A couple of my friends read this book and enjoyed it and, after reading Sex at Dawn recently, which provides an evolutionary psychology based argumentA couple of my friends read this book and enjoyed it and, after reading Sex at Dawn recently, which provides an evolutionary psychology based argument against monogamy, I became interested in reading this book chronicling American adventures in sexual nonconformity during the so-called sexual revolution. Talese has that new journalism style which will be very familiar for those who have read some of his contemporaries, such as Studs Terkel and Joan Didion. His writing style kind of floats from one person to the next in the book and it has an interesting rhythm; one moment it focuses in on the tiny details of emotion and setting of a particular event in one small moment of a person's life and in another it will widen its lens to take in the larger historical and legal context everyone is inside of.
This changing focus kind of lulls you as the reader into a strange, observatory mode. It is deeply intimate while still feeling somewhat remote and alienated from its subject matter and reads more like a novel than non-fiction in many chapters since there can be such a wealth of details provided about people's inner lives while still being very much in the third person. Even when Talese brings himself into the book at the very end, he continues to write in the third person and in an odd way, he tells you the fewest details about his own interior life as a witness to all that goes on in the book compared with the depth he goes into telling the life stories of the other major players in the book.
I liked reading the book and it did provoke me to meditate about the issues at play because of its style and the variety in the central figures that Talese dwells on. There are definitely some flaws and limitations to it also though. It is very clear by the time you finish the book that Talese is really primarily interested in the sexual revolution only as it applies to the perspective and lifestyle of the average, white, middle class American male. Although there are some moments here and there where Talese digresses into the point of view of women in the book, women are clearly far from central to the overall movement of the book as we get comparatively brief glimpses into their worlds and lives and what descriptions he does give us, feel abrupt and not quite sincere. I guess the irony there, is how much women's perspective and pleasure was largely ignored by the sexual revolution itself, much less in journalistic coverage of it. Similarly there are pretty much no people of color represented at all, male or female.
The feminist movement, gay liberation movement, and civil rights movement, which were experiencing simultaneous revolutions and which obviously had a fairly large and direct relationship with the sexual revolution, are all almost totally ignored except for a few, brief asides. I found myself wondering often what kind of commentary could have been found from people involved in those movements. The absence of homosexuality in the book is especially glaring, considering that it was obviously something that Talese was encountering quite a bit along the way and he even makes certain meandering hints about it several times, but he never fully engages with the issue. I think Talese was focused on trying to write to a very mainstream audience and I would suspect he felt like including homosexuality into these accounts would be so off-putting to readers that they would no longer be open to any of the other ideas in the book. But reading the book now, within a modern context, the total blinders to what was happening with gays and lesbians at the time is baffling.
With that said, there were long passages of the book that I found kind of fascinating, in a similar way to how I have felt attending Vagina Monologues/Memoirs over the years. While heterosexual male sexuality is all around us all the time and often incredibly in your face, what you don't hear often is men's honest, de-machoed self-reflections about what they like about the porn they watch, what attachments they do or do not feel to it, how they experience lust and desire and jealousy, and the kinds of the things they're looking for out of sex. These are the real goods that straight women are looking for paging through the Cosmo sex advice columns. Much of the book reads like the kind of unflinching conversations about sex that men might have with each other in a world more open to talking honestly about it and I was interested in getting to see behind the curtain in a way that doesn't happen very often.
I also appreciated the way in which the book maintained a certain amount of ambivalence in tone. It doesn't read as an endorsement of the sexual revolution per se and the leaders and radicals he describes are portrayed as real people, with flaws and strengths and three dimensional personalities. The book doesn't leave you with any easy conclusions or a pat thesis to take away. It is particularly interesting reading this book now, in light of the internet-generated explosion in porn consumption, the increasing mainstreaming of porn, the escalating fight for gay marriage, the growing prominence of polyamory and alternative relationship and family structures, and the declining state of heterosexual marriage. Its hard to know how related these developments are to some of the questions that emerged during the 70's, especially considering how many of these questions greatly pre-date the 70's and how much technology has changed our lives in such a short amount of time, but I feel like reading this book gave me some interesting context to reflect on. It also made me wonder about where my own history and attitudes would fit, if I tried to write it out into a similar style of narrative.
Dan Savage wrote this thing on the Stranger just the other day:
"Whether you believe that female sexual reserve/reluctance/caution is about socialization or biology or both, or that it's a reaction to sad fact the many unpleasant consequences of sex fall disproportionately on women (greater risk of pregnancy (um, duh), much likelier to be the victims of sexual and intimate-partner violence, easier for STIs to be transmitted from male-to-female than female-to-male), female sexual reserve/reluctance/caution exists."
Talese makes some related comments toward the end of the book (which I can't directly quote because it was overdue at the library and I took it back already) about how in his research he discovered that there pretty much is zero market for erotic massage and pornography amongst straight women. He chalks this up to a lot of broad generalizations about women not being sexually aroused by the nude male bodies of strangers and only being willing to be penetrated by the comfortable known penises of men they have relationships with.
Surely the fact that porn doesn't try very hard to appeal to women's tastes and the increased risk of violence and STIs that women cope with during anonymous straight sex that Dan lists in the quote above, must factor in too. Its weird that Talese would fall back on that kind of rhetoric at the end of the book though, considering how many women he encountered along the course of the book who did enjoy and seek out anonymous sex, who were aggressive, who broke out of those stereotypes when they had a safe space in which to do so.
It makes me think about how, part of the reason the sexual revolution was so much more of a success for men than for women ultimately, is that women have so much more negative shit in their way before they can even think about their desires and attaining total sexual freedom. No wonder reproductive rights and anti-domestic violence and sexual assault work were so important to feminism at the time, and still today. White middle-class men may have faced religious moral codes and obscenity laws trying to police their thoughts and fantasies, but that's nothing compared to the patriarchal complex of society that attempts to control and regulate the actual bodies of women, working class folks, people of color, and of course GLBTQ people.
In a corresponding way, we have a lot of great infrastructure now supporting the mitigation of the negative things restricting sexual freedom for women- Planned Parenthood, Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault advocacy organizations, etc. There is so much more of a flood of positive-side sexual freedom promoters geared toward men though. Porn is absolutely everywhere, turning a 13 billion dollar profit in America, with a majority of men watching it regularly and being more open about that now than maybe ever before. There is also the continuing boom that the sex work industry has experienced. The only corrolary I can really think of for women, is the growing sex toy industry which has helped women reclaim their bodies and their sexuality for themselves, but which is still pretty small by comparison at least in terms of money spent.
My partner has said before that he thinks that as women gain equality and as the culture becomes more sex positive, more women will be an increasing consumer base for porn and maybe other types of sex work. It does seem true that more women watch porn now than they did in the past and it's certainly more accessible to women than it used to be. But in some ways, I can't help feeling like there is always going to be something extremely male about those things. Which makes me question, what would embody and encourage real sexual freedom for women? What kind of media and organizations would cater mostly to women? What would that look like? Is women's supposed "sexual reluctance," really reluctance or is it something else? How would you set non-sexist standards and terms for even building a framework for these things? These are all questions I've thought about for a long time, but something that I find myself wondering more and more these days. ...more
I've been meaning to read some Hammett forever and it was nice to finally get around to these short stories. It was good reading for the subway, but sI've been meaning to read some Hammett forever and it was nice to finally get around to these short stories. It was good reading for the subway, but some of the prose in this was a little too mechanical for my taste. I expected more attitude and atmosphere....more
Hilarious captions and a kick ass introduction from Ann Bannon about how publishing companies pushed for covers that would interest men despite a mostHilarious captions and a kick ass introduction from Ann Bannon about how publishing companies pushed for covers that would interest men despite a mostly female readership of lesbian pulp. ...more
The problem with books about meaningless sex is they're all pretty meaningless themselves. The author is so busy not caring about the women he sleepsThe problem with books about meaningless sex is they're all pretty meaningless themselves. The author is so busy not caring about the women he sleeps with one wonders why he bothered to write about them in the first place, besides to stroke his penis-shaped ego. I think the most startling thing about this book is the overwhelming, unabashed weakness of the main character. The novel seems like one long, meandering projection of male self-hatred onto women, just like men have been doing for centuries. His stupidity and repulsiveness is fascinating in a train wreck sort of way, but he is by no means worthy of the cult idol status he currently enjoys. ...more
Ok, so I got three quarters of the way through the book, but after reading through the first couple sections in Political Fictions I finally just gaveOk, so I got three quarters of the way through the book, but after reading through the first couple sections in Political Fictions I finally just gave up and "accidentally" left the book at my parent's house. Certainly, Joan Didion is really insightful and there is some very beautiful writing in the book. Unfortunately, way too much of her best work is concentrated in the first two parts of the collection which are introspective, while also having a certain time capsule effect of the era she was documenting. After The White Album, she meanders through the political conflicts going on in El Salvador and Miami in a way that was both difficult to understand as someone not fully aware of all the background nuances of the time period and just generally not nearly as strong of writing or thought on the issues. All of Didion's political writing is kind of miserable to read. For one thing, unlike with her earlier works where she found a way to combine her very personal, semi-autobiographical reflections with larger cultural and political issues, her later work is bloated with lethargy and it is often unclear what she's doing covering stories like this in the first place other than to appease her publisher. When she writes about her coverage of presidential elections she writes with a bemused tone about how little connection she feels to the political process and how out of place she is trailing along with the campaigns. As a reader, you can't help but wonder along with her since the writing is full of jaded, bitter, fatalism more than anything else. As you read the chronological progression of the work you can't help but sense her becoming more and more numb to her surroundings and more and more hopeless about what meaning, personal or not, there might be in any of it....more
It's hard to write a review for this collection considering that it is actually five different books put into one anthology, but I will say that all oIt's hard to write a review for this collection considering that it is actually five different books put into one anthology, but I will say that all of the books were compelling and probably works I would have overlooked if they had not been included here. All of them were very much worth checking out if you enjoy old crime novels. I particularly enjoyed and was surprised by Pick-Up which has a lot of the elements that the French existentialists liked in American noirs around this period. ...more
While I appreciate the surreal, nightmarish horror of Ito's work, I have to admit this was just too much Tomie for me. I wish that for these collectioWhile I appreciate the surreal, nightmarish horror of Ito's work, I have to admit this was just too much Tomie for me. I wish that for these collections they had interspersed the different stories rather than just bringing together all of a recurring series like this because it does become too repetitive after a while. There isn't enough variation in the stories' plots to keep it compelling through the whole book with one character and more or less the same ending over and over.
The great thing about the Cat-Eyed Boy series is that even though the title character is in every story, the other demons he meets are always different and the circumstances he meets them in are always different, with little gradual developments of his back story and a surprising sense of humor thrown in to keep things interesting.
Tomie is basically just a virus, endlessly copying herself over and over and always causing exactly the same disease regardless of her host. Plus, we are never given any deeper clues about where she originated from, which becomes pretty irritating. ...more