Book Review

A Trip To The Library

I go to the library A LOT.

I may no longer be a student in the academic sense but I will always be a student of life!

(And it’s something fun and *free* to do— it costs $0.00!— my kind of fun)

Here’s the result of this week’s boner for books..

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I just had to snap a photo of this one, because, well… come on, it’s laughable.

After looking at the cover, I always look for the photo & mini bio to check out the author’s credentials…

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Wearing sunnies in your bio book photo = LOSS OF ANY & ALL CREDIBILITY

Needless to say, I did not check out “Don’t Say I Do!”

Clearly, for me, that ship has already sailed, but also, I just can’t put a lot of stock in something so prescriptive.

I mean, I was always against marriage having seen it as a system of privilege, but that didn’t mean I was ever going to tell people they shouldn’t get married!

BOGUS.

On to the next one…

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by Laura Vanderkam. 

Ok, Mz. Vanderkam, my interest is piqued…

Then I saw this one:

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Naturally, I checked this one out, too. Looks interesting, no?

And ironically, I came upon this one next…

*So Yin & Yang!*

No makeup  //  Yes makeup

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by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong & Heather Wood Rudulph

(yes, I checked it out too!)

Then I found the hardcore shit. Oh yeah.

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Have YOU heard of this one? I’m so curious…

 

 

Now this last one was just a perfectly timed find.

The other day my dad and I were talking on the phone, and as per usual our “hello’s” and “how are you’s” quickly turned into a discussion on economics, globalization, and foreign policy. My dad has like a bazillion degrees and one of them is in economics (I think it was the one he obtained while also getting his law degree— seriously, he is cray cray with those degrees…).

I do not have a degree in economics.

As a matter of fact, aside from taking Econ 101 in the Fall of 2006, I know nothing about economics save the oblique references to and about it throughout the course of my feminist education at Berkeley and community college. So I really wanted to find a good book to open myself up to the topic…

BOOM.

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Complete with pictures!

Now: time to read!

And please feel free to leave any other reading suggestions in the comments!

 

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Book Review: BODIES by Susie Orbach

Single sentence synopsis: Bodies does for our visual culture (& our bodies), what The Omnivore’s Dilemma did for food.

And, as a matter of fact, just as The Omnivore’s Dilemma explores the disconnect between us and our food, so too does Orbach explore the disconnect between us and our bodies and its consequences.

Susie Orbach is a British psychoanalyst who has done much work for, and within, the feminist and women’s health communities, and this book is a social-psychological look at bodies, underpinned by the very feminist tenet that bodies are socially constructed and discursively materialized.

Ok, that’s a mouthful, I know, but let me explain: That is not to say that feminists are of the opinion that bodies magically materialize out of discourse, or are actually (i.e. literally) constructed limb by limb, organ by organ, out of “society.” This perspective merely holds (though there is nothing “mere” about it) that “a body…is inscribed and formed by the accretion of myriad small specific cultural practices… in certain respects, there has never been an altogether simple, “natural” body. There has only been a body that is shaped by its social and cultural designation.”

Did that help make any more sense to anyone? If not, perhaps this is a better explanation:

The point is that our very hand gestures, symbolic physical gestures, our facial expressions, our gender performativity, what we wear, how we speak , everything about the physical body— all of these material, physical aspects— are shaped by our social surroundings and cultural influences. This is what it means to say that the body is socially constructed and discursively materialized. In Orbach’s words, “Every gesture we make, the very way we move, our grace or lack of it, our physical confidence or unease, reflect both the country and local culture we have grown up in and the particular interpretation of our gestures that our mothers and those close to us have passed on.”

It is in this way that many feminists hold that there is actually no such thing as a “natural,” or “organic” body— because each body is informed, shaped, and defined within its particular social context. I think once you read the following descriptions of this book this may all make more sense… *spoiler alert: I cannot recommend this book enough*

Bodies is broken up into the following chapters:

  • Bodies In Our Time
  • Shaping The Body
  • Speaking Bodies
  • Bodies Real And Not So Real
  • And So To Sex
  • (&) What Are Bodies For?

She begins the first chapter by introducing us to Andrew, a case study of sorts. He wants to “do away” with his legs.

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I found this book in my local library, read this first page of the first chapter, and immediately checked it out and bolted home. It did not disappoint.

This first chapter is an examination of people “in the wrong bodies.” Whether it’s Andrew, who cannot feel whole unless he has rid himself of his legs, or Michaela, a prison inmate who wanted to be/ felt he was a woman. In these cases, “Biology and psychology had not melded as expected,” says Orbach.

She also proceeds to give a really great overview of the rest of the book in showing us why Bodies In Our Time is her starting point:

“Our bodies no longer make things… Our relations to the physical and physical work are shifting… Our bodies are and have become a form of work. The body is turning from being the means of production to the production itself.”

In her words, “an obsessive cultural focus on the body” has resulted in “the search for a body, disguised as preoccupation, health concern or moral endeavour. Almost everyone has  a rhetoric about trying to do right by their body which reveals a concern that the body is not at all right as it is…”

Chapter 2, Shaping The Body, is just as fascinating as the first chapter. It explores the hows and whys of the social physical world affecting an individual’s physicality. It’s about how one’s physical world/ physical upbringing can shape them, not just emotionally, but physically. There are some reeeeeally interesting case studies in this chapter, such as Victor, the boy raised by wild animals in France, found in 1799, as well Gina, a modern-day young girl who was moved from foster home to foster home. And don’t even get me started on her discussion of mirror neurons and how they play into all of this. It is insanely engrossing and does not require you to have a background in science in order to understand it (Lord knows I certainly don’t).

Speaking Bodies (Chapter 3) veers into a discussion of therapy itself, as well as the role the therapist plays. And, once again, there are a couple of very interesting case studies here.

Bodies Real And Not So Real ends up taking on a wealth of topics in addition to what I thought it would be about. Not only does she discuss avatars and computer-based relationships, but also, cosmetic surgery, dieting, pregnancy, the controversial French Artist, Orlan, and more. Did you know that, “Diets, it turns out, promote chaotic eating”? As a matter of fact, according to Orbach’s research, “Diets can cause people to gain weight. They are not a wise response to “overweight,” but are part of the destabilising of the ordinary processes of eating.” Furthermore, “overweight people who exercise have a lower mortality rate than thin people who do not. So [as Orbach postulates] one is led to wonder why thin has erroneously become the gold standard for health.” Another significant fact: “In 1995 the World Health Organisation, under pressure from the International Obesity Task Force, revised the BMI in such a way that 300,000 Americans who had previously thought they were “normal” weight woke up to find themselves reclassified. Brad Pitt and George Bush, for example, were now overweight… and George Clooney and Russell Crowe were obese.” And this is just the tip of the iceberg to this chapter alone. These are mere brushstrokes to the greater work she is painting with this book…

She begins the second to last chapter, And So To Sex, with an anecdote almost as galvanizing as the first story of the book (Andrew’s story), except, of course, this time it involves sex. I can’t help but think that this chapter should be read by every person on this planet that has sex. Maybe even those who don’t. But then again, I also think everyone should read this book. That’s just how much I loved it.

And finally, with What Are Bodies For?, she leaves us with the culmination of this work in its entirety. And it’s really relatable. I suppose that’s why I loved the book so much in the first place, and why I couldn’t help but think upon finishing it, “BY GOD, EVERY HUMAN BEING IN THIS COUNTRY NEEDS TO READ THIS BOOK!” It’s relatable. It’s about all of us. It is pertinent to our very individual and collective existence.

If I haven’t succeeded in making you want to go out and read this 179 page book yet, I don’t know what else to say except that… it’s intriguing, insightful, possibly cathartic, significantly relevant, and ultimately, if you have a body, it’s about you.

Now isn’t that worth reading?

 

Book Review: How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

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Three word synopsis:

Hysterical, Intelligent, Contentious.

Here’s the deal: I really enjoyed this book. The entire first half had me in stitches. I was laughing out loud in the break room at work, on the BART train home, and in my own living room. She is hysterically funny. Both the stories in and of themselves, as well as her sense of humor. I was so thoroughly entertained I wasn’t even taking notes. And I am ALWAYS taking notes. Or, at best, resisting the urge to notate any and every book I read.

Here’s a glimpse at one of the parts that had me beside myself cracking up at work—on the topic of naming your vagina, naturally. I ended up sharing it with my coworker:

 

“But, let’s be honest, “pussy” is the least of it. There is a panoply of slang words that are, in their ways, just as truly awful as “vagina.” Let’s bullet point!

  • Your sex: sounds like a preemptive attempt to shift blame.
  • Hole: a bad thing that can happen to stockings or tights. My Johnnylulu is a GOOD thing that happens to stockings and tights.
  • Honeypot: inference of imminent presence of bees.
  • Twat: an unpleasant melange of cow-pat, stupidity, and punching. No.
  • Bush: the band of the same name are tiresome. The vegetation has spiders. No.
  • Vag: sounds like the name of a busybody battleaxe, a la “Barb” and “Val.” Suggestion also of chain-smoking Marlboro Lights, and borderline addiction to bingo. No.”

 

I mean, really—”Vag”—she is so dead on with that description.

Oh, and then she goes on to list a few of the names that she does like, and that bit may actually be even funnier (especially if you like Star Wars and/or came of age in the 80s).

 

Moran is a British writer, born and raised in the countryside of Wolverhampton, who at 16 gets to go work for a rock magazine in London. Her upbringing is interesting, to say the least, especially to someone born and raised in LA like myself. It is not only foreign geographically, but culturally. She grew up in a small house, in the English countryside, sharing what little space they had with 5-6 siblings in addition to her parents and a dog. (She not only shared a room, but a bed, with one of her many sisters.) On her 13th birthday she gets, instead of a cake, a baguette filled with Philadelphia cream cheese. And the cultural, class, and gender differences just continue on from there.*

*note: there is not much said, or discussed, in regards to race throughout the book. end note.

Her chapters go from pre-adolescence to present-day womanhood, in chronological order, and one of my favorite aspects of this journey is her chronological commentary on sexism. Ironically, the chapter titled I Encounter Some Sexism!—found dead center in the book—is also the point at which I wanted to bang my head against a wall out of frustration. Really, it boils down to the fact that:

(a) she says “You couldn’t find a woman making music for love nor money” in the early nineties. Hello?! L7, Verruca Salt, 7 Year Bitch, PJ Harvey (whom she does mention, at least), Tori Amos, Hole, The Breeders… and I’m sure many of you can think of even more amazing female artists, both rock and otherwise.

(b) she furthermore states that we’ve “had little more than a handful of female geniuses” since women got the right to vote (“There was still no female rock band to rival Led Zeppelin…No female hip-hop artist to rival Public Enemy…”) *Ahem* I’d say Janis Joplin earns at least the right to rival Led Zeppelin, and as for female hip-hop artists: TLC, Lil Kim, Da Brat, and SALT N PEPA. And don’t even get me started on [musician] female geniuses between the 1920s and 1990s: Nina Simone, Billie Holiday (whom she does mention), Peggy Lee, Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane), Sarah Vaughan, Wanda Jackson, Alice Coltrane, Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie and the Banshees), Kate Bush, Nico (The Velvet Underground), and I COULD name more…

finally, (c) I’m not sure whether it was in this chapter or the preceding one, but she does state at one point that she probably learned most about being a woman/how to be a woman from her husband; However, in this chapter she is upset at her boss saying, “You wouldn’t know what it’s like to be a fat teenage girl, being shouted at in the street by arseholes,” when, as she says, she in fact is “a fat teenage girl, being shouted at in the street by arseholes.” Well, Mz. Moran, given that you just stated you probably learned most about “being a woman” from a man, perhaps it is not so unfeasible for your male boss to know more about being a teenage girl than you. It just seemed a little hypocritical to at one point say you learned most about being a woman from a man, but then say, well, this guy is a jerk for thinking that he knows more about being a teenage girl than I do (because, once again, apparently your husband knew more about “being a woman” than you did…? Perhaps she could have at least expanded on this in order to clarify…) I just found those two aspects of the narrative a bit incongruous and I was miffed.

With that bit of criticism stated, I did love her “Is this polite?” sexism test (as I’m sure most people would- men and women alike), as well as her chapter on strippers and strip clubs. It’s a really delightful, laugh-out-loud funny, and insightful take on the whole sex work/sex worker debate. Something I’ve yet to decide on myself, but I do like what she has to say. One of my most favorite aspects of the book is the pairing of the two chapters, Why You Should Have Children, followed by Why You Shouldn’t Have Children (Chapters 12 & 13). Maybe it’s due to my legal studies background, but I do so enjoy how she is able to argue for each side, and quite deftly at that. My only point of criticism here is the last paragraph of the former chapter (chapter 12). Having studied childbirth, and having a midwife mother-in-law, that last paragraph made me give the book a sideways glance while thinking, “ummmm….ok, Moran, sure. uh huh.” But it’s a trivial piece of criticism, really. This book is truly and sincerely more than the sum of its parts.

She decides to almost end the book (it’s the second to last chapter) with abortion, and wow. It’s profound. It’s clearly well thought out. And of course, it’s contentious.

In spite of my pieces of criticism it really is a great read. I am so glad I read it and would definitely recommend it. I love her intellect, and perhaps most especially her humor. It will keep you entertained, and make you think, and I don’t think a book lover can ask for more than that.