Monday, March 19, 2018

TLC BOOK TOURS and REVIEW: In Praise of Difficult Women by Karen Karbo


From Frida Kahlo and Elizabeth Taylor to Nora Ephron, Carrie Fisher, and Lena Dunham, this witty narrative explores what we can learn from the imperfect and extraordinary legacies of 29 iconic women who forged their own unique paths in the world.

Smart, sassy, and unapologetically feminine, this elegantly illustrated book is an ode to the bold and charismatic women of modern history. Best-selling author Karen Karbo (The Gospel According to Coco Chanel) spotlights the spirited rule breakers who charted their way with little regard for expectations: Amelia Earhart, Helen Gurley Brown, Edie Sedgwick, Hillary Clinton, Amy Poehler, and Shonda Rhimes, among others. Their lives--imperfect, elegant, messy, glorious--provide inspiration and instruction for the new age of feminism we have entered. Karbo distills these lessons with wit and humor, examining the universal themes that connect us to each of these mesmerizing personalities today: success and style, love and authenticity, daring and courage. Being "difficult," Karbo reveals, might not make life easier. But it can make it more fulfilling--whatever that means for you.

In the Reader's Guide included in the back of the book, Karbo asks thought-provoking questions about how we relate to each woman that will make for fascinating book club conversation.

Hardcover, 352 pages
Published February 27th 2018 by National Geographic Society
ISBN 1426217749 (ISBN13: 9781426217746)

About the Author

KAREN KARBO is the author of multiple award-winning novels, memoirs and works of nonfiction. Her best-selling “Kick-Ass Women” series includes The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World’s Most Elegant Woman, which was an international bestseller. Karbo’s short stories, essays, articles and reviews have appeared in Elle, Vogue, Esquire, Outside, the New York Times, Salon, and other publications. She is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, and a winner of the General Electric Younger Writer Award. Karbo lives in Portland, Oregon, where she continues to kick ass.

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My Thoughts
The book you hold in your hands is about women who insisted on being difficult.
We've all heard the old adage about how "well-behaved women seldom make history", and this book is about some of those misbehaving women. The author shares stories and background of 29 women who wouldn't be constrained by societies boundaries and expectations. 

Women like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wasn't afraid to embrace motherhood and marriage in the age of rising feminism while being a career driven, independent woman. A woman who for years was the lone voice for women and equal rights on the supreme court. The term "gender discrimination" started with her (well, actually with her secretary). She has been, and continues to be, an inspiration to countless women, proving you can be strong yet feminine, powerful without overpowering, that you can fully commit to a relationship and yet maintain your independence and self-identity. As the author states:'s hard to believe a woman so genteel and soft-spoken is such a mighty litigator. Her mother-in-law once advised her that the key to a happy marriage was sometimes pretending to be a little deaf; Ruth has said the same applies to being a female Supreme Court justice. "When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best to tune it out," she observed. "Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one's ability to persuade."
...Proving, in case there was any doubt, that you don't need to possess the strapping badass countenance of Xena Warrior Princess to be a truly, deeply difficult woman.
And did I mention that the woman is  85 years old and still works out at the gym twice a week doing things like side-planks and one-legged squats? The woman is amazing!

And women like Helen Gurley Brown, who did things by her own book, becoming one of the first female copywriters at the age of 30, married when she was 37 (in the age of spinsters, she eschewed marriage until she found someone interesting enough with whom to settle down, but had fun playing the field in the meantime), made the conscious choice to not have children (*gasp*), and at age 40 wrote Sex and the Single Girl, which was rife with "wisdom" she'd picked up regarding dating as a single woman in the 50s (dating single and married men alike. She found work to offer a large supply of men).
She came to learn from her life as a single girl that when it came to men, as long as you were naked and smiling, they were happy. In the era of No Sex Before Marriage, this attitude was societal high treason.
Or there is my idol and oh-how-I-wish-she-was-my-mentor Jane Goodall, who pioneered the study of chimpanzee behavior. As a young woman, Jane had graduated from secretarial college in 1952. Later she went to visit friends in Africa, and while in Nairobi she had a fortuitous meeting with archaeologist and paleoanthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey. He saw something in her and invited her to join him on an archaeological dig. Impressed with her patience and meticulous method, he offered her the opportunity to go setup camp in Gombe to study the chimpanzees there. And Jane, in a world where unmarried girls live with their families and get jobs as secretaries and teachers, didn't hesitate to jump at the opportunity. Jane shook the scientific community with her observations, her findings causing them to redefine man. I think that may constitute as being "difficult"! Then to make things worse, she anthropomorphized the chimps, "attributing human traits" to them, which is taboo in the scientific community. She came under fire many times, but she didn't back down. Much like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jane was soft-spoken and genteel, but strong and determined. In regard to an uncomfortable interview where comedian John Oliver attempted to get Jane to play along, the author says:
It's a terrific, awkward moment of television where a woman refused to smile, become giddy and jokey to relieve a tense moment and make everyone feel better. It would have been so easy for her to go along with the joke, to make light of her life's work. But being difficult, she wasn't about to give in. Difficult women aren't all swashbuckling extroverts who shoot off their mouths and shout down their adversaries. Sometimes they just sit quietly and refuse to pretend to be agreeable.
Sorry, but I so identify with this passage!

I enjoyed this book. I liked the profiles, I liked the relaxed and approachable writing style that didn't leave me feeling as if I were reading a text book biography. The author chose a great selection of women to represent the "difficult" woman. And visually I really liked the use of red ink to contrast with the deep black ink, as well as the sketches of each woman at the beginning of each chapter.

I would like to thank TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. Check out the website for the full tour schedule:

Tuesday, February 27th: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, March 1st: A Bookish Affair
Monday, March 5th: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, March 6th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Wednesday, March 7th: Literary Quicksand
Tuesday, March 13th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, March 14th: Doing Dewey
Thursday, March 15th: Bibliotica
Friday, March 16th: bookchickdi
Monday, March 19th: Openly Bookish
Monday, March 19th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
TBD: 5 Minutes For Books

My final word: The author does a great job at presenting us with 29 glorious examples of difficult women.They were chosen for all sorts of reasons: for speaking their minds, for bucking the system, for being fearless, for setting new standards and shattering glass ceilings. For leaving footsteps that we may follow in, and for encouraging us to go off the beaten path and find our own track.And encouraging all of us to be at least a little bit difficult. Love this book!

Buy Now:
National Geographic
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My Rating:

The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

I received a copy of this book to review through TLC Book Tours and the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. 

1 comment:

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

I love those quotes you included - if the rest of the book is like that, then I'm really going to enjoy reading it.

Thanks for being a part of the tour!