Feminism is Queer: the Intimate Connection Between Queer and Feminist Theory (Mimi Marinucci) (2010):
Gender theory and I do best in small doses, so I like to check in every few years to see if my strong feelings on the importance of activism and the incestuous tedium of theory have abated. (Short answer: no.) I'd hoped for a survey of the current state of the field, but most of this slim volume is focused on getting readers up to speed on feminism and queer theory, devoting only the final chapter to Marinucci's analysis of their contemporary intersection. I liked that chapter, and I found the "Feminism Expanded and Explored" chapter useful as well, again as a reminder of the current state of the field from the author's perspective. For example, the reminder that feminism and LGBT are not
intrinsically the same movement (see especially p90, on second-wave feminism "the personal is political" vs LGBT "in the privacy of my own house", and '70s arguments on constructed vs essentialist homosexuality in radical feminism vs gay circles). The book also does the "all answers are wrong" theory thing I dislike, finding reasons both gender-neutral and gender inclusive language are wrong (see especially p74). Good primer for a 101 or 201 level, but not what I was looking for. Tales of the City (Armistead Maupin) (1978):
A novel about a woman who comes to San Francisco on vacation and calls her parents to say she's not coming home. Note this was published in 1978, or I might have to change my username to Mary_Ann_Singleton.
The story follows Mary Ann's vacation, job search, and forays into the City social scene, expanding through her social circle, doubling back and rebounding. Part of the entertainment is tracking the inter-relationships: Mary Ann's boss's wife sees gynecologist Jon Fielding on the sly, after an extramarital affair; Jon has an affair with the boss, and used to date one of Mary Ann's housemates; the ex-boyfriend moves in and recognizes Mary Ann as the girl who hit on Jon in a previous chapter. And the entire novel
is like that, a sense that within the city, there's some very small circles. Compared to that rich web of interrelationships, the characters themselves are sometimes thinly fleshed out, and there's a distinct element of "plot? What plot?" for much of the book. It made Tales
very easy to pick up and put down, as I struggled with my own San Francisco, 2011, sometimes marvelling at the differences of 30 years, sometimes mapping locations against my own experience.The Shadow Speaker (Nnedi Okorafor) (2007)
: YA fiction. Teenage Ejii has already seen one small revolution, when Jaa the Red Queen beheaded Ejii's father before his wives, children, and the rest of the village of Kwàmfa. When the shadows tell psychically-gifted Ejii she must leave Kwàmfa with Jaa to prevent a greater war, she packs her veil and goes on an adventure.
This is expanded from an earlier short story, or the short story was excerpted from The Shadow Speaker
Either way, it inspired me to pick up one of Okorafor's other novels, Zarah the Windseeker
. I liked it, and expected a similar colorful and semi-serious YA novel. The Shadow Speaker
delivered, raising questions about the ambiguous powers of violence while keeping me entertained with the story of life after a world-altering event. It develops Ejii's character plausibly, as well as the character of her travel companion Dikeogu. Ejii begins the novel working through the uncertainties of life after a nominally Muslim patriarchy has been violently removed by a woman with a sword, and struggling with her Shadow Speaker gift, as well as her father's death. Jaa removed a tyrant by killing Ejii's father, while Ejii's mother, the chief's ex-wife, urges nonviolence as a key to lasting peace. As Ejii travels she learns more about her gifts, who she is, and the world around her. And what a world! Ginen's plant-tech makes another appearance, as does the future world history shaping Ejii's Africa. Slightly less lighthearted than Zarah the Windseeker
, and perhaps more engaging for the older crowd because of that. Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny: Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam (Zainab Salbi and Laurie Becklund) (2005)
: Nonfiction account of - well, read the (painfully unwieldly) title and subtitles. Salbi's parents were upper middle class socialities drawn into Saddam Hussein's social circle in the '70s, and compelled to stay there as Hussein drew more power, violence and corruption to him. Salbi narrates her experiences of living in physical comfort and emotional abuse in the wake of the Iraqi dictator's social circus, who she made herself into on international soil, and how she reconciled her childhood and experiences as an adult working with women survivors of war.
This is compelling like watching a snake, waiting for the moments when the terrors whispered at the edge of on-demand parties uncoil on center stage. Salbi's experiences are narrated through the double lens of a teenager's immediate and self-centered understanding of the world, refocused by answers elicited as an adult. It's a form of introspection I can empathize with. If anything, that's my significant criticism of the book. I expected I would have to reach more to understand where Salbi was coming from, but the narration is pitched for an American audience, and didn't stretch me the way I was expecting. Maybe not the best book to read on a gray San Francisco weekend, but compelling: a demand to bear witness to human suffering caused by the selfishness and greed of a few. This was published in 2005, when there was greater hope the US invasion of Iraq would have a quick, positive outcome; the thought of the last six years' events on the women and men of Baghdad mentioned in this book weigh on my heart. Komarr (Lois McMaster Bujold) (1998):
Fiction, reread. I didn't intend to burn through the entire novel, but compulsive readability and old habits sucked me in. This time around, I paid more attention to Ekaterin and Tien's relationship than Miles' antics. Trivia: Komarr
was the first Bujold I bought new in hardcover. Cryoburn (Lois McMaster Bujold) (2010):
Fiction, reread. Usually, when I read a new novel by a favorite writer, I finish it, and dip back in over the next days or weeks to reread my favorite parts. Cryoburn
is the only Bujold novel which I have finished and shelved with no "favorite bits" flip-through. It's not bad
- at least, I liked it no less than Diplomatic Immunity
, and more than the Sharing Knife novels - but I think the series had several very, very strong novels in short sequence - Mirror Dance
, A Civil Campaign
- and after expecting the giant spoiler since, oh, 1998, I was and am in shock at my lack of catharsis. ( Spoiler time! )
This isn't the book I wanted, so Cryoburn
suffers a great deal from misplaced expectations. On a second reading, I can sort of hear the thematic chord of frozen para-death, versus living to the max, but I still don't hear it clearly
. On the one hand, I can see why the story is constructed that way: life happens, not when you expected it. On the other hand, I still feel the book's lighthearted, right until the shocking moment it's not, and the difference throws me badly.Weather of the San Francisco Bay Region, Second Edition (Harold Gillam) (2002)
: Nonfiction. An overview of why SF weather does the wacky things it does. After passing this up more than once at the bookstores, I came to my senses and put it on hold at the library.
The short answer to the weather question still isn't that short, invoking global weather patterns, trends, and oscillations, Pacific ocean currents, and a heavy dose of local geography. Pitched at a teens-and-up lay audience, this gives a neat overview of a complex system, which I found an enticing appetizer. I'm hoping the "further reading" suggested at the end of the book is just as interesting. My Fight for Birth Control (Margaret Sanger) (1931)
: Nonfiction memoir covering Sanger's crusade up to 1931. Technically finished on June 1, but I spent most of May slogging through this, I'm counting it. Single-minded, and not always good writing, sometimes listing a paragraph of supporters whose significance readers might guess from their inclusion. It's also tinged with a very pre-WW2 pro-eugenics agenda calling for "unfit" couples to avoid having children, as well as casual talk of "the races" fit to raise the hackles of modern activists. A pervasive reminder of the differences between eras. The memoir is as relentlessly focused as the title suggests; Sanger's personal experiences with marriage, motherhood, divorce (in 1913!) and remarriage are touched on only in the context of her drive for contraception. WW1 is primarily a barrier to easy travel on Sanger's trans-Atlantic American and European tours. The 1929 stock market crash and creeping Great Depression don't make the cut, even to impact fundraising.Today I believe there are three great tests to character: sudden wealth, sudden power, and sudden publicity. (p197, 1967 Pergamon Press edition)My Fight for Birth Control
illuminates Sanger's professional agenda up to 1931, but any more personal insights must be imputed between the lines. For example, Sanger's divorce gets a page or two, and then there's no mention of romance until she remarries nine years later; at least one website
claims she had intimate relations with several men, including H.G. Wells. In her memoir, Sanger goes out of her way to suggest otherwise, at least in Wells' case. It's a splendid reminder that memoirs usually have a purpose other than the perfect truth.
Biology trivia: Margaret Sanger isn't (directly) related to Frederick Sanger, the biochemisty who got a Nobel for dideoxy sequencing, the workhorse DNA sequencing method for a quarter of a century or so.
Numbers game: 8 total finished. 6 new, 2 reread; 5 fiction, 3 nonfiction.