Review: Bygone Badass Broads by Mackenzi Lee

Based on Mackenzi Lee’s popular weekly Twitter series of the same name, Bygone Badass Broads features 52 remarkable and forgotten trailblazing women from all over the world. With tales of heroism and cunning, in-depth bios and witty storytelling, Bygone Badass Broads gives new life to these historic female pioneers.

Though I was struggling a bit at the start of this book with the super casual language used for chronicling each historic woman, I realized (rather quickly, thankfully!) that the modern take on these badass broads is exactly what makes this read that more approachable and original.

My issue with previous feminist collections always stemmed from the fact that they came to read like Wikipedia-esque entries and as a result failed to keep me engaged. Which is why I came to like the shorter biography summaries, such as The Little Book of Feminist Saints by Julia Pierpont & Bad Girls Throughout History by Ann Shen.

So Mackenzi Lee’s intriguing take on these “badass patriarchy smashers” in Bygone Badass Broads helped keep them in mind long after I continued to the next entry.

So here is a taste of some of the memorable Badass Broads squad members:

  • Queen Arawelo: C. 15 CE, Somalia

The Queen of Gender EqualityBygone Badass Broads 1-- bookspoils

“Arawelo’s new decrees regarding gender roles and government appointments passed the Furiosa Test—meaning they got men’s rights activists riled up. When husbands across the land protested the shake-up, Arawelo and her massive populous of feminist badasses staged a kingdom-wide walkout, leaving their men with nothing but a note on the pillow: Roses are red, gender’s performative, your ideas about women are so hella normative.”

The little poem there had me giggling out loud, which is the last thing I expected from a Nonfiction/History book. Having Lee succeed not only at educating us about the lesser-known women of our times but actually making it enjoyable while doing so is the biggest accomplishment, in my eyes.

“It’s almost like the phrase “yaaaas kweeeen” was invented for her.”

  •  Khutulun: 1260–1306, Mongolia

Wrestling Champion of the Ancient WorldBygone Badass Broads 2-- bookspoils

This particular entry had me giddy with the many pop-culture references*. It’s quite a feat on the author’s part to connect present day to hundreds upon hundreds of years ago, so I will continually applaud her for that.

*Phrases include: TBH, swaggery bro, and the timeless reference at the end of this passage:

“When one particularly swaggery bro bet one thousand horses he’d pin Khutulun, her parents begged her to throw the match because she needed to just settle down with a nice boy already! Khutulun agreed . . . until she heard the bell and looked that smug dude right in his smug dude eyes, at which point animal instinct took over and Khutulun did what she did best: She threw him to the GROUND.”

Cue: The Lonely Island’s Threw It On The Ground.

  • Friederike “Marm” Mandelbaum: 1818–1894, United States

New York’s Queen of ThievesBygone Badass Broads 4-- bookspoils

This unheard of Queen of Thieves who ruled the criminal underworld of Gilded Age New York City was a true surprise for me.

“They call me Marm because I give them money and horses and diamonds,” she said, which are the essentials I, too, expect from my mother.

  • Juliette Gordon Low: 1860–1927, United States

Founder of the Girl ScoutsBygone Badass Broads 3-- bookspoils

This entry screamed for a reference to be made to the Pawnee Goddesses from Parks and Recreation (which I did a whole book tag about). And thankfully Mackenzi Lee delivered at the very end with this closing line: “Hear her womanly roar.”

  • Emmy Noether: 1882–1935, Germany

Theoretically, the Most Important Woman in PhysicsBygone Badass Broads 5-- bookspoils

“When Einstein calls you the most significant and creative woman in the history of mathematics, you can probably call it a day and go home.”

It seems appropriate to note that with this entry I came to see the unshakable commitment to bringing the most color and vibrancy out of these historical women. And it was a delight to discover this time and again in this gorgeously illustrated compendium.

Oh, but before I leave I have to include a few other phrases I got a good laugh at, such as giving Irena Sendler’s dog a WeRateDogs™ worthy rate (“12/10, would pet.”), using the infamous record scratch in Sarah Breedlove’s entry, and comparing Kumander Liwayway’s childhood to that of “a Disney Channel teenager.”

There’s so much more I’d like to share, but calling it a day on this note seems like a fine endpoint.

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Bygone Badass Broads, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

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Review: Mothers by Chris Power

Read it for the vine cover.Mothers-- bookspoilsChris Power’s stories are peopled by men and women who find themselves at crossroads or dead ends – at ancient Swedish burial sites, river crossings on Exmoor, and raucous Mexican weddings. A stand-up with writer’s block embarks upon his last gig. Reflecting on a childhood holiday, a father is faced with the limit to which he can keep his daughters safe. These characters search without knowing what they seek.

Unfortunately, Mothers turned out to be just another book added to the list of beautiful covers with no compelling storyline to leave me rapt. I continually found an arbitrary flow to the stories that made it rather difficult to keep engaged in my reading.

I will say, though, that the first story starts off promising enough with this below passage that captures an intricate character-building moment, without reading like one:

“On my bedroom wall I had a big poster map of the world and in my bedside drawer I kept a sheet of stickers, red and blue. The red stickers were for the countries I had been to, and the blue stickers were for countries I wanted to visit. The only countries with red stickers on them were Denmark and Sweden.”

The author excels at writing detailed imagery and giving voice to specific thoughts and moments, but at the same time, I can’t deny that the characters in the stories feel completely stiff and traped on the page. Essentially, nothing informative regarding a character’s nature was shared – just their distinct thoughts jotted down.

“Who was she really, this woman? She was my mum, of course, but that was only one part, and I want to know all the parts.”

I went into this hoping for multi-dimensional characters I could root for, or at the very least, care for even a little. But throughout my reading, I felt like something went amiss for me with Mothers that I couldn’t quite describe, which was then, funnily enough, put on the page by the author in the following story, when the narrator goes as follows: “But there isn’t any room for them here. Stories need everything extraneous to be stripped away, and Nancy and Kostas, let alone Karla, are extraneous. So are my brothers, who are barely present at all. ”

I found this to be a huge mistake. I’d much rather spend time reading about the people he got into contact with during his summer vacation, instead of wasting pages upon pages describing a made up fantasy game I had zero connection to.

It’s interesting, really, because Power’s clever ways of exploring and exposing his characters felt unlike anything other. I mean, this quote below made me acutely aware of the linguistic skill it takes to pull something off like this.

“The sky was whitegrey and a cold breeze came from the sea, which lay at the end of the avenue. Standing at a crossing her eyes filled with tears, so completely that for an instant she couldn’t see. Spasms hit her body. She wanted to wipe the tears out of her eyes, but couldn’t lift her arms. There had been episodes like this after her mum died. The sensation, so long forgotten, was instantly familiar. She felt ridiculous, but she couldn’t move. She was a tree in the wind, powerless to do anything but endure. Another spasm went through her and she thought she might be sick. She heard a voice and lifted her head towards the sound.
Her vision began to make sense again. She saw her own face, stricken and doubled: her reflection in the lenses of a large pair of sunglasses worn by a middle-aged woman in a long black coat.”

That moment at the end of seeing her reflection in a stranger’s sunglasses felt like such a bright move on the author’s part. I was taken back by the originality of it all and how the writing didn’t succumb to the usual clichés.

“What am I doing in France?’ she said out loud. She repeated it, then repeated it again, placing the stress on different words in turn. ‘What am I doing in France? What am I doing in France? What am I doing in France?’ ”

These little individual moments is the only link that unites the stories together. So I was a tad dissapointed when the disconnect created between those instants and the flow of each story held me back from truly appreciating Mothers.

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Review: Rookie on​ Love by Tavi Gevinson

“My memory of men is never lit up and illuminated like my memory of women.”Marguerite Duras

A single-subject anthology about the heart’s most powerful emotion, edited by Tavi Gevinson. Touching upon love in all its different variations, from “a devotional to dogs” (Durga Chew-Bose) to unrequited love to accepting your self-worth to experiencing intimate friendships with women.

“Love is all around, but its holding place is not always another person. Sometimes you find the best companion in yourself, or the fun of worshipping a teen idol, or the challenge of trying to understand love in its various forms. ”

Before starting, I casually browsed through the table of contents and saw a stellar piece titled “Do Sisters Actually Love Each Other?” by Jazmine Hughes, which I hurried on to read because it was something I really needed. And it was just as spectacular as the title conveys, featuring a group text between a bunch of sisters.

JAVONNE I came back to, like, eighty messages to read and I will not.
Someone fill me in if you want an answer from me.”

When I then saw that Tavi Gevinson had shared a live reading of this hilarious and touching piece, I was over-the-moon:

All I need now is the return of the Rookie podcast, which I raved about back in April of 2017.

Rookie on Love, however, didn’t quite embody the expectations I had in mind before starting. More than once I experienced the feeling of really enjoying how a story builds up but then, almost without fail, it would veer off downhill, destroying what it had created in its small space, and end on a completely unsatisfying note. And because of the short length, there wasn’t even a redeeming moment that could’ve saved the narrative.

It also didn’t help the collection of hitting a rough patch in the middle, where none of the essays held my attention and consequently failed to raise any emotion out of me (I mean, other than bitter rage at a certain line in Collier Meyerson’s piece I landed upon while randomly flipping through the collection)… Thankfully though, when I finally reached Victoria Chiu’s written piece, which came in to save the day, as she touches upon her choice to abstain from “(penetrative) sex.” As well as other standout pieces in here that I’d like to feature, such as:

  • Fwd: Letter to Leyb by Tova Benjamin, talking about relationships in the digital age:

“Sometimes I think, I will never forget that I felt this way. And then I do. It seems horribly scary to invest so much time and energy and emotion into something that will eventually wind down to the end of its life, be it 44 days or two years and nine months. And then what?”

  • The Most Exciting Moment of Alma’s Life by Etgar Keret. A quick story on life after experiencing your highest high.

Though for Alma, it’s not really just a question. Sometimes she actually dreams about what happened at the Biblical Zoo. She with her braids and the lion standing so close to her that she could feel his warm breath on her face. In some of the dreams, the lion rubs up against her in a friendly way, in others, he opens his mouth and roars, and then she usually wakes up terrified. So one can say that as long as she keeps dreaming, that moment hasn’t completely passed. But dreaming, with all due respect, is not exactly living.”Rookie on Love 1-- bookspoils

  • Beyond Self-Respect by Jenny Zhang. One of the most important pieces, talking about how love and respect need to go hand in hand, which I also heard a lecture on a few months back and it completely changed my viewpoint.

“The way we talk about respect and teenage girls needs to change. I want girls to learn how to disrespect the men in their lives who cause them harm and violence, I want them to learn how to disrespect patriarchal values that bind and demean. Looking back on my past relationships, I can pinpoint the very moment when I lost respect for the person I was dating. Often, it happened early on—a casually offensive remark that betrayed deeper levels of racism, an unfunny joke that revealed how much he feared and hated women, or even just a delusional comment that showed zero self-awareness—but always, when I was younger, I would continue to date that person, doubling down on my commitment, all the while losing respect for him. That’s the most disturbing part, that I thought I could love someone I didn’t even respect.”

  • Super Into a Person’s Person-ness a conversation between Rainbow Rowell and John Green, “YA powerhouses on writing epic—yet real—teen love.” I can listen to Rainbow Rowell for eternity, as you can tell by my extensive review of my all-time favorite book of hers, Fangirl.

RAINBOW When I’m writing love stories (which I can’t help but do, it’s always a love story for me), I really don’t want to be writing a story that makes it worse for the people reading it. That perpetuates all the lies about love and attraction.
JOHN Right.
RAINBOW But also, if I’m writing about teenagers, I don’t want them to be somehow magically above this bullshit. They can’t be wizened 40-year-olds who know from experience that it’s garbage.
JOHN Well, but also, I don’t think you ever get magically above this bullshit. We’re talking like this is all in our past, but of course inherited ideas about beauty and attractiveness affect adult life, too.
RAINBOW Yes.
JOHN Hopefully over time you develop an awareness that, e.g., your obsession with the perfect nose is completely ludicrous, but it’s not like it all goes away.
RAINBOW You’re still a nose man?
JOHN God, no. I am a PERSON MAN. I am super into a person’s person-ness.”

  • Before I Started Writing These Things Directly to You by Tavi Gevinson, on trying to capture the feelings as they occur.

“I just don’t trust words a whole lot, and wonder if writing this, too, takes the air out of the whole thing, like in the Chekhov story “The Kiss,” where the sad loner shares the story of an improbable romantic encounter with his male colleagues and, upon hearing it out loud, experiences the whole thing as woefully insignificant.”

I wholeheartedly enjoyed this piece by Tavi, wherein she managed to create a solid grip on her relationship with this goofy grinning guy in just one page.Rookie on Love 2-- bookspoils


Overall, I’d say I came to appreciate most of all the pieces that exposed my innermost feelings so successfully that it made me reflect a lot. So even though the collection as a whole was mainly a hit or miss with its forty-something stories, I still came to cherish a handful of pieces.

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Rookie on Love, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!