Swaby – Headstrong

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science—and the World by Rachel Swaby

Date read: 09-25 April 2015

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cover image of Headstrong by Swaby

Paperback, xiv, 273 pages

Published 2015 by Broadway Books

Source: Deschutes Public Library (509.2 SWABY RACHEL)

I found this book on one of the new nonfiction shelves (Biography?) at Deschutes Public Library.

[Sorry for the crap review. All of these women deserve better. Life is kicking my ass lately. There it is. I said it. Deal. I’m still trying to. Besides, here’s a review after I said I was done for now.]

The book opens with a four-page introduction, then the 52 profiles (~3-5 pages each), followed by acknowledgments, notes, bibliography and index. The 52 profiles are divided into seven major areas: Medicine, Biology and the Environment, Genetics and Development, Physics, Earth and Stars, Math and Technology, and Invention.

A few of my favorites are as follows:

Medicine

Gerty Radnitz Cori (1896-1957) Biochemistry – Czech

Amazing woman! She and her research partner/husband Carl provided a firm foundation “of the course of the catalytic conversion of glycogen for which they received a Nobel Prize in Medicine.” They did so much more. Much of it truly foundational work.

Elsie Widdowson (1906-2000) Nutrition – British

Therefore when Elsie proposed the idea of extending their analysis to cereals, dairy and miscellaneous items such as drinks, so as to produce a practical set of tables showing the composition of British foods, Robert McCance took no time at all in agreeing and in 1934 The chemical composition of foods was born, with the first edition being published in 1940. This is now in its sixth edition and is regarded as the foremost nutrition publication and is the basis of most nutritional databases around the world.

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910-1994) Biochemistry – British

Nobel Prize in Chemistry for “her determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances.”

Biology and the Environment

Mary Anning (1799-1847) Paleontology – British

I absolutely adored the opening sentence! “Before she was struck by lightning, Mary Anning was a dull child.” It continues, “But after she was lifted from the grisly scene and sponged off (her babysitter and two friends dead and a horse-riding event ruined), the baby had changed” (54). It just gets better from there. I mean, Dickens wrote about her! (18 years after she died. [Or not.])

What a story. Her and her brother discovered “the world’s first ichthyosaur fossil” (55). I’m not going to forget Mary. Class is a bitch! Class and gender …

In 1811, she saw some bones sticking out of a cliff; and, hammer in hand, she traced the position of the whole creature, and then hired men to dig out for her the lias block in which it was embedded. Thus was brought to light the first Ichthyosaurus (fish-lizard), a monster some thirty feet long, with jaws nearly a fathom in length, and huge saucer eyes, some of which have been found so perfect, that the petrified lenses (the sclerotica, of which it had thirteen coats) have been split off and used as magnifiers. People then called it a crocodile. Mr. Henley, the lord of the manor, bought it of the enterprising young girl for twenty three pounds. It is now in the British Museum.” She was 12 years old FFS!

Ellen Swallow Richards (1842-1911) Chemistry – American

So many important contributions! 1st woman admitted to MIT. Her biography at MIT Archives.

Genetics and Development

Nettie Stevens (1861-1912) Genetics – American

The real discoverer of sex determination. Died “of breast cancer eleven years after her career began” (85). Wikipedia entry. Article at Nature.

Earth and Stars

Maria Mitchell (1818-1889) Astronomy – American

“Maria Mitchell worked as a librarian by day, but it was her other office—a makeshift observatory on the roof of her parents’ home in Nantucket, Massachusetts—that was her favorite workspace,” is how this entry begins (155). How can I not like that?

My first thought was, “What kind of librarian?

As a young woman, Mitchell worked briefly as a schoolteacher, then as a librarian at the Nantucket Atheneum, while still continuing her astronomical observations. Her father encouraged her, and through him, Mitchell was fortunate to be able to meet some of the country’s most prominent scientists, though generally as a young woman she was shy and avoided company.

Maria Mitchell, the first female professional astronomer in the United States, became instantly famous in October 1847, when she was the first to discover and chart the orbit of a new comet, which became known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.”

Math and Technology

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) Statistics – British

Stats!

Commentary

Most of these women I had never heard of, but I have heard of a dozen or so and had some idea of why they were famous. But then there’s a woman like Florence Nightingale who many think of as the epitome of nursing and while she quite probably was an exemplary nurse, her statistical work “marked the beginning of evidence-based medicine” (187). She also created the first modern nursing curriculum and many other important contributions.

And I left out many amazing women such as Ada Lovelace, Sally Ride, Rachel Carson and others.

Interesting read with a fair few sources. All of the links I used came from the book.

Going to have to find that Dickens’ piece on Mary Anning. [Citation: Dickens, Charles, “Mary Anning, the Fossil Finder.” All the Year Round, July 22, 1865.] And here it is!

Cruse – Stuck Rubber Baby

Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse. Introduction by Tony Kushner
Date read: 14-15 March 2015
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cover of Stuck RubberBaby by Cruse

Paperback, 216 pages
Published 1995 by Paradox Press
Source: Deschutes Public Library (CRUSE HOWARD)

A gay coming-of-age story (and more) set in the context of the civil rights movement in 1960s Alabama. I quite enjoyed it.

There is very little sex; it is not explicit. It is also balanced between heterosexual, or at least a heterosexual act, and gay sex. It shows sex as fraught and demonstrates a side of sex that is good for young adults to fully realize is wider than just them. And, if you demand a moral lesson (or simply, reality) then, yes, he does make her pregnant the first time. I am here to tell you it happens.

I think this would make an excellent suggestion for any young adult who is ready for it. It does a good job of showing how just going along is full acquiescence to the status quo, without being the slightest bit preachy. The bigotry of the 1960s US South and its various violent manifestations is on prominent display, as is the complexity of the various forms of resistance.

Which means it could be recommended for any adult. Well, it should be.

Excellent read.

This is the 41st book in my GN2015

Bagge – Woman Rebel

Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story, First hardcover ed. by Peter Bagge

Date read:01-02 March 2015

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Image of cover of Bagge's Woman Rebel

Hardback, 72+ pages

Published 2013 by Drawn + Quarterly

Source: Deschutes Public Library (BAGGE PETER)

Margaret Sanger was an American sex educator and nurse. She opened the first birth control clinic and, in effect, began Planned Parenthood. She is a fascinating person, to say the very least.

This title was interesting enough. There is a 2-page intro called, “On Peter Bagge and Margaret Sanger” by Tom Spurgeon (editor of The Comics Reporter), the graphic novel proper in 72 pages, followed by two pages on “Why Sanger?” by Peter Bagge, and 18 pages on “Who’s Who and What’s What,” which is actually the endnotes. Yep. No indication in the text that there was more context, and perhaps photos or other images, in the back. Grr.

Also, the text in the introductory and back matter is tiny. Grrr.

The author does do a good job of telling us where he took artistic license in the back matter. Clearly, other stories—as he points out—can and have been told.

Fast read. Positive but honest portrait of a complex woman. Mostly marked down for not alerting me to extra context and small type.

This is the 39th book in my GN2015

This is the 14th book in my Traditional Chesterfield armchair

Morton – Tortillas: A Cultural History

Morton, Paula E. 2014. Tortillas: a Cultural History. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Date read: 16-31 December 2014

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cover of Paula Morton's Tortillas: a Cultural History

Cover of Paula Morton’s Tortillas: a Cultural History

Paperback, xxiii, 157 p

Published 2014 by University of New Mexico Press.

Overall I enjoyed this book. Throughout it kept me exceedingly hungry for “proper” nixtamilized corn tortillas made completely from hand. Of course, the horrifically gendered work that went into them is a non-starter. The work that went into them—no matter who’s doing it—is a non-starter.

Despite being on an academic press this is definitely a general audience book. There is a notes section in the back with a couple of paragraphs per chapter but not proper notes. There were one or two claims made that I wanted to look into but could find no references to them.

I chose a lot of categories for this post as the author does cover issues of gender, language and word issues, pop culture, technology, and so on.

The book is an easy read but I really wanted more out of it. A bit more scholarly, perhaps, but not enough to throw most people off. The author is a journalist so it has some of that feel. My biggest gripe is the easy nonchalance in which the author reported on wholesale cultural genocide. “Aw, shucks. It happens eventually to everyone [paraphrase].” The sheer bloodiness of European expansion into Central America and Mexico is enough to make us sit up and reconsider our own cultural heritage. At the least. And as European expansion was pretty much bloody everywhere, it simply cannot be “Aw, gee shucks” awayed.

Near the end as she’s wrapping up loose ends (somewhat) and bringing us fully up-to-date, the author provides some statistics. I believe they are completely and utterly incorrect and highlight an utter fail of editing (on everyone’s part):

“In 2002 in Mexico the average daily consumption of corn tortillas per person was 548 pounds. In 2010 the daily consumption was 346 pounds, according to the Mexican National Household Income Expenditure Survey (ENIGH in Spanish)” (124).

Um, No one, I say no single person, is (or was) eating either 346 or 548 pounds of tortillas per day! Not even once on one day. That figure could be the annual total per person perhaps or it could be the weight eaten by all Mexicans in a day but for that it seems way low. Either way, that last cock-up sealed the feeling I’d had about the book all along. I wanted—I expected—more. So I only gave it 3 stars.

Still I learned a fair bit and will be on the lookout for much better tortillas on occasion.

Yoshinaga – Ōoku 1

Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Volume 1, VIZ Signature ed. by Fumi Yoshinaga. Akemi Wegmüller (Translator)

Date read: 7-8 January 2015

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cover of Yoshinaga's Ooku: The Inner Chamber, volume 1

Paperback, 210 pages

First published in Japan 2005 by HAKUSENSHA; English language translation rights arranged. VIZ Media, 2009.

I enjoyed this book but it gets off to a weird start. From the back cover:

“In Edo period Japan, a strange new disease called the Redface Pox has begun to prey on the country’s men. Within eighty years of the first outbreak, the male population has fallen by seventy-five percent Women have taken on all the roles traditionally granted to men, even that of shogun, The men, precious providers of life, are carefully protected. And the most beautiful of the men are sent to serve in the shogun’s Inner Chamber …”

All of that is true, although one must be much more than beautiful to get far in the Inner Chamber. And to get to the top you must be from the noblest of families along with being beautiful and talented. Unless you are Mizuno. But this whole 75% of men are wiped out thing is precipitated because some young boy picked some mushrooms in the forest. Or, perhaps that’s just what some silly country woman believes. Either way it all happens in less than five pages and then is never mentioned again. Just seems weird and bugs me. Maybe I am missing an important cultural reference; no doubt I am, but it would still probably baffle me even if it was explained to me. Oh well, the story is fine despite a, to me, weak setup.

I went ahead and requested the next volume. I see that there are at least 10; not sure I’ll get that far but we’ll see. They may draw me in more. Maybe I should just say I might forget the weird opening because the story is pretty compelling in a, dare I say, exotic way. The gender flip is somewhat interesting and the new shogun is digging into some areas sure to raise serious issues. The inner chamber politics and policies are a definite source of attention, which is a large part of the exoticism. Based on the description of the book I see that the Redface Pox will come back up due to the shogun’s digging into history but I wonder if the “punishment by the forest gods” story will come back up?

This is the 12th book and thus completes the Modern Age challenge that I signed up for in my GN2015

This book also meets the “A book with a one-word title” entry of one of my other 2015 reading challenges.

I also learned it was made into a movie so it also meets the “A book that became a movie” criteria.

Mori – A Bride’s Story, and another reading challenge

Mori, Kaoru. 2011. A Bride’s Story. Translated by William Flanagan. First Yen Press ed. Vol. 1. A Bride’s Story. New York: Yen Press.
9780316180993 0316180998 WordlCat record

Mori_ABS

I heard about this lovely book from Unshelved and added it to Goodreads 20 March 2012. I acquired a copy from my public library and, thankfully, they have rest of the volumes published so far. [According to Wikipedia it is still ongoing.]
The book reads from right to left in the traditional Japanese format. I knew I was supposed to start at “the back” and read “forward” but it took me a couple pages to quickly figure out to read the page right-to-left, top-to-bottom. The story (narration and art) made it fairly evident quickly though.

This is a historic romance from the Silk Road in Turkic Central Asia in the late 19th century. Amir is a 20-year-old bride to a boy eight years her junior, Karluk. Her family is still nomadic in the summer while the husband’s family has settled down in the last couple generations.

I was expecting not to like it due to potential gender issues but it is so far a very liberating and progressive tale. Her young husband’s extended family have really taken a liking to (and appreciation of) her. A show-down is coming with her family soon.

As soon as I was done with it I checked the library and most volumes are available so I requested volumes two and three. It is quite lovely and I look forward to reading more of Amir and Karluk’s adventures and watching as their relationship grows despite its unconventionality.

Highly recommended. 5 of 5 stars.

This is also the 1st book I am posting abut for my 2015 8th Annual Graphic Novel/Manga Challenge. I read another one before this one yesterday but I do not have my post ready yet.

Update: 02 January 2015 Split the new book challenge information into its own post as it always should have been.

A Bride’s Story ticks off 6 of the 50 items in that challenge: female author, set in different country, finish in a day, graphic novel. author never read before, translation. I could possibly justify a 7th with written by someone under 30 but it appears Mori was barely 31 when first volume appeared in Japan. Or she was just 30; Wikipedia is confused. Oh well. There’ll be someone else.

Books read in 2014

So I read a boatload of books in 2014. I gave up on quite a few and a few are on hold to pick back up another time. I am not even going to try to account for those in the last two categories this year. It seems I read and finished 80 books this year.

[Updated 31 December 2014 – see bottom]

As for those finished I was hoping to link to my 2014 Goodreads Challenge shelf but it seems only Goodreads members can see my pages. This goddamned job of listing books has never really gotten any easier or any better. Can I just get a righteous “Fuck me!” here? Zotero and Open Library all have their (major) issues for this task. Open Library so much so that I stopped using it after last year.

Yep. I was correct. It started out as a nightmare but I got it whipped reasonably. After a goodly break away from it.

Here is the list of books I read in 2014 by title, author(s – not complete) and date finished. Almost all are in Goodreads but there are a couple I have not yet entered, as in added the book to the catalog. I am definitely growing disillusioned with Goodreads too. Not directly because of Amazon but they are now in charge of maintenance and updates so it is their boat to float or not. My biggest gripe right now is the damnable conflation of editions. I haven’t quite nailed down exactly what it is doing but I do not like it. It may be new too; I’m not sure.

I divided the list up by broad topics and listed the books in the order finished within a group.

Title, Author(s), Date Finished

Graphic Novels
Raise The Dead Hardcover (Raise the Dead), Leah Moore & John Reppion, 1/1/2014
Atomic Robo and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne (Atomic Robo, #1), Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener, 2/26/2014
Atomic Robo and the Dogs of War (Atomic Robo, #2), Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener, 2/27/2014
Transmetropolitan, Vol. 1: Back on the Street (Transmetropolitan, #1), Warren Ellis, Darick Robertston & Garth Ennis, 3/12/2014
Transmetropolitan, Vol. 2: Lust for Life (Transmetropolitan, #2), Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson, 3/15/2014
Transmetropolitan, Vol. 3: Year of the Bastard, Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson & Rodney Ramos, 3/18/2014
Transmetropolitan, Vol. 4: The New Scum (Transmetropolitan, #4), Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson, Rodney Ramos & Keith Akin, 3/25/2014
Transmetropolitan, Vol. 5: Lonely City (Transmetropolitan, #5), Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson, Rodney Ramos & Patrick Stewart, 3/26/2014
Transmetropolitan, Vol. 6: Gouge Away (Transmetropolitan, #6), Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson & Rodney Ramos, 4/9/2014
Transmetropolitan, Vol. 7: Spider’s Thrash (Transmetropolitan, #7), Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson, Rodney Ramos & Darren Aronofsky, 4/10/2014
Transmetropolitan, Vol. 10: One More Time (Transmetropolitan, #10), Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson& Rodney Ramos, 4/20/2014
Transmetropolitan, Vol. 8: Dirge (Transmetropolitan, #8), Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson & Rodney Ramos, 4/21/2014
Transmetropolitan, Vol. 9: The Cure (Transmetropolitan, #9), Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson & Rodney Ramos, 5/7/2014
Transmetropolitan, Vol. 0: Tales of Human Waste (Transmetropolitan, #0), Warren Ellis, et al., 5/13/2014
Age of Bronze Volume 1: A Thousand Ships, Eric Shanower, 7/17/2014
Planetary, Vol. 2: The Fourth Man, Warren Ellis & John Cassaday, 7/26/2014
Planetary, Vol. 1: All Over the World and Other Stories, Warren Ellis, John Cassaday & Alan Moore, 7/26/2014
Planetary Vol. 4: Spacetime Archaeology, Warren Ellis & John Cassaday, 7/27/2014
Planetary, Vol. 3: Leaving the 20th Century, Warren Ellis & John Cassaday, 7/27/2014
Planetary: Crossing Worlds, Warren Ellis, et al., 7/30/2014
Crossing Midnight, Vol. 1: Cut Here, Mike Carey, et al., 11/10/2014
The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice, Mike Carey & Peter Gross, 11/14/2014
The Unwritten, Vol. 8: Orpheus in the Underworld, Mike Carey, Peter Gross, & Dean Ormston, 11/16/2014
Crossing Midnight, Vol. 2: A Map of Midnight, Mike Carey, et al., 11/18/2014
Crossing Midnight, Vol. 3: The Sword in the Soul, Mike Carey, et al., 11/20/2014

Beer and Brewing
Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer, Maureen Ogle, 1/9/2014
Short Course in Beer: An Introduction to Tasting and Talking about the World’s Most Civilized Beverage, Lynn Hoffman, 2/27/2014
Extreme Brewing: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Brewing Craft Beer at Home, Sam Calagion & Kevin Fleming, 2/18/2014
Vintage Beer: Discover Specialty Beers That Improve with Age, Patrick Dawson, 3/9/2014
A Year in Food and Beer: Recipes and Beer Pairings for Every Season, Emily Baime & Darin Michaels, 3/13/2014
Brewing 2nd ed., Ian S Hornsey, 4/22/2014
Beer: A Quality Perspective, Charles W. Bamforth, et al., 6/25/2014
Dinner in the Beer Garden, Lucy Saunders, 6/27/2014
Beer and Skittles, Richard Boston, 7/4/2014
Beer, Michael James Jackson, 7/17/2014
Beer: The Story Of The Pint: The History Of Britain’s Most Popular Drink, Martyn Cornell, 8/20/2014
The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer – A Rant in Nine Acts, Max Bahnson & Alan McLeod, 8/25/2014 (ebook)
Three Sheets to the Wind: One Man’s Quest for the Meaning of Beer, Pete Brown, 9/15/2014
Evaluating Beer, Publications Brewer, Elizabeth Gold, 9/23/2014
Beer and Brewing (National Conference on Quality Beer and Brewing #8), Virginia Thomas, 10/28/2014
Red, White, and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey, Brian Yaeger, 11/9/2014

Literature / Language
The Best American Poetry 2013, David Lehman, 1/19/2014
Dog Songs, Mary Oliver, John Burgoyne, 1/21/2014
13 Ways of Happily, Emily Carr, 4/23/2014
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote, 4/27/2014
Thomas Sebeok and the Signs of Life, Susan Petrilli, 5/2/2014
These Mountains That Separate Us: An East/West Dialogue Poem, Jack e Lorts, 11/4/2014
The Next American Essay, John D’Agata & Guy Davenport, 11/10/2014
The Romantic Dogs, Roberto Bolaño, Laura Healy, 11/22/2014

Technology and Software
Take Control of 1Password, Joe Kissell, 2/12/2014 (ebook)
Take Control of Scrivener 2, Kirk McElhearn, 10/14/2014 (ebook)
Take Control of Upgrading to Yosemite 1.0 and 1.2, Joe Kissell, 10/30/2014 (ebook)

Erotica / Sex & Gender
Hurts So Good: Unrestrained Erotica, Alison Tyler, 2/26/2014
Mommy’s Little Girl: On Sex, Motherhood, Porn, and Cherry Pie, Susie Bright, 4/7/2014 (ebook)
Sexual Fitness: The Ultimate Guide to Pump While You Hump, Tone While You Bone and Shred in the Bed, D.J. Gugenheim, et al., 6/23/2014
Candy, Terry Southern, Mason Hoffenberg, 6/24/2014
Wetter, Harper Bliss, 7/24/2014 (ebook)

Photography
Richard Renaldi: Touching Strangers, Richard Renaldi, 6/16/2014
Focus on Food Photography for Bloggers (Focus on Series): Focus on the Fundamentals, Matt Armendariz, 6/16/2014
Dancers Among Us: A Celebration of Joy in the Everyday, Jordan Matter, 9/30/2014
Portraits of Time: Ancient Trees from Around the World, Beth Moon, 12/15/2014

YA and Children’s
How the Stars Fell into the Sky: A Navajo Legend, Jerrie Oughton, Lisa Desimini, 3/18/2014
Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors, Hena Khan & Mehrdokht Amini, 3/21/2014
Godless, Pete Hautman, 9/8/2014
Between the Spark and the Burn (Between, #2), April Genevieve Tucholke, 9/21/2014
The Daylight Gate, Jeanette Winterson, 10/24/2014
Collected Children’s Stories, Sylvia Plath, 10/29/2014

Assorted
Atlas of the Pacific Northwest, Philip L. Jackson, 3/3/2014
The Age of Wonder, Richard Holmes, 4/23/2014 (ebook)
The Foods of the Greek Islands: Cooking and Culture at the Crossroads of the Mediterranean, Aglaia Kremezi, 4/27/2014
Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, & Other Typographical Marks, Keith Houston, 10/13/2014
The Body: An Essay, Jenny Boully, 10/19/2014
Copyflow: Typesetting Procedures for Book Composition, George Z. Kunkel, 11/1/2014
A Pocket Philosophical Dictionary, Voltaire, 11/1/2014 (ebook)
How to Think More About Sex, Alain de Botton, 11/2/2014
Really Big Numbers, Richard Evan Schwartz, 11/4/2014
How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, Sarah Bakewell, 11/14/2014 (ebbok / together)
Francis of Assisi and His World (IVP Histories), Mark Galli, 12/2/2014
Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings: Save Money, Save the Earth, Jennifer Thorne Amann, Katie Ackerly & Alex Wilson, 12/16/2014

Currently Reading
Tortillas: A Cultural History, Paula Morton
Take Control of Automating Your Mac, Joe Kissell
Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, Syliva Martinez (ebook)
A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams, Michael Pollan (reading to Sara)
Craft Beer World, Mark Dredge

I don’t expect to finish any of these but something else could possibly be read. No worries, I say. I’m calling it books read this year. Not perfect but very close.

31 December 2014 Update

I did finish a couple more books. Sara brought home a new(er) Warren Ellis, et al. graphic novel, Moon Knight (v. 1): From the Dead with which I wasn’t too impressed. I finished (or as much I am going to) Craft Beer Beer by Dredge. And just this morning I finished Morton on Tortillas. Goodreads now says I have read 81 of 75 books for my 2014 Challenge but again there are at least three that are not in Goodreads.

de Botton – How to Think More About Sex

How Think More About Sex How Think More About SexAlain de Botton; Picador 2013WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

I read de Botton’s How to Think More About Sex on 1-2 November 2014. It was not quite what I expected; I also expected more. Then again, I gave a mixed review to The Architecture of Happiness, which suffers from some of the same issues.

But first, the contents:

I. Introduction

II. The Pleasures of Sex

     1. Eroticism and Loneliness

     2. Can ‘Sexiness’ Be Profound?

     3. Natalie or Scarlett?

III. The Problems of Sex

     1. Love and Sex

     2. Sexual Rejection

     3. Lack of Desire: Infrequency, Impotence, Resentment

     4. Pornography: Censorship, A New Kind of Porn

     5. Adultery: The Pleasures of Adultery, The Stupidity of Adultery

IV. Conclusion

Homework

My comments and excerpts:

de Botton writes in an overly generalized fashion, he considers few alternatives, he is quite probably contradicting himself on a couple occasions, he is often anthropomorphic and reifies to no end, and he seems to have written this book from a healthy, Euro-skinned, heterosexual of reasonably decent (or better) looks perspective. Gays, transexuals, asexuals, whatever do not appear. Do not get mention. Nor do the vast majority of people who are of mediocre appearance at best. Apparently, the only ones who should be thinking more (clearly/intelligently/humanely) about sex are healthy good-looking heterosexuals. Not.

I know this book is short but it leaves so damned much out. And that is perfectly fine and certainly expected. But if you are leaving out that much of the human experience of sex without even mentioning that you have no space for it then you do not deserve to name your book How to Think More About Sex. It really is that simple.

Based on this alone, one probably ought skip this book. But it is short and it has great moments. There are things of import to think about that he brings up. Some of his offerings for ways in and/or out of things are fine and some are bunk. But he is trying to intelligently discuss sex. I appreciate the hell out of that! But this only hits on occasion and it misses by so damned much in its general approach to ignoring much of the world’s population’s individual experiences.

Let’s dive in.

I. Introduction

I really liked this bit in the Intro. The end of that first paragraph is a bit over the top but I can’t argue really with that full one after it. He does a decent but succinct job of showing how messed up our “thinking” is about sex and, thus, why we may need to think/talk/act more intelligently about it.

“…. We [are] bothered by sex because it is a fundamentally disruptive, overwhelming and demented force, strongly at odds with the majority of our ambitions and all but incapable of being discreetly integrated within civilized society.

     Despite our best efforts to clean it of its peculiarities, sex will never be either simple or nice in the ways we might like it to be. It is not fundamentally democratic or kind; it is bound up with cruelty, transgression and the desire for subjugation and humiliation. It refuses to sit neatly on top of love, as it should. Tame it though we may try, sex has a recurring tendency to wreak havoc across our lives: it leads us to destroy our relationships, threatens our productivity and compels us to stay up too late in nightclubs talking to people whom we don’t like but whose exposed midriffs we nevertheless strongly wish to touch. Sex remains in absurd, and perhaps irreconcilable, conflict with some of our highest commitments and values. Unsurprisingly, we have no option but to repress its demands most of the time. We should accept that sex is inherently weird instead of blaming ourselves for not responding in more normal ways to its confusing impulses.” 6-7

II. The Pleasures of Sex

He leaps right in trying to show that sex is messy and great and vengeful and loving and …. He does a good job showing that we truly are less in charge than we think when it comes to sex. This is also a bit thin for someone new to it (I am not) but he’s on the right track. Evolutionary biology can only explain so much (if it does at all) and one has to bring other theories to bear to explain more than mere biological sexual attraction for reproductive purposes. He does. Are they the right ones, or at least highly useful?

     1. Eroticism and Loneliness

          “It could sound disgusting — and that’s the point. Nothing is erotic that isn’t also, with the wrong person, revolting, which is precisely what makes erotic moments so intense: at the precise juncture where disgust could be at its height, we find only welcome and permission. The privileged nature of the union between two people is sealed by an act that, with someone else, would have horrified them both.” 22

          “Sex temporarily liberates us from the punishment dichotomy, well known to every one of us since childhood, between dirty and clean. Lovemaking purifies us by engaging the most apparently polluted sides of ourselves in its procedures and thereby anointing them as newly worthy.” 37

On fetishes:

          “In a clinical sense, a fetish is defined as an ingredient, typically quite unusual in nature, which needs to be present in order for someone to achieve orgasm.” 38

          “In this wider sense, fetishes are simply details — most often related either to a type of clothing or to a part of another’s body — which evoke for us desirable sides of human nature. The precise origins of our enthusiasms may be obscure, but they can almost always be traced back to some meaningful aspect of our childhood: we will be drawn to specific things either because they recall appealing qualities of a beloved parental figure or else, conversely, because they somehow cancel out, or otherwise help us to escape, a memory of early humiliation or terror.

          The task of understanding our own preferences in this regard should be recognized as an integral part of any project of self-knowledge or biography. What Freud said of dreams can likewise be said of sexual fetishes: they are a royal road into the unconscious.” 39

Tying our fetishes to issues of values and the good life which he’ll bring out later:

          “The pleasure we derive from sex is also bound up with our recognizing, and giving a distinctive seal of approval to, those ingredients of a good life whose presence we have detected in another person. The more closely we analyze what we consider ‘sexy’, the more clearly we will understand that eroticism is the feeling of excitement we experience at finding another human who shares our values and our sense of the meaning of existence.” 44

     2. Can ‘Sexiness’ Be Profound?

          “A consensus emerges about which sorts of faces we find most appealing. From these studies [cross-cultural], evolutionary biologists have concluded that a ‘sexy’ person of either gender, far from being an unclassifiable abstraction, is in essence someone whose face is symmetrical (that is, the right and left sides match precisely) and whose features are balanced, proportionate and undistorted.” 81

          “The discipline [evol biol] absolves physical attraction of the charge of being purely superficial. While conceding that we judge people by their appearance, it holds that appearances themselves are anything but trivial and indeed point towards some rather profound qualities.” 84

     3. Natalie or Scarlett?

          “Evolutionary biology confidently predicts that we will be drawn to people on the basis of their evident health, but it has not put forward any truly convincing theories about why we should prefer one specific healthy person over another.” 63

But what about people who clearly are not “healthy” who find love and are attracted sexually to others?

          Wilhelm Worringer’s theory on art appreciation; essay, “Abstraction and Empathy,” 1907 64-8

          Worringer’s theory applied to sexual attraction 69-72

          “We then declare people ‘sexy’ when we see in them evidence of compensatory qualities, and are repelled by those who seem prone to drive us further into our extremities.” 70

          “We need both art and sex to make us whole, so it is not surprising if the mechanisms of compensation should be similar in each case. The specifics of what we find ‘beautiful’ and what we find ‘sexy’ are indications of what we most deeply crave in order to rebalance ourselves.” 72

III. The Problems of Sex

This section attempts to offer possible remedies, or at least ways in, to mitigate some of the many problems with sex. Of course, only a few are covered in the short space allowed. I am not sure how effectively he deals with some of them either.

     1. Love and Sex

          “It’s time for the need for sex and the need for love to be granted equal standing, without an added moral gloss. Both may be independently felt and are of comparable value and validity. Both shouldn’t require us to lie in order to claim them.” 79

Amen! The data on this–and he does provide some; there is much more–show what a damaging idea modern love (and marriage) truly is. Maybe someday perhaps the two can be pulled apart in a more sane and sensible way but I have my doubts.

     2. Sexual Rejection

          “We don’t have to take sexual rejection as a sure indication that another person has looked into our soul and registered disgust at every aspect of our being. The reality is usually much simpler and less shattering than that: for whatever reason, this particular individual just can’t get turned on by our body. We can take comfort in the knowledge that such a verdict is automatic, preconscious and immutable. The one doing the rejecting isn’t being intentionally nasty; he or she has no choice.” 82

If we could already use reason in regards to love and sex then this probably would be less of an issue than it is. Realigning our views on the issue, as he suggests, would be useful but quite unlikely to be of use to more than a handful of people, statistically speaking.

     3. Lack of Desire:

          i. Infrequency

               “The solution to long-term sexual stagnation is to learn to see our lover as if we had never laid eyes on him or her before.” 97

               “While going about their quite different types of business, the lover and the artist nonetheless come up against a similar human foible: the universal tendency to become easily habituated and bored, and to decide that whatever is known is unworthy of interest. We are prone to long for novelty, kitschy romanticism, drama and glamour.” 99

               “We should try to locate the good and the beautiful beneath the layers of habit and routine.” 102

          ii. Impotence

     Argues that this is a “symptom of respect.” Not buying that for a second, except in some percentage (I’m going with small) of all cases. And the reason why is all the bullshit he says about men in these paragraphs. Again, overly generalized beyond all possible acceptance. Gamergate and #teamharpy, along with way too many other things today show us that most men have not “evolved” as de Botton seems to think.

          iii. Resentment

               “By overwhelming consensus, our culture locates the primary difficulty of relationships in finding the ‘right’ person rather than in knowing how to love a real — that is, a necessarily rather unright — human being.” 121

Yes. This bit is quite valuable. Again, shows the utter destruction caused by the currently prevailing (by those in power) views of love and marriage in Western society.

     4. Pornography:

          i. Censorship

I. Just. He seems to accept, and argues, that pornography is extremely dangerous to society and that some form of censorship is necessary. He is writing in particular about the Internet. Yes, indeed, let’s let nanny-state governments censor the Internet so we can get back to work. Jackass! There are so many intermediate steps.

I should explain that my vehemence here is he because he made no real argument for pornography being an immense destructive force; just assumed via anecdata.

          ii. A New Kind of Porn

I. Just. Don’t. But now he wants a new kind of porn. “Virtue porn.”

“Yet is is possible to conceive of a version of pornography that wouldn’t force us to make such a stark choice between sex and virtue — a pornography in which sexual desire would be invited to support, rather than permitted to undermine, our higher values.” 139

OK. This might work for a few folks; he should go back and re-read his discussion of fetishes though, as a first caution. And some of his examples later on make some sense; again, for a few folks. But his discussion. Oy! His example to lead us into pornography that might support our virtues is Sandro Bottticelli’s The Madonna of the Book, c.1483.

Seems to be contradicting himself in these two sections also. Porn must be censored. Oh, look, a new kind of “virtue porn.” Make a choice or choose a middle ground, sir.

     5. Adultery:

          i. The Pleasures of Adultery

               “However, the real fault in the situation lies in the ethos of modern marriage, with its insane ambitions and its insistence that one person can plausibly hope to embody the eternal sexual and emotional solution to another’s every need.

               Taking a step back, what distinguishes modern marriage from its historical precedents is its fundamental tenet that all our desire for love, sex and family ought to reside in the selfsame person. No other society has been so stringent or so hopeful about the institution of marriage, nor ultimately, as a consequence, so disappointed in it.

               In the past, these very distinct needs — for love, sex and family — were wisely differentiated and separated out from one another.” 152

          ii. The Stupidity of Adultery

This section brought out how also very middle-class and above focused it is.

IV. Conclusion

     “When every contemptuous but fair thing has been said about our infernal sexual desires, we can still celebrate them for not allowing us to forget for more than a few days at a time what is really involved in living an embodied, chemical and largely insane human life.” 175-6

I can certainly agree with this view, but while he did a decent job arguing this, if it was what he truly meant to argue then I suppose it would have been a somewhat different book. Or perhaps not.

Homework

This is the sources section.

Conditionally recommended is what I am going to say. That is, if you want to think more about sex. Then again, if you want to think more about sex then I would recommend this book [any edition would be fine], even if the focus of each is not the same.

Administrivia:

I had to create a record at Open Library so I could use John Miedema’s OpenBook plugin. I had hoped I was done with adding so many records there but is good to be writing again. And it is a nice record.

DigiWriMo 2014

I have committed to participating in Digital Writing Month 2014, more commonly known as DigiWriMo, this November. I did it its first year in 2012 and made my goal of 50,000 digital words. Most people who know November as a writing month know it as National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo. There is also Academic Writing Month, AcWriMo. Wikipedia says there’s an Academic Book Writing Month, AcBoWriMo but that’s a new one on me. Well, on Twitter there is no #AcBoWriMo but there is plenty of #AcWriMo.

I have been driven to write lately—perhaps driven by the mysterious and as yet undiagnosed illness; which is neither here nor there. I have so many ideas and there are tons of old ideas not finished, or ever even fleshed out, to work with.

Preparation has involved recording these ideas as they occur and corralling old recorded ones too, prepping my Scrivener project file (my writing tool), and spending more time learning to use it well.

This year my goal is ≥ 1k words/day, with a total of ≥ 25k words/November. Yes. I am aware of the missing 5 days. I am trying to be gracious with myself. [If this illness can possibly help teach me that idea then, OK, I’ll take the rest. I’m not counting on this being an actual lesson, though.]

I do not know how much I will do with the, thankfully, re-expanded DigiWriMo folks’ official efforts but I will be “playing along at home” at a minimum. I certainly hope and plan to interact a fair bit. I just have to manage my stress triggers and adding a #digiwrimo twitter search window to my already overflowing two twitter accounts for a month ….

I also recently acquired a new phone making the leap from an iPhone 4S to a 6. I had been eligible for an upgrade for well over a year and $200 was the most they were ever going to give me anymore for my 4S. Or that anyone was going to give me. For a lot of hoops and a delay of several weeks, I got to pay roughly $100 and a $35 activation fee to move from a 16GB 4S to a 64GB 6. I took that deal.

It was particularly tempting as I use both TextExpander and 1Password on my computer. They have also both been on my phone but were basically useless. Finally iOS 8 allows them both to be useful. [Sadly, I will not be putting iOS 8 on my iPad 2. It is struggling already.]

The point of all this is that having those 2 programs actually doing good work on my phone may let me use it to do just a couple more tasks than I would’ve before. Also, the bigger screen isn’t to laugh at with my old eyes. They will also allow me to more productively write digitally even though what I “write” on my phone will still be pretty damned minimal.

Some of what I write will be public, much as now although even more will be. Much will be kept private. I really want to start doing a better job of journaling, in a couple senses of ‘journal.’ I hope DigiWriMo will spur me to do so, or at least take advantage of the illness’ urging me to do so. I hope to get a few more blog posts up here and definitely more written on By the barrel.

Poetry, 2015 goal planning, book reviews, tweeting, and all sorts of other writing endeavors are on the docket. Some of the topics I hope to address, whether public or not, include Facebook, gender labels (as language), gender on labels (as in depiction of on beer labels), sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, body image, altered consciousness, and many others. We will see what happens.

If any of you are participating in some kind of writing month in November let me know if you would like some support and hopefully we can find a mutual venue.

Hysteria (movie)

[This, too, is a late DigiWriMo post.]

Thankfully, later after watching The Tree of Life we watched Hysteria, which we have also been wanting to see after seeing the previews a couple years ago. It by no stretch came to conservative Sioux City so we missed it in the theater. We couldn’t even find it in Omaha, although we could be wrong on that count but we had looked repeatedly while it was in theaters. Ninety miles one way is a long way to go for a film but we would have.

After we watched it I tweeted,

Cleansed my movie palate with Hysteria, based on this most excellent book by Rachel Maines http://marklindner.info/blog/2011/02/02/maines-the-technology-of-orgasm/ [tweet]

The next morning, Karen Coyle tweeted to me:

@mrlindner One of my favorite books. See: bit.ly/UYGA8X [tweet]

Check out her review at that link. It is much better than mine.

We saw the preview for the movie in the cinema shortly after I read Maines’ excellent book and I knew that it was (somewhat) based on Maines’ book immediately. It looked hilarious and as The Technology of Orgasm is one of my favorite books of all time—which I had discussed a fair bit with Sara as I read it—we really wanted to see it. It did not come to Sioux City or environs and time went by. We moved and even more time went by. Sara got it from the public library finally and we watched it last night. The movie was as good as we hoped and we are in the process of watching the documentary (actually excerpts from Passion and Power: The Technology of Orgasm) that comes as an extra feature on the DVD. It is also pretty good and features a lot of Rachel Maines, along with a couple of others, so I am happy to be able to hear her talk about her research also.

The Technology of Orgasm The Technology of Orgasm: “Hysteria,” the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual SatisfactionRachel P. Maines; The Johns Hopkins University Press 1998WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder  
Katherine Young (Ph.D. and author of Presence in the Flesh: The Body in Medicine) puts forth the idea that the Copernican Revolution was revolutionary in another way than is typically thought. She had been outlining some long time ideas on human sexuality in that males were thought to be of the elements of fire and air, thus hot and light, and that women were of earth and water, and thus heavy, cold and wet. When the Copernican Revolution replaced the Earth (female) as the center of the solar system/universe with the sun (male) then female sexuality as a topic disappeared from discourse.

It is an extremely interesting idea but I would really like to see some good supporting evidence. If anyone knows of any books or articles that address this idea I would be most grateful. My initial skepticism leans toward the shift having started well before and that the displacement of the Earth from the center was perhaps the final straw. And even if the idea as presented is true, then I imagine it is hingeing on a highly condensed version of reality, in that the Copernican Revolution involved an awful lot of historical, political, societal and religious changes that were highly intertwined and influencing each other in multiple ways. Symbolically this idea is highly interesting, but I imagine the reality of the shift away from a supposedly fairly prevalent knowledge of female sexuality and needs to one that pretty much discounted female sexuality would have to be far more complex than a shift in symbols.

I would love to have my skepticism discounted though so please do pass along any sources you may be aware of that address this issue. [I went back and re-watched that section and got her name and the name of the book she wrote, Presence in the Flesh: The Body in Medicine, which Sara has requested for me.] So, if you are aware of any other sources that address this intriguing topic please do pass them along.

Synopis:

Hysteria: Good romantic comedy based on an excellent and important book.

Follow-up: Tonight (3 December) we watched the full documentary, Passion and Power: The Technology of Orgasm, which we got through ILL. It was good but it was only 74 minutes vs. the 47 minutes of excerpts on the DVD of Hysteria as an extra. The additional material was interesting but probably not worth going out of one’s way to acquire. You can find more information about it here.

Young’s book has also arrived by this point in time and I look forward to having a go at it, but I am highly disappointed to say that neither Copernicus nor Copernican Revolution are anywhere to be found in the index. I want to know more about this symbological interpretation but am remaining highly skeptical as to its actual explanatory depth.