Women's Review of Books, Vol. 30, No. 1, January/February 2013

I was delighted to discover this journal at the AWP Conference a few years ago. Book reviews introduce me to books I otherwise would have missed and the ones longer than a few paragraphs, generally found in journals dedicated to reviews, often provide context and background that increase my appreciation of the book. However, as VIDA has been tracking in The Count, in most journals very few reviewers are women and very few books by women are reviewed. The numbers are startling. This conscious or unconscious bias effectively limits women's participation in our literary culture. Since the first Count in 2010, VIDA's annual count has influenced my decisions about what journals I buy and read. For example, in the three years tallied, the number of women reviewers and women writers reviewed in Harpers has actually gone down from a measly 18%/31% to a pathetic 9.7%/16.9%. I no longer subscribe to that magazine.

Women's Review of Books is entering its 30th year of publication. Amy Hoffman's editorial in this issue notes that “Disgracefully, even after forty years of the contemporary women's movement, feminist scholarship and critical analysis, and women's creative writing receive little more attention in the mainstream media in 2013 than they did in 1983.” She goes on to say that “WRB is just about the only place where you'll find long-form review-essays by expert, excellent writers that thoughtfully consider women's studies scholarship and analysis.” I agree. Every issue engages me and enlarges my understanding.

Among the pieces that stood out for me in this issue is “Women vs. Women”, a review by Kim Phillips-Fein of Battling Miss Bolsheviki: The Origins of Female Conservatism in the United States, by Kirsten Marie Delegard. She had me right from the start: “For those on the left, conservative women have long presented an enigma.” Indeed, I have been baffled by people supporting political parties that actively oppose their interests. Delegard's book traces women's support for the right wing beyond the supposedly backlash against the 1960s, to the 1920s when fear of Bolshevism and the Russian Revolution mobilised women to oppose the women pushing for economic reform.

I learned more about the liberal reform groups of the 1920s where “Women activists pressed for public health measures and laws to protect children and working women. They created settlement houses and undertook philanthropic campaigns . . . They also became leaders in the peace movement that followed World War I, promoting such measures as outlawing the use of chemical weapons.” Conservative women associated these reformers with socialist radicals and “circulated stories about the terrors their sisters were experiencing in the new Soviet state.” They portrayed the women reformers as dupes of Bolshevist radical men and distributed blacklists of men, women and organizations “supposedly in league with communism”.

Another article I relished is “Stranger to Nothing”, a review by Robin Becker of Vinculum, by Alice Friman. Becker helpfully provides an etymology for the unfamiliar title: “From the Latin verb vincre, Alice Friman takes the noun, vinculum, meaning a bond or tie, to suggest her collection's central trope: attachment.” The word also is used for “a ligament that limits movement” and a bar used in algebra to show that two or more terms represent a single term. In these poems metaphor and myth are infused with “a sharp humor”, an assessment backed by generous quotations from the book. Becker says, “To my eye and ear, Friman distinguishes herself from other contemporary poets by bringing a confident feminism and humor to her meditations. The sorrowful runs alongside the absurd; the living collide with the dead; the mythological clothes the mundane.”

I also got a kick out of “TV Heroines”, a review by Lori Rotskoff of Those Girls: Single Women in Sixties and Seventies Popular Culture, by Katherine J. Lehman. Rotskoff describes “Lehman's impressively researched, analytically nuanced study” that provides context for all those single heroines portrayed by Marlo Thomas, Lynda Carter, Lindsay Wagner, the women on Charlie's Angels, etc. I especially appreciated the inclusion of police detective Christy Love, played by Teresa Graves. I look forward to reading the book and seeing Rotskoff's analysis of “both on-screen portrayals and behind-the-scenes creative strategies in relation to the social, economic, and political changes that transformed women's lives during these tumultuous decades.”

Overall, the journal does for me what Kate Clinton claims in “An Ode to Women's Review of Books on the Occasion of Her 30th Anniversary”: “Your reviews keep me up to speed on current scholarship, lead me to books I would have missed, and introduce me to women writers and thinkers whose long-form, patient, thoughtful parsing is a steady balm or annoying burr—but either way a pleasure in a short-format world.” What review journals do you enjoy?

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