Review-orama 2014

It’s that time again, so let’s take a look back at the last year in reading and see how my basic impressions stack up. Click on the book title to go to the full review, where I’ve written one.

1. British History for Dummies, finished Jan 4th. These books are always well-done and succeed in their intended purpose. The difficulty is that no matter how much you try to dumb it down, it still ends up being way too long.

2. Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, finished Jan 14th. This book was fascinating and well worth the read.

3. Doctors From Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans, finished Jan 22nd. An important bart of the world’s past that I feel it’s important to know.

4. A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s, finished Jan 28th. Not a waste of time, but those who are not incredibly interested in the history of feminism may find it boring.

5. Freedom Summer: The Savage Season That Made Mississippi Burn And Made America a Democracy, finished March 2nd. Damn, I sure read books with long titles. This book is important. Read it.

6. Madame Du Barry: The Wages of Beauty, finished March 14th. Surprisingly boring.

7. Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, finished March 16th. The content is fascinating, but the scientific descriptions were right over my head, and I got bored.

8. Push, finished March 17th. Very good, just like the movie.

9. Black Cargoes: A History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1518-1865, finished March 26th. Very interesting content, but the writing could have been less dry.

10. The Night the Defeos Died, Reinvestigating the Amityville Murders, finished March 31st. Hands down my favorite book of the year. Awesome.

11. Knocked Up: Confessions of a Hip Mother-To-Be, finished April 4th. This is just fluffy entertainment. Nothing that great or valuable here.

12. Twelve Years a Slave, finished April 13th. Very personal and moving.

13. High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly, finished April 21st. Totally boring.

14. The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England, finished May 5th. Antonia Fraser is always a delight, but this book may be more suited to have around just as reference, or it can get very long.

15. The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture, finished May 8th. As I try to think of something to say here, it occurs to me that this book was forgettable. But I do remember liking it.

16. The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee, finished May 10th. Maybe it’s just the authors I’m choosing, but I find comedy books to be more valuable than people probably give them credit for.

17. In Cold Blood, finished May 16th. Awesome. There’s a reason this book is a classic.

18. The Last Gasp: The Rise and Fall of the American Gas Chamber, finished May 20th. Dark books are my weakness, but this was without any flavor at all.

19. African American History for Dummies, finished June 13th. Even though the For Dummies books are by different authors, my impressions of them are always the same.

20. Haunted: The Incredible True Story of a Canadian Family’s Experience Living in a Haunted House, finished June 17th. Mildly interesting, but not the least bit scary. Poop.

21. Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty, finished July 12th. Very interesting, very much worth the read.

22. Lord High Executioner: An Unashamed Look at Hangmen, Headsmen, and Their Kind, finished July 22nd. A surprisingly light read for such a dark subject.

23. Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, finished August 29th. A valuable read for every kind of woman.

24. Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill, finished Sept 8th. Horrifying.

25. Sasquatch: North America’s Enduring Mystery, finished Sept 12th. A very complete explanation, but still a little meh :/

26. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, finished Sept 22nd. Both depressing and uplifting at the same time, and all around very impressive.

27. Dead Until Dark, finished Sept 23rd. Surprisingly fluffy and weak, considering such a great show came out of it.

28. The Tin Ticket: The Heroic Journey of Australia’s Convict Women, finished Oct 6th. Pretty interesting, very engaging novel-like style.

29. Wicked River: The Mississippi When it Last Ran Wild, finished Oct 16th. Well-written, and cool information, but arguably with limited importance. That sounds bad…

30. Vittorio, The Vampire, finished Oct 24th. It’s an Anne Rice book, enough said.

31. Living Dead in Dallas, finished Nov 16th. More fun and interesting than Dead Until Dark, but still fluff.

32. Prince Lestat, finished Dec 5th. Well worth the wait.

33. Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, finished Dec 27th. Perfection.

Advertisements

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.