snugglekitty: (living planet)
Title: Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
Author: Marshall Rosenberg
Series: There is not a series as such, but Rosenberg has written several books on this topic.
Genre: Self-help, nonfiction.
Reason for Reading: My friend Rock recommended the NVC process to me when I described to her some difficult interpersonal conflicts I had been having. When I started using this process I found it so amazingly helpful that I wanted to read the whole book.
Finished In: Months, because there is a LOT to think about here. I would read a few pages and need to stop and integrate.
Pages: 222, including a list of further NVC titles at the end.
Copyright Date: This is the second edition, copyright 2003. The first edition came out in 1999, although apparently Rosenberg developed the process in the 60's and 70's.
Cover: Lots of blue-greens featuring a daisy with a globe at its heart.
First line: "Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a way of interacting that facilitates the flow of communication needed to exchange information and resolve differences peacefully." That's from the blurb just inside the front cover.
Themes: Compassion, communication, labeling, judging, feelings, needs.
Best part: The system is, in my opinion, totally revolutionary - particularly in terms of separating what you (and other people) feel, observe, and need from what you THINK.
Worst part: There are two, actually, in my opinion. The first is the chapter on anger, which I didn't agree with or find convincing. The second is the interspersed poems and songs, many of which were written by Rosenberg, and I did not like them at all. I felt they were trite.
Imaginary Theme Song: Anything by Ruth Bebermeyer, who is often quoted in the book and apparently is a friend of Rosenberg's.
Grade: A-. This book is a total life-changer for me but I have to admit that it has some flaws.
Recommended for: Anyone who has difficulty communicating with other humans, or feels their communication skills have room for improvement, and frankly, who doesn't?
Related Reads: The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman and Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor. They're not about exactly the same topic but both similarly changed the way I think about interacting with other people.

The best way I can think of to summarize the book is to explain and demonstrate the process in my own words. NVC has two parts - communicating honestly and receiving empathically. In both cases, we look for four parts.

Observation - What you or the other person is noticing, concrete and specific things that we can agree are objectively true.
Feelings - How you or the other person is feeling about these facts. There is an emphasis on owning your feelings, not making events or people responsible for them.
Needs - The underlying source of the feelings you, or the other person, is having.
Request - What you, or what they, are asking for to enrich life.

Here is my example of a piece of communication using the process:

I have observed that since I learned this process, the people I talk to thank me more often for listening to them.(O) I have also observed that we more often are able to keep our tempers during difficult conversations when I use this process. (O) When I think about this, I feel really grateful to Marshall Rosenberg for creating this process,(F) because I needed to learn some techniques that allow me to better express my understanding that other people are not responsible for my feelings.(N) I request that everyone who is reading this blog post seriously consider reading this book.(R) I also request that if this description of the process is helpful to you, or if you find the book helpful, that you leave a comment so I can know we're in this together.

When you are using this process, when you give a communication you are trying to make sure to use and differentiate all of those parts. When you receive a communication, you try to make sure you know what the other person is observing, feeling, needing, and requesting. You do not have to use those specific words or any words at all. You also reflect back to them what you believe they have said using the four components(and it is amazing to me how helpful this technique is, particularly in helping the original speaker understand more about their perspective).
snugglekitty: (suzuki)
Title: Kindred Spirits: How the Remarkable Bond Between Humans & Animals Can Change the Way We Live
Author: Allen M. Schoen
Genre: Nonfiction, animals, natural medicine
Reason for Reading: Someone from my bio-family recommended it, actually.
Finished In: Days, it was surprisingly fast-paced for nonfiction.
Pages: 280
Copyright Date: 2001
Cover: A human reaching out a hand, a dog putting its paw in.
First line: "Several years ago, Carol, a fifty-year-old single working mother, entered my office with her fourteen-year-old son Scott, and King, their German shepherd."
Best part: The stories about the animals Schoen has met.
Worst part: The author clearly thinks very highly of himself.
Imaginary Theme Song: "Living Planet" by Jay Mankita
Grade: C+. I really liked it, and the appendices were great, but I probably won't read it again.
Recommended for: Animal lovers who are curious about natural medicine should definitely give it a look.
Related Reads: Merle's Door by Ted Kerasote, The New Natural Cat by Anitra Frazier.
snugglekitty: (didja see?)
This year in total I read 144 books. That's a pretty high total for me. That does include graphic novels but it does not include books that I've read before. I'm not going to list them all here, because I like you more than that, but if you want to see every single one, click here.

These books are those I label best. I either feel that they changed me, changed the genre they were written in, or could change the world. "But wait!" you said. "We love your best books of the year, but please, give us overly specific award categories and imaginary theme songs!"* All right, all right. Anything for my loyal readers.

Best comedy of manners masquerading as a mystery. Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers - Let's Call the Whole Thing Off, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.
Best comic supernatural retelling of an early novel. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith - "Living Dead Girl" by White Zombie
Best fairy tale graphic novel for children. Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale - "Take the Road" from Never After
Best gay teen superhero story. Hero by Perry Moore - "I'm Coming Out" by Diana Ross
Best Greek-tragedy-influenced classic noir. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler "One for my Baby, and One for the Road" by Billy Holiday
Best late-life sexual memoir.** A Round-Heeled Woman by Jane Juska - "F*ck and Run" - Liz Phair
Best sexy pentacle tattoo novel set in Victorian England. Soulless by Gail Carriger - "Don't Leave Me This Way" by Thelma Houston
Best speculative suspense novel. Touchstone by Laurie R King - "Don't Let It Bring You Down," Annie Lenox
Best YA fantasy with a skeleton hero. Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy - "You Can't Keep a Good Dog Down," from All Dogs Go to Heaven
Best YA starring a female assassin. Graceling by Kristin Cashore - "Bitterblue" by Cat Stevens

Honorable Mentions

These books earned a grade of B+, which is the high end of the "I love this book and would read it over and over!" category.

Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey
The Thin Man by Dashiel Hammet
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
No! I don't Want to Join a Book Club by Virginia Ironsides
My Most Excellent Year by Steven Kluger
Julie and Romeo by Jeanne Ray
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrow
Get Up: A 12-Step Guide to Recovery for Misfits, Freaks, and Weirdos** by Bucky Sinister
The Fox by Sherwood Smith
Dies the Fire by SM Stirling
Gate of the Gods by Martha Wells
The Wizard Hunters by Martha Wells
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
Tempting Fate by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Want even more best-of goodness? Click here for 2008's best fiction, and here for the best nonfiction.

*All right, so you didn't. But you would have if you had thought of it. Am I right, or am I right?
**This year's notable nonfiction titles. Surprisingly, there were only two - usually it breaks down more evenly.
snugglekitty: (Default)
Title: Nelson Mandela: The Authorized Comic Book
Author: Nelson Mandela Foundation with Umlando Wezithombe
Genre: Graphic novel, biography
Reason for Reading: This title has been popping up in reviews of good graphic novels.
Pages: 193
Copyright Date: 2009, 2008
Cover: Four image panels, with a red block in the middle for the title. The top left panel shows a boy rolling a tire. The top right panel shows a man wrapped in a blanket eating a bowl of rice as he leans against a wall. The bottom left panel shows an old man with a big smile wearing a loud shirt. The bottom right panel shows an angry young tribesman wearing native dress.
First panel: Showing a small dwelling with rolling hills and grasses. No text.
Best part: I really learned a lot about South African political history with this one.
Worst part: I could definitely feel the author bias. The story felt a bit one-sided - the subtitle could have been "Mandela and how awesome he is." I don't disagree with that but I wonder what his ex-wives think.
Imaginary Theme Song: "Diamonds of Anger" by Fred Small
Grade: C+ - I really liked this book and I'm glad I read it, but I probably wouldn't read it again.
Recommended for: Those who enjoy acquiring actual knowledge through graphic media.
Related Reads: Cartoon History of the Universe by Larry Gonick, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.
snugglekitty: (poly)
Title: Redefining Our Relationships: Guidelines for Responsible Open Relationships
Author: Wendy-O Matik
Genre: Nonfiction, relationships
Reason for Reading: I try to read all the books on polyamory. Because of the small number which get published, this is more workable than you would think. Now, if I tried to read all the books on spicing up monogamy? Then I'd be overwhelmed.
Pages: 92
Copyright Date: 2002
Cover: Abstract drawings of reconstructed underwear on a blue background. I'm not kidding. The abstract drawings also begin each chapter.
First line: "With the encouragement from many friends to write about what I've lived, I have been inspired to take a wild stab into the world of radically defined relationships."
Best part: It was short, which is a nice thing for an ILL to be.
Worst part: It felt sex-negative to me in some ways - I felt the author was saying both explicitly and implicitly, "It's not about sex!" Well, why can't it be about sex some of the time? What's wrong with sex?
Imaginary Theme Song: "Three" by Gaian Consort
Grade: C-
Recommended for: Those who, like me, wish to read every poly book they can get their hands on.
Related Reads: The Ethical Slut by Easton and Liszt, Opening Up by Tristan Taormino.

This book is short. The perspective presented on open relationships is one that is both more structured and more idealistic than the one I have. I don't agree that you should never let your hormones drive your decisions and you should never have sex with someone you just met. I also don't agree (sadly) that being poly means you never have to break up, your relationships just "evolve into new forms." Sorry. That would be nice.

There was no way that I wasn't going to read this book, since it's a book about poly, but I didn't think it was that great. For someone's first book on poly, it would be an okay read. But it's not the best.
snugglekitty: (Default)
Title: Greenblooded: an introduction to eco-friendly feminine hygiene
Author: Cathy Leamy
Genre: Graphic novel, nonfiction, short works
Pages: 8
Copyright Date: 2009
Cover: Bright green, showing a female silhouette with a smiling face, hands on her hips. There is a spiral drawn over her lower torso, and spirals in the background.
First line: "This booklet is a mix of research and my own thoughts on how to manage your period."
Best part: Fills an unmet need. Leamy is right, people almost never talk about this issue. Second best part - funny!
Worst part: For those who have already spent some time thinking about eco-friendly moon supplies, there's not much in the way of new information.
Imaginary Theme Song: "Hotblooded" by Predator
Grade: B-
Recommended for: Eco-gals who want to bring green living into this area of their life, but aren't sure where to start. This would also make a good gift for a girl starting her cycle.
Related Reads: Our Bodies, Ourselves, Her Blood is Gold.

Greenblooded is available via website, at http://www.metrokitty.com/ .
snugglekitty: (reading is sexy)
Title: A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance
Author: Jane Juska
Genre: Memoir, sexuality, books, nonfiction
Pages: 272, plus an unnumbered Reader's Guide
Copyright Date: 2003
Cover: Voluptuous red and pink background. In the center, there is a heart with newsprint inside. The newsprint reads: "Before I turn 67 - next March - I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me."
First line: "'Do you think you're a nymphomaniac?' Bill wants to know."
Best part: Oh, it's hard to pick just one... but I love the juiciness of this book.
Worst part: The author sometimes jumps around chronologically when you least want her to.
Grade: A!
Recommended for: Anyone who thinks they're too old.
Related Reads: Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, Henry and June by Anais Nin, Aphrodite's Daughters by Jalaja Bonheim

At the tender age of 66, Juska placed a personal ad in the prestigious New York Review of Books. The text is included above, in the cover description. Why? What led up to that point? What was she hoping for, other than the obvious? Obviously, something happened to give her material for this book - but what?

I love the passionate enthusiasm that Juska shares with us. Everything is included - New York City, teaching teenagers, new teachers, and prison inmates, her home, her past. She describes her first encounter with sex after thirty years of celibacy with the same reverent joy she describes seeing a manuscript of her beloved Trollope for the first time in her life. Someone else that loves sex AND books, and wrote a whole book about that love! Delicious. Delightful. So good I felt like crying when I reached the last chapter - I didn't want it to end!
Buy it for an older person you'd describe as a character, or one you think could be if they really gave it a try. Buy it for yourself if you are worried about having a lonely, boring, and passionless old age. Buy two copies and lend one out to friends. It's really just that wonderful. An easy A.
snugglekitty: (suzuki)
Title: Merle's Door
Author: Ted Kerasote
Genre: Pet biography, animals, nonfiction, memoir
Pages: 398 (including footnotes and an index)
Copyright Date: 2007
Cover: A golden dog gives you a soulful expression, with mountains in the background. He has a red bandana around his neck.
First line: "This is the story of one dog, my dog, Merle."
Best part: The author's genuine love for his dog is very apparent.
Worst part: This is a toss-up for me, between the fact that Kerasote does not consistently live his beliefs about animals, and the over-the-top way that he describes them.
Grade: C+
Recommended for: Any and all canine lovers. This will be THE book to talk about at the dog park this year.
Related Reads: The Secret Life of Dogs by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor.

While Kerasote was white-water rafting with friends, he was adopted by a golden dog of uncertain breed. This book chronicles his life with his dog, and also shares much of his philosophy and research about dogs. The title of the book comes from the dogdoor that he installed in his home to allow Merle, the dog, complete freedom of movement.
Kerasote's philosophy is definitely controversial. He says that the devotion that confined dogs have for their owners might be like Stockholm Syndrome. He also says that anything less than total freedom of movement (including a dog door that goes to a fenced yard, not the whole world) is "just a bigger crate," which I don't agree with.
One problem I had with the book is that he is not consistent with his philosophy. Though he argues that his dog should be an equal partner and be able to have his own life, if his dog does something dangerous, he has no problem using force to get his way. For example, he does not train the dog that he has to stay with him when he says "stay," but he uses a choke collar to get the dog to stop chasing cattle. I think as an animal I would find this inconsistency terrifying - like having a parent that is easy-going most of the time and then suddenly turns violent and controlling for no obvious reason. Yeah, the reason is obvious to us as people, but not to a dog... still, the provacative nature of the ideas themselves are part of what makes this such an interesting book.

C+. Some really good stuff, and some problems too.
snugglekitty: (Default)
Title: Get Up: A 12-Step Guide to Recovery for Misfits, Freaks, and Weirdo
Author: Bucky Sinister
Genre: Self-help, recovery
Topical Arc: Models of recovery
Pages: 169
Copyright Date: 2008
Cover:
First Line: "This is a recovery book written by a guy who never thought he'd read one all the way through."
Best part: It's easy to read, hard to put down.
Worst part: No alternatives to the twelve steps are mentioned.
Grade: B+
Recommended for: Anyone that is uncomfortable with "one size fits all" approaches to recovery and needs some new ideas.
Related Reads: Dharma Punx by Noah Levine, Sober for Good by Ann Fletcher.

"My advice to you is simple: Get up. You're not going to get any better lying there like that. I know, it hurts, but you have to get up and walk it off. Get up. No one is going to help you. Get up. You have a whole life to live." p 40

If you have a problem with alcohol or another substance, but think AA might be a cult, and definitely is not for people who are cool, hip, or edgy, this is the book for you. Sinister speaks as one who has been there. He is funny, blunt, and to-the-point. He talks about his own experiences and the experiences of people he knows, and he also has a lot of good advice. Figure out what you want from life. Find your inner A-Team. Find a support community.

My only real problem with this book as a book is that Sinister does not even mention recovery alternatives to AA, like Rational Recovery and Women for Sobriety. He talks about AA and he says that it is very difficult, maybe even impossible to stay sober on your own. I agree with this, but the thing about AA that I find the most frustrating is that it pretends to be the only game in town when it's not.

Still, if you have a hard-living playboy of a friend who is too cool to get sober, this is the book to give them, and it provides an entertaining perspective on a different way to view recovery. B+.
snugglekitty: (bookcase)
207 books later... )

Five star titles, alphabetical by author

Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, & Other Outlaws by Kate Bornstein This book is not just for teenagers and the suicidal. It should be required reading for anyone who is really unhappy and/or doesn't know how to change their life.
Many Roads, One Journey by Charlotte Kasl A holistic guide to recovering from addiction, for women. Places our understanding of addiction in context of our lives and society.
Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz How to naturally ferment anything in simple, easy, unintimidating steps. If you don't know what to do with your garden surplus, or have always been intimidated by the idea of canning, you must read it.
Face to Face by Audrey Kishline and Sheryl Maloy What would you say to the person who killed your child? What if you believed God wanted you to forgive them? A true story.
Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott A brutally honest look at parenting from the front lines. Written with compassion and humor for everyone involved.
Strategic Sex: Why They Won't Keep It in the Bedroom edited by D. Travers Scott Possibly one of the best sexually-themed anthologies I've ever read, and I've read many.


Four and a Half Star Books )

Still not enough? Click here for my take on last year's best nonfiction.
snugglekitty: (Default)
I read a book bad enough that I didn't want to write a review. That was The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. I had chosen it for lack of literary merit but my choice was a bit too good. English speech patterns have changed since the Napoleonic Wars. Enough said. But it was an enjoyable bit of fluff if you can ignore that. Two stars.

I also finished Greyhounds: Everything About Purchase, Care, Nutrition, Behavior, and Training by D. Caroline Coile. This book is short and full of color pictures, compared with Retired Racing Greyhounds for Dummies, which is long and full of interesting facts. I thought it was a good overview. You can definitely tell that the author has a bit of a bias towards show greyhounds as opposed to racing greyhounds.

Here is a quote:
"It is undeniably special to save the life of a retired racer, but keep in mind that the AKC Greyhound puppy could need you just as much.. Responsible breeders do not breed a litter unless there are homes lined up for puppies, and the greater availability of retired racers has meant that most people wanting a pet Greyhound get a Greyhound from racing stock, not show stock... If these dogs were bred, show breeders fear that the influx of their genes into the AKC show Greyhound type." p 10

I don't feel that saving the life of something that's alive is morally equivalent to setting up a situation where a new life will be created or contributing to the preservation of purebred stock. It seems to me to be a bit irresponsible to get a purebred show puppy purely as a pet when there are still thousands of former racing dogs put down every year. (Of course, if showing dogs is your thing, that's different...) It reminds me of that flyer you see sometimes where you can save 10,000 cats by spaying your cat. Saving is not the same thing as preventing something from being born either.

In general, though, I think that this is a good book. Three stars. Stay tuned for my review of Retired Racing Greyhounds for Dummies, when I get done with it. :)
snugglekitty: (suzuki)
One look at the cover, and I had to read it. How could I resist that handsome face, with his wise eyes and distinguished whiskers? Well, maybe you won't be able to either.



One freezing January night in Iowa, Vicki and her fellow librarians found a bedraggled kitten in their book drop. (Poor kitty poor kitty! Poor baby!) But it was a lucky day for that cat, because he spent more than a dozen years after that as the pampered and beloved library cat of the Spencer Library. His sweet face, heartwarming story, and lovable personality won him friends and admirers around the globe. But this is not just a random story about a cute cat - stories from Vicki's life and the life of her small town moving from decade to decade are woven in with it, giving it a strong context and greater relevance in the bigger picture.

Vicki Myron hit on a winning formula with this true story. Her anecdotes are charming but not too precious, and she makes her life, town, and cat real to the reader. This is an "Ohhhh!" book. It would make for great family reading, a good gift, or something nice to read when it's cold outside and you're not feeling all that. Three stars (a C+ in the new system).

*Specially included: a free picture of my own rescue cat.
snugglekitty: (poly)
I read this book for several reasons. One is that I was interviewed for it by the author (well, online, and it was a survey, but I did fill it out, and you get the idea). Another is that I try to stay current with new books on open relationships, for reasons that I'm sure are obvious to all of you. Those two are the reasons I started reading the book. The third reason came later, and I am not proud of it. I wanted to finish the book so that I could tell you all that it was bad and why I thought so.*

Open is basically an annotated memoir. Author Jenny Block tells the long and meandering story of how she came to be in an open marriage, with many asides and quotes criticizing monogamy and praising "openness" along the way. The introduction is the short version of the story, and each chapter is then introduced with another short paragraph from the introduction which summarizes it.

All the Sordid Details. )

I wanted to like this book. The prose was good in places, and I did enjoy somewhat Block's story of how she got into an open marriage. But unless you feel you have been sitting around for years just waiting for someone to write another book on open marriage, I think you should give this one a miss. Two stars. (In the new system I would give this book a D+. I rolled my eyes a lot but I did finish it without throwing it once.)

*I don't really feel right saying, "This book is really bad but I didn't bother to finish it so I don't know for certain that it is bad all the way through." Strange, perhaps, but true.
snugglekitty: (Default)
I first encountered Charlotte Kasl when I read her excellent book If the Buddha Dated, which is about holding onto yourself and being authentic in relationship practices. I chose this book to read just after I finished Face to Face, partly because it was strongly recommended as a women's take on AA and partly because I knew I liked her writing style.

How do oppression and hierarchical societies feed into alcoholism and other forms of addiction? Is a codependency model appropriate for survivors of abuse? What was the original intent of AA founder Bill W, and how is that spirit being honored or ignored today? How can a model of maturing spirituality help us to understand the recovery movement? Why are sexual relationships within a support group problematic? Does one size really fit all for addiction recovery?

This book is over ten years old, but the ideas in it are still considered radical by many. Kasl's holistic approach to addiction recovery centers on the individual, doing what works for you. In explaining how she came to create it, she also discusses what is problematic for many women about AA and traditional recovery. While parts of it are dated (most folks no longer use the term "consciousness raising," for example) there are still ideas in this book that I haven't seen discussed anywhere else. This is a must read for any woman with a substance addiction problem, and strongly recommended for any who are interested in a feminist critique of the recovery movement. Five stars. (In my new system I would give this an A-, because it does have some problems - but it is a life-changing book.)
snugglekitty: (Default)
(This is the third book in the series I'm reading for the queer book group.)

Exile and Pride is part memoir, part manifesto, part delicious prose. The author, Eli Clare, writes from per experiences growing up working-class, living with disability, coming out as queer, and recovering from sexual abuse. At the same time, sie situates per experience in historical, environmental, and economic contexts. Additionally, the poetic nature of Eli's other work is frequently apparent.

A quote. )

Clare weaves these pieces into a seamless whole that at times made me gasp with wonder. For a short piece, the writer must choose depth or breadth. Clare chooses depth, looking at per own experiences both with a microscope and a telescope. Sie goes from intimate to political in a heartbeat with grace and flair. The gorgeous prose is what really ties this wonderful piece together.
Of course, choosing depth over breadth does have a downside as well. There are things I would have liked seeing this book - an exploration of invisible illness, discussion of modern media portrayals of race and class, further ideas about alternatives to a medical model of disability. But then this book wouldn't have been the short, powerful gem that it is. Four and a half stars.
snugglekitty: (Default)
This is the second book in my "models of alcohol addiction" thematic arc. I picked up two books in between this and Face to Face: Addiction, Change and Choice and Many Roads, One Journey, but they both seem a little bit dated, having come out more than ten years ago in a field that seems to be changing a lot, and I'm not sure I'll finish them.

In Sober for Good, Fletcher interviews a number of people she calls "masters" of sobriety - folks who have been sober for more than five years, in some cases twenty or more. She tells their stories and compares their approaches. Her chief conclusions are that people do not all get sober the same way, and that we do much better when we are given choices about how to handle our problems. She recommends that you "try, try again" if you have a problem with alcohol. She disproves (at least anecdotally) several popular theories of sobriety, such as "one drink, one drunk," "you have to hit rock bottom before you can get better" and "only God can help you stop drinking." She reviews the many roads to recovery and helps the reader decide which one might suit them well.

I think this is a really good book. It is comprehensive and does not bash any groups - it just talks frankly about their benefits and drawbacks, and the importance of finding a fit that is good for you. In some places toward the end, it felt a little too orderly - here's a characteristic that some masters said was important, here are five examples, here's the next characteristic and five more examples - but the emphasis stayed on "this worked for some people - do what works for you - get support you feel comfortable with" which I thought was great. Four stars. If you have a problem with alcohol, or have a loved one who does, but aren't sure what to do about it, or feel like a conventional approach might not fit the bill, reading this book would be a great place to start.
snugglekitty: (Default)
This is the second book in the queer book group series. Initially, the facilitators wanted it to be the first book, because they thought it would be more accessible and welcoming than Whipping Girl, but some people had a hard time getting it, so it wound up second on the list.

This is an anthology written in 2004, shortly after the furor over some quasi-legal San Francisco gay weddings and gay marriage becoming legal in my own Massachusetts. The pieces are short (mostly under three pages) and there are a lot of them - the book is more than 380 pages long, so you do the math. Some favorite authors are including - Tristan Taormino, S. Bear Bergman, Pat Califia, Marshall Miller and Dorian Solot, and Cecilia Tan. The book is fairly well balanced between pro- and anti-marriage queers, and generally speaking the quality of the writing is high.

I think that this is a good book. I like the short pieces - I think the format makes people get to the point - three pages gives you little room to ramble. With that being said, it also has its limitations. It's very much focused on the American experience - there are only a few essays about gay marriage in other countries, and most of those are about Canada. Also, this is not a book you could give to your mother to convince her that gay marriage is an important issue, unless your mom is a lot cooler than mine - I think it pretty much assumes that the reader is both queer and very familiar with the queer movement. The work is already fairly dated only four years later - it's very specific to the time and place it was written in. And finally, in my opinion, it's just a bit too long. I had read about 150 pages when I felt that I had reconsidered my position on this issue and changed my perspective - but there were still more than 200 pages to go, and I was ready to be done at that point. Overall, I would give the book three stars. I would recommend reading it, especially if you just pick out the essays that you like. It would also be a great resource for anyone doing a history project on this topic who wants to hear queer voices on the subject.

Last time I wrote my book review before the group - in this case, I'm writing it after because I only finished the last essay a few hours before the group started. There are advantages to both ways, but I think in the future I am going to try to write the reviews beforehand, because I think it leads me to having more coherent and cogent things to say at the discussion.
I will admit I didn't expect the books for the book group to be this challenging - it is cutting into my "regular reading" a bit - but I think the challenge is a good one.
snugglekitty: (cranky)
So, yesterday I finished reading Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julie Serano for my queer book group.

I really really wanted to like this book. I expected to like this book. I was enthused by the cover and by the reviews it's been getting. I was predisposed to assume that I would like a book picked out by the awesome book group moderators. Alas, I was doomed to disappointment.

This book is more or less a manifesto. Serano has a lot of political ideas and isn't afraid to share them. She dips into many pots - the media, academia, the sciences, personal experience, anecdotes from friends - in pursuit of her thesis: that "traditional sexism" (oppression of women by men) is far less of a problem than "oppositional sexism" (our society's tendency to make 'male' and 'female' into mutually exclusive categories with no overlap) and making assumptions about other people's genders.

There were a few things I liked about this book. I found Serano's model of intrinsic inclinations (the idea that our sex and gender identities, along with sexual orientation, are neither purely nature or nurture, but based on deep-seated inclinations that are hard to deny) compelling. I also really liked the way she talked about media portrayals of transsexuals. She pointed out that the media is more or less obsessed with showing MTFs putting on makeup, and argues that this is a way of demonstrating the artificiality of trans genders. I feel she has a good point there, and was considering that the other main demographics that seem to be shown putting on makeup a lot in the movies are sex workers of various stripes, older women, and teenage girls trying to be badass. More examples of artifice and genders we're trying to say are fake, I believe.

Read more... )

Sorry, Serano. I really wanted to like your work, but it just has too many problems, more than I can even list here. One star. And I'm sure that she, or anyone who supports her work, would claim I make these arguments because I'm cissexual and trying to perpetuate oppositional sexism. No. I support the trans movement strongly - I just think that this is a bad book.

This really makes me want to re-read Bornstein or Feinberg or Kaldera as a trans-activism palate-cleanser. I hope the rest of the book group books will be better, though admittedly it's a bit hard to imagine how they could be worse.
snugglekitty: (inanna)
Today I finished reading Face to Face by Audrey Kishline and Sheryl Maloy. Wow. What an intense book, and it really has me thinking. I love it when a book makes me want to read other books, and it's rare when that happens for me with nonfiction. The last time it did, it started my "women and buddhism" reading kick, and I think this one is starting me on a topical arc of "models of addiction recovery." I want to know more, and soon I will.

A little personal background. )

Audry Kishline and Sheryl Maloy's lives were joined forever in the fateful moment that Kishline's pickup truck hit the car of Maloy's ex-husband, killing both the ex and Maloy's twelve-year-old daughter. The two women co-wrote this book, each from their own perspective, talking about the events that led up to the accident and how their lives changed after it. Kishline pled guilty to murder and went to prison. Maloy tried to cope with her grief, learning to be closer to God, and trying to be both mother and father to her remaining children. And then everything changed again, when Maloy decided that God's will was that she forgive Kishline.

Two quotes, one from each author. )

Not everything in this book fits with my own beliefs about life, and especially about spirituality. (I don't agree that we're all sinners in the eyes of God, or that driving drunk is ethically the same as shooting someone, for instance.) But I think it is an amazing story about two women doing the unthinkable (killing a child, forgiving a murderer), living through the unlivable (life in prison, life as a bereaved mother) and finding hope and forgiveness at the end of their journey. I can't imagine enduring what either of these women have endured. It also raised a lot of interesting questions about addiction and the recovery movement for me, although the book stays focused on the narrative and only brings up those topics as they pertain.
I think this book is really fascinating, and for the most part, it's well-written too. It made me hungry for more information, which I believe is one of the greatest gifts a book can bestow. Five stars.

For my next exploration into this topic, I plan to read Many Paths, One Journey by Charlotte Kasl and Sober for Good by Anne M. Fletcher. It seems to be tricky to find a balanced third-party view of AA - I was never aware of the controversies! - but perhaps something will come to light.
snugglekitty: (Default)
This riveting piece of nonfiction describes a mysterious chain of events surrounding one man - Hardy Rodenstock - in the world of rare and fine wines. The respected wine dealer Rodenstock approaches Michael Broadbent, wine director of the famous Christie's auctionhouse, about some bottles of wine that he claimed to have found in a basement in France. The wine bottles are engraved with the initials Th. J, and they may have belonged to Thomas Jefferson. They seem to be genuine, but Monticello's leading expert on Jefferson has some doubts. Doubts that will begin to come into the public view as more and more "Jefferson bottles" are sold for more and more outrageous prices. What is really going on here?

I'm not sure that I have ever read a piece of nonfiction in one day before this book. It was extremely compelling. I kept on saying "just one more chapter" until it was midnight and I was finished with the book! Even if you are not especially interested in wine, the characters and their outrageous lifestyles and behavior will keep you turning the page again and again. Four stars.

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August 2011

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