Posts Tagged With: human-rights

Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account

Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness AccountAuschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account by Miklós Nyiszli

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The writing style is very bare-bones, pared down, and concise. Nyiszli, a Jewish doctor forced to “practice” his craft at Auschwitz, recounts his experiences in a detached, almost emotionless-seeming way. This approach serves to highlight the atrocities and horror of the concentration camps by dint of the very factual, almost scientific approach. In a weird way, his detachment keeps the reader so off-guard that each fresh nightmare is an unexpected development; even for those familiar with the history.  I really think this is something anyone with a passing interest in history or war should read.

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Categories: Biographies & Memoirs, History (non-fiction), Reviews | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage

Marriage, a HistoryMarriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This book. This book is so freaking brilliant. Every once in a while you come across that treasure of treasures: The readable, well-researched, topical historical book. Something that is written so engagingly and interestingly, you read it like a novel, unable to put it down. Something that is so well researched that almost every sentence has a reference, and something that is so relevant that you keep thinking, “Oh, so that’s why society as a whole thinks this or does that or acts this way.”  It’s a really fantastic and very accessible read.

Basically, marriage used to be more of a social contract, even for the peasants and such. It was about improving the family situation and adding to the community. This was generally true no matter which social level you were at, the material goods involved just changed as you moved up the scale. A peasant might hope for a spouse with livestock or land and strong work ethic, as well as a family tendency to have lots of healthy children; a landowner might hope for a spouse with adjacent land or merchant-style talents; a noble would hope for a spouse who can increase their social standing; a monarch would seek a spouse who could provide a useful alliance to their country and strengthen their hold on throne. No matter which social strata, the driving factor behind determining a marriage was the effect said marriage would have on your community and family — the hope was for a marriage with affection or at least a tolerable kindness, but it was not a primary decider in whom the spouse would be.

The Catholic church/ papacy became involved in the political aspect of highborn weddings as early as 481, with Clovis and Clothild, so fairly early on in their history.

At various points throughout history, the Catholic church has even argued that marriage is not desirable, because of sex and the potential for putting one’s spouse/ worldly situation above the cares of god. If one could not control their bodily lusts, marriage was better than nothing, but the really preferable thing would be to eschew all worldly concerns and go celibate. It was around the industrial revolution and the shift away from agrarian communities that we also began to shift toward the idea of the “love match,” which led to all sorts of interesting social ramifications (such as the idea of ending your marriage because you “weren’t happy” anymore).

Read the book, it’s awesome. Marriage used to be more about the social contract and impact on the communities; the Catholic Church got involved initially in the political/ highborn marriages and a few centuries later began getting concerned about recording/ policing all marriages; the industrial revolution started the shift away from agrarian communities and families and increased the focus on individuals which indirectly led to the growth of the marriage for love idea. It’s a fascinating history. Coontz’s writing and research is seriously brilliant. This should be required reading. I loved it. Mind. Blown.

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Categories: History (non-fiction), Reviews, Social & Applied Sciences, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ –

I read this when I was a teenager, and it’s one of those books that has always stuck with me. The vivid imagery of a society so addicted to surface pleasure and immediate gratification that they had willingly surrendered the ability to read or even own books . . . it was such a terrifying idea that I couldn’t help but be fascinated by it; the same way you might be fascinated yet repelled by a massive wolf spider that has made it’s way into your bathroom.

Bradbury’s writing is straightforward yet poetic, and I prefer this book over other futuristic dystopian fiction of the same time period because it ends on a hopeful note. I remember that when I finished the book, I felt eager and invigorated, ready to act and change the world for the better. In contrast, when I finished 1984 and Brave New World, I felt drained, exhausted, and hopeless, like it wasn’t even worth trying to prevent the posited futures because we could only fail.

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The State of Jones

The State of JonesThe State of Jones by Sally Jenkins

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This amazing history book reads like a novel. I was fascinated at every turn: The description of the siege at Vicksburg, the utter decimation visited on the South as wartime policy, and the heartrending aftermath of the war. I’d been aware that blacks had been granted the vote in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War; I had never fully understood why the federal government allowed Jim Crow laws and the essential reversal of all the North fought for.

This beautifully written tome explains a great deal of how deep and all-encompassing not only Southern pride, but Southern racism really was. Is? It didn’t touch on current politics, seeming to assume that in the decades since the Civil Rights Act, the teeming morass of racism, classism and political division has been largely tamped — or perhaps assuming it best not to touch on current issues.

I finished this book shocked and horrified at all the atrocities committed during the Civil War and the following decades. During the first part of the book, Newton Knight and his band of Unionists reminded me so much of Robin Hood that I was actually disappointed when Confederate generals succeeded in hanging or shooting men from Jones County. Disappointed not just for the pointless deaths, but that Knight hadn’t ridden down like an avenging angel and stopped the Confederate troops after they caught his men.

Ridiculous, I know, but seriously. Read about Knight defying Confederate-installed sheriffs, robbing from rich plantation owners to feed the poor whites and emancipated slaves, and living in the Mississippi swamps throughout the war and try not to make the Robin Hood parallel.

It’s a boldly written, beautifully pieced-together book. It’s rife with heroism, love, and betrayal — all on both a grand and a personal scale. This is probably the most evocative, intriguing look at the Civil War South I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

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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

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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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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

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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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1984

19841984 by George Orwell

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I’ve heard a lot about 1984 and Brave New World (by Aldous Huxley), and decided to read them.

1984 was well-written. The plot, the characterizations, everything was well-constructed. In fact, it was so well constructed and written that it’s final achievement, a pervading hopelessness and a sort of apathy-induced terror linger long after the final page is finished. It is, without a doubt, one of the most depressing books I have ever read.

I gave it 4 stars because it is well-written and beautifully executed. I would give it 5 stars, if it weren’t for the fact that it is such a depressing piece of literature, leaving one with a sort of desperate futility toward the outcome of power, politics, and the possible future imagined therein.

If you enjoy social commentary in your fiction and relish books that predict chilling futures while featuring unnerving parallels to reality as we know it, then this is the book for you. If, however, you prefer your fiction to be an escape and a pleasure, not a moral or political lesson, then avoid this book at all costs.

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Categories: Literary Fiction, Reviews, Science Fiction | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Brave New World

Brave New World Revisited Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

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This is apparently one of the classics of modern literature, and came very highly recommended.

My personal reaction to it was that the premise was interesting, but the characterization left something to be desired. It isn’t until about the third or fourth chapter that the character most identifiable is introduced, and even then, he’s not concentrated on until much later in the book. The second chapter introduces the other character who’s somewhat fleshed out, but I found him lacking in interest and somewhat repulsive in character.

While the basic plot was intriguing and, considering the time it was written, a fascinating view of the future — the book was a bit of a slog due to the fact that Huxley didn’t write characters I could care about on a personal level. It was a very draining and demoralizing read overall, and I kind of felt like they were so utterly unlikeable that they almost deserved their situation, and then I felt embarrassed and petty for wishing that level of misfortune on someone for being  unlikeable.

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