Skepchick Book Club: Unorthodox
(Note: The bottom of this post contains information for next month’s book club)
Welcome back to the Skepchick Book Club! This month’s book was Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman. I’ll admit, sometimes I struggle to get all the way through the book club books (I prefer dystopic future and other fiction) because non-fiction can be densely packed with facts, but I had no trouble getting through this fascinating memoir and I even had trouble putting it down at night. For those who read it, what were your thoughts on the book? And if you didn’t read the book, but have seen the author speak, share your thoughts on that as well.
Deborah starts the book with her childhood in the orthodox Satmar community in Williamsburg and the rules involved in growing up female. She sneaks secular books under her mattress (she mentions Matilda, which is also one of my favorite childhood books). At 17 years old, she was arranged to marry a man she had only met once, and the first year of her marriage was fraught with sexual dysfunction. She had to deal with vaginismus (which is more common among women in strict religious communities), a vaginal septum, and panic attacks (brought on by the pressure of not being able to consummate her relationship immediately). And it didn’t help that her husband treated her like a mattress with a hole in it. By the time she was 19, she had her first (and thus far only) child. As time passed, she started to become more rebellious and disillusioned with the community (and her marriage), until she finally left it all behind (and took her son).
The book is vague on exactly what happened when she left, but some of these details can be filled in by searching around the internet. Some people have taken issue with her memoir because some small details have been changed or omitted. For example, she doesn’t mention her younger sister (who went to live with her mother). I found a lot of these criticisms to be suspiciously nit-picky. She didn’t fabricate the story, she just edited certain parts out to protect people or other editorial reasons. She has responded to the criticism on her blog and reactions to the book have been noted elsewhere. The fact is that she is a woman from the Satmar community and she has a strong voice. If her community treated her the same way it treated the town pedophile, they would leave her alone, but instead there are those who wish to silence her. Here are a few more links:
- “Roundtable Discussion” on “Unorthodox” by Deborah Feldman
- I was a Hasidic Jew – but I broke free
- Once upon a life: Deborah Feldman
The only part of the book where I was a little disappointed was when she took up smoking, but I understand why she did it. Cigarettes and women’s rebellion have been tied together since the 1920s. And on that note, many of the Boston book clubbers mentioned that one of the more shocking things about the book was that even though it all took place within the past 20 years, it felt like it was closer to 100 years ago.
This Month’s Themed Dessert: Wacky Cake
I was in the mood to make a quick cake with the ingredients I already had in my cupboard, and I stumbled upon this recipe for Wacky Cake. The recipe was developed during wartime rationing and so it omits butter and eggs, but everyone who tried the cake thought it was moist and delicious. The secret is the vinegar and baking soda in the batter, which create bubbles when mixed and make the cake light and fluffy. So that’s how the cake fits with the unorthodox theme, because it’s delicious despite missing some key ingredients.
For the best results, make this cake right in the pan (another bonus, less dishes to wash!), and immediately pop it in the oven after mixing so that the vinegar reaction can work its magic. Also, don’t overmix, it’s OK to have a few streaks of flour in the batter (or else your cake will be dense and dry). Serve with ice cream or whipped cream for extra deliciousness. (Recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen.)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup natural cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup water
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat 8-inch-square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
- Whisk flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together in pan. Make 1 large and 2 small craters in dry ingredients. Add oil to large crater and vinegar and vanilla separately to remaining small craters. Pour water into pan (over all ingredients), and mix until just a few streaks of flour remain. Immediately put pan in oven.
- Bake until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 30 minutes. Cool in pan, then dust with confectioners’ sugar. (If tightly wrapped, cake will keep for 3 days at room temperature.)
Next Book Club: Because I Said So!
On February 24th, I will be posting the next installment of the Skepchick Book Club and we will be discussing Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids by Ken Jennings. I hope that you can join us in the comments and let us know your own myths from childhood! See you then!