The Opposite of Lonely

The Opposite of Lonely: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan

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Marina Keegan died in a car crash 5 days after her college graduation; this book gathers the writing she did while in school, including the title essay, which I read online before I heard about this book. That essay is about the kind of feeling a lot of us get around graduation time: nostalgic, proud, happy, full of potential and possibilities, super close to all the friends who are about to scatter. I wrote a valedictorian speech along some of the same lines as this 12 years ago, and it only took about a year for me to feel like I’d manufactured that feeling because it was what I wanted to feel at the time. I don’t say that to cheapen Keegan’s experience and what it must mean to her friends now, but I do wonder how she would have looked back on this writing later on if she’d had the chance.

The cynical question is whether these stories would have been published if Keegan had lived. It’s impossible to say, but I think she had at least as much talent as several creative writing grad students I’ve known, with less experience. Some of the stories are typical subject matter for an undergrad workshop, young men and women in complicated relationships with each other, their exes, and their parents, but others are more far out, like the one set on a doomed submarine, or the one about the government contractor in Iraq sending hopeless emails. Some of them make me wonder how someone so young could have had the information and life experience to allow her to write these kinds of things, and that’s probably a sign she was the real deal. It’s a shame that this book is all of her we’ll ever have.

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Men Explain Things to Me

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

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This little book of essays on feminism is anchored by the essay that coined the term “mansplaining.” I’m grateful to Solnit just for inspiring this fun and accurate neologism and the many stories other women have shared about being mansplained. When she pointed out the condescending way men often assume that they know more than women, obliviously pontificating to women with much more expertise, and told the story so perfectly, she did all of us a service.

The other essays in the book discuss rape and violence against women, the IMF, gay marriage, activism, and Virginia Woolf. Solnit is passionate, knowledgeable, and articulate, aware of how women’s issues interact with problems of capitalism and colonialism. She ends with a note of hope, saying that we can’t despair because the future is never certain. It’s a quick read, and very informative.