Literary Wives: The Blazing World

It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

Please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt.

Ariel @  One Little Library
Kate @ Kate Rae Davis
Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink
TJ @ My Book Strings

The Book


Artist Harriet Burden has long suspected that her work has been discounted as serious because of her gender. So she decides to test out her theory by having three different men act as her work’s proxies. She chooses the men at different stages of their careers and has them pass off her work as their own, to great critical acclaim. But her last cover, Rune, a successful artist in his own right turns on her, refusing to allow her to claim back her work. Their intense struggle ends only when Rune dies under mysterious circumstances.


My Thoughts

I was so ready to like this book. An angry women intent on proving that her industry doesn’t take her seriously because of her gender, a struggle that ends in the bizarre death of her male foil? Sign me up!

Unfortunately, for me, the execution of it left something to be desired. I’m not ever really a huge fan of diary style books. I don’t like the disjointed feeling of articles and research and journal entries making up the narrative of a book and that was no different in the case of The Blazing World. I also found it odd that a book about a woman asserting her place in her creative world was told by other people – maybe that was the point and my dense ass missed it. But it annoyed me. Especially when I was reading articles or interviews by men who were critical of Harriet and her work, calling her a liar and a hanger on and only known because she was the wife of her late husband, the critic Felix Lord (great name). Again, maybe that was the point but it grated on me.

Even when there were sections of the book that I was enjoying, they were always short lived. I never felt like I got a good sense of Harriet, that the chaos of her inner life made it impossible to get to know her. I’m not sure that anyone in her life ever actually got to know her; Phineas Q.Eldridge, her second cover, probably got the closest of anyone.

I was also promised a bizarre death, one that was aswirl with rumour and intrigue and in the end, it was a pretty run of the mill suicide?

I think I got so caught up in the style of the book that I wasn’t able to appreciate the content. Which is a shame because there might have been something to it. For me though, The Blazing World didn’t spark any great feeling in this reader, except relief when I finished it.

What does the book say about being a wife?

It’s taken me a while to get buy head wrapped around the question of being a wife within the scope of The Blazing World. There is the obvious parts that have to do with Harriet married to Felix and how her career took a backseat to his. That while he was a successful art dealer, responsible for kickstarting numerous art careers, she was a wife and mother, known only as “Felix’s wife.”

Most of the time I was struck by Harriet’s anger, not at being a wife, but at being dismissed because of her gender. Right after Felix’s death, she is annoyed at being known  just as her husband’s wife, which is what starts her thinking about her new project. But that project becomes less about having been a wife and more about the disappointments of her work not being critically recognized because they were just the dabblings of a woman. She rages at the men in her life not because she felt trapped in her marriage but because she’s been discounted her entire life, starting with a father who wished she was a boy. She spends her entire life consumed by anger and in the end, it felt like all that rage killed her. It was her reproductive organs, the ones that defined her sex, that turned deadly.

But each of Harriet’s ‘collaborations’ with the male artists she picks for her project can be seen as a kind of creative marriage. Within each relationship Harriet must assert her role, must fight to find the light working in the shadows of her ‘husband.’ Ultimately, with her final ‘husband’, Harriet fails and she withers in the darkness of this failure.

The Blazing World seems to say that if women want success in their careers, they can’t be trapped in marriage, that the demands of a husband, the destructive forces of the needs of children, will destroy any plans for career success. In order for a woman to fulfill her career ambitions, she needs to stand on her own, not weighed down by others. In attempting to show the world that her work hasn’t been seen because she’s been the wrong sex, Harriet discovers that she’s entered into another kind of marriage that has snuffed out the glowing embers of what could have been a great career on her own terms.


Unruly Women

I used to get really stressed out reading about characters that did all the bad things. I always considered myself a rule follower and experiencing second-hand rule breaking was HARD.

But the older I get, the more I realize that actually, I’m not a rule follower. F*ck the rules.

And because I’m a rule-breaker now, I love to read about other women who are miles ahead of me in this department.

too fat

Anne Helen Petersen’s Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman was so very much exactly the kind of book I’ve been waiting for. In it Petersen,a BuzzFeed staff writer, looks at ten women who she classifies are being “unruly” for some reason. Serena Williams is too strong, Lena Dunham too naked, Melissa McCarthy is too fat while Hillary Clinton is too shrill. Each chapter is an essay dedicated to these women and why they are considered unruly, eschewing the more traditional aspects of femininity.

Look, anytime a book looks at women who break the rules AND pop culture, I am here for it. But more than that, this book is source material for any woman who steps “out of line” from time to time. It’s a way to look at these women, all of them beautiful, brilliant, strong and capable and go “I’m in great company, f*ck the rules!”

One of my favourite essays in the collection looks at Kim Kardashian. And before you roll your eyes at that, take a few minutes and read the essay! It’s pretty great right? Who knew that Kim Kardashian was so radical?

I was especially pleased to see that Petersen didn’t shy away from intersectionality when she was choosing the women for her book. Her essays on Serena Williams and Nicki Minaj (Too Slutty) were among my favourites for her willingness to actually dig in to the issues around Black womanhood. Arguably less successful, but important nonetheless is the chapter on Caitlyn Jenner (Too Queer). The trouble with that chapter is less about Petersen and more about the problematic nature of holding up Jenner as the pinnacle of Trans personhood.

Still, I loved reading each and every one of these essays. It’s the kind of non-fiction that anyone can read, that’s so accessible you will recognize your own life in it. I found myself nodding along as I read, muttering “YES!” to myself each time Petersen vocalized something I’d already felt.

My gossip guru, Lainey Gossip, also loved this book (obviously). She wrote an incredible piece about it in her gossip intro the day it came out. She says everything I want to say so much better!

If you come across Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud I hope that you pick up a copy. This book needs to be read far and wide so that more of us become confidently unruly.


For your feminist heart: Trainwreck

Every day I read Lainey Gossip. People roll their eyes at me a lot for admitting that, like I’m some sleazy ambulance chaser who likes to talk shit about strangers.

They’ve obviously never visited Lainey Gossip. The thing that I like about her site is that it’s an academic approach to the celebrity ecosystem. Her team talks about how the system works, how celebrities control their narrative, how race and gender play a factor in the content we see.

Sady Doyle’s Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear…and Why is probably required reading on Lainey’s syllabus.


Trainwreck looks at how we tear women down, how we destroy their integrity, forget them, punish them for success and what that says about us.

I. Loved. This. Book.

Doyle doesn’t play nice. She doesn’t frame things in a way that’s easy to swallow. Doyle isn’t here for the rules of the patriarchy and it was a joy to read her words.

She looks at 21st century “trainwrecks” like Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. But she also looks at examples from history, of women who didn’t play by the rules of comportment assigned to them by the sex of their birth and how men reacted by destroying them. Women like Mary Wollstonecraft, who after she wrote about how women should be allowed formal education and to vote, was called a whore and worse for the circumstances of her personal life; Charlotte Bronte who wrote some of the most feminist literature of her time and was obsessed with her teacher who finally had to ask her to stop writing; and Billie Holiday, ravaged by addiction, who’s genius flew in the face of ideas about race and ability in her time ,forced to sell her pain, rather than get paid for her talent.

This book’s organization is genius as well. First, the Trainwreck’s crimes are examined: sex, need, madness, and death. Then her options: shut up or speak up. And then, her role: scapegoat or revolutionary? Each chapter looks at the anatomy of a trainwreck which is where we get up close and personal with the women who fit into the category.

I learned so much from this book. This book made me rage. I felt sorrow for these women that were torn down because they wanted to live beyond their time. And for modern day “trainwrecks” like Miley and Britney, created by a system that values them for their bodies and then are told to cover up and not be so sexual.

I want to read this book again. I want to highlight pages and write notes in the margin. I want to force this book into the hands of so many women that I know. Mostly, I want there to stop being case studies of women that we’ve torn down for being ahead of their time.


A gift from the library: Dietland

I went to the library to return some books and couldn’t resist taking a quick peek to see what might strike my fancy (I never can).

Good thing I did – Dietland by Sarai Walker and Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye were just sitting there waiting for me to take them home. I expected long waitlists for these gems.

I started with Dietland.


This book is complex, so let’s let Goodreads give us the synopsis:

Plum Kettle does her best not to be noticed, because when you’re fat, to be noticed is to be judged. Or mocked. Or worse. With her job answering fan mail for a popular teen girls’ magazine, she is biding her time until her weight-loss surgery. Only then can her true life as a thin person finally begin.

Then, when a mysterious woman starts following her, Plum finds herself falling down a rabbit hole and into an underground community of women who live life on their own terms. There Plum agrees to a series of challenges that force her to deal with her past, her doubts, and the real costs of becoming “beautiful.” At the same time, a dangerous guerrilla group called “Jennifer” begins to terrorize a world that mistreats women, and as Plum grapples with her personal struggles, she becomes entangled in a sinister plot. The consequences are explosive.

I. Loved. This. Book.

I’ve been in the mood for some kicks heroines lately and while Plum Kettle might not fit the bill at first glance, I assure you she really, really does. I love that Plum was on a journey to be her true self. I love that she was nurtured and taught and given a swift kick in the ass by other kickass women. I love that there were almost no men in this novel. I love how Walker takes on the diet industry and shows her readers that being fat doesn’t mean being unhappy, that it doesn’t make you less worthy, that you can live a whole life anyway. I love that Plum starts taking on people who stare at her, who make vile comments, refusing to let them wound her with their assholery.

Plum has a lot of work to do to be happy in her own skin and we get to go along for the journey. And while Plum is working on herself, there is this whole other, completely unexpected storyline of a feminist guerrilla group taking on a world that treats women like disposable sex objects.

This little book (just 307 pages in hardcover) refuses to be what you think it should be. It is subversive and angry and a big f*ck you to anyone who dismisses it. Its message of body-positivity was what I was hoping to get from 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl. There were points where I pumped my fist reading it and other times when I hugged it close. Moments like this:

From the time we’re little girls, we’re taught to fear the bad man who might get us. We’re terrified of being raped, abused, even killed by the bad man, but the problem is, you can’t tell the good ones from the bad ones, so you have to be wary of them all. We’re told not to go out by ourselves at night, not to dress a certain way, not to talk to male strangers, not to lead men on. We take self-defense classes, keep our doors locked, carry pepper spray and rape whistles. The fear of men is ingrained in us from girlhood. Isn’t that a form of terrorism?

Yes. It is.

This book is the antidote I was looking for for the hard, necessary, work of having read things like Missoula and The Luckiest Girl Alive.

I’m returning it to the library soon and hope that it finds it’s way into the hands of someone who is looking to see that it’s ok just to be your own kickass self, extra pounds and all.



A Reading Experience in GIFs

Before I went to my in-laws’ place for Easter, I made a conscious decision not to bring any books that would send me raging. It had been a long, rage-inducing week and I thought it was maybe time for a break from that.

But as soon as I got back, I decided that actually it was time to read Jon Krakauer’s Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. 

I don’t think that I can accurately describe to you what this reading experience has been like for me with words.

Before we begin with my visual representation of what it was like to read this book, here are some quotes from the book, to illustrate to you, dear reader, how important this book is.

According to a special report issued by the U.S. Department of Justice in December 2014, “For the period 1995-2013, females aged 18 to 24 had the highest rate of rape and sexual assault victimizations compared to females in all other age groups.” […] Using data gathered in 2011, the Centers for Disease Control study estimated that across all age groups, 19.3 percent of American women “have been raped in their lifetimes” and that 1.6 percent of American women – nearly two and a half million individuals – “reported that they were raped in the 12 months preceding the survey.”

Of writing this book, Krakauer writes,

As the scope of my research expanded, I was stunned to discover that many of my acquaintances, and even several women in my own family had been sexually assaulted by men they trusted. The more I listened to these women’s accounts, the more disturbed I became. I’d had no idea that rape was so prevalent, or could cause such deep and intractable pain. My ignorance was inexcusable, and it made me ashamed.

This is what it was like for me to read this book:


When you feel that you are ready for it, I hope you read it too. It’s an important one.

(If you’re not sure that you will ever be ready to devote the time to reading this, may I suggest watching The Hunting Ground on Netflix?)


A Non-Fiction Binge

I have been having some time with reading in 2016.

First there was the whole “first book” debacle where I was terrified to choose the wrong first book and then had a hard time getting into said chosen first book before falling hard for the ending. I followed that up with a favourite author standby, Maeve Binchy. And while Scarlet Feather was good and I enjoyed the read, it wasn’t Minding Frankie, Circle of Friends, Tara Road or Evening Class. Then I thought Classics! And thought that a book that did double duty as a classic and a start on the 2016 TBR Pile Challenge would be exactly what I needed.

Ultimately I enjoyed The Custom of the Country (review to hopefully follow) but it wasn’t The House of Mirth, you know?


My reading restlessness means that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, reading, and talking about books. Like, more than usual. And I’ve also wandered into a bookstore or two.

Apparently I think the answer to my book problems is more books.

Non-fiction books to be more specific.

Because if fiction isn’t doing its thing, it’s obviously time for non-fiction to take a crack at it.

In recent days I’ve collected the following non-fiction titles:

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay. I’ve been meaning to read this since it was published. Roxane Gay is one of the best people to follow on twitter and I narrowly missed out on seeing her at the Vancouver Writers Fest this past October. I’m finding my feminist voice and I want to read what Roxane has to say.

Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol by Anne Dowsett Johnstone. This is my book club’s pick, timed perfectly for a time of year when we’re probably all thinking about drying out a little. Methinks book club will be a lot cheaper to host this time.

Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel. Anyone noticing a theme? I’ve been called ‘difficult’ more times than I care to remember. This one was sitting on the shelf screaming at me (the word “Bitch” in hot pink on a spine will do that) when I picked up Drink. I’m looking forward to this one.

Tiny, Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed. I’m doing it Chelsey! I’m taking the first step to actually reading this. This is on hold for me at the library RIGHT NOW.

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem. When I woke up to the news that Emma Watson, the patron saint of new wave Feminists, was starting a Feminist Book Club, I was ON BOARD. This is the first selection (obviously) and I’m just 8th in line (on 6 copies) at the library.

Ghettoside: Investigating a Homicide Epidemic by Jill Leovy. This book has also been on my list forever. When I noticed it on a table marked “Books You Have to Read in 2016” and that it was in paperback, I knew it was meant to be. I cracked this one and read a few pages – it’s written in that wonderful novelistic style which should make for a great read even though I may want to burn the world down when I’m done.

And for Christmas I got Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor by Anne Edwards and In Triumph’s Wake: Royal Mothers, Tragic Daughters and the Price They Paid for Glory by my biography star, Julia P. Gelardi. So those should satisfy my royals reading requirements.

With all of those non-fiction gems at my disposal, one might wonder why I chose Second Life by SJ Watson after The Custom of the Country. And the answer would be because I am weak.

What non-fiction is on your radar?


Jimmy Carter’s Call to Action

Several weeks ago when I read Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman, one of the things that really stuck out for me was that until men get on board with this whole feminism thing, not much is going to change.

I’m not sure that Moran ever thought that her work was going to be linked to former President Jimmy Carter but that’s what I’m about to do. Certainly their perspectives are quite different but their end goal is the same: equality for women.

Jimmy Carter’s latest book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power is essentially trying to show the world the insane amount of disparity suffered by women in all corners of the world. He talks abut rape, education, positions of power, maternal health, genital mutilation and honour killings. Because of his work with The Carter Center, an organization he founded to help propel the human rights movement, he has had a front row seat to some of the heinous things that happen to women because they are women. He’s also in a unique position to be able to do something about some of those situations.

Some would argue that his book is just a chronicle of all the horrible things happening to women in the world. In some respects, that’s true. But before we can get everyone on board with changing the treatment of women, we have to know what’s happening. It’s easy to ignore femicide or child brides when it’s not happening to you. But these are problems that half the world’s population deal with on the regular.

it’s a short book – just 198 pages – and it’s difficult to get into all of the ins and outs of gender discrimination in all it’s various forms in that length of time. But I think that Carter does an admirable job starting the conversation. I personally could have done without all the biblical references but I think his point was that religious men hide behind scripture to justify that behaviour. For the first third of the book it seemed to me that he was calling on religious leaders to be the first to take a stand on gender discrimination. Let women become priests for example. The Catholic Church has actually defrocked priests for encouraging women to become ordained. But those priests preying on young children? Just moved to a different parish.

I admire the fact that Jimmy Carter took a stand for women’s rights and my hope is that this book is widely read enough to spark that conversation that will start addressing the gender inequality.

If you want to get involved, please visit the following links:

And if you have time, you should watch the It’s A Girl documentary. You can find it on Netflix, but here’s a trailer:


Feminism isn’t a dirty word

On the red carpet at the MET Gala on Monday, Shailene Woodley told reporters that she wasn’t a feminist because she loves men and she thinks that “the idea of ‘raise women to power, take men away from power’ is never going to work out because you need balance.”

So that’s problematic. The star of the Divergent series featuring a pretty badass female lead, thinks feminism means that you hate men.

Sadly I don’t think that Shailene is the only young woman to feel this way. Somewhere along the way feminism became a dirty word, something young women wanted to distance themselves from lest they be viewed as hairy, bra burning man haters. Kind of career and love limiting you know?

It’s OK though; there’s a super simple solution to this problem. Shailene, you just need to read Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman.


Caitlin Moran is a British columnist who decided to write about what it’s like to be a modern woman. It is a hilarious book, often compared to Tiny Fey’s Bossypants. She manages to cover puberty, breasts, fashion, why you should have children, why you shouldn’t have children, strippers and weddings. Maybe not in that order.

She also manages to boil down the whole feminism thing to one very simple thing: do you want equality between the genders? If you answer “YES!” (and why the hell wouldn’t you?), congratulations, you’re a feminist!

This book is possibly a little full of the c-word for some people. It doesn’t bother me but I thought maybe I should give you fair warning in case you dislike books with a lot of swearing. I thought she was pretty creative with her vocabulary – I learned a lot of new words. Different strokes for different folks though right?

I think Moran managed to strike the right tone between the completely ridiculous and the totally serious. She discusses the way we tear down our female pop stars for entering rehab but don’t even blink when it’s a man, because he’s doing the right thing and getting help. She freely admits that it’s all very complicated and you may not be sure if what you’re experiencing is sexism or just bad manners but that there’s an easy way to check: ask yourself would this happen to a man?

I found myself getting pretty into this book, exclaiming “exactly!” or things along that vein multiple times. There’s a point in the book when she says that boys too should be getting up on chairs and yelling “FEMINISM!” because until they get on board nothing is going to change.

Whereby I turned to my fiancé and asked him if he was a feminist?

He replied with “obviously.”

Let’s all read this book and remind ourselves how feminism works. Someone get it to Shailene Woodley because I want to still be able to like her.