Reading Wednesday

Wed, Jan. 8th, 2014 12:51 pm
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What I've read: Haven't done this for a while, so I actually have read things! I got CB the Pusheen the Cat book and volume 1 of Chi's Sweet Home for Christmas, so I read those and was suitably bowled over by the cute. Pusheen is great, but I really love Chi's Sweet Home, which is just so cat. Possibly people might get annoyed by Chi's baby talk, but given that she is a kitten, I am okay with this. Also, CAT!! (Also also, I love the fact that Konami Kanata's entire career is basically cat manga.)

I also read Allie Brosh's book, which I think I laughed at less than a lot of people? It's not that it isn't hilarious, because it is, it's just that after reading her depression posts, some of the ones on procrastination and self sabotage and etc. make me wince more than laugh in that painful, looking-in-the-mirror way. All the entries about her dogs totally crack me up, the entire thing is very worth reading (even if I do wish the one about her dead fish made it to the book), and I would have paid the same price just to get her two posts on depression in print. I'm also really impressed by how spot-on the expressions she draws are.

What I'm reading: I started Anuja Chauhan's Those Pricey Thakur Girls and have been enjoying the third-person narrative voices... I like the first-person narrators of her first two books as well, but they did sound a bit similar at certain points. Really looking forward to an expanded cast of characters, because I love Chauhan most for her various character dynamics, especially of people in small communities and large families, and read her more for that than the romance. I also started Jessica Snyder Sachs' Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death as my own brand of pick-me-up reading, and I should get back to it because it's gruesomely fascinating.

Random book-shaped space: This cover alone makes me want to read Max Gladstone. Also hoping that adding "reading" to my Dailies for HabitRPG helps me get back into it.

Next: Chi's Sweet Home, vol. 2!

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Dec. 4th, 2013 11:39 am
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I read!

What have you read? I finished Anuja Chauhan's The Battle for Bittora a few days ago, and I even managed to write it up.

What are you reading? Kind of a cheat, since I actually started it two weeks ago, but I am a chapter or two into Alice Miller's The Drama of the Gifted Child. Despite having been forewarned of the general mother blaming in the book, I am still appalled by how much there is. Yes, let's guilt mothers more for post-partum depression and maybe showing a little bit of negative emotion due to nursing not going perfectly! Also, I seem to think more much has to happen to traumatize a kid than Alice Miller does. (I.e. Being laughed at for asking for your own ice cream cone and being offered bites from the parents' cones probably is not going to have that huge of a psychological impact unless there's already some really emotionally abusive stuff happening.) That said, still has some good bits on what happens when you are the child who must somehow suppress yourself to emotionally comfort your parents. You just have to rewrite a lot in your head so it only applies to emotional abuse and not "mothers making any sort of mistake ever."

What are you reading next? Who knows! Hopefully I will be reading, period.

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Jul. 31st, 2013 11:09 am
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What I've read: Woe, didn't manage to finish anything this week. At least it was mostly because I was being social!

I did forget to note that I read Sampson Davis' Living and Dying in Brick City: An E.R. Doctor Returns Home. I really wanted to read about the medical cases intermixed with personal knowledge of the intersections of health and race and poverty. In the end, the book was too didactic for me. Each chapter is about a specific thing (HIV, obesity, drugs, history of medical experiments on black people, etc.), and each ends with a list of resources. I'm sure it is helpful for people, but I wanted something much more complicated than an introduction to the myriad problems of the US healthcare system and/or personal health issues and what to do about them. I was especially put off by the PSA on obesity, where he focuses on a woman he portrays as grotesquely obese (examples of how she can't be strapped to the gurney, fungus growing in folds of flesh, etc.). This is too bad, because the bits on his own life and history in Newark and how they intersect with his doctoring were really interesting, especially since he was one of the few doctors there who had grown up in and still lived in Newark, as opposed to commuting there from another, more affluent town.

I also forgot to mention Carolyn Jewel's novella Moonlight last week. It unfortunately is not particularly notable. There is some emotional stuff going on there re: a younger man in love with the slightly older women he grew up with and trying to not be seen as a goofy younger brother, but most of it focuses on the sex without tying it in to the conflict.

And I forgot Courtney Milan's A Kiss for Midwinter. Wow, I read a lot the week before. Anyway, I don't dislike it to the same extent [personal profile] coffeeandink does, but the noted discrepancy between what people say about Lydia's cheerful disposition and what we actually read on the page is very disconcerting. I also thought Jonas never quite gelled as a character to me; he read more as a collection of traits—blunt and socially awkward doctor who shows compassion to underserved populations—than an actual person. Definitely not one of Milan's better works.

What I'm reading: I still haven't finished Spillover. So of course I started Mira Grant's Feed, which is one of those "everyone was talking about it when it came out and I am only now getting around to reading it" books. So far, it is entertaining and easy to read—too easy, given how I lost track of time at bedtime! I'm not terribly caught up in the characters yet; they are very snarky and capable, but there's no real emotional hook for me to grab on to. Also, it is interesting reading this in 2013 when the presumed zombie apocalypse is in 2014 (the book was published in 2010). I'm not sure I would have fully bought into Grant's projection of how blogging grows increasingly important even back then, but now it's even odder to compare to what has actually been happening.

What I'm reading next: Er, hopefully Hiromi Goto's Half World, because I keep meaning to read it and then forgetting that I do when it comes time to select a book.

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Jul. 24th, 2013 10:50 am
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What I've read: Amazingly, I have actually read a fair amount this week. The bad thing is that I suspect it is because I have been not feeling great lately. Hopefully the reading will continue and the feeling bad won't...

Blazed through several Sarah Mayberry books, though none of them were as good as Her Best Worst Mistake, which I also reread. I also finished and even managed to write up Grace Lin's Starry River of the Sky, which I enjoyed.

And I finished Courtney Milan's new book The Heiress Effect, which I need to write up. I went a little into some of my uneasiness with it, though overall I did enjoy it. That said, while I liked reading about Jane's empowerment, things just felt a little bit too smooth. This was especially obvious when compared to Cecilia Grant's A Woman Entangled, which has a similar conflict of "I love her but she does not want or fit the deeply cherished lifestyle I want."

I also read Meljean Brook's Iron Seas novella Wrecked, which is better than the one I previously tried! No implausible misunderstandings! It does still have the somewhat unbelievable "he is in love with her even though she is afraid of him" thing that has been in other Iron Seas novellas, but at least this one doesn't involve him actively deceiving her. I also just like the "two people on the run together" storyline much more. And now that there are small spoilers ) in the world, who knows what will come next!!

What I'm reading: I started Rob Jolles' How to Change Minds: The Art of Influence without Manipulation, which is an easy read, but not something I was particularly into. I do like the overall premise though. I also started Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, except I really do not like the author's voice. He keeps saying things and not supporting them, and then saying that there is no point in finding supporting evidence because the most important evidence is the stuff you don't know. Mostly it reads as very self important without having anything to really say.

I am also in the middle of David Quammen's Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. It's not quite as easy a read as Siddhartha Mukherjee's book on cancer—I know that sounds odd, but The Emperor of All Maladies is really a page turner—but it is fairly engaging and only lost me while going into the variants of HIV and etc. It's got the thing where there's a fair amount of focus on more rural "foreign" regions that a lot of books on pandemics and parasites do. Quammen overall tries to avoid the lurid "Haha see what these people eat?" thing, but he does slip into it a few times.

What I'm reading next: No idea... hopefully something comforting and engaging?

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Jul. 17th, 2013 09:46 am
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OMG I read stuff! I suspect this is largely because I am out of playable content on Here Be Monsters and have run out of suitably addicting puzzles on my phone.

What I've read: I finished the new Cecilia Grant, A Woman Entangled, and even managed to write it up. Overall, it has a lot of the things I've been liking about Grant's books so far: lack of noblepeople, believable conflict, an awareness of money, and things that aren't resolved too neatly. I think my favorite of hers so far is still her second book, but I do like this one for the hero and heroine's desire to climb up socially, which isn't condemned.

I also finished (two books! I finished two books yay!) Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald's Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, which I will hopefully write up in more depth. Anyway, Greenwald was the person who developed the Implicit Association Test (IAT), and since then, he and Banaji have conducted many experiments on unconscious prejudice and biases. As the subtitle indicates, Banaji and Greenwald are very careful to not assign blame or motive, which would probably make this very good for 101 stuff. Anyway, it's a quick read in plain and simple language, and after taking (and retaking) some IATs, it's interesting to see what's changed with me since 2006.

AND I finished Courtney Milan's novella, The Lady Always Wins. Like most of Milan's books, the hero and heroine actually talk to each other instead of the hero going through with his planned deception, but it felt like the denouement of one of her novels rather than a complete work in itself. There's not quite enough in the beginning to make the bulk of the payoff worth it, imo. Then again, that's how I feel about most romance novellas—there's either not enough set up or not enough payoff.

What I'm reading: I, er, of course haven't continued anything I was in the middle of last week. Instead, I started Bee Wilson's Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, which is exactly what the title says, if by "we" the author actually means "people like her and not me." In other words, it's the standard "A History of Everything!" that follows a (primarily Western) European history through to the US, with bits and pieces of other cultures thrown in every so often to look diverse. I sound more bitter than I am; I am mostly used to this and pretty much expected it going in, given the title.

I'm also in the middle of Meljean Brook's Iron Seas novella Salvage. Unfortunately, the Iron Seas novellas overall have not been very satisfactory, and this one is no exception. At least there's no eyebrow-raising consent scenarios, unlike some of the others, but the central conflict is a Big Misunderstanding that could have been cleared up if the hero and heroine had actually bothered to sit down and talk for five minutes instead of running off on an assumption based off a single sentence. My eyes roll forever. Spoilers? For the assumption at least )

What I'm reading next: Uh. Hopefully a book.

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Apr. 17th, 2013 10:50 am
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What I've read: Finally finished review copy of Tokyo Demons and reviewed it! And because last week, I was craving fantasy + romance, I naturally blazed through Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo's Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art. It's a fun book about how con man John Drewe got artist John Myatt to forge hundreds of paintings. The difference in this con, though, isn't the techniques used to make the canvases pass scrutiny, but rather how Drewe created the provenance of each painting—the record of ownership, sales, location, and etc. of a painting. Since it can be difficult to tell a forgery via art style, dealers and auctioneers and buyers rely on a dependable provenance, and Drewe took advantage of this to sell off some paintings that would otherwise never have passed as real.

Drewe isn't a con man that I'm secretly rooting for; instead, even if Salisbury and Sujo's description of his compulsive lying and his terrible treatment of his common-law wife hadn't been there, I would have hated him just for sneaking into all those archives and doctoring so many documents. My morals, somewhat subjective...

And of course, now I want to read fast-paced non-fiction about cons or robberies or other elaborate schemes, which I am sure I will take recs for and them promptly be in a different mood in about two days. (I like the recs! Please keep it up! I might not get to them soon, but I do take note.)

I also read the latest chapter of Skip Beat, minor spoilers )

What I'm reading: I started Sherwood Smith's Once a Princess—good lord, she's published a lot lately! I didn't realize she had so much self-pubbed/small press stuff out; I hope it's going well for her. Lost some interest once it hit the secondary world due to not having enough processing power for worldbuilding. I'm also in the middle of Martha Wells' Wheel of the Infinite, which I am enjoying but cheated on with an art con book. And I started my Con or Bust review book. I got a few chapters in Bruce Schneier's Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive after reading Provenance, but then decided it was too research-y and less narrative than I was looking for.

What I'm reading next: A genre I have not talked about in this post? Hopefully I will keep going on Con or Bust book, along with starting a reread of Octavia E. Butler's Xenogenesis in preparation for Wiscon.
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I read this because despite having been to several weddings, I can still never quite figure out what to do/what you're supposed to do. This is even more confusing now that I am part of sister's wedding party and therefore have things to do that extend beyond the day of the wedding.

This book was written with the notion that today's weddings have now become massive, expensive events in which the bride selfishly makes demands of everyone because it's "her day." I have, as I'm sure some of you expected, some issues with this. Given that this is Miss Manners and not a book on gender roles and social commentary, I'm okay with the fact that she doesn't unpack this more, but I'm also disappointed that it simply goes with this cliched view of weddings and brides. This is not to say that selfish brides don't exist, but I think the narrative of the selfish bride handwaves how much USian society pressures women to view their wedding day as The Biggest Day of Their Entire Life, how so much of the traditional female narrative is being male person's noun (brother's sister, father's daughter, son's mother, etc.) and this is still within that frame but at least focuses on the woman, how there is so much pressure for the bride to plan the whole damn thing herself with the groom supposedly not having any input or help, and etc. So yes, selfish brides exist, but on the other hand, condemning them for selfishness while ignoring all these other factors annoys me.

Also, as you have probably noticed, I keep using the terms "bride" and "groom." This is because although the book acknowledges same-sex marriages, it's very much written with heterosexual pairs in mind. Miss Manners is supportive of same-sex marriages, but the way the book is written, it's very..."things don't exist unless readers bring them up." There's a very standard narrative in place, and the book does not break out of it unless prodded to do so. This was an excellent example for me of authors who probably want to be inclusive but are unintentionally exclusive because they don't think outside the norm.

For example, I kept reading advice on how good brides who are not selfish will take their parents into account and such. Which, yes, great if you have a good relationship with your parents. Not so great otherwise. It's also very whitebread American culture, despite Miss Manners' acknowledgement of other cultural traditions.

I was particularly irked by her annoyance at people who solicit funds and money at bridal showers and weddings and etc. One reader made a point that sometimes it is cultural, but the only response was that if the bride's mother was writing to Miss Manners about it, obviously it wasn't cultural enough. And I am all for her aghastness at people's behavior, except in variations of my culture, you give money at weddings. And when you have weddings that include both the older generation and a younger, more Americanized generation, I don't actually think it's rude or whatnot to talk about present giving, because people are confused!

But this may just be me, and after all, this is why I picked up the book in the first place.

Other than that, it is a perfectly nice book, but it is a much more interesting read as a sociological artifact of a particular time and culture. And its presentation of itself as "etiquette" makes it even more jarring to read than historical fiction would be.
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Mukherjee is an oncologist, and while he was undergoing advanced training at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital, he decided to keep notes of his year. The notes ended up growing and growing, until he wrote a general overview of cancer, from historical personages who may have had cancerous growths to our understanding of cancer has changed over the centuries.

Understandably, the history of cancer prior to the past two or three centuries is rather fuzzy and involves a lot of diagnosis via speculation. I read this over a month ago, so I don't quite remember if he refers to non-Western-European sources or not. I vaguely feel like he referenced Chinese medicine, but confirmation would be welcome!

Things start to get more interesting when cancer is identified as a single disease, despite how it manifests in different parts of the body's systems. This new understanding of cancer went hand in hand with attempts to move forward on a cure, at least until some scientists and doctors began advocating more research on a practical level to find a cure and less "academic" research to understand how cancer works. Much of this narrative takes place in the US in the 1950s and 1960s.

I tend to enjoy pop science non-fiction, particularly when it comes to medicine, so I'm not sure how well this book works for people who dislike that genre. I do think the writing is particularly good, and I actually stayed up late into the night to finish reading the book, which is not something I usually say about non-fiction. Mukherjee is particularly good at tying together disparate research into a narrative, so that the place of radical masectomies in treatment to research on childhood leukemia to later research on DNA and retroviruses all contribute to the overall story. I felt like I understood most of his explanations, and I was very satisfied to get a better idea of just how cancer works and how there can be vaccinations for cervical cancer by the end of the book.

I also wish I had more Interesting Thoughts about how the cancer narrative and the AIDS narrative interweave; Mukherjee writes a bit on how AIDS research in the 1980s influenced cancer research and vice versa. I have a completely unsubstantiated thought about AIDS as a stigmatized disease, largely from watching Anna Deavere Smith's Let Me Down Easy, telling my sister about it, and having my sister ask, "How come no one talks about AIDS anymore?"

Which is where I go off and theorize that certain demographics now talk more about cancer than AIDS because cancer is largely a disease of age and aging—Mukherjee talks about how cancer rates have risen because of longer life expectancies and better health overall. On the other hand, I feel public perception of AIDS is that it's "someone else's" problem, not "ours," at least given extremely narrow definitions of "ours" that mesh closely with the demographics of populations with more power.

Anyway, back to the book. I really wanted to read more about issues of medical experimentation, human subjects, and consent and knowledge. Mukherjee writes about how AIDS activism for patient access to experimental treatments influenced cancer activism, and I feel like there's an entire book in there about access to treatment, who gets the experimental treatment and why, how treatments are proven safe for privileged bodies with underprivileged populations, and just how thorny and complex these issues are, particularly when they're around life-threatening diseases.

In conclusion: this is a fascinating write up of the personalities involved in cancer research, the main treatments and development thereof within the past century or so, and how our understanding of the disease itself has progressed. And it touches on activism around disease and how cancer started out as something no one talked about and evolved in the public consciousness so that we now have breast cancer walks and frequent magazine articles on the latest medical developments. And it's written in an extremely engaging, easy-to-read voice. (I'd love commentary on the flaws and virtues of Mukherjee's simplification for the lay reader.)

Highly recommended.

On a minor but amusing note, the library put the "Biography" sticker on the spine.

Links:
- [personal profile] rachelmanija's review
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This is a collection of fifteen years' worth of essays by Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche), currently the associate curator at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). Many of the pieces turn out to be introductions to specific art exhibits, although while I was reading, I often didn't figure that out until the very last few paragraphs of the essay.

I was reading this mostly as 101 for myself. As such, a lot of what I recall are Smith's frequent indictments of Hollywood and the Hollywood Indian, the Noble Savage of the Distant Past, and how these stereotypes interact with his own conception of himself as an "authentic" Indian, his own ideas about authenticity, and how he frequently felt like a failure for not living up to the Indian Stereotype. As the above indicates, he also talks about other Indians and colonized mindsets. I'm a bit hesitant writing about this part, since I am not Indian, and goodness knows I hate it when outsiders talk about internalized racism in Chinese people. So let us just say that I sympathized a great deal, but won't go so far as to say I empathize, as that implies in some way that I have an equatable experience.

Quotes for myself )

Smith also mentions his involvement (and non-involvement) in the AIM in the 70s, and I very much want to read more about the subject. He frequently touches on issues of "Indian art" and "Indian artists," as he writes about feeling divided about the categorization. On the one hand, he is a curator at the NMAI. On the other, he dislikes the way framing someone as an "Indian artist" means that "Indian art" by necessity must be about certain subject matters or from certain POVs; it's a new box that's different from the Wild Western box, but a box just the same.

And this is where I am a bit hesitant writing up thoughts, because I could see myself reading this several years ago and thinking that what he meant was that we should not notice race, that it's not an important category, as opposed to his very nuanced look at the way false categorizations become true through history, the way there was no "Indian" prior to the colonization of the Americas and how the term is a politicized one. It reminded me a bit of the use of "Asian American" as a political term in the 1980s, and how it can be both a demographic and a political identity, how the two are so easily mixed up when there's such a giant tangle of issues underlying those few words, how complicated and messy things are.

No real conclusion, because I'm still thinking through a lot of this. I focused much more on Smith's view of history on this read, largely because that's what's been on my mind lately, but there are many many threads throughout the multiple essays, and maybe next time I will be looking more at AIM, or at notions of ethnicity and art and categorizing artists, or at rewriting stereotypes while also trying not to succumb to them.

Links:
- [personal profile] sanguinity's review
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As the title notes, the book is Pauline Chen's own reflections on mortality throughout her medical career, from her first experiences with dissecting cadavers in med school to her current thoughts on how end-of-life care should be dealt with by the medical community.

I read this with a gap of a few months between finishing, since the book was overdue at the library, and then I forgot about it. I vaguely remember noting to myself something about ablism and always getting the professional's point of view on disease and mortality and such. I don't think it was so much a critique of the book so much as an observation of what I've seen focused on when I've been trawling through fun medical non-fiction reading (sometimes I have odd classifications of "fun.") Given that this is a surgeon's memoir, I don't expect much client POV, but it does have me wanting more stories from the client's POV, particularly when it comes to things like terminal illnesses, end-of-life care, and such.

For the obvious reasons, this isn't necessarily the most uplifting of books, but I thought Chen dealt with the topic well. It's very much a surgeon's memoir, which means though she touches on end-of-life care and hospices and such, much of the POV is that of a surgeon's as opposed to the person either receiving the care or the nurses and such of a hospital, who see more of the people outside of operating rooms. Chen muses a bit on the surgeon philosophy contrasted with other branches of medicine, and though her prose is lovely and interesting, she didn't end up covering a lot of territory I hadn't already known. That said, this is a graceful, contemplative book.
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This is a short book on Botswana's HIV/AIDS epidemic, with personal stories and anecdotes supplied by Dow, a Botswana judge and novelist, and more general information about AIDS and HIV supplied by Essex. I picked this up because the cover copy promised something that wasn't just "Africa is DOOMED!," and I liked that it specifically focused on Botswana and was partially authored by someone from that country.

The chapters focus on topics such as mother-child HIV transmission, transmission via sexual partner, transmission via blood transfusion, the question of male circumcision in lowering the percentage of transmission, and etc. Each chapter begins with an anecdote from Dow, usually compiled from stories of either her relatives, friends, or acquaintances. I particularly liked this format, since I think issues like AIDS can very easily slide into a "big picture" POV that obscures the individual lives involved. I was especially wary of this re: the African AIDS epidemic, since most of the press I've seen on it is stuff like Gap ads telling you to buy t-shirts to help cure AIDS in Africa! Sometimes with bonus pictures of Poor African People Looking Sad. I felt that Dow tried for a variety of people represented, though by the nature of the topic of the book, it's a bit hard to completely divorce the people represented from the general media portrayal of AIDS in Africa.

Essex's portions proved much less illuminating, since things about anti-retroviral drugs and methods of HIV transmission and how HIV works proved a bit repetitive after a while. I would have preferred a book that was all Dow and only a bit of medical background, largely because I think what I mostly see about AIDS in Africa is fairly dehumanized.

Dow touches on the difference that generic drugs have made in curbing the spread of HIV in Botswana, though the book's focus is more on people than on Big Pharma.

Overall, not necessarily deep or memorable, but it felt like a good introduction to the subject of AIDS in Botswana, written by people who wanted more in the portrayal than just doom and gloom and despair.
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This is one of the major academic works on culture and figure skating in the US (at least, that I know of), and probably one of the first published on the subject. As such, Kestnbaum includes an introduction to the history of figure skating, and although she is not a competitive figure skater, she's been a fan of the sport and can skate a bit herself.

I read this back in March of 2010, inspired by the Vancouver Olympics, so insert the usual caveats here about my memory.

I have been watching competitive figure skating since around 2005, so basically everything I've seen and everything Kestnbaum writes about do not overlap at all, from the way the scoring system changed around 2004 to the top teams and athletes. That said, I watch recreationally, so it was nice to have a brief history of the sport—I did not even know why it was called "figure" skating!—along with a write up of all the different jumps, difficulty levels, what judges look for, and etc.

Kestnbaum then moves on to a cultural critique and reading of figure skating, from complaints of how young the female skaters in particular are to feminist critiques, readings of masculinity in the sport, and compulsive heterosexuality. The final chapter is about fannishness.

Kestnbaum acknowledges the problems of increasingly younger girls and women skating, particularly after the new age rules post-Tara-Lipinski, though she also notes that the shorter, thinner, and less curvy bodies of adolescent figure skaters are more suited toward jumping than that of older women. I don't know enough about skating to say anything about this, but Kestnbaum doesn't go far enough for me; the jumps and many of the ways the sport is judged comes from a time when men were the main athletes, and while I don't know enough to say that this influences all the rules, I also think about gatekeepers and who gets to set the standards. I had a similar problem with her look at masculinity in the sport and compulsive heterosexuality in pairs and ice dance; I agree with a lot of her critique, but I frequently felt she didn't go far enough. While she does read an ambiguous sexuality of many of the male figure skaters and notes the female gaze, my vague memories right now feel like she elided a lot of LGBTQ issues.

She also talks around issues of nationality, race, and ethnicity, and I really wish she had a chapter on that, particularly after Domnina and Shabalin's appropriation of Aboriginal Australian culture. There's also the fact that figure skating is a winter sport, and neatly excludes many Central American, South American, South East Asian, and African nations; I don't think it's a coincidence that figure skating is predominantly White and East Asian. Although there have been more non-East-Asian POC in figure skating from assorted European and North American countries, the number is still tiny. I have similar problems with the way the world competitions are framed as nations battling against each other, how skaters' routines frequently culturally appropriate, the predominance of European classical music, and the usual way different nations' comparative economic positions influence how well their skaters do.

It's not a bad book, and about up to par with most of the cultural critiques centered around sex and gender that I've read (mainly in the realm of manga), but I wanted much more. Still, I found it a useful read as a jumping-off point, and it probably serves best as an introduction.
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This is embarrassingly late even for Lunar New Year. I'm hoping "better late than never" still applies.

As with sequential art, I totally sucked at writing things up this year. Grad school: worst time suck ever! Sadly, this means I haven't reviewed almost half of the books on my best-of list. As usual, the list of books here are my favorites read in 2009, not published 2009. And in fact, I have some books on the list that are being published this year, thanks to the wonder of ARCs.

This year, I continued to do , despite completely failing to post at the comm. I think I was doing better in terms of percentages than I was last year, and then I hit November, school started really sucking, and all I could read were historical romances, which are super White. As such, I have roughly the same percentages of women and POC read this year as I did last year. At least there was no backsliding?

I feel like I should say something more intelligent about what I was reading, except I don't think I was a particularly intelligent reader this year.

Anything not linked in the giant list has not been written up; feel free to ask me about anything in the comments.



Also recommended: Swati Avasthi, Split; Mary Balogh, A Summer to Remember; Jacqueline Carey, Naamah's Kiss and Santa Olivia; Kristin Cashore, Fire; Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, The Graveyard Book; Joey W. Hill, A Witch's Beauty; Nisi Shawl, Filter House; Sherri L. Smith, Flygirl; and Drew Hayden Taylor, The Night Wanderer.

Total read: 122 (8 rereads)
45 by women of color, 60 by POC, 101 by women

All books read in 2009 )
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The two bloggers behind snarky romance review blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books wrote this. I don't know if the book matches the expectations of their readers, since I don't read the blog, but it is definitely snarky and full of man-titty, swearing, and double intendres.

I also read this two or three weeks ago and returned it to the library, so I tack on my usual warning that my memory is like a sieve.

Much of the territory in the book is not particularly surprising to me, even though I don't read as many romances as most romance fans. Wendell and Tan go through the origin of the term "bodice ripper," talk about the alpha hero and the TSTL heroine, and mention the problem of rape in romances. They are more feminist and snarky than most romance reviews I have seen in the past, but they are still not feminist and snarky enough to satisfy me. I kept wanting to push them on the alpha hero and "forced seduction" and the status of the heroine, because yes, like them, I am glad of the changes that have been taking place in the genre, but I want it to go SO MUCH FURTHER. Also, I think they are much more tolerant of asshat heroes than I am.

I vaguely remember them discussing sexual agency in the hero and the heroine, but I am not sure if they mention how rarely we get a dominant woman (either in terms of BDSM or just taking the lead in the bedroom).

There's also a chapter on race and sexual orientation in romance that didn't go nearly as far as I wanted. Wendell and Tan talk about bookstore categorization and the way Black romances are usually shelved in African-American fiction, but I don't think they go much into racism in romances themselves, from Orientalism and exoticism to Magical Indians and we-sha-sha to What These People Need Is a Honky. They talk a little about the rise of gay romances, but I wish they would examine the appropriation of gay romance more closely.

I say all this, but I was also very entertained by the book. There's a Choose Your Own Romance game, there's snark at covers, there's poking fun at all the same things I poke fun of even as you can tell Wendell and Tan love romances.

So... a fun and fast read, and with more critique than other books on the romance genre I've read, but I keep wanting a much more radical critique than I get.
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Steve Almond is a self-professed candy freak—he longs for the discontinued candies of his past and admits to stashing who knows how much candy in various nooks of his house. And so, he decides to write a book about candy, all the better to get access to various candymakers.

I'm not actually the biggest candy fan (give me plain dark chocolate any time of the day), but Almond makes these bars sound so good that I'm almost tempted to mail order them. He reminisces about candy from his childhood, rails against the Big Three of the candy world, and wishes there were more independent candy makers still around. However, thanks to prohibitively high stocking fees, it's nearly impossible for independent candy makers to get their products on chain store shelves, so many of them are stuck with a very limited regional audience.

Almond doesn't focus on the economics of candy making, nor of the colonialist implications some candy has (cacao), but it does appear in the book (the economics more than colonialist implications, though). Instead, he's incredibly good at describing various candy bars and how they're manufactured, from the very weird Twin Bing and Idaho Spud to the amazingly tasty-sounding Five Star Bar.

Also, it helps that he too dislikes dried coconut as much as me!

This isn't a particularly deep book, but Almond has a very distinctive and funny narrative voice (read a sample in Rachel's post, link below). It cheered me up reading it, which is really all I was asking for.

Links:
- [livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija's review
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As with the other Lisa Nakamura books, I read this months ago and don't remember it well.

This was published in 2008, so it's much more recent than the other two books. It still feels a little dated given the gap between research and publication, but less so at least!

The book covers race and the use of AIM icons, the Alllooksame test, UIs and race in Matrix and Minority Report, the creation of forum avatars for pregnant women and their babies, and finally, how we count race on the Internet and how it could be improved.

I was extremely puzzled by the inclusion of the forum avatars for pregnant women, as the women in question are almost all white and I do not remember Nakamura talking about the construction of whiteness very much in the chapter. The study fits into the book's subtitle of visual cultures, but not much with digitizing race. The chapter was an interesting read, but confusing when I tried to connect it to the other chapters in the book.

The look at race in the Matrix trilogy and Minority Report weren't as new to me, given the amount of media studies critique in the other two books I've read on race and the Internet. And I sadly do not remember much at all about the AIM icons chapter, the Alllooksame chapter, or the final chapter. However, a quick glance at the final chapter on Amazon has a better discussion of how to think about the "digital divide," particularly how Asian Americans are probably underrepresented in censuses due to potential language difficulties. Nakamura also discusses how censuses on technology use fail to take into account how many Asians are there behind the scenes, manufacturing the technology being used. I think most of her writing focuses on Asians; there's mention of the online petitions against Abercrombie and Fitch, as well as talk of outsourcing manufacturing so that the risks involved are taken by Asian bodies. I don't remember enough to say how much she discusses other POC though.

Mostly I remember thinking this was interesting although not necessarily always exciting in its conclusions.
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I read this several months ago, so my already bad memory is now even worse. This is a relatively early book examining race and cyberspace; it was published in 2000, and the research is no doubt a few years older.

As with Nakamura's Cybertypes, this book was compiled when much of the rhetoric about the Internet and email and Usenet espoused how cyberspace would eradicate identity politics and allow all of us to only be seen via our personalities or our text or whatnot. I keep saying this, but oh, I laugh so bitterly at that!

Many of the pieces in the book come from media studies people and examine the portrayal of cyberspace in popular movies, books, and video games. I cannot really remember what they cover, since I read this right after Cybertypes and get the two mixed up at times. What I found the most interesting was a study of whiteness online in terms of Confederate websites, a study of an "electronic village," which attempted to emulate the experience of a small shopping center, and one on the role of computers in education and how that affected the digital divide.

Like most anthologies, I got frustrated by the length; I always wanted more. This was particularly the problem with Kolko's piece on trying to include "@race" in online MUDs to get rid of the frequent assumption that if someone doesn't specify their race, they must be white. She talks about designing the @race tag and how the system would use it, but notes that she only began implementing it and has no results for the study yet.

Overall, the book is very dated, and while I appreciated the media studies look at things, I also wanted more about class and race and how it impacts people's experiences online, not just how they are portrayed as being online. I think I wanted something more like The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online.
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I think this book grew out of Anderson's thesis work about Native women, and in it, she explores the ways Native women's identities have been constructed pre-colonization, how colonization destroyed many of Native women's roles and enforced white patriarchy, and how Native women are reclaiming their identities.

In the introduction, Anderson introduces the idea of the subjective reader and writer. You would think this wouldn't be so revolutionary, but grad school classes on sociology seem to indicate otherwise! Going with this, Anderson introduces herself as a light-skinned Cree/Mé woman who grew up without much contact with Native communities and notes how this affects her as an author and as a researcher. She also asks readers of the book to examine their own motives for reading the book. Are they Native women looking for support or affirmation? Are they non-Native people looking to learn about "Native culture"? Are they white feminist? Etc.

My own personal reading context is as a Chinese woman who knows very little about Native cultures looking for more information on Native feminism (there is probably also a better term for this I do not know) after reading Andrea Smith's Conquest and reading blogs and posts from Native women online. I'm also looking for alternatives to "mainstream" feminism, not to adopt, but to have a better feel for where I'm ignorant.

As I had expected, there were times when it was hard for me to read this book because I had to stomp on the part of my brain that was like, "But! Excluding women from blahdiblah means blahdiblah! Clearly delineated male and female roles means blah!" It helped that Anderson herself was also working through her own understanding of past traditions and how to adopt them to today, on what things have changed and should stay changed and on what things have changed and should be reverted.

As an example: I saw her explanations of keeping women on their period outside of drum circles and sweat lodges as a veiled "I roll my eyes at the white women who keep wanting to join the sweat lodge or drum circle and protest their exclusion while having no idea what it actually means." Anderson's explanation is that women on their period already have a great deal of power, and not as a negative thing. But she also notes that in the present day, keeping menstruating women out of a specific activity can be done in a misogynist fashion not in the spirit of tradition and adds that the menstruating women should have their own area to retreat to, that they should not be ignored or ostracized. It looks like a fairly complicated situation trying to balance imported misogyny and return to tradition and how notions of tradition change over time, and I bet it is not a situation where it is helpful for white feminists to barge in and say, "This is what is feminist."

Anderson structures the book in three parts: examining the past, looking at the present, and envisioning the future. She goes through the general gender equity in many Native societies pre-colonization and talks about exceptions and norms, which was very helpful for me, because I have zero background in this. She also covers what happened once white colonization began and what that did to many Native societies, particularly the use of white patriarchy as a tool of colonization, which was more familiar to me. Although some of the book talks about Anderson's own journey, she has also talked to quite a few other Native women (mostly Canadian) about their own experiences.

I'm not doing the book justice; I found it thought-provoking and challenging. I value it for making me continue to rethink what I normally conceptualize as "feminist" and for offering a non-white feminism, especially one that emphasizes community child-raising, family, and the overall community.



I also posted a list of all the Native authors in the bibliography if people are interested.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Steinberger is a geek girl: gamer, cosplayer, shoujo manga fan, Volks doll fan. Ever since she got into the Volks doll scene, she's been dying to visit the Volks store in Tokyo. One day, she writes to Volks and gets an enthusiastic reply; they actually know of her through her doll articles in the US! So she and two friends head off to Japan. Their plan: dress as geisha, go see Takarazuka performances, dress up in Tokyo, eat, and go see dolls!

This is more of a sketchbook rather than a comic; there's some sequential art involved, given that it's a trip, but most of the art is not in the form of panels. It's also incredibly fun to read. Steinberger's art is extremely friendly and round and happy, and she notices odd things that I enjoy. One of the slightly unfortunate things is that she can't read or write Japanese—I'm not sure if other people will care, but I really wanted to know what the Japanese on particular drawings was.

I am still not sure what to think of dressing up as a geisha. On the one hand, it is something I would love to do. Also, there's the factor that it's being done in Japan, probably making money for the Japanese people running the business, in a context in which people know a lot more about who and what geisha are. On the other hand, I do not know.

Some other parts of the book occasionally hit my "please do not make fun of Engrish" button, from the making fun of Engrish to Steinberger getting annoyed at being stared at. For the latter, I completely don't begrudge her getting annoyed at being stared at; it's probably annoying as hell. However, I still have a kneejerk reaction of "Yeah, welcome to my world!" inherited from homestay in Japan with two tall white guys who were all "We stick out! We miss American food!" after I had gone through a year of depression and lost a lot of weight thanks to a combination of culture shock, homesickness for Taiwan, and literally not being able to eat all the non-Chinese food. But I digress! Although I spend a lot of space here writing this reaction up, I didn't really hit it that often. Much of this is because you can tell Steinberger loves it there, and the overall feeling I got from her excitement wasn't "OMG this is so exotic and foreign!" but "OMG I have heard about this for forever and FINALLY I AM HERE!"

Instead, I had a lot of fun through most of the book. It made me remember being in Japan and exploring Harajuku and Shibuya and Akihabara, it made me miss the food and the public transportation, it made me wish I had had enough money when I was there to buy awesome clothes at Harajuku and the like. It also interestingly made me incredibly homesick for Taiwan. A lot of the things in Japan are different, of course, but a lot of things have either been imported to Taiwan or are shared characteristics, from the squatting toilets of DOOM and ladies on the street handing out advertisements on tissue packets to sock stores to the food. I miss the food so much!

Most of all, I loved all the geeking out, from cosplaying and Takarazuka and dolls (not my areas of geekdom) to assorted manga and anime references. I laughed so hard when they visited Tokyo Tower thanks to CLAMP, although they went because of Magic Knight Rayearth and my friends and I went because of X (sadly fortunately, when we went, no necrocuddling was involved). I am also extremely jealous that she got to see Takarazuka! Some day...

Also, if you read this, check out the omake as well! Actually, check out the omake even if you haven't read it; it's a pretty good preview of what the book itself is like. Cute and fun.
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I may get parts of this book (2002) confused with Digitizing Race (2008, also by Nakamura) or Race in Cyberspace (2000, co-edited by Nakamura), as I read all of them together.

From my vague impressions of scholarship on race and online communities, Nakamura's one of the first people who really started writing about race and the Internet. Prior to this and to Nakamura's other work, I think there was a fair amount about gender and the Internet, in terms of how the Internet impacted gender identification, acting out gender online, and etc, but not much on race.

Nakamura comes from a background in visual studies, and this book is less ethnographic and far more culture-focused. She analyzes the portrayal of race in works that affect how we think about the Internet, such as the fun times of Asian landscapes and languages without the actual people in Gibson's Neuromancer and Bladerunner and how later on, we get more mixed-race Asian protagonists (Matrix, Snow Crash). I very much liked her reading of the Matrix, particularly of Agent Smith as white male kyriarchy, but can't comment much on the others, as I only vaguely remember the Gibson and Bladerunner and have never read Stephenson.

She also dissects some of the early ads for Internet access, starting from MCI's apparently famous "Anthem" ad, which claims the Internet as a space free of those pesky things like gender and race. I am sure you all laugh bitterly at this. She notes that there's a great deal of what she calls cybertourism involved in many of them, in which the ads posit that the viewer is white, middle-class, and American and contrast that audience to the people in the ads, who are frequently POC from countries in the Global South dressed in their "traditional" wear and often posed next to animals like elephants and camels and etc.

Kali Tal (link below) notes that Nakamura is much better with Asian stuff than she is with Black stuff, and I dearly want to read a book by someone well-versed in cyberculture and African-American studies and how the latter applies to the former, as mentioned in the review.

I vaguely remember that I disagreed with some things in the book, but final papers took up my mind and I forgot. It was also kind of funny reading it, because I felt like constantly saying, "Dude, people on my reading list could tell you that" when she left media analysis and started talking about online spaces.

Interesting groundwork for the field, rather dated, and not broad enough in terms of coverage (as noted, she's good with Asian. Anything other than that tends to get the shaft).

Links:
- Kali Tal has a way better review than I do

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