Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Notes to Self by Emilie Pine

When I was in college, one of my (male) instructors said something to the effect that premenstrual syndrome was a first-world construct and largely psychosomatic, and that women in "other" countries didn't have this problem. Setting aside that this statement is problematic for several reasons, I remember hearing this and being utterly flummoxed. It was the first time it occurred to me that not only could I be more knowledgeable about something than someone considered a "professional," but also, that someone utterly uninformed could make such a blanket incorrect statement and confidently assume to go unchallenged.

NOTES TO SELF by Emilie Pine is a book written as a challenge. Women's bodies and minds are often forced into boxes, and with this book, Pine attempts to squirm her way out of the box by taking on topics that squick most people out when they're coming out of a woman's mouth. The book opens with a harrowing story of her father suffering from organ failure in a Greek hospital due to alcoholism, and she writes about her stunned horror and the gross conditions she found herself in as she had to take on much of his care herself for a time. She then segues into other topics-- the nitty-gritty of infertility, miscarriage, and ending up child-free; going through a parent's separation; being a proverbial wild child and experiencing depression, rape, and an eating disorder; menstruation; and lastly, being a career woman in a world with a high glass ceiling, where being a workaholic seems like the only way to get ahead, if not, at the very least, an addictive escape for emotional pain.

I'm surprised so many people disliked this book and seem to regard it as being self-indulgent. I encountered similar reviews for Janice Erlbaum's book GIRLBOMB, and came to the conclusion that people just seem to ferociously gate-keep who gets to write about their childhood being depressing or dysfunctional, and that if it doesn't reach a certain milestone of horrific abuse (which the author then heroically and inspirationally must overcome-- otherwise the memoir is branded as too depressing), the author doesn't deserve to write about these things, let alone feel bad about them.

I thought NOTES TO SELF did a really good job talking about things that people don't want to talk about in an informed and interesting way. I may not have agreed with everything she said, but I agreed with a lot of it. She's a good writer and an interesting person, and she seems to have suffered a lot, although she seems to be in a better place now emotionally. There's nothing raunchy about this book; she pushes the line of social acceptability, but with such eloquent prose that you'll probably find yourself listening to whatever point she's making, even if it's grossing you out. Anyone who enjoys a good memoir-- especially memoirs written by women-- should pick up this book.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review! 

4 out of 5 stars

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