Wednesday, August 19, 2009

She’s Such a Geek! edited by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Anders

I picked this up because I like the editors’ work on io9. Here they’ve collected essays on loving stereotypically geeky (and male) interests like math, science and internetery. I love essays, so I was hoping for some passionate writing about the subjects to which, years after education in them was easily available to me, I finally see the allure.

The book is divided into six chapters: growing up nerd, high tech, in the lab, geek, interrupted, games and superheroes. Essentially, all the stories belong in “geek, interrupted” first and foremost. All these women’s stories of loving whatever nerdy thing they love involve interference by sexism in its various guises: parental expectations, harassment, rejection by peers and lovers, casual put-downs, academic glass ceilings and self-confidence issues. The best ones, like Newitz’s “…When Diana Prince Takes Off Her Glasses” and Wendy Seltzer’s “The Overloaded Activist,” take a firm idea and see it through with a mix of analysis an anecdote. The majority, however, are linear biographies without much craft. Many focus on the trouble of getting a lover who understands and respects a brainy lady, and the inclusion of so many of this type of story was both a sad statement on the romantic mores of our times and frankly a little boring. They pile up and bog down the interesting bits of scientific description scattered throughout the collection. As a non-science type, I wanted to hear what they actually do and why it is so different from, say, being a lawyer.

The excellent introduction by the editors set my expectations high. The rest of the book left me to wish that they had exercised their whittling skills and cut the bloat by presenting essays that worked--not only as individual stories but that fit together into a larger picture of the wonderful women of science.

Addendum: When I say this title in my head, I hear it to the beat of the Go Go's We Got the Beat. Say it with me now: She’s Such a Geek! She’s Such A Geek! She’s Such a Geek! This is more annoying than charming. This is my own problem, but a problem nonetheless.


Kory Wells said...

Hi, Carrie,

Publishers Weekly called this collection "jubilant if uneven." From your comments, I think you'd agree with the "uneven" part, and I do, too. But, I'd like your readers to know that even if the craft of some of the essays isn't at the highest level (only a few of the contributors are creative writers, after all), this book has still seemed to resonate with a lot of women who have geeky jobs and hobbies. As one of the older contributors to the book, I expected that the experiences of the younger women would be different. Sadly, they're not, and that more than anything points to the importance of this book in helping geek-girls know they're not alone.

She's Such a Geek to the tune of We Got the Beat - now you've got it in my head, so it's not just your problem anymore. ;-)

Kind regards,

Kory Wells

Carrie said...

Kory: Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts. I am glad that you had a great experience doing the book. The essays from older contributors were really my favorites; it was interesting to see how it all "turned out" for the women.

Still, I believe that it is the editors' job to shape the collection and this includes helping writers who are not professional polish their submissions to be the best they can be. That failing of Newitz and Anders is where most of my disappointment with the collection lays.