Book reviews: new non-fiction by Sue Ellen Browder, Dawn Casey-Rowe and Mary-Louise Parker
Browder reveals the confusion at the heart of Cosmopolitan magazine, Casey-Rowe has an eye-opening account of life at the chalk-face, while Parker writes letters to men who’ve made an impact on her life
by Sue Ellen Browder
Ignatius Press (e-book)
Women who counted on Cosmopolitan magazine for bedroom secrets will find this book especially interesting. Written by a former Cosmo writer, it shows how the sexual liberation promoted by the publication led to confused messages about women, work, sex, marriage and relationships. American Sue Ellen Browder aspired to be an investigative journalist yet ended up making up fantasy women for the magazine. “I told lie upon lie to sell the casual-sex lifestyle to millions of single, working women,” she admits. In Subverted, she explains how she “helped the sexual revolution hijack the women’s movement”, showing how issues that concerned feminists such as Betty Friedan (equal opportunity for women in education and the workplace) ended up linking hands with “liberation” of the kind that celebrated sex with no strings attached, contraception and the right to abortion. Browder writes that at the time she was spreading the Cosmo message, she didn’t realise the work by propagandists in having the women’s movement and the sexual revolution join forces. The book, which starts strongly but falters towards the end, also chronicles her conversion to Catholicism, her marriage and an abortion that shakes her and her husband long after the act.
Don’t Sniff the Glue
by Dawn Casey-Rowe
Amazon Digital Services (e-book)
Should school students be allowed to use phones in a classroom? To employ apps, pictures and note pads to do what, in the past, pupils would have needed pen and paper to get down? Teacher Dawn Casey-Rowe wanted to let a special-needs student use technology to learn, but her school had a no-phones-in-the-classroom rule. So she sought a solution, although, she writes, “in education having an idea gets a person in trouble”. Don’t Sniff the Glue is an eye-opening first-person take on education reform in the US, where teachers apparently have the highest burnout rate in the nation. The author, who chose teaching as her second career, raises interesting questions asked of her by children: why does everyone have to learn the same thing, why is so much time spent on tests, and so on. Public education, she believes, has crumbled and questionable decisions are being made by policymakers who know little about what happens in classrooms. She rails at how educators are being treated as expendable commodities and about pay scales, which see new teachers paid less and worked harder. This book should be read not only by teachers but by their students as well.
Dear Mr. You
by Mary-Louise Parker
Simon & Schuster Audio (audiobook)
Mary-Louise Parker’s Dear Mr. You shows how effective a non-linear memoir can be. The star of Weeds structures her book with 34 letters written to men who have left imprints on her life. The missives are directed to her grandfather, father, former lovers and a man with whom she falls in love even though both are in happy relationships and he is dying of cancer. A particularly good “chapter”, titled “Dear Former Boyfriend”, is a hilarious account of a marathon last fight, which stretches over 24 hours and culminates with the couple riding around on a motorcycle trying to find an open restaurant. She almost suffocates by putting on her helmet back to front; he ends up with fork jab wounds on the hand that helped itself to food from her plate. The most poignant letter is “Dear Mr Cabdriver”, which tells of her meltdown in the back seat of a New York taxi taking her to the wrong place. It is Parker’s only reference to a much-publicised breakup: she was many months pregnant when her former partner, actor Billy Crudup, left her for another woman. This volume, read by Parker, is original and entertaining.