booknotes: end of semester omnibus edition
This is the last week of the semester, and although I only had one class that met regularly (and will continue working on my thesis throughout the summer), I still feel that end-of-the-semester accumulation of Things Undone that always hits me this time of year.
A few of those Things Undone are some booknotes blog posts that have been sitting in my drafts file for weeks, waiting for inspiration to hit. Since inspiration is apparently being sucked dry by other things at the minute, here are some thumbnail reviews of a few books I read, enjoyed, and hope you'll read and enjoy as well.
S. Bear Bergman | The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You. It's been a while since I read a book from the library and loved it so much that I turned around and bought it a week later. The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You is just such a book. A collection of essays by self-described "gender-jammer," author and speaker Bear Bergman, The Nearest Exit is like if Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies had been written on the subject of gender, rather than faith. Although it has some faith in it. And family. And stuff about trying your best to be a good person in the not-so-perfect world we live in. Just go read it, everyone!
S. Bear Bergman | Butch is a Noun. Since I loved Exit so much, I hunted down Bear's other book, published in 2006, Butch is a Noun. While I'm still browsing my way through it a few essays a night, I'd say Noun feels less comfortable in its skin than the later book. It's possible I'm just responding on an emotional level to the butch/femme culture so many of the essays are about, which is something I've never quite gotten on a personal level. Still, it definitely still has that gentle, forgiving, thoughtful Lamott quality I enjoyed so much in the later book. So enjoy this one too :).
Loraine Hutchens & Lani Kaahumanu (editors) | Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out. Continuing on the theme of human sexuality (which I am wont to do, as you know), Hanna found this 1991 anthology for me on a dollar cart recently and I've been browsing my way through it. Twenty years is centuries when it comes to the politics and culture of sexual identity, and a lot of the contributions feel super dated . . . but it's a valuable snapshot of bisexuality in an era where people with more fluid sexual identities felt intense pressure from the gay and lesbian community to identify as exclusively homosexual, and from the straight community to identify as hetero. Bi invisibility is still an issue today, but I think fewer queer folks, at least, question the very existence of folks who aren't exclusively interested in one sex or gender.
Susan J. Douglas | Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminisms Work is Done. When I had this book in the reading room of the MHS one day, a researcher saw it and remarked "now there's a contradiction in terms!" Which of course is Douglas's point. She argues -- drawing on her background in media studies and cultural criticism -- that women of all ages are being sold neo-traditional notions of gender packaged as "feminist" or "post-feminist" by the media, marketers, and politicians who want to believe that inequality based on gender and sex is a thing of the past (or at least want us to believe it.
Rick Perlstein | Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. Perlstein is an independent scholar whose passion is clearly American politics: the 748 densely researched pages of Nixonland chart the political career of Richard Nixon in the context of the postwar/Cold War politics of 1960s and 70s America. While I am only part of the way through the book, I suspect he may be slightly over-stepping his evidence when it comes to arguing that Nixon's style of presidential politics (and the opinions of those for and against him) are emblematic of our era. He spends more time on the ins and outs of politicking in Washington and less of the public's response to said politics than I would like. But then, I'm primarily a cultural historian and an historian of ideas, not politics.
Connie Willis | Blackout. I had some vague hope of holding Connie Willis' latest novel out as a carrot for the end of my semester -- but then Hanna found a copy on the library's express read shelf and I was a lost cause. (Blackout, readers should be warned, is volume one of at least a two-part narrative arc, the second volume of which is coming out in September. So if you won't want to be left hanging, hold off.) The plot takes a while to gather steam, mostly because of the vast cast of characters and locations, all of which have to be introduced. But readers familiar with Willis' time travel fiction, such as To Say Nothing of the Dog will likely find they can ride along until the critical problem becomes clear -- while enjoying the period details on the way by.
Next on the reading list? Laurie R. King's latest installment in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, of course (The God of the Hive) and Patricia Briggs' latest Mercy Thompson novel (Silver Borne). Not to mention (ahem) the more serious, scholarly reading that will likely come up in the process of drafting my thesis. Wahey! More books: here we come!