Booknotes: Stuff I've Been Reading

Another Friday rolls around, and in another "queue clean-up" move, I thought I'd consolidate some recent booknotes in a single post, rather than try to come up with coherent posts on each one (although several of them do, genuinely, deserve more thoughtful commentary -- perhaps I can revisit them at a later date).

  • I'll begin with Michelle Goldberg's excellent The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power and the Future of the World. Aside from the gorgeous cover art, I am completely in love with Goldberg's ability to tell a compelling, humanized story about the global politics of feminism, reproductive rights and reproductive justice. She weaves together case studies of local, grassroots feminist activism (and anti-feminist activism) with the politics of national and international law, economics, and society. She argues that in our modern economy, globally, the ability of women to plan their families, and to make independent decisions about their health, education, and work lives radically improves the quality of life not only for the women themselves, but for their families and their societies. She suggests that the future of the world -- economically, environmentally, politically -- rests with the future of feminism as practiced by millions of on-the-ground individuals worldwide: "There is no force for good on the planet," she writes, "as powerful as the liberation of women."
  • This power to change the world is precisely what many interest groups (such as religious conservatives and those who benefit from highly patriarchal power structures) recognize and have rallied to combat, which is the story that Jennifer Butler tells in Born Again: The Christian Right Globalized. Born Again focuses specifically on the way in which the Christian right, traditionally wary of such international forums as the United Nations, has moved in the past couple of decades to influence policy on a global scale. Butler's perspective is that of a progressive Christian activist who has spent years working in ecumenical organizations. Perhaps the most interesting piece of information I got out of Born Again was the fact that assertions of children's rights in international forums are often vociferously opposed by a coalition of conservative "pro-family" activists who identify the enumeration of children's rights, as distinct from family identity, a threat to the social structure and authority of families. Since they identify feminism as part of the same cluster of evils, once again my suspicion is confirmed that there's a meaningful link between the argument that women are people and the argument that children, too, are human beings.
  • As I dive into the new Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Language of Bees, as my post-semester pleasure reading, Hanna has encouraged me to try the Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes again. I picked up "Study in Scarlet" a handful of years ago, thinking I'd start at the beginning, and was just not impressed. Reading about Holmes before he met Mary felt like reading about Peter Wimsey before Harriet Vane -- somehow the story felt as though it lacked depth and weight. And I'm just not enough of a puzzle-solver to enjoy the nuts and bolts of the mystery itself. But I've been mixing Bees with stories from The Return of Sherlock Holmes, and find them on the whole charming. I particularly enjoyed the one involving a woman described as a "Solitary Cyclist"; it reminded me of a paper one of my undergraduate colleagues wrote on the history of bicycle advertisements targeting women (yes, I know, "history geek" is indeed tattooed in invisible ink on my forehead).
  • Bees I finished last night, and will refrain from commenting upon at length for fear of spoiling the plot for all those who have yet to read it (Hanna and Mom to name at least two). I will say that by chapter twelve Russell was out walking the downs and Holmes had disappeared on his latest hunt; life in Sussex seems comfortingly unchanged. That is: as full of violence, drama, disappearances, and potential murder as ever! And given the time, place, and subject matter, a great deal of real-life Bohemian personalities made cameos, so I recommend reading it with Among the Bohemians close to hand.
  • And finally, following Laurie King, I picked up once again the sumptuous edition of The Neverending Story that Hanna gifted me for my birthday, and in which I had become stuck about halfway through -- academic reading always leaves me too distracted and analytical for the true enjoyment of being lost in a good book (both are pleasures, but require very different kinds of thinking, which I find difficult to switch between at a moment's notice). It has been so long since I last read the novel that I honestly can't recall if I ever gave it proper attention in the past -- or only read bits -- or only ever saw the film. It is a lovely paean to the power of fiction (aside from being a rolicking adventure yarn), and particularly the magic that books work in the lives of solitary children. Maureen Corrigan, in her memoir Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading, describes how reading, for her, has been both an escape from the world and her path into the world: it is that same journey that Bastian, the central character of this novel makes, with the help of bit of magic.
Now I'll soon be heading home for the evening, where we plan to watch one of three movies Hanna has chosen for the weekend: Terminator, From Hell, and The History Boys (a delayed celebration of Alan Bennett's 75th birthday on the 9th of this month). Happy weekending everyone!

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