Agrippina, specifically Agrippina the Younger, was a kind of incredible woman who co-ruled the Roman Empire first with her husband Claudius and then with her son Nero. This book has a distinctly feminist take on her.
Agrippina has often been portrayed as a power-hungry woman who would do anything (e.g. setting up Claudius’ prior wife for political downfall, murdering Claudius so Nero would inherit over Claudius’ natural son, sleeping with Nero once he was on the throne to stay in his good graces) to rule Rome. Mr Barrett’s take on it is as follows:
- Look, she was a powerful woman in a deeply misogynistic society. She’s not going to be portrayed in anything like a positive light.
- She only shows up in the contemporary stories about the men whose lives she was in. We don’t have anything that focuses on her.
- Sex scandals were frequently used by the contemporary sources to explain why powerful people (both men and women) were suddenly not in power anymore.
So when she’s implicated in a sex scandal, it’s important to look around and see who benefits and who else is being taken down with her. That’s going to show you what’s really going on.
Here are the facts: she was raised by an extraordinarily determined mother and her dead father was worshipped by the military. When she was around Caligula (the emperor before Claudius and her brother), he wasn’t such a crazy asshole who tried to kill everyone. Claudius’ reign was much smoother when she was his wife than when he was married to his prior wife. Nero didn’t go off the rails until after she was banished (and then he had her killed to keep her from coming back). Shit worked when she was on the scene.
So maybe consider that the contemporary reports were written by gossipy people with a strong patriarchal bias and should be taken with a HUGE grain of salt.
I liked this one.
The Pearl that Broke Its Shell is about women in Afghanistan. There are two interwoven stories: Rahima, a young girl who pretends to be a boy before becoming a 13-year-old fourth wife of a warlord, and her great-great grandmother, who does many things to not die while trying to get a bit of autonomy.
All the women in this book sort-of escape from the shackles of Afghani life. If you can call death or drug addition or getting forcibly married to someone who doesn’t beat you escape. It’s more like coming to terms with what you can do with where you are. Escape seems like too bold a word.
All sexism (and all racism) is, at its core, economic. It’s one group denying another the ability to earn enough money to live in the ways they want when they want. Controlling your labor. Standing in the way of you owning your own business. Refusing you health care so you can’t work. It’s vividly illustrated when you talk about Afghan society, it takes work on your part to see it here in America too. Policing what women wear. Pressuring men and women to be married and/or have children. Women fighting each other instead of supporting each other.
You can read The Pearl that Broke Its Shell and congratulate yourself that at least America isn’t that backwards or think that at least all of its main female characters end the story at peace. But mostly, I just felt unsettled.
(The colors on the cover are not nearly that saturated. My image capturing process seems to need some help.)
Girls and Sex is largely about how high school and college aged girls form romantic and sexual relationships. What do girls get out of it? How about boys?* Should you, the parent, be clutching your pearls? Or worried?
Maybe? It explores how teenagers express their feelings, even if they don’t understand those feelings. It seems, to me anyway, that teenagers have a lot of ideas about what couples (or people who like each other) *should* do. Or maybe what they want to do without a lot of thought about the ramification of those actions.
My personal take as a parent is that my daughter should a) understand what she wants and be comfortable saying no, b) get the hell out if saying no doesn’t work, c) think, as much as she can, before she acts. Consent is hard, and drinking heavily isn’t responsible for a lot of reasons, but, in this case, consent gets complicated fast when one or the both of you isn’t making good decisions.
The book does end on a hopeful note, because it does talk about the fact that boys are often just as confused about girls about relationships. They’re given a different template of how to act, and that can cause its own problems.
Recommended if you have a teenaged child.
* Girls and Sex does have a chapter about same-sex romantic relationships and the further challenges of acceptance around those relationships as well. I don’t want to ignore that. But a lot of “how does he/she feel about me?” and “should I act on my feelings?” holds true no matter your partner’s gender.
Rollergirl is a not-quite-YA book about a girl who signs up for roller derby camp one summer. Her best friend doesn’t. And so, while it is about the awesomeness of roller derby, it’s also about friendship and growing up and growing apart and taking risks and developing who you are. It’s good if you’re 11 or if you have an 11-year-old.
What’s it about?
The Diamond Age is a classic from 1996 (that feels so wrong to type – I was in college, for chrissakes). It’s a story about the future and a special kind of book – an electronic book before there were kindles or nooks or iPads. This is a book that helps a child learn. It’s personalized to the child – figuring out what they know about both academics and the world around them. It teaches these children how to function in the world, and the goal is not just to make them book smart, but also to give them the drive and the ability to succeed as things change. And not just react to that change, but create the change. Three bespoke versions of the book are made: one for a wealthy man’s granddaughter, one for the inventor’s daughter, and one that gets lost and ends up in the hands of a street urchin named Nell. They change the world.
Why should you read it?
Disclaimer: The Diamond Age has been my favorite Neal Stephenson book since I first read it. I may have read Snow Crash first, but I like this one more.
Why? There’s the obvious: I’m female and I love reading. I’m generally tech-optimistic, even if I have doubts about our current technology. A sci-fi book about education and reading with women in primary roles? Sign me up.
But I also love it because of the world it creates. The characterization of China was off – Stephenson missed China’s meteoric rise over the last 20 years – but the Vickys (the neo-Victorians) and the other various sects play well together. And I can see a neo-Victorian strain in Silicon Valley, with its insistence on perfectibility – if we could only do x or figure out y, then we could make everything perfect!
It is a classic. Read it if you haven’t.