Tag: five stars


Must Read Monday: Look Who’s Back

Posted 14 December, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Must Read Monday: Look Who’s BackLook Who's Back by Timur Vermes
Published by MacLehose Press on April 3rd 2014
Genres: Germany, Literary, Satire, Social Issues
Pages: 352
five-stars

Berlin, Summer 2011. Adolf Hitler wakes up on a patch of open ground, alive and well. Things have changed – no Eva Braun, no Nazi party, no war. Hitler barely recognises his beloved Fatherland, filled with immigrants and run by a woman.

People certainly recognise him, albeit as a flawless impersonator who refuses to break character. The unthinkable, the inevitable happens, and the ranting Hitler goes viral, becomes a YouTube star, gets his own T.V. show, and people begin to listen. But the Führer has another programme with even greater ambition – to set the country he finds a shambles back to rights.

Guys, stick with me. I know you’ve just read the synopsis for Look Who’s Back and are thinking, ‘What in the ever-loving hell…’. Let us begin at… the beginning. I didn’t know this little gem of a book existed until The Morning News put out their longlist for the 2016 Tournament of Books. I read the synopsis there and became really intrigued and Oh. Em. Gee… you guys.

Look Who’s Back might be the best satire that I’ve seen since Catch-22… and I mean that since Catch-22 was published. After reading the first quarter of the book I started to describe it to a co-worker, he asked me if it was a treacly  book about Hitler learning how wrong he was about his views. I can assure you mein Reader, it is not. Vermes packs so much punch into a relatively short book. Since it was originally published in German, one can assume that Look Who’s Back was intended as a commentary on modern Germany, but let me assure you, the commentary fits just as well for modern America and probably modern western culture.

I found it especially astute and chilling in the wake of Donald Trump’s seemingly never-ending successes within the national polls… and some of the commentary he’s made. As chilling and on point as the satire is, the book is also hysterical in its execution (as all good satire should be). The use of the first person narrative (from Hitler’s point of view) is often a source of giggles, this device, oft used in many a tale about displaced time travelers, seems all the more potent because… well… it’s Hitler.

There is very little world building (how did Hitler just wake up in a field in 2011? Why not the rest of his retinue? Why doesn’t he remember his suicide?) and as much as a fan of world building that I am – I think it was a stroke of genius for Vermes to omit that and have Hitler himself gloss over it – for more important matters.

I don’t believe that any blogs that I read on the regular have reviewed this book. In fact it wasn’t even in Creative Whim’s Ultimate Book Blogger Plugin. Regardless. I found a much more eloquent review over at 1streading’s blog.

This should change now. I know it sounds a little off, maybe a little distasteful, but just trust me on this one.

Readers! Who has read this one? Has anyone read it in the original German? Do I sound insane? 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Must Read Monday: The Beautiful Bureaucrat

Posted 10 August, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Must Read Monday: The Beautiful BureaucratThe Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips
Published by Henry Holt and Company on August 11th 2015
Genres: Fiction, General, Literary, Thrillers
Pages: 192
Goodreads
four-half-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

In a windowless building in a remote part of town, the newly employed Josephine inputs an endless string of numbers into something known only as The Database. After a long period of joblessness, she's not inclined to question her fortune, but as the days inch by and the files stack up, Josephine feels increasingly anxious in her surroundings-the office's scarred pinkish walls take on a living quality, the drone of keyboards echoes eerily down the long halls. When one evening her husband Joseph disappears and then returns, offering no explanation as to his whereabouts, her creeping unease shifts decidedly to dread.As other strange events build to a crescendo, the haunting truth about Josephine's work begins to take shape in her mind, even as something powerful is gathering its own form within her. She realizes that in order to save those she holds most dear, she must penetrate an institution whose tentacles seem to extend to every corner of the city and beyond.

I just finished this little tome and holy poop on a stick guys – it knocked my socks off. I feel like The Beautiful Bureaucrat has something for everyone. It’s full of intrigue, a dash of magical realism,  and a whole lot of excellent writing.

It felt a little bit like a grown-up Wrinkle in Time, though why exactly it felt that way — I can’t exactly put my finger on it. But I loved the slightly science fiction feel that didn’t necessarily go overboard and take The Beautiful Bureaucrat into the realm of genre fiction. Admittedly, the characters are a bit flat, but because of the slimness and the surreal feeling of the novel, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I love the wordplay within the novel, which screams of symbolism – perhaps Josephine’s descent into madness working her job. I love how she eventually started referring to her husband by his social security number. I love the Every Place feeling of The City vs. The Hinterlands.

Some reviewers found The Beautiful Bureaucrat to be somewhat Orwellian, I didn’t necessarily have that feeling — though there was definitely the sense that Josephine was being watched.

Anyway, I don’t want to oversell The Beautiful Bureaucrat, but I think that the length of the novel makes it accessible to everyone and to me it was completely delightful.

What do you think, Reader? Does this sound like something that might be up your alley? 

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Fabulous Feminist Friday: Dietland

Posted 12 June, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Fabulous Feminist Friday: DietlandDietland by Sarai Walker
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on May 26th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, General, Literary
Pages: 272
Goodreads
five-stars

The diet revolution is here. And it’s armed. Plum Kettle does her best not to be noticed, because when you’re fat, to be noticed is to be judged. Or mocked. Or worse. With her job answering fan mail for a popular teen girls’ magazine, she is biding her time until her weight-loss surgery. Only then can her true life as a thin person finally begin. But when Plum notices she’s being followed by a mysterious woman in colorful tights and combat boots, she finds herself falling down a rabbit hole into the world of Calliope House, a community of women who live life on their own terms. Reluctant but intrigued, Plum agrees to a series of challenges that force her to deal with the real costs of becoming “beautiful.” At the same time, a dangerous guerilla group begins to terrorize a world that mistreats women, and as Plum grapples with her own personal struggles, she becomes entangled in a sinister plot. The consequences are explosive. Part coming-of-age story, part revenge fantasy, Dietland is a bold, original, and funny debut novel that takes on the beauty industry, gender inequality, and our weight loss obsession—from the inside out, and with fists flying.

As the memes say, Dietland was so much win for me. It’s possible that part of the win came from the fact that I almost didn’t read it. Shannon at River City Reading sent me her copy and I wasn’t really arrested by the description, but I am a feminist so I thought I might as well give it a whirl, if for no other reason Shannon spent $4.07 mailing it to me.

Guys. This book will change your life. Or at the very least will have you re-examining so many parts of our culture. This book touched me in a very personal way so,  before I get to the book review we’re going sit down and have a little fireside chat. Move in closer, I’m going to get a little personal.

Growing up, through my twenties, up until the point that I had The Girl four years ago, I was that girl. I was the girl who could eat as much of anything that she wanted and never gain an ounce. I fluctuated between 115 – 120 or so, never exercised until I joined the Air Force and never gained weight. Well, as so often happens once women pop out that first baby they find their bodies inexorably changed forever. I now fluctuate between 160 – 170 and it’s taken me a long time to recognize that this is my new body. Well, this is my new body unless I want to live in Dietland.

Foxy, hot, fuckable. Whatever it was called, that’s what I’d wanted  – to be hot, to elicit desire in men and envy in women. But I realized I didn’t want that anymore. That required living in Dietland, which meant control, constriction – paralysis, even – but above all it meant obedience. I was tired of being obedient.”

I freakin’ love to eat guys. I love it. I’m terrible at exercising regularly, which I should do for health reasons but that’s a different issue. Do you know what this book did for me? It set me free from Dietland. I’m a size 12, I’m going to stay that way, and I am okay with that. Okay seriously, the review now.

Dietland takes on all the issues. Gender inequality, fat shaming being one of the last acceptable prejudices, beauty culture. The writing is good, there are some characters that seem a little underdeveloped, but I almost wonder if this was intentional – if these characters are less characters and more caricatures. For me that worked with the satire and social commentary that Walker was creating.

I enjoyed every facet of this book with the sole exception being the treatment of anti-depressants in the novel. Monika mentions this in her review as well (linked below), and it’s just unclear what statement Walker was trying to make about the use of anti-depressants – but I’m uncomfortable with negativity expressed towards their use, just because the stigma against mental health treatment is so high.

The timing of the publication of this novel is perfect, the novel itself is light and airy while still packing a substantive punch of social commentary that the world needs to hear. This might be the best book I’ve read this year.

Other Opinions:

River City Reading

A Lovely Bookshelf

Books Speak Volumes

A quote for the road:

“On the Nola and Nedra Show, Nola Larson King said: “I’ve been thinking about what you said earlier, Nedra, and I agree with you. I don’t think that this is terrorism or lady terrorism. Do you know what I think it is?”

“I’m dying to know,” said Nedra Feldstein-Delany.

“I think it’s a response to terrorism. From the time we’re little girls, we’re taught to fear the bad men who might get us. We’re terrified of being raped, abused, even killed by the bad man, but the problem is, you can’t tell the good ones from the bad ones, so you have to be wary of them all. We’re told not to go out by ourselves late at night, not to dress in a certain way, not to talk to male strangers, not to lead men on. We take self-defense classes, keep our doors locked, carry pepper spray and rape whistles. The fear of men is ingrained in us from girlhood. Isn’t that a form of terrorism?”

What do you think, Reader? Too subversive? Too weird? Let’s chat! Also – expect to see this broken down completely at The Socratic Salon some day soon!

April

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Thrilling Thursday: The Shore

Posted 28 May, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in books and publishing, Reviews

Thrilling Thursday: The ShoreThe Shore by Sara Taylor
Published by Crown/Archetype on May 26th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Literary, Sagas
Pages: 320
Goodreads
five-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Shore: a group of small islands in the Chesapeake Bay, just off the coast of Virginia. The Shore is clumps of evergreens, wild ponies, oyster-shell roads, tumble-down houses, unwanted pregnancies, murder, and dark magic in the marshes. Sanctuary to some but nightmare to others, it's a place that generations of families both wealthy and destitute have inhabited, fled, and returned to for hundreds of years. From a half-Shawnee Indian's bold choice to escape an abusive home only to find herself with a man who will one day try to kill her, to a brave young girl's determination to protect her younger sister as methamphetamine ravages their family, the characters in this remarkable novel have deep connections to the land, and a resilience that only the place they call home could create.

The Shore is a remarkable piece of fiction. I love finding debuts that are so compelling and readable. Told in a series of interwoven narratives, many of the pieces can stand alone as short stories, but when you put them all together there is something truly special to be found in the novel as a whole. It fills a hole that has been gaping in southern gothic fiction and even more delightfully it’s filled by a young woman with much promise.

This book reads a little like Rebecca Makkai’s The Hundred Year House, in the sense that it is a family saga that isn’t necessarily told in a linear order. But The Shore is something more than that as well, it’s about the deep bonds and petty hatreds that can build in a small community throughout time and the way just one resentment can destroy an entire community.

I know in the finished edition there is a family tree (or a series of family trees) but I enjoyed sketching out who was related to whom on my own. It was a fun exercise in puzzle solving, so if that’s your bag, maybe ignore those family trees and then check your work at the end.

Absolutely a must read.

What about you, Reader? Have you been needing some southern gothic in your life? Have you read The Shore? Does it sound like something you might need to get to soon? Don’t forget we’re going to have an EPIC conversation about this one on The Socratic Salon next month!

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Must Read Monday: Boo

Posted 11 May, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Must Read Monday: BooBoo by Neil Smith
on May 19, 2015
five-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

It is the first week of school in 1979, and Oliver "Boo" Dalrymple—ghostly pale eighth-grader, aspiring scientist, social pariah—is standing next to his locker, reciting the periodic table. The next thing he knows, he is finds himself lying in a strange bed in a strange land. He is a new resident of Town—an afterlife exclusively for thirteen-year-olds. Soon Boo is joined by Johnny Henzel, a fellow classmate, who brings with him a piece of surprising news about the circumstances of the boys' death.

In Town, there are no trees or animals, just endless rows of redbrick dormitories surrounded by unscalable walls. No one grows or ages, but everyone arrives just slightly altered from who he or she was before. To Boo's great surprise, the qualities that made him an outcast at home win him friends, and he finds himself capable of a joy he has never experienced. But there is a darker side to life after death—and as Boo and Johnny attempt to learn what happened that fateful day, they discover and disturbing truth that will have profound repercussions for both of them.

Every part of this book just charmed the pants off of me. From the unique idea that there is a heaven that is populated completely of 13 year-old Americans. To the characters of Boo and Johnny and the repercussions that their quest to find their killer has on them – and the Town itself. While no one ever physically ages in the town, for the fifty years in which they are allowed to stay there the characters age emotionally. It was a stroke of genius for Smith to call ‘heaven’ The Town rather than heaven – because clearly in the novel it’s not.

I know that a book full of dead kids doesn’t exactly sound charming or appealing, but you’re going to have to trust me that as weird as this premise sounds, Smith makes it work. There are many twists in this book that I saw coming, there were a few that I didn’t. The surprising tenderness of the prose along with the affability and friendship of the main characters leaves the reader thinking about this book long after finishing it. 

Despite being about a ‘heaven’ populated by thirteen year olds – this novel is on no level a YA book. Perhaps it could be an appropriate read for kids of upper ages, but I really feel like the tone, style, and themes make this a book that easily fits into the literary fiction category. 

Smith should feel proud of his debut novel, it’s unique, funny, tender, and absolutely enthralling. Go read it, trust me.

Does this book sound too weird for you, Reader? (It’s not, just trust me and go get it.) What do you have this lovely Monday that I must read?

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Feminist Friday: Yes Please

Posted 27 March, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Feminist Friday: Yes PleaseYes Please by Amy Poehler
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Limited on October 1st 2014
Pages: 288
Goodreads
four-half-stars

In a perfect world... We'd get to hang out with Amy Poehler, watching dumb movies, listening to music, and swapping tales about our coworkers and difficult childhoods. Because in a perfect world, we'd all be friends with Amy -- someone who seems so fun, is full of interesting stories, tells great jokes, and offers plenty of advice and wisdom (the useful kind, not the annoying kind you didn't ask for, anyway). Unfortunately, between her Golden Globe-winning role on Parks and Recreation, work as a producer and director, place as one of the most beloved SNL alumni and cofounder of the Upright Citizens Brigade, involvement with the website Smart Girls at the Party, frequent turns as acting double for Meryl Streep, and her other gig as the mom of two young sons, she's not available for movie night. Luckily, we have the next best thing: Yes Please, Amy's hilarious and candid book. A collection of stories, thoughts, ideas, lists, and haiku from the mind of one of our most beloved entertainers, Yes Please offers Amy's thoughts on everything from her "too safe" childhood outside of Boston to her early days in new York City, her ideas about Hollywood and "the biz," the demon that looks back at all of us in the mirror, and her joy at being told she has a "face for wigs." Yes Please is a chock-full of words and wisdom to live by.

This was going to be one of three mini-reviews, until I wrote a whole lot on it.

I loved this book to pieces, guys. Everything from the writing itself, to the narration, to the message that the book was seeking to get out there appealed to me. Poehler’s narration is delightful and I love that she brings in guest stars to do bits and pieces for her.

The title itself is a call to positivity. “YES PLEASE!” more positivity in my life. “YES PLEASE!” more positivity in the book blogging community “YES PLEASE!” more positivity among and between women, lifting each other up instead of tearing each other down. The part of the book that really impacted me the most was the discussion that Poehler had on child-rearing and really all decision making among womenfolk. The general sentiment is that we should strive towards the attitude “That’s great for her, but not for me.” Whether a woman chooses to breastfeed, bottle feed, stay at home, go back to work – whatever it is – if it’s not for you great! But recognize that it could be what’s best for other people. She really just verbalized the way we could make the mommy wars stop – if everyone would just read this book.

Other than that, Poehler is warm and funny, while still being vulgar and surprisingly revealing some of her bad girl history. It’s a great great listen. Even if celebrity memoirs aren’t your thing, I highly recommend the audio.

So Reader, what do you think? ARE celebrity memoirs your thing? Have you read this? Tell me your thoughts and dreams.

Signature

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Must Read Monday: Us Conductors

Posted 9 February, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Must Read Monday: Us ConductorsUs Conductors by Sean Michaels
Published by Tin House Books on May 19th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 464
Goodreads
five-stars

Us Conductors is the imagined story of Lev Sergeyvich Termen, inventor of the theremin--one of the first electric musical instruments--and his unrequited love for Clara Rockmore, its greatest player. A tale of espionage and electricity, it takes readers from the gardens of St. Petersburg to the Jazz-Age nightclubs of New York, through concert halls, speakeasies, and the Siberian wastes. Sean Michaels’s debut novel is based on the true events of Termen’s life: his invention of the theremin, in Russia, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution; his decade as a Manhattan celebrity and secret spy, jostling with Gershwin and building weapon detectors for Alcatraz; and his eventual return to Stalin’s USSR. As the novel reaches its devastating climax, Termen is sent out into the Gulag--first to a forced labor camp and then to a prison for scientists—and bears witness to some of the Cold War’s deepest atrocities. But like the theremin, Us Conductors is also an eerie and magical invention. Subtle, thrilling, and melancholy, it is a story of secrets, of human ingenuity, of the lengths one goes to survive, and, ultimately, of the undiminishing hope for love that keeps us alive.

This book has been flying under the radars of U.S. (and possibly most international) readers. Despite having won the Giller Prize in Canada, for some reason it has not managed to ‘make it’ outside of that country. I will forever be indebted to Tanya at 52 Books or Bust for convincing me to read this with her brilliant review of this novel.

This book meets at the intersection of music, science, history, and unrequited love. Despite the blurb, this is not a epistolary novel. It is one long narrative presented in two parts. Michaels veers between sections that are clearly written to Clara and expository sections where most of the action takes place. 

I found myself delighted with the ‘name dropping’ of 20’s and 30’s musicians that are now a part of classical and jazz music canon. There are discussions on Shostakovich, meetings with Glenn Miller. Many classical composers attended concerts by Termen while he was in New York – and quite frankly – it’s impressive that this man and his instrument that I had only vague knowledge of made such a huge impact on the music world at the time. His instrument, the theremin, is a testament to how closely music and science can intersect. 

But wait, there’s more. So you’re not interested in music or science? That’s okay too. This book covers the USSR’s cold war espionage and the horrors of the gulags under Stalin. While this is still primarily what I would consider a character driven novel, there is plenty of action and intrigue to go with it. The story is immensely readable and highly enjoyable. Despite this being a Canadian novel, it feels remarkably American. (Which is part of the reason I don’t understand why it hasn’t been more successful in the U.S.) 

This is a fabulous novel that transcends all the categories you want to try to put it in. Absolutely, without a doubt, you should read it. Since it is a true piece of historical fiction I found myself promptly ordering the non-fiction title Theremin: Ether, Music, and Espionage by: Albert Glinsky and requesting from the library the DVD for the 1993 documentary on the subject Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey.

I’ll leave you with this clip of Clara Rockmore (Termen’s unrequited love interest) playing Saint-Saën’s ‘The Swan’ which is one of the first pieces that Termen introduced to listeners when demonstrating his new instrument.

 
If you’re further interested in the theremin, here’s a Ted Talk/performance on it!
 
So, Reader, have you read anything that seems to be under the radar that is absolutely brilliant lately? 

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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An Untamed State: A Tournament of Books Selection

Posted 21 January, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

An Untamed State: A Tournament of Books SelectionAn Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Published by Grove Press on 2014
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 370
Goodreads
five-stars

Roxane Gay is a powerful new literary voice whose short stories and essays have already earned her an enthusiastic audience. In An Untamed State, she delivers an assured debut about a woman kidnapped for ransom, her captivity as her father refuses to pay and her husband fights for her release over thirteen days, and her struggle to come to terms with the ordeal in its aftermath. Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring husband, a precocious infant son, by all appearances a perfect life. The fairy tale ends one day when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, in front of her father’s Port au Prince estate. Held captive by a man who calls himself The Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As it becomes clear her father intends to resist the kidnappers, Mireille must endure the torments of a man who resents everything she represents. An Untamed State is a novel of privilege in the face of crushing poverty, and of the lawless anger that corrupt governments produce. It is the story of a willful woman attempting to find her way back to the person she once was, and of how redemption is found in the most unexpected of places.

Reviewing An Untamed State hopped up on cough medicine and generally feeling ill may not be advisable, but I’m going to try it anyway. It’s a powerful book, powerfully written, with a powerful message. That message, like it or leave it, is feminism.

Before reading An Untamed State I have read maybe half of Bad Feminist and admire Gay as an essayist and someone who is making waves (meaningful waves) in current American feminism – attempting to grapple it out of the hands of upper-middle class white women and spread it for ALL THE PEOPLE. The cough syrup is rearing its head already, no?

This book is raw and powerful. Gay gives descriptions of rape and abuse that are written on a page of onion skin. By that I mean that the reader is sheltered from the worst of the abuse through a layer of beautiful, heart wrenching prose. The tug and pull between Mireille’s past, present, and future, is a haunting and difficult part of the novel.

For whatever reason, these novels of abuse and survival are not ‘hard’ reads for me. An Untamed State was harrowing, yes. But just as other novels have left me with me – so has this one done. I know that my privileged upper-middle class, white cis-woman experiences are a part of it – I’ve never encountered real fear or hardship – for whatever reason – I’ve always been shielded from the most terrible parts of life. This does not negate my own difficulties. But all the same An Untamed State is one of those books that lifts the veil on the realities that even the wealthiest face in a lawless, yet beautiful country such as Haiti.

For me the most difficult part of the novel was the not the physical abuse and torment that Mireille faced at the hands of her kidnappers. It was the psychological scars and pain that would not perhaps ever heal from the experience. Maybe this is because I have known psychological pain where I have not known the terror of physical brutality. My heart ached when following her return she suffered from PTSD, when she was unable to ‘pull it together’ or even verbalize why everything was spiraling out of control after her return to the States. This part of the novel has not left me the way that the section on the torments of her kidnapping have.

Gay balances all of this horror and pain with great kindness. The patience and love that is shown by her mother-in-law is unexpected and because of that it is also more beautiful. 

I highly recommend this book to everyone. The difficult reading combined with the beautiful prose makes this a meaningful read. If you’re a rape/kidnapping/abuse survivor, please know this probably will have triggers. 

Andi had an excellent review of this yesterday.

What about you, Reader? Have you read An Untamed State? Do you challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone enough?

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights

Posted 2 December, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion RightsPro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt
Published by Picador on October 14th 2014
Genres: Abortion & Birth Control, Social Science, Women's Studies
Pages: 272
Goodreads
five-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A POWERFUL ARGUMENT FOR ABORTION AS A MORAL RIGHT AND SOCIAL GOOD BY A NOTED FEMINIST AND LONGTIME COLUMNIST FOR THE NATION. Forty years after the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, "abortion" is still a word that is said with outright hostility by many, despite the fact that one in three American women will have terminated at least one pregnancy by menopause. Even those who support a woman's right to an abortion often qualify their support by saying abortion is a "bad thing," an "agonizing decision," making the medical procedure so remote and radioactive that it takes it out of the world of the everyday, turning an act that is normal and necessary into something shameful and secretive. Meanwhile, with each passing day, the rights upheld by the Supreme Court are being systematically eroded by state laws designed to end abortion outright.In this urgent, controversial book, Katha Pollitt reframes abortion as a common part of a woman's reproductive life, one that should be accepted as a moral right with positive social implications. In Pro, Pollitt takes on the personhood argument, reaffirms the priority of a woman's life and health, and discusses why terminating a pregnancy can be a force for good for women, families, and society. It is time, Pollitt argues, that we reclaim the lives and the rights of women and mothers.

Holy poop on a stick, guys. I almost gave myself whiplash when I read this book. There was nodding and highlighting and more nodding and more highlighting. Pollitt nails it.

Clearly and concisely she lays out why abortion doesn’t have to be, nor should be, a scarlet letter upon women who have them. She speaks clearly on the anti-choice movement and breaks down the ‘true believers’ from those who would limit abortions to limit the upward mobility of women. 

First, the concept of personhood as applied to the zygote, blastocyst, embryo and, at least until late in the pregnancy, fetus makes no sense: it’s an incoherent covertly religious idea that falls apart if you look at it closely. Few people actually believe it, as is shown by the exceptions they are willing to make.

I thought about this statement for a little bit and then I realized how much truth it had in it. If anti-choicers rabidly believe in life at conception – then life is life right? Rape and incest should be excluded exceptions, right? I’m not saying that there aren’t true believers out there who would love to exclude rape and incest as a means for abortion, however I think, (hope, pray) that if you asked the majority of anti-choicers whether rape and incest were valid reasons to ‘allow’ a woman an abortion, they would say ‘Absolutely.’

Indeed, it makes my stomach churn to think of a world full of ‘true believers’ in the personhood movement. (As a book blogger I must give you a hint and tell you it looks a lot like Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.)

Pollitt makes demands on her own audience as well:

I want us to start thinking of abortion as a positive social good and saying this out loud. […] I want to argue… that it is an essential option for women – not just ones in dramatic, terrible, body-and-soul-destroying situations, but all women – and thus benefits society as a whole. 

Whoa. “Abortion as a positive social good…”? Yes. I will stand up and say that abortion is a positive social good.

Pollitt explores the terrible things that happen to women in countries where abortion is completely illegal (IRELAND), the lack of proper sex education here in the U.S. and how the anti-choice movement is weirdly at odds with both proper sex education for our youth and contraception – both which have been shown to reduce unwanted pregnancies (and therefore abortions) by a large margin in the youth population. If they hate abortion so much, how come they block the most effective ways to prevent it?

But the most remarkable part of this book is where Pollitt unpacks something that I’ve long known was there, but have been unable to express.

Motherhood is the last area in which the qualities we usually value – rationality, independent thinking, consulting our own best interests, planning for a better, more prosperous future, and dare I say it, pursuing happiness and dreams – are condemned as frivolity and selfishness. […] We don’t like the idea that a man might be severely constrained by a single ejaculation. He has places to go and things to do. That a woman’s life may be stunted by unwanted childbearing is not so troubling. Childbearing, after all, is what women are for.

…and there it is, right there. The notion in the anti-choice movement, whether they be true believers (who I can empathize a little more with) or people who consciously (or unconsciously) have a desire to keep women “in their place” that all women must be desiring (and able to care for) a child at all times is absolutely ridiculous in this day and age.

Let’s get a little personal. I had my one and only daughter during my second year of law school. I was one of the thousands (millions?) of women who had used her birth control properly and had seen it fail. I didn’t particularly want a child at that time in my life and while I’ve always been pro-choice I used the conventional logic that I was “too old, too married, and too financially stable to justify an abortion”. My daughter is delightful, but it’s been a hard road – especially for a woman who never wanted children to begin with. I’m lucky to have a spouse who takes on childcare-type things 50/50 (maybe even 60/40 in his favor sometimes) and that I am white and middle class.

TWIST.

The Girl was maaaaaybe six? seven months old when I was told that the birth control that I had resumed had failed again (Nuva Ring, ladies – it sucks) I was pregnant again – still in law school, now with an infant, oh and by the way – it was twins.  I was devastated. All  the work I had put into law school – down the drain. Two more babies and there was no way I could continue law school at that point in time – and I had already fought so hard to be there. But, all of my rationalizations against abortion were still there – I wasn’t seventeen, I couldn’t really justify one, could I?

I went so far as to call Planned Parenthood and see if there was anything that could be done. I was inching up closer to that cutoff mark and needed to make a decision, plus the 24 hour waiting period that was in place at the time. I didn’t believe in the idea of life at conception but at the same time society – even liberal society – had hammered the idea that abortion was so bad, so immoral how could I even consider such a thing? But I wanted one. I did. It’s also important to note that my husband backed me up on whatever I wanted to do, but was also leaning towards an abortion.

In the end I was saved the decision when my body decided for me and had a spontaneous abortion (see also: miscarriage). The relief that I felt was palpable. When I talk about it, it’s still palpable. To have had twins (and an infant) at that point in my life would have destroyed everything I had been working so hard for up to that point.

Had I read Pollitt’s book then, I might have had a different perspective on an abortion than I had at the time, and while I feel that I never would have regretted the decision had I had to make it – I’m not sure I could’ve made it. With this book I could have made it and not felt remotely ashamed about it.

Yet this is not my story alone. Every year thousands of women, many who are already mothers, many who are far more unfortunate than me, have failed birth control and lack the ability and/or the resources to bring another child into this world. After being denied an abortion because of arbitrary waiting times, or the inability to get the money together to have the procedure actually done – these women are forced to bring a life into the world that they may neither be competent nor financially able to care for. Where are the anti-choicers (the so-called pro-lifers) then? Dare I say cutting funding from WIC, food stamps, and Medicaid?

Pollitt points out the classist and sexist attitudes that both the left and the right have taken towards abortion, adoption, and contraception. She stresses the need to change our language and rhetoric in order to change the conversation. More often than not abortion is not the tragic, awful thing that anti-choicers would like the rest of us believe that it is.

One final point that Pollitt makes and then I’ll let this rest, the law, as it is currently written cannot compel a parent to give so much as a blood transfusion to a living child. Why is it more acceptable under the law to require a mother to be a walking incubator for nine months if she chooses not to? How does one resolve the two? Short answer: you can’t.

One last quote for the road and to possibly really piss you off:

And what about the Second Amendment? If abortion is different because it’s about life and death, so too, potentially, are guns, yet we seem positively loath to examine people’s reasons for wanting to own them. Any old wave in the direction of an explanation is good enough — “they’re fun,” “they’re part of our tradition down here,” “I’m a collector.” And unlike abortion, guns kill more than 32,000 actually existing people every year.

This has been a deep and harrowing post, Reader. So I won’t pose any questions. Feel free to air all opinions (for and against) here – respectful dissent is always encouraged.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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