My themes for my 3 books/month come to me, rather than me dreaming them up. I know I sound dumb for saying so, but they truly come to me by happenstance. In January, when I first came up with this harebrained 30 before 30 idea, I got two books for Christmas about different aspects of womanhood (How to be a Hepburn in a Hilton World and A Year of Biblical Womanhood) and then heard an NPR interview about Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman. Apparently, many people heard that interview with Moran and immediately ran to get it from the library, so I had to put the book (and therefore the theme) on hold.
Then, I kept coming across the “year long journey.” I get that this is a popular subgenre lately. I think it’s the idea that you can do almost anything for a year. (Since last year I had a “52 project” year and this year I’m doing “30 before 30” I TOTALLY get it.) I found two memoirs of people who did a year long journey with fabulous females as their guides– Eleanor Roosevelt and Jane Austen. I’m fitting biblical women in here as well.
I get that this subgenre gets quite a bit of flack. I can totally get the “not this again” aspect. But each person has their own story to tell, and the these projects fascinated me. Also, it’s fun to note that as I’m doing my WAY lower-key year compared to Noelle and Rachel, they were both 29 when they did their year. Maybe I just relate to them a lot. Without further ado, here’s a year in the life of awesome women:
My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock
Inspiration: After losing her job, Noelle noticed an Eleanor Roosevelt quote hanging on a wall of a coffee shop: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” After encouragement from her therapist, Noelle began to list her fears and started (on her 29th birthday) to do one thing that scared her every day for a year. This included small fears, like calling the credit card company for reduced rates, to major ones like sky-diving (and shark diving… and trapeze lessons…)! It wasn’t necessarily a new fear everyday. For example, it’s not as though a fear of heights goes away after a sky-dive, so fly a plane. Along the way, Noelle had Eleanor as her guide.
I really liked this one, and I immediately wanted to pass it on to my younger sister. I admire Eleanor Roosevelt tremendously, and I think doing “one thing every day that scares you” is just a great idea.
A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans
Inspiration: After hearing the term “biblical womanhood” tossed around, Rachel wondered, “What does that even mean?” She spent a year studying the Bible for verses related to being female and tried to live it out as best as she could. (Yes, Mr. Jacobs did this as well, but gender makes a big difference. There’s so many rules men don’t have to live by— like purifying after your period.)
Rachel basically picks a theme a month, like modesty and gentleness, and has rules to follow based on verses relating to the theme. By studying the “rules” and the women of the Bible, she learns a lot about faith and how we misuse the Bible to turn us all into June Cleavers.
- Proverbs 31 is often used as a checklist of “this is what an awesome lady should be like.” American Christians use it as a model of what to strive for. That was not the intent. Jewish men sing it to their wives to express their appreciation for what they do. They use the phrase “eshet chayil” (woman of valor) as a compliment. “You cleaned the house? Eshet chayil!” “You brought pizza home? Eshet chayil!” Rachel compares it to, “you go girl!” As her Jewish “source” Ahava says, “the woman described in Proverbs 31 is not some ideal that exists out there; she is present in each one of us when we do even the smallest things with valor.”
- My favorite quote from the entire book is about how God used women like Tamar, Bathsheba, Rahab, and Ruth. “God, it seems, prefers chutzpah to status.”
I found the book to be very insightful and enjoyable. I read Rachel’s blog occasionally she posts on facebook and she’s not afraid to thoughtfully tackle hard topics. I think she did a marvelous job and had a pretty trying– but great– year of experimenting and learning. Eshet chayil!
All Roads Lead To Austen by Amy Smith
Inspiration: A lit professor notices her students respond to Jane Austen differently than they would the Brontës. (For example, you never hear, “My ex is such a Heathcliff,” but you may likely hear comparisons to Willoughby, etc.) She wonders if it translates across cultures, so she decides to travel to Latin America and discover other opinions on Jane’s works. She visited Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Paraguay, Chile, and Argentina. She basically created book clubs in each country to discuss one of three books: Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility. (Part of me wishes she picked one book per country, and then I realize, making unsuspecting victims read Mansfield Park? No way to meet Austen!) Her main discovery was that Austen does span time and language barriers.
As my February books were Jane’s, I liked having another look at how other cultures viewed her.
Quick Blurbs about two more womanhood books, because I don’t think I have enough material for another post:
How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran is a memoir, not a how-to book, and is compared to Bossypants. The main difference is I can recommend Bossypants to my mom, but probably not How to be a Woman. I liked the book, but at times it can be crass. Her cry is we need to take back feminism. (“Do you have a vagina? Do you want to be in charge of it? Congratulations! You’re a feminist!”) I liked her views, but I’m not gonna lie: I skipped the chapter on child birth.
How to be a Hepburn in a Hilton World is Jordan Christy’s advice book about being classy. It seems, as Scar would say, “I’m SURROUNDED by IDIOTS.” Snookie and Honey Boo Boo are everywhere* and where are the friggin’ intelligent classy women? Basically, this is a book of good common sense that has everything from fashion advice (put some clothes on!) and professional advice (act like a grown-up). This is putting the values of Audrey in a modern world. As a fan of Audrey Hepburn, this was kind of old hat for me, but it was stuff that needed to be said.
*I’m probably outdated on the Snookie and Honey Boo Boo references– or I hope so! I used to watch E’s The Soup but somehow the cable company realized I was getting an extra channel. I don’t know if there’s a new “it” girl.
This may be my favorite month of books so far. I meant to double-up and do six books this month, but I think I’ll stick with my five this month and do four another. :-D Next time will be a regular post.