Said and read – September 2020


Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

I must have waded through about 2,500 pages of academic journals, theory and method books, law cases and so many things that I didn’t keep close track of and can’t quantify. But it consumed me in the latter half of September as I completed a paper for university that got completely out of hand.

Among the materials here that I did keep track of – all of which I found enjoyable, informative and thought-provoking, are the following, which I’d expect most people to find a bit dry:

Realistic Socio-Legal Theory: Pragmatism and a Social Theory of LawBrian Z. Tamanaha

Unspeakable Subjects: Feminist Essays in Legal and Social TheoryNicola Lacey, ed.

Media, Religion and Gender: Key Issues and New ChallengesMia Lövheim, ed.

The Sociological ImaginationC. Wright Mills

Challenging the Public/Private Divide: Feminism, Law and Public PolicySusan B. Boyd, ed.

Previous book reports: 2020 – August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January. 2019 – December, November, October, September, May, April, March, February, January. 2018 – NovemberOctober, SeptemberAugust, July, June, May, April, March, February and January.

Thoughts on reading for September:

Highly recommended

*Breasts and EggsMieko Kawakami

I knew these women were only venting their frustration and their anguish, but so long as they had someone, they were blessed. Technology was on their side. They had options. There was a way. They were accepted. That’s even true for same-sex couples who wanted kids. They were couples, sharing a dream with someone who could share the load. They had community, and people who would lend a helping hand. But what if sex was out of the equation? What if you were alone? All the books and blogs catered to couples. What about the rest of us, who were alone and planned to stay that way? Who has the right to have a child? Does not having a partner or not wanting to have sex nullify this right?

My favorite book for September. It just flowed, and I felt immersed in it. The protagonist is a writer who is considering having a child, and her reflections dive into the losses and consequences of having versus not having.

It’s really simple, I promise. Why is it that people think this is okay? Why do people see no harm in having children? They do it with smiles on their faces, as if it’s not an act of violence. You force this other being into the world, this other being that never asked to be born.”

Once you have children, you can’t unhave them,” she laughed. “I know how this sounds. You think I sound extreme, or detached from reality. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is real life. That’s what I’m talking about—the pain that comes with reality. Not that anyone ever sees it.”

Another passage that really caught my attention was one that made me feel such powerful familiarity… that sense of meeting the “right” someone when it’s too late, when you’re too damaged…

I know that might sound totally out of line,” he said, “but it’s the way I’ve felt for quite a while now.” I took a deep breath, holding it, and closed my eyes. And then I let everything go. What Aizawa had said was like a dream. Just like a dream, I told myself. Only it made me feel hopelessly depressed. I ran through what he had said a bunch of times and shook my head. It made me even more depressed. What if . . . what if I’d met him years ago, when I was younger. Why couldn’t we have met back then? The thought tore through my heart. If we had only met back then. But when, exactly? What would have been the right time? How many years ago? Ten? What if we met before I even met Naruse? What would have worked? Hard to say. All I knew I wished we could have met before I got this way. That’s for sure. But there was nothing I could do about that now.

*The Chronology of WaterLidia Yuknavitch

My last bout of Yuknavitch was during a snowy winter traveling the north south Oslo-Göteborg corridor, remembering reading one book during the three+ hour long ride between the two cities.

This time I just loved how she described things in her own memoir.

I have also learned that we share a birthday, albeit a few years apart. It signifies nothing, but somehow shared birthdays seem comforting.

*Alien Candor: Selected Poems, 1970 – 1995Andrei Codrescu

Strange and unique voice – poetry of course.

*Hiding in Plain SightSarah Kendzior

I reread this. I found more new things to be angry about. Wow. Absolutely must recommend again.

Also read her previous book, The View from Flyover Country.

Also listen to her podcast, Gaslit Nation.

Good – or better than expected

*The Lying Life of AdultsElena Ferrante

Like all Ferrante, it reads effortlessly, and you are drawn into the story. I didn’t find this as immersive as previous work, but it still shone a light on how some things seem so black and white when young, when you don’t see the whole picture, but become so complicated.

“Maybe everything would be less complicated if you told the truth.” She said haltingly: “The truth is difficult, growing up you’ll understand that, novels aren’t sufficient for it. So will you do me that favor?” Lies, lies, adults forbid them and yet they tell so many.

*When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of AfricaPeter Godwin

In my part of Africa, death is never far away. With most Zimbabweans dying in their early thirties now, mortality has a seat at every table. The urgent, tugging winds themselves seem to whisper the message memento mori, you too shall die. In Africa, you do not view death from the auditorium of life, as a spectator, but from the edge of the stage, waiting only for your cue. You feel perishable, temporary, transient. You feel mortal. Maybe that is why you seem to live more vividly in Africa. The drama of life there is amplified by its constant proximity to death. That’s what infuses it with tension. It is the essence of its tragedy too. People love harder there. Love is the way that life forgets that it is terminal. Love is life’s alibi in the face of death. For me, the illusion of control is much easier to maintain…”

A surprisingly engaging book.

IT IS SOMETIMES SAID that the worst thing to happen to Africa was the arrival of the white man. And the second worst was his departure. Colonialism lasted just long enough to destroy much of Africa’s indigenous cultures and traditions, but not long enough to leave behind a durable replacement.

Entertaining/informative/thoughtful or some combination thereof

*Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in AmericaRobert Whitaker

A different take on the “epidemic” of mental illness diagnoses in the last 40 or so years and the exceptional level of prescriptions issued, which, according to the case studies presented in this book, often appear to be doled out without great consideration for the patient’s well-being. Much of this is predicated on the question:

If we have treatments that effectively address these disorders, why has mental illness become an ever-greater health problem in the United States?

Is the heralding of miracle drugs for psychiatric disorders really miraculous? Are they doing more harm than good? How much can clinical trials and evidence presented by pharmaceutical companies be trusted? This book dives into some of these questions but is imperfect in its answers … at least it does raise the questions, though, which feels like an important counterbalance to the typical narratives about mental health and medication.

*Women of Valor: Orthodox Jewish Troll Fighters, Crime Writers, and Rock Stars in Contemporary Literature and CultureKaren E.H. Skinazi

Read as part of my aforementioned university paper, much of this book didn’t do much for me but did offer important insights into divisions between groups of Orthodox Jews. Most stories in the mainstream, like the popular memoir, Unorthodox, and the even more popular Netflix adaptation of it, paint a picture of tightly knit, aggressively oppressive communities, particularly for women. And how some of these people choose to “escape”. But not every community is the same, and this book uses a number of cases to highlight this. Quite informative and enjoyable.

*Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic RootsDeborah Feldman

As mentioned above, I read the memoir, and perhaps because I saw the Netflix adaptation first, the book didn’t affect me very much. Maybe it is because as Feldman describes her life, it came across as controlled by family, community, husband, and a set of arbitrary and constantly changing rules ostensibly set by “innovation as tradition”, a term Skinazi writes about the aforementioned book, Women of Valor:

When innovations like these are rendered as traditions, they are justified within the sects as age-old and unchangeable. And for mainstream, secular readers, Orthodox women’s modest dress and behavior, seen to be dictated by these long-standing, immutable “traditions” of the religion, render the whole practice of Orthodoxy outdated and oppressive and thus “completely unacceptable.” That Orthodox communities construct their own modernities is hard to see. But they are indeed modernities, ones that embrace ideals distinct from those of mainstream culture and have, in fact, arisen in direct opposition to mainstream culture. “Haredization” is, in large part, a response to liberalization.

Feldman’s rebellion read as though she forged a lot of freedom and latitude for herself, however hidden and “second life” it had to be. I cannot imagine trying to break away from a life that had been the norm or the kind of consciousness development one would need to undertake to free him/herself from a life and community they felt had oppressed them. Many people never reach the stage of self-awareness to realize that they are not fulfilled by the life they lead, particularly when boxed in as Feldman was.

I read an interview with Feldman discussing the TV version of Unorthodox in which Feldman expressed a fascinating point of view on women’s roles in the community she came from (italics mine):

“Interviewer: In episode four, during the Passover scene, the grandfather leads the prayers and tells the story of Exodus. No women participate. Yet, if you look at the actions that move Unorthodox forward, almost all are taken by the female characters.
Feldman: Men tell the story and women make the story real. You have the table where the man dictates prayer, belief and narrative, but if you look at the story of Esty, it’s women who are making the decisions. It’s the women she’s interacting with who are basically the driving force behind community life, the engine behind the story.”

Biggest disappointment (or disliked)

*The Catcher in the RyeJ.D. Salinger

I don’t think I need to describe this. I never read this when I was young, and thought I should. But I hated every second of it.

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