Tall Poppies Review: In Praise of Difficult Women

in Nonfiction by

I’ve long been a fan of Karen Karbo, the award-winning author of the Kick-Ass Women series and more. This past fall, I holed up with Karen and about 20 other writer friends at a weekend long conference of our fellow Tall Poppy Writers at an Airbnb in Chicago. We shared a bathroom and brainstormed about the writing biz and our respective places in it. If you’d asked me then, I would have told you Karen Karbo isn’t the least bit “difficult.” But now I’ve read her latest book, In Praise of Difficult Women, (Foreword by the fabulous Cheryl Strayed) and I’ve changed my mind.

Karbo has written a collection of essays about what it is to be a “difficult” woman – a word she admits from the start is not defined by any one trait. (“As I read and wrote, I was a little delirious to discover the many ways in which women can be difficult.”)

A review of the Table of Contents of Karbo’s collection reveals few surprises. What is surprising, however, is how Karbo writes about these women – a word she admits from the start is not defined by any one trait. (“As I read and wrote, I was a little delirious to discover the many ways in which women can be difficult.”) The portrayals of the women in Karbo’s collection are not sanitized or fictionalized to create modern day superheroes. Instead, there’s a reminder in her writing about the deeply human nature of those we love to admire.

Journalist Martha Gellhorn is described as “cantankerous.” Creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes, wrote an ABC pilot before Grey’s, that tanked. Helen Gurley Brown was a feminist who “displayed her ignorance about HIV and AIDS” in the 80’s. Billie Jean King declined Bobby Riggs’ first challenge out of fear.

The truth is, with the insight and wisdom of her newest collection of essays, Karen Karbo shows us that for many of us, being difficult is simply to embrace our most authentic selves.

Being difficult, it turns out, just might be easier than we think.

In Praise of Difficult Women: Life Lessons From 29 Heroines Who Dared to Break the Rules (National Geographic, 2018) is now available for purchase. For more information on the author, visit her website at www.karenkarbo.com


Karen Karbo is the author of fourteen award-winning novels, memoirs and works of non-fiction including the best-selling “Kick Ass Women” series. Her 2004 memoir, THE STUFF OF LIFE, was a New York Times Notable Book, a Books for a Better Life Award finalist, and winner of the Oregon Book Award for Creative Non-fiction. A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, Karen’s three adults novels have also been named New York Times Notable Books. Her short stories, essays, articles and reviews have appeared in Elle, Vogue, O, Esquire, Outside, The New York Times, Salon, and other magazines. Recently, she was one of the 24 writers selected for the inaugural Amtrak Residency. Most recently, she is the author of In Praise of Difficult Women: Life Lessons from 29 Heroines Who Dared to Break the Rules (National Geographic 2018).

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