Book Reviews

Issue No. 3: Words from the Wise
Words - Betty Fermin + Sarah Cuddie

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Stories by and about older women are missing from our bookshelves. These two books give us a window into how much richer our world could be if more stories like these were shared.

The Invisible Woman by Helen Walmsley-Johnson

The Invisible Woman by Helen Walmsley-Johnson delves into the fetishizing of the young body that Walmsley-Johnson witnesses as she nears 60, and rejects the stereotypical fashion, eccentricities and attitudes that are expected of older women. It’s a book about being a timeless woman, full of great, hilarious, and painfully honest anecdotes from her life. She discusses the prejudice she faced as an older job hunter when she decided to return to full time work after her children were grown: how she dealt with a lack of work opportunities and people not wanting to give her a chance. Walmsley-Johnson observes that younger people usually feel the most uncomfortable with signs of non-conformity amongst elders. There is a perception of how older women should behave and conduct themselves on a day to day basis. Walmsley-Johnson walks the readers through her experiences as she rejects the idea that older women shouldn’t take part in certain activities, such as going out late at night. I am in my late 20s and this funny, feminist memoir made me look forward to continuing to age, not fear it. I recommend it to those who are dreading their next birthday or worried about getting older. This book is a necessary “screw you” to society’s expectations.

The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm’s Way by Alice Walker

The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm’s Way is a collection of short essays, poems, letters, and reflections by Alice Walker, who is best known for her novel, The Color Purple. Walker released this collection when she was 69, combining both new and old works. She reviews and reflects on the work of other artists; she writes about her reaction to both the book and the film The Help by Kathryn Stockett in her piece “A Healing Response to Injustice and Hurt,” and about the erasure of Beethoven’s African heritage from his legacy. She reflects that “neither black nor white people had any hope of being mentally healthy under slavery.” Her essay “A Recipe for Anxiety Soup” feels more relevant now than when she wrote it in the days leading up to the 2008 Presidential election. Her writing explores social issues including healthcare and marriage equality. She witnessed the election of President Obama when she was 64, and she writes about the hope and the fear that she felt at the same time.

What struck me most about the book is the hopeful perspective Walker takes. She has faced challenges and has borne witness to humanity’s darkness without turning away from it. This isn’t the kind of hopeful writing that is ignorant of suffering. It’s the kind of writing that a woman with many years of perspective can create, realizing that terrible things exist alongside wonderful things. In a single work, she describes her experiences protesting in Gaza when she was 65 and spending a moment with her “sweetheart” on a beach at 67, watching baby turtles hatching and making their way to the ocean. She is unrelenting in her belief that things will turn out better, and unflinching in her critiques of the obstacles standing in the way of that future. Walker writes with a hopeful fire and it is not comfortable or uncontroversial. It is, however, deeply personal and honest, providing ample material for conversation and meditation.