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!

The delights of summer TV: Sparkling nails, warring brothels, and a severed leg

It’s summer! Whatcha watching?

I’m having oodles of fun binge-watching TV… and I’m totally in love with three shows that are ridiculously fun.

First up: Claws on TNT

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the glory of Desna, the nail salon owner turned money launderer turned Dixie Mafia kingpin (queenpin)… who always looks completely fabulous, whether sitting poolside or driving her Maserati or breaking into a drug-smuggling warehouse. The show’s true heart is the nail salon and the friendship of the women who work there with Desna. They’re hilarious, ridiculous, outrageous, over the top, and also, surprisingly moving.

Desna got into a life of crime reluctantly, needing a way to support her autistic brother and working toward her dream of establishing a more upscale salon. Pill-pushing clinics, gun-toting criminals, and plain bad luck have gotten in her way, but I keep rooting for Desna to free herself from all the crazy criminal shenanigans and get back to that amazing nail art.

I absolutely did not expect that this would be a show for me, but after much prodding from a couple of co-workers, I gave it a try, and I was hooked. You can’t take it seriously, but if you want escapist summer fun, Claws is top of the list.

 

And then there’s my more recent discovery: Harlots on Hulu

Yes, it’s about harlots. 18th century London prostitutes, two competing madams bitterly at war with one another, the “culls” (customers) who frequent the brothels, and the overall rotten condition of being a woman at a time when women had no power over their own lives. The show is written, directed, and produced by women, and it shows: The emphasis is not on bodies and sex, but on the women characters’ minds, desires, frustrations, and yearnings. It shows the limited options women had to control their own lives, and paints a pretty grim picture of what sex workers experience each day.

And yet, it’s a remarkably fun and entertaining show! Visually, Harlots is a treat. We alternate between seeing the mucky streets and filthy dress hems with ogling the gowns and wigs of the upper class (and the brothels that cater to the rich and noble). Oh, those wigs! Can we talk about the wigs for a minute? Powdered, sky-high, utterly glorious… between the wigs and the costumes, this show is just a feast for the eyes. Add in a compelling plot and terrific acting, and you’ve got some idea of why I’m obsessing over this show right now.

 

Finally, I’m loving the hell out of C B Strike on Cinemax:

And this is where the severed leg comes in.

C B Strike is a TV show that crept in while I wasn’t looking! I’d heard that a TV adaptation of the J. K. Rowling (Robert Galbraith) detective series was in the works, but had no idea it had been completed and released already! Three seasons are all available on Cinemax, each season covering the plot of one of the three books in the series. Season 1 is The Cuckoo’s Calling (murdered model), shown in 3 episodes. Seasons 2 and 3 are two episodes each, covering The Silkworm (murdered writer) and Career of Evil (body parts by special delivery). All are excellent, in large part because of the two excellent actors in the lead roles of Cormoran and Robin. They have great chemistry, and Cormoran especially is just what I imagined from the books.

The plots of the books are really dense and packed with detail, so the pacing of the TV series took a bit of getting used to. They manage to squeeze in enough to make the storie make sense without getting bogged down. It actually amazes me that they were able to condense the plot threads and clues enough to work in so few episodes — but the show is definitely a success.

Added bonus: It has been a while since I read Career of Evil, but now I’m back up to speed and completely ready to continue reading about Cormoran and Robin when book #4, Lethal White, comes out this fall!

 

Those are my top three… but I’m also really excited about the new season of Killjoys, and plan to dive into Castle Rock this week too.

What are you watching this summer?