Saturday, December 31, 2016

Trainwreck by Sady Doyle *****

"If you are a woman, and you make yourself visible in the world, they will always...insult you back into silence."
Trainwreck by Sady Doyle presents two conflicting ideas: (1) society conspires to exclude women, and (2) progress is being made. The first idea is supported with historical and contemporary examples. I found these examples so awful, that I could only read small sections at a time. The second premise is more an expression of faith.

Doyle suggests that people are considered to be trainwrecks because they are women, and to exclude them from power and influence. "We wreck people because they are women."
"Mental illness and addiction ruin women--make them sideshows, dirty jokes, bogeyman, objects of moral panic--but they only seem to add to a man's mystique."
The list of men and women to support this hypothesis is lengthy on both sides, convincing, discouraging, and depressing.

If you have to courage to read this book, it will give you a view of the subtlety and pervasiveness of misogyny. It shifts the blame from the obvious troglodytes--abusive husbands, predatory employers, pimps, and rapists--to all of us, men and women, with our unconscious assumptions about women.

Women who are reviled in life are often revered in death.
"...death neutralizes them. It removes them from the public eye, definitely and permanently. And it shows, as last, they shouldn't have taken those risks, done those things, said those words, lived that life. By dying, a trainwreck finally gives us the one statement we wanted to hear from her; that women like her really can't make it, and shouldn't be encouraged to try."
This book was released in September 2016. Given its dismal prognosis for women, you might have expected it to foresee the November 2016 election results in the U.S., but no.
"But in all the fury, the conspiracy theorists and angry men seem to miss one of the strangest facts about Hillary Clinton: Gravity works differently on her. You can trip her up or knock her over, but when Hillary falls, she falls up."
In retrospect, like the other attempts by the author to contradicts her dismal observations, this seems to be more of an optimistic prayer, than something related to the lived reality.

As Dante said, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Tribe by Sebastian Junger ****

Tribe by Sebastian Junger is a short (140 small-format pages) book about PTSD. Many conditions are on the increase in recent history. Examples include cancer, autism spectrum disorder, and, as this book explores, post-traumatic stress disorder. Explanations fall into two broad areas: better reporting or environmental changes. Junger comes down in the environmental change column.

Junger appeals to self-determination theory: humans require feelings of competence, authenticity, and connectedness. These outweigh beauty, wealth, and status, even though the latter three are more emphasized by modern society. The general lack of self determination can both explain the attraction of military service and the difficulty in returning from combat.

Echoing The Paleo Diet, the book argues that people evolved to live in tribes and connectedness, while today's society is about division, difference, and individuality. How bad is it?
"The United States is so powerful that the only country capable of destroying her might be the United States herself... the ultimate terrorist strategy would be to just leave the country alone... America's ugliest partisan tendencies could emerge unimpeded by the unifying effects of wars."
This is an interesting take on war and PTSD, but it seems long on problems and short on solutions.

One question in the 21st century is how to achieve equality? Income equality? Racial equality? Gender equality? Interestingly, the only proven method is a disaster, either human-made, such as war, or natural, such as a large earthquake.
"An earthquake achieves what the law promises but does not in practice maintain," one of the survivors [of the earthquake in Avezzano in 1915 that killed 30,000 with mortality rates as high as 96%] wrote, "The equality of all men."
In war, there is more equality than in peace. In tribes, there is more equality than in cities.

Monday, December 19, 2016

All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister *****

Who said this?
"I'll never run for office. I'm too aggressive, and nobody will ever vote for me."
As everyone realizes, this would have to be a lady, no man would ever say something like this. Regardless, as explored in All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister, much else is changing for women.
"In 2010, women held the majority of all jobs in the country, along with 51% of all management positions. About a third of the nation's doctors are female, and 45 percent of its lawyers. ... The percentage of not just bachelor's degrees, but also master's, law, medical, and doctoral degrees being awarded to women is the highest it has ever been."
In addition, women are delaying marriage and children, and thus accruing more power, wealth, and independence. Even with extensive references to the misogynistic conservative press, when published in March 2016, much of this volume supported the inevitability of a different result in the November election than actually happened.

As a baby boomer, I've had my personal confusion and anxiety with the increase in childless, single women. I highly recommend this book to anxious grandparents-in-waiting. It delivers the promise of hope, understanding, and empathy for these changes in the wrought by feminism.

This an exhaustive volume of history and analysis. Some topics are very optimistic: many important women have been single and/or childless. Other topics are very discouraging: progress is mostly restricted to affluent white women. As might be expected, history tends to be depressing:
"... the Cult of Single Blessedness [19th century]  ... women unmarried by chance or by choice had their own acceptable submissive purpose."
In addition to progress being restricted to affluent whites, it is also geographically restricted to large liberal cities like New York.

As might be expected, the book moves up and down from the joys, opportunities, and fulfillment of a single life, to the poignant sorrow of living alone. In one anecdote, a young lady went out dancing and injured her shoulder. When she finally arrived home, she had to sleep in her party dress as it buttoned up the back and she could no longer reach them buttons, ... and there was no one to help her.

Mini-rant follows: In a celebration of the inevitability of the rise of feminist success and power, an extensive section of the book reiterates every anti-feminist argument confident that these ideas will be swept into the dustbin of history along with those against suffrage, financial rights, same-sex marriage, etc.

In retrospect, I read this optimism as arrogance. The book foreshadows the November election with its emphasis on large cities and white affluence, never seeming to realize the implications of this narrow vision.

In the end, this book is as much a eulogy and a celebration.

Well written, well researched, and vaguely optimistic.

Who said, "I'll never run for office. I'm too aggressive, and nobody will ever vote for me?"

Why, HRC, of course.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Here Comes the Bribe by Mary Daheim ***

Here Comes the Bribe by Mary Daheim is a cozy mystery set at a bed & breakfast in the pacific northwest. The story opens when a wedding party checks in for a small wedding to be held at Hillside Manor B&B the next day. Unfortunately, the bride's mother dies that night and the ceremony is delayed.

The book starts slow as all the strange members of the wedding party are introduced. After the usual false starts, the mystery is solved with little surprise or satisfaction.

If you are going to enjoy this book, you most likely know who you are, as this is number thirty in the series. On the other hand, if you are new to the series, you can get the entire thirty book series on Kindle for a bit over $200 (December 2016).