• Laure Joliet/The New York Times via Redux, LAURE JOLIET

    Life Story

    Surviving Wartorn Africa—And Divorce

    Alexandra Fuller has written a memoir about her tangled family history, falling in love, and the breakdown of her marriage.

    The memoir of divorce is something of a cliché: a writer’s post-trauma, woe-is-me catharsis; the gory details from an unhappy marriage dumped on the page. It is written specifically for the divorced or lovelorn, who internalize the author’s emotional collapse and ensuing self-help prescriptions.

    Even when written well—with a fair amount of objectivity and respect for the former spouse—the divorce memoir is still too often cringeworthy, discomfiting, and formulaic.

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  • Trailblazers

    India's Hell-Raising Feminist Princess

    Goddaughter of Queen Victoria, scion of the Lion of the Punjab, feminist revolutionary, Princess Sophia finally gets a worthy biography.

    Goddaughter of Queen Victoria, offspring of a deposed Maharajah, and fashion icon—Princess Sophia Duleep Singh was as unlikely an activist as one could find, let alone one who would garner headlines for her support and funding of the sometimes extreme tactics of Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Society for Social and Political Union.

    The tale of how this physically diminutive princess transformed from delicate society debutante to passionate activist is detailed in an engrossing new biography by the journalist Anita Anand, Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary. Sophia’s life was extraordinary—one of those stories that begs for a gifted storyteller like Anand. There is never a dull moment as the book races from the sordid history of her family’s demise to her increased advocacy on the topics of suffrage and India. The book is a reminder that many interesting historical figures are still waiting to have their stories told.

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  • Didier Messens/WireImage/Getty

    Unforgettable

    A Thorny, Horny Pain in the Ass

    In her debut novel, filmmaker/artist/author Miranda July creates the indelible Cheryl Glickman, the anti-romantic likes of whom we rarely see in fiction.

    On page one of filmmaker and artist Miranda July’s novel The First Bad Man, the narrator, Cheryl Glickman, is driving to a doctor’s appointment, imagining how she might look to passersby on the street and in other cars: “When I stopped at red lights, I kept my eyes mysteriously forward. Who is she? people might have been wondering. Who is that middle-aged woman in the blue Honda?” The sentence exposes the fallacy of Cheryl’s logic: Who looks at a middle-aged woman driving a nondescript car, let alone wonders who she is? No one.

    When we first meet her, Cheryl is deep in a decades-long project of self-negation. She practices a “system” of housekeeping that has reduced the effort it takes to live in her apartment to the minimum, rarely washing a dish or even moving across the room without a specific purpose. She doesn’t go out, never entertains. A psychosomatic condition called “globus hystericus” (a phantom lump in her throat) makes it impossible for her to cry, shout, or sometimes even swallow. She has long ago learned to be her “own servant,” requiring little from the world, expecting nothing of others. “After days and days alone it gets silky to the point where I can’t even feel myself anymore, it’s as if I don’t exist.”

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  • DC Comics

    But Can She Cook?

    Wonder Woman Takes a Big Step Back

    Now a husband-and-wife team is in charge of Wonder Woman’s image and her story line, and the first comic they produced is both leering and condescending.

    For months now, I’ve been worried about Wonder Woman, ever since I learned that husband-and-wife team David and Meredith Finch were chosen to write the newest run of the most iconic female superhero of all time.

    David is familiar to comic book readers for his award-winning illustrations of such characters as Batman, Superman, and the X-Men—and his nearly pornographic versions of every woman he’s ever drawn (just one example: in 2011, he faced criticism for his sexist drawings of Wonder Woman in the Justice League). Meredith, if she is known to comic aficionados at all, is known for being David’s wife, though she has in fact written comics before—a few issues of a highly-sexualized Wizard of Oz spin-off from a minor publisher, all of which happened after she was announced as the new writer for Wonder Woman.

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  • AP

    Personally Universal

    From Didion to Dunham

    Joan Didion’s trailblazing nonfiction set a forbiddingly high standard, but a slew of idiosyncratic writers are proving that her example may be inimitable but it is also inspiring.

    “There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman,” writes Lena Dunham in the introduction to her essays-cum-memoir Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned.” But does simply announcing one has a story automatically legitimize its telling? Surely there needs to be some kind of discerning critical judgment involved? Writing a good essay involves a process akin to alchemy; the base metal of intimate, individual experience is transmuted into a shining nugget of universal truth, the meaning of which resonates with a larger audience. “I never sit down to write anything personal unless I know the subject is going to go beyond my own experience and address something larger and more universal,” explains essayist and columnist Megan Daum in a recent interview in the New Yorker.

    In a piece published in the New York Times last year under the title “The Essayification of Everything,” Christy Wampole takes her readers through a brief history of the form—from Michel de Montaigne’s Essais from 1580; Francis Bacon’s appropriation of the term from French to English for his 16th century work; Robert Musil’s use of the term “essayism” (Essayismus in the original German) for the “leakage” of the essay, “when it cannot be contained by its generic borders;” through Adorno’s quote about the “essay’s groping intention.”

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  • IBL/Rex/REX USA

    Word Power

    Join Caitlin Moran’s Feminist Revolution

    She is one of Britain’s best, most prize-garlanded journalists, a bestselling author, and a gale of wit and blunt wisdom. Caitlin Moran talks sex, feminism, family, and more.

    Caitlin Moran does not shake my hand when we meet. She throws her arm around my shoulder, kisses me generously on the cheek, and pulls my face into her distinctive mane of dark, skunk-striped hair. We have barely sat down and Moran, one of Britain’s most beloved writers, is already talking at a dizzyingly fast clip about Marxism and masturbating (“wanking”) to the Muppets when she was 13. “I fancied Gonzo. I probably would have done Fozzie as well. But not Kermit. Too weird.”

    This is Caitlin Moran: ebullient and frenetic; passionate about social justice and feminism, without being fanatical; celebrated as much for her intellect as her ribald sense of humor. If ever there was a woman to dismantle the stereotype that feminists are strident, humorless man-haters, it’s Moran. All of this comes across in her writing about cultural politics—and she is staggeringly prolific.

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  • bert verhoeff/Hollandse Hoogte/Redux

    Vivid And Venerable

    Tuchman Is Still the Best on WWI

    She never earned a Ph.D. or taught in a university history department. Barbara Tuchman called herself a writer whose subject was history. Whatever she was, there was no one better.

    The historian Fritz Stern memorably called World War I “the first calamity of the twentieth century, the calamity from which all other calamities sprang.” No one in late June 1914 anticipated that the assassination by a Serbian nationalist of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, would draw in all five major European powers and their various allies into a cataclysm that would snuff out the lives of 20 million soldiers and civilians, destroy three empires, and lay the groundwork for an even bloodier World War II.

    Shock and disillusionment over such vast, seemingly senseless destruction led the writers and artists dubbed a “lost generation” to toss out most of the old assumptions about the meaning and purpose of human experience, and gave birth to what scholars in the humanities generally refer to these days as “modernity.”

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  • Basso Cannarsa/LUZphoto/Redux

    Re-Branding

    Laurie Penny’s In-Your-Face Feminism

    Riding a new wave of feminism driven by an unlikely mix of commerce and online discourse, the British feminist doesn’t give a damn if you like her politics. She does want to make you think.

    When reigning pop queen Beyoncé Knowles stood, with the unshakeable self-assurance of a warrior, in front of a boldly lit, capital-lettered declaration of “FEMINIST” at the MTV Video Music Awards last month, the media responded with something approximating rapture. “The zeitgeist is irrefutably feminist: its name literally in bright lights,” wrote Jessica Valenti at The Guardian, while Amanda Marcotte at Slate argued that the singer had put paid to the idea that feminists are just “ugly wannabes” who “hate men” and children. The New Republic’s Rebecca Traister called the performance “one of the most powerful pop-culture messages of [her] lifetime.”

    The moment marked a crest in the current wave of popularity and recognition feminism has been enjoying in popular culture recently. Young celebrities from Lorde to Miley Cyrus to Taylor Swift have been eagerly claiming the label, while old school media like Cosmopolitan and Playboy have given themselves feminist makeovers. Beyoncé’s performance just made it official. Feminism is cool now: no longer the refuge of, as conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh once put it, women who had been excluded by “the mainstream of society,” but front and center of the mainstream itself—celebrated by queen bees, and Queen Beys.

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  • Anne Ryan/zrImages, via Corbis

    Looking Back

    Gail Sheehy Books Passage to the Past

    The legendary journalist and ‘Passages’ author talks about her new memoir, the glory days of the new journalism, and the denizens of Grey Gardens.

    In the summer of 1971, reporter Gail Sheehy fled Manhattan every weekend for East Hampton, seeking an escape from what had become a six-month investigation into prostitution in New York City. But instead of tending to her verdant tomato garden, Sheehy found herself drawn down the road to Grey Gardens, a decaying mansion overrun by howling cats and home to Big Edie and Little Edie Beale, dotty and reclusive relatives of former first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.

    Just a few miles away and 43 summers later, Sheehy sits in a Sag Harbor rental cottage and reflects on “The Secrets of Grey Gardens,” her now-infamous New York magazine cover story about the Beales, outcasts from the wealthy WASP culture that was their birthright. “WASPs are like the Alawites of America, a rare breed,” says the now 70-year-old Sheehy. Looking youthful in jeans and a turquoise linen T-shirt, a helmet of red hair framing her animated face, she is diminutive, quick-witted, and disarmingly warm. (She addresses me in various terms of endearment, as one would an old friend, and invites me to swim in her pool after lunch). It’s a quality that surely worked to her advantage while interviewing the Beales.

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  • Allison Gilbert

    LIFE CHANGING

    Connecting With Readers at 15,000 Feet

    Two authors led 16 of their readers on an arduous, life-changing journey to help the residents of a Peruvian orphanage high in the Andes.

    When author Hope Edelman and I started planning a trip that would take 16 of our readers to Peru to work in an orphanage and hike the Andes, we ignored concerns about bringing together a group of women who didn’t know each other and convinced ourselves it was a great idea. Our confidence bubbled up partly because our readers share an important bond that links them to each other and us: We’ve all lost our mothers, and many of us have lost our fathers, too. It also seemed like an exciting way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hope’s pioneering book, Motherless Daughters. But mostly, we just took an enormous leap of faith.

    The experience unfolded unlike anything I expected. It was better and far more meaningful. Women from across the United States and Canada—and from as far away as Thailand and Dubai—joined us for a nearly two-week odyssey called “Turning Loss Into Service: Motherless Daughters & Parentless Parents Unite to Help Orphans in Peru.” The trip combined a challenging trekking experience—hiking as high as 15,373 feet—and doing several days of service work at the Ninos del Sol children’s home about two hours outside Cusco. Because we had no experience putting a plan like this into action, we turned the logistics over to Trekking for Kids, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that leads purpose-driven treks to improve the lives of orphans around the world. This was the organization’s first custom trek in its nearly 10-year history.

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  • RetroAtelier/Getty

    Poll: Women Are Better Writers Than Men

    Women write better, male writers get to the point faster, and both sexes are more likely than not to write about people like themselves, says a poll by the staff of Grammarly.

    The poll and graphic were produced by Grammarly, the world's leading automated proofreader. Using elite natural language processing technology, it checks writing for more than 250 types of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, enhances vocabulary usage, and suggests citations. Grammarly delivers a passive learning experience that identifies writing patterns and sends users personal recommendations to help understand their most common mistakes and opportunities to develop their writing skills. Grammarly is also the creator of GrammoWriMo, a collaborative writing project to celebrate National Novel Writing Month (November). Last year the project brought together more than 300 writers from 27 countries to create a group novel, which was then sold as an e-book on Amazon and benefitted the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

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  • Shutterstock

    CONFESSIONS

    ‘Prozac Nation’ Turns 20

    Twenty years ago Elizabeth Wurtzel’s ‘Prozac Nation’ ushered in a wave of confessional literature. While much-criticized at the time, we should hail her unflinching candor.

    It’s not easy being labeled the voice of your generation if readers don’t find you likable. You get criticized more than you should, and few of your writing peers want to stand up for you.

    Emily Gould, the former editor of Gawker and author of the much-talked-about new novel, Friendship, has learned this lesson the hard way in recent years. As a result of her penchant for oversharing her personal life and often that of her boyfriend, she has become the writer critics love to hate.

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  • John Lund/Getty

    Sketchy Profiles

    Your Fake Followers Are Catfishing You

    On Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere online, machine personalities are trying to influence your behavior. According to the new book ‘Virtual Unreality,’ they’re succeeding.

    The point of social media is to create platforms where you can interact with friends, colleagues, and family online. Sites like Twitter and Facebook have become communication hubs—and also places where you are getting manipulated by fake people.

    In 2012, Facebook announced that 83 million profiles—pushing 10 percent of the total number on the site—were phony. The real number is likely greater than that. On Twitter, if you’ve got an account with more than a few dozen followers, almost certainly you’ve been accosted—and probably followed—by robot accounts. They’re not so hard to spot once you recognize the signs.

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