In this blog series I want to look into "required reading," how it's taught, and what we (should/could) get out of it. Which classics take up the most space in the collective memory? Is there something worth remembering from the dudecentric classics of high school book lists? (I'm looking about you: To Kill a Mockingbird, Hamlet, The Great Gatsby, Great Expectations, Huck Finn, and Lord of the Flies) What about from Mrs. Dalloway, Beloved, and Pride and Prejudice? What makes literature unforgettable and important to fledgling feminists? And what new works should become required reading?
Many of us have, at some point, asserted that we "don't feel like leaving the house." It may take a few days, several long naps, and many hours of Criminal Minds reruns, but eventually most of us manage to get out the front door and back to our regularly-scheduled lives. Sara Benincasa, not so much. You may know Benincasa from the spot-on Sarah Palin impression she perfected back in 2008, or perhaps from her take on a vlogging Peggy Olson. Perhaps you're heard the sex-and-relationship show she formerly hosted for Cosmo Radio on Sirius XMchannel, or tuned in to the more mental-health-focused "Sex and Other Human Activities," podcast she currently hosts with fellow funny person Marcus Parks. Or maybe you've seen her sharing a bathtub with luminaries like Margaret Cho and Donald Glover on her web chat show, Gettin' Wet with Sara Benincasa.
But, as revealed in Benincasa's new memoir, getting out in the world has been both more difficult and more mordantly funny than you might imagine. Based on her one-woman show of the same name, Agorafabulous! Dispatches from My Bedroom is the story of how one girl's anxious, clenched-sphincter childhood blossomed into adolescent panic attacks and then, as a college student, into full-blown agoraphobia. Along the way, there's public embarrassment (Benincasa's panic attacks curtail a school trip to the beach, to the chagrin of a tanning-obsessed gaggle of New Jersey mean girls), family confusion (at the hight of a panic attack, she subjects her mother to four and a half hours of the same Dave Matthews Band song) and cereal bowls full of urine (at a particularly challenging juncture during college, she developed a fear of toilets.)
There's also a revelation: This is not a recovery narrative, and Benincasa isn't cured by a new medication, a folksy Robin Williams-esque medical figure, or the love of her life. She's here, she's got irrational fear, she's used to it.
One of my 2012 resolutions is to get back in the books game. I'm resolving to read two new(ish) books a month, even if it means cutting down on the number of TV episode recaps I read online. What about you? Do you have any literary resolutions (or suggestions for contemporary books to add to my growing list)?
Great artists don't just have to exist in galleries. Books have given us some really inspirational pre- or post-feminist characters that are good at art, and this liberates them either emotionally or physically. What unites them is their independent thinking, as they are determined to go against the grain and not end up like their peers, bitter or vacuous. Some examples here are from classic novels, such as Jane Eyre, where art is a form of escapism for our heroine, whereas in Andrew Davidson's modern novel The Gargoyle we find a sculptress whose work is so consuming that it leaves her exhausted. Whatever the situation, it is clear that these women take their art seriously—it's not just a hobby to keep them occupied before they're whisked off by Prince Charming. This is so much better than a fairytale.
Dorianne Laux's fifth book of poetry, The Book of Men, was released earlier this year. Spoiler alert: It is NOT ACTUALLY A BOOK OF MEN. It is a book of earth, and sex, and war, and food, and even a book of Cher. Yep. Cher. After reading The Book of Men I immersed myself in Laux's other books, and have emerged remembering what is best about reading poems.
The latest book to grace the shelves of Bitch's virtual bookstore is Who is Ana Mendieta?. Part comic book, part eulogy, and part social critique, this book is a unique graphic retelling of the life and legacy of conceptual and land artist Ana Mendieta by artists Christine Redfern and Caro Caron.
In May, Religion Dispatches published my first interview with former darling of the Christian contemporary music scene, lesbian singer-songwriter Jennifer Knapp. Then over the summer, I got to meet and interview Knapp in person while covering the Wild Goose Festival, an event that celebrated (predominantly Christian) spirituality, justice, and art. We talked a bit about the limitations of Christian music, feminism and sexuality on the same day she filmed the "It Gets Better" video below. I'll be critiquing some evangelical Christian music later in the series, so I'm very excited to share unpublished parts of our interview with you here today:
The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities is an incredible anthology (that started as a zine) out from South End Press providing essays, accounts, and testimonials about challenging assumptions about interpersonal violence while constructing and sharing new paths to healing and accountability.
Ching-In Chen and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, two of the three intrepid co-editors of the book, took some time from their busy schedules to answer some questions about the book, and shared some incredible organizations and resources that inspire them, including several mentioned in the book. Read on!