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Self-Love & Girl Power: two Gal-intines' Day reads!

Hello, darlings - and, of course, happy Valentine's Day!

Here in Massachusetts, Valentine's Day hasn't been so sweet. There's a blizzard warning set to start at 7 PM, which for me personally, means my romantic date most likely isn't happening (Mike is stuck on campus as of yet). So that leaves me with a cancelled tea party and a snowed-in evening. I'm thinking some cathartic baking may be in order.

But on a happier note, let's talk about one of my other favorite things, besides this holiday - books! You know the old song from Arthur, "Having fun isn't hard when you've got a library card"? Well, I tend to get a little carried away where that's concerned.

A few Tuesdays ago, I wandered up to the check-out lane at my local library, buried in a leaning tower of eight books (to be fair, one was for my brother), only to find that my friend was the worker bee behind the counter. Ever the suave character, I smiled and joked, "So now you know my secret problem." (She was totally in on the joke.)

But I wasn't embarrassed - an addiction to books is probably the most beneficial addiction there is. In fact, I was rather proud of my gigantic load, in a self-satisfied way...okay, that sounded dirty, but you know what I mean.

I won't get into the importance of reading, or its positive effects on your health, blabbety blabbety blah. All I'm trying to say is this: being the "nerdy girl" drowning in her pile of pleasure books (don't even get me started on what I read for AP Lang) is nothing to be ashamed of. Embrace it! Love yourself for the chic geek you are! And what better time to love yourself than on Valentine's Day?

These two books - one fiction, one nonfiction - were written for girls, by girls. At face value, they have very little in common, but beneath the surface runs an undercurrent of female empowerment. If you have any spare time this February 14, I completely recommend picking up one or both for a burst of healthy, organic womanly pride. Who knows? You may just discover something about yourself, too. Reading is a magical process.

And just a disclaimer: this post is not for the girl who just got dumped, or the matronly "cat lady" with nothing better to do on Valentine's Day. It's for every girl no matter her color, race, interests, femininity, "birth gender," income level, number of Facebook friends, whatever. You don't necessarily have to prefer books to boys, magazines to men, femmes to fellas to embrace the concept of "self-love". Self-love is not just for the self-actualized feminist who has jointly sworn off men and bras (for the record, I like my man and I like my bras, each about 95% of the time...well, okay - maybe less for the bras). Taking time for yourself, no matter what form it takes, should always be a priority. I just happen to like to read - and sometimes, I swear, it's the only thing that keeps me sane.

There's a great quote about meditation that basically says "You should sit and meditate for 30 minutes each day - unless you're busy; then you should sit for an hour." We're not talking about meditation here (although reading can definitely have some meditative benefits), but the sentiment is the same: if you're sitting here cringing about adding even one more thing into your already-crammed schedule, you need the me-time more than anyone.

So, if you're feeling daring, cancel your 4 o'clock meeting or your 10 PM spin class and pick up a book this Valentine's Day! It doesn't have to be one of my picks, although I highly recommend them both.My challenge to you is simply to spend twenty minutes, an hour, or three curled up in your coziest chair with a hot mug o' tea (or coffee or hot chocolate or all three, depending on how long you read for!) and a quality book. If you've got a hot date tonight, you could even read while you take a bath, maybe light a candle or two. Whatever you do, just take the time for yourself this Valentine's Day. You won't regret it....and neither will you regret picking up either of the fine reads below!

Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger by Beth Harbison

[Spoiler alert!] Quinn Barton was twenty-one years old when she found herself a blissfully ignorant blushing bride, set to marry her high school sweetheart, the handsome and enviable Burke Morrison. She was also twenty-one years old when Burke's brother, Frank, informed her of Burke's infidelity and, incidentally, thwarted the wedding. On impulse, Quinn abandons Burke at the altar and runs away with Frank to Vegas for some much-needed catharsis, where they share one (or two) indescribably hot sexual encounters and an embarrassing level of emotional intimacy. And then, just like that, it's all over. Like ripping off a Band-Aid...because Quinn knows in her heart that two brothers are not interchangeable. So, like any logical woman would do, she removes herself, buries herself in her work, and attempts (to no avail) to get over her love for Burke and her lust for Frank. 

Years later, after achieving what some might call a marginal amount of distance, fate thrusts Quinn into the Morrisons' lives again when their grandmother, Dottie, becomes engaged to marry Lyle, a bumbling younger man she met online. Ever the sly matchmaker, Dottie commissions Quinn, who has long since taken over her mother's calling as a seamstress, to sew her wedding dress - inevitably leading the three lovers' paths to cross. What ensues can be describes as nothing less than confusion and chaos, wrought by the devilish Cupid himself. Add in a well-intentioned, larger-than-life gay cheese-seller named Glenn, who lovingly endows Quinn with thirty challenges to help her broaden her narrow horizons (highlights include Go Commando Day and Day Drunk Day), and you get the recipe for the perfect lighthearted yet heart-warming V-Day read. [End spoilers.]

Let me tell you a little something about this book: it will suck you in like a vacuum cleaner inside a black hole. Believe me: I spent four hours on Super Bowl Sunday, from 10 AM to 2 PM, reading this book in a single sitting, so I now consider myself the ultimate authority in all things Quinn Barton -  and you will become emotionally attached to these characters. You will laugh, you will cry, you may (okay, will) occasionally want to throw the book across the room, or smack Quinn like a loving friend stepping in for an intervention. And, if you're anything like me, the ending will reduce you to a puddle of smiling sobs. 

One of Harbison's selling points is her ability to keep you guessing till the cows come home - and let me tell you, that ending is one whopper of a cow. This book carries some major emotional weight; anyone who's ever been through a nasty break-up will feel those old stitches peel open, and everyone will remember their reckless high school relationships with fond longing. While tapping deep into those painful emotional reserves may not sound like the best way to spend your Valentine's Day, I promise you, there is light at the end of the tunnel! Like any good romance, all the gut-wrenching twists and turns are worth it in the end. Harbison spins an intricate tale woven with humor and laced with femininity, one that will make you proud of all the self-destructive relationships you've ever extricated yourself from - or one that might inspire you to liberate yourself from your present downward spiral. 

Either way, Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger is like a semi-serious sitcom gone right. Likewise, if you can swing it, the best way to eat up those chapters is in one wicked big bite. It's like a Netflix binge, but better. And whether you're cozily coupling up this Valentine's Day or rocking it solo, this book will give you what all good chick lit should: hope. Hope in good guys, forgiveness, the healing powers of time - and, of course, a fine cheese plate....

You might just fall in love.

The XX Factor by Alison Wolf

When journalist Alison Wolf served on a university panel about women in the workforce, she was the only one of four women to recommend having children sooner rather than later. The reality for working women is changing from one that used to be rampant with discrimination, to one that is catapulting us out of our domestic duties. In the twenty-first century - when Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In is read as gospel and it's become the norm for women to have their first child at 30, freeze their eggs, or even (gasp) remain unmarried and childless in favor of killer careers - it's no longer "unique" to know not just one but several highly-educated, highly-paid professional ladies renouncing the "Cult of Domesticity". These women are rocking not only the workforce, but the home, the bedroom, and, of course, the cradle.

With ever-growing numbers of radical feminists trumpeting about "equal work for equal pay", we continue to expect these women to be dramatically unequal from their male counterparts. But as Wolf writes, as much as we all want to love and support the feminist cause, the "Sisterhood" that the Gloria Steinems of the world once knew is a shrinking reality. While inequality may remain the norm for uneducated women in traditional roles (think stay at home moms, secretaries, and waitresses who never graduated high school, let alone college), womankind is approaching a fork in the road, where the new sector of wealthy, educated female graduates is diverging into a category of its own - a category that's on par with male coworkers. Like the women within it, this sector has a mind of its own, a mind that is not willing to be bound in a conservative strait-jacket of limited opportunities and domesticity.

Womankind is evolving into a broad spectrum of definitions and roles, each with their own distinct social patterns. The XX Factor tracks these social patterns across generations, levels of income and education, and broad categories such as femininity in the workplace, the "to marry or not to marry" debate, and openness to sexual promiscuity-slash-experimentation. And the answers are not at all what you might expect: chances are, whatever you go into this book thinking - no matter your gender, race, political sympathies, whatever - is wrong.

But isn't that the beauty of it? Both the "injustices" and "victories" for women in the workplace, promoted by both liberal and conservative media, are disproven in Wolf's enticing nonfiction read. The truth is, being "female" is not the definitive marker it once was; it doesn't suggest a certain or permanent set of limits by any means. Yet, as Wolf writes, women today still identify primarily as women: not as workers, not as wives, not as mothers or grandmothers. Just women. And despite the stark contrasts that Wolf excavates, we still manage to view ourselves as converging under a single epithet. (And this, I believe, is why feminism has endured throughout the ages, even if the "Sisterhood" is a lot more diverse than we once believed.)

Simply-put, the XX Factor is a joy to read, albeit being information-heavy. Wolf is a writer who clearly knows her craft and does her homework (the back of the book provides nearly 100 pages of charts, notes, and bibliography!). Not only that, but she successfully takes conventional opinions and shock us all with the truth, Myth-busters style.

You may ask, why read such a heavy nonfiction book on Valentine's Day, of all days? Two words: Girl Power! What better way to spite the patriarchy than to counteract their mainstream, commercialized holiday with a distinctly feminist attitude? I believe that anyone and everyone can use a little feminism in their life this Valentine's Day, no matter their gender or relationship status. And this book, an unlikely hero for the feminist cause, is one I will wholeheartedly throw myself behind.

Ladies and gentlemen, take my word for it: do not go through life without reading this book. Whatever you'd "rather be doing," it can wait. Enlighten yourself! What you learn will confuse, shock, and change you for the better. Boys, too - this book is your chance! (By that I mean "your chance to finally unravel the mysteries of womankind and better understand your mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters".) Don't let the opportunity pass you by, just because of a little testosterone-provoked pride. Be proud to be seen in public with a book as finely-written (and cleverly-titled) as the XX Factor.

As the next generation of young men and women that Wolf writes about, it is our responsibility to educate and advocate for ourselves. What better time than the present to start?

Stay tuned to the Chick Lit Kitchen for the first installment of my Holden & I series, analyzing the role of sexuality in the Catcher and the Rye, coming tomorrow, February 15. Until then, fly on, my little lovebirds - and, as always, thank you for reading!

XOXO, Haley.


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