Book Review: Shrill by Lindy West

Title: Shrill
Author: Lindy West
Publisher: Hachette
Publication date: May 17, 2016
Length: 260 pages
Genre: Essays
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Coming of age in a culture that demands women be as small, quiet, and compliant as possible–like a porcelain dove that will also have sex with you–writer and humorist Lindy West quickly discovered that she was anything but.

From a painfully shy childhood in which she tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her big body and even bigger opinions; to her public war with stand-up comedians over rape jokes; to her struggle to convince herself, and then the world, that fat people have value; to her accidental activism and never-ending battle royale with Internet trolls, Lindy narrates her life with a blend of humor and pathos that manages to make a trip to the abortion clinic funny and wring tears out of a story about diarrhea.

With inimitable good humor, vulnerability, and boundless charm, Lindy boldly shares how to survive in a world where not all stories are created equal and not all bodies are treated with equal respect, and how to weather hatred, loneliness, harassment, and loss–and walk away laughing. Shrill provocatively dissects what it means to become self-aware the hard way, to go from wanting to be silent and invisible to earning a living defending the silenced in all caps.

I’d never read anything by Lindy West before picking up this book, although I’d certainly heard of her. And now? Consider me a fan.

To be shrill is to reach above your station; to abandon your duty to soothe and please; in short, to be heard.

In Shrill, the author presents both personal stories from her own life and sharp critiques of society and culture, and manages to insert humor and clever language into even the saddest moments.

There are asome particularly funny pieces, like an analysis of Disney’s fat female characters. Upshot: There aren’t many, and they certainly aren’t main characters, or presented as worthy of either desire or empathy. A realization related to the animated version of Robin Hood:

The most depressing thing I realized while making this list is that Baloo dressed as a sexy fortune-teller is the single-most positive role model of my youth.

More serious pieces deal with body image, fat shaming, and the awful, insidious nature of internet trolls.

One piece that brought me to tears was “The Day I Didn’t Fit”, which is all about flying while fat. It made me mad and also made me feel guilty. Haven’t we all glared at people coming down the plane aisle, praying for whatever reason — their weight, having a child with them, or just some introverted/anti-social instinct — that they won’t end up sitting next to us? This essay really made me think about being on the other end of the equation, and how soul-killing it must be to have to deal with this every single time you fly.

I love Lindy West’s forthright, blunt statements, as in this one from the essay “You’re So Brave for Wearing Clothes and Not Hating Yourself!”:

As a woman, my body is scrutinized, policed, and treated as a public commodity. As a fat woman, my body is also lampooned, openly reviled, and associated with moral and intellectual failure. My body limits my job prospects, access to medical care and fair trials, and — the one thing Hollywood movies and Internet trolls most agree on — my ability to be loved. So the subtext, when a thin person asks a fat person, “Where do you get your confidence?” is, “you must be some sort of alien because if I loked like you, I would definitely throw myself into the sea.”

This book is entertaining and moving and inspirational. I will absolutely be seeking out more by Lindy West (including her newest book, The Witches Are Coming, which I just got a copy of).

I need to also mention that I came to the book Shrill after watching the Hulu series Shrill (adapted from the book, with Lindy West as an executive producer). The Hulu series is a fictional account of a woman based on the author, who starts off pretty downtrodden and mistreated, but over the course of the six half-hour episodes, finds her voice and grows into a proud, loud, shrill woman. Aidy Bryant is awesome and adorable and wonderful in the role. And the pool party scene is one of the best things ever, seriously.

I highly recommend the series, and can’t wait for season 2, coming January 24th, 2020.

SHRILL, season 2

And meanwhile, read the book!

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Shrill by Lindy West

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