November 2005 Books

**November 2, 2005**
\\The Devil’s Teeth:A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks\\ by Susan Casey

I would have liked this a lot better if it had been more about badass great white sharks and less about the author, the author’s need for freedom, the author’s disdain for authority, the author’s mystical connection to the Farrallon Islands, and the author’s mysterious compunction to put her own needs over those of the researchers on the island and ultimately the welfare of the Shark Project itself. Susan Casey is a pretty likeable person, probably, and I certainly resonate with her wanting to experience one of the last truly wild places in the world, as well as her more obsessive tendencies to research the hell out of a new interest. When she writes about the sharks or the scientists who study them she’s thorough and respectful and curious, and it’s a great thing to read. It’s a pity that she dug up a chapter’s worth of (fascinating) information on the checkered history of the Farrallons, yet neglected to research the implications of her being on the \\Just Imagine\\ during the last season she was there, or to research how, exactly, to live upon the boat for which she was responsible during that time, including perhaps a cursory investigation into the refrigeration situation on board so that she wouldn’t show up with a thousand dollars of Whole Foods groceries and discover that, oops, there’s no fridge! Guess I’ll have to throw all this rotting food overboard and either starve or severely inconvenience and endanger the research crew on the island! Among other things. If you haven’t read this I guess I sort of gave the whole story away, but it just really irked me that she sort of painted herself as this iconoclast who just \\couldn’t be tied down\\ and \\needed to be free\\ and wanted to really \\experience a shark\\ and so on and so forth, when, as I think about it more, she was pretty selfish and irresponsible for being there without the needed skills or talents. Just because she, like, \\wanted to\\. I have a feeling, from some of the comments she makes in the epilogue and in the acknowledgements, that her perspective on the whole episode is \\vastly\\ different from those of the shark biologists who worked there…most especially the one who basically lost his job because of her. I’d love to hear his side of the story, for reals. I am still interested in learning more about the Farrallon Islands and shark research but I think I have to find some other sources for that because it’s hard to read when you’re rolling your eyes so hard. What really makes this the worst is that after all that, after causing all that trouble, she got a \\book deal\\ out of the whole thing. I cause trouble and am annoying on a distressingly frequent basis and yet oddly enough no one has offered \\me\\ a book deal.

**November 3, 2005**
\\Lives Of The Poets\\ by El. Doctorow

I am not quite sure why this was on my hold list, although I think it has something to do with Doctorow’s having a new book out I thought looked interesting but wasn’t at the library yet, so I just got the first thing by him I could find. This is a set of weird and spiky stories that left me a little breathless, in the sense that I didn’t really know what was going on, ever, but I sort of liked the feeling they gave me anyway.

**November 8, 2005**
\\Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage\\ by Stephanie Coontz

Oh, man. I love sociology. There is a lot of information here, some of which I was a little familiar with from reading \\Sex In History\\ last month, and some of which was new for me, historical-perspective-wise. I very much enjoyed some of the little tidbits like the only non-marriage-oriented family system ever recorded (the Na of ancient China, whose primary family system was that of a group of brothers and sisters, with sisters sneaking out at night to go get pregnant if they feel like adding another member to the group) and the crazy medieval coverture stuff, like “Husband and wife are one person, and that person is the husband.” I was also \\stunned\\ to learn that in this country up until \\1975\\, i.e., the year of my birth, married women had to get their husbands’ permission to get loans or checking accounts. So that was very interesting, even though I think I would have appreciated a larger scope in terms of comparing various cultures and not focusing so much on Britain and the US. What was newer and more thought-provoking for me was marriage as an economic system, with each married couple functioning as a basic economic unit. The connections between the Industrial Revolution and the changes marriages has undergone in the intervening time were especially compelling for me, as they were accompanied by the sentimentalization of marriage in popular culture. It was also illuminating for me to understand a little better that what we often think about as “traditional marriage” in this country is really a specific \\type\\ of marriage that became widespread and popular in the fifties (and there’s a mass media component there too). Anyway. I appreciated the discussion of current alternatives to marriage as well as, of course, some pretty good summaries of the debates surrounding same-sex marriage. Mostly I appreciated the ideas that there are lots of ways to do things and also that what we do in our personal lives and what happens in the larger context are completely interdependent and inform and affect each other in pretty sneaky and subtle ways. I kind of have a crush on Stephanie Coontz now and I want to drive on down to Olympia and stop by Evergreen when she’s having office hours or something.

**November 13, 2005**
\\Tokyo Cancelled\\ by Rana Dasgupta

Ooooh, this is a good set of stories. Each are weird and spacy and slanted slightly…you can recognize all the feelings in each story, even if you don’t know anyone like the protagonist, or you can understand a motivation even if the actions a character takes don’t make sense. Maybe a better way to describe it is by saying that these felt like a visit to an only slightly different world; not all the rules are the same there but you can mostly find your way around. Also, and this is apropos of nothing, Rana Dasgupta is extremely hot, judging by his author photo. Rana, call me!

**November 14, 2005**
\\Sex and Sensibility: 28 True Romances from the Lives of Single Women\\ edited by Genevieve Field

I picked this up pretty randomly the other day when I was picking up some stuff off my hold list. A lot of the people in it were writing about their dizzyingly exciting…yet somehow hollow!…lives as assistants-to-the-editors at various New York magazines that seem to involve a lot of casual sex and fourth-floor walkups in great neightborhoods and a lot of free cocktails at fabulous parties. Those were only okay, I guess because they were very hard to relate to my own dizzying exciting single life as a clinical social worker who talks on the phone all day and then takes the bus home and eats root vegetables for dinner and then goes to bed at ten-thirty. Fortunately for me not all of them were like that; many were honest and sad and funny and real. I especially liked the essay written by two of the advice columnists at nerve.com about their best friendship. From what I can remember. The night I read (it goes pretty quickly) this I couldn’t sleep but was still really tired and a couple of details have slipped my mind.

**November 18, 2005**

\\Bachelor Girls: The Secret History of Single Women In The Twentieth Century\\ by Betsy Israel

I got this the same day I got the other book about single women. Between \\The History of Sex\\, \\The History of Marriage\\ and all these books about being single, I guess I’m thinking a lot about relationships lately, right? Anyway. Anyway this is a nice little slice of sociology and is one of my favorite things: a specific piece of history seen through a specific lens. I was struck by how this history of single women was also a history of \\work\\ and by some of the rather abrupt shifts in social perceptions about single working women. Since it’s a book about the twentieth century it’s also, to some extent, a history of media influences. It was sort of comforting in a weird way to see that hysteria-inducing magazine articles about marrying after a certain age are not a new phenomenon. I liked the bits about various famously single-woman archetypes too, especially the piece about Florence Nightingale, about whom I think I would like to learn more. The chapter about the history of the girlcrush, what people used to call “smashing,” was also cool. I was I was smart enough to make some better connections between how people organize their private lives and larger socio-cultural-political trends though, I tell you what. Maybe I should be taking notes as I read about all this relationship sociology.

**November 24, 2005**
\\The Penelopiad\\ by Margaret Atwood

I am shocked and amazed to say this about anything Margaret Atwood writes, but this was a little dull. Supposedly the telling of \\The Odyssey\\ from Penelope’s point of view…which sounds \\awesome\\, right?..I don’t feel like I ever understood what her point of view \\was\\. That is very strange and not a little disappointing.

**November 27, 2005**
\\Searoad\: Chronicles of Klatsand\\ by Ursula K.LeGuin

This was in my sister’s bookshelf (like \\The Penelopiad\\) and I read it while I was home for Thanksgiving and on the plane back to Seattle. It is a set of lovely intertwined stories that take place on Earth (on the Oregon Coast, to be exact), in our time and place, and are just as alluring and complicated as the various other earths about which she writes. We’re all aliens to each other on one level or another and LeGuin teaches you that without telling you that she’s teaching you that, regardless of what world she’s doing it from.

**November 29, 2005**
\\Quirkyalone: A Manifesto For Uncompromising Romantics\\ by Sarah Cagen

I don’t know if you know this, but I don’t actually tell you about \\all\\ the books I read. There are a few that I am too embarrassed to admit to the internet that I read, and I was really on the fence about this one, because, just, \\ugh\\. The idea here is that there is this whole subset of people who are rebelling against the “tyranny of coupledom” and that those people are called by the extremely frustrating name of “quirkyalones” (there also apparently exist such subsets-of-a-subset “quirkytogethers” and “quirkysluts,” which, heaven help me, you know) and that these so-called quirkyalones, when they are not making me claw the walls to shreds by identifying with such a clunky and useless name, are all subverting the dominant paradigm, man, with their urban tribes and their dateless Saturday nights. I’d had a couple people recommend this book (there’s also a site) to me with what I can only assume were the best intentions…but, man. This is basically this one girl talking about how great it is to have high standards when it comes to dating and how it is \\totally\\, totally okay to be single if you have your posse around you, and that one time she was alone on New Year’s Eve and didn’t have anyone to kiss and all of a sudden she realized that she was a quirkyalone! And then she wrote a magazine article about it and people thought she was really great! And also she includes in her book a story she wrote when she was in eighth grade that shows she’s a “womb” (as opposed to a “born-again”) quirkyalone…see, by the way, how grating that word is? I am afraid to even speak it aloud…and also one time she started a zine! In the nineties! And how her best friend is totally a gay guy and they totally go shopping for shoes together. Isn’t that so quirky? And that subverts the dominant paradigm, just like on Sex In The City! I was sick in bed when I read this (it only takes about an hour…there are lots of charts andn graphs) and maybe that accounts for my bad mood. Or maybe the whole thing seems too forced and unreal. Or maybe I just hate the word “quirky.” I do rather like the word “alone” though, so who knows where all this bile is coming from. I guess there were a few interesting points to be made…I especially liked the part where the performance artist gets a marriage license to marry herself…but all in all I am in no mood.

**November 30, 2005**
\\A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of The Penis\\ by David M. Friedman

Coming in just under the line for November, this is another entry in the category of non-fiction work about love and marriage and sex and relationships and so on and so forth, which seems to be holding my interest lately. I was telling a friend that it’s decently written and looks at the various ways the penis has been conceptualized over the centuries: deified, demonized, secularized, racialized, psychoanalyzed, politicized, and medicalized. That’s all fine and good but I confess I found it difficult to understand what this was really all about: gender? Sex? Masculinity or patriarchy or what? I have to admit this is maybe the first book I’ve read that analyzes masculinity or maleness in the same way a lot of feminist book look at femininity or femaleness…though I wouldn’t call this a feminist book by any stretch of the imagination. And I also admit that there were several points in the book where I was all “Oh, WAH! Poor men, controlling everything in the world the way they do, feeling bad about their penises!” Like in the opening chapters when Friedman talks about “knowledge of the devil” (meaning sex with) as grounds for execution as a witch…for women, of course. He says that this was a dark time for the penis, because, you know, the Devil is male or something and he has a penis (according to the witches’ confessions, it’s gigantic and ice-cold and covered in scales) and that means that all penises (and therefore all men?) are demonized too. I notice, though, that it’s the people \\without\\ penises getting burned at the stake, but maybe that’s just me. Anyway. I did very much enjoy the chapter on Freud, cock-obsessed coke whore that he was. I am also a little tired of the word “penis.”

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