Review: How to Be a Woman

One of the best developments in memoir is the rise of books in which witty and wise women examine their lives with unladylike candor. British journalist Caitlin Moran's memoir-manifesto How to Be a Woman is as funny and careerist as Tina Fey's Bossypants, as divulging as Ayelet Waldman's Bad Mother and as earthy as Cheryl Strayed's Wild (maybe even earthier--despite the Judy Blume-ish title, How to Be a Woman is not a book for young teens).

In chatty chapters that resemble newspaper essays (the author is a TV critic and columnist at the Times of London), Moran blends self-deprecating autobiographical anecdotes with earnest meditations on the parlous state of modern feminism. Her prescription for feminism's renovation is de-intellectualized and universally inclusive, as she rails against a list of lamentables ranging from laddish sexism in the workplace to the economic folly of young women who adopt porn-inspired feminine depilation trends (e.g., "Hollywood" waxing). Rakishly personal and uninhibited, How to Be a Woman's treatment of feminism is down-the-pub clever, not ivory-tower rarified, and apart from a few references to Germaine Greer, it takes the history of the women's movement for granted.

How to Be a Woman garners its hot topics from Moran's life, beginning with her pitiable 13th birthday and her simultaneously underinformed and privacy-free adolescence as the eldest in a big home-schooled family. An early gem recounts her reporting début as a 16-year-old Wolverhampton wunderkind in the all-male London newsroom of Melody Maker: Moran's descriptions of her efforts to fit in are both funny-awkward and inspiring. In spite of the chronological timeline, How to Be a Woman's structure is more thematic than autobiographical, with chapters that transition quickly from the personal to the essayistic on everything from body image to weddings to Lady Gaga, with the exception of some intensely intimate accounts of childbirth and an abortion. The book culminates with Moran's mature attitudes toward love, motherhood, work and family.

Moran's writing in How to Be a Woman belies the late Christopher Hitchens's old saw about unfunny women. Her one-liners and set-pieces are offhand, mischievous without being mean, and occasionally hilariously rude. Some bring out the guffaws and the shakes, and put to rest forever the idea that feminists don't have a sense of humor. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts

Shelf Talker: A British journalist's personal, funny and occasionally ribald approach to modern feminism.

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