this book works best when given time to simmer. Read a few essays at a time. Skip around, dammit. Resist the urge to swallow these words whole (or in two very separate parts, like I did). Hell, page 196 is in the middle of a particularly astute/juicy review of E. L. James' classic Fifty Shades trilogy. How could I have stopped there?

Bad Feminist is not perfect, but it is—and I'd like to emphasize this, in case I've made it sound otherwise—very, very interesting. Gay's tale of how she joined the world of competitive chess is fascinating, as if she's describing someone's gradual initiation into, I don't know, the Yakuza. I added at least three titles to my "To Read" shelf because of this book. Reading her writing makes me want to read more. To write more. To be willing to dissect the things I think are great and awful. To consider myself, as a woman and as a feminist.

This is a fine collection of work and I look forward to reading whatever comes next.


I also posted this review on Goodreads, which is my new favorite thing.

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