Adventures in Reading

Revisted Reviews: Female Chauvinist Pigs by Andrea Levy

Female Chauvinistic Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture: Perhaps the biggest let down for me of 2007? First I would like to come right out and say it: just because you write as a journalist, even if you’re a good journalist, does not necessarily mean that you can write a book. Now that this is said, within newer feminist texts the authors more often than not wrote magazine articles and their books read as a series of magazine articles with the hope of some sentences or paragraphs to connect ideas. My suggestion for this new group of “authors”: just give us the damn articles with an intro and conclusion to wind it together because you’re attempt at a book is disappointing.

Each chapter leads the reader on a rather exciting journey until you reach the top of the metaphorical hill and realize there’s no other side, there’s no conclusion, there’s only paste and plaster. When reading the book I loosely gained the idea that Levy was discussing the idea of women representing a false front – whether it’s to claim “I’m a man,” “I dislike girly girls,” faking orgasms and posing, etc – and that this idea has beccme highly symbolic in the U.S. as culturally we worship porn stars and strippers – people who “fake” their sexuality (okay, perhaps not all of them) and are performing sex rather than enjoying real sex.

However, in her conclusion Levy says the book is about “what the sex industry means” (199) and she completely lost me there. As an introductory reader to feminism the book is interesting: she puts a new spin on some old ideas, introduces some marvelous case examples and language, and massive kudos to you for remembering your feminist foremothers and giving them their due. As a serious feminist text that contributes to the body of feminist literature it was a bit of a let down. As a loosely, knitted veil of ideas I wonder if this is all “my” generation has to contribute?

Something I have discovered during my years of feminism is that it is mighty difficult to waltz into your local bookstore and pick up the latest book of feminist criticism. (Unless we’re talking about the Half Priced Bookstore next to the Ohio State University.) More often than not, the books that do show up are a little feminist-lite and are okay intro guides. When I finally had arrived at Female Chauvinistic Pigs I was reading about it everywhere and Levy had even been on the Daily Show.

But as I read the book I realized it was very much another journalist/blogger turned nonfiction author. And I wonder how really earnest and passionate researchers and nonfiction writers feel about this sometimes. These books fill a certain niche and provide a certain perspective, but for lack of a better expression I have a difficult time taking these books quite as seriously. They read very much as blogs in that they’re snappy and witty but once they become books I keep wondering where the hell all of the footnotes are.

Perhaps I should just blame academics.

Some information on Levy from Bookninja and some thoughts from Book Addiction.


Revisted Reviews: Intercourse by Andrea Dworkin

After Betty Friedan, Andrea Dworkin seems to top the list as one of the most referenced feminists. Her popularity did not prepare me in the least for what exactly her book de jour is. That is Intercourse coined as saying “all sex is rape,” is actually an intriguing literary criticism with a brief peppering of art history. Often quotes I have seen attributed to Dworkin from Intercourse were taken out of context in that it would only make sense that after Dworkin is read a conversation must occur on art’s ability (and lack of) to reflect and represent life.

Dworkin’s book begins at Tolstoy and moves through biographies of he and his wife and his literary work The Kreutzer Sonata. Dworkin’s book provides a feminist and specific sexual critique on how sexuality is represented throughout classical, fictional pieces ranging from Tennessee Williams to James Baldwin to Bram Stoker to the Bible and how these works reflect the reality of the culture they were produced in. This bundle of information is presented to the reader and then weaved together in a luxurious manner to critique present views on sexuality.

Similar to Reading Lolita in Tehran, it is not necessary that you’ve actually read any of these works. However, as with any literary criticism, it’s difficult to fully engage with Dworkin’s book (whether in agreement or disagreement) without reading the actual texts the critique is based on. Overall, it’s a brilliant piece of feminist literature that is blunt and honest and thought provoking. Whether or not you agree with everything (or anything) that Dworkin says, it’s a thought stimulating book that consistently questions the reader’s attitudes towards sex and culture.

In the original preface to Intercourse Andrea Dworkin wrote “I love the literature these men have created; but I will not live my life as if they are real and I am not,” and over the years this quote has become very important to me. I took a course in Irish literature, which was inspiring between the actual works and the passion my instructor freely shared with the students. But my feminist ideology doesn’t always intertwine well with Joyce and I even had a discussion where a friend pointed this out to me.

I love literature and whether it’s about the colonizer or the colonized I appreciate it and find it moving, but I can never completely distance myself as a reader from the perspective and cultural implications of the author and what the literature can and does represent. Most recently I read The Voyages of Dr. Dolitte by Hugh Lofting, which is a well-written and complex book that nostalgically recalls the excitement and appeal of an adventurous yet innocent age safely removed from the horror of the World Wars it was written during. I read the book and was charmed by it but cannot just read past the racism and imperialism that still lingers in even the edited version.

And I suppose that’s where the quote becomes meaningful to me: I love the literature these people have created, but I will not live my life ignoring the implications of their literature either.

Revisted Reviews: Rise & Fall of English by Scholes

I finally finished it, his ultimate diagnosis is that English will either become a classical field in nature or will need to alter to embrace the present and the future. With Scholes specifics I disagree to some extent as he seems to want to turn undergraduate English into an advanced Intro to Communications course, but I do agree that English (as well as most any liberal arts degree) need to alter. One idea of his I greatly enjoy is altering the LERs (liberal education requirements) to better fit a person’s major than to just allow students to select randomly. Otherwise, fabulous book, not quite a page turned, and if you’re not interested in English and literary theory I’d avoid to like the plague.

What I remember most about The Rise & Fall of English was that it was dense and tedious and most of the actual content escaped me. I’ll assume it’s a book arguing for the application and practice of theory versus the learning and discussion of theory. As someone who fled the school of communication for the arms of liberal arts, I cannot say I read this with an unbiased opinion. Now that my liberal arts degree is more or less finished, I think of it somewhat bittersweetly that it has provided me with a marvelous base to enter the world but it’s also become something of a heroin addiction for the academic world.

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