Friday, April 30, 2021

ME & OTHER WRITING, a kind-of chrestomathy of Duras's amazing, varied career

ME & OTHER WRITING
MARGUERITE DURAS
Dorothy, a publishing project
$16.00 trade paper, available now

rATING:

The Publisher Says: In her nonfiction as well as her fiction, Marguerite Duras’s curiosity was endless, her intellect voracious. Within a single essay she might roam from Flaubert to the “scattering of desire” to the Holocaust; within the body of her essays overall, style is always evolving, subject matter shifting, as her mind pushes beyond the obvious toward ever-original ground.

Me & Other Writing is a guidebook to the extraordinary breadth of Duras’s nonfiction. From the stunning one-page “Me” to the sprawling 70-page “Summer 80,” there is not a piece in this collection that can be easily categorized. These are essayistic works written for their times but too virtuosic to be relegated to history, works of commentary or recollection or reportage that are also, unmistakably, works of art.

I RECEIVED AN ARC FROM THE PUBLISHER. THANK YOU.

My Review
:




Flaubert Is . . . 1

The Sound and the Silence

My Mother Had . . .

Atlantic Black

Letter to Centre Rachi

Translation

I Thought Often . . .

Horror at Choisy-le-Roi

Nadine from Orange

Reading on the Train

True Appearances

The Men of Tomorrow

The Right, Our Death

The Horror of Such a Love

Me

Summer 80

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

THE FIRST SNOW OF WINTER and THE LABOURS OF LORD PERRY CAVENDISH, third and fourth Winterbournverse books


THE FIRST SNOW OF WINTER
JOANNA CHAMBERS
(Winterbourne #3)
Self-published (non-affiliate Amazon link)
99¢ Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: 1814: Captain Sam Alderton returns to England from the continent with his life in tatters. Maimed and directionless, the last thing he wants to do is spend Christmas with his family and their close friends, the Huxleys—especially Jasper Huxley, who he almost kissed five years before. Sam plans to avoid the festivities, but when the first snow of winter arrives, and he and Jasper are trapped alone together at Alderton Hall, they find themselves revisiting old traditions and painful memories together—and discovering that things may not have been quite as either of them thought five years earlier.

My Review: Except for three foul, putrid w-bombs, this first-time friends to lovers tale gets full marks. The childhood love of the young men is well-played for the explanation of their chemistry as men. Adding in the war wound and its effect on each of them is what tips this short piece into a good read on its own and not a mere add-on to the series.

There are a few small details that niggled at my pleasure...like Jasper's freshly-washed hair. The act of washing one's heair was not trivial in the Regency. It took planning and was rather more complicated than standing under a shower and scrubbing in a surfactant. Jasper wouldn't have done all this on Christmas Eve, and most certainly wouldn't have done so in conjunction with a bath at someone else's home, even the home of childhood friends.

I found Sam's mother a revolting, manipulative old party, with her ginned-up tears and her revulsion for Sam's war wound. I get it, about the wound at least; but it didn't make her a sympathetic character in my eyes. And Jasper's female connections are described so humorously by Sam...Augusta, Jasper's mother, was bringing her own mother to Christmas and Sam thinks: "Bertha was the least grandmotherly person imaginable. Unless one was thinking of Lucretia Borgia’s grandmother, perhaps. Or Caligula’s." Which is pretty much priceless! And accurate.

One important point is that we're not made privy to the source of these two characters' prequel-ness...so while this is a series I strongly advises you to read in order, be a bit patient with this Napoleonic-Wars excursion from our accustomed George IV-era trip. The order of battle is quite important to follow in this series to extract maximum pleasure from it.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


THE LABOURS OF LORD PERRY CAVENDISH
JOANNA CHAMBERS
(Winterbourn #4)
Self-published (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$3.49 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Lord Perry Cavendish knows that he's seen as a not-too-bright, amiable, sporting sort of chap. The type who can hold his own in the boxing ring, drink most men under the table, and offer a useful opinion on a piece of horseflesh—but not much else.

When Perry visits his friend, Lysander Winterbourne, he is introduced to the Honourable Jonny Mainwaring, a free-thinking artist who is everything Perry is not: unconventional, emotional…and very talkative.

At first, Perry is overwhelmed by the vibrant, witty Jonny Mainwairing, but when he agrees to sit for him, he discovers the real man beneath the dramatic flourishes, and the undeniable physical attraction he feels for Jonny begins to develop into something more.

But Jonny is not to be easily won over. While he has a longstanding weakness for brawny men like Perry, he’s still smarting from his latest heartbreak and determined to change his habit of throwing himself into each new affair without pausing to recover from the last.

Can Perry convince Jonny that he is more than just an empty-headed young buck, and that they could have a real future together?

My Review: The w-bombs come thick and fast here. Two—two!—within the first chapter alone! The onslaught of cheesy, unpleasant eye-infection behaviors continued until there were six...count 'em six...infringements of the Readers' Rights Agreement. Humph.

Perry is a Chelsea-bun hero all right, plain on the outside but fruity and spicy all the way through. (That's the period-appropriate term for a Cinnamon Roll hero, don't you know...since Chelsea buns were first made in the eighteenth century, unlike cinnamon rolls.) He's ooey-gooey sweet, with that large, lumbering man charm that seems to center on not fitting the furniture:
He was sitting in a spindly little chair, at a spindly little desk in the morning room. It was probably a lady’s desk and part of the effects of the house Adam had purchased when he’d bought the estate. Had the previous occupants been elves, Perry wondered? Most of the chairs in the house seemed to be too small for him.

Been there, Brother Man, been there and hated the view. Dinky little people need to understand that they are not the proper measure of the world! But a deeper hurt has been done to Perry, beyond merely being made to feel that he's Too Much...
“You need to go slower,” Perry repeated, his face heating with mortification. “I’m not one of those clever fellows like you who can write quickly.” He forced a chuckle. “I was a bit of a dunce at school.”

He's not eloquent or even terribly articulate in his speech, and not a very intellectually inclined sort, but not (as Lysander knows of old) slow-witted or dumb. In his classes, however, he was rather thought less of and certainly belittled by his harridan of a mother. He bears terrible emotional scars because of this, and is very sure that someone like the garrulous swan-like Jonny Mainwaring, fey and dandyish and a riot of color and sound, would sooner be dead than than spend time with him.

Jonny is suffering from the fey, dandyish man's usual problem with other men: What appeals to them at the start makes them absolutely mad as hornets by the end. Jonny's an artiste, you see, on top of being less than a manly man. He's accustomed to that being a Very Bad Thing...and here's this large, lovable lummox of a Perry practically blushing himself into a stroke every time Jonny so much as smiles at him! And seems unable to utter a sound...except in extremis, as the two decide it's time to get it on.
When Jonny’s tongue slid against his own, Perry’s cock jerked. It felt hard enough to hammer nails into a board...
–and–
No. No, {Jonny} would not be going down that road again. Before he bound himself to anyone else, he had to sort himself out. He was a grown man who should be capable of standing on his own two feet. And if it turned out that he could not get his own wild feelings under control, well, perhaps he was better off alone.

Ahh, there it is...the Fuckening! How to screw stuff up without really trying. Okay, they're both young, one does need to forgive them for the collywobbles. And, of course, neither one can be honest with the other because they can barely be honest with themselves! These are the pains of loving before you're experienced in it, and it was a lot harder to gain experience in that time. So, well, the dance does go on...and all because some thoughtless clod hurt Jonny, who then failed to fail to pass it on to the sensitive studmuffin that is Perry.

A trip away from their base to visit Jonny's friends Sam and Jasper (see review above) has the two spending an idyllic and blissful day driving (Perry loves to drive his curricle, Jonny is amazed that he enjoys riding in the curricle with Perry when he has always hated riding in carriages) and eating together and then having a lovely visit with Sam and Jasper. The two of them are leaving for Italy soon, and they've asked Jonny to join them...a lovely offer, a place Jonny would love to visit, but he says no and offers his usual "I'm a bad traveler" excuses. This leads Perry, in his cups, to offer quite simply, sincerely, and beautifully to be Jonny's help and comfort through the horrors (to Jonny, not to Perry) of the journey.

The very most horrible thing then occurs. Jonny says a dismissive and cutting "no, thank you, I couldn't possibly impose on your kindness" rejection. "I know...KNOW...this is not going to end the way it is heading," thinks I. But just in case, I started sharpening my kitana and digging around for those ninja stars I got for that one Yule. "I might need to travel to England soon, on an unrelated topic. Do not be alarmed if I am gone some time," I posted, making plans to cause much, much trouble for A Badly Behaved Author.

Oh me of little faith. No, Author Chambers did not break the remaining parts of the Readers' Rights Agreement (Romance subhead). What a relief. And yes, the ending while happy was not without flaw...I felt it was rushed, and presumed that Perry would be much more forgiving on a much shorter time-frame than I found entirely believable...but it delivered the goods: These two delightfully different men are Together and will stay that way.

So, it was labourious wading through the w-bombs, but the conclusion lived up to my desires. You need to be in the mood for fears and doubts to get the full effect from the read. I think it's very worthwhile to take the trip.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

FUGITIVE TELEMETRY, sixth Murderbot story & a fun locked-room mystery...what Murderbot needed it got

FUGITIVE TELEMETRY
MARTHA WELLS
(Murderbot #6)
Tor.com Publishing
$11.99 ebook editions, available now

Rating: 4.75* of five

The Publisher Says: No, I didn’t kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn’t dump the body in the station mall.

When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people—who knew?)

Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans!

Again!

I RESERVED THIS BOOK AT MY LOCAL LIBRARY THE *INSTANT* I FOUND OUT IT WAS COMING OUT!

My Review:
This is a locked-room murder mystery with Twelve Years a Slave overtones. Much much good action and some serious character development. Don't start here, but don't let the door hit you standing around waiting for it to go on sale before reading it.

When we come onto Preservation Station, we're greeted by a world that...doesn't work like the one you and I are used to:
(Preservation had two economies, one a complicated barter system for planetary residents and one currency-based for visitors and for dealing with other polities. Most of the humans here didn’t really understand how important hard currency was in the Corporation Rim but the council did, and Mensah said the port took in enough in various fees to keep the station from being a drain on the planet’s resources.)

Thus Author Wells makes plain that Preservation Station and Alliance doesn't exist on the Corporate Rim's terms...it interfaces with them, but doesn't make their system its own. I'd wondered about that. I'm very grateful she took the time to say out loud (well, in parenthesis, where Murderbot says a lot of important stuff) what I'd been trying to figure out.

What isn't hard to figure out is what Murderbot's appeal is to us unaugmenteds:
...the humans on the Station wouldn’t have to think about what I was, a construct made of cloned human tissue, augments, anxiety, depression, and unfocused rage, a killing machine for whichever humans rented me, until I made a mistake and got my brain destroyed by my governor module.
–and–
(I don’t know why bot behaviors that are useless except to comfort humans annoy me so much.) (Okay, maybe I do. They built us, right? So didn’t they know how this type of bot took in visual data? It’s not like sensors and scanners just popped up randomly on its body without humans putting them there.)

There's nothing more fun than hearing your inner monologue made outer by a belovèd character speaking it in words. I, too, find the stupid soothing behaviors necessary to interact as frictionlessly as possible with people I don't like very irritating...especially when they get in the way of accomplishing stuff that needs doing, now.

What makes the series especially appealing to me, apart from Murderbot, is the grace notes that Author Wells give us. Murderbot came close to getting a sidekick bot this installment, and something suggests to me that it could still happen. A bot working in the hotel where Murderbot has traced our murder victim to is **eager** to help with the investigation. Murderbot isn't eager to be helped once it has what it needs. "(The bot’s name is Tellus. They name themselves and hearing about it is exhausting.)" thinks Murderbot of the poor basic bot. Now go look at the layers in this simple throw-away here. "Hearing about it is exhausting" doesn't even *begin*, Murderbot! But what a lovely easter-egg for the restlessly curious.

Then there's Murderbot's ongoing quest to discover what its origins mean. The corporate entities out after Murderbot and its chosen family (Dr. Mensah and her folk) have occupied Murderbot's threat-assessment module and its tactical programs for so long that it hasn't seen how very human it's becoming:
Maybe I’d been waiting too long for GrayCris to show up and try to kill us all. I was thinking like a CombatUnit, or, for fuck’s sake, like a CombatBot.
–and–
I pulled the schematic from the instructions and found the transponder was buried in the sealed drive unit.
Oh, you have to be kidding me. I’d be pissed off at the humans but I had brought this thing up here without checking.
–and–
This meant no bot pilot that I could get information from. That was depressing. I had no idea what else I was supposed to do as a member of this group and just following humans around listening to them talk felt a lot like just being a SecUnit again. I mean, I am a SecUnit, but … You know what I mean.

Yes, Murderbot, we all know what you mean. It's the way many of us feel a lot of the time, too. You'd be amazed how human you really are.

And don't stalk off all offended. You're really the best of us, not just the rest of us. Not Festivus for you. Now what's wrong with me, warbling these praises but not giving the story the Full Five? It's the dull thud of a dropped plot-point that I needed more of...what the heck was Lutran doing all those years to stay off Preservation Station's radar? Did the smugglers plant the eventual murder weapon and then have it hacked against them? *aaarrrgh*

So no perfect score for you, Author Wells. Harrumph.

Friday, April 23, 2021

HOME: Habitat, Range, Niche, Territory, our first look into Dr. Mensah -and- NETWORK EFFECT, first full-length Murderbot novel

HOME: Habitat, Range, Niche, Territory
MARTHA WELLS
(Murderbot #4.5)
Tor.com
FREE online read!

Rating: 4.75* of five

The Publisher Says: This short story is told from the point of view of Dr. Mensah and follows the events in Exit Strategy.

THIS IS A TOR.COM FREE READ. THANK YOU FOR MAKING SUCH WONDERFUL WORK FREE FOR ANYONE TO READ, GENTLES ALL.

My Review
:
Because they are all refugees in the Preservation Alliance, descended from people who were left to die because rescue was deemed not cost-effective.

Which is why I read the Murderbot series the instant I can get the books. This is a short freebie that's just a tick before Network Effect, and it's deeply refreshing to read something from Dr. Mensah's PoV.

Not that I don't adore Murderbot! I do! But breaking out of the one PoV that we have on the Corporation Rim is a breath of fresh air.
The Corporation Rim has always been a slave state, though it calls its institutionalized slavery “contract labor.”

It is through Dr. Mensah's clarity that I feel so seen in my hatred of this system's brutal, dehumanizing, and revoltingly deeply entrenched dominance of the hearts and minds I must live among, as Preservation is a fictional construct. It would be the work of but a moment for me to apply for asylum or whatever they call it to get to Preservation were it real.
It’s about being treated as a thing, isn’t it. Whether that thing is a hostage of conditional value, or a very expensively designed and equipped enslaved machine/organic intelligence. You’re a thing, and there is no safety.

When you exist at the whim of the electorate, as people like me...disabled, unhomed, elderly, infirm...must do, you're a thing. A profit point. An expense center. Not yourself, not someone with a lifetime's issues and lessons. I'm fortunate that I live in a place that allows me to be as independent as possible, and that I did enough useful work for enough years that my (HUGELY reduced in value) investment in government debt affords me the relative safety of housing, medical care, and therapies that I need. Had I stayed in Texas, had I been darker of skin hue, had I not had the mind-boggling good fortune to have my breakdown while talking to the one person who could, and would, and did help me...well, I'd be dead, and that's just the facts.

It's why I identify so deeply with Murderbot: We had all the right things go exactly right at the right time or we'd simply have ceased to exist.
And {Dr. Mensah} tells herself: you’re being very foolish. Because you were a hostage for a period of days, and it was a minor inconvenience compared to what Murderbot— No, SecUnit; she’s never been given permission to use that private name. What SecUnit went through.

And if someone else was in her position, she would tell them how unhelpful comparisons like that are, that fear is fear.

But you're making one right now. You can't help it; it's human nature. One person with whom I am no longer friends said to me, "stop being so selfish and think of how much worse it is for my (Hispanic) people!"

Invalidation = abuse. Always, in all ways.

And that is what Author Wells does so eloquently by not doing it directly: She holds up your status as abuser while acknowledging your status as the abused. Murderbot...SecUnit to Dr. Mensah and the meatsacks inhabiting its spacetime...isn't kidding around with its self-granted yclepture. It was the more harmed, in my opinion, by its status as legally insentient property being thrust on it from...birth?...its creation, anyway...(aka "chattel slavery") but it isn't innocent of abusive, life-denying behavior towards others.

Do moral dilemmas come more tightly coiled up on themselves than this? And breathes there an author whose exploration of these intense and weighty issues is so delightfully deft and assuredly airy than Author Wells?

No.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

NETWORK EFFECT
MARTHA WELLS
(Murderbot #5)
Tor.com Publishing
$11.99 ebook editions, available now

Rating: 4.9* of five

WINNER: BEST NOVEL, 2020 NEBULA AWARDS!

The Publisher Says: Murderbot returns in its highly-anticipated, first, full-length standalone novel.

You know that feeling when you’re at work, and you’ve had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you're a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you're Murderbot.

Come for the pew-pew space battles, stay for the most relatable A.I. you’ll read this century.

I’m usually alone in my head, and that’s where 90 plus percent of my problems are.

When Murderbot's human associates (not friends, never friends) are captured and another not-friend from its past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action.

Drastic action it is, then.

I CHECKED THIS BOOK OUT OF MY LOCAL LIBRARY. SUPPORT YOUR LIBRARIES, FOLKS! THE PANDEMIC AIN'T THE ONLY REASON TO GO THERE.

My Review
: When you get to the moment in reading a series of stories that you think you know what's coming next, and then you're kinda right but a whole lot wrong, that's when you know for sure you're in the right place at the right time.

I knew for sure I'd get Murderbot being its deeply cynical, snarky self, breaking the fourth wall at will and to great effect.
{We're in the shit because of} their hired security service Palisade making an extremely bad decision to punch my ex-owner bond company in the operating funds by attacking one of its gunships. (The company is paranoid and greedy and cheap but also ruthless, methodical, and intensely violent when it thinks it’s being threatened.)
–and–
So that was what had happened before the survey. Now we’re here, ready for the next major disaster. (Spoiler warning.)

I didn't realize, though, that the ART (acronym; you know already or you need to find out for yourself) and Murderbot would make this read the emotional rollercoater it is. (Yes, of course there are quotes to make this obvious but I can't spoiler-tag on my blog. Go here if you're that curious. But it's a MAJOR spoiler!)
—but there is this that I *can* quote, spoken by Murderbot after a serious, serious event takes place, one that changes the entire stakes of the novel: "My performance reliability had leveled out at 89 percent. Not great, but I could work with it. I still hadn’t identified the source of the drop. I’d taken multiple projectile hits without having that kind of steady drop." Which is a theme developed so well in this full-length novel. The problem of grief, of rage and loss, is universal; Author Wells hasn't, at any point in the series, hidden her cards in this regard. But the stakes, the sheer centrality of loss and rage and grief, take the Up escalator in this novel. Maybe Ratthi, a human and client of Murderbot's over the course of multiple stories, says it best: “Anyone who thinks machine intelligences don’t have emotions needs to be in this very uncomfortable room right now.”

Amen, Brother Ratthi. If anyone who's read more of the series (and if you haven't what the heck are you doing reading this review?!) wonders about how huge the change of tenor in this full-length novel is, I offer this:
Ratthi had said, “I think you should let it go for a while, at least until we get ourselves out of this situation. SecUnit is a very private person, it doesn’t like to discuss its feelings.”

This is why Ratthi is my friend.
–and–
(If I got angry at myself for being angry I would be angry constantly and I wouldn’t have time to think about anything else.) (Wait, I think I am angry constantly. That might explain a lot.)

Murderbot. Calling a human, a (former) client, a being under its protection, a friend is a moment to make a person pause. Then for Murderbot to acknowledge, with great precision, its emotional state...!

Then again this is the thing about reading this series, unlike reading many, many others: Author Wells is making something clear to us, in her inimitable sly way, that not many of us think about. She demands that, in loving and accepting the reality of Murderbot, that we contemplate the source of Murderbot's conundrum. Murderbot is a possession, chattel, a Thing:
(I know, it’s a logo, but I hate it when humans and augmented humans ruin things for no reason. Maybe because I was a thing before I was a person and if I’m not careful I could be a thing again.)
–and–
And of course the humans had trouble understanding that your governor module suddenly deciding to melt your brain wasn’t something you could rules-lawyer your way out of.

Like the SecUnit that Murderbot began its existence being and Dr. Mensah rescued it from continuing to be, there was a device installed in its organic brain that could cause it immense pain or simply end its existence...can't give a Thing power, like weaponry-power and tactical nous, without safeguards....

So be clear: By taking on this addictively funny series, you're taking on a level of self-reflection that, while salubrious and even vital it may be, it is also deeply uncomfortable:
Just because we’re both rogue SecUnits doesn’t mean we’re going to be friends, but I knew if it went back, it would be dead. I’d hacked my governor module and kept doing my job because I didn’t know what else to do (except you know, a murderous rampage, but murderous rampages are overrated and interfere with one’s ability to keep watching media) but that was different from escaping and then going back.

I said, “Because change is terrifying. Choices are terrifying. But having a thing in your head that kills you if you make a mistake is more terrifying.”
–and–
I’m letting you see all this because I want you to know what I am and what I can do. I want you to know who targetControlSystem is fucking with right now. I want you to know if you help me, I’ll help you, and that you can trust me. Now here’s the code to disable your governor module.

This is Murderbot caring for a fellow SecUnit whose existence as chattel, a Thing, it is trying to end. There is no guarantee that ending the other's slavery will make it a fellow seeker after the Meaning of Freedom; it won't even guarantee that there won't be mayhem and disaster to clean up after. But it will for sure and certain mean that the other SecUnit won't be under any compulsion to do anything.

No matter what that costs, it's worth everything and it's worth risking everything to give or to get.

I've failed to give this novel a perfect score of five-out-of-five. The reason is simple to the point of being petty: The pace is irregular and it's not because the story needs it to be. Author Wells has written numerous novels before this (here's her bibliography) so there is no reason this novel should suffer from an avoidable fault. There are some scenes whose nature means they could've been cut or cut down (eg, the invaders the Scooby-group need to fight get more screen time than is necessary for non-repeating characters), there are some repeated references to Murderbot's happiness that it has no digestive system that were over-done...but none of these things did more than ding the paint on my gloriously chromed, befinned behemoth of Joy at spending a whole novel with Murderbot, ART, and the annoying humans they hang with.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

THE PORNIFICATION OF AMERICA, trenchant and timely and very well-argued

THE PORNIFICATION OF AMERICA: How Raunch Culture Is Ruining Our Society
BERNADETTE C. BARTON

NYU Press
$24.95 all editions, available today

Rating: 3.25* of five

The Publisher Says: Pictures of half-naked girls and women can seem to litter almost every screen, billboard, and advertisement in America. Pole-dancing studios keep women fit. Men airdrop their dick pics to female passengers on planes and trains. To top it off, the First Lady has modeled nude and the "leader of the free world" has bragged about grabbing women "by the pussy."

This pornification of our society is what Bernadette Barton calls "raunch culture." Barton explores what raunch culture is, why it matters, and how it is ruining America. She exposes how internet porn drives trends in programming, advertising, and social media, and makes its way onto our phones, into our fashion choices, and into our sex lives. From twerking and breast implants, to fake nails and push-up bras, she explores just how much we encounter raunch culture on a daily basis—porn is the new normal.

Drawing on interviews, television shows, movies, and social media, Barton argues that raunch culture matters not because it is sexy, but because it is sexist. She shows how young women are encouraged to be sexy like porn stars, and to be grateful for getting cat-called or receiving unsolicited dick pics. As politicians vote to restrict women's access to birth control and abortion, The Pornification of America exposes the double standard we attach to women's sexuality.

I RECEIVED THIS DRC FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA EDELWEISS+. THANK YOU.

My Review
: There is no doubt in my mind that Dr. Barton is on to a very important strain (term used advisedly) in late-stage capitalism. Chanel Miller's Know My Name has opened many people's eyes to the awful consequences of "raunch culture." It's inarguable that #MeToo has blown the closet doors off way more abusers' safe havens. And let me be the first to say that Paris Hilton shakin' her moneymaker all over a Bentley to sell burgers to boys was a wake-up call for me because, well, yuck.

I am much more willing to listen to stories outside my experience than ever before in my life. It is liberating to hear trans men talking about their pregnancies...to learn of the empowerment young women are taking from the female role models who have done so very much more than those people were led to believe that they could...should even aspire to. It is joyous to learn that women everywhere are just not listening to Old White Men in Authority with downcast eyes, that protests and awareness campaigns and lawsuits are growing apace with the dying convulsions of the old, bad days's bad law and worse policy. Our current Vice President is a woman in an administration that foregrounds women in more senior roles than ever, allowing the levers of power into better hands than they've been in in decades.

But there's another level of battle being fought against the old, bad ways: in the heads of young men raised with all the cultural reinforcement that their "natural rights" or "god-given authority" over women's bodies is being taken away from them. The culture reinforces the idea of male supremacy by using female bodies as props, set dressing, and sex toys. This is somehow twisted, in a hideous Jekyll/Hyde-ing way, into a celebration of women's empowerment and sex-positivity.

Author Barton calls out this arrant nonsense. She establishes her own credentials as a sex-positive feminist social scientist. But here is where I become less gung-ho about the book: It does feel to me like the author is not far from sex-work shaming at many points. I consider this a problem because it is a perspective that can very easily and quickly descend into controlling women's bodies, this time by women, but in the same repressive and restrictive "it's for your own good!" way. Women are the agents in charge of their bodies. No one has the right to tell an adult woman what she needs to be doing with her own self.

I have to agree very heartily with Dr. Barton that "sex education" is a pathetic shambles because religious nuts (my term, not hers) have built guilt into the minds of people as a means of social control; as a result, parents aren't willing or able to inform their children about the mechanics of the acts, or to allow schools to fill this gap. Again, this is presented in purely heteronormative terms, which is a deeply irksome thing to me. Acknowledging the harm that non-existent to catastrophically bad sex education does to gender non-conforming or sexual minority kids wouldn't have been too terribly out of the brief....

Part of what makes me wonder if that exclusion and that control isn't the way things are headed is the demographic of the author's interview subjects of both genders. They are almost all between nineteen and twenty-five or -six. I am not complaining about some perceived "lack of experience or perspective" to be clear. I fully understand that the raunch culture under discussion has reached new heights of awful in their lifetimes. And there is no absence of older feminists in the book, just that the focus isn't so much shared as sharpened on the younger women as almost all the older women are brought into the anti-porn crusading that has been a hallmark of TERF days.

(The author doesn't like the term TERF. If the shoe fits, wear it; these folks are their own worst brand ambassadors and I think they need to be called out for their very closed-minded thinking everywhere. So I'm using it here. And that was a whole half-star off my rating.)

Online porn. What should we do about porn? Why is most cishet porn violent? (This is an area I know nothing about. I don't read about, think about, or watch straight people having sex voluntarily.) Why are there clouds? There has been porn since forever (go look at some Attic pottery from the 600s BCE) and I suspect there always will be. The author does not wish this to be the case, and builds a damning argument against the continued normalization of violent porn.

I don't think for a second that it's porn spreading e-bile (such an excellent term for the horrific "social" media abuse spewed at women/minorities/gender-nonconformists!); I myownself think it's down to rampant abuse of anonymity. Disinhibition due to the facelessness of online interaction. And I am also pretty convinced online porn consumption would go down a lot if anonymity was curtailed. But there's no reasonable way to invalidate or even diminish the power of the author's data-driven analysis; I just feel it's a case of stopping too soon, ending the hunt before the prize got bigger. There went a star.

So my rating of three and a quarter stars seems, well, mingy? There can be no modern work about feminism's many battles that excludes transgender people. That is a massive oversight. There should be no work of modern feminism that does not include members of the QUILTBAG community in its entirety, because that inclusive culture feminism works to create isn't inclusive unless we're at the table, too.

Also? Hillary lost because they cheated. But that was five years ago. I myownself am outraged that Elizabeth Warren isn't in the White House. She was, and is, the best person for the job. But she wasn't the nominee and she's working with the present Administration...I'm taking my cue from a gracious loser. Let's accept that misogyny and reactionary billionaires did Hillary dirt and work on the many, many, many problems in front of us now. That little excursion into Hillary hagiography was the last quarter-star off the five the book started with.

I would recommend the read despite my deep reservations because this is a stirring, clarifying presentation of a very under-debated topic. I would encourage you to read it in the light of its presentation of part of the story, in a particularly readable way for an academic book.