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Review: Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route

Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route by Saidiya V. Hartman My rating: 5 of 5 stars There are things ...

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Review: Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route

Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route by Saidiya V. Hartman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are things that I can take for granted. I may not be able to recite my family tree by rote, and there is the question that my paternal grandmother may have been Jewish, but I know that my family hails from England, France, Canada, Lithuania, and Italy. It is something that I have taken for granted. Saidiya Hartman’s book is about, in part, having a lack of that, a lack of sense, and a lack of belonging.

It’s too glib to say that we all feel that sense of loneness. In part this is true, but many of us at least have a sense. Many of us can even break down to country and region, perhaps even a city.
Hartman has a continent. That’s it.

But to call this a book about a quest for self or identity is wrong. Hartman’s journey to Ghana, to uncover the story of the common slave – a slave who is not from a family of kings. The idea of a return to Africa is a return to homeland, but as Hartman points out -it isn’t quite that simple. Hartman feels out of place because the history of the slave trade depends upon the lenses – African-American versus African. IF Hartman isn’t American, then she isn’t African either. She is stateless. Her past is a commodity in both ways – as her ancestors were slaves and as their descendent returning.

So, in part, the book is about the different use of language and the different history. About the effects of slavery that we do not fully think about. The question of otherness.

There is much packed into this slim volume and it is the type of book that you mull over for days.

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Review: Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII

Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII by Karen Lindsey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.

The lives of Henry VIII's queens summed up in seven short words. You think someone would've made a better rhyme. I mean it works, but well it lacks. True, "Sing a Song of Sixpence" might be the ladies, but it gets one upped with the debate about "Mary, Mary Quite Contary".

There have been volumnes written about the wives, some, though while lacking "a feminist reinterpretation" in the sub-title , are still one. The wives at this point seem to have be more fame than their infamous husband whose infamy comes from his treatment of them, and the fact that he is played by a hottie in the Showtime series. So why read this one about Bluebeard Henry VII and his wives?

Because Lindsey does present, in some cases, an unique look or highlights something that may be glossed over in other works. It isn't an earth shattering book, but it is far better than Joanna Denny's Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England's Tragic Queen. While it is true that like most biographers of the Tudors, Lindsey concludes what the women thought with little proof (there are letters, but that's it), and while she does spend the most time on Katherine of Aragorn and Anne Bolyen, and while she doesn't full protray Jane Seymour, who remains the aptly titled vessel, there is something here.

Lindsey does make some thought stirring, if not thought provoking, ideas in the often trod ground of the first two wives of Bluebeard, Mr Fox Henry VIII.

For instance, it is hard to argue with Lindsey's claim that today we would find Henry's pursuit of Anne Bolyen to be sexual harassament. She points out, makes it very clear that such terms would not be used at all in the time, but she makes a good case that Anne might have been making the best of a situtation that she could not escape. Additionally, Lindsey gives reasons why Katherine of Aragorn and Anne Bolyen should be admired, liked, and pited. She doesn't paint them as sister queens, but she doesn't take sides, making one look good at the expense of the other. She takes them as they are.

But the main reason why you should read this book are the chapters on Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard. Now, I've always liked Anne of Cleves, who strikes me as the combination of Bluebeard's wife and her sister Anne. Not only does Lindsey make a case that the epitaph "Flanders mare" or "drayhorse mare" should not be used to describe the woman, but she argues that Anne of Cleves took a more active role in her annulment from Henry VIII than most people give her credit for. I'm not sure if I fully buy into the agrument, though the point about sex education seems likely. Could Anne of Cleves have really been that thick? Wouldn't someone mention something before her wedding night? However, Lindsey's theory is really stirring and makes Anne into a true winner, in some ways like the often esteemed Katherine Parr.

The chapter on Katherine Howard lacks this totalling redesign or recasting of character. Yet, Lindsey does make this young Katherine into her own woman. Lindsey has a point - most writers do tend to see Katherine Howard as whore or victim (or a innocent whoring victim ala the Tudors). The idea of Katherine Howard as sexually free woman does, one most admit, become overshadowed by Howard the idiot, but Lindsey does make her human.

Overall, while the book didn't really add knowledge, it did make me think differently about we know about the Tudors.

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Friday, March 9, 2018

Review: Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women

Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

So okay, I need to tell you right now and upfront, I couldn't finish this and am giving it a one star rating based on one section of the book that lasts a page.

When I first started reading this book, I found Wurtzel's narrative voice to be a little confusing. She was all over the place, but then you get use to it. I have to say, that Wurtzel's look at the how Amy Fisher thing was very good. Not that I spend any time thinking about Amy Fisher, but Wurzel does really bring a good new light to it. Her reading of Sexton and Plath is pretty good.

So, you say, what's the problem and aren't you being awfully judgemental considering that you liked what you read before you got to the infamous place?

No, I'm not. So Wurtzel takes a look at Hillary Clinton, and considering that this book was written when Clinton was still the President, she can't take in Clinton's post White House Career. Every so, I think Wurztel's theory about why people didn't like Mrs Sec of State was interesting, and was wondering how Wurztel would change it if she could.

And then Wurtzel pulled out the Tudors. She mentioned Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots of examples of women in power because they had the power. Then she mentioned how neither one got beheaded.

Now this is NOT a small mistake. An accidently slip of date, it really isn't. And to be frank, I never really would think of Mary Queen of Scots as some type of pre-feminist movement role model. Okay, she had a more violent in-fighting to deal with than Elizabeth, but she did some awfully stupid things -think her marriages and her fleeing to Elizabeth. Why not mention Catherine de Medici? Then it occured to me that perhaps Wurtzel meant Mary Tudor (aka Bloody Mary). But even that doesn't work considering how Mary viewed herself in marriage and she wasn't a success.

And that's when the how book feel apart. I think I could get by a difference in a opinion of the characters of the two Marys, but to say that Mary Queen of Scots kept her head is a HUGE mistake. And this book was published long enough ago that the error could have been fixed. Take for instance the small error in The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown, an error that the author acknowledges and corrected. Yes, I guess it is easier to do that with ebooks, but how many years ago was Wurtzel's book written?

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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Review: The Ghost, The Owl

The Ghost, The Owl The Ghost, The Owl by Franco
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

The owl has long had a connection to the dead, in many cultures and myths. It is hardly surprising that it makes an appearance here.

The owl is in the forest and discovers the ghost of a young girl, and this new arrival puzzles the animals of the forest. The only one willing to help the young ghost girl is the owl. Instead of being a simple tale of a spirit finding its place in the afterlife, the tale becomes one of light versus dark, and how things are interconnected even when they do not seem to be.

The artwork is stunning. The story beautiful.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Review: We're Going to Need More Wine: Stories

We're Going to Need More Wine: Stories We're Going to Need More Wine: Stories by Gabrielle Union
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really wish that Lena Dunham's name would stop being dropped when talking about feminist books. I haven't read Dunham's book because everytime she opens her mouth, she shows me that she isn't a feminist. Why she is consider the standard I have no friggin idea.  (Okay, yeah I know she's white but still there are other less problematic white women chose from, so why that one?)

If you want a book that is really by a feminist and someone with a brain, this is the book for you. I can't say that I have seen every movie or tv show in Union's body of work, but she is one of those actors who I always seriously consider seeing a film simply because she is in it. Quite frankly, Deliver Us From Eva is the only version of Taming of the Shrew that ties with Moonlight's. But more importantly, Union has long had my respect simply for her vocal support and work in women's issues. She has been speaking about rape, for example, long before the #MeToo movement took Hollywood.

This book is reall a collection of essays about her life. Union is honest; she doesn't always come off well in these stories - for instance there is the bit about the imatation crab and, more importantly, when she writes about her use of the word "faggot".

What Union does is use her personal experience, in many cases, to make larger comments about society or about Hollywood. Her story about parties with Prince is really about how important networking is, why Hollywood is so inclusive and why Prince's networking was so important. She mourns Prince but also makes larger points. Her essay about raising her stepchildren deals with raising young, tall black men in a majority rich, white neighborhood. Her passage about the family's home in Chicago is really wonderful.

At times the stories are funny - like her story about the teen who wanted to beat her up - at times they are horrible and sad - she details her rape and a death of a friend. They are always interesting highlighting differences in places, cultures, how people view drugs, and why everyone seems to care about a woman's utereus (and why they shouldn't).

Honesty, how can you not want to read a book that includes an oath with Judy Blume in it?

I would especially reccomend this book if you enjoyed Carrie Fisher's books. Union and Fisher have much in common.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Review: Lydie

Lydie Lydie by Jordi Lafebre
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: Arc via Netgalley.

Lydie is a ghost story, or is it? What it really is, is a story about a neighborhood. It is the neighborhood that pulls together in the face of a tragedy. Told by a statue, perhaps, it chronicles the life of Camille, a simple soul whose daughter is stillborn.

Or is the young girl?

That is the question – how real is Lydie and if she is real, how did she become real?

That too is the charm of the story. It is a wonderful little graphic novel about the power of a community that may not have much money and may not like each other but come together to help one of theirs. In the process, perhaps, they became better for it. The story is sentimental, but not sweet. It hearkens to Chocolat in part, that same type of feeling.

Lafebre’s illustrations are beautiful and remind me of the Triplets of Belleville.

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Saturday, March 3, 2018

Review: This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Feb 2018 My Book Box Non-fiction pick.

Disclaimer: I am a white woman. Additionally, I teach students who come from the same places in New Jersey that Jerkins cites in this book. I am trying not to center myself in the narrative, but the first paragraph of the review is in part a gut reaction, so please bear with me.

I am conflicted about this book. The thing that Jerkins does and does is generalize. These sweeping generalizations are off putting. I’m not even talking about the whole voting for Trump thing. A high percentage of white woman voted for Trump, and these are the women she speaks about there (the grammar backs this up, so if someone is complaining about that, that's misguided to put it nicely). No, I’m talking about like in her discussion of the French film Girlhood. I remember the discussion and reaction to that movie. While Jerkins' take on the film is overall interesting, she makes it sound like Black women all across the global are exactly alike. Look, I’m not a black woman, so maybe, for all I know, this is true. But I would imagine that recent immigrants to France who come from Africa also have a whole set of issues that are not related to being slaves in America – connected to the slave trade and colonialism, yes - and are different than an African-American woman from whereever USA. She does the same when she talks about white girls at her school, and how they never had to deal with being assaulted, harassed or molested sexually because their whiteness protected them. In fact, the one time she does mention harassment towards a woman who at the very least presents as white, she is almost dismissive of it. I’m not disregarding or ignorant to misogynoir that exists, and it is far easier to be female and white. However, I teach students (white, black, Asian, and Native American, some of whom present white, so I doubt another sweeping generalization Jerkins makes), and I know that the number of all-female students who have been sexually molested or harassed (or raped) by their lower and secondary school’s peers (as I have been) is great. In fact, it is a rarity to have a class where a female student hasn’t been (and the classes have far more ladies than gentlemen). I found the dismissal and generalization hard, perhaps cruel.

But that’s the point isn’t it? The world has been belittling or simply out right ignoring the pain of black women and girls for hundreds of years. This is what Jerkins is talking about. She’s showing the reader here a bit of it, whether Jenkins intended to do so or not.

What’s the term? Checking my privilege? Humbling?

It’s why I am conflicted about this book. Feminism should be intersectional. To be so, we need to listen to everyone, talk, and listen without judgement or hackle raising. We need to listen and need to have voices like Jerkins’. In many ways, I think Twitter and Facebook have made the knee jerk reaction easier and far more dangerous. True conversation means listening to unpleasant and hard truths (whether an individual’s truth or the truth – is there even THE Truth?). Whatever I think about what Jerkins is saying, I have no doubt that she is speaking her truth and should be listened to because her experience is just as valuable and important as mine, as yours, as Clinton’s, as even Ivanka’s (yeah, I know, me too).

This doesn’t mean that I am blind to the book’s faults. Jerkins does go off on some strange digressions. She wanders at points, and her progression in some of the essays could be far, far tighter. I’m also reading Gabrielle Union’s We’re Going to Need More Wine, and Union does consistently what I wish Jerkins had done more – introspection. For instance, when Jerkins is relating about her watching of porn, there are so many other themes that could have been touched on – to porn actors connection to abuse, to a society that is designed to make one group of women take joy in the degradation of another (I have no doubt that there are nonblack women who watch/watched the same material that Jerkins did, just different races). I found myself thinking how Union, Gay, or Robinson might have done better. In some of the essays, this lack of connection or whatever, makes the essay weaker and digressions more annoying.

Yet, at least half the essays are stand outs. Her “How to Be Docile” and “How to Survive” should be in every composition and woman’s studies class. Period. They are that good furthermore. Furthermore, her “The Stranger at the Carnival” is just, quite frankly, a masterpiece. Two sections of Malcolm X’s Autobiography tend to appear in composition readers – his learning to read in prison and his first conk. Usually the conk selection is paired with Gates’ essay about his mother’s kitchen and the importance of the kitchen in the family. But after reading Jerkins’, her essay should be paired with it because not only is hers a more recent presentation of the issue, but because she is a woman and raises other points. Quite frankly, it is even better than Phoebe Robinson’s You Can’t Touch My Hair.

Conflicted about this book I might be, but I am glad I read it. You should read it too. You need to read it.

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