My Little Red Book, edited by Rachel Kauder Nalebuff
Twelve Books, 2009
$14.99 USA/$16.99 Canada
My Little Red Book is a collection of stories about first periods. Editor Rachel Kauder Nalebuff spent five years gathering these stories as a way to share women’s experiences and to reduce the awkwardness and shame that often characterizes menstruation. The book is also designed to show the various experiences that women have with their first period, be that moment good or bad. My favorite thing about My Little Red Book is that it succeeds in showing the wide range of experiences that women have the first time they menstruate, and calls attention to the fact that those experiences tend to be frustrating more often than celebratory. I finished the book realizing the extent to which girls are not just ashamed of menstruation, but completely ignorant about the process.
Overall, I appreciated the book’s ambition and purpose. However, I was underwhelmed by many of the stories in this collection. I realize that Nalebuff wanted to collect narratives from women from all over the world and of all ages, regardless of whether or not they were professional writers. I can tell that she wanted to create a book that included a wide range of voices rather than just literary or intellectual celebrities. However, many of these stories do not appear to have a larger point or purpose. While authors narrate what happened on the day of their first period, these stories do not appear to have any larger purpose or point; many of them seem to be included just for the sake of having one more period story. The best works in this collection are the ones which are more than simply an anecdote about a first period, but instead contribute something larger to our understandings of the ways in which women understand and interpret menstruation. I am particularly fond of “The Simple Vase, Part I” and “The Simple Vase, Part II,” by Laura and Rebecca Wexler. These stories, written by a mother and daughter, present two perspectives on menstruation in a way that shows the reader not just what a first period is like, but how different generations handle the same event. Unfortunately, the quality of stories in this collection is uneven at best, and the strong stories do not balance out the weak ones.
Nalebuff includes a bibliography at the end of the book which includes anthropological, fictional, and medical resources. The bibliography does a great job of rounding out the stories included in this book. However, I would have liked for it to have included more resources for women interested in cloth pads, menstrual cups, and other forms of period protection. All but one of the stories in this collection feature the authors using either maxi pads or tampons. I understand that the majority of women in the United States use disposable menstrual products, so it makes sense that the use of alternative menstrual products is underrepresented in the stories themselves. However, Nalebuff coulMy Little Red Bookd have created more balance by including references for alternative products in her bibliography. She includes the URL for tamponcase.com, a site that sells funny tampon cases, but she never thought to provide the URL for lunapads.com, gladrags.com, or manymoonsalternatives.com.
I also thought the “Do More” second of the book was particularly well-done. Here, Nalebuff discusses the various organizations who will receive donations that come from the sales of My Little Red Book (Nalebuff is donating all proceeds from this collection to both domestic and international charities that promote women’s health). This section calls attention to the various problems that women face when it comes to healthcare, with a spotlight on problems faced by women in other countries. This section is particularly useful because it takes the perspectives of the individual women who told their stories and turns them into a jumping-off point for activism.
For more information, visit www.mylittleredbook.net.