“Her Country” will surely find the right match

“Her Country: How Women in Country Music Became the Success They Never Should Have Been”

  • By Marissa R. Moss
  • vs. 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. Do them right, and you could be a star – unless you’re a woman and then, like in Marissa R. Moss’ “Her Country,” your whole career could be worrying you.

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

Around the same time, Moss says, three young female singers began making waves in their Texas hometowns. Grandmother of 12-year-old Kacey Musgraves used her connections and influence to bring her granddaughter’s duet to a president and a national audience at a time when country music was not yet very political . Eleven-year-old Maren Morris would appear on stage with experienced musicians several years older than her and wow the crowds. And sixteen-year-old Mickey Guyton saw white girls everywhere taking breaks and succeeding, and she wondered why the genre largely ignored black singers like her.

Twenty-three years ago, women were making huge strides in country music, Moss says, but 1999 was the year everything changed again. The backlash of Taylor Swift’s “mistakes” caused her to quit country music. Chely Wright was quickly ignored for coming out as a lesbian. Tanya Tucker “was turned into a witchy, rebellious floozy instead of a brilliant performer.” 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 entertainers hated.

And the women of the country fought back…

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

For the latter group, author Marissa R. Moss might as well diagram the electronics of a military tank here – that is, you can try to follow in this book, but its extensive use of first names implies that you will need at least some knowledge of country music to do so.

If you don’t have one, well…

Country music listeners, however – especially fans of Nashville’s epic singers and songwriters – will devour tales of their favorites’ struggles and the ardor they had to use to seize success. Reading about their smart decisions and career decisions at all costs, you will happily feel like an insider; reading about the trade shows they are obligated to attend will make you want to stomp on your cowboy boot design.

So not a fan, not your book. If you’re into country music, what are you doing here? Go. Go get that book. Gwan. For you, “Her Country” will surely strike the right chord.

“Queer Ducks (and Other Animals)”

  • By Eliot Schrefer, illustrated by JR Zuckerberg
  • vs. 2022, Katherine Tegan Books
  • $17.99, 240 pages

You know all about birds and bees. Or, well, you know enough about them anyway. You know that it takes a girl bee and a boy bee to make laurel bees, and lovebirds dig up their chicks. But did you know that penguins have a private life or bison bulls often bond? Read “Queer Ducks (and Other Animals)” by Eliot Schrefer, illustrations by JR Zuckerberg, and don’t be fooled.

It was 1834 and German zoologist August Kelch couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It wasn’t that he hadn’t noticed doodlebugs mating before, but the two he found were both male! He attributed this to the only thing he could think of, believing it to be an act of perversion.

You can’t blame it entirely: for centuries, early theologians and scientists, lacking the proper language, noted that the love life of animals sometimes did not fit the boy-meets-girl ideal then attributed to humans, they therefore wrongfully condemned him in the only ways they knew. The thing is, animal sexuality varies so much that they may have overlooked other examples that might prove the naturalness of it all. They may have seen animals mating and assumed something different from the truth.

Psychologists call this “confirmation bias – you see what you’re looking for – which means that a pair of cats or dolphins, one-on-one, can be a male. You might see a male wrasse that has changed sex for mating purposes, or a bonobo whose species is notoriously promiscuous. You may be looking at a deer with a Cher of the same sex.

Every farmer knows that cows will mount other cows in heat. Scientists observed mating activity in female macaques with no males nearby. Albatrosses form pairs without mating, and wild geese sometimes form groups to tend a nest.

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

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

So you’ve noticed some embarrassing activity at the dog park or zoo, and you’ve called it off, saying it’s about dominance or power play between animals. But, as you’ll wonder when reading “Queer Ducks (and Other Animals)”, what if not?

Another question you might ask: is it fair to compare a dog or an 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 urging readers to see the ridiculousness of asserting the one while castigating the other. The point is made, even if it can sometimes become heavy. Yet readers will not be able to prevent their thoughts from being provoked.

Also full of interviews with scientists and biologists and a great author biography, this book is informative, revealing and just plain fun to read. Yes, get “Queer Ducks (and Other Animals)”, or you’ll be a monkey’s uncle.

The bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since the age of 3 and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 pounds. Read past columns on marconews.com.

Toya J. Bell