Book Review: Worn Out: How Our Clothes Cover Up Fashion’s Sins by Alyssa Hardy

Back when I was pregnant with my daughter, I read Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline and was shocked by it. I had never really thought about clothing and the damage it does to the earth, and to the people who made it, before. The book was fascinating and needless to say, I haven’t looked at clothing the same way since. Browsing through NetGalley made me aware of the existence of Worn Out: How Our Clothes Cover Up Fashion’s Sins by Alyssa Hardy (New Press, 2022) and it got me wondering: what’s changed? How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the world of fashion? Has anything gotten any better? I hit the request button and was delighted to receive my acceptance just hours later. Huge thanks to NetGalley, Alyssa Hardy, and New Press for allowing me to read and review an early copy of Worn Out.

What happens to all our used clothes? We bag them up, drop them at Goodwill or another thrift store or bin, and then…what? Alyssa Hardy begins Worn Out with a bang, describing the secondhand markets in Ghana, where over fifteen million items of clothing, mostly from Europe and North America, end up. Western society is incredibly wasteful, habits that extend to our clothing usage as well, and this has not just ripple effects, but entire tsunami effects, around the world. Homegrown garment industries collapse because our garment industry overwhelms them. Children work these secondhand markets. Women die for low-paying garment factory jobs, as we saw in the Dhaka garment factory collapse in 2013, and for what? So we can buy an item of clothing made with such cheap materials that it falls apart in the wash within a few months. This has to stop, Alyssa Hardy argues, and she backs up her argument with devastating example after devastating example.

Beyond giving the fashion industry, from cotton field to salesroom floor, a hard look, Ms. Hardy turns her criticism on the fashion consumer. We’ve lost the inability to distinguish need from want, she points out, and in shying away or refusing to examine our lives and habits, we’ve created entire identities based on what we purchase, assigning ourselves in-group status based on what we wear. And in doing so, we’ve helped to create abhorrent conditions not only around the world, but in our very own backyards. American sweatshops exist. Women, who make up the majority of garment workers, make $4-6 per hour, working sixty-hour weeks. They’re sexually harassed and raped by the bosses who threaten to fire them if they speak up. Some make as little as $3.75 per day. “The bottom line is that we want too much at a cost that feels low but is expensive in other ways,” writes Ms. Hardy, and she’s correct. This is a mess that we as a society have created.

Worn Out is a reckoning for the fashion industry and the western consumer. From #metoo’s impact on the fashion industry as a whole, wage theft and wretched working conditions in garment factories around the world (such as Nike paying workers 12 cents per shoe, or Shein forcing 75-hour workweeks from their employees and having no emergency exits in their Chinese garment factories), the lack of inclusion in the fashion industry when it comes to plus-size and disabled models and thus lack of appropriate clothing for these groups, the damage done by influencers and what they should *really* be doing, the use of forced Uyghur labor (about one-fifth of all cotton garments around the world contain material from the Uyghur region in China; odds are, something in your closet was made by Uyghur slave labor), the environmental cost of the industry, Alyssa Hardy shines a light on it all. It’s not all hopeless, though; there are steps we can take, she tells us, to force the industry’s hand…but it’s not going to be easy, and it may be more collective effort than we have in us.

An incredible book that will change the way you shop. Read it; live it; tell your friends. Garment workers around the world deserve a better life, and only we as consumers can help make that a reality if we push the fashion industry, hard.

Worn Out is available September 27th, 2022.

Visit Alyssa Hardy’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.


Book Review: Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower

My second book lately by Wendy Lower (the first being The Ravine). She’s an amazing researcher and fabulous writer, but her books are heavy, so beware. I added Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields (Chatto Windus, 2013) as soon as I learned about it, but it took me a bit to get to it, due to life business and waiting to be in the right mental space. It does share a lot in common with James Wyllie’s Nazi Wives, so if you’re looking to learn more about that aspect of World War II and Holocaust history, both these books should be on your reading list.

When we learn about the history of Germany in the 1940’s, the names in the books read like a long parade of men. It’s men who did the killing, who perpetrated all the harm, who were responsible for the mass death and suffering. But is that true? Using well-honed research skills, interviews, and original source documents, Wendy Lower says no. Not only were many, many German women supportive of the mission, especially on the Eastern front, more than a few of them participated in the murders and created suffering and pain for many others.

Many were there to support their husbands; others signed up to be stationed on the eastern front out of a sense of adventure. For whatever reason they came to be part of the Nazi killing machine, plenty of women supported Hitler’s ideals and bought into the antisemitism and hatred that was par for the course at the time. And far be it from learning anything; these attitudes followed many of these women – few of whom were prosecuted for their actions – long after the war ended.

Not an easy read. The women Lower portrays are the furthest from ‘sugar, spice, and all things nice’ as one can possibly be. These women are hateful and murderous, finding the death of human beings funny and entertaining. They delight in the suffering they cause, only to deny and weep when brought to trial. While women were often looked at as weaker and unable to perpetrate such horrors, Ms. Lower shows that this was absolutely not the case. Women were just as disgustingly brutal, and in some cases more so, than the men.

Rough book, but an important one.


Book Review: The Outside World by Tova Mirvis

A while back, I learned about Tova Mirvis and became interested in reading her books. I started with her memoir, The Book of Separation, and I loved it, so I was curious as to what her fiction looked like. I was able to get a copy of The Outside World (Vintage, 2004), and I was hooked on the first page. I am 100000000000% in now for reading everything she’s ever written, and I don’t say this about many authors. (And y’all know I don’t read heaps of fiction, so this is HUGE.)

Tzippy Goldman has been dreaming of her wedding day since she was a child. Marriage is a huge deal in her Orthodox Jewish community, and the discussion of and planning for her eventual wedding was a bonding point between Tzippy and her mother, a woman who only became Orthodox as an adult and who is always grappling to fit in and achieve a higher social status. But now that she’s in her early 20’s and still single, Tzippy’s thisclose to becoming an old maid, and her mother’s panic is grating on her. Off to Israel for a year of study and to hopefully get some space, she finally meets – or re-meets a childhood friend, Bryan, who now goes by Baruch, and the two quickly become inseparable.

Baruch’s parents are stressed to the hilt over their son’s metamorphosis from a sports-loving, Columbia-bound teenager into this black hat-wearing, strictly observant young man. It’s causing some definite friction at home, and both parents fear for his future and begin to question their own commitment to their family traditions. As Baruch and Tzippy begin to build their life together, all back home is definitely not well, and the pressures of the community will wear on everyone.

My goodness, this was an utterly fascinating look into the stress of an insular Orthodox Jewish community. Different levels of observance, the pressure to marry, the insane pressure to follow community norms, the gossip, the subtle – and not-so-subtle – demands to go with the flow or be ostracized, the gossip, all of it makes for interesting and complex characters who are struggling to find themselves and where they fit in within the confines of a restrictive society. The Outside World is narrated by multiple characters (my favorite!); Ms. Mirvis does an absolutely incredible job at showing varying commitments to observance, what changing observance looks like, and the confusion, the thought processes, and the stress it takes to navigate such changing waters.

I truly enjoyed all of this. I loved the look into the community, the questioning, Baruch’s increased observance versus his father’s dwindling desire to remain observant, versus his mother’s foray into the more mystical aspects of Judaism. I loved Shayna’s desperate attempts to do anything and everything she could to gain status in the community and Tzippy’s increasing frustration with her.

The Outside World definitely assumes a level of familiarity with Orthodox Judaism, so if you’re going to pick this up (and you should!) and there’s something you don’t understand, ask your Jewish friends (*waves*) or go check out My Jewish Learning and do a search there. They’re an excellent resource for all things Jewish.

Loved, loved, loved this book, and now I’m super excited about reading the rest of Tova Mirvis’s fiction!

Visit Tova Mirvis’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

Book Review: Who I Was With Her by Nita Tyndall

Secret time!

In high school, I had a terrible, terrible crush on this guy. It wasn’t something anyone really knew about; while we later became friends due more to circumstance than anything, I couldn’t even speak to him, couldn’t hardly look at him, my anxiety was so terrible. But hoooooooooo boy, did I like him, for years. And, because anxiety is so much fun, my brain worried about how I would cope if the unthinkable happened and he died. How would I manage my grief since no one knew how much I had liked him? How would I get through daily life carrying all that pain that no one had any reason to suspect I had? When I heard about the premise of Who I Was with Her by Nita Tyndall (HarperTeen, 2020), I gasped; someone had written my book, or a version of it! Immediately it went onto my TBR.

Who I Was with Her starts off with a moment of shock: Maggie is dead, a fact Corinne overhears from her cross country teammates, and which throws her into a full-blown nightmare, because Maggie was her girlfriend, a girlfriend no one knew she had. They’d been dating for a year, and, living in the south, Corinne hadn’t been comfortable coming out. She’d already had a lot on her plate, adjusting to living in a new place, her newly divorced parents, her alcoholic mother. Adding her community’s homophobia onto the pile felt like it was too much, so Corinne kept her bisexuality and Maggie under wraps.

But now Maggie is gone and Corinne’s grief is all-encompassing, but what do you do with grief no one knows you have? As Corinne begins to navigate life without Maggie, she gets to know Maggie’s brother and her ex-girlfriend (an ex Corinne had no idea existed), and she begins to confront some hard truths about who she is, what she wants, and what it takes to live authentically.

What a sad, heavy book, one that I’m so glad exists. Corinne is a complicated character; she has a lot going on in her life, and she doesn’t always make the best decisions, for herself or for others, but the decisions she makes are entirely understandable, given the context of what she’s been through the past few years. At times she can be selfish, but that’s what happens when your emotional needs aren’t taken into consideration by your parents; you’re forced to focus on yourself in order to survive. I dealt with some similar issues to Corinne when I was in high school and it still affects me to this day, so Corinne absolutely resonated with me.

The grief in this book is nearly tangible. Compound that with college stress, parent stress, school stress, sports stress, friend-group drama, and you have a main character who by all means should have been on the edge of a complete breakdown, but she does her best to hold it together, with not-always great outcomes. The book ends on a hopeful note; Maggie is obviously gone and never coming back, but Corinne has learned about herself, learned to advocate for herself, and has learned to be more honest, and she’s set for a better future. The pain is still there, but she has more tools to handle it, and the strong writing carries this to a bittersweet conclusion.

Who I Was with Her is a raw, honest book, one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Visit Nita Tyndall’s website here.

Follow them on Twitter here.


Book Review: The Ravine: A Family, a Photograph, a Holocaust Massacre Revealed by Wendy Lower

It was a combing through of my library’s catalog (the old person impulse to still refer to it as a ‘card catalog’! I have a scar on my hand from dropping and thus trying to catch the H drawer of my library’s card catalog when I was 12. I think of it as a super cool natural bookworm tattoo…) to look for Jewish books that I learned about the existence of The Ravine: A Family, a Photograph, a Holocaust Massacre Revealed by Wendy Lower (Mariner Books, 2021). I knew I had to read it – I feel a big responsibility to read everything I can handle about the Holocaust, but I had to wait until I had the mental space for it. And in trying to read all the ebooks that have been sitting on my list for a bit, this book came up…and it was finally in.

The Ravine covers a photograph that captures murder in progress. The photograph, shown in detail several times throughout the book, shows a woman in the process of being shot and falling into a deep ravine, a small child at her side and an even smaller child tucked in to her lap. Several men stand behind her, one who is doing the shooting. A cloud of gunsmoke hangs in the air.

Wendy Lower, scholar and researcher, worked diligently over a long period of time to identify not only the people in the photo, but also the photographer who took it. The Ravine documents this arduous process, which takes her across countries, deep into archives and down village streets around the world. Phone calls, documents, interviews, research into cameras; Ms. Lower used all the skills she had, along with the skills of other people, to help flesh out the story of this horrifying moment captured for posterity.

Not an easy book to read. The book gets into some truly gutting details about the horrors of the Holocaust, and there were a few times I struggled to continue reading. It’s also a research-heavy book, written in a fairly academic style, so this isn’t something the casual reader is likely to pick up for a relaxing weekend read.

It does tell a story of how intense historical research can be, and the lengths and depths researchers need to go to in order to ensure that their work is correct. The Holocaust isn’t over; its effects are still felt in the remaining survivors and in the family members who were affected by what their loved ones suffered. This is evident in some of the interviews Ms. Lower conducts; the subjects break down and struggle to answer her questions. This is still a raw subject for them, and this book does a good job showing how the pain hasn’t ended.

The Ravine is a heavy, heavy book, but a worthy read.

Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: August 2022

How is it already September?!?!??

Seriously, summer just started, and now it’s over? WHAT?!?!? I really don’t understand how time works anymore. I did have a very relaxing summer, however. So much time spent reading outside on the front porch (which, to be honest, I enjoy just as much as reading on my swing – which is STILL waiting to be fixed, sigh – and it doesn’t put me to sleep, so that’s nice! Also, I can wave at neighbors who walk by and check out their adorable dogs). So many relaxing days. Now that it’s back to homeschooling, I hit the ground running at 6:30 am and most days, I don’t get a single break until I’m done for the day at 8 pm. I wish I were joking.

My me-reading will slow down, but fortunately, my daughter and I are reading a lot of really great children’s nonfiction (which I LOVE). That’s one of the definite upsides of homeschooling. I was able to discover so many fascinating books for us to make our way through throughout the year. We’re only one week in and we’ve already read some great books (my history/social studies choices alone are fabulous!), so I’m thinking it’ll be a pretty good year on this front anyway.

I’m still behind in posting reviews, though NOT behind in writing them – that’s a first! But when I get caught up, my posts will probably be a little slower, since I’m not ready quite as quickly now, with my days being devoted to my daughter’s education, and most of the rest of my time devoted to cooking and cleaning (ugh). So I’ll still be here, just not quite as often. : )

Let’s get this roundup started, shall we?

Books I Read in August 2022

1. The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger

2. Idiot’s Guides: Foraging by Mark Vorderbruggen

3. What the Witch Left by Ruth Chew (no review; a reread to my daughter)

4. In Pain: A Bioethicist’s Personal Struggle with Opioids by Travis Rieder

5. Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes du Mez (no review)

6. I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day

7. As If on Cue by Marisa Kanter

8. A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan (review to come)

9. When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (review to come)

10. The Explosive Child by Ross W. Greene (no review)

11. Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet by Ashlee Piper (review to come)

12. Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (no review)

13. The Ravine: A Family, a Photograph, a Holocaust Massacre Revealed by Wendy Lower (review to come)

14. The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee (no review)

15. Who I Was With Her by Nita Tyndall (review to come)

16. The Outside World by Tova Mirvis (review to come)

17. Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491 by Charles C. Mann (no review; read as part of my daughter’s school)

18. Come and Hear: What I Saw in My Seven-And-a-Half-Year Journey Through the Talmud by Adam Kirsch (no review)

Eighteen books completed. That’s a completely acceptable number to me. I suspect they’ll be back down next month, simply due to far less time to read. Such is life!  

I didn’t review Jesus and John Wayne or The Sum of Us because I’m just not smart enough to speak about those topics, to be honest. They’re both fascinating books (with more than a little bit of overlap in the topics they cover, unsurprisingly), and I recommend both of them if you’ve got the time and mental space for them. I read Le Petit Prince in its original French; I usually try to read one French book a year, but I don’t always get to it; it’s *really* been difficult to do during the pandemic, with everyone at home and my responsibilities having increased 4378432794832-fold. There’s just not enough time, and it’s never, ever quiet around here (truly, my husband and daughter make enough noise for at least 30 people, and noise-cancelling headphones don’t cut it). I managed it this year, however, but it wasn’t easy!

Thirteen of these books came from my TBR.

State of the Goodreads TBR

Last month, we left off at 140 books; this month, we’ve got…131! Slowly, slowly going down.

Books I Acquired in August 2022

Another used book sale! I love the group that puts these things on, and I’m glad to see them return. We picked up so many good books this summer. Here’s our latest batch:

Current Podcast Love

I’ve been listening to more Crime Junkies as I fall asleep, along with You’re Wrong About, which is pretty interesting, and I love that each episode has a different topic. When I’m awake and I can focus on the episodes (like when I’m exercising), I’ve been enjoying Digging Up the Duggars, which dissects episodes of the Duggars’ show, knowing all that we know now about the scandals that were brewing and/or ongoing throughout. Super interesting!

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

Still stuck on I and Thou by Martin Buber; I’ll eventually get through it! I also finished Come and Hear: What I Saw in My Seven-and-a-Half Year Journey Through the Talmud by Adam Kirsch, 20 pages a day, on days when I had time (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA). It was lovely reading, though not necessarily a book that I wanted to put my sole focus into, so the short-chunk-per-day method really worked well here. I’ll likely finish I and Thou next, and move on to something else…

Real Life Stuff

Seriously. Life is exhausting right now.

I get up, get dressed, gulp down some coffee, take care of the dishes from the night before, and then get whatever I have planned for dinner started and/or made. If it’s Monday or Tuesday, I squeeze in a half-hour of virtual volunteer work before we start school, usually by 8:15. My daughter has ADHD; herding her through math and language arts, our most intense subjects, is often like pulling teeth and takes every last ounce of patience I can scrounge up. This usually takes us right to lunch; most days this past week, we had working lunch breaks and we worked through the afternoon, often until 3 pm. And then, if it’s Monday or Tuesday, I squeeze in another half-hour of volunteer work, then tackle whatever’s left to do of dinner and clean up the living room, which is where we do our schoolwork.

After we have dinner, I do whatever exercise I’m doing for the day (if this is walking with my son, it often takes close to or over an hour), then I shower, and then it’s time to put dinner away, clean up, and put my daughter to bed. This puts me at 7:30 or 8 pm, and I haven’t had a moment of downtime at all throughout the day. Fridays, we have my daughter’s counseling appointment, so school will go longer that day. Wednesdays, I go grocery shopping; that usually takes at least two hours after school.

Right now, I’m getting most of the bigger stuff like laundry done on weekends. I get no help with housework or cooking (other than my son occasionally pitching in to cook), so ALL OF THIS is on me, and I’m absolutely struggling and overwhelmed. I need like 347823473928 more hours in the day so the house doesn’t look like a disaster, the laundry isn’t always behind, the compost and recycling aren’t piling up to be taken outside, and the kitchen isn’t full of other people’s dishes that I have to scrape off.

So now you can see why I have so little time to read during the school year! But that’s life, and it’s not going to change, so I’m doing my best to deal. I do really enjoy that hour or so of reading I get at the end of each day, though!

Wishing you all a wonderful September!