Women’s History Month: The Rules Do Not Apply

Women’s History Month is resonating strongly with me this year. Not since the 60s have women’s collective voices been so clear and purposeful, as evidenced by the Women’s March and beyond. The political climate seems to have opened a channel, empowering women to candidly share their deepest emotions, their challenges, their fears.

Listening to Ariel Levy’s actual voice narrating her new memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, I felt that this was one of those times when the audiobook surpassed the written version of a woman’s poignant, wrenching story.

Women's History Month: The Rules Do Not Apply

The Rules Do Not Apply

In her brave but vulnerable whiskey-husky voice, Levy opens with this:

“In the last few months, I have lost my son, my spouse, and my house. Every morning I wake up and for a few seconds I’m disoriented, confused as to why I feel grief seeping into my body, and then I remember what has become of my life.”

Suffused with shock and grief, she obsessed over the choices she had made over the course of her life. Before the tragedy, she had always laughed in the face of convention, finding her own interpretations of sexuality, work, love, marriage. Loss had never figured into her life plan. But then, does it ever?

Levy began her career doing scut work at New York Magazine and landed the plum job of staff writer at The New Yorker in 2008. Her beat was often the offbeat: traveling to rural South Africa to track down Caster Semenya, a female Olympic runner whose gender had been under pubic scrutiny; reporting on a gang of lesbian separatists named Lamar Van Dyke. As she wrote in “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” the New Yorker essay for which she received the 2014 National Magazine Award for Essays and Criticism,

I’ve spent the past twenty years putting myself in foreign surroundings as frequently as possible. There is nothing I love more than traveling to a place where I know nobody, and where everything will be a surprise, and then writing about it. The first time I went to Africa for a story, I was so excited that I barely slept during the entire two-week trip. Everything was new: the taste of springbok meat, the pink haze over Cape Town, the noise and chaos of the corrugated-tin alleyways in Khayelitsha township. I could still feel spikes of adrenaline when I was back at my desk in New York, typing, while my spouse cooked a chicken in the kitchen.

In fact, it was in Mongolia, on a reporting assignment (and the topic of this essay) that Levy lost her baby. A nagging pain in her abdomen became stronger, and then excruciating. Her baby was born in the bathroom of her hotel room and died minutes later.

Later, her doctor told her the miscarriage had been caused by placental abruption, a rare problem that usually arises from high blood pressure or heavy cocaine use. Or because of the pregnant mother’s advanced age. Levy was 38. It could have happened anywhere, her doctor assured her. Traveling was not the factor. Nonetheless, Levy was wracked with guilt.

Her mother came to stay with her for a while. When Levy asked her, what will become of me, her mother answered, you will be fine. Other times she said, you are not alone. During Women’s History Month let us celebrate the voices of women who can share the universal emotions of grief and loss and survival that let others know that we are not alone.

The Rules Do Not Apply is painful, honest, revealing, and intimate. Levy is unforgiving of herself, but you will want to hug the person behind the voice.

See for yourself. Try out Audible with a free month of accessing a vast list of selections.


This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Audible.
The opinions and text are all mine.

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43 Thoughts on “Women’s History Month: The Rules Do Not Apply

  1. How gut wrenching, Helene. I feel so much love and compassion for the author. How much tragedy can one person stand? I just don’t know. But you did the book justice in your review, my friend. (Of course you did!)

    A beautiful review of a touching story. I hold her in my heart.

    • hbludman on March 19, 2017 at 4:21 pm said:

      That is such a lovely comment, Cathy. You always speak from your heart. <3

  2. Okay, I’m in. This is compelling and sounds like a good book club. And why aren’t we doing audio book clubs? There’s an idea! Sometimes, as you describe here, the audio is so much better. After all, we are listening to the author’s ‘voice.’ Thanks, Helene!

    • hbludman on March 19, 2017 at 4:22 pm said:

      Her voice is so mesmerizing, Cathy, and yes, it would make for a great book group book.

  3. What a heart-wrenching story. I agree that women’s rights are more timely today than they have been in several years. Such an important time for us.

    • hbludman on March 19, 2017 at 4:22 pm said:

      Really sad story, Kristen. She was brave to share so much personal information about her life.

  4. Wow! That sounds amazing! Definitely need to read that book!

  5. That sounds like quite a story. I have seen so many women provide support and love and sisterhood. I’ve seen some who do not. But more of the former.

  6. Very close to home story. Sounds like an intresting read

  7. Okay. You’ve set the hook. OMG, now I have to know what happened to husband and house. How horrible.

  8. I love it when the author narrates their own book. Thank you for the review!

  9. That’s terrible.. But interesting too. I just might have to check out the book. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I cannot imagine how terrifying it must have been to lose a baby so far from home, so sad.
    I drive such long distances so often, I’ve been enjoying audio books. My reading has suffered because of my busy schedule so listening has been wonderful!
    This story sounds so sad but I want to read it.

  11. this sounds like a great book. I have been wanting to get a few new ones to start reading this month, and this might be one I have to check out.

  12. Wow…. I am an audible addict and am so glad to hear about what sounds like a moving and heart wrenching listen. Good thing I have a couple credits saved so I can go get this book now.

  13. I love listening to books on Audible and this book (heart-wrenching though it is) sounds like the perfect book for this format. You are right – I think we are seeing a whole new version of the women’s movement these days and that’s a good thing.

  14. This book sounds amazing! Amazing story, amazing women. It’s unbelievable how much one person can stand.

  15. You’ve made a compelling argument to listen to the book. It sounds fascinating. I’m definitely going to check it out.

  16. Wow, I can’t imagine having had to experience that. I’ve miscarried before, but I was nowhere near term, and it wasn’t anything like this. What a brave story for this author to tell.

    • hbludman on March 19, 2017 at 4:24 pm said:

      It was really late for a miscarriage. I can’t imagine how devastating it was for her.

  17. Oh, this sounds like a devastating story. I think it’s fascinating that the audiobook is even more emotional than the written one, and it’s great that the author herself is reading it. That makes such a huge difference and makes me want to go listen right now.

    • hbludman on March 19, 2017 at 4:25 pm said:

      It really makes you feel like you’re with a friend who is sharing a story with you.

  18. I received a gift card for some audiobooks, so this sounds like something I’d enjoy, so thanks. I’ll check it out.

    • hbludman on March 19, 2017 at 4:26 pm said:

      Oh, I recommend trying it out. It is a great option if you are on the go.

  19. Oh wow. I love a good book, but I am afraid to read such stories like this. It’s horrible to have had to experience so much in so little time. I just want to hug people who get dealt such a crap hand in life.

    • hbludman on March 19, 2017 at 4:26 pm said:

      Yes, but this author is a testament to the human spirit, and it is very inspirational.

  20. Thanks, Helene, for introducing us to the voice of Ariel Levy. It is definitely a voice I want to hear. Women need to continue to speak out and stand together especially in the present political climate.

  21. Woman is the bravest warrior on earth. She will do everything just for the sake of her loved ones. Can able to rise in the morning even when she had the most frightening night in the evening. No one can be able to compare to the strongest in faith, in love and in trust for God.

  22. This book sounds so heartwrenching. I struggle to read things like this, but I admire that the author is so open and vulnerable.

  23. It sounds cool to listen to an audio book and get to hear the author read it herself. In this case it must make it that much more powerful that Ariel Levy is reading her own story.

  24. Angela Milnes on March 21, 2017 at 3:43 am said:

    I read The Rules Do Not Apply in one long, rapt sitting. Unflinching and intimate, wrenching and revelatory, Ariel Levy’s powerful memoir about love, loss, and finding one’s way shimmers with truth and heart on every page

  25. Wow! This is both compelling and terrifying. The book sounds like a must read. Kudos to her for being so open.

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