Roe v. Wade: The Abortion Rights Controversy in American History – An Anti-Review

Hey look, another book review that will probably generate a lot of controversy! Bring it on Strangers, because I’m not going to get into that debate here; this is just about the book itself. Now I will say that I am pro-choice, and I’m not going to pretend I’m not. But my reasons for that don’t really apply to this discussion, and just because I’ve chosen a side also doesn’t mean I necessarily think a book like this should (without at least explicitly presenting itself as such), even if it agrees with me. It’s quite obvious that this book is pro-choice, and it cites some pretty horrifying facts of misogyny from times past (or present, who am I kidding?). It’s just that I think we learn the most effectively when there’s been care to equally represent both sides. Otherwise what are we doing but just congratulating ourselves on our so very enlightened view of things? The truth is, this book presents itself as explaining to us the history of this controversy, NOT the history of one side of the argument. That would be ok too, but if you picked this book up based on its title I imagine that’s not necessarily what you’re looking to learn here. I’m interested in the debate and I’m interested in facts. The opinions I end up landing on are based as much as humanly possible on facts rather than gut emotion. So I am going to have to fault this book for being somewhat misleading.

Once you get that out of the way, there are two reactions I have to this. “Holy shit this is fucking dry,” and “Wow, that’s fascinating!” This book is yet another victim to a great topic bogged down by just plain boring writing. Such a loaded topic should be at least a little fun to read, shouldn’t it? I don’t mean all-out sensationalism, but at least try to match the wild ride that is online arguments. Just, of course, with more information and fully researched points. Just because we want to learn while we read doesn’t mean we don’t also care about enjoying ourselves while we do it. Otherwise we’d probably sit in on an actual class that covers these sorts of things.

I wonder if I’m being unfair here by suggesting that this book be both unbiased and riveting. But I really don’t think I am. The documentary Lake of Fire proves that this is possible. This movie made a point to not try to sway its audience, but to portray both sides equally, in both all their glory and all their horror. The filmmaker’s efforts in my opinion were entirely successful. And it was one of the best damn movies I’ve ever seen. I think the fact that it was unbiased made it far more interesting, because not only does it really make us think, but it doesn’t shield us from the ugly side of our chosen side. And the ugly side is important, not just because it’s sure to get a rise out of us. Let’s not pretend that either group is a bunch of angels, because they’re not. If we don’t face the facts, and if we’re just not interested in the whole truth, then isn’t it a total waste of time to even bother? I really feel this book could have proven its point here by being entertaining, so because this means it falls short on two levels, well, just damnit.

I’m not being a hypocrite either. Obviously I’m not particularly interested in an unbiased recounting of slavery, or Nazis, or serial killers. But the difference is that society as a whole is pretty much done weighing in on these things. Opinion is now fact. It’s no longer a valid opinion that racism and murder are cool. But as much as pro-life people annoy the shit out of me, the fact remains that their opinion, at the time of this writing, is still valid. I don’t agree with it, but if so many people feel that way, shouldn’t we find out why? Besides, it doesn’t do much good to poke holes in an argument you don’t know much about.

And this was all written by the time I got to page 46.

I’m not in the mood to summarize what I’ve learned here, mostly because I just don’t feel like it’s a whole lot. There’s almost just too much information, it’s so complicated (legal stuff always is), and based on other reviews I question some of its accuracy. Misogyny in the past was very dark! Opinions about abortion, inextricably tied to opinions about women’s place in society, oscillated constantly with changing social issues such as war and women’s suffrage! Goddamn do I wish I cared more about the details. Keep in mind, I’m reviewing this from a layman’s perspective. I’m not a literary expert or an expert on this subject. Most likely you won’t be either, which is why my relatively uneducated, overly simple everyman opinion is so valid here. I’m NOT enjoying this book. And I’m starting to question how much longer I’ll keep trying to before I give up and try replacing it with a different one on the same topic.

What I AM learning, or maybe just bringing more to the forefront of my mind, is that “interesting” and “boring” almost don’t exist. They’re only in the mind of the beholder, more influenced by presentation than the qualities of the subject itself. It’s a moving target. Whether you care or not about a topic has everything to do with how the way it’s been presented so far relates to your personality. My personality would rather watch well-informed people fight about this on Facebook. I’m not as highbrow as I’d like to be. So with that, I’ll leave off here for now. If it works out in the end, I’ll update with a real review.

Rather just watch the movie? Check out Lake of Fire.

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Haunted: The Incredible True Story of a Canadian Family’s Experience Living in a Haunted House

Warning: contains spoilers

Ah, sweet ghost story mind candy. Something I can never resist. The first thing I need to get out of the way right now though, which unfortunately is a spoiler, is that it’s NOT SCARY. I don’t mean this to say that it was supposed to be scary but the whole thing was just too wimpy. Despite this being a first-hand account rather than a story written by an established horror author, this is relatively well written. No, the thing about this is that none of the ghosts are “bad guys.” They don’t want to scare the pants off anyone, they just want to be buds. They rather liked this nice young family who came into their house, and none of this story involved the typical “GET OUT!” kind of stuff we may come to expect. That’s why I find the ooky spooky font used in the title and chapter titles to  be kind of hilarious. You can just picture someone reading this story at a campfire going “and then the ghost… gave them some flowers! OOOOooooo!!” Haha! Well, I guess that would make this a great ghost book for those of you easily find yourselves going to sleep with the lights on. It’s fun, easy, short, and not that big a burden on your anxiety levels. My only real criticism here is that the author, likely out of a need for some sense of privacy, only gives as many details about her family as are absolutely necessary. We aren’t told anyone’s ages, and are left having to guess how old the kids are by the descriptions of events, like really terrible detectives trying to solve a really boring mystery. We also don’t know what any of the family members looks like, and this creates an unfortunate sense of distance between us and the story. Dare I suggest it may have been easier, if they wanted to keep their privacy, to just… make something up? Come on, draw us in! Well, as I did mention in the beginning, this is not a story written by an established horror author. For all her inexperience, the author of this book does come across as very real, if not likeable. And that certainly counts for something.  Not a bad little break from all these serious history books at all.

Other recommended reads: The Amityville Horror, Canadian Ghost Stories

African-American History for Dummies

So you all know by now that I’m a Canadian who loves American history. But American history just isn’t complete without making sure we get the black perspective on it as well. And you just can’t learn everything there is to know about black people by watching The Cosby Show. You still won’t know what the jazz is all about!

So here we are, once again taking on a Dummies book to get as complete an overview as possible in order to better understand the content of books that focus on more specific portions of this subject. And it really does take us all over the place. It’s not just about slavery and civil rights but about sports, literature, and the media. The contributions of black people to American society are not just huge, but 100% necessary. America just would not be America without them, so as far as I’m concerned the American History section of my bookshelf isn’t complete without a copy of this book either.

I like how this book is actually organized in two different ways. There’s the chronological way, which starts with an overview of various African cultures, then moves into the slave trade, slavery itself, the civil war, and the civil rights movement. But then equally important are the separate sections discussing different aspects of black culture such as education, religion, and the media. This book has the typical issues that are unavoidable in other For Dummies books and others like them that have such a huge mass of information to cover in a relatively short amount of space. It inevitably goes into a few subjects you just don’t care about (personally I don’t give two shits about sports, no matter what color the people playing them) and leaves you really wanting more on the subjects you do. It’s hard for me to say which part was my favorite, but I suppose I could say it was the part about movies. This is the kind of book that may be slow going for you if for no other reason than you’re tempted to stop and refer to the other media it references, so that you end up spending half your time youtube-ing and downloading music and movies to really be able to grasp just how influential these works are. I spent AGES on The History of Jazz listening to so much music I should have gotten a university course credit for it all. I didn’t stop to explore the works mentioned in this particular book, but I am fully intending to, and the Part of Tens included in every For Dummies book is a great reference to turn to if your thirst for the subject still isn’t satisfied.

So I don’t feel satisfied by this, I really don’t. But we need to understand that with books like this, the very point is that you’ll catch the bug and want more. If they covered everything it would take ten years to read them. No, these are just very large appetizers. If they’ve done their job they just leave you hungry for other books with a more specific focus, so that in the end your knowledge of these fascinating subjects becomes a huge multi-course meal. Yum!

Rather just watch the movie? Check out The Butler.

Other recommended reads: Twelve Years a Slave, Black Cargoes: A History of the Atlantic Slave Trade.