Monday, November 17, 2014

Pro, by Katha Pollitt

About 2 chapters into Pro, I thought to myself how much I would like to send the book to each and every member of the Louisiana state legislature and force them to read it, a la A Clockwork Orange. Everything she wrote just made so much sense, about power, women, healthcare, quality of life, and so on. She tied together in one bundle all of the various surveys, research, ideas, and commentary that have been put forth regarding reproductive justice issues. Everything she said made sense! Then I realized that my idea would never work because the other side does not traffic in facts or reason but rather emotion, propaganda, and subterfuge. You can’t reason with unreasonable people.

I came to the understanding that Pro isn’t really targeted at the pro-forced-birth contingent, but rather the opposite side of the aisle. Pollitt presents a case for, pardon my use of jargon, reframing issues of abortion and reproductive justice and not running away from the pro-abortion label. Honesty is called for rather than attempts at managing public relations. Time to shout out that abortion is about healthcare, economics, and, above all, the right to self-determination. Slut shaming and outright lies need to be called out whenever they occur and by whomever. The last two paragraphs sum up her thesis (which is sort of the point of a concluding statement, isn’t it?):
“For those who are troubled by America’s high abortion rate, the good news is that we already know what will lower it: more feminism. More justice. More equality. More freedom. More respect. Women should have what they need both to avoid unwanted pregnancy and childbirth and to have wanted children. For motherhood to truly be part of human flourishing, it has to be voluntary, and raising children—by both parents—has to be supported by society as necessary human work. Motherhood should add to a woman’s ability to lead a full life, not leave her on the sidelines, wondering how she got there.

For this to happen, the old paradigms have to go: pregnancy as the punishment for sex, and women as endurers of fate or God’s will, biologically destined to a lesser life and needing a man to survive. But even in feminist heaven, there will be abortion, as there is in even the most prosperous, enlightened countries in the world. Because life will always be complicated, there is no perfect contraception, and there are no perfect people either. We need to be able to say that is all right.”
My one beef with the book: its lack of an index. Non-indexed nonfiction works make my head hurt.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Bodies We Wear, by Jeyn Roberts

The Bodies We WearThe Bodies We Wear by Jeyn Roberts

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Bodies We Wear is a dark reflection on the factors that shape us into the people we are, the capacity for hope and change, the horrors and collateral damage of addiction, inequality in society, and what justice looks like in an unjust world. All of this comes through a few weeks in the life of an exceptional and exceptionally damaged teenage girl in an alternative universe where a drug known as Heem shows users catch a brief glimpse of heaven or hell after their bodies “die” temporarily. Heem users—apparent to everyone because of physiological changes and scarring—are ostracized by society; no “respectable” person will be associated with them. Forced to use Heem as a child as a warning to her mother by dealers who had murdered her father (her mother abandoned her shortly thereafter), Faye is at the precipice of change when we meet her. Just as she deems herself ready physically as a warrior to extract her revenge, others enter her life and make her rethink the path that has been her sole focus for years. How Faye approaches the change in her life provides the backbone of the story. In a bleak, science-fiction setting (the story begins at night in the rain so the whole book has the feeling of black about it), Faye nonetheless must face the same issues as teenagers everywhere: bullying, overbearing parental figures, bad teachers, and the messed-up, confusing world of romance. Roberts mixes the familiar with the fictional and demonstrates that, while not all endings are happy ones per se, often a glimmer of hope exists that can transform our own worlds.

In interest of disclosure, I received a free prepublication e-copy from the publisher for reviewing purposes.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Last Beach

The Last BeachThe Last Beach by Orrin H. Pilkey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Exactly 20 years ago this fall, I was introduced to the work of Orrin Pilkey when, as a college senior raised in a land-locked state, I chose coastal erosion as the topic of my honors thesis. In those days of Silver Platter and Gopher, Pilkey had a talent for translating complicated scientific concepts into language a journalism major who'd taken all of 2 undergraduate science classes could understand. And the picture wasn't pretty, even then, particularly on the East Coast of the United States, where the barrier islands that had protected the shore for centuries had been filled with condos and amusement parks and where the measures to protect property had just accelerated the damage or moved it to a different community.

In The Last Beach, Pilkey (and co-author Andrew Cooper) brought me up to date on what's been happening since. And, as the word "last" might indicate, the picture isn't pretty. Not only do they talk about the corruption of natural processes, but they also address solely manmade phenomena, such as digging up beaches so the sand can be sold to make concrete. You can hear the authors' frustration and desperation as they recount one horror after another. The Last Beach almost reads like a message in a bottle, one last act of hope that someone might hear their cries. Don't expect any easy answers, as none exist. Also, consider moving inland.

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Trash-reading September

Well, not entirely trashy. I've read but haven't reviewed a couple books in Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid series. By book 5 or 6, there's really not enough distinguishing them to take the time. September was a kind of bleh month, and I did more knitting than reading. I've started multiple books but not finished them. So, I've been rather unproductive here. I'm hoping to get caught up on all my reviews and start reading something I might actually finish.

Goebbels: A Biography

Goebbels: A BiographyGoebbels: A Biography by Peter Longerich

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book requires a certain type of reader -- one with a deep interest in the topic at hand who can cut through thick prose like a hot knife through butter. If I had more time and more head space at the moment, I might be that person. Alas, I only made it about 150 pages into the book before my Netgalley-provided version expired. (That put me, chronologically speaking, in the very early days of the Nazi party when Goebbels was still a fairly low-ranking regional official.) This latest book on Goebbels is an English translation of a German history based on the not-so-good doctor's voluminous diaries. In and of themselves, they show the man's skill with propaganda, his first subject being himself. He was trying to create his own legend while living it, a complicated effort. Luckily for the reader, Longerich is here as narrator, helping us to distinguish fact from fiction. I recommend the book wholeheartedly for anyone with a strong interest in the personalities of the Reich and a love of meaty prose.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Girl With All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey

The Girl with All the GiftsThe Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Since Mary Wollstonecraft examined medical ethics and the God complex in her tale of the Modern Prometheus, science fiction and horror have worked toward a calling higher than simply scaring the pants off readers. M.R. (a.k.a., Mike) Carey’s new book about a post-epidemic Britain (for spoilers’ sake, I’m leaving out details) accomplishes this task admirably, looking looking at topics such as research ethics, how our experiences impact our behavior, and, at the heart of the story, what makes us human. By telling the story from the viewpoints of multiple characters, we see each person’s perspective on the same events. Most of the time, one cannot classify any one individual as wholly good, wholly evil, wholly dumb, etc. Everyone has their initial impressions turned on their heads in some way, whether we’re talking about a scientist who learns her research is headed in the wrong direction or a teacher who realizes there’s more to the authority figure she despises. This novel is a thinking person’s horror, and the last 15 pages or so themselves are worth the price of admission. The Girl shook me in new and not-altogether-good ways (when I finished I had to look at puppy pictures for 10 minutes), but I loved it anyway.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Sisters, by Raina Telgemeier

SistersSisters by Raina Telgemeier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Older sisters everywhere will nod their head in understanding and solidarity as they read Telgemeier's autobiograpical graphic account of her childhood relationship with her younger sister, a sort of follow-up to Smile. The story moves between a family road trip from San Francisco to Colorado in Raina's early teen years and various points in the sisters' history prior to that journey. Like many such relationships, the Telgemeiers' involves conflict, disappointment, frustration, but also occasional flashes of tenderness and understanding. At the same time we see the larger issues facing them: their parents' troubled relationship, the addition of a younger brother, the younger girl's prickly personality. Sisters makes me want to sit and sip cocktails with Telgemeier while we trade stories about our horrible and wonderful younger siblings.

Disclosure: I received an electronic ARC of the book from the publisher for review purposes.

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