Looking in the mirror can be a risky proposition, depending on the day. Are those really a few more laugh lines on my face? How is it possible that several more strands have strayed from golden to silver? And, to quote Meryl Streep’s character, Jane Adler, in It’s Complicated — is that what I look like? (Jane was stoned at the time, but still, you get my import. )
But I’m not talking about the literal what-do-you-see-when-you-look-in-the-mirror kind of thing. I’m talking about being able to look at yourself in the mirror every day in a figurative sense; that is, being able to look yourself in the eye because you feel good about what you stand for as a person.
The issues can be huge — like just how much human suffering and injustice you can put up with before saying “enough.” One only needs to read a newspaper (does anyone else out there still do that?) or merge onto the fast lane of any 24/7 news outlet to find dozens of reasons to stand up and say “no” — along with plenty of other equally socially conscious people to join in making a change.
But there are smaller things, too. And that’s where I landed recently upon contemplating the next book on my reading list. As I’ve mentioned before, I read constantly. All. The. Time. It’s rare that you’ll find me between books for more than a day, and, frankly, that’s one of my favorite things about myself.
My recent summer reading has included three books with very strong feminist (or learning-to-be-feminist) characters — Where the Crawdads Sing; Summer of ’69; and Mrs. Everything. Not surprisingly, all three novels are written by women (Delia Owens, Elin Hilderbrand, and Jennifer Weiner, respectively) and all three are coming-of-age stories about the path from girlhood to womanhood in sometimes turbulent times under almost always personally turbulent circumstances.
In choosing my newest addition to the list today, I went with The Only Woman in the Room, by Marie Benedict, a novelization of the life of Hedy Lamarr — glamorous screen star and brilliant scientist (she invented a secret communications strategy to help fight the Nazis that became the basis of today’s form of wireless communications). Talk about more than just a pretty face.
Which is all to say that with so many incredible stories about extraordinary (and ordinary) women — women who live amazingly full lives or those who just manage to string together one day at a time in order to survive — with all these rich and rewarding female-driven stories out there, why would any author choose to make murdering women the focus of their work? And why would we choose to read those books?
I imagine you may have read some books like that. I know have. And one day it dawned on me that I’d had enough. Enough of thrillers that center on women being maimed, molested, murdered. Enough of stories that hit the bestseller list with a plot line that revolves around females as victims. Enough of women characters being bruised, bludgeoned, and bloodied as a way to keep pages turning.
And so, I’ve boycotted this particular kind of writing in my own reading. Do I think that my refusal to read these kinds of books will in any way deter from their bestseller status? Of course not. Do I think that by not reading these books that these authors’ sales will falter? Not in the least.
It’s not about that for me. It’s about being able to look at myself in the mirror each morning and feel good about the fact that I’ve taken a stand against something ugly.
Pretty good. For a girl.
ⓒ 2019 Claudia Grossman