Bookworm: ‘Her Country’ will surely strike the right chord

‘Queer Ducks’ – Informative, eye-opening, and just plain fun to read

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Correspondent

“Her Country: How the Women of Country Music Became the Success They Were Never Supposed to Be”

  • By Marissa R. Moss
  • c. 2022, Henry Holt
  • $28.99, 320 pages

Fingers on the second, third, and fourth strings. Placed correctly, that’s how you make a chord on the guitar; the joke is that you only need to know three out of five chords to sing country music. Get ‘em right, and you could be a star – unless you’re a woman and then, as in “Her Country” by Marissa R. Moss, your entire career could make you fret.

“Her Country: How the Women of Country Music Became the Success They Were Never Supposed to Be” by Marissa R. Moss.

Twenty-three years ago, little girls in the back seat of their parents’ vehicles might have listened to the country music coming from the radio up front and dreamed of being singers like Shania and Mindy and Jo Dee. Those women joined legends like Loretta and Dolly and Patsy with their painful lyrics about real life and relationships.

At around this same time, says Moss, three young female singers began making waves in their local Texas hometowns. Twelve-year-old Kacey Musgraves’ grandmother used her contacts and her influence to get her granddaughter’s duo in front of a President and a nation-wide audience at a time when country music wasn’t yet loudly political. Eleven-year-old Maren Morris was appearing on stage with experienced musicians many years older than she and wowing the crowds. And sixteen-year-old Mickey Guyton was seeing white girls everywhere who were getting breaks and making it big, and she wondered why the genre was largely ignoring Black female singers like her.

Twenty-three years ago, women were making huge inroads in country music, says, Moss, but 1999 was the year that everything changed again. Backlash for Taylor Swift’s “mistakes” made her leave country music. Chely Wright was soon all but ignored for coming out as a lesbian. Tanya Tucker “was turned into a witchy, rebellious floozy instead of a brilliant artist.” And the Telecommunications Act of 1996 allowed “huge conglomerates” to buy up small radio stations and consolidate them, instituting archaic rules and hosting good-old-boy events that many performers hated.

And the women of country fought back ...

Absolutely, “Her Country” will split readers into two categories: fans and non-fans.

For the latter group, author Marissa R. Moss may as well be diagramming the electronics in a military tank here – which is to say that you can try to follow along in this book but her heavy use of first names infers that you’ll need at least some knowledge of country music to do so.

If you have none, then, well ...

Listeners of country music, though – especially fans of Nashville’s epic female singers and songwriters – will eat up the tales of the struggles of their favorites and the feistiness that they’ve had to use to seize success. Reading about their smart moves and at-all-costs career decisions will make you feel gleefully like an insider; reading about the trade shows they’re forced to attend will make you want to stomp the design off your cowboy boots.

So, not a fan, not your book. If you’re a country music follower, however, what are you doing here? Go. Go find this book. G’wan. For you, “Her Country” will surely strike the right chord.

“Queer Ducks (and Other Animals)”

  • By Eliot Schrefer, illustrated by J.R. Zuckerberg
  • c. 2022, Katherine Tegan Books
  • $17.99, 240 pages

You know all there is to know about the birds and the bees. Or, well, you know enough about them, anyhow. You know that it takes a girl bee and a boy bee to make bay-bees, and that lovebirds dig their chicks. But did you know that penguins enjoy private lives or that bison bulls often bond? Read “Queer Ducks (and Other Animals)” by Eliot Schrefer, illustrations by J.R. Zuckerberg, and don’t let it bug you.

“Queer Ducks (and Other Animals)” by Eliot Schrefer, illustrated by J.R. Zuckerberg.

The year was 1834 and German zoologist August Kelch couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing. It wasn’t that he’d never noticed mating doodlebugs before, but the two he’d found were both male! He chalked it up to the only thing he could think of, believing it was an act of perversion.

You can’t entirely blame him: for centuries, early theologians and scientists, lacking the proper language, noted that animals’ love lives sometimes didn’t match the boy-meets-girl ideal then ascribed to humans, so they wrongly condemned it in the only ways they knew. The thing is animal sexuality varies so much that they might’ve overlooked other examples that could’ve proved the naturalness of it all. They may have seen mating animals and assumed something different than the truth.

Psychologists call it “confirmation bias – you see what you’re looking for – which means a pair of cats or dolphins, tête-à-tête, may both be male. You might see a male wrasse that changed gender for mating purposes, or a bonobo whose species is notoriously promiscuous. You might be watching a deer with a same-sex Dear.

Every farmer knows that cows will mount other cows in heat. Scientists have observed mating activity in female macaques lacking nearby males. Albatrosses form pair bonds without mating, and wild geese sometimes form throuples to care for a nest.

Maybe it matters to the individual animal, and maybe it doesn’t.

Which, suggests Schrefer, is half of an intriguing question: and why does that same behavior in humans matter to us?

So, you’ve noticed some embarrassing activity at the dog park or the zoo, and you’ve waived it away by saying it’s a matter of dominance or a power-play among animals. But, as you’ll ask yourself while reading “Queer Ducks (and Other Animals),” what if it’s not?

Another question you might pose: is it fair to compare a dog or elephant to a human in this way, or is it anthropomorphizing? Scientists tend to hate the latter; author Eliot Schrefer does both here, proving that the behavior so often condemned in homo sapiens is perfectly natural in the animal kingdom, while also urging readers to see the ridiculousness of affirming one while lambasting the other. The point is made, though it can get heavy-handed at times. Still, readers won’t be able to keep their thoughts from being provoked.

Also full of interviews with scientists and biologists and a nice biography of the author, too, this book is informative, eye-opening, and just plain fun to read. Yep, get “Queer Ducks (and Other Animals),” or you’ll be a monkey’s uncle.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.