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review 2017-08-16 15:12
The Red Parts
The Red Parts - Maggie Nelson

The Red Parts tells the story of Maggie Nelsons aunt Jane, who has been brutally murdered in 1969. 35 years after her death the real perpetrator has been caught and an arrest is about to happen (prior to this the death of Jane Mixer has been attributed to the "Michigan Murder" killer). Nelson takes the trial as a starting point to explore what kind of impact the death of Jane and the trial so many years later had on her family and herself. The Red Parts is much more an autobiographic account of Nelson´s family than a true crime account of the murder of Jane Mixer.


I have to admit there is something about this book that really bugged me and I don´t know exactly what it is. It´s my second attempt at an autobiography and both books have been about dysfunctional families. And I guess I have a problem with reading about dysfunctional families through the eyes of a family member, who clearly has issues himself and isn´t able to reflect proberly just how flawed and troubled the family actually is.

Nelson never proberly explores the behaviour of the other family members and their reactions during and after the trial (and the end of the trial doesn´t change the family in any way). For instance she never gives her family an opportunity to express their own thoughts on a particular topic:


Because there is currently no way to date DNA. under the right light, cells from thousands of years ago would glow right alongside the cells we are leaving in our wake today. Under the right light, the present and the past are indistinguishable.

This is bad news for someone hoping to "get away with murder," especially if his or her DNA has somehow made it into CODIS. I have no plans to murder anyone, but nonetheless I am glad that Schroeder does not ask me to provide a sample of my DNA to the state, as he does my mother, grandfather and uncle. The state wants genetic profiles related to Jane´s on file, so as to eliminate her as a possible contributor to DNA found at the crime scene. [...] I´m reminded of this all the more when my mother voices some skepticism about the Power of DNA testing, [...]


That is about the only thing that the mother comments on and apparently that is the only gripe that the mother, the grandfather and the uncle has with being catalogued in a DNA-database on a voluntary basis. If they have a problem with it, Nelson doesn´t bother to adress it.


Instead Nelson jumps through episodes of her own life, coming up with an odd murder mind / suicide mind theory which is baffling. And she just dumps too much personal informations and episodes of her life on the reader, some of them being downright repelling:


On my last night in the Gowanus loft my boyfriend asked if he could choke me with a silk stocking while we fucked. I assented; I even got the stocking out of my drawer myself. I have always had an erotic fondness for asphyxiation. It feels good not to breath a short while before coming, so that when you finally come and breathe together, you get an astonishing rush: the world comes back to you in a flood of color, pleasure, and breath.

I did not know that earlier that day he had read my journal, and had there found out that I was in love with someone else, that I had made love with someone else. I had only told him that I was leaving. As we had sex I suddenly suspected that he knew more than I´d told him. I suspected this when I said, aghast, "This is how Jane died", and he said, without missing beat, "I know".


Dear author, there is something like too much information.


Due to my lack in expertise when it comes to autobiographies I don´t feel comfortable in saying this is a bad book. And I certainly enjoyed reading some parts of it (especially the chapters about the murder trial). But there were things that didn´t work for me and left me with a queasy feeling.





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review 2017-08-16 04:28
The Age of Scientific Sexism by Mari Ruti
The Age of Scientific Sexism: How Evolutionary Psychology Promotes Gender Profiling and Fans the Battle of the Sexes - Mari Ruti

"How evolutionary psychology promotes gender profiling and fans the battle of the sexes"


This isn’t a particularly light read but it’s a compulsively readable one. Ruti has read a number of the “popular” books concerning evolutionary psychology (as opposed to scientific publications although she cites some of those too), and presents an analysis of four of them. Ruti doesn’t have a scientific background but she’s analyzing the arguments put forward by popular science books and not criticizing the research methodology.* Although she only analyzes four in detail, she’s distilled the “standard narrative” from the many other books she's read and spends her time discussing how the individual books deviate from that standard narrative. Towards the end of her discussion, she does put forward some of her own opinions on sexuality, desire, and marriage but I don’t think that this detracts from her main arguments.


[* Ok, she may make a few criticisms of how some of the surveys are conducted, but they're basically common sense observations.]


There are unquestionably some moments during the read that Ruti’s frustration with the field is palpable, but I can certainly relate. The books she references are a mix of ones I will definitely avoid and ones that I plan to seek out. I think I expected more of a rant but it really was a fairly straightforward discussion of the points and arguments that the books actually presented and where the conclusions sometimes didn’t match those from the author’s academic papers. It’s an overview of the topic that helps to save the reader from slogging through quite so many books as Ruti did to get at the same information.


Some of the highlights (listed as I recall them) are that humans appear to be more promiscuous than the “standard narrative” allows and serial monogamy is a much more reasonable expectation than lifelong monogamy in most cases if monogamy is achievable at all. The “coy” female is basically patriarchal BS and there’s a theory that efforts to repress women’s sexuality only started at the dawn of agriculture. Although biological differences certainly exist, a lot of the gender differences that are bandied about can be explained through socialization and it’s impossible to determine where the effects of biology end and those of socialization start or vice versa. Oh, and the ideal of monogamous pair-bonding creates more stable workers and our society seems to value that over everything else.


I quite enjoyed it, so I think I’ll guardedly recommend it, as long as anyone picking it up realizes that it’s not as light a read as Inferior and they’ll actually be wading through arguments presented in other books.


Previous updates:

174 of 193 pages

158 of 193 pages

110 of 193 pages

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text 2017-08-15 18:45
Reading progress update: I've read 174 out of 193 pages.
The Age of Scientific Sexism: How Evolutionary Psychology Promotes Gender Profiling and Fans the Battle of the Sexes - Mari Ruti

I really hate it when men tell me to smile:

More generally speaking, any woman who has ever been harassed on the street by a strange man telling her to "smile" has had a small taste of the violence entailed in the notion that it's women's cultural role to project happiness even when they don't feel happy. It never seems to occur to the guy asking you to smile that you might be having a miserable day, that you might be besieged by a swarm of worries, or that your grandmother might have died earlier in the week: as far as he's concerned, it's your duty to reassure him that everything is well in the (patriarchal) world by beaming at him while trying to catch the next train uptown.

You know, it took me years to realize that this was such a widespread thing. As a teenager I thought that people just didn't think I smiled enough. I never took to plastering a smile on my face just to please them though.

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text 2017-08-15 12:55
Reading progress update: I've read 158 out of 193 pages.
The Age of Scientific Sexism: How Evolutionary Psychology Promotes Gender Profiling and Fans the Battle of the Sexes - Mari Ruti

A quote of a quote, after discussing how Henry Ford required proof of marital status as a precondition for higher wages:

As Gramsci states, "The new industrialism wants monogamy: it wants the man as worker not to squander his nervous energies in the disorderly and stimulating pursuit of occasional sexual satisfaction. The employee who goes to work after a night of 'excess' is no good for his work. The exaltation of passion cannot be reconciled with the time movements of productive motions connected with the most perfected automatism." In this sense, the precision of industrial labor benefits from an ideology of family values.

I just wanted to save this quote somewhere. Oh, and the page goes on to say:

Marcuse argued that western societies are governed by what he called “the performance principle”: an ideal of productivity and efficiency, for the sake of which we are asked to sacrifice a big portion of our pleasure, particularly of our sexual pleasure. This principle asks us to perform on higher and higher levels of productivity and efficiency even though our societies are already generating an excess of goods, services, and commodities. In addition, to compensate for the pressures of keeping up with the system—the fact that we are working much harder than our survival would, strictly speaking, require—the system produces substitute pleasures in the form of consumables and luxury items as well as in the form of an extensive entertainment system that keeps us glued to our television sets (and, increasingly, our computers) at night. Such substitute pleasures do not detract from the performance principle but instead feed it by making sure that our bodies and minds get recharged at night so that we are ready to tackle the task of productivity and efficiency the next morning. But the system is much less tolerant of pleasures that don’t bolster its needs, which is precisely why it seeks to control sexuality by restricting it to the confines of marriage.

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review 2017-08-14 23:57
Book 45/100: Beating the Lunch Box Blues by J.M. Hirsch
Beating the Lunch Box Blues: Fresh Ideas for Lunches on the Go! (Rachael Ray Books) - J. M. Hirsch

All I can say is, man, I wish J.M. Hirsch packed MY lunches.

Instead, he wrote a photo-heavy book so you can pack your own lunches the way he would do it. I was surprised that this is not a "cookbook" in that it does not have any actual recipes. Instead, it's full of photos of lunches with little notations about what's in the lunchbox so that you can duplicate it on your own and give it your own style. So it's really more a book of "ideas," which, once I got over it not being a traditional cookbook, I found that I liked, since I was mostly looking for ideas, anyway.

However, I don't believe for a moment that these lunches actually only take 10 minutes to put together. Still, if you're looking for some drool-worthy inspiration to make lunches for yourself or someone else, this book is a fun place to start. No need to have school-aged kids to enjoy it, either -- I looked for ideas for lunches for my husband, and most of the ideas are sophisticated enough to appeal to an adult palate.

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