Review: Shrewed by Elizabeth Renzetti

Tuesday, 24 July 2018
This review was originally published at the Hamilton Review of Books


Shrewed: A Wry and Closely Observed Look at the Lives of Women and Girls
by Globe and Mail columnist and award-winning novelist Elizabeth Renzetti is dedicated to “my mother, the light at one end of the tunnel, and my children, the light at the other.” This affectionate tribute is a fitting introduction to a fierce and insightful collection of essays that draws on the heartbreaking injustices women have faced in the past, while looking toward a future that only sometimes looks bright.

In nearly thirty years as a journalist, Renzetti has written about the challenges, failures, and triumphs of the women she has profiled. This, of course, doesn’t make her an expert on all women, and in Shrewed, she’s careful not to make generalizations, noting the diversity of women’s experiences, especially among those in marginalized communities. However, as a woman in a male-dominated field, Renzetti has amassed insight into the many barriers women face in the workplace, in politics, online, and in the streets, forcing her to ask herself why and how the world is so inhospitable to women.

With pithy titles like “The Voice in Your Head is an Asshole” and “Weddings Are Satan’s Playground: A Letter to My Daughter,” Shrewed is conversational and funny, even when dismantling the cultural, social, and historical inequalities women are confronted with daily. While relying heavily on her own experiences and observations, Renzetti also shares the stories of remarkable women she has interviewed or admired who have “refused to be bound by convention,” including Germaine Greer and P.D. James.

What makes this collection spectacular is how nuanced it is, looking at the complexities of what it means to be a woman in a time of #MeToo and the persistent wage gap. This is no truer than when Renzetti talks about the "useless concept" of fearlessness that is drilled into the heads of young women everywhere, giving them just one more unattainable standard. “Of course young women will fear, and should not be ashamed of it. The structures of the world were not built for their comfort,” she writes.

Women of all ages will delight in Renzetti’s wisdom, and, often nod at her astute observations. This is especially the case when she writes about the ridiculous prices attached to gender and the $32-billion dollar women’s intimate apparel industry. In her chapter, “You’ll Pay for Those Breasts, or the Cost of Being a Lady,” Renzetti tracks her own spending, which included a $43 tube of lipstick, nearly $50 on waxing, and a $107 night treatment.

In Shrewed, Renzetti writes a letter to each of her children, and in the one addressed to her son, Griff, she tells him that, “Boys have been just as crushed and exploited by institutional sexism as girls have.” Neither letter is overly hopeful; however, there are shreds of optimism in Shrewed, especially when Renzetti writes about her mother, a former nurse, revealing how far society has come.

“As women demand more space, the backlash will continue. Enemies of our freedom will attempt to drive us inside; enemies of our power will attempt to silence our voices. We can answer the threat any way we choose. We can answer the threat with more freedom,” writes Renzetti in one particularly hopeful moment.

Shrewed isn’t eye opening. We already know the anxieties, complexities, and inequalities of being a woman in a male-dominated world; however, it’s Renzetti’s ability to capture these lived experiences with wit and candour that is exceptional. “The world would be a better pace if women had more say in the running of things. At the very least it would be less fucked up,” she writes.

Photos: Doors Open and Jane's Walks 2017

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Every year, I write about my favourite Doors Open Hamilton discoveries; however, despite taking dozens of photos last year, they never found their way to the site. Because Doors Open Hamilton,  Jane's Walks, and the City of Hamilton Museum Crawl are happening this weekend, I thought now was my last chance. (Please note that some of these sites aren't on the schedule for 2018). 

Click to read posts from previous years:

Century Manor 
(Part of a Jane's Walk)


Auchmar Manor House
(Part of Doors Open Hamilton)
See more photos of this visit over at The Inlet


Mohawk Trail School
(Part of Doors Open Hamilton)


The Barracks Inn
(Part of Doors Open Hamilton)


Fieldcote Memorial Park & Museum
(Part of City of Hamilton Museum Open Houses)


Griffin House
(Part of City of Hamilton Museum Open Houses)

Quotable: The Virgin Suicides

Saturday, 14 April 2018

“We felt the imprisonment of being a girl, the way it made your mind active and dreamy, and how you ended up knowing which colors went together. We knew that the girls were our twins, that we all existed in space like animals with identical skins, and that they knew everything about us though we couldn’t fathom them at all. We knew, finally, that the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them.” ― Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

Favourite Reads of 2017

Sunday, 7 January 2018

In no particular order, here are the books that floored me, caused me to take pause, or entertained me in 2017. They are books that I dog-earred, wrote in the margins of (unless they were library books, obviously), and, in many cases, reviewed either here or elsewhere. I recommend each of them without hesitation.

Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear
Doubleday Canada
"Books have given me great stores of happiness, but if I am honest with myself I can see they have also taken something away. I glimpsed the real world between paragraphs of novels. I traced words when I might have touched the ground.”

The first books you read at the beginning of the year risk being forgotten by the time "best of" lists roll around in December and January. That wasn't the case for Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear, one of the first books I read in 2017, that remained one of my favourites. Seeing Maclear read from it at the Hamilton Public Library during gritLIT Festival weekend was a literary highlight of 2017.

To read my review of Birds Art Life, click here. Here's a snippet of it:
"Birds Art Life takes readers to city parks, harbours, and trails as Maclear seeks joy and solace through birding following a period in which her father's failing health consumes her. Though it is deeply appreciative of our feathery friends, Birds Art Life is hardly a manual for want-to-be birders. Rather, it's a contemplative journey exploring the ways in which the natural world can shape or influence our lives and art, yet at the same time, allowing us to escape them."

Brother by David Chariandy
McClelland & Stewart
"Memory's got nothing to do with the old and grey and faraway gone. Memory's the muscle sting of now. A kid reaching brave in the skull hum of power."

David Chariandy's Brother — a coming-of-age story that takes place in The Park, "a cluster of town houses and leaning concrete towers in the disparaged outskirts of a sprawling city" — should have won the Giller Prize, or at least, found itself on the shortlist. Small, at only 180 pages, it packs so much emotional force and each sentence is intentional and perfect. If there's one book from 2017 that I've been telling people they have to read, it's Brother.

All Is Beauty Now by Sarah Faber
McClelland & Stewart
"Still, his memories live in these streets — all those nights of dancing and drinking and swarming with joy — and the degradation brought with it a kind of decadence and seediness he has sometimes sought."

Sarah Faber's All Is Beauty Now is a stunning debut novel from an author I can't wait to read more from. With lyrical prose and complex characters, Faber has the ability to whisk readers away to the beaches of 1960s Rio de Janeiro, where the Maurer family is engulfed in tragedy after Luisa, the eldest daughter/sister, walks into the waters of off a crowded beach and is presumed drowned.

This Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
House of Anansi
"I watch his back as he disappears and I wonder about the kind of love that exists before you really know someone. The kind that seems so pure but never lasts. The kind that is light, unencumbered by damage and issues and talking. Just I love you as you are right now in this breaking moment."

Quotes like the one above from This Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson stunned me. I was lucky enough to review this one for THIS Magazine:
"Unique in its fragmented and casual, yet lyrical and elegant language, This Accident of Being Lost introduces readers to memorable and resilient characters, most grappling with uncertainty. From boreal forests to the Great Lakes, and from urban centres to rural communities, This Accident of Being Lost forces readers to look at Canada differently."

The Abominable Mr. Seabrook by Joe Ollmann
Drawn & Quarterly
Like most people, I had never heard of William Buehler Seabrook — the journalist and bestselling travel writer who "was willing to go deeper than any outsider had before" — until I read Joe Ollmann's graphic novel, The Abominable Mr. Seabrook. Advertised as "the daring and destructive life of the man who popularized the word "Zombie," The Abominable Mr. Seabrook is much more than that. To read about The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, read the glowing review in The Guardian.

The Last Word: Reviving the Dying Art of Eulogy by Julia Cooper
Coach House Books
"The eulogy is a particularly vexed art form, partly because it's a necessity, and partly because at its very heart it is an amateur's art."

I love each book I've read in Coach House's Exploded Views series; however, Julia Cooper's The Last Word: Reviving the Dying Art of Eulogy is my favourite so far. Exploring public mourning in the age of social media and celebrity culture, it's a tiny glimpse into grief in the modern age. As someone who is guilty of offering "bite-sized condolences" and "micro-eulogies" for favourite celebrities on social media, I was instantly intrigued from the first page.

Short for Chameleon by Vicki Grant
Harper Trophy
In Quill and Quire, I called Short for Chameleon by Vicki Grant a near-perfect book, and I stand by that. I have no doubt it is highly entertaining for children, but it's also a great example of a YA book that will be enjoyable for adults as well.

From Quill and Quire:
"Short for Chameleon is a near perfect book. It bursts with a unique voice and a delightfully surprising plot. This is a novel with incredible heart, telling the story of a boy who can “fade into the background with the rest of them,” but who slowly begins to create his own identity."

The Marrow Thieves by Cheri Dimaline
Dancing Cat Books
"Snow fell in a light dusting now. It looked like glitter scraped from the underside of clouds by the scrubby top branches of the pines. The skeletons of the green trees curved under the elegant weight of the snow, bowing and twisting like ribbons in the wind."

When I reviewed The Marrow Thieves by Cheri Dimaline for Quill and Quire, I knew it was something special; however, I didn't know that it would quickly become one of the most talked about books of the year.

From my Quill and Quire review:
"Dimaline thrusts readers into the complex lives of rich and nuanced characters forced to navigate a world that too closely resembles our own. At first glance, the book appears to be dystopian fiction swarming with adventure and danger; however, readers with an interest in social justice and a grasp on colonial history will extract much deeper meaning. The book is, above all, a cautionary tale, revealing an exaggerated version of what could happen to Earth in the not-so-distant future. It is a timely and necessary read referencing pipelines, melting northern territories, rising water levels, and the consequences of government policies that don’t protect the environment. Powerful and endlessly smart, it’s a crucial work of fiction for people of all ages."

Read. This. Book! It's so important, but also endlessly entertaining.

Honourable Mention
Here are the books that I loved this year that were not published in 2017:
  • The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (1993)
  • Northern Light: The Enduring Mystery of Tom Thomson and the Woman who Loved Him by Roy MacGregor (2010)
  • In My Humble Opinion: My So-Called Life by Soraya Roberts (2016)
  • The Killer Whale Who Changed the World by Mark Leiren-Young (2016)
  • You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris (2016)

Favourite Posts of 2017

Sunday, 31 December 2017
It's been quiet here, but it hasn't been because I haven't been writing or spending my time exploring. More than five years is a long time to sustain a blog, and most days this one seems to be in its final days. But that said, I'm not letting it die completely (yet), even if it simply acts as a hub to share other things I'm working on.

I'm proud that earlier this year I helped launch The Inlet with a number of peers and friends. Also, this fall, The Hamilton Review of Books released our third (maybe best?) collection of reviews, interviews, and essays.

Here are a few of my favourite posts from Not My Typewriter and beyond.

Not My Typewriter
Wine. All. The. Time.
Eating and Drinking in Vancouver
Behind the Scenes at Cirque du Soleil
Places from Books: Petty Harbour
Review: Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear
Hamilton Winterfest 2017

The Inlet:
Best Antique Markets Worth a Drive
Best Free Music Series to See Before Summer Ends
Best Places to Buy Pie
Hamilton Toy Museum
Auchmar House
Safer Gigs Hamilton
Connaught Fish & Chips
Bonanza Bakery

The Hamilton Review of Books
Review: The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern
Review: Baseball Life Advice

Review: The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: A Complete History by David McPherson

This review originally appeared at The Hamilton Review of Books.

The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: A Complete History ends with a call to action: “... I encourage you to do your part to support live music wherever you live,” writes David McPherson, a music journalist and the book’s author. “At the end of the day, that’s what will keep clubs like the Horseshoe Tavern open and viable for the next generation.”

A timely book of music nostalgia, The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern explores one of the country’s most famous music venues — an institution with a nondescript facade that has stood at 370 Queen Street West since 1947. While McPherson has written his book in commemoration of the ’Shoe’s 70th anniversary in December, it also comes during a year in which historic venues like Zaphod Beeblebrox in Ottawa and the Silver Dollar Room in Toronto have closed. In Hamilton, our own Baltimore House on King William Street shut its doors in the spring.

McPherson’s passion for music and the Horseshoe Tavern is evident as he takes readers inside the bar that the Tragically Hip immortalized in their song “Bobcaygeon” with the lyrics, “That night in Toronto/ With its checkerboard floors.” The Horseshoe Tavern was one of the first places in Toronto to get a liquor license and the first to have a television set. It was also the place for bands, including Blue Rodeo and countless others, to get their first real break.

To read the rest of this review, visit The Hamilton Review of Books
 
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