Fantastic Female Reader: Melissa

Hi all you Rockin Readers,

Featured here: a fabulous, fantastic female reader- just like you!  Any women who might like to be featured, please, get in touch with me!

Within our sharing with each other, we offer further reading inspiration and ideas to one another.  Books can be a means of connecting, as well as sharing potentially life changing reads with each other.  It can be from others that we hear of phenomenal reading, of which we may never have stumbled on otherwise.  As you all know, books have the power to change lives.

So ladies, lets share this power of the written word with one another!  As well as, get to know each other a bit more in the process.

For this entry, Melissa is the fantastic female reader featured!


1. What are 3 books you’ve read which have changed your life?  In what way(s) were they life changing?
Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff- A biography written about a deeply misrepresented and misunderstood world leader.  The life, death, and political machinations of Cleopatra are so much more nuanced and integral to the development of global politics in the ancient world (thereby the basis for our own understanding of civilizations) than we have been taught.
Schiff paints the world of Egyptians, Romans and those affected by their domination in rich and colorful terms that transported me into the wide, gilded streets of Alexandria and down the lazy, winding Nile on a huge royal barge.
I bought the book after watching Schiff”s interview with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. Her explanation on the show of how women’s roles in history are painted over with the madonna/whore complex so clearly demonstrated how our understanding of the world is narrowed and reconstructed by whichever men would benefit from changing the narrative. She won a Pulitzer for this book and I can’t emphasize enough how deserved it was.
This explanation and the biography itself showed me that we have to ask, in every historical context, who is telling this story and what did they get out of it.  We have seen in the subsequent #MeToo movement how the very idea of believing a woman’s narrative, even about her own body, is so counter-intuitive to society as even being impossible for some.
ella enchanted
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine-  such a childhood favorite! I must have read and reread this story 50 times since I was about 10. This fantasy/ fairy-tale retelling is such a fantastic re-imagining of the traditional role of girls in their own stories. Ella is narrating the story from start to finish, and while problematic in some ways, this was the first novel I remember reading where the main character reflected who I was as a rather tom boyish, unpretty, stubborn young woman.
I have often reflected on this novel as being formative for me at a time when we have to start making choices about who we will be, and what we will value about ourselves. Pre-teen novels can shape a very significant portion of our young adulthood and Carson Levine is owed a huge debt of gratitude from my teenage self.
men explain
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit A must read for every grown person ever! Solnit’s essay details the ways in which women are marginalized, dismissed, and ignored by men who would never consider themselves misogynistic. She describes how women are conditioned by internal and external pressures to allow these situations to pass without comment. For only being 60 pages, this book profoundly altered the way I interact with the world.  I began to note the instances where I felt unsafe to express myself (is it physical threat? emotional? professional?) and consciously start to push those boundaries.
I credit Solnit and her essays with showing me how to be a strong, assertive, and confident person in situations where I would have been much more reticent.
2. What are 2-3 fictional books that you’ve read which have continued whispering to you long since concluding them?  Books you were incredibly riveted and/or emotionally moved by, and which you have never forgotten?
–100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
–Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
–What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
3. What is the best bookish place you’ve ever been?  (Library, bookstore, an event of some sort, a class, you name it related to books).
Less than one place, but Davor (my husband) and I spent a whole day on a book pilgrimage around Dublin last summer. We visited four very different stores in various corners of the city and spent about an hour in each, aimlessly perusing and salivating over all the things we needed to add to our list of must reads.
4. What is your ideal reading scenario?  Paint us a picture.  The locale, what you might be drinking or eating, etc.
I am in my bedroom of the house we lived at in Los Angeles. The walls are papered with magazine pages of punk bands and the far wall has a giant metal book shelf holding about 200 of my perennial favorites. I’m huddled under my navy blue comforter.  The windows are open, the breeze carries the barking of the neighbors dogs and the smell of chlorine from the backyard pools. I have a mug of blackberry tea, coupled with a plate of apples and cheese on my bedside table.
5. What, in relation to books, fills you with the greatest joy or excitement?
The way I can find pieces of myself in characters who seem otherwise so unlike myself.
When I open a new nonfiction knowing I will learn something or consider an approach I hadn’t thought of before.
When an author makes me smile or gasp or shake my head with disappointment at a choice the character has made.
6. If you could drop into the world of any book you’ve read, which would it be, and why?
The London of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley! Or the Baltimore of Edgar Allen Poe! All of that dark, Gothic fog intrigues me. I love how complex and shadowy the line between science, myth, and religion becomes as the stories progress. Western Europe was going through such a monumental change between 1850-1900 and that comes through in the literature.
7. Which fictional character have you found to be most memorable or affecting?  Why?
Humbert Humbert from Lolita. He is such a despicable mess of a man and the narration of his twisted logic and crimes makes the reader want him to suffer in every possible way.  What is most affecting about Humbert is that you know men like this exist in our reality; they come across to most people as ‘good men’, cultured, well dressed, educated. But at heart they are predators of the worst kind. There aren’t many villains who are the narrator of the story and Nabakov has written him to sick perfection.
8. Why are you impassioned by and in love with reading?
Primarily because nothing shows you the breadth and depth of a culture, social group or time as the literature it produces. I can read 1000 different views of Christianity in the Roman Empire and its historical implications. I can learn about how the LGBTQ+ community has existed in South America in so many forms of acceptability.
Books provide access to the whole world, across the written history of mankind…all the beauty and warts.

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