It’s August in New York, when it’s humid and sultry, but blessedly easy to get a restaurant reservation since anyone who can go to the beach is at the beach.
When I moved to Manhattan from Fargo in early 1993, I was surprised by this and many New York City norms. At work, for instance, I discovered that waitressing three nights a week at the Lion’s Head (or, for that matter, babysitting for my boss’s kids) paid better than my coveted job as an editorial assistant at Ms. magazine. I was also perplexed by “Summer Fridays,” that every psychotherapist left town for the month of August (which seemed dangerous), and how easy it was to read other people’s books standing crammed on the subway each day.
Whether reading over someone’s shoulder or carrying my own, I remember these “big” feminist-y books from the 1990s vividly, as I was building my library: The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing, The Secret History, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Killing the Black Body, The Morning After, Listen Up, Cunt, Slut!, and Black, White, Jewish. I acquired a first edition of Alix Kates Shulman’s Burning Questions (1978) for a dollar on one of those bootleg reseller tables that were all over my neighborhood then. Ditto a hardcover of Ti-Grace Atkinson’s Amazon Odyssey (1974), a relic of a time before “Amazon” was synonymous with capitalist overkill. In fact, those itinerant resellers were the scourge of writers back then, because no royalties could be collected on a used book, so I always felt a little sheepish when I indulged. But many of these books were out of print, and I was hungry for original sources of women’s liberation movement history.
This issue of the Women’s Review of Books features new work from some of those storied second-wave radicals I sought out in the 1990s, including Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz. A review of Ortiz’s argument against the “nation of immigrants” trope starts on page five, and Judy Grahn’s latest collection of verse, Eruptions of Inanna, is discussed on page twenty-eight. As usual, Katha Pollitt’s curation of poems for this issue reveals not just her authority as a brilliant writer of verse, but her commitment to poetry’s ability to delight and illuminate. Meanwhile, the contributions of second-wave feminism’s beneficiaries are considered in Jacqueline Zeisloft’s review of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic. Ariel Kim’s assessment of Ace, in which journalist Angela Chen theorizes the capaciousness of asexuality, frames and critiques “compulsory sexuality” as a norm, and Heather Hewett surveys memoirs about parenting trans kids, a genre that emerged in 2013 and is rapidly developing.
Times change. Once a West Village writer’s haunt, the Lion’s Head closed in 1996. Ms. is now a quarterly published in Beverly Hills by the non-profit Feminist Majority Foundation. Gazing at smartphones long ago replaced reading physical books for most straphangers, and I can find cursory synopses of every second-wave theory, book, or feminist’s life on the internet, taking some of the thrill of discovery out of finding an out-of-print book on a table in Union Square. But those Summer Fridays and the August exodus of therapists and other New Yorkers remain.
Nantucket, August 12