Our Shared Shelf: Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl – Book Review

I know I’m a bit late to the game, but I have decided to begin following along with Emma Watson’s feminist book club, Our Shared Shelf, which she started in January on Goodreads. Watson, who is a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, started the club to encourage widespread exploration and discussion about equality. A book is chosen every two months (previously every month), and the pick for July/August was the memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein.

Sleater-Kinney – left to right: Corin Tucker (vocals, guitar), Janet Weiss (drums), Carrie Brownstein (guitar, vocals)

In the memoir, Brownstein — who might be most recognized by my generation for creating and starring in the successful television show Portlandia alongside Fred Armisen — tells the story of her relationship with music and, particularly, the creation and eventual (but temporary) breakup of her band Sleater-Kinney. Brownstein and fellow vocalist/guitarist Corin Tucker formed the punk rock band in 1994, and were closely associated with the riot grrrl movement in the Pacific Northwest. Brownstein and her bandmates struggled to be recognized solely for their music and accomplishments, and were long “considered a female band before [they] became merely a band”. They went on to enjoy great critical success and continue to be influential to this day.

The main thing I’d like to discuss about Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is a criticism of the book that I noticed popping up quite a bit while browsing through the Our Shared Shelf discussion boards. Some readers seemed to have had a hard time relating to Brownstein, and therefore struggled connect to her story. I didn’t feel this way, but I can see why others did, particularly if they went into the book expecting a deep, detailed commentary on feminism as a movement. This is not a book about feminism — it is a book about a woman’s experiences with music and the music industry. Brownstein identifies first and foremost as a musician, and though Sleater-Kinney has feminist political leanings, she isn’t necessarily a public feminist activist. Therefore, she gives an honest account of her life in relation to the music she listened to and the music she created. And yes, if you’re not interested or knowledgeable in music (and particularly the indie punk rock scene), a lot of this book might seem tedious or go over your head. If you disagree with some of the immature actions and behaviors Brownstein took as a young woman trying to find herself, you might not find her particularly likable.

But none of this means Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is not feminist. To me, the feminist undertones throughout the book that come across through Brownstein’s recounting of Sleater-Kinney’s activities are almost more empowering than any passionate treatise on feminism could be. It showed me that one doesn’t have to be a Capital F Feminist to be able to fight for equality, to be heard. And as someone who’s never identified as a Capital F Feminist, this was an incredibly important message to receive.

After Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, I’m excited to continue following the Our Shared Shelf book club. At first, I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure if it would be a lot of FEMINIST books that I might find overbearing (like I said, I’m not a Capital F Feminist). But after reading this memoir and researching some of the earlier selections, I was very pleased to find diverse approaches to feminism that I think will continue to be interesting and eye-opening.

A final note: the current book for Our Shared Shelf is Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, a book that tells the true stories of women around the world who have stood up to oppression and effected change, is the selection for September/October. Check back again soon for my discussion of this next book!

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Author: Patricia Thang

Reader of books, listener of podcasts, lover of dogs. Just trying to survive my twenties.

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