“The Handmaid’s Tale” book response and April selection!

I don’t know what your political affiliations are, but sometimes I feel that even as we march towards a “better” future, we are also slowly creeping towards a dystopian world. A world in which computers know more than we do, when separation anxiety from a device is real, when corporations have more rights than the workers who power them… you get the idea. So, reading dystopian novels like 1984 and Brave New World fill me with dread and at the same time fascination. The Handmaid’s Tale was a big gap in the dystopian genre that I’d always meant to fill, and now I have! It isn’t that common for the genre to have a female protagonist, and I found that it made the troubling alternate reality more personal instead of societal.

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood book club response

When I picked this up, I already knew that some people had been comparing it to “America under a totally Republican-led government.” What I didn’t know was it had been written in the mid 80s as a response to the rise of the Moral Majority’s attempts to move women from the workforce back into the role of mother and homemaker. So, I suppose in some regard this comparison was intended by the author, 30 years ago? Instead, I read it through the lens of someone who has studied global politics including [the lack of] women’s rights in Saudia Arabia, and in Afghanistan under the Taliban (click if you want to be informed, and depressed). Households in these countries, recently and currently, give women little to no autonomy. They are literally treated like family property. And this isn’t the 1800s or the 1950s, this is the 2000s.

Do I ever think the US will reach the level of a totally male-led theocracy? No. Do I think there are men in power who do seek to purposely suppress the rights of women? Sure. Do I think there will be enough of them to enforce a regimented caste system among women like in this book? Of course not. Especially if we (women) and our allies keep our eyes open. I am encouraged by the January Women’s Marches. People across the US are more plugged in and involved with causes than they have been in decades, and regarding a lot of topics, too. Gender issues, minority issues, disability issues, nature and food issues, etc.

Spoilers between this photo and the next one. 

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood book club response

Aside from the current event commentary, the main question with regards to The Handmaid’s Tale is… what happens to Offred after the narration stops? I believe the answer to that question divides people into optimists and pessimists; I think the author wants it that way. First you have to think about how Offred got to the point of telling her tale at all. Increasingly audacious steps of rule-breaking:

  • Revealing to Ofglen that she is not a True Believer
  • Meeting with the Commander in private, including, gasp, reading
  • Going to Jezebel’s and getting secret information from Moira
  • Her arrangement with Serena Joy—including her continued liaisons with Nick
  • Finally, the rescue, which I believe was orchestrated by Nick

It is my hypothesis that she records her tale in a safe house, and stores the tapes in that safe house before being transported out of the country. That is what I hope happens. It is just as likely that she is apprehended on her way out of the country. I guess I’m an optimist and hope it’s the former. Many people in my discussion group wondered if she ever saw her daughter again. I guess it’s because I’m not a mother but I honestly hadn’t thought about that. What do you think?

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood book club response

The Handmaid’s Tale comes out on Hulu April 26. Netflix and Hulu have really been bringing it in regards to original programming lately. Our TV antenna picks up no channels so we depend on Hulu to watch current shows like New Girl and This Is Us. So here’s where I give you my referral code if you aren’t already a customer. If you sign up I get $10! Check out Hulu for 2 weeks free, on me! Plans start at $7.99 after 1st 2 weeks. Terms apply.

As always leave your comments below or link me to your review if you’ve already posted it on Goodreads or Amazon. I would love to read your take.


Virtual Book ClubLast night we held our monthly discussion group on facebook. If you’d rather discuss our monthly reads over there (normally the last Tuesday of the month), instead of in the comment section here, message me on facebook to be added.

For April, our group sought out something “springy” and decided that growth fit the theme. We voted and selected A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I am really excited to re-read this; it is one of my favorite books.  Please join along with Libby, Steph, and the rest of our group as we read together.

“Heartburn” book response and March selection!

February. The month of love! I thought the group had picked a light rom-com when I saw that the winning book (Heartburn) was written by Nora Ephron and had a pink cover with a heart on it. Instead what I ended up reading was more of a short novel about the process of falling out of love. The plot was a bit of a downer, but the writing itself was light, funny and cynical.

The book jumps right in with both feet, and the first thing we find out is that the main character, Rachel, has been cheated on by her husband of several years, Mark. Mark does not come off very well in the book, but that could be due to the bitter first-person narrative of The Woman Scorned. Both Rachel and Mark seem funny and successful like many Washington, DC power couples, but we find out they don’t have that much in common. It comes out that Rachel has been seeing a therapist for many years, which Mark doesn’t take seriously (jerk alert). Rachel harbors a lot of resentment against him for this, so I got the impression that their relationship may have been on the rocks aside from the obvious adultery transgression. It’s not a good sign if a person and their spouse don’t respect each other.

So, I think I covered what made it a downer. Here’s what counteracted that: Nora Ephron’s writing shone through in Rachel’s voice as witty and conversational. She used lots of asides (which I like to do, look I just used one), to great comic effect. There was exaggeration, too, and lots of New York and DC stereotypes and unique side characters (like Rachel’s neurotic first husband who sounded absolutely dreadful). The way she worked recipes in seamlessly and conversationally was a nice touch, too.

Oh, and Rachel also resents the fact that Mark (a newspaper columnist) used to turn life events into fodder for his writing. This struck home to me as a blogger. I like to write about my life but I have been conscientious not to write about everything and especially not stuff that affects my relationships with those who have no voice in my story.

Nora Ephron famously wrote movies like Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally so I was looking for a show-stopping romantic ending, but instead the book ends somewhat abruptly and leaves the reader pondering what would happen next. I was glad to read something short and I’m not really bothered by non-endings (when it’s a slice of life like this, anyway) so I thought the open-ended conclusion was fine but I rate the book overall as a bit forgettable.


Virtual Book ClubA reminder that we started a facebook group for the book club if you would rather discuss our monthly reads over there instead of in the comment section here. We had a really nice time talking about Heartburn last night and fangirling over Queen Meryl Streep. Message me on facebook to be added. Also, don’t forget to stop by Libby and Steph’s blogs to see their book club responses.

March commences today, and our group chose The Handmaid’s Tale. There’s a Hulu series coming out in April based on this dystopian fiction, and it seems like something Every Good Feminist reading should have under her belt. I’m a bit intimidated though, but here goes!

“The Secret History of Wonder Woman” book response and February selection!

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Our group decided to go with a non-fiction book for January, and boy did we pick something unexpected. Libby, Steph and I nominated three books and then had our new facebook group vote on which to read. The group chose The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. What a doozy!

Shifting from easy fiction to a book like this was a bit of a jolt for me and it look a little while to get my brain back in the academic game. My first issue with this book is that the title and cover are misleading. Aside from little sneak peeks, illustrations, and clips from comic strips, the creation of Wonder Woman does not happen until almost page 200!

The book is, actually, a detailed biography of WW creator William Moulton Marston, starting his first year in undergrad at Harvard. There are many interesting parts to the book, most of which do not concern Marston himself. His wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston was an amazing go-getter, especially for the 1920s and 30s. She earned as many degrees as she could, matching her husband one-for-one. She was actually the breadwinner for most of their relationship, which is really saying something considering the family was made of 8 (and a half) people, when one adds live-in mistress Olive Byrne, four children (two from each lover) and a sometime-roommate (and probable lover) who at times lived in the attic.

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I mean …

Olive Byrne was Margaret Sanger’s niece so there was a nice deviation off of the main story about the advent of the birth control movement. Sanger’s sister (Olive’s mother) was Ethel Byrne who was arrested in 1917 for talking about the fact that pregnancy could be prevented, and whose hunger strike in prison brought the nation’s eyes to this topic. I love that Jill Lepore included prints of the newspapers distributed by birth control advocates and feminists back in the 19-teens. I was also saddened that we are often rehashing the same arguments 100 years later. “In the end, the judge ruled that no woman has ‘the right to copulate with a feeling of security that there will be no resulting conception’: if a woman isn’t willing to die in childbirth, she shouldn’t have sex.” Yes, I see this argument in facebook arguments daily.

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Changing the topic, I have this minor fascination with the turn of the century and some of the kooky stuff that happened pre-Great Depression. People had so many ideas then. I feel that rich white people were always up to something strange. Global exploration, countless inventions, the birth of Psychology as a science (which was explored a bit in this book), the beginnings of science fiction (Verne, Wells), and even political explorations, like Russia’s communist revolution! My work campus sits on the former site of a utopian cult so I have been down that rabbit hole many times. The past is often sanitized, so the idea of free love experimentation before the 1960s really surprised me, but at the same time, totally made sense. What I really didn’t get was—what did these women see in Marston? Was it simply the desire to be different? In my eyes he was an entitled, semi-successful psychologist who routinely borrowed his women’s ideas and passed them off as his own, usually blatantly denying them credit. Not much going for him, but he certainly was different from men of the day.

There is a lot to get into with this book, but writing about it one-sided is not doing the topic justice. Our virtual book club had an online discussion group last night and I very thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m glad that others had the same reactions as I did to aspects like, what did all these women see in Marston? What is he bringing to the table here? 

More reading:

The Free-Love Experiment That Created Wonder Woman, Noah Berlatsy, The Atlantic

The Surprising Origin Story of Wonder Woman, Jill Lepore, Smithsonian Magazine

As always leave your comments below or link me to your review if you’ve already posted it on Goodreads or Amazon. I would love to read your take.


Virtual Book ClubA reminder that we started a facebook group for the book club if you would rather discuss our monthly reads over there instead of in the comment section here. Message me on facebook to be added.

For February, our group fittingly picked a light rom-com by queen of the genre Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, etc). Heartburn promises to be less cumbersome than January’s book, so please join along with Libby, Steph, and the rest of our group as we read together.