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Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life Paperback – February 22, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1 Original edition (February 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586488724
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586488727
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #325,163 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

More than a decade after her graduation from Barnard College, journalist Staal (The Love They Lost) revisits feminist literature to conduct "a highly personal investigation" into the "balance between selfhood and womanhood." Her marriage is limping along, and motherhood and housework have intruded on her professional life. Contrasting her new responses to such feminist classics as Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and de Beauvoir's The Second Sex with those of her 19-year-old self and to those of today's students, Staal despairs over the "objectifying" of self she observes in young women today, but discovers that "absolutes that once dominated my thinking had been rubbed down by experience." Staal offers an interesting overview of feminist history and writings; however, her exploration of transformations in her life is superficial (her marriage was healed by "coming closer together through the thousands of tiny moments that make up a day"), and she learns the fairly trite lesson that "life is unpredictable, relationships are complex, and the mind cannot always rule the heart." (Feb.)
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From Booklist

An immersion in feminist literature clarified Staal�s personal philosophies as an undergraduate at Barnard College in the 1990s and shaped her subsequent career as journalist and writer. Moreover, a reintroduction to these seminal works saved her from the postnuptial and postpartum ennui and isolation she encountered as a new wife and mother. Lacking a sense of identity beyond these traditional roles and hoping to reignite her youthful sense of purpose, Staal took the gutsy step of returning to Barnard to audit the feminist texts courses that once played such a pivotal role in her life. In reading and analyzing the influential works of such luminary feminist thinkers as Mary Wollstonecraft, Betty Friedan, Kate Chopin, Simone de Beauvoir, and Katie Roiphe, Staal examines what it means to be a woman in the twenty-first century and asks if and how these writers are still relevant today. Intimate in its reflections and keenly perceptive on a larger scale, Staal�s erudite literary memoir refreshingly embraces women�s eternal quest for self-knowledge. --Carol Haggas

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Customer Reviews

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I found this book very easy to read and approachable.
As soon as I read the first chapter I called my best friend and told her she had to read this book.
I love--no, adore--this book and cannot recommend it highly enough!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A. Luciano VINE VOICE on January 27, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The author of this memoir, Stephanie Staal, is a decade out of her Barnard education, where she left ready to take on the world as a super career woman. She achieved the career of her dreams, was living in New York City, and married to a great guy. It was the feminist's dream. Somewhere along the way, though, she had a child and found it wasn't as easy to balance motherhood with having a career as she had been led to believe. She was doing more than her fair share of the housework, the childcare, and being shoved backwards into a role she had been certain she would not take on.

Floundering in her life, Staal decides to go back to Barnard to audit a single class--Feminist Texts. As she re-reads the books that spoke so clearly to her when she was an undergraduate, Staal finds that she has a new complicated relationship with what she is reading. Now that she is a wife and a mother as well as an author and journalist, it is harder to accept the feminist writing as a surefire answer to the questions of life.

However, taking the class does allow the author to get back in touch with her younger self and take steps toward feeling as though she has not been lost in the progression of her life.

I suppose I've never identified as a feminist in the way this author has, so it was harder for me to understand her point of view. It was interesting to read her summaries of the feminist texts, some of which I have read and many of which I have not, but I felt like at the end of it, Staal really hadn't resolved most of the issues she started with at the beginning of class. She still was stuck between motherhood and her career, and it seems there is no good way out of that trap for someone who feels ensnared. I didn't feel like there was a whole lot of conflict resolution in this memoir.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is both a memoir and a review of feminist literature. Personally, I loved it. Like the author, I went to a women's college. Like the author, I was exposed to feminist writings when I was young. And, like the author, I am now a mother of a young child. While it hasn't changed my life or perspectives as much as the author's, I understand many of her feelings.

There were several points in this book where I laughed out loud. There were ALSO several points where I just went "whoa, whoa, my mind is exploding with this amazing realization." As an 18-22 year old, I may not have been able to fully grasp some of the feminist theory; and revisiting it with all of my adult experiences makes the point all more clear.

I really appreciate that this book reminded me of feminist concepts again. I don't agree with all feminist writings, but I am definitely a feminist - of the same generation as the author. Being out of the academic environment, I hadn't been questioning or being critical (in the analytical sense) of what I experience and see in this world. The book got that academic-style thinking going again.

Overall, I loved it! It's neither an academic text, nor purely a novel - it's both and neither at the same.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By L. Fannon on February 16, 2011
Format: Paperback
Stephanie Staal is a woman who took a lot of women's studies classes in college and believed firmly in what she was learning. Now a young mother, she is losing herself to motherhood and being a wife, two things she is sure she wanted but unsure of how to manage ("creating ones destiny is only the beginning; living with it, day in and day out, is quite another" (104)). So she decides to return to college and retake Fem Texts 101, the class that changed her perspective on life the first time around and one she hoped would give her new perspective on her current life.

If nothing else, this book is an excellent resource in terms of what books curious readers should be reading. Staal artfully describes how she is relating to each work, without giving too much away so there will still be something fresh for us who have not read the texts. That being said, it is also completely accessible for people who have not read the books. She explains just enough and talks about the works in a way that is neither too academic nor too plain. I had read some of the texts, but definitely not a majority.

I think this book works as one woman's relationship with feminism, which is the kind of story I prefer. I had a lot of the same questions that Staal found herself asking throughout the memoir and in her I found a kindred spirit. Through the power of rereading, Staal comes at feminism with a fresh perspective that only experience as a woman in the job market and in family life can give you. It was so refreshing to see such honesty when it came to the way she felt about feminism and her life. I think this is a book that every woman (and man) should be reading, especially if they are at a similar time in their life as Staal. I really enjoyed it and will be reading some of the books that Staal read, to gain my own perspective on my life and the great works of feminism.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Laurel-Rain Snow TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 6, 2011
Format: Paperback
When author Stephanie Staal first read books by feminists Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf, Simone De Beauvoir and Betty Friedan, she was a nineteen-year-old student taking Feminism 101 at Barnard College in NYC. At that time, she was poised on the threshold of what appeared to be a limitless future.

A decade later, as a wife and mother who had traded in stability for the flexibility of free-lance and moved from Manhattan to Annapolis, Maryland, the life she had envisioned had seemingly shrunk, while she felt like a shadow of that former self.

Deciding to pursue the feminist classics seemed like a way to rediscover herself, so she signed on to sit in on Fem Lit classes at the university; and thus began her journey into understanding her relationships and herself, while revisiting the tomes she had once studied.

From the perspective of her life in the moment that she began this journey, she viewed the literature and the theories from a different vantage point. She discovered that she could identify with the first-wave feminists, like Mary Wollstonecraft and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, while coming to odds with former heroines, like Beauvoir; she also learned to make peace with post-feminists like Katie Roiphe. She stated near the end: "Sometimes I grappled with the divisiveness of second-wave feminism and the ambiguity of third-wave feminism, while the postmodern theory I would have analyzed with delight as a college coed was cause for vexation when viewed in the framework of my daily life. Yet even these theoretically dense texts provided important opportunities to question and challenge my own beliefs, my own reactions."

As I read this intriguing memoir/journey, I couldn't help but compare this author's experiences to some of mine.
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