A friend pitched this on Facebook thusly: "If you're looking for fun, well written wish fulfillment for women who love academia, let me recommend A DiA friend pitched this on Facebook thusly: "If you're looking for fun, well written wish fulfillment for women who love academia, let me recommend A Discovery of Witches." She later added: "This book is quite literally what happened when a historian who has read Eco read Twilight on a dare and said, 'Hey, what if, instead of being an insecure teenager, Bella had been an adult woman with a real education and her own chops, and when Edward started being a freak she smacked him upside the head? Oh and also let's add a plot.'"
Which was more than enough to prompt me to run off and read it. I was not disappointed. The Twilight reference was apt; there are many elements that the series share. That said--everything changes with context.
Diana Bishop (descended from Bridget Bishop of the Salem trials) is doing post-doctorate research on the history of alchemy at Oxford's Bodleian Library in preparation for a keynote speech she's supposed to give, rather than being a teenage girl who likes to tote around a copy of Wuthering Heights. She's also a witch, well aware of the existence of vampires and able to distinguish them from humans.
Matthew de Clairmont is certainly not a broody teenager trapped in a 100-year-old vampire's body. He's somewhere around 1500 years old and has put all those years to very good use. He doesn't skulk around in an infinite loop of high school (admittedly partly because he was older when he was made, but still); he's a highly-respected researcher in multiple fields, besides having managed to make friends with many of the best minds of Europe's history and get involved with a surprising number of world events.
There is no evidence of werewolves as yet, and thus no Jacob-analogue either. The author is pretty clear that there are only three kinds of "creature" (i.e. supernatural being): witches, vampires, and daemons. Wolf pack behavior does get highlighted quite a bit, but it's rolled into the vampire mythos--which is really interesting in and of itself. In fact, Matthew's got some dominance and protection issues, and these get explained in part by the way vampire clan behavior mirrors wolf pack behavior.
And while Diana does need the occasional rescue and will go along with Matthew's directives, she's also not shy about telling him when he's being creepy or overstepping. Which doesn't always go over well, but since she's pushing back the effect is more of tension between people and less of him just being controlling. They're a couple who came together rather quickly finding the balance of their relationship. It makes sense.
I could go on, but I hope by now you get the idea. I'm not going to say this was the best thing ever or that it's my new favorite book, but it was certainly a fun read. Definitely recommended....more
Trigger warnings for this book abound: child sexual abuse, sex work, drug use, surgery, homophobia, and obviously transphobia all get touched upon toTrigger warnings for this book abound: child sexual abuse, sex work, drug use, surgery, homophobia, and obviously transphobia all get touched upon to varying degrees. That said, if you are not triggered by these things--you need to read this. (I strongly recommend the audiobook, narrated by the author.)
Mock's memoir is set up within the frame story of telling her then-boyfriend (they married in 2015) that she's trans for the first time. We follow her through a brief look at the beginning of their relationship and watch her make the decision to tell him, and then plunge backward to her childhood to begin the bulk of the book. She guides us through her early life in Hawaii and her time with her father in California and Texas as she struggled with the disparity between what society expected of her as an assigned male and the way she self-identified. Then we follow her back to Hawaii, where she at last comes into contact with a larger trans community and begins to go through multiple stages of transition to womanhood. That portion of the story more or less comes to a close after her genital reconstruction surgery, which she funded herself through sex work and underwent in Thailand at the age of eighteen. At this point we return to the frame story to witness her boyfriend's reaction and a brief conclusion about how she came to share her story with the rest of the world via Marie Claire and eventually her own book.
There are a few things that strike me about Redefining Realness in a general sense. One is the language. I'd heard that Mock was exceptionally good at finding the right words, the right descriptions, the right turns of phrase to put us into her world. This is very true, and it makes the book a wonder to read, but that's not why I say you need to read it.
Another thing is the unflinching honesty and openness with which Mock approaches the topic of her transition. Surgery specifically is something that cis-centric media has been criticized for being too curious about and too focused on, preferring to talk about interviewees' genitals rather than their experiences. The sex reassignment process is often fetishized or sensationalized by our culture. It would have been entirely understandable for Mock to have glossed over or skipped that part of her story. Instead, she gives us all the gory detail. While I would never consider prying into a trans person's privacy by asking about this process, and I certainly don't think it's anyone's job to educate me on the subject by opening up to me about their private lives, I think that it's important to recognize and (to the extent possible) try to understand other people's experiences. Thus, this is an invaluable opportunity to sit and listen to someone tell me, in her own words and her own voice, about something of which I would otherwise only have clinical or third-hand descriptions. It's a chance to hear about a very different experience from my own and how it affected the person living it. That's important.
But what stood out to me the most by far was the grace and skill with which Mock navigates the tangled social and personal issues that are inherent in relating her journey. The whole thing is a study in intersectionality. There are so many layers of privilege and discrimination here. Mock lays them all out for her readers and explains clearly why they're important and how they affect one another. She acknowledges the places in which she benefits from privilege and offers some solid information about those who do not share it--telling about the cost of not having those advantages without making any attempt to actually speak for anyone who might be in that position. This is exceptionally important, since so often well-meaning would-be allies and advocates end up stealing the narrative from those they want to help. The book was highly instructive to me in that regard.
That's why I feel this is a must-read. Not because the language is beautiful (although it is) or because it's a rare opportunity to begin to understand one another (although it's that too), but because underneath the narrative of the mixed-race transwoman who went from poverty to professionalism is another story. It's a story about how complex human beings and the societies they've constructed are. It's a story about how the pieces fit together. It's a story that nudges us toward seeing social justice not as a loose collection of movements but as many individuals all pursuing the same goal from a multitude of different, sometimes overlapping and intertwined, perspectives. And that's really, really important....more