Friday, March 25, 2011

Bitch Bundle

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, Illustrated by Henry Cole. 2005.
The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein, Illustrated by Henry Cole. 2002.
Chick-Lit: Postfeminist Fiction Edited by Chris Mazza and Jeffrey DeShell. 2000.
Weight: 2 lbs
Method of Disposal: Donating to Bitch Media Community Lending Library

I just finished reading Chick-Lit, a book I bought at the 2006 Writer’s Festival at Agnes Scott College. I bought it, on-sale, on the last day of the festival. I wanted to read a collection of women writers and this seemed like an obvious place to start. I was also uncomfortable with the use of “postfeminist” and felt that I should read it to try to see how it fit. Then my much admired creative writing professor walked by and said I should get it, without knowing any of my thoughts. That finished any inner-debate I had. I handed over the cash and took the book home, along with a large stack of others. I read through most of them, but this one got lost in the moves and was not opened again until last week.

The title is intended as a joke, a mockery. According to the author, this is the first time “chick-lit” is used in print, but it is now considered to be a subset of writing that is often printed, read, and discussed. This chik-lit is notorious for being shallow. Or, as it is described on Wikipedia, “Chick lit is genre fiction which addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly.” This book is nothing like that. It is a collection of women’s experimental short fiction.

I, personally, love experimental fiction. I know it can be frustrating in the wrong hands, but it is intriguing just the same. I found myself with so many mixed emotions when reading this collection, depending on the author I was reading. During several stories, I debated whether or not I could let this book go and then in many others I wanted to throw it across the room and into the recycling bin. Incest, sex, and assault became so common that they became boring in the context of some of the stories. Those topics should really never feel boring, in my opinion.
I guess I would light to highlight some of the stories. Jan Nystrom’s “The Young Lady Who Fell From a Star” offered yet another story to surround The Wizard of Oz. It was fun to read, and it read like it was fun to write. I was tempted to try something similar just for my personal pleasure. I have been the person in Kim Addonizo’s “Reading.” I appreciated her shout-outs to the New Yorker and A.M. Homes, both beloved reading to me. I really liked Peggy Shinner’s “Our Bodies Spoke in Tongues,” though sometimes it felt too drawn out. Shinner writes, “Do I say when I say we had sex last night that I was afraid of feeling aroused? That I was afraid of the feelings arousal would arouse? Do I say when I say we had sex last night that I was afraid I’d forgotten how? That I would touch you in the wrong place? The wrong way? That I would do it incorrectly?”

In Lara Anderson Love’s story, “Skittles,” she writes about a woman who needs board games to live her life. She is married to someone who must play games with her all week to prove his love for her and to make all the major decisions of their life together. This was a great idea, and it was the first time in awhile that I had not wanted to toss the book out and was invested in the outcome of the story. I was sneaking around, avoiding people who might interrupt me, and trying to read it.

Now, after that long rant, we are at the obvious question about this bundle. How do the two children books fit? I decided to donate Chick Lit to Bitch and while I was checking to make sure they did not already have it I saw a list of things they wanted. I do not have a lot of DIY books, but I do have a lot of children’s books. I decided to give them two of my prized children’s books because they asked for them.
My brother bought me And Tango Makes Three in 2005, and I thought it was such a loving gesture. I am, obviously, queer-fabulous, and I love penguins. It is about the two male penguins, Roy and Silo, at the Central Park Zoo, who raised their own chick together. Tango was that chick. It was such a great gift, so thoughtful. I never thought I would give it up, and I probably wouldn’t have if I had not seen someone ask for it directly. Someone who would put it in a library and share it with others. It is finding the perfect home.

I bought The Sissy Duckling on one of my many adventures to Charis, the feminist bookstore in Little 5 Points. I love that place. I also loved seeing a book that went beyond having two dads or two moms and started skimming the surface of gender identity. The duck is never proclaimed gay. He is proclaimed a “Sissy.” He is not into stereotypical male behaviors, and he is a disappointment to his dad. He is having a rough time growing up, but then he saves his father’s life and they bond over things the Sissy Duckling enjoys. The dad stands up for his kid in the end, and the kid goes on later in life to meet others like him.

Any who, I will be sending these three books off next week. I hope the people at Bitch Media are excited to get them!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Pelly and Me

The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl
Weight: 2 oz
Method of disposal: leaving somewhere children congregate

This story is one of the least captivating of Dahl’s many wondrous works. It is action-packed with creative and fun-loving animals that have all sorts of unique characteristics and strengths—not to mention appetites. The leading boy, and there is usually a leading boy in Dahl’s children’s stories, is lacking in character development. He has little to offer the Giraffe, the Pelly (Pelican), or the Monkey. He does, however, have a lot to gain. In this case, that means an exciting and vastly stocked candy shop called The Grubber.

It is probably a decent story for a brand new reader (which is who it is made for), but it surely would not captivate an adult audience like many of Dahl’s other books have. The artwork by Quentin Blake is fun, as always.

In the interest of being overly nitpicky (though not all that serious), the moment of violence where Pelly is shot in the mouth is deeply underplayed and after it happens life goes on. It is never acknowledged again. The Pelly has a painless (I presume) bullet hole in his beak that leaks water until it is fixed up like a tire. It might be cringe-worthy or it might be creative.

In the end, I will always love me some Roald Dahl. I think I will leave this particular book somewhere for children to enjoy. It will not have a link to this blog, as some of the others do, lest a child find it who has access to the internet. I am not always child-friendly here, in case you haven’t noticed.

Monday, March 21, 2011

World Poetry Day--2011

W. H. Auden: Selected Poems Selected and edited by Edward Mendelson
Weight: 9.9 oz
Method of Disposal: Donating or leaving somewhere unless you want it

It is World Poetry Day and so I knew I would have to part with one of my few poetry books. I do not read poetry like I use to, but I am still attached to the books I have left. I did not realize how much until I went to find one to give away. I was nowhere near ready to give away Langston Hughes or my No More Masks anthology. I saw a few young adult collections I could have let go easy, but that seemed like cheating. I had to get rid of something good. It is World Poetry Day!

This particular book was purchased for one of my English courses in college. I believe it was Modernist Poetry with Professor Trousdale. We read Yeats, Eliot, Pound, Stein, and many others that are not coming to me right now. Of course, not everything we read fit neatly into “Modernism.” We read around Modernism and within it. It was a great class with a great professor and, while I never really developed the comfort level to talk about poetry, I appreciated every minute of the class. I say developed. Perhaps, I mean that I lost the confidence to do so while in college. I became intimidated way before this class, and I half-turned my back on poetry. Trousdale’s classes always drew me back.

Anyway, as you can tell, I am still not going to discuss Auden with you. Feel free to talk about him to me and, as always, let me know if you want this collection of poetry.

World Poetry Day was first celebrated in 2000.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Outdoor Action Photographers

The Polar Bear Waltz and Other Moments of Epic Silliness: Classic Photographs from OUTSIDE Magazine’s “Parting Shot” Introduction by Hampton Sides
Weight: 15 oz
Method of Disposal: Leaving somewhere

This is a book of fun photographs taken at just the right moment in just the right way. I bought it in 2002, while working at Waldenbooks. There is a plane that appears to be flying into a model dinosaur’s mouth. A cactus with rotting that makes a smiling face. A Dalmatian blends in with a beach landscape and, of course, two polar bears dancing. It’s kind of fun. I think I would enjoy finding it left behind somewhere, so that is what I am going to do. Leave it somewhere.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Whores and Other Feminists

Whores and Other Feminists edited by Jill Nagle
Weight: 12 oz
Method of Disposal: Selling

This book was much better than my last attempt to read about feminism and the sex industry. I started reading this book about 4 years ago, on a plane going to Chicago, and I finally finished it about 4 months ago. The second time I picked it up I could not put it down. I have been very reluctant to get rid of it. There were definitely segments of the book that I found less than impressive and some that really irritated me but, for the most part, I was smitten. I still want so much more, but I recommend that you put this on your reading list, amongst others. There isn’t enough written on the topic by people in the industry, but the genre seems to be growing all the time. Side note: I am still sad you are gone, Spread Magazine.
I will break the book down as quickly as possible. After the preface, introduction, and acknowledgements you are put into the world of the peep show and how it feels for one woman to work within it. Then, you meet a feminist who loves to write pornographic stories. The third piece is Cosi Fabian describing why she is “proud—and happy—to be called ‘whore’” (53). Ann Renee has a short piece about wanting “to fuck the world.” Nina Hartley writes about porn and the adult entertainment industry. She talks to us about her exploration of sex and how important having a good sex life can be. She is an adventurer and a teacher. Annie Sprinkle offers a valuable and short chapter on how to fight of sex worker burn out syndrome.

And then we are on to part 2, and it just gets better. This section gets more into a larger-scale portrait of sex work. It gets into the structures, legal, social, and in pop culture. In “Love for Sale” Eve Pendleton writes, accurately, that “sex workers provide a powerful indictment of gender roles by demanding payment for playing them: feminism would be transformed and strengthened by incorporating this analysis” (81). I also agree with Priscilla Alexander who writes, “I believe as long as women are arrested for the crime of being sexually assertive, for standing on the street without a socially acceptable purpose or a male chaperone, I am not free” (84).

The 3rd section is dedicated to “reversal, subversion, and re-vision.” We get to read about male prostitution, BDSM, feminist pornography, the Mustang Ranch, and a butch Gigolette with a wonderful guide to “negotiating your desires.” One of my least favorite pieces was contained in part 3, and it was about the Mustang Ranch. Some things about it rubbed me the wrong way. Monet always wanted to go to the Ranch and so one day a boyfriend brought her. The women at the Ranch were less than welcoming. First, she expresses disappointment that they had to choose from women who were o.k. with a couple, and she “wondered why didn’t get to pick girl from the traditional lineup” (168). She later states that she wishes she could have been treated like a male customer and mentions the lineup again saying she couldn’t take part in the usual “just because some of the girls think eating pussy is gross” (168). She realized “homophobia was alive and well in the desert” (168). Then she talks about wanting to rescue the woman she eventually has her fantasy with. Luckily, that need to rescue is later turned into a need to educate and gain sex worker’s rights. She realizes that sex work is worth everything you might be asked to spend, and she values the experience. The last paragraph of the essay is great. The stuff before it is frustrating. I believe she ran into homophobia at the Ranch, but I think it is perfectly acceptable for a woman not to want to have sex with other women and to claim that as a boundary she is not willing to cross. We should all have a say in who we sleep with so I did not understand her level of irritation and the idea of rescuing disturbed me, but she immediately recovered from that. Overall, I got very little from this particular essay.

The 4th section is about “myth, stigma, and silence.” Stacy Reed exposes common myths about strip clubs and strippers. She writes that she was safer at the clubs than in her own home (186). A fat sex phone operator talks about how she worries about the political implications of what she does and admits to acting thinner over the phone, but she also writes that "Sex work has taught me that I own my body. It has taught me that sex is a choice. That work is a choice. That what is attractive about me is not a lie. That telling stories gives me power. (190). She says, "Sex work is like real life. Only straighter. And thinner" (190). And, ultimately, therein lies the problem with sex work. It is not better than the rest of the world. It is a part of it. Sexism, racism, ableism become a part of it because they are a part of larger society. Sex work and pornography do not create those problems, but they can be infiltrated by them--just like everything else.

Then we hear from a sex-positive dike writer. That is followed by a discussion about women of color in sex work, which exposes the racism that is not escaped by working in a “fringe” job. 6 women have a discussion about what it is like to work in the industry, and they are all from different backgrounds and have different experiences. In chapter 22, an ex-LAPD officer left her job after 10 years and becomes involved with sex work. She was burnt out and horrified by the abuses she saw other officers committing, some officers were even busted having sex with minors as young as 10 years old (213). After becoming a call girl, she would get arrested and experience the fear of being detained first hand. She was working on a book to expose the abuses within the LAPD, and that made a lot of people unhappy with her. She ends her essay with this statement, “I am one prostitute that no one and nothing can silence—not eighteen months in prison, not the women of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, not an apathetic media, and certainly not the police!” (216). I, for one, am glad to hear it.

The 4th section ends with another piece by Monet where she describes being outside of the industry and then inside of it. She talks about the importance of words. Specifically, “slut” and “whore.” She writes, “If we as feminists use these words to stigmatize some women—any women—then we are part of the problem. We must embrace these labels or we will continue to be controlled by them. One need not be a sex worker to experience being a bad girl; one can simply refuse to wear the label of the good girl, and let people assume she is sexually experienced, forward, and promiscuous, even if she is not” (222). Agreed.

The final section is on “Activism, Intervention, and Alliance.” The Scarlet Harlot tells us about her invention of the term “sex work.” Lyndall Maccowan interviews Denise Turner about organizing and worker demands in a massage parlor. We are then led into the scary world of Men Against Pornography and what it means to be a sex-positive male feminist. Teri Goodson writes about being a part of NOW despite the stigma that surrounds sex work in the organization and Siobhan Brooks writes about racism at the lusty lady, a petition, and her push for change. Joan Kennedy Taylor discusses the Sex Wars and a woman’s right to pornography.

All of this is followed by an appendix of “organizations for sex worker support, advocacy, education, and professional advancement” (259). It is dated information, and I could not find all of the groups that were listed. I was particularly sad about not being able to track down the Atlanta based group. Plenty of the groups are still around though, so you should take a look and find other, new ones. As you can tell, with this break down, this book covers a lot of ground in under 300 pages. It is well worth your time. There is a lot to learn!

There is so much talk, lately, about sex trafficking and child slavery. Movies, books, sting/bust shows, radio interviews, and new legislation can be found at every turn. It is important to protect children from being kidnapped and sold for sex. That is one of the more deplorable things you hear about, and it must be combated. But let’s make sure we do not conflate that issue with the adult, consensual, selling of sex. The sex industry is an umbrella for all types of people and all sorts of work. It is complicated, but the one thing we know is that people need more protections and more respect. We also know that sex workers are human beings, with lives, friends, and family members. They are not separate entities who deserve abuse, arrest, and contempt.

Check out this shit:

Let’s do something about it. Any ideas?

Friday, March 18, 2011


Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity by Dan Berger
Weight: 1.6 lbs
Method of Disposal: Selling

I finished reading Outlaws today. It was a fairly easy-to-read historical account of the rise and fall of The Weather Underground. There were times where I felt bogged down or frustrated but, for the most part, I was there, grasping for more. I do think the author, Dan Berger, has an obvious respect for and fascination with the organization. That is understandable. Bias is almost always there. There are people who acknowledge it and put it out there to be scrutinized and people who act as if they have been able to avoid it. The idea of armed propaganda and protest is always going to be on shaky ground. On the one hand, it has been necessary in the past. For people enamored with the foundation of the United States as we know it, the Revolutionary War was not a continuation of peaceful protests. And on the other hand, peaceful protest has brought us a long way. Martin Luther King and Ghandi are some of the most admired and quoted leaders we have seen in recent years. The taking of human life is almost always criminalized on an individual level, as it should be, but The Weather Underground took great strides to ensure that people were not injured or killed in their bombings, though it did happen. Three members of the organization were killed by their own bomb.

The other ethical problem that arises when studying revolutionaries of the 60’s and the 70’s is cultural context. Black people were being murdered with little consideration or legal action taken on their behalf. Does it not make sense then that they (and their allies) would have to stage a violent uprising to protect themselves? It was not Martin Luther King, on his own, that led the Civil Rights Movement. Was it not necessary to have both, militant and peaceful, protestors to create change?

The other truth is that activists of all sorts are smeared by the media and law enforcement of their time. They are a threat, a means for change. And change is scary. It is important to listen to all sides of the story. It is also important to recognize that the “majority” is really just the people in control and that there are all sorts of people struggling around them, and often beneath them. We have seen a lot of protesting lately and, as in Egypt, we have seen things change.
There is a lot to dislike about The Weather Underground, and this book exposes some of it. The sexism, for one. One member’s praise of Charles Manson, for another. The part that is fascinating, scary for some and inspirational for others, is the ultimate dedication to changing the world and improving the lives of others. The sacrifice of life and freedom for what is believed to be right. The author attempts to tie the movements of the 60’s into the current day, and it is a really great component of the book, but while reading it you cannot help but wonder where people like this went. A lot of revolutionaries are still in jail, while others are professors at universities. But where is the new generation? In one sentence, the author writes about animal rights activists as a group that is seen in a similar light.

I think this book is an important read for several reasons. The first being that it is important for any movement, non-violent or whatever, to understand what came before them. You need to know how you got to where you are today. The great thing about reading about the history of protest is that you can try to learn from other’s achievements and, more importantly, their mistakes. This book also offers an introductory look at some of the atrocities that have been committed by the U.S. government in this country and abroad. The part this country played in the assassination of Allende in Chile, the murder of sleeping black activists, and the intentional ignorance of crimes committed by the state against civilians—just to name a few things. Militant activists also made mistakes that ultimately eliminated lives. The point is not to make the same mistakes and not to let go of the rights that were fought for so vehemently. This book should not be read on its own, but it shouldn’t sit unread either. Go out and get your own collection. Go to the library. But try to understand why you have the life you have today and what needs to be done so that the children of now can have a better life later.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Labeled Autistic

Emergence: Labeled Autistic by Temple Grandin and Margaret M. Scariano
Weight: 6 oz
Method of Disposal: Leaving in a public place or giving it to you if you are willing to ask for it

This year I had the chance to see Temple Grandin speak at a training conference and, as expected, she was amazing. A whole chain of events has led me to Temple Grandin and to my extreme respect for her, though I did not recognize it for years. I never remembered author’s names before I attended college and now I remember authors before titles. Because of this, when I bought and read Emergence over a decade ago I did not think about it again when I picked up another one of Grandin’s books. The other book I put on a shelf and did not get around to reading for a couple years. One year, for my birthday, my brother bought me her book on understanding animal emotions. I had trouble with the writing style, but I got through it and was impressed with the information. I bought another book of hers about animals.

Eventually, I would see the movie on the recommendation of a friend. It helped me give a voice to the words I had been reading, and I couldn’t stop myself. I talked about her all the time, re-read her books, bought new ones, named two dogs at the shelter Temple and Grandin, and eventually was able to see her in person because of the helpfulness of a complete stranger that I met when we brought some PAWS dogs to a training facility. Everything just fell into place and, the next thing I know, I have a hotel room over 30 floors up and a very expensive name tag that can get me into the right building. Who cared that my name was Jennifer, and I came from out of state?

I just re-discovered this book a week ago. I saw it on the shelf, remembered reading it, but had never made the connection. The cover is so dramatic and has since changed. It has a scratched up photo of a girl looking sad, font that is meant to look like scratchy handwriting, the words “a true story” posted over the title, and “She lived in a world like no other…” on the back. It is absurd. It has since been updated to feature a girl in a thin dress jumping on green grass. It is much less bleak, and the transformation cracks me up.

I recommend that every one read the work of Temple Grandin and watch her movie. She is amazing. You will learn a lot about animals and about autism. If someone does not ask me for this book I will not know what to think. You are really missing out. There will be more coming too. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to part with them.

The other thing you will glean from Grandin’s biography is the strength and affection of her mother, who I also admire very much. Grandin was not always well-behaved, but she was always smart. That can be a difficult mix for some people, but her mother reveled in the challenge and always supported and loved her daughter, who truly was unique and world-changing. Just read her stuff! I don’t know how to relay all the information to you.

Monday, March 7, 2011

"I continue to sort out what's just my childhood, just my imagination, just my family, just the village, just the movies, just living."

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
Weight: 1 lb
Method of Disposal: Leaving in public for someone to pick up—unless you want it.

The Woman Warrior is another book I’ve had on my to-read list for years. I finally picked it up last week. It was in immaculate condition until I took it on a trip to North Carolina. It came with me on a hike up Crowders Mountain in the rain. It is now a little rough around the edges, a little wavy in the pages. It is o.k. though; it just makes it look well-studied and loved.

I didn’t even read it on my trip, but I finished it the second I got home. The book has received a lot of praise and equal amounts of criticism. It was first published in the 70’s. It is now considered a classic in many circles. It is a memoir by Maxine Hong Kingston, but it is also multiple interconnected stories with different forms of truth. It is somewhat disorienting, which fits in perfect with how the author grew up, struggling to be a Chinese-American and an American-Chinese. Also, struggling to find her place as a woman.

I can understand where the criticism comes from. In the wrong hands, this book could reaffirm all sorts of bullshit for people who carry around anti-Chinese sentiments. I can also understand why the people who love it get frustrated with people who are unwilling to condone Kingston writing about her personal and real experience. The truth is that people who would use this book to further stereotypes are probably already heading down that road, with or without the book. The Woman Warrior does not describe every single person’s experience that came to the United States from China. It shouldn’t have to. It also describes a different China/United States than the ones that exists today so I hope that some of the people who have forgotten that might recant some of their grousing. Don’t get me wrong, it is still relevant. Racism and sexism have a tendency to linger on for ages, to evolve into new forms of the same old wicked shit that started it all off.

There is a part of the book where Kingston goes into great detail about bullying and tormenting another girl to the point that they are both in tears. It was so honest and wonderful--in that awful kind of way.

It might not have been the best book I have ever read, but it was interesting and unusual in its layout—which I appreciate. I am glad I finally got around to reading it. I haven’t really wrapped my mind around all of it quite yet, and I would be open to discussing it with someone if they have already read it or want this copy.