It is a rare and powerful book that can have me bouncing up and down with excitement and urgently reading a...more I loved this book. I also hated this book.
It is a rare and powerful book that can have me bouncing up and down with excitement and urgently reading aloud a passage on female physiology to my wife one minute, and leave me embarrassed for the author and wondering if I was reading satire the next. Naomi Wolf’s Vagina: A new Biography had me jumping back and forth between the two fairly regularly. Within the first few pages, I had decided that this was not the book for me, so filled were they with the woo and mysticism of the vagina, the use of the term goddess, and other new-age language . All this despite my absolute feminist/goddess-loving/serious woo beliefs. Which should tell you something right there.
But then, BLAM, Wolf moves into the realm of science and starts unpacking the big picture of female lust and sexual response, including orgasm. And I was hooked. She explores recent research and physiological realities to detail the ways that “even though we talk about sex all the time, the information we have about female sexuality is generally out of date. If women had easy – or at least easier- access to and could draw on the new scientific discoveries about female sexuality, which have not been widely reported, they would have a much deeper understanding of their own sexual and emotional responses” (p75, Vagina). Toni Bentley’s review in the NYimes puts it well, “Wolf’s ideas and suggestions in “Vagina” are valuable ones, and she repeats much truth, particularly in the territory of Helen Fisher and Louann Brizendine, about the full-body, chemical grenade that is lust. Her premise is that “the vagina is the delivery system for the states of mind that we call confidence, liberation, self-¬realization and even mysticism in women.”
I consider myself very well educated about female sexuality, and this book was a fabulous eye-opener of all of the information that I did NOT have ( please, please google Netter image 5101 and read Wolf’s explanations of the sexual neural network and it’s role in pleasure and orgasm -- and the ways that much of our sexual response variability can be due to our physical wiring) about neural responses, the autonomic nervous system, and the role of dopamine and opioids in sexual pleasure. BUT all of this fabulous information should have been the base of the whole book – I could have read much more about the science of it all – and instead Wolf veers far afield. Again, Bentley in the NYTimes hits it on the head when she says, “Herein lies the problem of Wolf’s admirable attempt to straddle two worlds. She wants to connect the science of female sexuality to tantric sexual knowledge to prove that this knowledge is indeed true and effective. Now, any man or woman who has experienced sexual tantric practice knows it is irrefutably powerful (guilty and charged) — but it’s a tough sell to everyone else, because even the best literary attempts to teach it appear silly or simply absurd.”
Overall, I recommend that you read at the very least pages 1-124 which explore the science of female sexual response. If you venture beyond that, it is at your own risk. As Bentley said “Wolf’s scattered new tome wants to be that scream, but instead it provides a blueprint, a valuable negative example, for the important book that will be written one day.” (less)
The 11 year old and I would stop and repeat phrases out loud as we listened to this book because the prose was so magical. Consider the fol...more2012 Book 3
The 11 year old and I would stop and repeat phrases out loud as we listened to this book because the prose was so magical. Consider the following:
“If I was special,” finished September, halfway between a whisper and a squeak. “In stories, when someone appears in a poof of green clouds and asks a girl to go away on an adventure, it’s because she’s special, because she’s smart and strong, and can solve riddles and fight with swords and give really good speeches, and…I don’t know that I’m any of those things. I don’t even know that I’m as ill-tempered as all that. I’m not dull or anything, I know about geography and chess and I can fix the boiler when my mother has to work, but what I mean to say is: maybe you meant to go to another girl’s house and let her ride on the Leopard. Maybe you didn’t mean me at all, because I’m not like storybook girls, I’m short and my father ran away with the army and I wouldn’t even be able to keep a dog from eating a bird.”
The Leopard turned her prodigious, spotted head and looked at September with large, solemn, yellow eyes.
“We came for you,” she growled. “Just you.”
And this one:
“When you are born, your courage is new and clean. You are brave enough for anything: crawling off of staircases and saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish and putting strange things in your mouth. But as you get older, your courage attracts gunk, and crusty things, and dirt, and fear, and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like. By the time you’re half-grown, your courage barely moves at all, it’s so grunged up with living. So every once in awhile, you have to scrub it up and get the works going, or else you’ll never be brave again. Unfortunately, there are not so many facilities in your world who provide the kind of services we do. So most people go around with grimy machinery, when all it would take is a bit of spit and polish to make them paladins once more.”
This book is the best, most creative, enchanting book that I have read with the 11 year old. We both adored it and can't wait to check out some of Cat Valente's other books!(less)
This was a book that required serious attention. It took me longer to read this book than any other in the last year, due the historical de...more2012 Book 2
This was a book that required serious attention. It took me longer to read this book than any other in the last year, due the historical detail and depth. It was fascinating, but slow-going. I loved the author's ability to piece together many different interpretations of Cleopatra's life and death, and do it all with a feminist perspective that identified and named the "encusted myths and hoary propoganda" that makes up much of what we know of her. As the author says, "She was a Greek woman whose history fell to men whose futures lay with Rome, the majority of them officials of the empire". This was a great way to jump-start the history side of my brain for 2012!!(less)