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.