Showing posts with label non-fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label non-fiction. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How We Eat with Our Eyes and Think with Our Stomachs by Melanie Mühl, Diana von Kopp


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled "Learn to See the Hidden Influences That Shape Your Eating Habits" this was a great book about how we see food both with our eyes and with our minds (it's not necessarily the same thing!). Even knowing as much as your average amateur can about how easily the mind can have the wool pulled over it, I was surprised by some of the revelations here. You may think you know how deceptive advertising can be, but what if the advertising is the food itself? What if we're already weakened and susceptible because everyone has to eat, and nature itself has predisposed us to give in to the very things which the six-hundred-billion dollar military-food complex is trying to foist upon us?

Just kidding about the military-food complex (although not about the six-hundred-billion dollars), but food is making an impressive assault on us, and it's showing on our waistlines. Maybe it should be referred to as the militating food complex?! The fact is that it's in our nature from when we were all hunter-gatherers to seek fats and sugars, and now they're so readily available to us, we have a hard time saying no. But it's not even that simple, because food sneaks in under the radar, and we can be manipulated so easily not just by it, but by those who are trying to purvey it to us.

The authors (journalist Melanie Mühl and psychologist Diana von Kopp) pull research and references from fields such as behavioral psychology, biology, neuroscience, and pop culture and make it available in short, pithy, topical chapters which make reading this so easy I got through it long before I expected to. They ask an assortment of questions and answer them: Why do we like certain foods so much? Is raw food healthier than cooked? Why do people overeat? And a lot more. They talk about real world studies and research and come up with some quite amazing trivia about our eating habits, which turns out to be not so trivial at all.

You may know that if you get a smaller plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet, you're likely to eat less than if you start with a larger plate, but did you know that if you sit facing the buffet, you're more likely to eat more than if you face away from it? Ot that if you get a red plate and tableware, you're likely to eat less as well? I guess that last one doesn't apply so much at Christmas, when we often see red plates, but over-eat anyway! But Christmas is of then the exception to many rules.

If you're interested in how humans behave, in food and diet, or are looking to maybe lose a couple of pounds and want to find ways to psych yourself into it, this is a great book to read. It's not a diet book by any means, but it does clue you in to both diet and weakness, and knowledge is a powerful weapon. Even as a book about food and perception, which is what this is, it was fun, interesting, surprising, engaging, and well-worth the read. I recommend it.


Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Polar Adventures of a Rich American Dame: A Life of Louise Arner Boyd by Joanna Kafarowski


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I requested this thinking it would be engrossing and entertaining, as well as educational, but I had too many issues with it to classify it as a worthy read. Some of the problems were with the formatting, but most were in the writing.

While on the one hand I can appreciate a story of a woman who flouted the accepted conventions of her day and organized her own voyages, this book didn't really focus on anything she discovered or opened up so much as it told a story of a spoiled rich girl spending her money on personal interests. It made her sound completely unappealing to me, and the science was not really well-represented. Indeed, it was well described by one observation about a passenger on one of Boyd's voyages, and one which was quoted without comment from the author: "I'll wager she will see more than any of your scientists with their noses to the ground." This rather sums up the scientific perspective of this entire book.

Yes, she collected botanical specimens, but she apparently did a poor job of that, at least to begin with, and yes, she photographed her travels extensively and also filmed some of it, which was new for the time period, but I did not get any sense from this book of Louise Boyd really achieving anything significant (other than being a woman doing things women were not well-known for back then - and there's a caveat to that, as I shall discuss shortly). On top of this she did things which to me personally were obnoxious, such as mass slaughtering of polar bears, which are a vulnerable species at high risk of becoming endangered today, as well as wantonly killing other animals. I know mind-sets were different back then, and I know that explorers were known for hunting to replenish rations, but the delight this author seems to take in describing the endless slaughter of Polar bears frankly made me sick.

I read at one point, "The Ribadavias were amazed by the courage Louise had displayed and the vigour with which she participated in hunting the polar bear. She may have been a sophisticated socialite, but she was no shrinking violet." Seriously? There really was no hunting. They would see some wild bear roaming the ice or swimming in the ocean, and stand there and shoot it. There was nothing difficult about it. Nothing heroic, nothing brave. It was cruel. The first bear she shot took three bullets to kill (assuming it actually was killed at that point) and then it was dragged back to the boat and hung up with a rope around its neck so this brave and intrepid explorer could have her picture taken next to the bear, its tongue lolling out of its slack mouth. It was disgusting. There was nothing heroic here, only that which was cowardly and shameful.

The relish with which these 'hunts' were described, and described repeatedly by this author, was honestly sickening. I read, "hunting parties were a favourite pastime" and "Louise and the Count and Countess were enlivened by the prospect of sport and more mighty polar bears fell to their guns" and "Miss Boyd returned with the pelts of twenty-nine polar bears, six of which she shot in one day." This is something to be proud of? Wantonly slaughtering 29 bears when one was far more than enough?

The only suffering the author describes is that of the people. I read at one point, "Every year, seal hunters ... get trapped in the ice. Some are able to free themselves, but many are lost. If the crew is able to free the ship, it is only after great effort and much terrible suffering." Yeah? Well you know, that's what they get for hunting seals! I have no sympathy for them. The animals suffered too.

Some of the writing seemed amateurish, such as when I read, "After the tragic death of her husband." All deaths are tragic! Even someone who dies on death row was a child at one point who might have had a different life (and death) from the one they ended with. It's tragic that they didn't, but it's also asinine to describe it as a 'tragic death'. 'Death' by itself is sufficient, or at least come up with a new adjective, instead of parroting the one every media outlet trots out mindlessly when describing a death.

Another thing which detracted strongly from Boyd's achievements, such as they were, was when it came to hiring people for the voyages. Everyone she hired was a man! The only women who came along - and those were few and far between - were the wives of the men who came along!

I understand that there were few women back then in the kinds of professions which were sought-after for these expeditions, but even when Boyd had a chance to hire one (a female botanist who wrote to Boyd and said she would be thrilled to join her on a future expedition), she went for a man instead. This hardly recommends her as a champion of female emancipation. Indeed, it makes her a hypocrite. I understand that the author had no influence over Boyd's choices by any means, but the fact that this author never even raised this as an issue is inexcusable.

The formatting of the book was as expected in Amazon's crappy Kindle app. In addition to text not being formatted as well as it ought, which I expect from Amazon, their crappy Kindle app literally shredded the pictures. I saw this on my phone, where I read most of this book, but I also checked it out on an iPad, and it was just as bad there, too, with the images fractured in the same way. The larger ones were sliced into several pieces and in some very odd shapes.

I have no idea what algorithm Amazon uses to do this but it needs to fix it. At least on the iPad I could enlarge the pictures. The same app on my phone, where the ability to enlarge pictures would have been far more useful, did not permit it. The picture captions were so poorly done that it was hard to separate them from the text of the book. I highly recommend not issuing books in Kindle format if you want the integrity of the book to be preserved.

Amazon is rolling in money and has had years to fix these issues,yet we still get garbage. The chapter index did not work: for example, you could not tap on a chapter in the contents, and go to the chapter, which made a contents list thoroughly pointless. The funny thing is that the link to the prologue worked. I tapped on it and it went to an index in the back of the book! LOL! it was a good thing too - I never read prologues! They're antiquated.

Why it should be the case in an ebook that links are non-existent or do not work, I don't know. I had the impression that this was written as a print book and no one really cared about the e-version of it, although as I said, this was an advance review copy so maybe these issues will all be fixed by the time it's published....

Overall, I cannot recommend this book as a worthy read. There were too many problems with it of one sort or another and it did the subject few favors. But then perhaps she deserves few.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Future War by Robert H Latiff


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I have to say right up front that I was disappointed in this. It seemed disorganized and rushed, and the text was so dense that it was hard to read, while at the same time so lacking in any breath that it felt like I was skimming the text even as I read every word!

I know this may sound strange coming from a fanatic like me who is always railing on authors and publishers to consider how many trees are being killed-off when setting up the formatting of their books, but I never expected to be advocating for a book to use more space than it did! This one went too far in compacting the text. The lines were so closely-spaced that it was hard to read, and then there was the usual 'academic-style' one-inch margin around the text! It felt so contradictory that it actually amused me. Smaller margins and slightly more widely-spaced text would have made it more appealing and a lot easier on the eye.

Even so, the way the book was put together was not appealing to me at all. Subtitled "Preparing for the New Global Battlefield," I felt it was so rushed and so shallow that it left me with very little useful information about how things might really be whether actually on a battlefield or in cyberspace. There are parts that were eye-opening and interesting, but the majority of this felt more like a largely-speculative work, rather than something which derived its prognostications from existing technology and predictable future directions.

On top of all this, the coverage of any one topic was so cursory that it really didn't get covered at all. One of the organizational problems was that there was very little in the way of hierarchical structure to the text, or by way of labeling subsections to make reading easier and to serve clarity. Consequently, it felt more like a stream-of-consciousness approach, and this didn't serve the subject matter well at all. The book was paradoxically only a step or two away from an outline list, yet nowhere did it actually have an outline list to make comprehension easier either in regard to what you had just read or were about to read in the upcoming chapter.

This book is very short and is a fast read, and if you want the vague 'ten-thousand foot' view or the whirlwind tour of future battlefield trends and technology, then this will give you a start, but it was really lacking far too much in depth and detail for me. It left me notably dissatisfied, and I cannot recommend it.


Friday, September 22, 2017

Kobane Calling by Zerocalcare


Rating: WARTY!

This was another 'Read Now' graphic novel that I requested from Net Galley, and for which I thank the publisher. I like to look at the 'Read Now' because while material in this category can sometimes mean a novel is not doing well and for good reason, it can also mean that something worth reading is being overlooked. I've seen many examples of both, and I am sorry to have to report that this one, for me, was not a worthy read.

There was a prologue. I never read prologues because they're tedious and antiquated. My advice is that if you must have one, then include it in chapter one or somewhere in the story, preferably not as a flashback. I routinely skip all prologues, prefaces, introductions, forewords, and so on.

In this case this created a problem because there was no obvious beginning to the story itself, so I skipped past page after page looking for a start or a chapter one, anything, and there was nothing to indicate where the actual story began!

This lack of organization was rife, and the total lack of respect for trees irked me. I don't think comic book writers in general ever consider how many trees they're going to destroy if their story takes off as a print edition. I wish they would. In this case, this book had a title page (which may have been a place-holder for the cover we don't get in the review copy), followed by a blank page, followed by another title page, followed by a credits page, followed by a small print page, followed by an extravagant two-page map, followed by a blank page.

This was followed by yet another title page - like we don't already know the freaking title of this work by now? Seriously? How many title pages do we need? Does the publisher think we're that stupid, that we can't remember the title page? Maybe so - because I did have to swipe past page after page, after endless page to get to the story, so it's entirely possible, by by the time I've waded through all these extraneous pages, that I could well have forgotten the title!

That was followed by a black page and then the story began, but this was not the prologue! This was the pre-prologue! Fool that I was, I read this thinking that the actual story had started, but no! After two pages, then began the prologue! I am not sure where the prologue ended. We got some more titles, but they were so odd and random that it was never clear if the story had started or if this author was totally enamored of prologuing.

I know there are in-a-rut publishers who are mesmerized by the library of Congress 'rules and regulations', but I say screw them. When did Congress ever care about trees unless it's how much money can be made and profits taxed from cutting them down? This wasn't even an American publication: it was, I think, but am not sure, Italian, and was revamped and translated for English speakers, so there's even less reason to concern ourselves about antiquated Congressional ideas about publishing.

I read seventy-eight pages of a tree-slaughtering 288, and I decided I had better things to do with my time. At no point did the author actually explain why this guy had decided to go to a kill zone. From the story it looked like all he did was it around staring at the fighting going on over the border, and then once in a while put together food packages. The packages, it seemed to me, could have been put together somewhere a whole lot safer and simply shipped to where they were needed instead of shipping the raw materials there. Why this was not done wasn't even addressed, let alone explained.

For a story that I requested because it sounded interesting, it was not. It was tedious. The writer seemed much more in love with how wonderful he was to go somewhere dangerous, than ever he was in explaining anything about why he went, why things were how they were, or how it really felt to be there. The story made the whole experience (at least as far as I could stand to read) out to be a joke and it seemed to me not a joking matter at all. The story therefor was neither engaging nor educational much less entertaining, and I gave up on it because life is too short to waste on something as dull as this. I cannot recommend it.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Phones Keep Us Connected by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld, Kasia Nowowiejska


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a great little children's book about the history of phones, including how they work, and how they've been developing and changing over time. It's done in a simple (but not too simple!) and colorful way that will allow any child of the appropriate age range to understand it.

It includes simple instructions to make your own phone (the cup and string method!) and ways to experiment with your design to see if your 'improvements' make it perform better or worse. I think this is a pretty darned good book to get your kids interested in science and experimentation as well as educate them about a small, but ubiquitous piece of technological history. The book is diverse and fun, and nicely done. I recommend it.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Real Life Super Heroes by Nadia Fezzani


Rating: WARTY!

I have to confess up front my disappointment in this book: an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. It professes to be written by a professional journalist, but professionalism was exactly what it was lacking. This book felt more like reading something written by a fan-girl or a groupie. Issues which ought to have been pursued were ignored and questions which ought to have been answered were never asked.

Not to be confused with Real Life Super Heroes by Ernest Cooper, or Real Life Super Heroes by Pierre-Élie de Pibrac, or even I Married a Real-Life-Super-Hero by Amity Maree, this book advises us (from the blurb) that they "...dress up at night, fight crime, save people, and some of them even have secret identities. Are they ordinary, mild-mannered citizens, or are they larger-than-life characters, determined to fight crime, risking life and limb to defend victims of violence and injustice? And why do some choose to reveal their true identities, while others prefer to remain anonymous?"

I had several reactions to that, including 'were these the only options?', but I think the most pertinent one is, why do they only go out at night? This was something which wasn't explored, and was emblematic of a flaw in this entire book: things unexplored, and aspects of the story uncovered.

An obvious answer presented itself in that many of them work a regular job during the day, but not all of them do. Another answer is that many of the things they claim to engage with, crime being the obvious one, take place at night, but this isn't strictly or always true. This was one of the things which I felt never got addressed properly in a book which to me failed too many times to take seriously.

So there are apparently people who dress in costumes and go out on city streets to fight crime. Some of them simply do things like hand out food, water, and blankets to the homeless (something which could just as readily be done during the day) or help break-up fights or find drunks a ride home and so on. Others go another step beyond that and try to bring criminals to justice. This is where the facts tended to get skimmed. Frankly I was far more impressed by those who quietly handed-out things to the needy than ever I was by the costumed 'crime fighters'.

The problem is that we got only one side to this story: the side the author clearly favored. She was not interested in reporting anything other than what she was told by the people she was following. Even when she pretended to seek out the horrible 'super villains', it turned out these guys were not even remotely villains. They were more like side-kicks to the heroes. The fact that the author is in a romantic relationship with one of the "villains" clearly reveals the huge bias in her reporting here.

She didn't care to ask the difficult questions, nor did she care to seek opinions from outside this small community. Why, if she really wanted to do a job of journalism, did she not interview police and local community leaders? Why did she no peruse crime prevention stats to see if these 'crime fighters' actually did make a significant difference? Why did she not ask these people why they didn't simply join the police force or a neighborhood watch if they truly wanted to help? All of these questions were brushed aside, if they were ever raised, in favor of fan-girling. It's an insult to real working reporters to call this reporting. It was nothing of the sort.

The biggest question of all: why these people get the name super heroes, was left unasked, let alone answered. What makes them super? How are they any more heroic than people who do what they do but don't wear flamboyant costumes? based on the content of this book, the only answer seemed to be that they roam in gangs wearing cosplay costumes and occasionally tackle crime. The biggest "hero" of them all seemed to be "Phoenix Jones", about whom the author had nothing negative to say, but here's what the book said about him reacting one night to a friend being injured:

"My friend's face was flopped open and was just gushing blood."
"...and I walked up on this guy and he just took off. I chased him, I tackled him, I pulled him, and I hit him a few times. I took the stick and I was going to whoop his ass when the police rolled up on me."

Is this what a super hero does? Beats-up people? Personally I think it would have been more heroic to have taken his friend who "was just gushing blood" to a hospital, but this 'hero' abandons his friend and goes after vengeance - not justice but vengeance. This whole thing was reported without any analysis or observation from the author. It was shameful reporting. We never even learn what happened to his friend who was gushing blood.

At one point I read the hypocritical conclusion to another event: "Although they thought the boys' intentions could be seen as good, the RLSHs did not generally accept their actions as positive." Compare and contrast with Phoenix Jones all-but beating-up that guy.

The reporter is so enamored of the heroes that she gushes herself, talking of Purple Reign, an associate of Phoenix Jones: "He was accompanied by a beautiful woman, whom I recognized." Later, I read, "Purple [reign] looked to be in good shape, too, with a shorter frame, a beautiful face" Purple reign was actually one of the few people I read about in this book that I admired for what she does. She was also at one time married to Phoenix Jones. Evidently, they separated in mid-November 2013, but you won't read that in the book.

She's not about show and flash and publicity; she's about helping people in very real ways: people who truly need the help, and she's in a good position to give it, but what does her beauty (or otherwise) have to do with what she does? If she were plain would that make her less super? If she were unattractive altogether, would that make her less heroic? Less effective?

I am so tired of reading this "plain-shaming" from female authors who should know better given the make-up, youth, and 'beauty' culture that drives everything in the west, and who seem to go out of their way to remind their fellow sex that if they aren't beautiful, then fuggeddabout it. It's a disgrace and it needs to stop. There's nothing heroic about behaving in this way. It's bad enough that we routinely see this in comic books about super heroes. We sure as hell do not need it irl.

This gender bias appears elsewhere in the book, as we see when the author is with the super heroes "on patrol" and there's a shooting. Never once did I read of anyone in the group calling the police. Instead, I read this:

Everywhere I looked I could see young women scattering in front of the nearby nightclub, running as fast as they could with their high heels and short skirts. I also noticed that the men, in their sneakers, easily outpaced them. Say what you will about Real Life Super Heroes, but I can't imagine any of them taking off and leaving terrified a women in their wake!

How gallahnt! How St George! So women are helpless victims by definition, and only manly men can save them? We're either equal or we're not. You don't get to have it both ways: fully equal, until that is, you need a man to save you, then you're a maiden in distress? (Or vice versa, until you need a woman to save you).

The wrong-headedness of this writing was appalling, but it gets worse! At one point, the author says, "Oddly enough, during my entire life, only once was I taught what to do in case of a shooting." It's not rocket science! If you are not trained to deal with such a situation, you get your damned head down and if you can, you get away. It's that simple. Oh, and you call the cops, who are trained to deal with it. No wonder she thought all other women were in need of saving.

In another incident that was reported straight from the mouth of the hero without any investigation or analysis, we read of one guy who saw the police chasing after a man and a woman, and he intervened, busting into a police officer, and ending up beaten himself.

This was presented as heroic, but never once did the reporter ask why those people were running. They were presented as victims, but nowhere were any of the cops involved interviewed. She never went back to try to look at footage of the incident (if there was any) to see what actually happened. We got only one biased fan-girl side of the story as thought this was somehow heroic.

I don't know what those people had been doing, but neither did the 'hero'. Maybe they were perfectly innocent, but what if they'd been throwing rocks at the police? We don't know what they had been doing and neither did he, yet he charged in and assaulted a police officer, and this made him a 'hero'? If the pair had been both male would he have done the same thing, or was he charging in merely to help what he saw as a 'maiden in distress'? We don't know because the reporter didn't care to ask.

I am not a huge fan of the police many times, but these people put their lives on the line every day. They are professionally trained and legally empowered to do what they do. And they wear no mask. They hide behind nothing and they are out there doing what they see as the best that can be done in any given situation under often trying and sometimes impossible conditions. They do not randomly and haphazardly wander into situations. Yes, there are bad seeds in there and yes, even the best make mistakes. Yes, there is sometimes corruption, but they have a right to tell their side of the story - unless, that is, it's a super hero book written by this author.

Bad writing was prevalent. At one point I read, "He exuded a genuine demeanour." I think what she meant to say was that he seemed genuine, but why say that when you can make it an order of magnitude harder to grasp on first reading? I also read later, "His team fluctuates in membership, sometimes five, sometimes twelve, but the core is strong: Ghost, Asylum, Foolking, Oni, Professor Midnight, and himself." Unless my math is bad, that core is six, not five, so is it strong or not?!

After chiding an HBO Super Heroes documentary (which I haven't yet seen) for making the heroes out to look like idiots, this author then reports of one of her subjects, "Today he patrols and is writing a book on the manifestation of good, evil, and in between. It's about mental powers and the ability to read minds and control thoughts, all based on metaphysics and subatomic physics." Ri-ight! I am not kidding, this was reported as is without comment!

Another of them had this to say about how humble he was: "You can do anything you want here and get away with it. All you got to do is be that much smarter than anyone else, and it works. I do it great...I think I slept with my entire graduating class, to be honest with you. It was pretty bad and then there was the class before and after. I don't go out on patrol as much to help others really as to help me. It's for me. If people don't like it? Fine. Just try to stop me." That's so humble. Really, truly humble! An again it was reported without any comment.

This book was so poorly written and so gushingly, embarrassingly biased it was a disgrace to reporting, and I do not recommend it. Nothing could be less heroic or less super.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Epic Cardboard Adventures by Leslie Manlapig


Rating: WORTHY!

This ebook was not quite ready for prime time, but it is an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

It's a book which reminds me of my own Earthquake children's book where I added a cheap and nasty way to make you own excavator out of a cereal box and some tape. This book goes way beyond that - way beyond into outer-space - almost literally! It hosts four sections, each with five sub-sections devoted to different topics, but related to the main theme:

  1. Explore the World
    1. Outer Space
    2. Deep Sea ocean
    3. Ancient Egypt
    4. Jungle Explorer
    5. Arctic Adventure
  2. Travel Through Time
    1. Prehistoric
    2. Medieval defence
    3. High Seas
    4. Ninja
    5. Wild West
  3. Put on a Show
    1. Rock Concert
    2. Puppet Theater
    3. Carnival Fun
    4. Lights, Camera, Action
    5. Magician
  4. Work a Cool Job
    1. Construction Worker
    2. Pilot
    3. Race Car Driver
    4. Shh! Secret Agent
    5. Firefighter

Fill details of how to make all of these are listed below...no, just kidding, but full details of how to make them are in the book, including a list of things you will need, the main one of which is cardboard! Cardboard boxes, toilet roll and paper towel inner tubes, construction paper, and so on.

You will also need some crafting tools if you do not already possess them, so there will be some outlay fro supplies such as scissors, a ruler, felt markers for adding detail and coloring, yarn or string, hot melt glue - or at least some sort of good strong glue - paint, if you want to add finishing touches to your creations, and what else: of course, duct tape! Or duck tape as I read in one novel I shall be reviewing soon!

The book gives step by step instructions on how to make yourself into an astronaut or a pirate, an explorer or a construction worker, a time-traveler or a deep-sea diver. The ideas are inventive and colorful, easy to make - but adult assistance will be required if your child is too young to cut cardboard or do some of the other more mature portions of the builds. There are also some safety issues if you're going to be building swords, even out of cardboard, and guns that fire, even though ti;s only projectiles using rubber bands, so be advised of that

But once you have those basic supplies, cardboard of some sort usually isn't hard to come by or to beg from a store, or a neighbor, although for the pyramid you'll need a large box if your kid is going to sit in it. Otherwise you could just make it smaller and stay outside it, using toy characters to go in and out instead!

Some of the designs are admirably elaborate (such as an airport runway with landing lights!), so be prepared to invest some time for those projects that are not especially simple, but none of these projects is so complex that your everyday parent cannot make them all.

You can always propose the idea of sharing a project with your neighbors or at school, and get several children involved, building friendships, confidence, and team spirit. There are so many ideas, well thought-out and planned, with great results from so simple beginnings. The author has put a lot of work into this and the results are awesome.

I think this is a great book which will stimulate imaginations and provide a reward of a child not only creating something, but ending up with a fine toy at the end of it which will continue to grow a child's mind. maybe it will even last longer or be treasured more than a store-ought toy because the child made it themselves. Who knows what kind of a career that might lead to when the child grows older? I recommend this book fully.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ink in Water by Lacy J Davis, Jim Kettner


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is a long comic, but an easy read. The art is black and white line drawings and gray scale art which has a sweet watercolor texture to it - perhaps because so many images show it raining! Initially I had mixed feelings about it, because it had a 'been there done that' feel to me - not that I've been there and done that, but like I'd read this story before - like it was reiterating. But it's a very personal story, and even if you have read 'it' before, you haven't read this one, and it's an important story which bears repetition, not least because it has such a positive outcome.

Lacy J Davis fell into a destructive eating spiral after a broken relationship, but this was not one where weight went up. Instead, it went precariously down. The story continues in this vein, exploring her life afterwards, in all its ups and downs, advances and set-backs, sparing no details, and hiding no sin. For that alone I commend it as a worthy read.

I'd like to have seen this better illustrated in the artwork, because while some of the art was really engaging, some of it was rather rudimentary, so it felt a bit patchy throughout, and I think this lessened the graphic impact of what happened here: the images for 'before' and 'after' and finally, 'later after' had too much in common to make a really arresting impression.

When you start out with an improbably skinny 'cartoon-like' character in a story about an eating disorder, it's a bit self-defeating. It's really hard to convey the extent of the problem in your illustrations when your character starts out already looking anorexic before the problem begins! I felt that a little more realism in the drawings would have contributed significantly to the impact of the story.

Additionally, I'd like to have known where the roots of that potential to fall were grown and why they went the way they did given the apparent tripwire for the break-up, but that was not shared with us, assuming it was even known. Yes, we know the proximate trigger of this problem, but if there's something falling, that kinetic energy came from somewhere, but this 'somewhere' went unexplored. Given that this was supposed to be a teaching tool inter alia, I felt that this was an omission which should itself have been omitted. It was one of several omissions, and I think the work would have been stronger had these holes been filled.

Another such hole was when a friend died. This person had been an important and ongoing part of the story, but the death was passed over rather quickly, and (unless I missed it) we never did learn what happened other than it resulted in a death. We did see the negative effect of it, but this part of the story was solely about the author. I felt it ought to have been also about the friend as well. This omission felt unkind given how important the person had been.

I felt that more attention should have been given to medical aspects of this disease, too. Doctors were in and out of the story, but they were always 'walk-on' parts. Nowhere was there any talk of how much the medical profession can help with problems like this. Nowhere was there talk of therapy or psychiatric attention, either to say it couldn't help or to say it could. It was almost as though none of this was ever considered, and I think this was a dangerous omission, cutting out healthcare consultations almost entirely, as though they have nothing to say or contribute.

Being a personal story is both a strength and a weakness for this comic, because we got the author's first-hand PoV, but we also got nothing else. For a book that aims at least in part to be a teaching tool, I think this handicapped it. Maybe it doesn't work for you, but who are you to say it would not work for someone else? I think a great teaching opportunity was missed by not being more expansive and offering possible alternatives to what this writer chose for herself, even when she made poor decisions.

I'm am most definitely not a fan of prologues or epilogues, and I avoid them like the plague. This comic had both, I'm sorry to report and as usual, neither was contributory. Had I skipped both I would have got the same from the comic so my advice is to cut them out and save a few trees. All the prologue did was rehash the 12 step program. I'm not sure there's anyone left on planet Earth who doesn't know what that's all about, so I saw no point to the prologue. Al the epilogue did was show us half-a-dozen pages of the author typing at the computer, or of the same rain we saw in the prologue, so this contributed literally nothing. Once again I rest my case for ripping prologues, prefaces, author's notes, introductions, epilogues, and after-words out by the roots, and save some tree roots.

That all said, overall I did enjoy the story because it was brutally honest, it did not offer an easy, magical solution, and it did not flinch from talking about difficult issues. I'm not convinced the four-letter expletives or the uncensored nudity contributed anything to this particular story, but again, it was honest, so I guess it came with the territory! The best thing about it and what recommends it most, is the positive outcome, which is always a good thing when trying to encourage others to take positive steps to overcome disorders like this. I recommend this as a worthy read.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Superhero Comics by Christopher Gavaler


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I have to thank the author for his hard work because Ii think you would have to work really hard to make a book about comics as dry, dense and, in parts, as tedious as this one was. There were some bright spots in it, and while I admit I'm a proponent of inline references, when there are so many, and so densely-packed as to make a reader lose track of what he's reading, that, for me, is a problem. The book was the antithesis of a comic book - dry, verbose, and nary an image in it, but perhaps the worst problem with it was that it told us nothing we did not already know, at least in the general if not the particular. And most of the references were to works of others, so this has already been reported. Little if any of it was original research.

I appreciated that the book covered racism which is still rampant in comic books even today, misogyny which is even more rampant, and homophobia, which arguably is more prevalent than is superhero chauvinism, but I felt the work was very patchy. For example, the overview of World War Two comic books, which was quite well done, constantly referred the reader back to real world events, whereas the entire section covering gender issues by contrast made no almost references to real world events other than the comic book code.

There was one particularly interesting incident when we were referred to an excellent article by by Teresa Jusino, titled "Dear Marvel: Stop Sexualizing Female Teenage Characters Like Riri Williams" which appeared online in The Mary Sue. The article was great, and I realize that the writer of an article in a situation like this it has no control over what ads appear on the page where her article appears, but The Mary Sue sure does. Pot, meet kettle! One ad titillatingly invited people who had finished this article to "check out what Tiger Woods's ex looks like now." Another, which advised us to "do denim different" featured a guy facing the camera and a girl with her butt towards it, posing very much in emulation of the way comic book females are sexually depicted, butt sticking out to the voyeur, and deferring to the masculine guy. Who cares about her face, right, much less her mind!

Due to the flowing nature of ads online these days, the rotation means you may not see these ads when you look at that page, but I can pretty much guarantee you will see something equally hypocritical. When I went back just now, there was a different foot-of-page ad which suggested rather salaciously, "Nancy McKeon gave the crew more than expected." A refresh of the page gave an ad which had nothing to do with clothes or women's accessories or 'how good she looks now'. No, it was about a game you can play that allows you to follow your city through history. No problem, right? Wrong! The problem was that it showed a young girl playing the game wearing what was barely more than a long T-shirt, her thighs exposed.

In short, the problem isn't the comic books, it's society. Comic books are a mere reflection of that, Cure society and the comic book problem will go away, I guarantee it, but you will not exorcise the comic book problem while it's run by adolescent white males (regardless of their chronological age), who embody societal sentiments which are pressed on them from an early age, and the problem in the comics (and in the movies, and on TV, and in non-graphic literature, and in sports, and in the military, and in businesses, and in religion) will continue unabated as long as no one in power is seeking to change the way women and people of color are viewed and treated in society at large.

The problem was made quite clear by the response by the artist who drew the offending cover and who saw nothing wrong with hypersexualizing a fifteen year old girl: J Scott Campbell who I shall personally boycott from this day forward because he is proudly part of the problem. Also part of the problem is that this book reported his response, but made no condemnation of it. I honestly feel that a female author might have had more to say on the subject.

This lack of commentary was even more evident when I read, "Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s 2007 The Boys expands the critique to the genre as a whole, presenting all male superheroes, even a version of Superman, as endemic rapists." There was no comment from the author on this nor evidence presented in support or denial of the claim. It was like the author was simply reporting what others have said, yet was indifferent to what he was reporting. he offered no opinion of his own, not even analysis of others' claims. I don't buy the genderist claim that "all men are closet rapists" bullshit, and I resent the implication.

Whether comic book 'heroes' might be in such a category and what it says about the people who write their stories, is a different kettle of fiction, and an issue which could have been explored to some profit. Personally, I think James Bond as depicted by Ian Fleming was a shoo-in for membership of that club (and take 'club' to mean any variety). Even some of the movies, particularly Goldfinger, were traveling the same shameful path, but this author let it go without a word. This convinced me that he was simply and coldly reporting, and had no wish to get his hands dirty, which begs the obvious question: if he cares so little about what he's writing, then why should I care at all?

So there are abundant articles which complain about the hypersexualization of comic-book female characters, but nothing to suggest where this all comes from. An article by Laura Hudson in Comics Alliance online, makes the same mistake. It's a good article, but it once again misses the point. The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their 'Liberated Sexuality'. At least this page contained no suggestive ads (not when I read it!), but nearly all of the ads on that page, whether for comic books or other items, featured women. Yes! Woman sell, and this is part of the problem: a problem the size of which Laura Hudson and Comics Alliance have not yet begun to address I'm sorry to report.

The fact that this book did not raise these issues bothered me, but even this was not the biggest problem with it. I would like it to have been, but this was not the book's focus. The focus was on how the comic books have changed though, and been influenced by history, and how they're tied to society (at least during WW2!), and many comic book characters were mentioned, but for a book focused on comic books, there was curiously not one single instance of any one of these characters who were mentioned actually illustrated in the book! A book about graphic novels which contains no graphics?!

Nor was there any sequence showing how characters had been masculinized or sexualized over the history of the comic. There was one chapter of a comic book I had never heard of, depicted in black and white towards the end, and there was an ungodly long spread detailing how comic book panels are laid out - with illustrations! I failed to see the point of that since anyone who has read more than one comic is quite aware of it. There was nothing about the characters themselves in terms of how they looked or how they had changed. I felt this was a sorry omission. Yes, you can find most of them online, but it's a pain to have to stop reading and go look for characters you have never heard of so you call illustrate for yourself the point the author thinks he's making; and good luck finding the exact picture to which he's referring unless you're prepared to make a detailed and lengthy search in many cases.

I read at one point of a cover where a female character towered over two main male characters and I could not find that one, but I found many comic book covers where one cover character towers over others and so in this case, I failed to see the point the author was trying to make because there apparently was not one!

So overall, a disappointing read and not at all what I had hoped for, much less expected. I think I shall in future avoid pseudo-scholarly commentaries on comics and simply read the comics! As long as they're not illustrated by J Scott Campbell or others like him! I wish the author all the best, but I cannot recommend this one.


Friday, August 4, 2017

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan


Rating: WARTY!

This fiftieth anniversary edition was not impressive to me. It was larded with prologue and afterword and introduction, all of which I ignored as usual. I had heard of Anna Quindlen, but not of Gail Collins. They're both journalists just like Friedan, so this was hardly a broad spectrum we got on it anyway.

I prefer to focus on the actual body of the text, and that was rather too verbose. I had to keep reminding myself that this was fifty years out of date and things have changed dramatically, but even with that in mind, it was hard to find very many diamonds in the slag. Friedan seemed not content to raise an issue and cite a few examples and let it go; she had to keep slamming the reader with stories which sounded, after the first couple, to be very much the same thing over and over again - which in itself validates what she was saying, but quickly became tedious with all those repetitive details!

I readily admit that my frustration with much of this book may well be that we are, at least theoretically, much more enlightened now than we were then, and so it felt like flogging a dead horse, but that horse is still a nightmare for far too many women, so this is about the only remaining reason I can think of for reading this - that we do not forget how bad things were, and in not forgetting, we ensure they never happen again. That and its historical value. These beefs with the text are not to say that Friedan did not have a point. She did, but I found her text dense and obscure - more like a litany of complaint (if valid complaint) than anything which offered hope of a real solution, but that said, a solution can only arise after the problem has been identified.

The worst part about this book for me though, was that it was so appallingly elitist. Friedan seems only to care about middle and upper class women like herself, and the 'great unwashed' be damned. Their experience - poor people who no doubt had both spouses working perforce - were largely ignored. Although I cannot pretend to speak for them (or I could but it would be fraudulent!), I rather suspect that spouses of color back in the fifties and sixties had little or nothing in their experience which they could employ to relate to the women on whom Friedan was so tightly focused, and this was despite Friedan frequently mentioning civil rights!

The book blurb, with laughable hyperbole, describes it as "Landmark, groundbreaking, classic" and no, it wasn't. It goes on to add, "these adjectives barely do justice to the pioneering vision and lasting impact of The Feminine Mystique. Published in 1963, it gave a pitch-perfect description of 'the problem that has no name'." I was surprised it did not mention the name Friedan gave it, but it's probably better that it didn't, since Friedan's title makes absolutely no sense. I remain unconvinced that she even knows what 'mystique' means (and no, it's not an X-Men character!). Her sobriquet made no sense to me and she never actually defined it, leaving it to the reader to distill some meaning from reading this five hundred page tome. Good luck with that.

Another group that Friedan ostracizes are those women who can both afford to and choose to stay home. This is a perfectly valid option, yet Friedan would rob women of it, becoming part of the problem by trying to dictate women's choices in the same way she was complaining men and society were doing! What a hypocrite. I read about half of this book and gave up on it. I can't recommend it because there are better books out there than this one, which in my opinion does not deserve the street cred it seems to have garnered for itself, and which I think it has accreted only because it was an early one and a high profile one, and not because it honestly left the home, got a job, an earned its status!



Thursday, August 3, 2017

Hell Hath No Fury: True Stories of Women at War from Antiquity to Iraq by Rosalind Miles, Robin Cross


Rating: WORTHY!

YA authors an graphic novel writers could learn a lot from an awesome book like this, about depicting strong female characters. Full of detail, it relates the stories of scores of women who were warriors, most of them in times when women were not considered capable or emotionally up to it, let alone being strong, independent and fierce.

Even with the detail it offers, it also includes references for further reading. The book is divided into sections for different types of female "soldier" in the broadest sense. It offers war leaders such as Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, and Margaret Thatcher, actual combatants such as Molly Pitcher, Lily Litvak, and Tammy Duckworth, spies like Belle Boyd, Virginia Hall, and Noor Inayat Khan, and reporters and propagandists such as Martha Gellhorn, Tokyo Rose, Anna Politkovskaya. It also has a section on women whom we in the west could not consider heroic: women suicide bombers, and despite the success (for their cause) of female suicide bombers, women in the Middle East are still in a fight for equality, respect, and fair treatment.

The accounts are a mix of general overarching stories supported by very many detailed accounts of individual women. There is a bias towards white western women, but then this is where the best documentation resides, and even there, some of it was biased against women or largely erased or considered not noteworthy! Women can't win no matter what color they are, but hopefully that's undergoing what will become a permanent change now.

Despite this there are many women of color included as well as rather obscure women where documentation could be found, and the stories cover ancient history (Greek and Roman) through modern (Iraq War). The authors are not afraid to tell it how it is even if it does not make the woman in question look exactly pristine. While there seems to be something of a bias in World War Two accounts to British and American women, and in more recent wars to American soldiers, there is something for everyone here, and it all goes to prove beyond any question that women are every bit the equal of men, no excuses, no qualifications, no more lies and bullshit.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Between Gears by Natalie Nourigat


Rating: WARTY!

This one was in my local library and I thought it looked interesting - a graphic novel diary of a senior year in college. I never did a senior year in college so this sounded interesting to me, but in the end it wasn't very interesting at all. It was quite literally a day-to-day dear diary in graphic form, telling of student parties, getting drunk, rather manically feeling the weight of the world on her shoulders and not long after that, feeling life was great.

The problem was that there was nothing in this diary that was unusual. There were some things which were mildly amusing, but mostly not. Overall it was rather boring, like someone you don't know sits next to you on a long train ride and suddenly starts recounting the last year of her life. Yeah, like that.

I think as an artist Natalie Nourigat has real talent, Her black and white line drawings had power and expressiveness, so I'd be interested in reading something else by her (as long as it's not another dear diary!), but this just wasn't to my taste at all.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Nasty Women by Various Authors


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher and the authors.

It was a feast. Not quite everything I'd hoped for, but most of it, and even from the articles I was not keen on, there was always something to learn.

It's by an assortment of authors, only one of whom I'd heard of before, and every one a women. It's about women and women's issues, and it ought to be required reading regardless of your race, gender, or orientation. The women are of different backgrounds and circumstances and with different perspectives, which in a way is what makes it powerful since they do tend to speak with a common voice. That's not to say that once you've read one of these essays, you've read them all. Far from it.

Since it was written by a variety though, it's a bit patchy and uneven, and there were a few issues I had with it, so while I enjoyed it, I felt it did not make for the strongest voice it could have had. One issue is that it's quite insular in some respects - it's very much a Scots thing. Fortunately, I love Scotland, and have been there more than once.

That said, the voices came from women of a variety of backgrounds and even a variety of nationalities, but it made it seem quite provincial for so many voices to hail from Edinburgh and very few other places. Additionally, the cross-section of society they represented was rather narrow at least in the regard that these women were all writers, so we got only that perspective (although one was a writer interviewing a musician).

They were mostly white, and mostly young, and giving only their own personal opinion of their own experience, which is fine, but we need to keep that in mind as we read their words. The ones who wrote about the musical world - which were well-worth reading, please note - were seemingly all from the punk segment of what is a vast musical world, so even there it must be noted (pun intended!) we got a slim cross-section.

So overall it bears keeping in mind that this did not come off as a representative sample, but one facet rooted in intense personal experience. That doesn't invalidate it. Far from it. It makes it very personal and for me it was enough. Here are my thoughts on the articles.

  • Independence Day by Katie Muriel is a perfectly understandable opining as to why the US elected a misogynist president. For me as a US resident, it made perfect, if nauseating, sense that he was elected. I was not at all surprised by it, but with regard to this essay, I felt it lacked a vital component, especially for a feminist perspective. Muriel's essay completely ignored Trump's opponent, who was a woman! Why Muriel didn't feel any need to explore this is a mystery to me.

    I know this essay was focused largely on her own personal perspective vis-à-vis her family, all of whom supported Trump (who won not on a popular majority vote but upon an electoral majority vote, let it be noted). I have to ask why Muriel didn't want to explore the fact that Trump's opponent was Hilary Clinton or why four million voters, who could have kept Trump out of office, failed to "man" up on the day.

    Was the country so afraid of Hilary Clinton that they would rather have a misogynist than her? If so, why? Are they merely afraid of any Clinton? Or any "liberal"? While I appreciate that this was an up-close-and-personal story for the author, there is so much more to be said here, and so many more questions to ask. I enjoyed the essay, but felt it lacked some teeth.

  • Why I'm No Longer a Punk Rock 'Cool Girl' by Kristy Diaz was an exploration of musical addiction and pigeonholes, and how women are treated in the punk world. It felt a bit juvenile to me because it is such a juvenile thing to try to classify a person by musical genre. It can't be honestly done, but music is such a huge part of young people that this fact tends to be overlooked. There is nothing more shallow than introducing yourself to another person by asking them what kind of music they're into, as though that's all they are or can be, and nothing else matters!

    I think the essay might have benefited from the perspective of the US, where everything is micro-labeled and rigidly pigeon-holed, most probably, in the final analysis, for purely commercial purposes. I haven't lived in the UK for a long time, so this author's perspective was interesting to me, but when I did live there, it was one chart, and that was it. All music failed or succeeded in competition with all other music, and the variety was magnificent.

    The essay was also interesting for me because as a teen and a young man I never was - nor felt- categorized by my musical taste, probably because I didn't have one specific kind of music I was interested in. Music was music - not some genre or other, and I liked it or I didn't like it not because it was 'my genre' or 'my band', but because it appealed or it didn't on its own merit.

    It was engaging to read about Diaz's experience, though. In some ways I felt bad not that she was labeled for her clothing and appearance, which is an awful thing to do to anyone, but because in some ways she seemed to be limiting herself when there is so much more to be had. but it takes all kinds and I enjoyed her story and learned from it. That's never a bad thing.

  • Black Feminism Online: Claiming Digital Space by Claire L. Heuchan really reached me. It was a light touch which carried a heavy weight, and it was a joy to read. You can't properly understand what these events in a person's life are like unless you've lived them, but you can get an inkling from reading a well-written essay like this one. The only sour note for me was when I read this: "Samantha Asumadu, a Black woman, is the founding editor of Media Diversified - a news site with content written entirely by people of colour."

    In an essay about racism, that appalled me. It really struck sour note that a business named Media Diversified employs only people of color. How racist is that? Racism isn't something that's just done to black people by white folk. It's any skin color lording it over any other skin color, and for the author to write something like that uncritically, and apparently not see the hypocrisy in it was quite shocking.

    You can't fix a pendulum in society that's swung too far in one direction by ramming it just as far in the other. You have to halt it in the middle and never let it move again. That said, the rest of the essay spoke volumes to me - and in a much better way than that one sentence did.

  • Lament: Living with the Consequences of Contraception by Jen McGregor was a heart-breaking history of one woman's ill-fated exploration of contraception. This is one more thing that guys expend little time upon, but which in all its ramifications, occupies a large part of every woman's life, if only through problems with the monthly red tide.

    In this case, Jen McGregor's co-dependent relationship (as it seems she's describing it!) with Depo-Provera is told in an informative and very engaging way, and it makes for a sad, sad reading experience not because it's written badly, but because it's written only too well. This author is a very creative writer.

  • These Shadows, These Ghosts by Laura Lam was an oddity because I didn't see how this was specifically about women's issues. Yes, the story she told was about a female relative of yesteryear, but the things which happened to her grandmother are not things which are specific to women. They can affect men, too, and spousal abuse isn't solely something that's done to a woman by a man, so I'm not sure what this contributed except in that it was written by a woman about women.

    I guess you can slap the label 'Nasty Woman' on a woman who purposefully shoots her husband (and this author had two relatives, both of whom did this: one merely shot him in the leg, but the other woman shot her husband to death and ended up in a psychiatric institution (She got better!). The story was interesting, but it's hardly something you can generalize to all women! I guess you can in a vague way, but this seemed not of the same hue as the previous essays I'd read to this point.

  • The Nastiness of Survival by Mel Reeve was a hard one to read, but it has to be read and understood. And probably more than once. Horrors like this one (although they're all individual) are the reason I wrote Bass Metal. You can't put a label on this and neatly file it away in an appropriate category. It doesn't work like that and anyone who thinks it does or that it should isn't getting the message. I can't speak for anyone but me, but as I see it, the message is that unless you have a clear, positive, unambiguous, willing, sober, mentally competent, age legal, un-coerced, un-bribed, unforced consent, the answer is a resounding "NO!" It's that simple, and everyone needs to fully internalize this.

  • Against Stereotypes: Working Class Girls and Working Class Art by Laura Waddell was a great article with some interesting and observant things to say. I've never been big into paintings or sculptures, but this author has a way of writing that engages the reader and brings her point home. I liked and appreciated this.
  • Go Home by Sim Bajwa

    Errata: I had probably wouldn't have had access to the opportunities that I've taken for granted." One too many words here! I suspect it's the second one in that sentence.

    This sentence caught my eye: "I'm scared and grieving for anyone in the US who isn't white, straight, cis, male, and able-bodied. The terror is bone deep." While I probably live in an area which is more liberal (even if in a more conservative state), I have to say that there isn't any terror here, despite this state being home to the third highest number of hate groups in the nation. That doesn't mean it isn't happening at all, just that Bajwa's sentece is a bit panicked. Hateful crime - mostly graffiti, but including threats - has increased since Trump's election, but to make a wild blanket statement like this is inflammatory and scaremongering.

    Here's another sentence I take issue with: "He said very clearly that he would ban Muslims and refugees from entering the United States. With the Executive Order he signed in January 2017, he did just that. People's lives, security, and families snatched away, for no other crime than being an immigrant."

    This is a blanket statement which unfortunately mixes crackdowns on illegal immigrants with legal immigrants and residents, thereby muddying the water, with ridiculous suggestions that all people of color are being turfed out! This kind of wild accusation helps nothing, least of all the case this author is trying to make. Is the author arguing that that illegal immigrants should not be deported? I've noticed this 'reverse' viewpoint often in this kind of rhetoric - where the illegality of what's been going on is never addressed. You cannot trust an author who writes so indiscriminately, so the power which this article might have had was lost for me.

  • Love in a Time of Melancholia by Becca Inglis

    This is the name of a song by Prolyphic, but here it's a paean to Courtney Love, who has never been a love of mine, so this fell completely flat for me! If a person wants to write about someone who helped them, that's fine, but it;s also a very personal thing. As for me, I'm frankly tired of reading stories about people who somehow fell off one wagon or another, and later reformed (whether permanently or not) and then having praise heaped upon them. Where are the stories about people who never fell off the wagon and helped someone? I think those people show greater heroism, and for that they are sadly under-served, so this story really just rubbed me the wrong way. But it's not my story and maybe others will see things in it I did not, so I have nothing else to say about it. You either like ti or you don't - or worse, you're indifferent to it!

  • Choices by Rowan C. Clarke is a great story about her unhappy childhood, her constant 'at odds' status with regard to the utterly absurd and downright evil 'standard' of beauty we as a society forcibly impose upon women almost right from birth. This is another reason I wrote Bass Metal. It's also the reason I wrote Femarine.

    You cannot go into supermarket without being paradoxically bombarded on the one side of the checkout aisle with fattening candy, and on the other side of that same aisle with magazines aimed at women, every one of which obsessively-compulsive tells women they are fat, ugly, and useless in bed and they'd better get with the program or they never will get a man (the LGBTIAQ-crew don't count for squat in any of these magazines, please note).

    I'm not a woman, I don't even play one on TV, but half my genes are female, so I think that gives me some sort of a voice, and that voice has to say that those magazines - the ones available in open public sale, and visible to children, are far more pernicious and abusive to woman than any amount of porn if only because they are out there, insidious and so very "innocent" aren't they?

    So I was with this author all the way from "You can distill a life..." to "...my story was just one of them."

  • 'Touch Me Again and I Will Fucking Kill You' by Ren Aldridge

    This author argues that "...we're not brought up to feel that we're entitled to other people's bodies.", but this is exactly what advertising does - to make people feel that the body you see in the ad, and by extension, the body you see on the modelling runway, on TV, and in the movies, is that one you ought to have instead of the one you're stuck with, and if you only spend enough money on our products, you can have it. Really.

    This pressure, from birth very nearly, forces far too many women to chase after a dream which may or may not, in any individual case, be attainable, and people chase this without questioning whether it's realistic, or even a sensible thing to do. This plays into the culture where unless a woman is thin and pale and dressed like she's ready to get it on, she's not worth shit.

    This is pounded into our heads, men and women alike, and even into children's malleable minds on a daily basis. This in turn plays into the idea of male privilege - that these are the women who need to be available to men, and if they fall short of the standard, there's something wrong not with the men, but with the women who fall short of what men think they should be.

    If you want to take the wider perspective - and several of these writers have argued that - then you need to really take in the bigger picture, not just focus on a few tiny jigsaw pieces, mistakenly thinking that in this microcosm, you have it all. You don't. I'm not sure I agree that there's a rape culture out there, but there's most assuredly a male privilege ethos, and perhaps a part of this can be described as rape culture.

    I'm a male who has never been raped, never been ogled or fondled. Well once I was fondled, in Israel, and by a man! And when I was a lot younger! Does that give me any idea of what it's like to live with this day in, day out? No, it doesn't, which is why I need to read articles like this one, even if I don't get it all or don't always agree with viewpoints. We don't need to read these until we agree with all viewpoints. It would be a sad world if we all always agreed on everything, but we do need to read these articles until we get some real understanding of what it's like, and put our asses in gear to end this evil ethos which is all around us.

    The author argues that, "What needs to be fought for, is survivors' rights to define and position our own experiences on this continuum." I don't think anyone in their right mind is seeking to deny that, but this statement confuses two different needs: the absolute right of a person who has suffered to define it in their own terms, and the need to define it in legal terms for the sake of not only prosecuting the law but of identifying and reporting the problem. It's a mistake to conflate these two things in my opinion.

    I get where this is coming from: "They don't try to prescribe what sexual harassment, assault or any other form of gendered violence is, but leave it open to the survivor to define their own experience," but that doesn't help to make this a thing that's illegal and/or unacceptable, nor does it make it something that can be taught to others to be on guard against, and to cease perpetrating. It has to be objectively defined for those purposes, but that doesn't mean a person upon whom this violence was perpetrated cannot define it in their own terms as well! But this was a great personal testimony.

  • On Naming by Nadine Aisha Jassat was one of the few essays in the collection which fell a bit flat for me. On the one hand I can see where the writer is coming from, but on the other, it felt like a baseless rant in many respects.

    The author writes, "I look at my signature and sigh, enjoy the full sight of it next to the name of my organisation making clear who I am, what I do, and what I stand for. I feel a certainty that I will not accept anything less going ahead. People need to know who they are dealing with." Having read this, I have to say that I do fully empathize with the author. I'm one of the white males who are railed at so often in these articles, that the writing itself comes off as racist at times, but I get Ian (ee-an) pronounced as "eye-an" often, and I also get 'Wood' with an extra 's' added on the end, like there's more than one of me, and I live with it. You know why? It's because I am not defined by my name. My name isn't all that I am. Realistically speaking, it's an insignificant part of me when you get right down to it.

    It's not even my name. I didn't choose it. I didn't have any say in it, and that last name came from my father, not my mother. I had no say in that either, and if I had been a girl, I would have lost my mom's name! But wait, it wasn't her name, it was her father's! That's why I find it so hilarious that so many women chose to keep their "maiden" name given that it's far from a maiden name - it's a male patriarch's name! This is why I read this article with a certain amount of wonderment at this author's rather strident protestations.

    While I do believe anyone is entitled to be called whatever they want to be called, and certainly they're perfectly within their rights to protect that name from mispronunciation, I'd advise keeping in mind this fact: it's a serious mistake to confine yourself in a box where your name is all you are.

    Now that may well be the wrong impression, but it is a distinct impression I kept getting from this essay, and I think that's a bigger insult to yourself than any mispronunciation of a name could offer you. You are more than your name and while you're obsessing over that, you're missing so much else in life. So yes, please do make a point of correcting people who get it wrong, but remember there's more to life than it, and you make yourself seem very small when you focus so tightly on that one thing.

    I found it curious that this author wrote: "Even now as I write at my computer, a red line zigzags under Uzoamaka, whilst Tchaikovsky goes unchecked. A subtle reminder, programmed in, of who the system works for and who is out of place."

    I'm sorry, but I found this to be entirely wrong-headed! If Uzoamaka had been a famous composer (or artist, or sports personality or movie star), then you can bet it would be in the spell-checker, but no word processor can possibly accommodate every variation of every spelling of every person's name out of seven or eight billion on Earth! I'm sorry, but that's quite simply an idiotic expectation! It truly rendered this into a juvenile rant rather than a reasonable argument, and for me it didn't help her cause one bit.

    I invite this author try a few more names before she counts her sampling complete. How about Sacajawea? That get red-lined? I thought not. What about Basquiat? Nope? Aung San Suu Kyi? No red-line there, either (not in Word, but Google can;t handle it as I write this! How about Uhuru? None there! Malala Yousafzai? Not an inkling of red ink. Imran Khan? Nope! Whoopi Goldberg gets in even under her original name: Caryn Johnson! Even Li Nguyen made it past the red-line and that's a fictional character in another review I wrote.

    So no, I think the issue here is whether the name is one likely to be used - just like it is with every other word in your word processor dictionary! Try English spellings of words in Microsoft Word when it's set for American usage, and see how many red-lines you get! It's not racism. It's not bias. It's not misogyny. It's not an attempt by da man (that didn't get red-lined!) to keep you down. It's just a matter of what's practical and what isn't.

    As I write this, neither Nadine nor Aisha is underlined, only 'Jassat', but that gets no praise from this author that two out of three ain't bad! Seriously, The final joke of this essay was that never once in this entire rant does Nadine Aisha Jassat actually tell us how her name is pronounced, so for me this essay was one of the very few complete fails in this whole collection.


  • Laura Jane Grace in conversation with Sasha de Buyl-Pisco

    This was an interview with a mtf transgendered musician. I found it curious that the author had nothing to say about a couple of articles I read in the British newspaper The Guardian which indicate on the one hand cluelessness on the part of the subject of the interview, and on the other, cluelessness on the part of the guardian writer!

    Here's the first:

    ...[Laura Jane Grace's] fear that she wouldn't be able to cope with raising a son ("knowing I wouldn't be able to be the proper male role model he would need")"
    - because no child can possibly grow up healthily without a male role model? That's an appalling thing to say!

    Here's the other:

    Grace doesn't look like a woman, but then she only began taking hormones a month ago. There's a subtle feminity [sic] in her posture, though, and in the way her features soften as she talks.
    Excuse me? She doesn't look like a woman? What does "a woman" look like, exactly, Decca Aitkenhead? In my expert opinion (as a man!), Laura Jane Grace looks just as much woman as Aitkenhead does, so does she consider herself not looking much like a woman? That aside, what a lousy thing for a journalist to write. Tell it like it is my ass. You have to have a decidedly warped sense of what a woman is to write something like that, and from a woman writer too?

    That rant aside, I have nothing to add to this. I have never heard of this band (which is quite a successful one), and there really was nothing new here except in how public Laura Jane's 'coming out' was, so the article really didn't deliver much to me.




  • Adventures of a Half-Black Yank in America by Elise Hines was less of a woman's issue than it was of a race issue: of finding oneself in a very insular, and lets call it what it is, downright racist culture after having grown up in a much more accepting community. It was another one that will make you (hopefully) uncomfortable (if you're white), or sadly make you nod your head familiarly (if you're not). It needs to be read. And we need to ask why people are forced to consider themselves half-black instead of half-white. Aren't both terms equally applicable? If not, why not?




  • Foraging and Feminism: Hedge-witchcraft in the 21st Century by Alice Tarbuck

    This is the only author I've heard of out of this collection, which is sad because this article fell flat for me. I've never been interested in foraging, and it can be downright dangerous unless you know what exactly what you're doing. While I do love nature, I've never been a fan of immersing myself in it, especially not in the USA where there is so much that can sting, bite, poison, or eat you. Finding a scorpion in the bathtub one night was closer than I ever honestly want to be, and personally, I think it needs to be left alone as much as possible. Enjoy it, but please don't mess with it! We have no entitlement to rape and pillage no matter how great we think we are.




  • Fat in Every Language by Jonatha Kottler is in some ways tied-in with Ren Aldridge's essay which touches on appearance and judgment. This author writes, "I have weighed between 140 pounds to 267 pounds" which tells us little without knowing the author's height! Maybe that was intentional! That is a wide range, but really it's not helpful without any reference to the author's lifestyle because for me, it's less about appearance than health, which is the only sensible way to look at it, and this author tells us nothing about her eating habits or exercise or general well-being, so she deliberately makes it all about skin-depth, which I think was a mistake.

    Out of curiosity, I looked up this author to see how she looks and she doesn't look fat to me - or any of the euphemisms we employ to avoid the three-letter word: corpulent, plump, curvy, rounded, or whatever. She looks fine. It's a pity that we live in a society which calculatedly makes people see themselves in the worst light for the sake of our advertisers unloading some product on them.




  • Afterbirth by Chitra Ramaswamy is about pregnancy and birth. Every man should read this or something like it if they haven't already - and even if they have, let's face it, it's worth going through again since it's nowhere near the journey every pregnant woman takes. Don't be a baby! I think I can say without fear of contraception that this is definitely a women's issue, and it was nice to read something educational and real - and entertaining - about pregnancy and childbirth when all Americans seem to be fed is the ridiculous caricature that seems to pervade every American sitcom - usually written by men - that I've ever seen where a woman is giving birth. This was so refreshingly different and welcome.




  • Hard Dumplings for Visitorsby Christina Neuwirth was a very personal story about an assortment of incidents from her life. While I found it interesting, it didn't really have a huge impact on me in the way some of the other stories here did. I'm not a fan of memoirs and this felt rather like one. Perhaps that's why it didn't really resonate with me.



  • Resisting by Existing: Carving Out Accessible Spaces by Belle Owen was great. It was about accessible space for people who are not your 'standard' human being which is all society seems interested in catering to. naturally they can't cater to everyone, but in this day and age of technology, there is no reason extraordinary lengths cannot be gone to. Her story of her being bodily ejected from a concert because they couldn't cope with a woman in a wheelchair has to be read to be believed. While, on the one hand coming from a company which has a tight focus on safety, it also has a tight focus on security, so while I can (if I squint) see their point of view, there was no excuse whatsoever for their behavior and attitude. This is why this essay is so important to read. Put yourself in someone else's wheels for once.



  • The Difficulty in Being Good by Zeba Talkhani


  • he thought it would be funny to joke about how I will no longer be allowed to enter America (while it was already quite disturbing then, it hurt even more following the January 2017 order to temporarily ban citizens from predominantly Muslim countries from entering America).
    This is another case of misleading writing and why this essay didn't impress me. Trump's executive order, while execrable and ridiculous, banned individuals from seven majority-Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, and for 90 days following the signing of the order on Friday 27 January. This is seven countries out of almost fifty which are predominantly Muslim, so the statement made by this author is simplistic at best and downright dishonest at worst. It took away from a much more important message that she touched on only tangentially. I think that was a sad waste of an opportunity.
  • The Rest is Drag by Kaite Welsh while ostensibly about butch and femme lesbians felt to me more like an article about fashion, which has never been an interest of mine. I liked her message and found her writing interesting, but I wanted more that she seemed prepared to give on this topic. I would have liked her to get into it over why fashion is such a hassle for women - what is it about society that dumps this trip on us all, male or female, and why so few of us realize what's been done to us? One thing she didn't get into, which seemed like an obvious route to explore was how easy it was for her to be free to adopt a variety of clothes - or costumes, or disguises, however you might classify it, and so hard for men to do the same. A woman wearing trousers isn't anything these days, especially if those trousers are jeans, but a man wearing a dress? There was so much more to be said here and I missed not having it.
  • The Dark Girl's Enlightenment by the amazingly-named Joelle A. Owusu was a sad way to end this fascinating display of essays, but it was a necessary one in many ways because again it went into how being not only black, but female, gives a woman a whole different perspective on life. This was a strong way to end this collection because it was so sad and so anger-inducing.

While some bits were less than thrilling for me, and the whole was a bit uneven, Overall this was an awesome collection and worth reading - even the patchy bits. I recommend this to anyone and everyone.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak


Rating: WORTHY!

I read some of the reviews for this and I think a lot of the negative reviewers got the wrong idea about what this book intended to do. The title clearly says it's about the women who created Nancy Drew and that's exactly what the author delivered. It's not a biography of a fictional character, because that would be just stupid!

I never read any Nancy Drew stories. I'd never heard of her until I moved to the USA, but my blog is primarily about writing, not about fancy book covers or how hot a particular author is in terms of 'moving units', so this book, about the people behind a successful novel series, appealed to me, particularly because it was about two powerful women who were cutting edge for their time. The book focuses largely on them, and in particular on Harriet Stratemeyer, a Wellesley-educated girl who found herself having to deal with her father's business when he died prematurely, although he was in his sixties.

Yes, it doesn't go into the writing process as much as I would have liked, but it does go into it, so I wasn't disappointed. I enjoyed the book. In fact, it gave me an idea for a novel of my own! I confess I would have liked to have read much more about Mildred Wirt, though. To me, as a writer, she's more interesting than Harriet. The latter did do some of the writing, but Mildred was the real writer of Nancy Drew for me, and she's become something of a hero and a figure of fascination. Her work ethic was astounding and she was a little dynamo.

I'd like to know how she did it, and it seemed the only way I might have a hope of finding out is to read some of the books myself. I got the audiobook for two of those early stories, numbers two and four, and listened to the first of those, and found it so bland and dated that I could not listen to it! It was sad, but it was a different world back then, and it's not one I feel a part of. Had I been a juvenile (or lived in the fifties!) I might have enjoyed it more. This of course takes nothing away from what I said about Mildred Wirt's work-ethic or ability to multi-task and turn in a novel on a deadline!

I already watched a couple of the movies, which is not the same thing by any means, especially not for my purposes, but they were fun and interesting. One was the Emma Roberts movie from 2007. I've been a fan of Roberts since her recent Scream Queens TV show, although I am by no means convinced I'd like her in person. The other movie was one of the originals dating from 1939: Nancy Drew reporter, starring Bonita Granville who was a bit of a fireball herself. I liked them both.

After their father's death, Edna and Harriet's plan was to sell his business, which was what would now be called a writing mill. He would send out orders to ghost writers for various book series and plot-lines, and they would send back the finished work written to his specifications, for which they would be paid a flat fee. They would also surrender all rights to the novel to the Stratemeyer syndicate, which would then arrange for publication, and reap the benefits. Those days are long gone (except in some sad, lingering cases), but Edward Stratemeyer made a good living from this scheme. When he died, attempts to sell the business floundered because this was right around the depression, and while many might have wanted to buy a business that was one of the most successful in its field, they simply couldn't afford it!

Stratemeyer's daughters, Harriet and her younger sister Edna, took over 'temporarily', and ended-up running the business for the rest of their lives. At first it was a collaborative effort, but before long, Edna dropped out of actively participating, and from that point on, the two sisters drew apart, and eventually found themselves reduced to fighting (such as it was in the restrained and private age of the thirties and forties) over the direction the business was going, despite the fact that Harriet was doing all the work and making a go of it, and Edna was sitting at home enjoying her cut and contributing nothing but carping - a situation which evidently drove her into preceding her older sister to an early grave.

Stratemeyer's last big instruction to his syndicate before he died, gave birth to Nancy Drew, and the writer who stepped-up and made a go of it was a powerhouse by the name of Mildred Wirt, who is the true mother of Nancy Drew to a far greater extent than ever Edward Stratemeyer was the father. She actually was, in some ways, Nancy Drew in her athleticism and her adventurous spirit, so perhaps she was the best writer of all at the time to take on this project.

She wrote dozens of Drew novels, and she wrote them rapidly and successfully, even as she went through her first husband's fatal illness, a second marriage, and the birth of a child, yet she got no credit for them until relatively recently, since they were all published under the syndicate ghost name of Carolyn Keene, no matter who wrote them.

Later in life, there was a falling out between Harriet and Mildred, who had a complex and interesting relationship and collaboration, and Harriet began writing the novels herself, becoming ever more protective and obsessive over what she saw as her character if not her daughter, to the point where she routinely talked as though she was the only writer of the Nancy Drew novels.

All in all, this was an excellent history of Nancy Drew's origins and development, and of the two women who were most responsible for it, and I recommend it as a very worthy read.