I find it incredibly difficult to discuss the works of authors that I adore. I’ve written nearly 300 reviews for this site over the years, yet on some...moreI find it incredibly difficult to discuss the works of authors that I adore. I’ve written nearly 300 reviews for this site over the years, yet on some of my favorite writers I have said nary a word. Why is it always easier to describe why I don’t like something than it is to explain why a piece of writing resonates with me? I finished this book several weeks ago but have been torn as to how to review it. I didn’t want to just rate it and mark it read, but I don’t really know how to express how this short essay affected me. I’ve written three other drafts of this review so far and none have been able to get to the crux of how I feel about this seminal piece of first-wave feminist writing.
First published in 1929, A Room of One’s Own collects a series of lectures that Woolf delivered to two women’s colleges on the topic of women in fiction. A broad topic, to be sure, Woolf approaches it with all the cool logic intermixed with vivid imagery which made To The Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway such essential reads. Rather than focusing on how women in fiction have been portrayed throughout history, she turns her analytic eye on the lack of women writers asking the crucial question, “why is there no female Shakespeare? Why is it that it wasn’t until the advent of Austen and the Brontes that women began to tell their own stories?”
Her answer is so well known at this point that it could be canon. In order to be able to create, a woman needs a little bit of money and a room of one’s own. Basically, she needs to be freed from the daily demands of unpaid carework and domestic labor with which she has historically been saddled and a space where she can sit uninterrupted in order to coax the muse into cooperating with her. For a long time it was the latter half of this statement that really resonated with me. I’ve never had a room of my own, sharing with siblings while growing up, roommates while at university, and with my spouse until recently. Every piece of writing I’ve managed has been done while surrounded by people, words frantically inscribed during lulls in conversation or while trying to block out the sounds around me. I can only imagine how much more productive I could be were I to have a space I could seclude myself.
It wasn’t until the events of this year that I’ve realized just how important the first part of the statement is as well. Since coming out I have been lucky enough to meet a wide assortment of trans women, nearly all of whom are incredibly smart talented and absolutely brimming with creative passion. Yet almost without exception most of these women are forced to expend all of their energies on simply surviving. The endless struggle to find and retain employment, the constant threat of violence (physical, sexual, and emotional) that we are subject to whenever we are in public, the lifelong need to have access to the medical care that keeps the epic mindfuck that is dysphoria at bay- these are the struggles that the women I love spend their days consumed with. All the space in the world can not help you create if your every waking moment is filled just with the struggle to feed yourself and keep a roof over your head.
So if I want to read stories that are reflective of my own experiences, if I want to see films that feature trans characters that don’t rely entirely on the offensive stereotypes so often promulgated by cis people who have probably never met a trans woman, if I want to hear music made by girls like me, then economic security should be the primary place I should lend my efforts as both a trans woman and as an activist. Because I very much want to see more creative works made by trans women. I feel that we have a very unique perspective on not only gender and sexuality but human relations as a whole and that reading trans women’s stories is of benefit not just to me or to people with trans people in their lives, but to our entire culture.
So with all of that, with how much I very much relate to what Woolf is espousing in her typically beautiful way, why have I only rated this three stars? Because this slim volume suffers from the same problems that plagued feminist theory from its first incarnations until the early 1980s and which, though there is an increasing amount of criticism against it, continues to this day. That is the lack of awareness of how Woolf’s class status and skin color afforded her the privilege to be freed from care work and to have a room of her own in the first place. By not recognizing that her emancipation came at the expense of other women, Woolf’s emancipatory ideal ended up contributing to the silencing and marginalization of working women and women of color whose status in society did not afford them the luxury of either money or a room. That by not recognizing how the money that afforded her the opportunity to write came from a source that profited from the violence and exploitation of British colonialism, it reifies an inaccurate and damaging perspective. We should always strive to be aware of how the advantages we have come at the expense of others.
This is not meant as an indictment of Woolf, however. The concept of intersectionality is a relatively recent one and far be it for me to anachronistically apply it in my judgment of this thin volume. However, I do feel that it is necessary to read works like this with a critical eye and the knowledge that what Woolf is presenting is necessarily limited by her own experiences as a wealthy white woman in the early 20th Century. Even still, despite this glaring flaw, this is an exceptionally important book and absolutely belongs in the canon of feminist writings. (less)
Readers who only know of Hunter S. Thompson from his acid-washed hunt for the American Dream in one of this countries most deranged metropolitan waste...moreReaders who only know of Hunter S. Thompson from his acid-washed hunt for the American Dream in one of this countries most deranged metropolitan wastes will find a different sort of Hunter here. Given the man's talent for spectacle, pomposity and grand acts of destruction, it's easy for people to forget that before he was a legend, Hunter S. Thompson was a talented and capable journalist- one of those rare souls who was perfectly able to capture the flavor of the 60s zeitgeist, both its rapturous highs and its naive faith that a better world could simply be visualized into existence. Before his image became a caricature to be bandied about by everyone from Doonesbury's Gary Trudeau to Johnny Depp's recent ham-fisted offerings (I take no umbrage with Fear & Loathing, that was Gilliam at his greatest, but rather the execrable adaptation of The Rum Diaries and the animated spoof of Rango) Thompson offered up some truly great pieces of journalism.
The Great Shark Hunt collects many of these lesser known writings of Thompson's. There are some definite retreads of what has been widely available elsewhere- the entirety of Part II was culled primarily from his Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, which is an interesting snapshot of life on the campaign trail with the underdog George McGovern campaign that somehow found itself the Democratic nominee despite the Dem establishment's fiercest protests and then fell apart with supreme gusto, allowing Nixon a landslide re-election. The closest example I can think of from recent elections is how close Howard Dean came to upsetting the staid Democratic platform before an unfortunate moment of exuberance caused the nomination to be handed to John "Do I Have A Pulse?" Kerry.
For the most part, however, much of this material was new to me and featured many fine gems. The book is worth reading if only for Thompson's magnificent reporting from his hometown in "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent & Depraved," which recounts the author's first meeting with his long-time illustrator Ralph Steadman and their liquor-fueled romps during the pinnacle event of white Southern gentry's year. Most interesting for me, Part III features political reports sent North during 1963 while Thompson was covering events in ever-turbulent South America. With his characteristic sneer for all those who would use their power to enrich rather than help, Thompson issues communiques from Puerto Estrella, a lawless city of Colombian smugglers, reports on the Peruvian military's overthrow of the popularly elected APRA party in order to maintain the same 40 family's grip on the nation, and recounts a showdown between the Brazilian military and a Rio nightclub which ends with bullets spraying and grenades being lobbed onto the bustling dance floor all to teach the owner a lesson in respect. All throughout Thompson never fails to shine a critical eye on the American expats and businessmen who never fail to embrace the inherent racism of former colonial masters, despairing about Peruvians inability to realize that the gringos are only trying to help and refusing to realize that riding in on a white horse to save them is just a rebranding of the same paternalism that South Americans have been dealing with since the Conquistadors decided to save by slaughter.
This is by no means a must-read, and I definitely found myself lagging through many of the articles, but for anyone who enjoys Thompson's personal brand of biting rhetoric it is an amusing and informative look at the works of a man who was never afraid to say exactly what he was thinking at a given time and who never failed to be shocked and appalled by the perversion of his American Dream by moneyed interests playing upon a populace's fears. In an era that seems so eerily reminiscent of the times in which Thompson was at the top of his game, reading the words of a man who was always willing to voice his outrage is a useful reminder.(less)
I'm a bit of a sucker for the Best American collections. They always tempt me from the sale shelves at Powell's with their ever-descending prices and...moreI'm a bit of a sucker for the Best American collections. They always tempt me from the sale shelves at Powell's with their ever-descending prices and the promise of shorter reads to break up my regular diet of longer fiction. The 2008 Best American Travel Writing was no different. Compiled by everyone's favorite gourmet curmudgeon, Anthony Bourdain, this collection features a host of interesting tales culled from "the darker side, those moments fearful, sublime, and absurd..." Accordingly there are essays on the pirates of the Malacca Strait in Indonesia, finding good pork to eat in Kabul, the treacherous shifting border of the Sudan(woe unto they who misguess which side of the line they're on), and a look at China's continuing repression of the Tibetans through the vehicle of the Beijing-Lhasa Express railway.
There are few throwaway articles in this collection and I found odd syncronicities appearing between the articles and the novels I would shift between. For example, shortly after reading the opening article, about the birth of the cocoa plantations in Bahia, Brazil, I began reading Mario Vargas Llosa's The War of the End of the World, also set in Bahia. Likewise, no sooner had I finished John le Carre's Mission Song about a coup in the Congo than I read an essay about how the Congo River is emerging from decades of strife and war to become a liquid hope for a better tomorrow for the people of the region.
I still have a large stack of these collections- somehow I am unable to resist travel writing, science and nature collections, or Dave Eggers' always interesting non-required reading- and I'm debating about whether I should just always keep one on deck to rotate between when long form fiction seems too arduous of an endeavor. Still, as mercurial as my reading habits have been this year, I have serious doubts as to my ability to plan my reads more than a book in advance.(less)
Can I just admit something straight off the bat? I. Don’t. Care. I don’t care whether you want to participate in ritualized cannibalism. I don’t care...moreCan I just admit something straight off the bat? I. Don’t. Care. I don’t care whether you want to participate in ritualized cannibalism. I don’t care whether you think the soul resides on the top of the head. I don’t care whether you want to rub blue mud in your navel, ingest some psylocybin and commune with Gaia. I don’t care whether you want to build temples to a god who, at best, is enormously small-minded and petty or, at worst, is a genocidal tyrant bent on undoing the mistake of free will. I especially don’t care whether you do or don’t believe in any bi-polar sky god. I’m just done with it. It’s a discussion I’ve had more times than I can count and one where I’ve already heard every justification for and against. I just don’t care.
While I am undoubtedly an atheist, there’s something very off-putting about this new wave of skeptics that makes me want to distance myself from them. Something about the missionary zeal with which this new group of atheists approaches religious discussions smacks too much of “we will save the heathens from themselves or they’ll die trying.” Tellingly, it is normally those who have recently lost their faith that are the most vocal challengers of deists, there is no fervor as powerful as that of the recently converted, be it to Christianity, Alcoholics Anonymous, or atheism. Yet what is the point of replacing one doctrine of ideas with another if it does nothing to change the tone with which we discuss things? People are still going to be assholes, regardless of which creed they are espousing today.
Either all the accumulated evidence (and lack thereof) is correct and there is no god, or there’s a pantheon of every belief system floating somewhere in the ether. Either way it makes no actual impact on my day to day living, other than through interactions I have with a creed’s adherents. God is not going to do anything to either lessen my burdens or smite me with righteous fury. All we can do is live our lives in the manner that we feel is best for us. Any deity worth its salt should be able to recognize that, and any deity that does not recognize it is not deserving of anyone’s worship.
That is not to say that I do not have severe issues with the ways in which people use “it’s just what I believe” as a justification for completely irrational and harmful behavior, and there is no faster way to earn my enmity than to try to write your morality into law. Do what you will, but keep it to yourself- live by example but without self righteousness. In his short polemic Harris lists point by point his, rather convincing, arguments against deism and the various reasons why coddling people’s faith and placing it beyond debate is both harmful and intellectually dishonest, in far more clear terms than I can ever manage. This is definitely a contentious book, but one that will make you think, regardless of which side of this argument you may sit. My main complaint with the idea of people moving beyond religion is I don’t think that Harris is taking into account humankind’s need for illusions.
We all tell stories to ourselves to better understand the world and our place within it. For a majority of the world, this story involves a divinely imparted code of rules to adhere to or else. If we stripped away the belief systems of all of these people then what is left? Living without illusions is hard work, having to bear the responsibility for your choice on your own is a constant struggle. Some days I don’t think I would wish that on my worst enemy. Too much existentialism for a Thursday morning? Probably. It still doesn’t change the fact that I can conceive of no swifter way for the world to descend into chaos than to rip away the support structure of people’s existence. Slow and steady will win this race, the best we can expect is a holding action to keep God out of our statehouses and legislature. (less)
I heard this in its Audiobook format, which probably led me to appreciate it more than I otherwise would have. Having each author read their short ess...moreI heard this in its Audiobook format, which probably led me to appreciate it more than I otherwise would have. Having each author read their short essay was perfect, especially with such instantly recognizable voices as Patton Oswalt, John Oliver and Will Forte. It's a very short read, even the audiobook was barely over three hours long, but one that will have you chuckling all the way. I particularly liked Dan Savage's ode to the vagina that scared him out of the closet and Larry Wilmore's "my new baby hates me" essays.
Nothing that will stick with you for too long, but funny enough to distract you from your day to day cares.(less)
Holy vituperative rage, Batman! The descriptions of this book that I had read on Goodreads in no way described the acerbic bitterness of Kincaid as a...moreHoly vituperative rage, Batman! The descriptions of this book that I had read on Goodreads in no way described the acerbic bitterness of Kincaid as a writer. Each page is one brutal indictment after another. Nothing escapes her ire; from the English masters who colonized the island to the fat and pasty tourists who visit for a chance to sample the "exotic" backwardness of island life and who cluck their tongues reprovingly at the corruption that is endemic to island governance. "Fuck you," she says (via my poor paraphrasing), "Of course the government is corrupt- it is modeled in your image. We are only what you made us. It is you who taught us how to rob from our people and deposit their money in off-shore bank accounts. It is your value system that taught us that Capitalism is valued above everything else, even clean water and decent healthcare."
I'd like to give her a hug but that would only be giving her an opportunity to stick the knife deep into my vile honky back. It'd be easy to get wrapped up in her bilious venting at the expense of her message, but this would be a criminal oversight given that her point- the complete and utter barbarity of imperialism and the long-term consequences of imperial behavior- is just as important today as it was when written in 1988. To understand the violent rage that is piling up inside even the most peaceful Iraqi, to understand what can spur someone into the ultimate act of nihilism- suicide bombing, one needs to look no further than Kincaid's justifiable hate.
I think that just one short quote can better express the level of anger that I am trying to describe. Here's Kincaid talking about the collapse of the British Empire:
"...the English have become such a pitiful lot these days, with hardly any idea what to do with themselves now that they no longer have one quarter of the earth's human population bowing and scraping before them. They don't seem to know that this empire business was all wrong and they should, at least, be wearing sackcloth and ashes in token penance of the wrongs committed, the irrevocableness of their bad deeds, for no natural disaster imaginable can equal the harm they did. Actual death might have been better. And so all this fuss over empire- what went wrong here, what went wrong there- always makes me quite crazy, for I can say to them what went wrong: they should never have left their home, their precious England, a place they loved so much, a place they had to leave but could never forget. And so everywhere they went they turned it into England; and everybody they met they turned English. But no place could ever really be England, and nobody who did not look exactly like them would ever be English, so you can imagine the destruction of people that came from that. The English hate each other and they hate England, and the reason they are so miserable now is that they have no place else to go and nobody else to feel better than."
The book is about Antigua, but one could ctrl+F the text and replace every "Antigua" with any other US holding (Hawaii, the Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, etc.) and it would apply just as well. The cultural hegemony inflicted, even passively, by the haoles/gringos/yankees- the stripping of language, culture, history, of identity- is a universal activity and each instance can lead to explosions of rage which would then be used as an example to justify further repression. All of this is revealed in its most brutally ugly form in the incredibly short pages of this book. It wasn't what I expected when the K@ told me I should read it, but I am sure glad that I did.(less)
Fun collection of essays and interviews along with a CD of assorted tunes from the bands featured inside. There's a great Luc Sante piece on postcard...moreFun collection of essays and interviews along with a CD of assorted tunes from the bands featured inside. There's a great Luc Sante piece on postcard photography. Also a fun and informative interview on the New Zealand underground band, The Clean. Up-and-coming hipster favorites, The Vivian Girls, offer a short interview with Rob Simonsen and there are some very interesting papercuts from artist David Fair.
Quick and easy read, perfect for a long trip to the restroom.(less)
One of the most interesting works of literary criticism which I have come across. As an admitted book-buying addict I can appreciate his approach of "...moreOne of the most interesting works of literary criticism which I have come across. As an admitted book-buying addict I can appreciate his approach of "books bought this month vs. books read this month." It seems I'm doomed to have more in the former category than the latter.(less)
This collection is, at best, a compendium of hit and miss articles and short stories and, at worst, a collection of writers that remind me of everythi...moreThis collection is, at best, a compendium of hit and miss articles and short stories and, at worst, a collection of writers that remind me of everything I don't like about Dave Eggers. This book has been bathroom reading, sitting on the back of the toilet in case I find myself trapped in the commode for a long duration. The problem is that I am so uninspired to read it that I've taken to bringing in other reading materials.
One bright note: I loved the article about Saddam Hussein written by Mark Bowden though it is fairly over-flowing with the jingoistic imperial zeal that marked most pundit's tone on Iraq leading up to the US invasion in 2003. There's also a fantastic article on Idi Amin that is worth reading.(less)