Five Reasons You Should Read Lindy West’s Shrill Like, Yesterday
In a world filled with enough think pieces and hot takes to make you renounce the Internet, it’s rare that you find a voice as idiosyncratic and refreshing as Lindy West’s. But here she is: the Seattle born-and-raised former editor for The Stranger and certified badass cut her teeth writing movie and theater reviews for the Merc’s sister paper, and feminist polemics for Jezebel and The Guardian. She is living, breathing proof that the notion that women can’t be funny is total bunk.
Ahead of her talk at Powell’s tonight, Tuesday, June 7—where she reads from Shrill, her collection of essays on everything from how pop culture portrays fat people to Internet trolls to falling in love—we’ve got five reasons you need to be there.
1. She is hilarious. And we mean it in the true sense of the word.
Louis C.K. once joked about how hyperbole is killing the English language. "We go right for the top-shelf with our words now," he said. “We don't think about how we talk…: ‘That’s hi-laaaa-rious.’ Do you know what hilarious means? Hilarious means so funny that you almost went insane.”
In West’s case, though, it’s the only word that does her justice. Her book contains the kind of writing that makes you laugh so hard while riding the No. 19 that even the bus driver throws you a look of concern.
Example? She compiled “a complete list of fat female role models available in [her] youth,” which includes more obvious choices like Miss Piggy, but also deeper cuts like the tree from The Last Unicorn. “This fine lady was just minding her biz, being a big purple tree, when Schmendrick the garbage sorcerer came along and accidentally witchy-pooed her into a libidinous granny. Then he’s all mad when she nearly smothers him twixt her massive oaken cans!”
2. She questions norms most of us take for granted.
From the very first page, Shrill starts with a question about some seemingly-innocent societal norm—asking children what they want to be when they grow up—and pulls it apart, limb from limb.
Sure, it seems innocent enough, West argues, to ask children about their futures. It gives them a chance to talk about how much they want to be astronauts or firemen or whatever. But below the surface, it’s actually really weird: “Hello child,” she writes. “As I have run out of compliments to pay you on your doodling, can you tell me what sort of niche you plan to carve out for yourself in the howling existential morass of uncertainty known as the future? Also, has anyone given you a heads-up that everyone you love will die someday?”
This kind of unflinching questioning of, well, just about everything sets the tone for the rest of the book. She’s going to spend just over 250 pages deconstructing the very foundation upon which you stand—in a good way.
3. She doesn't mince words.
While the debate around internet trolling throws up phrases like, "Freedom of speech!" and "They're just trolls" and "Acknowledging them gives them what they want," West takes a more direct approach. "There is nothing novel or comedic or righteous about men using the threat of sexual violence to control non-compliant women."
Try arguing against that.
4. She’s unapologetic.
Women have long been accused of, like, hedging? What they’re saying? Or, I'm sorry, apologizing for even speaking. Not West. West is unapologetically herself, and her writing reflects that: clean, clear, and to-the-point.
From the get-go, West refuses to concede any part of herself on the behalf of others. She won't, for instance, accept the euphemism "big" instead of fat. She doesn't want her body to be "gentled" for the comfort of others: "If I'm going to be wild and alarming," she writes, “I'll do it on my terms.”
5. She's political.
“Women matter," she writes. “Women are half of us. When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time—that moves the rudder of the world.”
Lindy West reads at Powell's City of Books at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 7.