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When Deborah Paredez describes the women she awards diva status as “extraordinary, unruly, fabulous,” she is just getting started. In tributes as impassioned and exuberant as any of her subjects, the college professor and poet offers a diverse collection of women to be celebrated and emulated. American Diva: Extraordinary, Unruly, Fabulous is the grand platform Paredez creates for her stars as she tells their stories, bedecked with her own scintillating flourishes. 

Paredez memorializes divas at a propulsive pace. Here is the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz; the effervescent and doomed Selena; Tina Turner performing “Proud Mary” with “inimitable ferocity”; Rita Moreno, on-fire dancer and vengeful victim in the movie West Side Story; Venus and Serena Williams, “defying the naysayers” and dominating the courts; Aretha Franklin, “a queen bee dripping with so much nectar” at Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration. These iconic women, both here and gone, have earned their diva status and, Paredez insists, stand as beacons of feminism for future generations.

Divas, by Paredez’s definition, are “strong, complicated, imperfect, virtuosic women who last and last and last.” But competing definitions of divas have made their way into the culture. Newsweek cautioned parents against “Generation Diva” in 2009, and divas, “once synonymous with virtuosity, became symbols of vitriol.” Meanwhile, tween icons like Miley Cyrus—whose exploits as Hannah Montana came “adorned with sparkly merchandise”—were on the rise. Young girls have learned to dress, dance and perform as the stars they yearn to be. Paredez wonders, has a diva instead become “a means of convincing girls that singing along to a power ballad in a sequined T-shirt emblazoned with ‘Li’l Diva’ equals actual power”? The downside to such youthful appropriation becomes clear by contrast: The women whose careers Paredez showcases in American Diva are real and powerful in their sheer fearless embrace of their own best selves—rendering moot any worshipful imitation.

Paredez doesn’t hold back, and is especially startling in her candor about her own impetuous coming of age. Bookending this star-studded lineup is the author’s own beloved Lucia, the aunt who introduced her to all things diva: Dress up, dance, sing or ace your serve—and always accessorize. The rest—success, money, fame, love—will happen only if you are strong enough to make it so.

The exuberant American Diva celebrates “extraordinary, unruly, fabulous” women who earned their diva status and stood the test of time.

Insider deputy editor Walt Hickey won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Illustrated Reporting and Commentary. His wide-ranging, captivating You Are What You Watch: How Movies and TV Affect Everything makes it easy to see why.

The average American spends three-plus hours a day consuming media. “Across a lifetime,” Hickey writes, “that’s 22 percent of our time on Earth!” No wonder we’re curious about how media affects us. He asserts that, contrary to those who consider our favorite media a “bogeyman, a brain melter, a violence inciter, a waste,” it actually is “complex, fascinating, and often rather good.”

Hickey fascinates as he demystifies pop culture, sharing the outcomes of his experiments and studies. He’s a data journalist, and cheeky and informative visuals—charts, graphs, maps and little photos of famous people’s heads—bolster his pro-pop-culture assertions and illuminate personal stories, such as when he subjected his nervous system to a “Jaws” rewatch to discern which scenes most affected him. Colorful charts like “Movies Make People Exhale the Same Chemicals at the Same Times” bring his research into focus. He notes that when “The Hunger Games” film debuted in 2012, USA Archery’s merchandise sales quintupled. Similarly, the premieres of 1943’s “Lassie Come Home” and 1992’s “Beethoven” were both followed by spikes in the popularity of collies and Saint Bernards.

The author’s keen eye for detail and ability to see connections across genres enliven the narrative beyond theory and talking points. From the WWE to the Tax Reform Act of 1976, Scooby-Doo to geopolitics, Hickey offers a bounty of enthusiasm for our favorite stories.

Pulitzer Prize winner Walt Hickey champions pop culture with a cornucopia of studies, experiments and visuals in You Are What You Watch.

Following on the success of his 2017 memoir, Cured, Lol Tolhurst returns with what he calls a “memoir of a subculture.” Goth: A History is Tolhurst’s compendious exploration of the music, art, literature and fashion that made up the dark side of post-punk. The Cure—which he co-founded as drummer with Robert Smith and Michael Dempsey—is often seen as one of the instigators of the movement, alongside bands like Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Joy Division. Richly illustrated with flyers and photos from Tolhurst’s private collection, Goth is a coffee table book for the discriminating vampire.

Goth was always more than black eyeliner and black clothes; in Tolhurst’s reading, it reflects the bleak social and political context of Margaret Thatcher’s England. As a philosophy, it suggests a melancholic point of view and a willingness to contemplate obsessive love, madness and death. In Goth, Tolhurst catalogs the poets and artists whose work appeals to those who also love goth music. Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar was a massive influence on Tolhurst, as were the poets T.S. Eliot and Anne Sexton. Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is obviously goth, as are the death- and madness-drenched poems of Charles Baudelaire. David Bowie, Alice Cooper and Marc Bolan of T. Rex each have goth elements and were also early influences on Tolhurst.

Inevitably, a good part of this book focuses on Tolhurst’s time with The Cure as the drummer and later keyboardist. (He left the band in 1989). He dwells on The Cure’s three early albums, culminating in the magisterial fourth, “Pornography,” as exemplary goth music. But he is also generous in his assessment of other bands, tracing the continuation of goth music from the post-punk era in England to the Los Angeles goth scene and beyond. Structured as mini essays, Goth can feel disjointed, and Tolhurst at times is repetitive. But fans will find themselves immersed. It’s a beautiful book, full of concert photos, portraits and band flyers. Tolhurst is a passionate storyteller and an elder goth statesman worth listening to.

The Cure’s Lol Tolhurst explores the influences and impact of goth music and culture in an immersive new coffee table book.

In her engaging Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma, memoirist and critic Claire Dederer wrestles with a complicated, sometimes slippery subject: What do we do with art—movies, novels, songs, paintings—we once loved, and sometimes still love, from men we now consider monsters? “I started keeping a list,” she writes. “Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, William Burroughs, Richard Wagner, Sid Vicious, V. S. Naipaul, John Galliano, Norman Mailer, Ezra Pound, Caravaggio, Floyd Mayweather, though if we start listing athletes we’ll never stop.” The book grew out of an essay Dederer wrote in 2017 for The Paris Review that went viral in the early days of #MeToo. Here Dederer considers the subject more thoroughly in a series of connected essays from a number of angles, walking readers through her thinking and experiences as a reader, viewer, parent, friend and longtime critic.

Dederer’s definition of an art monster is straightforward: “They did or said something awful, and made something great. The awful thing disrupts the great work; we can’t watch or listen to or read the great work without remembering the awful thing.” As she asks who qualifies as an art monster, and whether female artists can be monsters, Dederer reminds us how our 20th-century concept of “genius” was bound up with masculinity, and often with brutal behavior toward women (with Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso as prime examples).

But what Dederer really wants to get at has to do with our responses to these men and their art; she wants to tell the story of the audience. Reconsidering Woody Allen’s movies, particularly Manhattan, in light of his marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, for example, she notes how her male critic friends have continued to see his movies as works of genius, while she and other women have responded quite differently.

One striking chapter looks at our responses to renowned artists Richard Wagner, Virginia Woolf and Willa Cather, noting the way we shrug off their antisemitic and racist comments because it was a different time. “One of the great problems faced by audiences is named the Past. The Past is a vast terrible place where they didn’t know better. Where monstrous behaviors were accepted,” Dederer writes. Referencing a range of sources, she argues nimbly that these artists did in fact know better.

Despite the heavy subject matter, Monsters is neither rant nor sermon. Dederer is not only an incisive researcher and writer, she’s also conversational, approachable and funny. The book seamlessly incorporates bits of memoir—Dederer’s life in the Pacific Northwest, her experiences as a critic and a woman, her failures—that have informed her critical thinking. Yes, Monsters is a worthy addition to contemporary literary criticism, but more than that, it’s a very enjoyable book about a thorny, elusive subject.

An enjoyable book about a thorny, elusive subject, Monsters is an incisive work of literary criticism about art created by men we now consider monsters.
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Aisha Harris, co-host of NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour” and a writer for Slate and The New York Times, is the pop culture maven millennials have been waiting for. That’s why her debut book, Wannabe: Reckonings With the Pop Culture That Shapes Me, will be flying off the shelves faster than Taylor Swift presale tickets. Part pop culture analysis, part social commentary, and completely and intrinsically personal, Wannabe tackles topics both internal and external. At the forefront are societal issues such as positive representation versus harmful stereotypes in media. Harris’ identity as a Black woman also shapes the narrative as she deftly explores the intersection of pop culture and politics, noting how our political climate changes the way we tell stories.

This book will appeal to readers wishing to go beyond the consumption of media for entertainment’s sake by helping them engage in a socially conscious dialogue. But despite its intellectual value, Wannabe isn’t written for academics. Harris’ audience is anyone who wishes to broaden their understanding of pop culture’s significance to society, and the accessibility of her writing helps to achieve that goal. The humor incorporated throughout the book is truly a delight, and each chapter is chock full of so many witty asides that Harris, were she a television writer, could be the new Amy Sherman-Palladino.

But the book truly shines when it offers us a peek inside Harris’ psyche, providing examples of specific artists, actors and authors who have impacted her life. From unlikely childhood heroines such as tomboy Kristy from The Baby-Sitters Club and loyal punk Ashley Spinelli from the cartoon “Recess,” to the incredible impact of the MTV and VH1 R&B era (looking at you, Toni Braxton), Harris explores how her younger self gravitated toward subversive female icons who redefined the meanings of femininity and strength. As the years passed, other content challenged Harris’ views of womanhood and sexuality, from the sensual Nola Darling in She’s Gotta Have It to the four iconic women who defined a sex-positive generation in “Sex and the City.” Harris also analyzes present-day pop culture, from flawed female leads in TV shows like “Fleabag,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “Insecure” to pop stars like Rihanna and Megan Thee Stallion who are unapologetically sensual, commanding and fun. When Harris applies her refined, journalistic scrutiny to subjective nostalgia, the behind-the-scenes magic of Wannabe becomes truly clear.

So in conclusion—taps mic—Imma let y’all finish, but this book is the best pop culture guide of all time!

When Aisha Harris applies her journalistic scrutiny to the subversive pop culture icons who shaped her millennial upbringing and worldview, the magic of Wannabe comes alive.

“I started my life with one thing: science. Astronomy, to be specific. And I dove into it,” writes Aomawa Shields in the introduction to her memoir, Life on Other Planets. “Then I found something else I liked: the arts. Acting, to be specific. So I dove into that instead. Neither one by itself felt fully right.” 

Beginning with her initial glimmers of love for the stars and planets as a preteen, Shields tells her story chronologically, with writing that is immediate, sometimes poetic. In a scene rich in detail, she recounts the snowy winter night when, as a high school student at Phillips Exeter Academy, she first glimpsed Jupiter and its moons through a telescope. “That I could measure something in space, just by looking—this was the shattered ceiling of the Earth, ascending up and through the atmosphere into nothing,” she writes. At MIT and then the University of Wisconsin, Shields steeped herself in astronomy. But the pull of acting, which she discovered in high school playing the role of Truvy in Steel Magnolias, never faded, and she eventually put her work in STEM on hold to pursue an M.F.A. in acting at UCLA.

Shields’ nonlinear path through science, acting, the arts and back to astronomy (she returned to graduate school at age 35 and is now a tenured professor of astronomy and physics at UC Irvine) makes up the rest of the memoir’s narrative. Yes, she faced a bevy of struggles: As a Black woman, Shields was buffeted by racism in graduate school, as well as by self-doubt and impostor syndrome. She’s also candid about the sometimes-difficult balance of marriage, family and work, and her worry about whether she’s “Black enough” in certain settings. Throughout, Shields is an illuminating guide to her own idiosyncratic journey, seamlessly unpacking complicated concepts about stars and planets.

In Life on Other Planets, Shields has written an inspiring memoir about charting her own path and merging her scientific and artistic pursuits. Along the way, she also gives us glimpses of the wonder she’s found while studying the cosmos.

Astrobiologist Aomawa Shields’ Life on Other Planets is an inspiring memoir about charting her own path and merging the two worlds of science and art.

Patti Hartigan’s August Wilson: A Life is the first comprehensive biography of the great American playwright, who died 18 years ago at the age of 60. Hartigan, a theater critic and arts reporter who knew Wilson professionally, has done her homework in parsing Wilson’s complicated story from many layers of half-truths and myths, some of which were propagated by the legendary raconteur himself during his lifetime. The result is an even-handed and absorbing exploration of a sui generis artist who followed his own rules both in the theater and in his personal life.

An autodidact who learned to read by age 4, Wilson was born Freddy Kittel and grew up in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, the largely Black neighborhood that he would immortalize in his plays. Wilson’s father was white—and for complex psychological reasons still left largely unexplored in this book, Wilson spent his life convinced he had a different white father than his siblings. However, Wilson identified exclusively as Black. His mother arranged the best education she could for her brilliant son, but he repeatedly faced skepticism and racism, and he never finished high school. Aspiring to be a poet, Wilson dove into the nascent Black arts scene in Pittsburgh, where his writing talents were put to use in local theater productions. Confident in his abilities and focused on his ambitions, he began sending unwieldy scripts to the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference.

When he was finally accepted with what was at the time a four-and-a-half-hour version of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Wilson quickly took the theater world by storm. Just a few years later, he was on Broadway and had won the first of two Pulitzer Prizes. The playwright, known for his powerful and poetic monologues, soon embarked on a daunting project: a 10-play cycle that would hold a mirror up to the experiences of Black people in 20th century America, decade by decade. He finished the last play just months before his premature death.

In her five-year-long excavation of August Wilson’s family history, Patti Hartigan found spine-tingling similarities between the stories the celebrated playwright created and the actual past he never fully knew. 

The man Hartigan profiles is a fascinating bundle of contradictions: a generous, congenial companion who could at times seethe with rage; a lover of women who often gave them short shrift in his plays; a storytelling seer who made well-drawn specifics of the Black experience speak to audiences across racial barriers. August Wilson: A Life is a worthy and overdue first biography that will trigger new conversations about a magnificent playwright and the origins of his talent.

August Wilson: A Life is an even-handed and absorbing exploration of a sui generis artist who followed his own rules both in the theater and in his personal life.
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Even though Shakespeare refers to the great Egyptian queen as both “tawny” and “black” and his English contemporaries understood Egyptians to be dark-skinned, why did a major British production of Antony and Cleopatra not cast a Black Cleopatra until Doña Croll in 1991? Because too many of the Bard’s admirers have failed to address, or even notice, race in his plays.

Farah Karim-Cooper, a Pakistani American professor of literature and Shakespeare studies at King’s College London, challenges that willful ignorance in The Great White Bard: How to Love Shakespeare While Talking About Race. Karim-Cooper, who also serves as Director of Education at Shakespeare’s Globe, argues that the bad alternatives to an honest conversation about race in Shakespeare are either to dismiss his work or stubbornly cling to the stale tradition of brushing aside race—both of which oppose her desire for the plays to speak to a wider public.

Aiming to include non-academic readers in her audience, Karim-Cooper takes a close look at characters who are clearly people of color: Othello, Aaron the Moor and the Prince of Morocco. She considers more ambiguous cases, like Cleopatra and Caliban, and also ranges farther afield to depictions of otherness such as the witches in Macbeth, noting how Shakespeare routinely relies upon racialized imagery and dehumanizing language: white/fair equals good; dark equals bad and ugly.

Like his contemporaries, Shakespeare employs racist and antisemitic tropes in his characters, yet also writes them as multifaceted individuals. “Shakespeare often challenges us to hold two contradictory views simultaneously,” Karim-Cooper states. Indeed, Othello is brave and forthright as well as lethally jealous; we hear Caliban’s side of the story as well as Prospero’s. The evidence of Black people and interracial marriage in Tudor England introduces the possibility of Shakespeare having actually encountered people of color. And Karim-Cooper’s analysis of The Merchant of Venice might make one wonder whether Shakespeare knew any Jews passing as Christians for safety.

Our perception of Shakespeare’s work is ever-evolving: It wasn’t until the 18th century that he was even glamorized as “the Bard” by theater star David Garrick. Karim-Cooper’s candid discussion of more nuanced and informed approaches to interpreting Shakespeare can only help his work endure.

Karim-Cooper's candid discussion of more informed and nuanced approaches to interpreting Shakespeare can only help the Bard’s work endure.
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Patti Hartigan was a self-described “baby theater critic” when she met August Wilson in 1987. The two were chatting at the National Critics Institute at the famed O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, and Wilson asked if Hartigan had seen his play Fences, which was then the talk of Broadway. “Being green and subsisting on a freelancer’s pitiful wages,” she recalls in her debut book, August Wilson: A Life, “I blurted out, ‘My mother saw it, but I can’t afford a ticket.’ The minute I said it, I wished I could take it back.” But the next day, Hartigan received a note that two tickets would be waiting for her at the box office.

This act of generosity toward a fledgling critic was emblematic of Wilson, Hartigan would discover. After landing at the Boston Globe as theater critic and arts reporter, she built a rapport with Wilson over the years, talking with him whenever he opened a play at the city’s Huntington Theatre. Then in January 2005, with Wilson poised to complete his monumental 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle—one play about Black life in America set in every decade in the 20th century—Hartigan flew to Seattle to interview him for a celebratory piece. Neither she nor Wilson yet knew that a fast-spreading cancer would lead to his death just a few months later. He managed to complete the final play, Radio Golf, under great physical and mental strain, and when he died in October 2005, the world mourned the loss of a voice that had changed the landscape of the American theater.

“He didn’t want to be the first. But certainly, in carving out room in American theater for Black playwrights . . . he paved the way.”

But “time passed and there was no biography,” Hartigan says in a video call. “I decided someone has to do this, and because I knew him, I decided to jump in.” The first-time biographer spent five years researching and writing August Wilson: A Life, an accomplished work that not only takes full measure of the playwright’s career but also delves into his childhood and ancestry to unearth a family history that Wilson himself did not fully know. Hartigan would even climb a mountain in Spear, North Carolina, where generations of Wilson’s strong-willed antecedents were born. Wilson himself never undertook that journey, saying that he wrote from “the blood’s memory” rather than doing research. Yet again and again, Hartigan found spine-tingling similarities between the stories he created and his family’s actual past.

Patti Hartigan

Wilson is largely associated with Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, specifically its Hill District, where he set all but one play in his monumental cycle. The Hill is where his mother, Daisy, and others in the family settled during the Great Migration, and it’s where Wilson was born in 1945 and grew up. His singular intelligence was apparent from an early age, and Daisy made sure he was educated in the best parochial and public schools. But his intelligence could not shelter him from endemic racism, and after being belittled and undervalued at school, he dropped out at just 15. (Years later, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh awarded the autodidact a high school diploma, an honor he cherished alongside his two Pulitzer Prizes and other awards.)

Read our starred review of ‘August Wilson: A Life.’

Wilson’s earliest literary aspiration was as a poet, which Hartigan says is hardly surprising given the soaring poetry of his monologue-driven plays. His move into theater was both accidental and serendipitous, coinciding with the politically fueled Black literary movement of the 1970s, which played out in neighborhood theaters in Pittsburgh. Wilson was driven, and when he learned about the O’Neill Conference—arguably the preeminent play development opportunity available at the time—he began submitting a play each year. He was met with rejection after rejection until 1982, when he received the coveted telegram from artistic director Lloyd Richards. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom had been selected.

Richards was perhaps the most influential Black theater maker of the age—he was the first African American to direct a play on Broadway, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun—and “a presence like no other,” says Hartigan. He took Wilson under his wing and played a major role in the playwright’s progress. When asked if she thought there would have been an August Wilson without a Lloyd Richards, Hartigan admits there is no way of knowing, but probably not. “The two of them fed each other. August would come with a play that was four and a half hours long, and Lloyd could cut it down and streamline it and ask the right questions,” she says. “But the relationship was key for both men. Lloyd’s career had a resurgence when he began working with August.” The professional falling-out that came later, which Hartigan thoughtfully chronicles, was painful. “Both were right and both were wrong, and it’s a tragedy. Yet you can praise the relationship that was.”

Hartigan, clearly a great admirer of Wilson and his work, is nonetheless forthright in her appraisal of both. She does not shy away from portraying the playwright’s flaws as a man, a husband, a father. More than once she addresses the frequent observation that, with a few notable exceptions, Wilson’s female characters are weak. “I think the criticism is warranted,” she says. “Yet I’ve seen later productions where the women are painted in by just the direction [of the play]. So I think there might be a little more to the women [in Wilson’s plays] than we initially thought.”

The August Wilson Estate declined to grant permission to Hartigan to quote from his intimate letters or from some of his early writings, a decision she regrets because “paraphrasing just can’t do him justice.” Yet she manages to capture Wilson’s voice well. “He didn’t want to be exceptionalized,” she says. “He didn’t want to be the first. But certainly, in carving out room in American theater for Black playwrights—and the subject matter that he was able to bring to the stage—he paved the way.”

Patti Hartigan spent five years researching and writing August Wilson: A Life, an accomplished work that takes full measure of the playwright’s career and life.
STARRED REVIEW

Our top 10 books of August 2023

Our top 10 books for August 2023 include Colson Whitehead's riotous sequel to Harlem Shuffle, Silvia Moreno-Garcia's latest horror novel and an engrossing look at race in Shakespeare’s works.
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Children's

Ghost Book

Remy Lai juxtaposes serious topics with charming humor in Ghost Book, a lushly illustrated folkloric contemporary fantasy that will inspire readers to learn more about

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Crook Manifesto book cover
Crime Fiction

Crook Manifesto

Crook Manifesto more than matches the finely hewn psychological tensions that haunted Colson Whitehead’s main character in Harlem Shuffle. The interplay between context and character

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Fiction

Tom Lake

Tom Lake is a gorgeously layered novel that spans decades yet still feels intimate, meditating on love, family and the choices we make.

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Coming of Age

Bellies

Nicola Dinan’s debut is a vulnerable, moving, riotously funny and deeply honest story about trans life, first love, art-making, friendship, grief and the hard, slow

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History

Valiant Women

Valiant Women is a vital and engrossing attempt to correct the record and rightfully celebrate the achievements of female veterans of World War II.

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Arts & Culture

The Great White Bard

Karim-Cooper’s candid discussion of more informed and nuanced approaches to interpreting Shakespeare can only help the Bard’s work endure.

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Nature

The Underworld

The Underworld is Susan Casey’s dazzling answer to the age-old, tantalizing question about the ocean’s abyss: “What’s down there?”

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Our top 10 books for August 2023 include Colson Whitehead's riotous sequel to Harlem Shuffle, Silvia Moreno-Garcia's latest horror novel and an engrossing look at race in Shakespeare’s works.
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In Mother Tongue: The Surprising History of Women’s Words, Jenni Nuttall draws from decades of knowledge gleaned from studying and teaching medieval literature in order to track the origins and winding evolutions of the language used to discuss the female experience.

Nuttall arranges her history in topical chapters, opening the first chapter about anatomical terms with Chaucer (Who else?) and delving into a discussion about how terms describing genitalia are either euphemistic or coldly clinical. These bleed into the next chapter on menstrual language, a wild journey through a millennium of speculation about period bleeding. This is followed by a chapter on lust and sexuality, which demonstrates the ways that cultural and religious institutions have created a shameful and heteronormative path for women. A chapter covering gendered violence comes with painful but necessary context for our current victim-blaming culture, followed by a final chapter about feminism, misogyny and developing empowering vocabularies around the two.

Each chapter roves through time, picking salient points that result in a narrative, not a glossary. This makes Mother Tongue feel better suited to someone wishing to muse and draw connections than someone concerned with mapping changes over an exact interval. Where the text excels is in providing thought-provoking origins and comparison points for words that English-speaking culture often portrays as immutable. The book also makes the origins of our current cultural norms apparent from the lack of available information around lesbianism in early English and broad definitions and decryings of “sodomy”  to the origin of the word “drudgery” as explicitly meaning women’s work.

The book lauds women who emerge from under the thumb of patriarchy,  but meets the changes of the future (and present) gender revolution with bland neutrality, and sometimes quiet apprehension. Nuttall’s introduction states that many terms in the book apply also to nonbinary and transgender people, but the book is ultimately cisnormative both in its focus and its afterword, which makes sense for a book tracing the Anglo mainstream but can feel a bit out of step with current conversations around gender. Nuttall applies “both sides” reasoning and hand-wrings over what she calls “circumlocutions,” such as “people who menstruate” that describe traits traditionally seen as female without limiting them to a single gender identity.

Despite such reactionary moments, this easily digestible and scenario-rich depiction of the evolution of language we take for granted is still done with care and compelling detail.  Nuttall answers why we have been taught to say what we do, but more importantly, reminds us that the language we are handed is contextual, cultural and ultimately changeable.

This easily digestible and scenario-rich exploration of gendered language shows how our words are contextual, cultural and ultimately changeable.
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STARRED REVIEW
September 10, 2023

Our favorite lifestyles books so far this year

From psychedelics to pasta, nature, grief and more, here are the books we’ve loved about living well in 2023.
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Book jacket image for Company by Amy Thielen

Company

Chef and author Amy Thielen’s buzzy cookbook simmers cozily with very fine food writing and a particular Midwestern nonchalance.
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howtosaygoodbye

How to Say Goodbye

Wendy MacNaughton’s gentle drawings are followed by a deep well of resources for the dying and those who love and care for them.
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Book jacket image for The Psilocybin Handbook for Women by Jennifer Chesak

The Psilocybin Handbook for Women

Jennifer Chesak’s guide to psilocybin for women is an empowering, enlightening read, full of evidence-based information on the therapeutic uses of psychedelic mushrooms.
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The Language of Trees

Artist Katie Holten has gathered a stunning range of writings that celebrate all things arboreal, from recipes for acorn flour to reflections on catalpa trees.
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An A–Z of Pasta

In An A–Z of Pasta, witty and knowledgeable author Rachel Roddy introduces readers to 50 essential pastas and the recipes you might use them in.
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From psychedelics to pasta, nature, grief and more, here are the books we've loved about living well in 2023.
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Is the 21st century “an epoch in which games and play are the model for how we interact with culture and each other”? Designer and professor Eric Zimmerman thinks so. At the very least, games can provide an extraordinarily useful way to learn by doing. In The Rules We Break: Lessons in Play, Thinking, and Design, Zimmerman gathers an array of games—ones that can be played on tabletops, playgrounds or even online—designed to encourage flexible and creative thinking, facilitate collaboration and improve communication.

Games are “a kind of miniature laboratory,” Zimmerman writes. Constraints always provide a fertile environment for creativity, of course, but sometimes the learning comes from devising the game itself. For example, one exercise asks groups to prototype games with a few found objects in 15 minutes. Fellow groups then play one another’s games. Zimmerman provides reflection and discussion points for all games, so it’s clear what we stand to gain from playing—whether in the classroom, boardroom, family room or workplace.

Eric Zimmerman has gathered an array of interactive games designed to encourage creative thinking, facilitate collaboration and improve communication.

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