Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik, a journalist and law student, respectively, came together to publish Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg which thus far is the best, funniest, and most educational text I've read in 2016.
2016 is a big year for women's rights, and I don't mean that in a positive way. It's scary right now to be a woman. (And I say that as a straight, white, middle class woman—it is even worse for women who are minorities, transgender, gay, poor, etc.) It's terrifying that our autonomy is under constant attack when it comes to personal reproductive and health choices. And let's be real: these attacks are primarily from rich white men who have no business regulating the bodies that aren't theirs.
(Soapbox alert: Oral arguments were heard in early March regarding restrictive abortion laws in Texas—and if you're like, wait, what is that all about? Google that shit and get yourself educated pronto because it is CRAZY terrible. If you can't tell by now, I'm strongly pro-choice which doesn't mean that I am pro-abortion. It means that I think every woman has the right to make choices for herself and her own body, and every woman deserves access to resources that help make all choices available to her—especially when it comes to bringing a new life into the world. I don't have to agree with another woman's decisions to recognize that they are hers to make, just as my own are mine to make. When you vote this fall, PLEASE consider the consequences of having a leader or government that regulates women's bodies. Don't let it happen.)
Okay, back to the book.
From a design perspective, this text is visually appealing and a perfect "coffee table" book—not that I own that many of those, but it's notable that I couldn't even compel myself to write in it because I wanted it to stay beautiful. Carmon and Knizhnik managed to get permission from the Notorious B.I.G. and Sony Music to use the rapper's lyrics as chapter titles illustrated by graffiti artist Maria "TooFly" Castillo aka a super cool chick. Family photos and correspondence is sprinkled in between the pages, alongside court depictions of RBG in action; you'll also find helpful timelines and breakdowns of her cases and briefs, including margin notes from various law professors to make it easy for the average reader to understand the arguments made, the history behind her phrasing and the importance of each win or loss.
The first two chapters outline why Ginsberg recently caught the attention of millennials and the general public, though she's been on the Court for years and years, and provides the background on the RBG tumblr and popular memes all over social media; they also lay out a detailed timeline of her life thus far, next to key dates and moments in the women's and civil's rights movements. In the following sections, the reader basically follows along with Ruth's life and career, and gets schooled in her legal prowess, including her successes and failures.
Suffice it to say I learned a LOT from this book. I spent most of it exclaiming out loud and rereading sections to my husband with phrases like "Can you believe that . . ." and "Did you know . . ." Below are some highlights:
RBG's mother, Celia, died the day before her daughter's high school graduation and secretly left her $8,000 for education -- no small feat for a stay-at-home mother in 1950.
RBG met her husband, Marty, at Cornell, and after they married, they both went to Harvard Law School because Harvard Business School didn't accept women. At Harvard, some professors held "Ladies' Day," where they only called on women to answer questions. There were only 9 women in Ruth's graduating class as a whole. The women were also barred from certain reading rooms of the library (for reasons unknown) . . . which probably made getting their work done challenging.
Later in life, the school that her young son attended called her to say that he had gotten in trouble again. Her response: "This child has two parents." They started calling her husband, too.
Best quote: "Anger, resentment, envy. These are emotions that just sap your energy. They're not productive and don't get you anyplace, so get over it. . . . Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you. Present facts; the truth is weapon enough."
Notorious RBG is well worth your hard-earned dollars. Buy it, keep it handy, read snippets often and let it inspire you to use your talents to make a tiny difference in the world. Those small efforts matter; they build up over time and can change people's lives slowly but surely. Ginsberg is a living example of that.