Roxane Gay is an American literary treasure. Her words are searing and strong and everything she chooses to take on is done so with a smart (and usually funny) approach. She makes you feel like you, the reader, are a genius by proxy. Reading Roxane Gay makes you feel like you are doing your due diligence as a reader.
Her 2014 book Bad Feminist is a clear testament to this. It ties together personal essays with pop culture critiques with cultural criticism done in an approachable enough way that anyone from your little sister to your grandmother can appreciate the message. It is about feminism, sure, but as the title suggests it is simply Roxane being Roxane: she is the bad feminist and these are her many roars.
Yet, the book isn’t perfect. It starts off with fierce musings becoming a teacher and attempting to be that mentor for students of color and skips into infectiously intelligent play-by-plays of the semi-professional Scrabble player. It’s a thrill, even when the subjects are serious or quite dark. The book eventually weaves the personal writing with commentary on things happening in entertainment, politics, celebrity, etc. which, at first, feels wonderful. Her thoughts on Girls made me shout in joy. Her Hunger Games musings made me seriously wonder if I want to read them. She made me try to figure out how I can watch Girlfriends. She has a command.
However, around the two-thirds point of the book you feel kind of exhausted. The fun has worn off. You feel like you want a TEA Party bailout of intellect because you’ve carried so much weight around. You feel helpless. You feel like you’ve heard these themes said and said and said. You want to help but, like Gay, you feel like the room has filled up with too much water to escape from. Perhaps you are meant to feel exhausted by this point but it doesn’t make for a good feeling as a reader. It made me like the book less because I wanted more her and less us.
I do love this book, though. It is an essential read for this decade. I found it’s most crucial element to be questioning all privilege—especially your own. There should be more books like Bad Feminist and, as I am sure there are, I doubt any are as well done as Roxane’s book. Here’s to more bad feminism!