Let me start with gripes: No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us could have used a good editor to avoid repeats, organize the book better, and clean up some stylistic stuff. And the author, could have shown a wider spectrum of victims; she claims (and I believe her) that domestic violence cuts across gender and economic level, but we only see relatively poor women.
That said, she does a great job of showing why victims cannot leave, how law enforcement and social services strain at coordinating a proper response, and also how some batterers can change (with time, and great difficulty). If we made abating domestic violence a national (or international!) priority, we would undoubtedly see massive improvements.
Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing As We Age should be an uplifting story of how older women can and do flourish. I found it frustrating, with a rather amorphous mix of inspiring stories (usually too perfect to be true, or at least realistic, they made me think of an Instagram fro grannies) and bland success guidelines.
Perhaps I refuse to be guided into anything, including a blissful old age?
No One Tells You This recalls the author’s struggle as she turned 40, with an ailing mother in another city, a pregnant sister without a partner (and with two small kids), a demanding job–and no partner or child of her own. I could have done without the bellyaching that alternates between anger against those who expect her to be married and have children and the longing for a long-term relationship, or the extended descriptions of fancy trips (she is a travel writer), but there are many insightful and sweet moments.
She speaks movingly about her joy when her mom gets a room in the one retirement home she actually liked; funnily about how she gets her nephew and niece dressed, fed, and to school; thoughtfully about how her mom, in her dementia, remembers two husbands, who are really the same man, but a man who underwent a big change midlife.
The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown recounts the story of a religious rescue mission for trafficked Chinese women in San Francisco. We see women in sensible shoes and perfectly proper attire dragging women out of brothels, and the same women raising funds and running households with dozens of rescued women and children, or going to court to get guardianships of under-age prostitutes. We also see the racist policies that gave rise to the trafficking and dismal treatment of all Chinese-Americans. It’s a wonderful, if sobering book.
Women who read Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger already know that girls are raised not to express their anger, and that angry women are seen as threatening, even crazy. The author suggests (without scientific proof, alas) that anger that cannot be expressed can also cause physical pain and depression. And she explores how anger in men is, on the other hand celebrated or at least excused. I thought that the unrelenting tone of outrage was a bit much (would I have accepted it better from a man?) and that the length could have been pruned, but the topic is certainly interesting.
They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South is a professional historian’s account of the role of women in slavery, concluding with the perhaps obvious statement that they (or at least some of them) were eager and often sophisticated actors in slavery. To make her argument, she cites legal records showing gifts of slaves to women (even girls), lawsuits between wives and husbands for control of slave ownership, and sales records proving that women were active and savvy traders. The details are stomach turning.
Women’s Work: A Reckoning with Work and Home tells the stories of various women who took care of her home and children when she and her husband lived in China and India. She expertly recounts both the complicated relationships between employers and employees whose very job brings them into the intimacy of the home, and then she goes further, exploring the home lives of her employees including children left behind, alcoholism, poverty, and rough family lives. I felt that, by breaking the employer/employee (already fraying) divide, and from a position of strength, she may have exploited the workers even further. But it is an interesting view of domestic workers.