British columnist Caitlin Moran’s nonfiction book How to Be a Woman was published in 2011 – and I meant to read it in 2011, too. I really did. But despite best intentions, it wasn’t until my sister and I were browsing in a bookstore last month, and she asked if I’d read How to Be a Woman, that I bought the book. My only regret is that I waited so long to do so.
I can’t remember the last time a book made me laugh out loud, but Moran’s blend of memoir, essay, and cultural criticism had me not only laughing, but nodding my head in agreement and reading passages out loud to my husband. I defy anyone to read the chapter “I Don’t Know What to Call My Breasts!”, particularly the section where she discusses the difficulty of naming one’s vagina, and not at least chuckle.
Aside from the humor and candid recollections of her childhood and adolescence—which could be an entire book on their own, and one I would gladly read—Moran offers thoughtful opinions (and the occasional cutting remark) on celebrity, body image, feminism, sex, abortion, relationships, and having children. While Moran avoids preaching or haranguing her readers, her points are well-supported and honest.
Moran may be writing about her own experiences, but she also explores how her own experiences are part of a larger, communal story. There may be as many ways to “be” a woman as there are women in the world, but that doesn’t mean that women – and men – can’t learn from each other’s stories and work together to create a society which treats all its members with a bit more respect and consideration.
At least, that was one of the conclusions that I drew from Moran’s book; I suspect that another reader might have an entirely different take altogether. And that seems fitting, as Moran herself doesn’t give her readers easy answers or simple blueprints, but rather shares her opinions and the answers that she found in her own life. I might not agree with everything she said, but what would be the fun in reading someone you agree with 100 percent? Moran made me think, and in my opinion, that’s always a sign of a good writer.
I can offer one more bit of praise, a very particular kind that would not have been a factor if I’d actually read this book when it first came out. Instead, I read much of How to Be a Woman very recently, in the middle of the night, during my newborn child’s seemingly endless feeding sessions. That a book could not just hold my sleep-deprived attention but make me want to keep reading even after the baby fell asleep—for that alone, this is one of my new favorite books.
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.