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Ariel Levy The Best American Essays 2015

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The Best American Essays 2015

Edited by Ariel Levy. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $14.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-544-56962-1
Assembled by New Yorker staff writer Levy (Female Chauvinist Pigs), the 30th Best American Essays collection maintains the series’ standards of excellence. The 22 contributors explore a wide range of experiences, with the theme of aging taking an especially prominent part. Ninety-three-year-old Roger Angell’s “This Old Man,” about the trials of old age, is poignant, funny, and surprisingly reassuring. Mark Jacobson’s (mostly) humorous observations in “Sixty-Five: Learning to Love Middle Old Age” have a similar effect. It is a sheer pleasure to read David Sedaris, still funny but less excitable, describe a life-affirming relationship with his Fitbit in “Stepping Out.” Also worth noting is Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Crooked Ladder,” a novel take on capitalism and institutional racism as seen through a comparison of Italian-American and African-American criminal enterprises. Novelist Justin Cronin covers the aftermath of his wife and daughter’s near-fatal car accident, Anthony Doerr imagines the lives of the first family to settle in his hometown of Boise, Idaho, and Kelly Sundberg writes movingly about living through domestic violence. These and many of the other selections offer illuminating, invaluable glimpses into lives that might otherwise remain outside the reader’s ken. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/31/2015
Release date: 10/06/2015
Open Ebook - 272 pages - 978-0-544-57921-7

_This week in the magazine, Ariel Levy, the author of “Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture,” asks why feminism is still so divisive. We suffer, she writes, “from a cultural memory disorder”: “Where we think we’ve been on our great womanly march forward often has less to do with the true coördinates than with our fears and desires.” The politics of liberation of an earlier era have given way to a politics of identity: >

If feminism becomes a politics of identity, it can safely be drained of ideology…. If a demand for revolution is tamed into a simple insistence on representation, then one woman is as good as another. You could have, in a sense, feminism without feminists. You could have, for example, Leslie Sanchez or Sarah Palin.

She concludes: “The amazing journey of American women is easier to take pride in if you banish thoughts about the roads not taken.”

We asked Levy to recommend books for background reading on the subject, and she graciously obliged.

My absolute favorite book about the history of the women’s liberation movement is “In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution,” by Susan Brownmiller. A fabulous read. Very dishy. I also quite like Brownmiller’s “Femininity.”

There is also a lot of interesting dirt about the internecine struggles within the movement in Robin Morgan’s fascinating memoir “Saturday’s Child.”

It doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the piece I wrote, but as long as we’re talking about feminist memoirs, I highly recommend Andrea Dworkin’s, “Heartbreak.” I think it is her best book, certainly her most accessible. It is the perfect antidote to the myth that Dworkin was a simplistic thinker—and writer—who thought that all sex was rape.

Now this is really a stretch, but just by the by, I think my favorite biography of a feminist icon is Nancy Mitford’s unbelievable “Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay.” Oof, that’s a good book.

And then, of course, there is The New Yorker’s own Janet Malcolm, one of my favorite writers in the world, who just recently published “Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice,” which I’ve read three or four times. Janet Malcolm is the queen, and this book is a thrilling journey into Gertrude Stein’s life and work and relationship. Now, Stein would not have liked to have been thought of as a feminist. But tough noogies.

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