Wednesday, August 31, 2011


now finished: Sisterhood Is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women's Liberation Movement ed. by Robin Morgan
(post backdated to when I finished the book)

Sisterhood is interesting. And, OK, powerful. Reading an anthology of women's liberation writings from 1970 is a wonderful exercise because it:

1. Offers hope
2. Lets you look at how far we have come
3. Makes you realize how far we also haven't come
4. Could really help some of "The Kids Today" to learn a thing or two about history before they go off half-cocked when jabbering about Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals, and so on
5. Could really help a lot of people who have consistently allowed the backlash to define feminism. You know who you are: the ones who say "I'm not a feminist but..." or who have ever once called feminism "anti-male." If that's you, you have allowed the backlash to define feminism, and you would benefit from learning what it is really about.

Sisterhood Is Powerful reflects one specific time period of feminism, the very late 1960s women's liberation movement. It is a fascinating look at the discrimination women faced at work - not just in factories and "pink-collar ghetto" jobs, but also in the professions. It is an exploration of the women's liberation struggle as it related to and overlapped with and separated from other struggles, such as the Civil Rights Movement and the desire for peace in Vietnam. It even has poetry.

The book includes Lucinda Cisler's extremely well written argument about abortion, birth control, and reproductive freedom. Sisterhood Is Powerful has pieces that are guaranteed to teach you something new, such as one about feminism in China. It features high school girls who were taking bold stands against feminism - where are they now? It includes inspiring quotes, galvanizing statistics, and famous feminist pieces such as "The Politics of Housework" by Pat Mainardi, "Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female" by Frances M. Beal, and "The Grand Coolie Damn" by Marge Piercy. 

It is an anthology, so you can dip in and out of it, or read one piece a day over the course of a few months in addition to your other readings, like a little feminism devotional.  You don't have to agree with everything written in it, but you can just learn from it. Even an excerpt from the "SCUM Manifesto" is included, not to be taken literally, but to make a point. (A Modest Proposal, anyone?) That's what reading and political dialogue are all about.

Highly, highly recommended!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tell it, Genji!

now finished: The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki Shikibu
(this post backdated to the date I finished the book)

Who doesn't love a 1,000-year-old Japanese novel? A world classic! A perfect book to bring on my August vacation to Japan! I am so glad that out of the two books I brought, I read The Waves first, finishing it the day after climbing Mt. Fuji, which was perfect for its life pondering themes. I then started reading The Tale of Genji after having already seen Kyoto, the longtime imperial capital with its megadoses of history, and I was able to appreciate more fully some of the settings in the book: I've been there! I know that mountain/temple! And the like.

OK, so a lot of Goodreads reviewers seem to be angry at this book because its about a snotty little sexist pig prince at court who sleeps around and can even pick out a young girl and "adopt" her to raise until she is old enough (read: adolescent) to become engaged to him. Ewww, right? But not reading this book for that reason would be like banning The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because it talks about awful things done to slaves. Yes, I know some people want to ban Huckleberry Finn. Those people are stupid.

Anyway, the Lady who wrote this spent time at court and knew whereof she spoke. I love that she wrote this slightly scandalous account. I think she is sly. Then again, some people who got to live at court had fairly good, interesting lives, and it's fun to learn little random details about that, too.

Another reason to read this book, and other old books, is because too many people suffer under the delusion that we in the modern world invent and experience things and that our ancestors didn't know anything, and people really need to realize that there have been great civilizations, intellect, philosophers, artists, and wit for many, many centuries/millennia.

The only problem is that I picked up the cheap Dover Thrift Edition, which, like many editions, is really just the first "book" of the whole many-page saga. So while I read that, I realized I really need to read the whole thing. Otherwise it really is all about Young Prince Genji's sexual escapades. But then what? I want to see what he does as a grown-up. I will be back, Genji and Lady Murasaki!

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Waves

now finished: The Waves by Virginia Woolf
(this post backdated to the date I finished the book)

When we traveled to Japan for a nine-day vacation in August, I was in the middle of reading a thick, heavy James Buchanan biography hardcover, which I left at home in Andong, instead bringing two paperbacks that I thought would be thematically as well as weightedly appropriate for the trip, The Waves  and The Tale of Genji. 

I started reading The Waves by my girl Virginia Woolf on the ferry from Pusan to Fukuoka. How appropriate, thought I, to begin reading The Waves while actually hydrofoiling on waves. Even better, Brian next to me was reading The Beach. I love me some Virginia Woolf and have been working my way through her oeuvre ever since I started Virginia-ing around 1995. I actually don't devour her books too quickly because I don't want to be done. I am sad when I think about the day I run out of VW to-reads. I've read about ten so far. Anyway, The Waves, in case you haven't heard, is mind blowing.

People like to describe it as "experimental."  Doesn't that just scare readers off? Don't some of you immediately mentally check out when you read that word?  (As opposed to the smaller, much smaller, group who immediately became intrigued and pull up Amazon in another window.) It's not experimental like House of Leaves, though, or even like DFW/endnotes. It narrates and tells a story of interacting characters, but what you read is their streams of consciousness, alternating. It is totally genius and it totally works.

It's awesome.

I like recommending Virginia Woolf novels, not that many people ever take me up on the suggestions, which is a shame because I do think about which book I am recommending (they are so different from one another). But The Waves could definitely be recommend to multiple people and I daresay anyone who appreciates a well-crafted novel.  Also, it packs a total "What's-it-all-about?" punch and will make you think about life, your life, your friends' lives, meaning, relationships, and so forth. You read these lives, from youth through old age, and you realize that your life is that, too. (A little bit like Kazuo Ishiguro, perhaps.)

If you're like me, you will fold down many pages because there are passages and quotes that are so strikingly beautiful. Or maybe you're the grab-a-pen-and-jot-it-down type. Or the just-sit-back-and-ponder-that-for-a-second type. Whatever works.

Well done, Virginia Woolf.  I so wish there was an afterlife where I could imagine you and David Foster Wallace talking these things over.