Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

Hunger Makes Me a Modern girl

To be honest, I couldn’t really get into this book. Partly it was because of the subject material, but I think my biggest issue is that I’ve had so much other stuff going on, and my interest just wasn’t there.  As I mentioned in my previous post, my vacation is coming up.  In fact- I leave for New York this afternoon and we fly to London tomorrow!  So needless to say, I’ve been rushing around and doing some last-minute shopping and attempting to pack and prepare for everything.  The trip has been the main thing on my mind, but I’ve also been busy with the young professional networking group I’m a part of, and I’m also trying to line up everything at work while I’m gone.  There were so many points over the past two weeks where I wanted to just stop reading this book and devote my energy to something else, but I promised myself I would finish it before I left.  So I pushed through.

I had never heard of Carrie Brownstein or Sleater-Kinney before, so I really had no idea what I would be reading about when Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl was announced as the July/August book for Our Shared Shelf. Looking back at my progression through music, I think I was too young for the Riot grrrl movement and the whole indie-punk scene in general.  I was around seven years old when I got my first CD, which was the first Backstreet Boys album.  I spent the next few years in the mainstream pop music world, listening to not just Backstreet Boys but NSYNC, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera too (such a diversity).  My older brother might have listened to some punk bands, but his music never made it outside his bedroom or headphones or anywhere that I would be exposed to it.  In my early teens I started gravitating toward more “emo” bands, and the trend stayed throughout high school.  New Found Glory, Dashboard Confessional, Bowling for Soup, and Fall Out Boy were some of my favorites (enough so that I still listen to them today when I’m feeling nostalgic).  College was mostly about Top 40 and whatever was playing at bars and parties, and then after graduation I discovered Spotify.  Nowadays, I would say 50% of my music library is made up of singer-songwriter acoustic type artists, then split evenly between classic rock, country, electronic pop, and Top 40.  So, reading about a feminist punk rock band from the nineties was unlike anything I was familiar with.

The beginning part of the book, when Carrie talks about her childhood, I could relate to. She talked about putting on plays and performances for her family, and I kept smiling because I used to do that too.  My best friend and I always had a performance ready for our parents after sleepovers.  I think our best one was about two girls who lived by the beach.  The worst was when we created a band called Blue Ice, and our opening song was “We’re Blue Ice, we’re so nice, we’re Blue Ice and we’re so nice.”  The most entertaining one was the video we created of my Beanie Babies competing in a game show, complete with me using different voices for each contestant (this video still exists somewhere).  But then she started to grow older and had to deal with serious issues.  Carrie’s mother began suffering from an eating disorder, and as a reader you could see how that affected her.  Her life took a darker turn, and it was more difficult for me to relate to.

As Carrie described how music began to become more and more important in her life, I began to lose interest. She referenced bands I had never heard of, and feelings I had never experienced.  When she wrote about seeing bands live and discovering new music at record stores, I began to wonder if it was an age thing.  Would I be able to relate more if I had to hunt for good music, if it wasn’t as simple as opening an app on my phone?  And as for Sleater-Kinney’s experience touring and recording, I just couldn’t garner any appeal for it.  Sleeping on borrowed and possibly dirty mattresses, practicing in confined places that smelt bad, struggling to get by; it all repulsed me.  Maybe I’m too mainstream or protected or snobby (I seriously hope not) but I just couldn’t connect with it.

Despite all that, there were two important aspects of Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl that I really enjoyed and appreciated. The first is Carrie’s complete openness about her struggles with depression and mental health.  It takes a certain kind of bravery to be that open and honest with the world, and I have so much respect for her.  I wish others (myself included) could be more open about our personal vulnerabilities.  In the world today, I think people are so exposed; there’s no break in attention.  It requires us to be “on” all the time, and it takes effort to maintain the image that’s out there, the image we want people to view us as.  So for someone to basically strip that image away and open up about such personal details, it’s amazing.

The second aspect that I appreciated were her thoughts on being a female musician, and why the word “female” shouldn’t really make a difference. A musician is a musician, regardless of gender, yet Carrie (and the other band members of Sleater-Kinney) faced countless questions about what it’s like to be a female musician, and they had to deal with so many gender stereotypes throughout the band’s career.  It’s frustrating.  As Carrie wrote in Chapter 15, “Anything that isn’t traditional for women apparently requires that we remind people what an anomaly it is, even when it becomes less and less of an anomaly.”  I mostly feel the same way about my job.  Being a woman in business is still something I have to explain; it’s like I have to constantly justify myself.  In reality, my job would be the same if I were a man, but it’s the perceptions and attitudes of others that make it different.

Despite my struggles connecting to Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, I’m glad I read it. So far, the books discussed in Our Shared Shelf have pushed me and expanded my knowledge about a number of different subjects.  This is definitely a book that I would never have considered reading if it weren’t for this book club, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to get outside my comfort zone and try something new.  And I’m happy to have learned about Carrie Brownstein and Sleater-Kinney.  I’m definitely planning on checking out the band on Spotify, and I’ll probably try to catch a few episodes of Portlandia as well.



The Saga of the Volsungs


It’s amazing how time can get away from you! It seems like just yesterday I sat down to create my summer reading list, but it also feels as if it’s been much longer than two months since my last post! There has been a lot going on in my life, and I’m kind of amazed at how much I’ve packed into these last two months. I’ve been on a trip to Philadelphia to visit a friend, a trip to Cleveland for work, two separate trips to visit my brother in upstate New York, I’ve celebrated the 4th of July here at home, celebrated a friend’s birthday, celebrated the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup, started rowing practice again, I sprained my wrist while hiking, attended a few retirement parties, watched as my company sold the division that I work in, congratulated three different couples on their pregnancy announcements, planned my own birthday celebration (taking place later today!), and throughout it all I’ve been finalizing details for my upcoming trip to London and Iceland. So, yeah, life has been a little crazy lately. I’ve definitely been feeling a little overwhelmed, but looking at my calendar things should slow down after my vacation, which is only two weeks away!

This trip has been in the works for almost a year, so there’s a lot of pent up excitement. I’ll be traveling with a friend to London for five days, and then to Iceland for five days. It’s funny thinking about it now, because a year ago today I was making an impromptu decision to go to Oktoberfest in Munich by myself, and that trip set the ball rolling for this upcoming vacation. Basically, I came back from Munich in the beginning of October last year and was feeling the inevitable post-travel blues. Soon after I got back, the announcement about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child came out, and since I was missing Europe like crazy I came up with the idea to see the play live in London. I enlisted my friend, Michelle, to join me, even though it had been a year since we had seen each other. She also loves to travel, and is a huge Harry Potter fan too. We bought the play tickets last October, and suddenly our “just a few days in London” turned into traveling around more and deciding to go to Iceland because it’s off the beaten track and neither of us have been there. Ten months later, here we are.

In Iceland, we’ll be renting a car and driving along the southern coast of the island. Since we know next to nothing about tourism there, I bought a guidebook a few months ago to figure out a general plan of where we should stay, what we should do, and all that fun stuff. I bought the Rough Guides to Iceland, and I think it has been generally helpful in planning, but we can’t really put it to the test until we get there. As I was flipping through the book, though, I noticed a section at the very end called “Books and Sagas.” As a reader, my interest was piqued. It provided reading recommendations for books on Icelandic history, modern literature, travel and wildlife, and the sagas.

I’ve never heard of the Icelandic sagas before. According to my guidebook, they were written anonymously between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. They cover a wide range of subjects; some are biographies of individuals, others serve as histories of the early Commonwealth, and often contain elements of folklore, Norse kings, and Viking-era adventures. In preparation for my upcoming trip, I decided to read two or three of these sagas to try to get a flavor of the culture and history of the country I’ll be visiting.

I started with The Saga of the Volsungs. According to my guidebook, this saga is said to have inspired The Lord of the Rings (which I’m a fan of) and Wagner’s Ring Cycle (which I don’t think I’ve ever heard). The description said that it more or less follows the adventures of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer, and contains elements of unrequited love, greed, and vengeance. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to read this.

To be honest, I’ve never read anything quite like this before. The beginning of the saga describes Sigurd’s genealogy. He was a descendant of Odin, the Norse god of war and wisdom, and the first few chapters describe the battles and adventures of his forefathers. Then the saga goes into Sigurd’s own brave adventures: how he avenged his father’s death, slayed the dragon Fafnir, and obtained more treasure than any other man. Following this section, the saga becomes less mythical as it describes the marriages and alliances (and ultimate betrayal) of Sigurd, his wife, Gudrun, her brothers, and Brynhild, a wise and beautiful queen.

One of the things that struck me about The Saga of the Volsungs was that the prose was straight to the point. There weren’t many metaphors or overly poetic lines, and the scenes describing battles were very blunt. I realize that part of this could be due to the translation into English, but I think the overall bluntness is just one of the aspects of the sagas. While I was reading, in my mind I kept picturing Viking-era men sitting around a fire and telling this story aloud. I like that image, and if the prose was different I don’t think I would get the same picture.

Throughout the saga, I definitely picked up on elements that could have inspired Tolkien. The most obvious was a cursed ring that would bring doom to all who had it. Some names also looked familiar, and I wonder if some of the characters in The Lord of the Rings were inspired in part by Sigurd and his contemporaries. There were also a few things that reminded me of A Song of Ice and Fire, and I would be willing to bet that George R.R. Martin has read this saga as well. Namely, a pair of incestuous twins brought Jaime and Cersei Lannister to mind. Also, Iceland is often referred to as the land of ice and fire, and that was in the back of my mind as well. Overall, the themes and battles described in this saga were similar The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire, and I’m tempted to re-read both series (even though that would set me way back on my reading list).

This was my first saga reading experience, and I’m glad I managed to fit it in before my trip. I’m hoping to finish a second one (Laxdaela Saga) as well, but I don’t know if I’ll have enough time. I’m glad I got a taste of the sagas, though, and the parallels between this and other fantasy series are obvious. I would recommend this to anyone who is into those types of books, or anyone who is interested in Norse mythology or Viking-era tales in general.