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Wanting: Women Writing About Desire Book Review

02.20.23
Wanting: Women Writing About Desire Book Review

I’ve never really been a big reader of essays. Novels, yes; memoirs, at any chance I get; classics, several times a year. But when it came to collections of essays, I’d never really understood the appeal. That was until I came across Wanting: Women Writing About Desire, edited by Margot Kahn and Kelly McMasters. I first heard about it via Joanna Rakoff, who instantly became one of my online best friends after she took part in my Desert Island Books series. She shared on Instagram that she’d contributed an essay to the soon-to-be-released book, and so I swiftly asked if the publisher would mind sending me a proof in Australia. However, unable – and unwilling – to wait for it to arrive from the states, the publisher also kindly agreed to send me a PDF of the book so I could read it online while the book itself was en route. And so it was that at the end of 2022, I first read Joanna’s gorgeous contribution, before going onto read the book in its entirety – including Joanna’s essay many times over – after the book landed in my mailbox in Bondi.

Wanting: Women Writing About Desire Book Review

While I suppose many readers might dip in and out of a collection of essays – picking and choosing their favourites – after reading When I Imagine The Life I want by Larrisa Pham – in which she spoke about the desire to have a large and ambitious life – I was hooked, and went on to read the book in a single sitting. I loved An SUV Named Desire by Jennifer De Leon, a gorgeous account of striving to own the same car as the author’s then college-classmates. As the daughter of working-class immigrant parents, De Leon’s captivating tale offered a stunning portrayal of the complexities of class, identity and belonging.

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I also adored The Good Girl by Sonora Jha, a beautifully written take the author’s earliest crush; it ended on such a cliff-hanger that I found myself direct-messaging Jha on Instagram to find out what had happened in the months since she submitted her essay.

But my favourite by a country mile was There Is A Name For This by Joanna Rakoff. An intimate, gorgeous essay which Rakoff recently admitted took up two years of her life, it is simply one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. An ode to second chances, to love, and to the college boyfriend it took her many years and a twist of fate to finally return to. It was an utter delight to read, and while I’m now something of an essay-convert, I’m waiting for the day this particular one is turned into a full-length book.

Wanting: Women Writing About Desire Summary

An intimate and empowering anthology of essays that explore the changing face of female desire in whip-smart, sensuous prose, with pieces by Tara Conklin, Camille Dungy, Melissa Febos, Lisa Taddeo, and others

What is desire? And what are its rules? In this daring collection, award-winning and emerging female writers share their innermost longings, in turn dismantling both personal and political constructs of what desire is or can be.

In the opening essay, Larissa Pham unearths the ache beneath all her wants: time. Rena Priest’s desire for a pair of five-hundred-dollar cowboy boots spurs a reckoning with her childhood on the rez and the fraught history of her hometown. Other pieces in the collection turn cultural tropes around dating, sex, and romance on their heads—Angela Cardinale tries dating as a divorced mother of two in the California suburbs only to discover sweet solace in being alone; Keyanah B. Nurse finds power in polyamory; and when Joanna Rakoff spots a former lover at a bar, the heat between them unravels her family as she is pulled into his orbit—an undoing, she decides, that’s worth everything.

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Including pieces by Tara Conklin, Torrey Peters, Camille Dungy, Melissa Febos, Lisa Taddeo, and so many others, these candid and insightful essays tackle the complicated knot of women’s desire.

Featuring essays by Elisa Albert, Kristen Arnett, Molly McCully Brown, Angela Cardinale, Tara Conklin, Sonia Maria David, Jennifer De Leon, Camille T. Dungy, Melissa Febos, Amber Flame, Amy Gall, Aracelis Girmay, Sonora Jha, Nicole Hardy, Laura Joyce-Hubbard, TaraShea Nesbit, Keyanah B. Nurse, Torrey Peters, Amanda Petrusich, Larissa Pham, Rena Priest, Joanna Rakoff, Karen Russell, Domenica Ruta, Susan Shapiro, Terese Svoboda, Lisa Taddeo, Ann Tashi Slater, Abigail Thomas, Merritt Tierce, Michelle Wildgen, Jane Wong, and Teresa Wong

Further reading

I loved this podcast episode in which Margot Kahn and Kelly McMasters discuss Wanting.

Margot Kahn Author Bio

Margot Kahn is the author of the biography Horses That Buck, winner of the 2008 High Plains Book Award. Her poetry chapbook, A Quiet Day with the West on Fire, was the finalist for Floating Bridge Press’s 2021 prize. Together with Kelly McMasters, she is co-editor of two anthologies: the New York Times Editors’ Choice collection This Is the Place: Women Writing About Home and Wanting: Women Writing About Desire (Catapult, 2023).

Kelly McMasters Author Bio

Kelly McMasters is a Fulbright Specialist, former bookshop owner, and an author and essayist. She is the author of the forthcoming The Leaving Season: A Memoir-in-Essays (WW Norton, 2023) and co-editor of the forthcoming Wanting: Women Writing About Desire (Catapult, 2023).

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