January Top Shelf – Difficult Women

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This is the book I was waiting for all year in 2016. When it showed up early, a week before Christmas, it felt like a bookselling miracle. If you didn’t hear about it then, read it now to kick off 2017. Roxane Gay is the perfect writer to capture all of the emotions of the year — she doesn’t sugarcoat anything, and both her Twitter feed and her essays are insightful and laugh-out-loud funny. She is never afraid to call people out, and says exactly what I am feeling whether it’s about celebrity deaths, reality TV, or the election.

Difficult Women, as a coworker said to me, is about both difficult women and women who are in difficult situations. Perhaps it is the dedication of the book itself that says it best: “For difficult women, who should be celebrated for their very nature.” These women do not apologize for who they are, nor should they. The stories feature all kinds of modern women, each as vivid and compelling as the last, and we watch as they transform in front of our eyes and face their problems.

The titular story is a sort of glossary of different kinds of labels put on women — frigid, crazy, loose — some of the over-used ways of classifying so-called difficult women. The other stories feature an engineer who moves to Michigan on her own, two sisters who haven’t recovered from childhood trauma, a woman involved with both her husband and his twin brother, and more. They are single and married, gay and straight, young and old, black and white.

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Gay reveals their emotional inner lives, and we watch as they deal with the situations they find themselves in. As we untangle each woman’s life she becomes recognizable as someone we know — our sister, our friend, our mother, ourselves. It’s impossible to read this book and come away unsympathetic to what these women face, or without thinking about reaching out to the difficult women in our lives.

Roxane Gay burst on to the scene with Untamed State and Bad Feminist, her best-selling essay collection, and now seems unstoppable. Difficult Women is out now and her long-awaited memoir Hunger is coming later this year. Last summer Marvel announced her as a writer for their World of Wakanda, a Black Panther spin-off, making her the first black woman to be a lead writer for Marvel.

This won’t be the happiest or easiest book you read in 2017, but it’s perfect for this moment and will make you think differently than you did before. If you’re a difficult woman, love a difficult woman, or know a difficult woman, you need to read this book.

review by Abby, Marketing Director

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