My Little Red Book by Rachel Kauder Nalebuff

About the Book:

MY LITTLE RED BOOK is an anthology of stories about first periods, collected from women of all ages from around the world. The accounts range from light-hearted (the editor got hers while water skiing in a yellow bathing suit) to heart-stopping (a first period discovered just as one girl was about to be strip-searched by the Nazis). The contributors include well-known women writers (Meg Cabot, Erica Jong, Gloria Steinem, Cecily von Ziegesar), alongside today's teens. And while the authors differ in race, faith, or cultural background, their stories share a common bond: they are all accessible, deeply honest, and highly informative. Whatever a girl experiences or expects, she'll find stories that speak to her thoughts and feelings.

Ultimately, MY LITTLE READ BOOK is more than a collection of stories. It is a call for a change in attitude, for a new way of seeing periods. In a time when the taboo around menstruation seems to be one of the few left standing, it makes a difficult subject easier to talk about, and helps girls feel proud instead of embarrassed or ashamed. By revealing what it feels like to undergo this experience first hand, and giving women the chance to explain their feelings in their own words, it aims to provide support, entertainment, and a starting point for discussion for mothers and daughters everywhere. It is a book every girl should have. Period.

I was fortunate enough to be able to ask Rachel some questions as part of her blog tour. Here is what she had to say:

Could you please tell us a little about your book?

It’s a collection of stories about first periods told by women and girls themselves. It’s diverse—there are stories told in AIM conversation form, stories from grandmothers who don’t know how to type, stories all the way from India to Ohio. I see it as somewhere between a manifesto and a bedside companion for girls going through their first period.
Did something specific happen to prompt you to write this book?

My own, traumatic first experience. Think waterskiing, yellow bathing suit, alone with old-fashioned grandfather.

Who or what is the inspiration behind this book?

My wrinkly great aunt whispered to me her first period story, shocking me and making me wonder why she was whispering. She got her first period while fleeing Nazi-occupied Poland; she was naked in line waiting to be strip-searched by a Nazi officer when she noticed that her leg was blood red. The officer was so disgusted that her period saved her from being examined! And the craziest part is that she had never told anyone before!

Who is your biggest supporter?

My dad.

Your biggest critic?

My dad. (I’m eighteen, what can you expect)

What cause are you most passionate about and why?

Ending awkwardness, one step at a time. Periods is the first step. There is no reason that girls should feel as ashamed as they do when they get their first period! I am trying to end an unjustified stigma. Of course, periods aren’t my whole life. I am really into food. Eating well, sustainability, cooking, farming, the whole shebang.

In the last year have you learned or improved on any skills?

Publishing a book has taught me so much! From how to write a book proposal to how to pretend sounding professional, When I wasn’t working on the book, I was learning to cook, and like to think I have improved my dicing abilities.

Do you have any rituals you follow when finishing a piece of work?

Mmm not consciously. Although I generally look at recipes whenever I want to give my mind a break. So I probably go on Epicurious.

Who has influenced you throughout your career as a writer?

Dave Eggers, Henry Millers, Joyce Maynard, Nabokov. But, erm, I’m not really a writer yet, more of an editor for now. Maybe someday!

What is the most important thing in your life right now?

My ukulele. My sister. A sharp knife.

What are you currently working on?

Making My Little Red Book a project that will live and expand on the web. I’m collecting stories for the website and working on first-period story videos; see I am also working with The Color of Words, a New Haven based nonprofit which teaches inner city kids how to express themselves by making documentary films. I’m helping the girls making short movies about their own first period experiences. They are awesome. And are teaching me more than I am teaching them.

Do you have any advice for writers or readers?

Writing for writing’s sake is enough. That’s the true reason to write. For readers of the book, I would suggest thinking about, as contributor Michelle Jaffe discusses, how each first period story reveals something about a woman’s character, and applying it to each story in the book. Then think about how your own first period reveals something about you.

Is there an author that inspired you to write?

Nabokov, because he has so much fun with the language. This opening of Lolita says it all: Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

Joyce Maynard, because her essay "An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life" showed me it was possible to articulate feelings and opinions that I had never before been able to verbalize. I am so lucky that she contributed her story. In her usual fashion, it is an incredibly thoughtful and poignant piece.

What are some of your long-term goals?

To become really really witty.

What do you feel is your biggest strength?

My enthusiasm. I always did well in my effort grades at school, and significantly less so for the achievement. Enthusiasm seems to be part of the package deal that comes with youth. And it has definitely helped me, if not achieve, at least appear like I am trying.

Biggest weakness?

My upper arm strength is significantly lacking. And my spelling is pretty poor. (I am definitely a child of spellcheck.) In seriousness, I am still working on finding my own voice.

What other books belong to the period story genre?

Comparing it to other puberty books, this is the first one that has been compiled by someone my age, and in which YA authors, moms and teens voices are all represented. Also, all the royalties are going towards a diverse range of women’s health charities, which makes the awareness message of the book more tangible -- just by buying the book, you are helping advance women’s causes.

You know the scenario – you’re stuck on a deserted island. What book would you bring with you and why?

Don’t Forget to Write, compiled by the staff at Valencia 826. It’s a book of awesome writing prompts and excerpts of inspirationally good writing, and cautionary bad writing. Going on a deserted island with that book is also known as a writing workshop.

Are you a different person now than you were 5 years ago? In what ways?

Entirely. I know what I like, and I don’t have braces.

What is the most important lesson you have learned from life so far?

When someone asks you a question you don’t really want to answer, it is okay to answer the question you wish the person had asked. My favorite story in the book is about a girl who thinks she is dying and burns her underwear in the woods every night for a week.

Is there anything you regret doing/not doing?

On my last day in a NOLS trek in Alaska, I decided not to purify my water in order to taste glacial water at least one time. I lived to regret that decision.

What is your favorite pasttime?

Staying up late and baking pies with friends.

About the Author:

Rachel Kauder Nalebuff was initially embarrassed by her first period, but the power of these recollections has rubbed off. She has come to embrace her own story (and has even used it as a conversation starter). Because she talked about periods...let’s just say more than once a month, it was inevitable that she would go down in her high school's history as "the period girl." She is absolutely cool with that.

Rachel is on a gap year before heading to Yale. In her free time, she plays guitar, rides/falls off her unicycle, and indulges in late-night pie baking with friends. She is donating all the proceeds of My Little Red Book to women’s health charities so that this book may benefit girls beyond its readers. My Little Red Book is her first published work.

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bethany said...

great Q&A!!! I loved your questions and Rachel's answers :)

I loved this book, what a great tour!

April said...

What an excellent interview! I loved all the questions and answers!!