All the books I read this year. 50 in total. Almost one a week. My only resolution is to make it 52 or more next year. I might have done it this year, but the enormous Neal Stephenson slowed me down, a lot.
Also, my Top 5 for the year is up at That Shakespeherian Rag, if you're interested.
Back in September, Feministing wrote a piece on sexist book reviews, citing The New York Times review of Katha Pollit's Learning to Drive as an example of such. Jessica Valenti writes:
Sometimes it seems like women are criticized just for having the audacity to speak the truth about their own lives. I'm so over this kind of hackneyed, backlashy bullshit. It's the easy way out: Don't want to bother with writing a thoughtful review of something? Just go the "harping woman" route, it's a winner!
The Times struck again, in its review of Susan Faludi's The Terror Dream. Reviewer Michiko Kakutani accuses Faludi of "recycling arguments similar to those she made a decade and a half ago in her best-selling book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (1991)" which now "feel forced, unpersuasive and often utterly baffling." Faludi's main argument, that female voices were systematically silenced post 9/11, in favour of a more macho, cowboy ethic is considered suspect. For an example in the media, Kakutani points out that Katie Couric* was made anchor of the CBS news. Never mind the pages of statistics in which Faludi points out that the numbers of female editorials, columns, and appearances on TV were in rapid decline. Never mind the threats made to those women (Pollit included) who questioned the new mindset. Never mind the drudging of their character in the media (not just the Right Wing media either). Nope, Katie Couric was on the news, so Faludi's "thesis [...] rings false."
Kakutani comes up with two other female names of news reporters, but can't argue the statistics, so zie** ignores them. In fact, it's rather funny that Kakutani engages in just the sort of shoddy work zie ascribes to Faludi. Wherever Faludi's extensive research doesn't fit this hit-and-run review, it's ignored. And that is to say, the facts and figures are never quoted.
The strongest part of The Terror Dream, for me, focuses on the immediate aftermath of 9/11. This is where Faludi is at her best, and most comfortable. As in Backlash, her research is extensive, compelling, and the conclusions drawn are uncomfortable, and thought-provoking. Agree with her or not, the fault isn't in her writing and execution. If there is a fault in The Terror Dream, it's trying to tie post-9/11 reactions to a larger, national neurosis about invaders, and how that changes how females are treated in American society. I'm not sure I'm convinced of that at all, but I am intrigued with the notion, and at the very least, now educated in some early American history.
By calling The Terror Dream "[an] ill-conceived and poorly executed book — a book that stands as one of the more nonsensical volumes yet published about the aftermath of 9/11," Kakutani leaves the reader of the review feeling like this was more of a vendetta piece. I don't think I've ever seen a more slanted review, and ironically, it speaks to the phenomenon Faludi is writing about: silencing the voices of women who dare to speak out.
Rebecca Traister in Salon also reviewed The Terror Dream, in a far more balanced way. While Traister also had some problems with the book (the opposite ones I did, actually; she finds the last bit of the book "brilliant and exhilarating"), she doesn't just throw the whole thing on the fire. Addressing critics of Faludi's methods, Traister writes:
It's a complaint that has been lodged against Faludi before: that she's a cherry-picker, rounding up the juiciest anecdotes that suit her argument and leaving the rest to languish. On the other hand: What a bumper crop of cherries!
The impression is that Faludi's work, is worthwhile, though not without problems. To me, this seems like a very fair assessment of the work.
In any polemic, and to be sure that is what The Terror Dream is, there are spaces in which to attack. But that's fair. That's what is supposed to happen. A book like this is supposed to create thought and debate. However, anytime I see a review so obviously slanted, so eagerly derisory, as was published in The Times, I smell a rat. It's too easy to give into simple nit-picking, without even considering that Faludi, on one level or another, just might be right. The Times review didn't respect the book (or the author) enough to give any consideration to Faludi's arguments, and thus, Kakutani's piece simultaneously fails as a review, yet manages to prove at least some of Faludi's arguments through vitriol.
"This, sadly, is the sort of tendentious, self-important, sloppily reasoned book that gives feminism a bad name." No, Michiko. This is the sort of thoughtlessly reactionary, sloppy, needlessly nasty review that gives rise to books like The Terror Dream. So, well done!
*Though Couric's appointment actually speaks to Faludi's thesis as well. When she moved to CBS, there were a lot of stories on her, and most of them focused on her family life.
**I'm using gender neutral pronouns here, as I'm not sure of the gender of this reviewer.
I) Huge crowd at Coxwell station.
II) One empty subway train goes by
III) Next subway train comes. It's too full. I don't get on.
IV) Get on the next train. At Yonge get yelled at for not moving out of the way, when there is nowhere to move to, because the people moving around me, won't move single file. This is my fault how? Be the sheeple you are, and follow each other.
V) Big line for Bathurst streetcar. When it finally does come, the mass of humanity pushes to the doors. Woman on the cell phone in front of me says "This idiot behind me is pushing me." I give her the finger. She turns around to see that, and I say "I'm getting pushed too, what the fuck do you want me to do?" She says "Sorry." I call her a name. She shuts up.
VI)Am 15 minutes late for work.
I)My lamp doesn't work, because it's missing some adapter thing.
II) Co-worker's lamp doesn't work at my desk, even though all the outlets I tried work for other stuff.
III)Go to steal light bulb from unused work station, only to find some jackass has screwed it in too tightly, and the bulb has come away from base (the screw-in part). Try to get both pieces out delicately, but -- of course -- succeed in dropping bulb. *smash* Congratulate self on at least being smart enough to have turned the power off before all this happened.
It's a damn good thing I have chai cupcakes with coconut frosting.
Why is Blogger so weird? It will take the "li" tag, but only as far down as the end of the picture. That does not make sense! MAKE SENSE DAMN YOU! I HAVEN'T THE PATIENCE!
I did promise a post about Nobody's Mother to a commenter a while back, so that's where we'll go today.
Nobody's Mother is mostly written from a upper-middle class, middle-aged, white, straight perspective. There is one essay from a lesbian, and one from a Native North American. I was hoping for a few more younger voices, because a common issue that child-free women have, is not being taken seriously if they're pre-menopausal. I had the same issue in asking for a tubal ligation (which I didn't get, by the way). I was 30-years old, and still got the "you might change your mind" speech, accompanied by the "what if your partner wants children?" question. (My response? "Clearly, I'm not the partner for them, then.") The majority of the essays are women looking back on how and why the came to be child-free, by choice, happenstance, lack of opportunity, etc. There's nothing wrong with this approach, but it makes the book read more like Dropped Threads than a political work, which is something I was hoping for. To give the publisher credit, there's no hint that the book is all that political, but a girl can dream.
In fact, there is some "oh, well I'm not a feminist but..." stuff going on in there that irked me a little. Further, and I find myself doing this, I was annoyed by all the "but I like kids! really!" disclaimers. As a child-free person, I'm pretty tired of saying that. Fact is, I do like my friends' kids, but I shouldn't need to defend myself with that fact all the time. Part of the problem, is that the term "child-free" has been hijacked by a minority of people who very much dislike children, and by extension, mothers. I won't go into some of the truly awful rhetoric I've seen on child-free boards, but I will say I believe that to be anti-mama is to be anti-feminist, as much as being anti-choice is being anti-feminist. This is black and white to me, and you won't move me from that.
I bought this book looking to shore myself up against the chorus that gets ever louder as I roll through my 30s (32 in a week and a half, there's still some shopping time left). I wanted an angry, political diatribe against all the bullshit that child-free women face, both for those who chose it, and for those who did not. I wanted viewpoints I'd never heard, arguments I'd never thought of. What I did get, was 50% "Yes, I've thought/said that" and 50% "Ugh, you shouldn't have to say this!"
Which is not to say Nobody's Mother is a bad collection. In fact, it's very good to hear all these voices. As most of the contributors write and/or read for a living (journalists, professors, poets), the writing is uniformly excellent, and compelling. For an example, Lorna Crozier's essay is reprinted here. I think, though, that the book might stand better as an educational tool for parents, or future parents, to understand their child-free loved ones a bit better, and perhaps stop the misunderstanding of why some women would choose not to have children.
The best essay, for me, was Katherine Gordon's, that addressed specific questions she's (presumably) often asked. I have excerpted it here:
I'm 42 years old. I have no children. I'm very happy
But you would be so much happier if you did have a child.
Children are such a joy. Having one would make you really happy.
I'm sorry. I know you mean well. But what makes you think you know what makes me happy?
You're not complete unless you have children
Ah. A person cannot be whole without kids? And therefore cannot be happy?
That's right. You don't know what you're missing
Well I can't argue with that. But I could say the same of you, of course.
You don't have to be defensive, you know. It's not too late. You have options. You have choices
I made my choice a long time ago.
What kind of person are you, not wanting to be a mom?
Someone who makes parents uncomfortable to be around, I guess -- the unhappy ones, anyway. To justify their decision to include children in their lives, parents have to judge me by their own standards and find me wanting. To dispel any discomfort they may have at being parents, they tell me what they believe I really think and feel, even when they do not know me at all.