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The Ethical Slut

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I tend to roll my eyes at self-help books and relationship books. It probably isn't my best attribute, but it's true. This one I ate up. This was almost certainly because we live in a society so knotted up about sexuality and traditional monogamy that there really isn't much discussion of, let alone positive role modeling of healthy non-monogamous relationships out in the open. Lately I have become more and more aware that a lot of perfectly lovely people have been cutting their own path when it comes to structuring their intimate relationships. Couple that with my own disinterest in the traditional institution of marriage and this seemed like the book for me.It was.The book starts off beautifully from the simple premise: Sex is fun and pleasure is good for you. The authors proudly dismiss the idea that the number of partners a person has has any bearing on their value as a person or their moral fiber. This, they point out, is a hold over from our culture's long tradition of commodifying sex, or, more specifically, commodifying women according to the exclusivity of their bodies. There is of course nothing wrong with monogamy if it is what works for a couple, however the authors are quick to point out that love and sex need not go hand in hand, and if love is dependent on complete sexual possession of your partner's body you might be confusing your lover with your property. You love a person for who they are, not who they do.These are of course things that need to be sorted out by the individuals involved and nowhere in the book do the authors imply one sort of relationship to be superior to another. They do however point out that what's best for one person is not necessarily best for another and what is best for a person can change over a lifetime. Or several times. They dig into the ethics and strategies of non-monogamy and here it really opens up. Frankly, with the possibly exception of the chapter on how to negotiate sex parties, this section really ought to apply to anyone. Communication and emotional honesty are emphasized above all else. Using this basic foundation the authors detail how to sort out what boundaries you need in your relationship and how to deal with the difficulties and problems that will arise in a non-mongamous relationship. Not because non-monogamy is inherently more fragile than monogamy, but because every relationship faces challenges.I still don't know how exactly I would like to structure my romantic relationships, but now I'm a lot more knowledgeable about the options out there and feel more secure knowing my relationships don't need fit any expectations or structure other than those imposed by the people involved. Yay!
Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word

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A strange career indeed. This slim volume is written in what I tend to think of as "the college structure". Namely it is packed to the gills with historical and contemporary examples arranged categorically. In terms of volume most of these relate to pejorative racist usage, but, true to his byline, Kennedy is just as committed ironic, satirical and affectionate uses of the word. As someone that abhors taboos of any sort and loves words, slurs have long occupied a difficult status for me. I don't think they should be afforded special status, off limits to all but those who would use them to attack, but I can't ignore their baggage or people's sensitivity to them. Randall seems to have a similar feeling on the matter. He certainly doesn't excuse vile usage of the titular word, but he knows that attempts to regulate it's usage, or excise it from the English language entirely are not only naive, they would undercut freedom of speech and turn victims of verbal attacks into agents of censure. As ugly as words can be it it's important to remember that freedom of speech doesn't mean much if we can pick and choose what speech it applies to.But back to the book. Kennedy briefly looks at the origin of the word and when it picked up it's nasty connotations before diving into historical and contemporary examples or it's uses and abuses. There are some pretty nasty stories, but thankfully as you read on the breadth of the "N-word" becomes more apparent. Kennedy celebrates ironic, sarcastic and affectionate uses of the word within the black community citing people like Richard Pryor and Chris Rock as examples of people that wouldn't let the fact that white people might hear them and not understand their usage dictate how they spoke. Positive uses of "nigger" from literature, music, and comedy are reprinted and discussed. The last segment is dedicated to controversial usage of the word and this section is done especially well. Kennedy presents the facts of the situation at hand before weighing in on the subject. This allows the reader time to think over what they think of the usage in question before Kennedy makes his case. All and all I found this quick and edifying. It gave me fuller perspective on the use of the word and it gives me great pleasure that members of the black community are bending the word to there own purposes. Despite Kennedy's defense of non-blacks using the word in positive manners I think I'll leave wrecking this particular taboo to those better suited to it. As it is I'm perfectly happy taking the teeth out of "cunt" anyways.The one thing I wish was included but wasn't was commentary on the recent censoring of Huckleberry Finn. Kennedy defends the book and Twain's usage of nigger in it, but this book was published years before the regualtionists excised all usage of the word from an edition of Huck Finn.To close out, it's not the words you use, it's what you say with them.
The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World's Most Endangered Languages

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I never really got into this one. I had thought it would either be about the linguistics of endangered and exotic languages or an anthropology of the speakers' cultures. Maybe both. Technically I suppose it was both, but with all the effectiveness of a combination fax machine/scanner/copy machine.The only thing this book really commits to is regaling you with the author's personal travels on his quest to save endangered languages. How exactly he intends to do this is anyones guess. He has palatable distaste for the nuts and bolts of linguistics, you know, sorting out grammars and origins and such not and his documentation of language and their corresponding cultures is painfully shallow. Then there's the fact that you really can't do much to save a language from the outside, only the speakers can save it. What he does do is never miss an opportunity to remind his readers that this particular language could disappear very soon. It's as if he thinks his readers aren't capable of retaining the definition of "endangered" for more than 20 pages. Couple that with his rather questionable claim that the extinction of each of these languages will mean the loss of invaluable information and my sentiment quotas get maxed out pretty quick.Make no mistake. I am an information for information's sake sort of girl. I'm doing the Dewey challenge after all. What bugged me was that Harrison did such a shoddy job of relaying the sort of unique information that these language speakers had a monopoly on that his vague claim that something like 80-90% of information is contained entirely in verbal communication flirts with the sort of woo that gets people believing that if only that ancient culture hadn't died off and taken their ancient medical secrets with them we could cure frickin' lymphoma with berries and organic honey. I wouldn't be surprised if 80-90% of human knowledge was not available in any written form. But make no mistake, that's because most of it is personal experience content that might have sociological, anthropological or historical merit, but would rarely effect change on contemporary life. It's interesting to learn about how tribal yak herders herd their yaks, but it's not changing anyone's life, except in the rare case of aspiring yak herders.All and all I didn't get much of what I wanted out of this book. The linguistics and anthropology were both really superficial and frankly I get a bit exasperated by writers that make themselves the center of their books when said book really shouldn't be about them.
Why Men Fake It: The Totally Unexpected Truth About Men and Sex

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Here's the thing. At some point it occurred to me that knowing my gender really tells you jack shit about who I am. I mean, come on, roughly half the human population share that same gender. As far as enlightening personal identifiers go that's about as piss-poor as it gets.I'm not the sort of person that says gender is a cultural invention, I just think it's the absolute least important part of who I am and pretty much irrelevant when it comes to getting to know others. We're all humans, all individuals. Rather than piling cultural biases on ourselves and others just let everyone be themselves, whoever they are.That's where I'm coming from. And from this point of view Morgentaler's book vacillates from weak sauce gender politics to timid tolerance with a side of not-quite-pearl-clutching sex talk. Frankly it's embarrassing. I'm certainly no expert in any of these things but Morgentaler has a tendency to sound like a college freshman that just escaped from his small town conservative Christian upbringing and, coming home for Christmas, is gently and apologetically trying to explain to several elderly maiden aunts that men aren't actually DTF any woman any time and also this one guy in my writing class is gay and he seems really nice. Weak Sauce.What Morgentaler does know a lot about is penises. You could almost, almost say this book was only about men by virtue of the fact that they're attached to the penises Morgentaler wants to tell us about. You see Morgentaler has made a career of helping men with penis troubles. And that's a noble profession. Sadly, once he dives into his most familiar topic the tone shifts from blushing naivete and the occasional accidentally horrifying gender politics to self-aggrandizing patient-patronizing penis savior. Seriously. Morgentaler's dramatizations of his doctor/patient interactions are absurd:1. At one point an engineer supposedly asks Morgentaler if he'll be able to father children now that he's allowed his last nut to go necrotic. 2. Morgentaler coins the term "Low T" for low testosterone. He says he did this because apparently everyone, even his most educated patients, has trouble pronouncing "testosterone". He seems very proud of this and eagerly reports some other people have started using the term too!3. In recounting a story of a married transman and transwoman that want to get pregnant some how neither realizes they would need to go off hormones. I'm pretty sure there isn't a single adult transitioned transperson that doesn't know that.And then there are the truly horrifying moments. Early in the book Morgentaler recalls a man who couldn't have a sexual relationship with his wife. She just wasn't interested, instead she gave him permission to have other sexual partners. But oh no. Monogamy is the end all beat all so Morgentaler counsels the man to continue pressing sexual intercourse with his disinterested wife. Hey, that's coercive at best and marital rape at worst but goddam it's monogamous so mission accomplished. I mean, everyone knows the thing to do with a woman that doesn't want sex is to put a penis in her, that always fixes everything. And then there's this gem which so perfectly demeans and diminishes men. It's actually a perfect parallel to the sub-human status women occupied for so long when being a wife was about serving a husband and making babies."It is difficult these days for a man to figure out what he brings to the party for the modern woman who appears to have everything: career, money, independence, friends. The one obvious thing he can provide is a hard penis. The good part is that it's true that women cannot supply this on their own. The scary part is that the hard penis can be a unreliable resource. Sometimes it's shy and doesn't want to come out and play. Sometimes it starts out all right and then disappears midact. And eventually with age and/or illness, in nearly all men the ability to 'provide' the hard penis fades away entirely."Men! Women! Assorted persons with non-binary genders! Do you know want to know what you bring to the table? Yourself. A whole human being. So a woman can stand on her own, so what? You're not her dad. Be adults together. There's nothing wrong with bringing a hard dick to the table, but don't let anyone tell you that's the only thing you've got to offer, or even the most important thing. I don't care how many books they've written.
Easy Russian for English Speakers: From everyday essentials to Chekhov, Pushkin, Gagarin and Shakespeare

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The problem with this material is it isn't  aimed at a specific learning level.  It moves quickly and assumes the student has already acquired an ear for Russian and since there is minimal written material (just some PDFs you can download from the website) a tuned ear is essential leaving beginners in a tough spot.  Anyone that has completed a beginning Russian course ought to be able to get a a fair amount of what's going on, but then anyone that's done that will have already learned some of the material anyway.  There is no discussion of any sort of grammar, little room for repetition and response, but there are several long Russian recordings sure to confound all but advanced Russian students.  Though on the plus side it does provide insight into the nuance of pronunciation that I didn't get from three semesters of college Russian.Ultimately this could never serve as a very substantial Russian language resource.  Even as an audio resource I'd still say you could take it or leave it, primarily because next to systems as extensive as Pimsleur this doesn't offer much for new Russian students and there's too much intro Russian to be very worthwhile for intermediate and advanced students.  It's far from useless, but it could really only function as supplementary material.
The Canterbury Tales

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I really wasn't impressed by this. I read the original last month and with it fresh in my head this just falls flat. I knew it would have to cut down quite a bit, but this is hopelessly homogenized. It's no where near as raunchy, ironic, theatrical, bigoted or religious as the original. And once you strip away all of Chaucer's tone there really isn't much left. To paraphrase Lincoln, it's like a broth made from the shadow of a pigeon that starved to death.
The Raw Shark Texts: A Novel

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The cover bears the quote:"The bastard love child of the Matrix, Jaws and The Da Vinci Code. Very entertaining."--Mark HaddonThat's not what I would have said about it though. It's more Nolan than Wachowski and infinitely more Borges than Brown. There is a huge fucking shark though. A conceptual shark.It starts with a man regaining consciousness. He doesn't know who he is or where he is...but there's a letter on the table for him, Eric Sanderson, from the first Eric Sanderson. This is the first of many of letters from the first of Eric Sanderson, usually signed "with regret and also hope". Initially Eric ignores his former self's correspondence as advised by his psychologist. It will just set back his recovery she says. But as things get stranger and a new threat appears Eric turns to his collection of unopened letters for answers.It seems, according to the letters, Eric's condition is not the simple dis-associative state he's been told. No, Eric Sanderson was preyed upon by a conceptual fish. A beast not of flesh and bones but of ideas. A beast that hungered not for his flesh, but his Eric-ness, and ate until there was nothing left.I'd like to say more, but it's not the sort of book about which you can say much with certainty. Hall plays deftly with the surreal while grounding it in the real. After all, what is more tenacious than and idea? More dangerous than a doubt? Is there any parasite more damaging than our own misplaced fixations and errant convictions?I'm also undecided on how I actually interpret Eric's journey. Did the first Eric pull off an amazing feat of surrealistic heroism, or was he simply a tragic figure driven to madness by his own pain? Is this a man surviving against all odds in mad world or a mad man quietly slipping out of a real world he can no longer cope with? There are no easy answers here.I'm probably going to have to read it again.
Horns: A Novel

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Another by Joe Hill. This one's a novel-novel and a lot stronger than the graphic novel I read earlier. It starts off with Ig, waking from an epic bender he went on on the anniversary of his girlfriend's murder. He can't remember what happened and there are horns growing out of his head. Ig reacts to this turn of events with disbelief and suspicions of his own sanity. He arrives at the conclusion that clearly, despite what his senses are telling him, the horns must be a delusion and decides to carry on as if they aren't there, but to head to the doctor just in case. It's up in the air if it's the horns or the delusion of horns he needs the doctor for, but either way a doctor seems like the right person to see.The thing is, while Ig does his best to carry on as usual, everyone he meets can't help behaving strangely with him. They seem untroubled by the horns, if they even notice them at all, but they invariably share their darkest impulses with Ig, even begging him grant them permission to do the unthinkable. And if he does....well they dive in with apparent relish, indulging in their rage, insecurity, vice or whatever. It's a frightening power and immediately isolating for Ig who is unprepared to suddenly have the worst of strangers and loved ones alike thrust upon him. And yet, despite the hurt of seeing humanity's hidden face, Ig also finds a strange pleasure in letting people off their leashes.The story could probably be a bit tighter, but ultimately finds it's purpose in Ig's decision to use his new condition to find the man that killed his girlfriend and have his revenge on him. Poetically, through an unfortunate turn of events, it is Ig himself that was convicted of the crime in public opinion and, never being granted a trial for lack of evidence, was forever demonized in his community. So there's that nice bit of a man perceived a devil finding solace and hope in becoming a devil. And then there's the always welcome consideration of the nature of the devil himself. It's a nice turn to read a book that acknowledges it's mythological roots, but rather than being bound by them grows and flourishes on it's own terms.
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

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I honestly don't read much sci-fi or fantasy anymore, though a love the genres.  Too often I'm underwhelmed with the prose.  But I was intrigued by the premise here and the unusual format.  I wasn't sure if it would work going in but it did.Ransom Riggs (a name made for the pen if there ever was one) is no slouch when it comes to writing.  The story is first person from the perspective of Jacob, a teenage by going through a rough patch.  The prose is fluid and well-crafted, but not so purple as to undercut the story or feel out of character.  As far as the picture element goes I think it's successful.  Frankly, this is the just the right sort of story for the device.  So much of the book is about Jacob puzzling over his grandfather's strange photographs that including the photographs goes and extra step in getting the reader in Jacob's shoes, looking at the same photographs with the same curiousity, incomprehension and ultimately, discovery.But what is the story?  Well it's quite good.  I don't really feel the need to summarize it, and to a certain extent you can't without spoiling it.  However I will say that the strange time trickery the Riggs' story hinges on is pretty interesting and gives rise to some strange, disturbing and beautiful situations.  It isn't completely explored, but Riggs seems to have set himself up for a sequel so chances are that's intentional.  And welcome.  I'm definitely up for reading more from Riggs.
The Hunting of the Snark an Agony, in Eight Fits

by and

This was a fun read and beautifully illustrated by Oleg Lipchenko, but it isn't as fun as the other nonsense poems I know by Carroll. You know, The Jabberwocky, The Walrus and the Carpenter and You Are Old Father William. I suppose the issue is this poem is much longer than any of that bunch and as such feels less punchy and more aimless (perhaps an inevitability when "the bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes"). Even so it is an edifying if meandering verse. I quite liked the course of the relationship between the Beaver and the Butcher and believe you me, I'll be giving Boojums wide birth for the foreseeable future.
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