Book Review: Reading Women by Stephanie Staal

In Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life, Stephanie Staal confronts the all-too-familiar reality of finding yourself disconnected from your beloved college courses and their content. What prompts Staal to become disconnected is not so much leaving college and entering adulthood, but her journey into marriage and motherhood. In order to reconnect, Staal audits a series of courses she took at Barnard as an undergrad. So yes, there's that privilege to content with here.

This memoir/analysis of the women's studies canon is not an indictment of marriage or motherhood. Rather it is an honest examination of what happens when feminism smashes into domestic life. On top of that, her husband and Staal flee NYC after the birth of their daughter and the 2001 terrorist attacks for suburbia. So yeah, this is a bit of an indictment on suburbia and how Stepford some moms can become with their obsession over themes for children's rooms.

Staal uses the revisiting of classics like "The Yellow Wallpaper" and "Fear of Flying" to not add to the feminist critique of motherhood and marriage, but to critique the critique. Staal often makes mention of having years of life experience added to her view of classic texts. She talks about being a part of a generation who were raised by feminist mothers or with feminist messages who have now found themselves in a weird situation that is reminiscent to a 1950s housewife.

She also uses this opportunity to do some intergenerational thinking (it's unclear how much Staal added to any of the conversations in class) between GenX and Millenials. While most intergenerational issues seem to be pegged on Second Wavers versus Millennials, it was great to see a Gen Xer take it on like this.

There is a lot in this book for just about everyone who has ever read a women's studies book. You won't agree with all her conclusions. I certainly didn't appreciate her criticism of working-outside-the-home moms and her recollection of being a latch-key kid. But you will appreciate how she makes you want to go dig out your copy of that favorite book from undergrad.

Rediscover the feminist canon with a copy from an indie bookstore or Reading Women is available in February 2011, so pre-order today!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers.

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