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text 2018-01-02 22:11
Was this really the beginning? No!
The Flame and the Flower - Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss's The Flame and the Flower began the flood of paperback historical romances written by and for women readers in 1972, but it wasn't the first historical romance by any means.

 

We can go back to the swashbucklers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, by Dumas and Hugo and Sabatini, as well as the historical adventures of the mid-20th century by Yerby and Shellabarger and others.  These were the books I and my fellow historical romance writers of the 1980s had grown up reading.  We watched the movies of Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power, Cornel Wilde and Burt Lancaster.  We weren't into the polite comedies of manners from Georgette Heyer the way we were into the swords and daggers of Edison Marshall.

 

As I detailed in my analysis of Leslie Turner White's Lord Johnnie, there was a subtle feminism in many of these pre-Woodiwiss novels.  Not in all of them, of course, but it's important to remember that women read these books, too, and they watched the movies that were made from them in the 1930s, 1940s, and on.  The books, and the authors, had to keep those women in mind.

 

It was on that foundation that Kathleen Woodiwiss built, to be followed by Rosemary Rogers, Laurie McBain, Jude Deveraux, Rebecca Brandewyne, Julie Garwood, Candace Camp, LaVyrle Spencer, Jo Beverley, Julia Quinn, and so many more.

 

In the spring of 2000, I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis at Arizona State University West on the feminist potential in romance novels.  Eventually I published a digital edition on Amazon, not expecting very much but just to have it easily available.

 

 

 

The changes that have occurred in the romance fiction world since 2000 really warrant another examination of the causes and effects, the actions and reactions.  I stated at the beginning of Half Heaven, Half Heartache that I wasn't going to look at gay and lesbian romances because my focus was on the straight romance and how it affected as well as mirrored real life straight romance.  Seventeen years later, however, there is now a valid and valuable interaction.  The same is true of romances featuring people of color, interracial romances, and all the other "new" forms of romantic fiction, both historical and contemporary, paranormal and fantasy.

 

My collection of romance novels has grown since 2000, and there has been more non-fiction about romance fiction written and published.  Imagine what I could do with that.

 

Watch this space.

 

 

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review 2017-12-29 23:57
The Gebusi by Bruce Knauft
The Gebusi: Lives Transformed in a Rainforest World - Bruce M. Knauft

I am not the intended audience for this book; I read it looking for something set in Papau New Guinea from which I would learn a bit about the country and its people, while the book seems intended for assignment in undergraduate anthropology classes as a supplementary textbook. It did fulfill my goal of learning about the lives of the Gebusi, a small tribe living in the rainforest of Papau New Guinea’s huge Western Province. On the other hand, it’s a shame that academic texts aren’t written or edited with the goal of satisfying the reader; the author’s goal seems to be more about teaching students about anthropology and the realities of ethnographic work than answering the reader’s curiosity. In other words, the gulf between this and popular ethnographies like $2.00 a Day or City of Thorns is huge.

Knauft is an anthropologist who initially lived with the Gebusi for two years, from 1980 to 1982, accompanied by his wife Eileen (whether she is also an anthropologist is unclear; though he discusses his feelings about developments among the Gebusi and relationships with individuals among them, this is definitely not a memoir). Despite sporadic contact with Australian officers, during the time that they colonized the country, the Gebusi at the time retained a very traditional culture, including a tradition of spirit mediumship, all-night dances and séances, and elaborate initiation rituals for young men. They were easily able to provide for their material needs with crops that require little effort in cultivation, and enjoyed leisure time and “good company,” along with a cultural flourishing that resulted from the Australians' subduing a nearby tribe with a habit of raiding their longhouses and massacring their people. But it wasn't an ideal life: while they had enough to eat, nutrition was poor, illness rife and few people made it to the age of 40; the society was patriarchal and women excluded from many aspects of it; and execution for sorcery was rampant. The Gebusi believed that all deaths were caused by humans, so deaths by sickness or accident led to sorcery inquests and often more death. Nevertheless, they weren’t the stereotype of a cannibalistic rainforest people (though there is cannibalism in their past): due process was important, including a waiting period after the death and finding a neutral spirit medium to preside over the inquest.

After his initial stay, Knauft returned to the Gebusi in 1998, at which point their culture was transformed: many had moved to a nearby town with an airstrip and government services. They converted to various forms of Christianity, sent their children to school, and gave up sorcery inquests and executions entirely. Men’s leisure time now revolved around local soccer leagues, while women sold produce (usually with little success) in the local market. The several tribes inhabiting the town mocked their own traditional cultures in Independence Day celebrations, and Gebusi practices such as dancing and initiation rites seemed to be dying out as young people attempted to embrace the modern world.

But then in 2008, everything had changed again: loss of funding meant government services had largely vanished, and the Gebusi were reviving their traditional culture, including building longhouses and conducting initiation rites; as they retained their land and ability to sustain themselves, they didn’t seem to miss the government or markets much. But spirit mediumship had died out, so that despite lingering suspicions of sorcery they were no longer able to conduct inquests, and many of the Gebusi continued to attend Christian services.

It is fascinating material, and the author seems to have made personal friends with many of the Gebusi and to respect them and their culture. He is aware of his own fallibility and works to distinguish unique incidents from those typical of the culture. And he spends enough time with Gebusi to get to know them and to be able to tell stories in context about incidents that occur in the community.

However, for all the author’s talk about how this is intended to be less formal and more personal than typical academic writing, and for all that the writing is clearer and more engaging than in most textbooks, the content is still basically that of a textbook. Sometimes its information is incomplete, as if the author has made his point and is ready to move on, regardless of whether readers have more questions. For instance, for all that Knauft mentions sorcery executions frequently, I still don’t know how most of these deaths occurred. Both in the book and on his website (which for some reason includes entire stories in pictures that aren’t in the book but deserved to be), he describes instances in which the accused is killed in the forest by a relative of the deceased, which the community accepts because of the “spiritual evidence” against the accused. How common is this, as opposed to public or formal executions? Is everyone given the opportunity to exonerate themselves via trial by cooking, or only some people? In one case described, the sorcerer purportedly comes from another village and the searchers lose the trail; is this unusual, or common?

In other cases, it can be vague in a way typical of academic writing, obscuring specifics behind general language. For instance, a boy and later young man with whom the author is close leaves his community due to “a dispute” and travels to the nearest city, where he works for two years. This is after he and his younger brother are orphaned when he’s about 12. Who raised the boys after that, and what was the dispute? These are human interest questions, but their answers also speak to Gebusi culture. And despite telling us about their terrible life expectancy in the early 80s, the author has nothing to say about how having and then losing a local medical clinic affected the Gebusi. Their lifespans are still much shorter than Americans’, but were there improvements?

And bizarrely, he mentions only on his aforementioned website, in a caption to a longhouse diagram, that rigidly separate sleeping areas for men and women mean that sexual relations happened in the rainforest rather than in bed. Doesn't this deserve to be in the book, rather than only the "alternative sexual practices" (i.e. adolescent boys giving blowjobs because swallowing semen was supposed to help them become men)? But in the book he does mention a couple caught having an illicit affair in a house, so maybe the rainforest sex only applies to those few families who actually live in the longhouse? Knauft isn't too shy to include a scene of a young man propositioning him, so why isn't this in the book?

Overall, I learned from this book, but I think it would be a little off-base for most non-academic readers (the “Broader Connections” bullet point summaries of key ideas in anthropology at the end of each chapter, with much bolded text, are definitely eyeroll-worthy). While it’s not as short as the page count would have it – there’s a lot of text on each page – it was worth my time.

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review 2017-12-20 20:46
Thinking ahead
The Great Questions of Tomorrow (TED Books) - David Rothkopf

Have you guys ever watched a TED Talk? Well, apparently some of those Ted Talks are turned into published works so that the ideas can be delved into a little deeper. (To see more you can visit their website here. (They haven't asked me to review today's book by the way.)) I hadn't watched David Rothkopf's talk but The Great Questions of Tomorrow was featured in my regular 'what's new at Simon & Schuster' email and it seemed to be calling my name. Rothkopf is exploring a very wide and diverse range of topics with a central theme of  'what does this mean for the future?' running through them all. I guess it should come as no surprise that this book thoroughly freaked me out while at the same time fascinating me. Have you thought about the future of drone warfare and whether or not it might constitute the necessity for intelligent machines to have rights as members of society? WELL, NOW YOU ARE. He jumped from frightening scenarios like that to ones that hadn't even occurred to me such as complete mobile banking which would see the demise of physical currency and brick and mortar banks. O_O I especially enjoyed his take on government and how we should be trying to elect leaders who not only understand technology but can look towards the future to prepare accordingly. His example of how this was not done was that just because there was one shoe bomber it shouldn't mean we have to remove our shoes at airports into perpetuity. All in all, it was a fascinating read that I zipped right through. It's great for the people in your life (or yourself!) that enjoy philosophical discussions about the future and how actions of today and yesterday have and should continue to have direct bearing on how we handle events in the future. 10/10

 

Rothkopf's original TED Talk "How fear drives American politics"

 

 

What's Up Next: Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons From a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Mine Own Execution by Nigel Balchin

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-12-12 12:55
Casting your brain into big questions
Stories of Your Life and Others - Ted Chiang

I went in all big eyes and heavy heart and cheating, starting with the story I was curious about after watching the movie. It was sadder in it's determinism, but it was all that (and it had emotion, lordy, did it have emotion).

 

About half way through this book (and with my brain much hurting, I get so immersed into these Big Question explorations), LeGuin's introduction for The Left Hand of Darkness (I was very much taken by them, book and intro) kept popping into my thoughts. The part where she says taking a concept to it's maximum expression is like concentrating any chemical element: it causes cancer.

 

The stories vary in nature and theme, they are interesting, and unique. And in a sense, bleak. Lacking in hope, some in sentiment, some in... something. I can't quite put my finger on it, but while amazing, thought-provoking explorations that filled me with wonder or questions, each tale left me with this vague sense of depression. Which had little to do with whether they had happy ending or not (most are a dagger), since Le Guin does that, you blubber like a fool, and still makes you love it and leave bittersweet hopeful. So, not the presence of pain. Maybe more like a general lack of joy to balance them (for the most part).

 

Anyway, it is a really good book to think about or discuss, and it delves into some interesting territories (I'm itching for some looong research and reading on some things that went over my head). Different and exhausting. Will read more of the author.

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review 2017-11-27 22:10
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness - Michelle Alexander

This is an important read for social-justice-oriented folk. Michelle Alexander – a law professor and former ACLU attorney – lays out a cogent argument for mass incarceration and the drug war functioning as systems of racial control, comparable though not identical to prior systems such as Jim Crow. Although white and black Americans use drugs at similar rates, law enforcement treats it as a war only in poor communities of color, where it terrorizes people with military equipment and tactics, and seizes property as “forfeiture.” Harsh penalties, particularly for those drugs most associated with black people, mean more African-Americans are behind bars now than were imprisoned just before the Civil War. In some large cities, nearly half of African-American men are under penal control, whether in prison or on probation or parole. And once released, anyone with a criminal record is a legal target for discrimination in employment, housing, professional licensing, student loans, public benefits, etc. People with a felony record can be prevented from voting or sitting on a jury. And the effects extend beyond imprisonment and even discrimination, tarring the entire black community with the brush of criminality in many people’s minds, so that mass incarceration in many ways defines the relationship between African-American society and the rest of America.

My biggest doubt about the comparison, before reading the book, was how a system that bases punishment on individual actions could compare to blanket laws disenfranchising people based on race. Alexander doesn’t deal with the personal choice issue quite as directly as I would like, instead making the point that everyone breaks some law sometime, but black communities are the ones heavily targeted by law enforcement. Even if the only thing you do is speed a little, if you’re white you’ll probably never be stopped, but if black you’re liable to be pulled over and have the police “ask” to search your car for drugs (to most people it doesn’t sound much like asking with a uniform and a gun). If we pursued every violation of the law so aggressively in white communities, and treated white kids as potential criminals from a young age, and handed out sentences counted in decades for non-violent crimes commonly associated with white people, huge numbers of them would also wind up locked up, on probation or parole, or with criminal records. That wouldn’t happen, though, which is good evidence that something is going on here that isn’t just about keeping the community safe.

Obviously I’ve only covered the tip of the iceberg here; Alexander is thorough, and her writing clear and convincing, well-sourced through extensive endnotes but still readable for non-academics. Once I got into the book, the pages went by quickly. She says at the beginning that this book is intended for people who care about racial justice but tend to view racial disparities in the criminal justice system as regrettable side effects of societal racism rather than a system of disenfranchisement. As a member of the intended audience, I found this book eye-opening, creating a real perspective shift. I wish I could distill that into a review, but Alexander has already done the work, so I will just recommend the book instead.

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