Shelf Lives: New Books by Carrie Brownstein, Gloria Steinem and Others

Today happens to be the release date for several notable books penned by iconoclastic women. Since it’s the time of year when curling up on the couch with a blanket and a good read rivals a night on the town, we thought we’d crack these titles and live vicariously through the words of these scribes.

Consider these amazing ladies your cuddle buddies this fall. (Lucky you.)

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein (Riverhead Books)

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

The Pacific Northwest rocker is a master of reinvention, both in her sketch comedy show “Portlandia,” which she began with Fred Armisen in 2011, and also in her personal and professional life. Taking its name from the lyrics of Sleater-Kinney’s 2005 song “Modern Girl” (off the band’s thoroughly great album The Woods), Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl explores Brownstein’s complicated time in that group along with her mother’s anorexia, her father’s late-in-life coming out, and her own struggles with fame—even as she name-drops Kim Gordon and Marc Jacobs—and self-worth. For Sleater-Kinney fans, the book offers insight into Brownstein’s troubled romantic and musical relationship with bandmate Corin Tucker, the musical landscape of the early-9os grunge and indie scenes, and Brownstein’s admitted role in the disintegration of Sleater-Kinney, which Sterogum’s Tom Breihan called the greatest rock band of the past two decades. Honest and irreverent, Brownstein shows herself to be a talented rock journalist and memoirist without losing the intelligence and humor her fans have come to expect. “Punk was about making choices that didn’t bend to consumptive and consumerist inclinations and ideologies, that didn’t commodify the music or ourselves,” Brownstein waxes. Yet consumption seems to be the impetus for Brownstein’s many projects and renaissances, including her work with Armisen, the formation of the band Wild Flag, Sleater-Kinney’s reunion and her blossoming acting career. This is a woman whose appetite for newness makes her ever modern.

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem (Random House)

A restless desire for change once spurred feminist icon and writer Gloria Steinem’s father to pack his entire family into a car to drive around the country. Steinem views this childhood experience as formational. Her many travels, her interactions with other activists and thoughtful citizens, and her continual drive for social improvement have been the 81-year-old’s enduring motivation. My Life on the Road shares these stories and encounters with us. From traveling on third-class-only train cars with Indian women to being nearby as Mahalia Jackson encouraged Martin Luther King Jr. to share his dream to her interactions with cab drivers and the Kennedys, Steinem creates a poignant picture of how travel changes us all. Or, as Steinem in her knowing, articulate voice explains it, “When people ask me why I still have hope and energy after all these years, I always say: ‘Because I travel.’ Taking to the road—by which I mean letting the road take you—changed who I thought I was.”

Reporting Always by Lillian RossReporting Always by Lillian Ross (Scribner)

Famous for her incisive “Talk of the Town” pieces and entertainment profiles, Lillian Ross wrote for the New Yorker from 1945 until her retirement. Her career at the magazine spanned the tenure of its founder and first editor Harold Ross up until current editor David Remnick, who authored this book’s foreword. Reporting Always is a collection of sixty years of Ross’s writing including intimate portraits of Robin Williams, Ernest Hemingway, John Huston, Charlie Chaplin and John McEnroe. Ross wrote about all of her subjects, be they “the greatest living American novelist and short-story writer,” as she put it, or Manhattan school children with a flinty eye and graceful humor. A pleasure to read, Reporting Always nevertheless overwhelms with the breadth of experience and ability that this writer honed over her long career. As her friendships with Ernest Hemingway and J.D. Salinger attest, Ross is a writer’s writer.

Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed

Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed (Knopf)

“Forward is the direction of real life,” wrote Strayed. Pithy words of encouragement can also serve as a compass when the path is less direct. As the one-time writer of the popular “Dear Sugar” advice column on The Rumpus, Cheryl Strayed set to ink many sayings that moved readers. This book collects some of her most resonate quotes from her various writings and books (Wild, Tiny Beautiful Things, Torch). Who doesn’t crave sentiments that seem to speak precisely to them? The book’s title comes from a Tiny Beautiful Things passage, “Be brave enough to break your own heart.” It’s a concise book full of even more pointed advice from a woman who takes her words seriously.

—Britt Olson