Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Journey Into Manhood and Back Again

Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey Into Manhood and Back AgainSelf-Made Man: One Woman’s Journey Into Manhood and Back Again by Norah Vincent

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This is a great book. I absolutely adored it. Her writing voice is frank and thoughtful, and she does a fantastic job of exploring the gender divide. I want to own this book. It’s the type of book that you just want to grab a pen or pencil and notate throughout the thing, marking all those awesome passages or thought-provoking ideas.

For instance, she brings up the observation that we tend to have 5 or 6 gender-specific set responses, and when people aren’t certain of your gender (as happened later in her experiment, when she would go out dressed as Norah, but accidentally projecting the masculine confidence of Ned), they don’t know how to respond to you.

At one point, she gets a sales job as Ned. Her account of this experience is fascinating — the way that she lost sales when she tried to make them the way that was natural to her, as a woman. If she was polite, deferential and flirtatious (in the female manner), she was perceived by both men and women as weak and off-putting. But if she acted as a male — polite, but confident, firm in voice and convictions — she made more sales. However, she also worked with women who made sales just fine being polite, deferential and flirtatious. It was entirely the gender presented that worked against her.

The entire book is a great, fascinating and eye-opening observation of how deep and subconscious the gender divide really is. I didn’t come away from the book thinking, “Ugh, men are pigs, women are awesome.” Nor did I think the inverse: “Women are horrid, I wish I was a guy.”

Instead, I came away from it thinking, “Wow, it’s a hell of a lot more difficult to be a man in our society than I thought.”

Obviously, both men and women have gender-specific abilities and strengths that help them get ahead, socially. And I’m not talking about anything as obvious as physical characteristics. I’m talking about the ways we relate to each other, talk to each other and interact in society. This book really highlights how even the most gender-neutral, pro-gender-equality people still play to their preconceptions of how a gender should behave, and how they react in subconscious yet negative way when faced with the unexpected. It really highlights how we, as a society, encourage certain behaviors in each gender, only to bemoan and complain when those behaviors come with a price.

This book is promoted, a little, as a “secret inside glimpse at male behaviors.” But it’s so much more than that. She really gets into the meat of the matter, discussing why each gender presents as the way they do. She talks about how as a child, she was raised in a liberal, feminist family. She’s often told (when female), that she has a masculine aspect, and she’d thought that going in drag would highlight that aspect — only to find that when she was in drag, her feminine qualities stood out in glaringly and off-puttingly obvious ways. So her background is one of a tomboy girl, a child who was encouraged to play with “boy” toys and “girl” toys, as were her brothers. Yet even as pro-feminist, lesbian woman, she still fell back on typical “female” behaviors, without even realizing that she’d internalized them so thoroughly until she did this experiment.

Because of this realization, she often touches on how women relate to each other and how women relate to men, as well as how men relate to each other and to women; ways that are taught and reinforced on subconscious levels from before we can speak and throughout our lives. It’s an incredibly fascinating and very thought-provoking book.

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The Eternal Kiss: 13 Vampire Tales of Blood and Desire

The Eternal Kiss: 13 Vampire Tales of Blood and DesireThe Eternal Kiss: 13 Vampire Tales of Blood and Desire by Trisha Telep

♥ ♥ ♥ – –

It had some neat little stories and some that were just irritating. I like anthologies for two main reasons: One, they’re short stories. I prefer my short stories not to have dangling, empty endings, and far too many of these felt like a chapter pulled from a book. No real context or story arc to them.

The other reason I like anthologies is because I find new and awesome writers that way. Unfortunately, none of the authors whose work I wasn’t previously acquainted with caught my eye.

Still, for being a book of vampire short stories (which I already have an innate bias against), it wasn’t bad. I just don’t think vampires are particularly suited to short stories — these all hinted at some larger, more important backstory. Some forward-shooting story arc. They were unsatisfying because they felt unfinished.

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Calico Captive

Calico CaptiveCalico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This is one of those books (like Johnny Tremain) that I read as a kid and loved. I never did own a copy, but I checked it out from the library so often it was at my house more often than at the library.

It follows the story of Miriam, a young English colonial, who is captured by Indians during the French and Indian war. She’s sold as a slave to some French Quebecoise, where she begins to make a name for herself as a seamstress.

However, Miriam was not the only one captured — her sister, nieces and nephew were also captured and enslaved. Miriam and her sister are faced with many hard choices as they try to pay their slave debts (if I recall, it’s been a while since I read it) in Quebec, bring their family back together and eventually make their way home.

As Miriam’s seamstress business becomes more successful, she’s courted by a handsome French soldier — a moral dilemma, as he’s allied with the same Indians who attacked her colony, and he fights and kills the British colonials she loves. At the same time, he helps her track down her scattered nieces and nephew, and assists Miriam in widening her clientele base.

I’ve always loved this book, though I have to admit I rooted for the French solider. I always wanted Miriam to marry him and leave her stodgy English roots. Apparently the book is based on the diary of a real-life Miriam who actually experienced these events (I guess they left out all the rape-iness), so extra points for bringing history alive.

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Johnny Tremain

Johnny TremainJohnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

I haven’t read this in ages and ages, but I’ve been telling so many people about it lately that I figured I should just go ahead and put up a review.

Johnny Tremain is, quite simply, among my absolute favorite books. It’s one of the beautiful childhood literary experiences that introduced me to my enduring love of historical fiction — and not incidentally, to my love of history. Because of Johnny Tremain,  the events of the Revolutionary War became real to me on a personal level. This is the book that first breathed life into history for me, and made it something real and amazing that was pertinent to my daily world. This is the book which first helped me realize that while actual time travel isn’t possible, I can still witness and experience history through the pages of a book.

Johnny Tremain also introduced me to concepts and language that were new and strange to a 10 year old girl in 1990, such as “apprenticeship” and “sweetmeats.” As a child being raised in a strictly religious household that eschewed cursing, I was also inspired and intrigued by Johnny’s colorful solution to his own household’s ban on swearing.

I read it so often as a kid that my copy of it — which was the edition pictured above, a paperback version with an actual paper-style cover — fell apart due to the frequent readings. I taped it together, but by the time I was 17, all the tape in the world couldn’t save it’s life. I did buy a new copy, which I read often enough even as an adult that the spine was starting to show abuse and the pages were worn soft by the time my dog chewed it up.

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Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage

Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open MarriageOpen: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage by Jenny Block

♥ ♥ – – –

When I first read this, in 2009, my husband and I were playing with the idea of an open marriage. We had some friends in an open marriage, and they would often tell us how great it was and how well they thought the relationship model would work for us. I began looking around, doing some reading and online research on this relationship model, and this was one of the books I found. My original 2009 review read:

“I found it to be a very interesting look at the dynamics and communications that are present in open relationships and polyamorous marriages. It’s also an interesting deconstruction of several social preconceptions of jealousy, monogamy, true love and what marriage and the nuclear family really mean.

Block cites her resources well. She covers various issues, including shades of sexuality, the influence of cultural and social history on marriage and romantic expectations, and what it means to live an alternative lifestyle in an essentially conservative society.

I highly recommend this book to anyone, whether they are considering an alternative lifestyle or whether they’re simply feeling a little lost and unfulfilled by their relationship, as though happily-ever-after wasn’t what they’d been led to expect. It is a fantastic read.”

Since then, my stance has changed a little bit. First, to be completely honest, my husband and I did try polyamory. We found it didn’t work for us personally — that the amount of work and communication required to maintain multiple relationships did not even come close to justifying the supposed benefits. If anything, the stress of polyamory actually reduced the emotional connection and fulfillment we experienced in any given relationship.

After our experience, I revisited this book and several other pro-poly books. I still find them interesting, and many offer useful and valid tools for improving communication in relationships. That said, such books almost always share three specific drawbacks.

  1. They almost uniformly cite the evolutionary theory of polyamory; that is, that polyamory is the natural state of human beings and monogamy is an unnatural culturally enforced value.
  2. They come off sort of evangelical — polyamory is the happy ending, the come-to-Jesus/ this is the Secret/ moment of rebirth.
  3. They decry all forms of jealousy in a relationship a negative and unnecessary emotion, and often offer anecdotes about their own experiences overcoming harmful jealousy — yet such books and websites offer in terms of support, resources, or solutions for someone trying to deal with jealousy.

As far as the evolutionary claim goes, I disdain arguments that rest on that basis. It is also evolutionarily natural to rape; that does make it desirable or moral. We are human beings and can arise above our evolutionary instincts. Additionally, as human beings we are still evolving. Evolution was not a linear progression that began with amoeba and ended at homosapien; it is an ongoing reaction to our environment. Recent research has shown indications that monogamy has become a preferred/ selected evolutionary trait — so even if one were to accede to the premise that an evolutionary urge is a valid basis for determining relationship models, the claim that we have evolved to prefer polyamorous relationships still doesn’t hold water.

I also dislike the evolutionary argument because it seems to assume everyone has it in them to be polyamorous, but has been brainwashed into acting against their innate preferences. I think this plays into the second point, of polyamory being “the happy ending,” and the sometimes missionary-esque sense of pressure one can experience when they come in contact with the community.

As far as the jealousy issue goes, I do agree that jealousy is unhealthy and damaging to relationships. That said, in this community that was so anti-jealousy, I was surprised and dismayed to find so little engagement of how to deal with the emotion itself! I had often felt silenced and frustrated during our marriage experiment with poly, as any negative emotions or attempts at discussing respectful boundaries were often met with accusations of jealousy, which effectively shut down further communication. In the books, I found surprisingly little on how to deal with this method of invalidating communication.

Long story short, my review is not quite as rave as it was in 2009. It’s an interesting book, but take it with a grain of salt.

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Lips Touch: Three Times

Lips Touch: Three TimesLips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

First off: Illustrations. Beautiful. Marvelous. Incredible. They’re two-tone, and they are just lovely. There’s about 5 or 6 pages of illustrations prefacing each of the three short stories, and the illustrations all tell a sort of short story in themselves.

For instance, the first short story is based on the poem “The Goblin Market,” by Christina Rossetti. While Taylor references this background in the story proper and even outlines it a little, she just outlines it as needed for the backstory. What’s beautiful is that the prefacing illustrations tell the story of the poem in and of themselves, without words but with all the emotion. It’s beautiful.

Each story is similarly two-layered, a feast both visually and literally. It’s a great book and I fully recommend it to anyone.

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The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

No matter what genre you prefer, try out a Gaiman book. I swear, he crosses all boundaries with his writing.

He’s magical, lyrical, beautiful. He’s the modern version of Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie or Rudyard Kipling — possessed of the same otherwordly, all-engrossing qualities of literary talent. To say his works transport you to another world isn’t quite adequate — they take you to that place between sleep and awake, the fever-dream you can never quite describe.

This particular book, despite the grim-sounding title and macabre-seeming premise is simply another great example of Gaiman’s inimitable talent. It seems to be inspired by The Jungle Book, in that the protagonist (Nobody Owens) is raised away from normal society by non-humans. In this case, though, the non-humans are not animals, but ghosts and vampires. Just as Mowgli is taught important life skills and lessons in The Jungle Book by his animal caretakers, so Nobody learns unexpectedly useful lessons from his otherwordly adoptive family.

Gaiman, as usual, revels in the use of wordplay and double meanings; dropping subtle hints throughout the well-placed plot that culminate in a satisfying ah-ha! moment at the end. The artwork gorgeous, and don’t imagine that because it’s illustrated it’s a children’s book — the reading level is young adult, not new/ beginning reader. The combination of the pen-and-ink drawings and the advanced reading level give a wonderfully nostalgic feeling for a time when books were entertainment for all, and most books had illustrations regardless of the targeted age of the reader.

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LolitaLolita by Vladimir Nabokov

♥ ♥ – – –

I always feel bad when I review a classic with a “meh” attitude, like I’m that idiot kid in class who just doesn’t “get it”; the one who’s always missing the bigger picture to focus on stupid, unnecessary incidentals.

See, this is a gorgeous book as far as the writing goes. It’s incredible, vivid and lyrical. He writes the scenes the way memories feel, not the way reality is. They’re dreamy and off-center, leaving you with a funny taste in your mouth and a slightly upset stomach. But it’s brilliantly done, and beautiful in the way that an oil spill shimmers in a rain puddle. It’s just so wrong, but written so right.

The plot itself, the whole warped pedophiliac relationship — well it’s odd, and when you think you’ve got a grasp on things, you haven’t. It’s weird and disturbing and it definitely causes a reaction. The writing is so well done that there are moments where even though Humbert is entirely pathetic and unlikeable, you almost feel like he’s this sorry little scrap of a man who was taken advantage of by Lolita’s manipulative cunning . . . and then you’re like, wait. This is a prepubescent girl and a grown man here. I understand why this book is such a cultural phenomenon, and why it has sparked so many discussions on every level of discourse — I’m just not sure if this is in any way a good thing, culturally speaking. His writing is gorgeous and layered . . . but his approach to the plot is so completely repellent and disturbing that I don’t particularly want to read anything he’s written ever again.

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Single White Vampire Seeks Same

Single White Vampire Seeks SameSingle White Vampire Seeks Same by Martin H. Greenberg

♥ ♥ ♥ – –

It’s cute. It’s a series of short stories by various authors, each story built on the premise of a personal ad placed (or answered) by a supernatural being. There were only a few stories I didn’t like, with “Someone to Share the Night,” and “Deja Vu,” being the two that left me with the most negative impression.

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House Rules

House RulesHouse Rules by Rachel Sontag

♥ ♥ – – –

It was . . . interesting. I wavered between feeling disgusted at the belittling actions of her father and repelled at how ungrateful the daughter was for the opportunity to travel to exotic places and have a full-ride education. Then again, I’ve been in situations where otherwise fantastic opportunities and experiences have been soured by an accompanying unhappy, cruel, and vicious personality.

The psychological aspect of it is intriguing — her accounting of how her father shaped her personality and how she continues to mimic him to this day. It’s interesting to see her pick herself apart, look at the different pieces of herself and put them back together in a light that she can reconcile with her idea of a decent person, whereas she cannot or will not do the same for her father. That’s probably because he effects her more than she’s willing to admit by the end of the book — she claims that she can forge a relationship that works with her mother, though she’s angrier at her mother, but she completely shuts out her father and makes no attempt to communicate or reconcile with him. It’s an interesting question of psychology and how we can see and be repelled by the worst parts of ourselves in others.

The biggest complaint I had with the book was the writing style — it jarred from the get-go. She recounted conversations with her family members from decades in her past with the clarity of moments ago. She made no allowances in her writing, no admission that she may be misremembering or representing the conversation incorrectly. No disclaimer such as, “This may not be what was exactly said, but this is my memory of the events and the impression it left upon me.” Nor did she at any time say that she’d interviewed others in her family and presented their points of view to present the most unbiased account she could.

Because it’s so detailed and so obviously bent toward demonizing her father, it loses credibility. I’m tempted to think of it as the rant of a rich girl meeting “A Million Little Pieces” syndrome.

If you’re reading it for the story, don’t. If you’re reading it because it’s mildly interesting to psychoanalyze the different players, and read her versions of analysis, then by all means continue reading.

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