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Whistlestop: My Favorite Stories from Presidential Campaign History

4/5. What it sounds like. Yeah yeah, I'm a nerd, don't I get enough of this stuff already, blah blah blah.

But let me explain something about John Dickerson, journalist, pundit, historian. He's an extremely successful history nerd who has the air of someone from a different era, and his sense of humor is – I mean, he's a walking dad joke. But here's what I actually like about him.

He quotes women.

Not just about women's suffrage or "women's issues." Not occasionally. But all the time. In every context. Talking about politics. Rendering their political opinions. Being involved in power. He quotes women senators from seventy years ago and women convention floor bosses. He just . . . quotes women. Like they're a part of history. I had no idea how extraordinary this was until I read it, and was astonished.

I could get all psychological here and theorize that it's because of Dickerson's mother, who is a legend in her own right, and who had an extraordinary impact on him. He wrote a book about her, in fact, so clearly he is used to the idea of women being movers in history. But the truth is, I don't care why he does it, I'm just glad he does.
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Beyond the Grave: the Right Way and the Wrong Way of Leaving Money to Your Children and Others

3/5. A quick, plain language review of all the major estate topics – how to think about division, trusts, property, pets, second marriages, estrangement, etc. with an emphasis on the interpersonal and familial aspects of inheritance planning. I never took trusts and estates in law school, which I have come to regret. Particularly now that I'm probably going to need a living trust in the next couple years. Adulthood, what the fuck?

Yes yes, I realize that I actually read this book because my father Is dying and it was this weird free association sideways think way of coping with that, what of it.

Anyway, this is genuinely useful, if deeply heteronormative. And also just . . . weird? I mean, I shouldn't be surprised to discover just how tied up the notion of traditional family – and specifically blood relation – is with the passing of money. But boy. There are very few of the many, many anecdotes in this book that aren't about someone believing as a law of the universe that marriage and sharing DNA entail the intergenerational transfer of money, and any other arrangement is morally wrong. The intensity of this belief, the unthinkingness of it, it's just . . . weird to me.
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When Genius Failed

3/5. Financial history. Story of the bond arbitrage hedge fund that rose – and rose and rose and rose – in the mid-90's, only to collapse spectacularly, over-leveraged, nearly taking the rest of the financial system with it.

Totally infuriating. And here I was hoping for some dry, soothing nonfiction. This is dry, and it isn't very good at explaining the financial instruments underlying the activity here, but boy. *Grinds teeth*. I know a lot of hedge fund guys – they're all guys, BTW, I mean that literally – and this book captures their arrogance, their secretiveness, their obsession with financial dick-measuring, their maniacal focus on making more more more money for no other reason than to have it.

Mostly, though, it's really hard to swallow that people continue to believe in rational markets, continue to teach that economic model, continue to trade on that basis. I mean, these traders watched their model go down in flames, then immediately turned around and said, "well, it was a hundred year flood, that's different, we were just unlucky, let's start again." Yeah bros. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the University of Chicago being full of crap.
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Between the World and Me

5/5. Part autobiography, part cultural essay, part history, part intimate family letter.

I am not going to do this justice today (I am sick. Again. Again). So straight out, this is the most extraordinary book I've read in a while. It is a letter to his son, and walks that line of intimacy while also acknowledging the performativity of, you know, being a published book. It is a memoir of coming to intellectual and racial consciousness, and a study of white-on-black violence, and a distillation of several years of his thinking, as will be familiar to his regular readers. I read this very purposefully not trying to analogize it. Like a lot of people, my experience of other kinds of oppression has made it easier to start getting my head around racial oppression, but that only gets you so far and at a certain point, you've got to stop drawing lines and start confronting the thing as it is. I passed that point a while ago, though I didn't realize it in a timely fashion.

So I deliberately read this while working to read it as just itself: a book about race. A book, very specifically, about the violence in racism, the purposeful and systematic destruction of black bodies.* Which worked until it didn't, until about three quarters of the way through when he told a story of responding with sudden, unexpected rage to a white woman's microaggression. And it was just – that moment when you get so angry, and you know, you know your anger will do nothing, that the people around you will do anything to not hear you, and you know your anger is actually counterproductive because of that, because they have made it counterproductive for you to be anything other than silent and accepting, and that just makes you madder, and you are just a tiny cog in the bigger machine that is eating people, this microaggression is one of millions and it doesn't fucking matter, except it's also everything.

Yeah, I don't know, I couldn't just read this book as about race then. Which is a disservice to it. But also why it is so good.

Anyway. Yeah. Read it.

P.s. The audiobook is read by the author, and in my opinion, that adds a great deal to the text.

*There is an argument to be made that racism – the program of destruction of the black body (by police, prisons, poverty) – can be analogized to ablism – the program of destruction of the disabled body (by doctors, institutionalization, and poverty). Go find a news article about a parent killing their disabled child. Go on, they're very easy to find. It happens all the time. Go see if the parent got convicted of murder, let alone even charged. Go read the justifications. Take the temperature of the article. Come away with that sense, unspoken but clear, that it wasn't really murder, that you can kind of understand, how much pressure that parent must have been under, how awful for everyone. Go on, I'll wait. Thus are lives discounted. So yeah, the analogy can be made, and has been I'm sure, by better scholars than I. But I'm realizing more and more that it's of limited help. Violence may be violence, but context is not context is not context.


And there's the last book by a man I'll be reading for a year. Hell of a way to go out, too.
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The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

3/5. Survey of the history of trauma treatment and current state of research.

First off, if you want a book on trauma – I mean a really good book on trauma that imparts an understanding of what it can feel like – go with Herman's Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence--From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. It's dated in terms of treatment modalities, but it is still incredibly relevant and useful.

This book, on the other hand. It's not bad. It gives a lot of good historical background, gathered first hand throughout the author's career. And it makes a compelling and passionate case that the PTSD diagnosis is inappropriate and inaccurate as applied to what he instead calls Developmental Trauma Syndrome or the experience of trauma in childhood. It's a really important argument with a lot of implications for education, the criminal justice system, and family law.


But I cannot respect a mental health professional who has so much disdain for disabled identities. He goes on at length about how important it is to establish the Developmental Trauma Syndrome diagnostic label, discusses how labels become part of our discourse about ourselves, and then condemns anyone who adopts their diagnosis as part of their identity. Putting aside all the reasons why people do, like self-respect, and community-building, and I don't know, the part where many diagnoses are life long. He is just so repulsed by the idea of psychological disability that he rejects it as a valid identity. He's like one of those parents who refuses to tell their child the child is disabled. You know the ones – they'll get the child treatment, but they won't ever, ever talk about the disability with the kid because they don't want the kid to "feel different." Spoiler: kid feels different. Kid also knows parents are ashamed and repulsed by part of kid's self. Pretty sure victims of trauma are just as good at picking up on that kind of ablism.
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The Intelligent Asset Allocator

4/5. Investment books generally have a short shelf life, and this one does show its age (he recommends at one point buying a calculator. You know . . . a calculator. An actual calculator. Like a freestanding device for the crunching of numbers. I reacted like he had suggested an abacus, for the record). But this book is at its heart addressing a subject so fundamental that it also endures and is still entirely applicable.

The subject being asset allocation which, for those who don't know, means quantifying risk and reward in concrete ways so one can build a portfolio of assets that is efficient and that also meets one's psychological needs (the sleep-well-at-night test).

Anyway, it's a very good book. Extremely erudite and interesting. Unfortunately, I can't imagine who it really benefits. The subject is so basic, it ought to be addressed before a person becomes an investor at all. But I have a really hard time imagining anyone tackling this book as a newbie, before investing and getting interested. Though I guess plenty of people just throw money at the wall first, plan later, so maybe this book helps them.

This book did reaffirm that I have my asset allocation pretty much right – it's set on 'crazy motherfucker, if you're wondering' – and I sleep fine. Good to know.
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3/5. A history of money by way of a history of debt. Which actually means it's about everything.

Oh man this is so great! And so infuriating!

The great part: The central project of this book is to demonstrate that debt is a political tool whose moral valence points the direction that sustains hierarchies. I.e. there are occasions when we feel as a moral issue that one ought to "pay one's debts," and we feel equally strongly in other situations that the moral burden is on the lender to forgive. Interrogating the difference is incredibly interesting, and gets us into the history of monetary systems, some semi-radical politics, and a lot of deconstructive social thinking. I dig it. I've recently really gotten into finance and investing; reading this book predates that, but it speaks to the same interest. When you start talking about money – I mean talking about money as a tool rather than as a personal finance topic – you by definition start talking about a lot of deeply personal questions of valuation, measurement, and self.

The infuriating: This book is mostly anthropology, and, well. Anthropology. Christ. There's a field that puts the anecdote in anecdata. I swear sometimes what they teach in anthropology grad schools goes like this: "Okay, first you come up with your conclusion. Make it something really big and sweeping about the nature of society. Got it? Okay, then go find an obscure tribe from the Australian bush that no one has ever heard of. One of those villages of two hundred isolated people. Then explain how one aspect of that tribe's society demonstrates your conclusion. Voila! It's proved!"

The number of times I snapped, "Citation, please," while reading this book . .

It's worth reading, because it's interesting and wide-reaching, and like I said, you can't talk about this stuff without getting pretty fundamental. And he throws out great thoughts on every page, with hardly the time to complete them. There was this particularly excellent drop-in he made towards the end about how we're told that money/development will always corrupt. You know, like how discovering a diamond mine is the worst thing that can happen to a poor village. And he's like, "Well, yes, but then again, who does that story serve? Because if you think about it, saying that humans will always behave badly when given enough money is a great story if you want to excuse the bad behavior you have just committed."

And I was like, "Huh!" And then he was off on some other dubiously sourced and occasionally flat-out wrong tangent that was nonetheless great.
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American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

1/5. DNF. I've had this biography of Oppenheimer for years, and I've been looking forward to it. Shame it comes with the biographers.

You know how sometimes biographers spend years and years on a project, and it renders them erudite and clear-eyed and compassionate and surgical upon their subject? And then you know how other times biographers spend years and years on a project and it renders them defensive and untrustworthy and over-invested? …Yeah. A small sample of the many reasons finishing this book was not worth my time:

  • Bird and Sherwin relate the multiple documented accounts we have of Oppenheimer's expulsion from graduate school in England after he – these sources agree – attempted to poison one of his professors. This can't actually be true, they conclude, and if it is true he was just trying to hurt the guy a little bit, okay, because if it was a real poisoning, there would have been more consequences.

    …Yeeeeeah. Yes, definitely, when the very wealthy child of privilege does something bad at school, the good old boys will absolutely react appropriately, yep.

  • They recount Oppenheimer's own story of assaulting a girl (sexually and later physically, though the exact dimensions of the sexual assault are unclear) and then conclude, with no reasoning, that this is a fabrication of some sort. The reasoning, by the way, is entirely clear – they just can't cope with the notion that they're writing a biography of a guy who would do that. Even though they quoted his juvenile rape fantasy poetry at length.

  • They can't talk about the bomb. It's fucking amazing, they're all 'loving discussion of the first test in the desert, feels feels feels – oh yeah Hiroshima happened anyway let's talk about how the scientists felt afterward also politics shh don't look over there lots of people died but we really don't want to talk about that at all at all at all.'

And then there's the part where they take the suicide of the woman he nearly married before he met his wife – a really interesting, complicated, improbably well-educated, professional queer woman – and they decide the suicide was all about Oppenheimer. It's revisionist fridging! It's fucking amazing!

And then there's –

Nope, I've spent enough time on this already.
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The Bogleheads' Guide to Retirement Planning

4/5. Excellent and comprehensive. This book won't tell you everything you need to know about taxes or health insurance or estate planning, but by God it will make sure you can have an intelligent enough conversation to be asking the right questions. The chapters on investment focus – unsurprisingly, if you know who Bogle is – on passive index investing. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this as the first investing book to read in your entire life, but if you have been plugging dutifully away at your 401K and want to think about the bigger picture of long-term planning, you really can't do better than this. Docking a star just because it lacked that "putting it all together" chapter that could have elevated this from very helpful to truly remarkable. But this book holds up well for being more than five years old (most finance books have a very short shelf life) with the glaring exception that it doesn't get into the Affordable Care Act, for obvious reasons.

Why am I reading this now? Well, because when you aren't already a millionaire, time is your greatest asset, and I've got that. Plus, I'm in the extremely weird position of being thirty and making more money in the next couple years than I likely will for the rest of my life (weird career trajectories can do that) so this is the time I need to get my shit together. More finance books to follow.
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Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science

4/5. Very belated review – I was still several weeks from giving birth when I finished this -- and thus somewhat shallow. But, completeness!

Excellent collection of essays from a surgeon. Standouts for me were from his section on doctor fallibility. He has a particular piece that speaks candidly about physician learning curves and the necessity of learning new techniques sometimes at the expense of patients. You don't see people admitting that often, but it obviously must be the case. The whole section on fallibility is great. I was baffled to discover that my girlfriend wife (…whoa….) trusts doctors as, like, a baseline state of being. I assumed cancer treatment would cure that, but nope! It's amazing. She goes to see someone and she just assumes they are well-trained, up-to-date, engaged that day, etc. To be fair, her cancer was initially suspected by a nurse practitioner who was seriously on the ball, and I have had my share of amazing doctors myself. But as a general rule, I go in assuming 85% of them are overworked, uninterested, or simply incompetent. I mean, in my experience, 85% of the people in most professions fall into one of those categories, and to assume doctors don't is an obvious fallacy. So it's great that this collection dug into that.

But the real highlight for me is his essay on autonomy, particularly speaking to it as an ethic of care, not the ethic of care. It's important, challenging material I wish I'd read back when I was writing about medical ethics in law school.

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Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn: The Complete GuidePregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn: The Complete Guide by Janet Walley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's a pregnancy and childbirth book that I liked! Pretty much unreservedly! And to be clear, that's the one pregnancy and childbirth book that I pretty much liked unreservedly. Thoughtful, thorough, relatively non-judgey as these things go, with a refreshing interest in this little thing called evidence-based medicine. Recommended.

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Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy PregnancyMayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy by Roger W. Harms

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More of a reference book than a cover-to-cover book. I was still in the market for a month-by-month book when I initially grabbed this. It's fine for that, if brief. The real value is in the "decision guides," alphabetical symptom index, and complications discussions.

Which raises an interesting question for me. Every time I opened this book to look up heartburn or carpel tunnel or whatever, I always snagged on the word "healthy" in the title. It's just such a meaningless word in this context. Particularly considering that this book is over a third discussion of complications. I just kept asking myself what an "unhealthy" pregnancy is supposed to be? Presumably that would be a pregnancy "less healthy" than the reader's.

This was on my mind because of the thing – you know the thing – where a baby is born and there's that haha funny ablest joke everyone makes about ten fingers and ten toes. "Gosh we had a baby and it's not disabled, woo!" "Healthy" is usually the code word for that, in the absence of the joke. Given that there was a tiny – but familially controversial – chance that Hogwart would be born disabled, I spent a fair amount of time thinking about this. What would we say about her in that case? She would have ten fingers and ten toes, but there are lots of people who would not be able to say that she was healthy. Which is bizarre to me, because I consider myself to be quite healthy, which is apparently a radical act seeing as I'm disabled. Ironically, I think both my partner and I consider me – the disabled one – to be more healthy than my partner – the cancer survivor. The one time I articulated this in passing to a medical professional, I got nothing but bafflement back.

Anyway. Ranging far afield here. My point is only that this book, like many others, is selling this word "healthy." Which is fine, until you start thinking about the word and it collapses to meaninglessness. And, under that, a lot of fear and ablism.

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Natural Childbirth the Bradley WayNatural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon-Rosegg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I usually don't fuss much about ratings. I do it by feel, generally as an afterthought, throwing in both my emotional reaction to something and a more analytical assessment of quality. This time I had to think hard about it, and I ended up averaging my 1 star and 5 star impulses.

The five stars is for being one of the first books I found to talk directly and candidly about unmedicated childbirth and how to think about it. I had an instinctive negative reaction to all the hypnobirthing stuff that got thrown at me early on – it's popular right now – and this book squarely confirmed my feeling that no, what I wanted was to engage squarely with labor, to use my brain every step of the way. This book talks about how to do that, and the discussion of particular emotional signposts was incredibly useful to me. I didn't even know what information I was craving – that no other source was talking about – until it was presented to me in this book. My labor didn't go sideways to crazytown until I hit 7 cm – until then I labored unmedicated, and it was this book I thought about while I swayed and breathed and thought my way through each contraction. (Well, it's worth adding that by unmedicated I mean no analgesia – I did have increasing amounts of Pitocin. And let me just say, doing augmented labor unmedicated is a different animal than this book contemplates). After 7 cm – well, that's a TLDR story for another time, but let me just say: 10 hours in transition. Enough said. At that point, this book became rather irrelevant.

Anyway. Enough about me. The one star stuff is everything else. The scare tactics about interventions, the manipulative and downright deceptive use of study results, the moralism and smugness, the sexism. This book hits every checkbox for what is fucked up about the natural childbirth movement. I am really glad I stuck with this book to get to the parts about actual labor, because like I said, they were absolutely invaluable. But man oh man, the opening and closing chapters are dire, guys.

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Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in AmericaCollision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America by Dan Balz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I will be sitting out the midterms this year, so I wanted a hit of wonkiness to tide me over, and here it is. You already know if you'll like this sort of thing, so I'll confine myself to saying that this is well-organized and interesting from a trade of elections perspective, but far less gossipy than the casual reader seems to want. I liked it.

Some observations: this book offers an excellent overview of what the Obama for America internet operation was doing and how it worked – I was particularly interested in getting a few more details on the Facebook utilization and how the tools worked to suggest that, e.g., rather than sharing this campaign video with your entire feed, why not send it to Facebook friends X and Y, undecided voters in Florida that you seem to know well. For me, the most interesting aspect of that part of the campaign is the strides made in deciding who not to contact. I'm a swing-state resident and a political donor (though not to presidential campaigns because that is a total waste of my money) and I was contacted by OFA multiple times in 2008. In 2012, I was not contacted at all because, presumably, the OFA algorithm determined correctly that I was a sure thing and did not require the use of resources. Works for me. The only annoying thing about that is I suspect it will only increase the romance of the "independent" voter in the popular consciousness. Note: these people do not actually exist. You can almost always tell what a supposedly "independent" voter is going to do, except in a very small slice of the population. It just so happens that small slice is increasingly valuable these days. But you get a full third of Americans claiming to be independent voters because it sounds sexy and independent-minded, when actually it's a giant self-deception. But a lot of these people actually like being courted by campaigns, which is utterly baffling to me, and with more and more campaign resources being precisely targeted to them, I guess they're welcome to enjoy the fruits of the massive money machine they continually bitch about.

Also, I am increasingly suspicious of the Romney campaign's post election "couldn't be done" narrative. I mean, don't get me wrong, I thought with 95% confidence Obama was going to win by the spring, and so did anyone else who knew what they were looking at, and that was without the series of lucky breaks he got in the summer and fall. But no race is unwinnable, and this idea that the Romney campaign was irretrievably outclassed from day one, particularly on the electronic and ground operations, seems self-serving. "Oh woe is us, they built better software than we did, if only we'd known we would have given up in June." Yeah, whatever, dudes. You lost. Suck it up and figure out where you lost it (early and organizationally) and stop acting like you bore no responsibility whatsoever.

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The March of Folly: From Troy to VietnamThe March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara W. Tuchman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A collection of pieces exploring terrible policy, and specifically policy counter to the actors's interests. Appealing in concept, but lacking that put together incisiveness of Tuchman at her best. She can talk about the ruinous behavior of the Renaissance Popes and Britain's blinkered inability to correctly handle the American colonies with her usual detail and erudition, but this book lacks cohesion, or a real message other than institutional idiocy: weird, eh?

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Labor Day: Birth Stories for the Twenty-first Century: Thirty Artful, Unvarnished, Hilarious, Harrowing, Totally True TalesLabor Day: Birth Stories for the Twenty-first Century: Thirty Artful, Unvarnished, Hilarious, Harrowing, Totally True Tales by Eleanor Henderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For context, I should note that my response to this collection probably has a lot to do with the fact that I read two-thirds of it while repeatedly slamming my head into the emotional brick wall that is a stubborn breech baby. So in one respect, this collection was helpful because pretty much any group of birth stories, in the aggregate, will be all about how this shit doesn't go to plan. It just doesn't. It is peripherally comforting to remember that, as one's plans crumble around one's ears.

On the other hand. This is a collection of stories of singleton births and twin births; births in the hospital, at home, the birth center, the car; births after miscarriage; births after infertility; births of well babies and sick babies and at least one dead baby; complicated births and easy births; medically mismanaged births; traumatic births; beautiful births. That sounds like it covers a lot of ground, and it does. But for all that, there's a . . . sameness here. And I don't mean that this collection has put its finger on the concerns and experiences of America's gestators. More like this collection has put its finger on the concerns and experiences of well-educated, well-informed, married, intentionally pregnant women writers of New York Times notable books who seek out midwifery care and who have caesarians at a noticeably lower rate than the norm, which is to be expected as an artifact of economic/access privilege. I mean, some of that describes me, too, and yet this collection didn't truly speak to me, didn't reach me while I'm wrestling with this thing that is happening to me, which it should have.

I don't know. Maybe it's not the fault of this book. Maybe it isn't just that the experiences of women who write New York Times notable books (most of which I suspect I would loathe – the books, not the women) are so similar in essence, even while being different in facts. Maybe it's birth stories themselves. Maybe they are like relating a dream: so personal and vital to the teller, but rather strange and impenetrable to the listener, because that's just how it is with an experience so profound.

Or maybe it's me. Maybe this memo from the universe I am taking right now -- let go, you are not in charge here, there is no amount of smart that will fix this, let go -- maybe I still need to hear it a few dozen more times before I can hear anything else.

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Reflections: On the Magic of WritingReflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Curated collection of essays, speeches and the like. Enjoyable, if repetitious. I talked my girlfriend's ear off about this book for half an hour over dinner, which means I said most of what I wanted to there and don't have much left here. Except that she was a lovely, critical, complicated person. Her analysis of Lord of the Rings actually made me half want to reread it, and that takes doing, trust me. I also identified a great deal with what she said about her writing process: mine, too, is organic and nonlinear, starting with a crystalized notion of a scene or emotional beat and building a story out from there in a 'feeling your way' kind of process. Her conviction that the author must know ten times more about a character than goes into the story is entirely opposite of my practice, but this is not the forum for the line of thinking that set me off on.

But mostly, I enjoyed this glimpse into her social consciousness. Her feminism, in particular, stemmed from a keen observer's eye, but she didn't have a lot of the tools or background to really work her way through it. Hell, a lot of the tools and background didn't exist when she was coming into feminist consciousness. So she could observe the way children's literature encodes maleness as a default as a social artifact, but she couldn't . . . interrogate that, and when she could, later, it was to subvert it by leaning hard on gender stereotypes.

So yeah. Interesting to the completest, the amateur scholar, the biographer (and oh man, how much do I want the excellent, meaty, analytical DWJ bio now?), and the fan.

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Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as CureDisability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure by Kathryn Allan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Read the day before and the day after a con, so I am reconstructing my thoughts around a gaping pit of distraction and exhaustion. They were super brilliant thoughts at the time, I swear! Anyway, the full ToC is available here and worth looking at, as is this book. Overall, I'm glad I read it, though the only pieces that jump strongly out from my memory now are the ones I feel negatively about. Though Woiak and Karamanos on Samuel R. Delany were eye-opening, and Christy Tidwell on autism in The Speed of Dark and "Movement" was a pleasure. There were some odd editing choices here – Allan prefers "dis/abled" to "disabled," and yet repeatedly used "confined to a wheelchair" or "wheelchair bound," which was confusing and distracting as these language cues tell you a lot about a person's politics, and Allan's language was telling me really inconsistent things. Anyway. Some notes:

"The Metamorphic Body in Science Fiction: From Prosthetic Correction to Utopian Enhancement" -- António Fernando Cascais: One of the worst examples of academese I've seen in years. This provoked me to half an hour of seething rage over dinner about the thin line between critical theory and utter bullshit and, more to the point, the way academic writing, at its worst, is intensely exclusionary, full of meaning only to the tiny be-doctored in-group (and, I would argue, not even to many of them, who won't ever admit they don't know what the fuck he's talking about, either). It's just such a waste – I think he had some interesting things to say about the way science fiction pushes at notions of the singular self as an identity, but he went to extraordinary efforts to make sure I didn't follow exactly why the fuck I'm supposed to care.

"Great Clumsy Dinosaurs -- The Disabled Body in the Posthuman World -- Brent Walter Cline: Interesting. Postulates, among other ideas, that the category of disability will expand to include all embodiment in post human scifi futures because the physical body will limit access to the uploads or the cloud or whatever other ascendant technology we are theoretically climbing toward. I appreciated this as a mental exercise, but I also . . . hm. I balk a little at these "ooh, let's speculate about theoretical expansions of the concept of disability in nearly unimaginable futures!" I mean, Clein should have fun with his bad self, but I have a hard time really taking these exercises seriously. Not when there is so much complexity and unexplored territory in, you know, our actual category of disability. There's something . . . diluting? Misdirecting? Unhelpful? … Something about working to expand the lexical category of disability to include people so far from us, they definitionally aren't human anymore when the construction of that category is so persistently human and contextual. Something. I'm not getting this out right.

"Animal and Alien Bodies as Prostheses: Reframing Disability in Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon" -- Leigha McReynolds: This one bugged me. It's an interesting enough idea, which you can get from the title, but seriously, any essay on Avatar which does not seem to notice all the rampant race and colonialism issues is just not doing its job. And it doesn't do any good to say that's not what she was writing about; it was inherently, because she was using disability theory to talk specifically about the co-optation of an alien culture and an alien body as a kind of prosthetic. I mean, this is how intersectionality works – you really can't separate these things! And yet . . . *crickets*.

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The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard TimesThe Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Late-life memoir recalling the author's youth as a midwife in London's East End in the 1950's.

Picked up for the from-the-trenches view of birth (not that much has changed in 60 years when what you're talking about is midwife-assisted, largely unmedicated delivery). Kept for the other 70%, which turned out to be a rich, compelling, complicated, sometimes uncomfortable personal/social history. And for Worth herself, who was smart, and driven, and talented, occasionally racist, and often struggling to find compassion. This is a memoir of someone who was powerfully compelled into exhausting, difficult work that challenged her social comfort zones for reasons she never fully understood, and that resonated with me. As did her explicit recounting of her repeated struggle to see the person under the most abject degradations of poverty. The book is not so well-observed when it comes to ethnocentrism and, in a few startling instances, gendered violence, but there is something about the strength of Worth's writing that makes it all go down as a capsule, her strength and her charm and her painful blind spots.

I want to watch the TV show now.

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The Disabled Woman's Guide to Pregnancy and BirthThe Disabled Woman's Guide to Pregnancy and Birth by Judith Rogers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A full-service book from pre-conception to post-partum, written based on extensive interviews with a cohort of women with disabilities.

I picked this up thinking there might be something for me here. It turns out none of the interviewees share either my major or minor disability issues, but I found this so interesting, I skimmed through it anyway. This book would be particularly useful for a woman with spinal issues, or any of the neuro-degenerative disorders, or amputations, or paralysis, or fibro. In fact, I bet this would be an invaluable resource, since the experiences of others are one of the very few reliable resources pregnant disabled women have. If nothing else, this book proved just how lacking the research is; it cited studies where it could, but it would usually be with a lot of caveats about how this was conducted in the sixties oh and the study population was ten people oops.

So I'm kind of rating this positively just for existing. It is good in its own right, though dated at this point. But it is thorough and well-intentioned, and it has that particular body frankness that a lot of disability writing does. There's something refreshing about a series of disabled women describing in hilarious, graphic detail all of the bodily substances that came out of them during labor. You don't see that in a lot of pregnancy books.

Still, dated. And quite heterocentric. And full of great advice about all sorts of practical issues like dealing with muscle spasms while pregnant, or transferring in and out of the wheelchair in the third trimester, or adjustments that may need to be made to prosthetics as pregnancy progresses, and on and on, but less good on, hm. On some of the trickier, more fraught stuff. Like, the book would throw out a series of anecdotes about the horrible way many of these women were treated by the medical profession – this one was forced to have a caesarian because her doctor did not believe paralyzed women can give birth vaginally (they can) and refused to do the relevant research, this one was threatened and not allowed to leave the hospital because she couldn't prove she could feed her baby with the inaccessible tools on offer even though she had perfectly functional accessible solutions, that one was abused by nurses when they discovered she was incontinent, this one was pressured repeatedly to have an abortion because her doctor did not believe she could care for a child, and on and on and on. And the book's response to that will be like, "so find a medical professional who is educated regarding your disability!" Um. . . . Wow. That's, like, step zero to the complex set of legal/interpersonal skills and emotional resilience a person needs to navigate these waters.

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