I am looking for a nonfiction book that will tell me all about Parisian lesbian subculture in the late 19th century--preferably related to women's higher education in some way.
I am looking for a nonfiction book that will tell me all about Parisian lesbian subculture in the late 19th century--preferably related to women's higher education in some way.
To be fair, I thought I'd share a few books with you that are in the background of my thinking on this reproductive ethics stuff. I know there are piles of terrific books about these things, but mostly these three are lurking behind my recent writing on the issue (from my strollerderby Suleman posts to this recent one about PGD):
Making Parents: The Ontological Choreography of Reproductive Technologies by Charis Thompson
This one is mostly about assisted reproductive technologies and the problem of not regulating them in the United States. The author is a mother via IVF.
I love this book. Shanley shifts the bottom line from "best interest of the child" to the rights of the child. Sound like the same thing? Not remotely. Everybody should read this book. Right now. Immediately. Go on, click, buy, read.
This one is a less academic choice than the other two. It's a highly readable account of the Nobel Sperm Bank written by a Slate contributor. It gives a great overview of sperm banking (history of to current practices) and will demystify the notions they try to sell you at the big sperm bank websites.
I also read a fascinating, 85-page academic article about Indian surrogacy and its ethical tangles last week. You can download it too from Ethica.
I am doing a little book reviewing for Strollerderby for Black History Month. Some of these are books I've mentioned before on this blog, but a couple are new. I'll keep you posted when I publish part two with elementary-level books.
Sorry to be so quiet over here!
News Round Up:
- We close on the new place, Friday and the movers come as soon as we get the key. Everybody is very excited. I told Nat she'd get her own (well, shared with Selina) bathroom in our new house and she said, "with soap?!" I told her, sure, she could have soap in her bathroom. Since then she's been telling people that in her new house, she will have soap. make of that what you will.
- A visit from my BFF and her nursing toddler made a HUGE impression on Nat. Now she carries her little stuffed dog around under her shirt, telling anyone who'll listen that she's feeding the dog milk from her body, which comes out of her nipples.
- Many human reproduction conversations before and following the nursing mom visit. We've been fleshing out a few more details of Nat's (and Selina's) birth and adoption stories. I picked up a copy of It's Not the Stork and brought it home for her. She read the cover thusly:
Nat: It's not the st--st--what's that?
Shannon: "stork" it's this white bird (pointing to picture on the cover)
Nat: Stork. A book about girls, boys, babies, b--b--babies?
Shannon: "bodies" see the o and the d? "bodies."
Nat: bodies. families, and friends
The thing is, I don't really ask Nat to read much, so I don't quite keep up with exactly what she can read and so every time she reads something like that, I get all shocked and impressed. Mostly, she'd still prefer to be read to, to recite a book from memory (a big favorite she knows perfectly by heart is The Gruffalo) or to pretend to read, by telling a story while turning pages. So I let her do whatever she wants in the reading department, seeing as I'd estimate that she is reading roughly at a mid-year kindergarten level at age 3.5 with no particular "pushing."
As for the contents of the book, so far the thing that interests her most is the picture of a little girl pulling another little girl's hair. She's very concerned about the whole scenario. Why did she pull her hair? Why did she say "yeow!?" Why did she say sorry? No doubt this is right out of a growing big sister psyche.
- Selina is blossoming intellectually herself. She is just as interested in letters as Nat was at her age. Nat reads books to Selina now and then and that makes more of an impression than anything else ever could. Selina is still Nat's biggest fan.
Selin'a hair is now officially as long as Nat's. Her curls are looser and softer. In four poofs it's comically adorable. Not sure what we'll end up doing with it in the long-run. I think I'm just going to have to comb it every day when she's older. Right now she HATES a comb touching her head under any and all circumstances. She tosses her head violently side-to-side, Snoopy-dance-style and screams at the top of her lungs if she just sees the comb in my hand. I have found that four braids will last about three days without looking horrible, so I've mostly been doing that to minimize hair styling time.
- Speaking of hair, here's a short answer to recent requests for tips on styling toddler/preschooler hair:
With Nat, she has become more and more willing to sit and let me work on her hair as she has gotten older. When she was Selina's age, I used to do her hair on the run, following her around as she tried to run away from me. I often made parts while walking and bending over her little head. They weren't perfect, but they were adequate. These days (since she was about 2 and a half) I plop her in her high chair (buckled in!) let her choose a video and sometimes a snack and get to work. She is usually reasonably cooperative for about 45 minutes. It usually takes about one hour to an hour and a half to get finished. When she causes me too much trouble--complaining, jerking er head around or whatever--I turn off the video, leave her view and ask her to let me know when she's ready to finish. When she's ready, I turn the video back on and get back to work.
This gets the job done and Nat's hair styles tend to last between 7-12 days, so we don't have to revisit it daily.
When we finish hair, I make a big, gushing deal out of how gorgeous it is and we visit the mirror together to admire it. Nat likes to put butterfly clips and things in her hair, and that helps encourage and bribe her during the process, but she also pulls the butterflies out and fiddles with them until they break, so I actually don't let her put them in very often.
When Nat was little, many Black mothers, grandmothers, aunties and baby sitters told me to do her hair while she was asleep. If you want to, go for it! I didn't want to waste precious nap time doing hair! But considering how much more violently Selina objects to hair care, I suppose there are kids out there whose hair just wouldn't get done any other way. And it does have to get done. That's non-negotiable. That's another aspect of teaching my kids to put up with it--the idea that it just has to be done, like we have to put on our seat belts in the car.
- Why I like white male baby sitters:
I like white male baby sitters, because there are no white males in our immediate family (though we've got uncles and grandfathers and all that) and I love that what my girls are learning about the species is that it is a species of caregiving, nurturing, child-centered kindness. That's not really the dominant idea of what white men are. But it's what I want my girls-and the women they grow into--to expect from the white men they meet in life. I want them to be shocked and horrified when they encounter anything less and to hold those people accountable to humane expectations.
- How Strollerderby is going:
It's going pretty well. Its nice to have this job, because it's an all new type of writing for me to learn and an all new audience (well, a mixed audience, some new, some I'm used to) to learn to write to. It's a good exercise in maintaining my own voice in different kinds of contexts. Here's what I think might interest my readers here the most lately:
As always, see my bio page for my most recent writing.
So, let's say there was a website where we might all do some reading, thinking, questioning and discussing together on topics specifically of African American history/culture/literature, geared toward the better raising of Black children by white people, but welcoming anyone interested in the topic for whatever reason.
You know, sort of a la this post.
Would you be in?
I have been browsing Mama PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life with interest, and a little bitterness since getting my review copy in the mail last week. My interest is obvious enough: I'm a Mama PhD myself, after all. My bitterness is ironic, perfect fodder for the book itself: I received a call for submissions to this book, put it on my "to write" list and never got around to it. Because, you know, I have two small children. And the many mothers of one, two or more smalls who found the time (the motivation? the discipline? the work-ethic?) to contribute leave me feeling like a failure.
Why didn't I prioritize this to-write item? Why don't I prioritize a dozen others on the same list? Because as a primary parent who contributes very little income to the family coffers, I find it difficult to justify paying a baby sitter while I do a more or less unpaid job. So I paid for the baby-sitting to cover my big freelance job last spring. I paid for coverage while I taught last semester (not while I prepped classes or graded papers mind you--only the hours I was on campus teaching) but not for this project.
And I feel torn about it. I would have felt guilty doing the writing and now I feel guilty because I didn't.
Enter the book that speaks to all of that and more.
If I can't join them, I can at least nod frantically in agreement and sympathy as I read about mothers who feel they have to keep pregnancies a secret and pretend their children don't exist to maintain the respect of their colleagues. I can cringe at my own memories of crazy things academics have said to me about the unreasonableness of prioritizing my family over an academic career.
I found myself first drawn, naturally, to the section titled "Recovering Academic" and the stories of women who left the academy, moving on to other careers, paid or unpaid, much like I have done. Many of them, especially the one by Rebecca Steinitz, are so familiar as to almost be my own story (except Steinitz is a much more accomplished academic andpost-academic than I!). Others rang a bit self-righteous and preachy, like the bit in "Nontraditional Academics" that suggests mothers who choose to drop out of the academy and do full-time, unpaid family work are "more committed" to parenting than those who use daycare. Let's leave those trumped-up "mommy wars" to the NY Times magazine, shall we?
But it's not all about the choice between dropping out or suffering, Mama PhD also tells more than one tale of a mother at the end of her rope who was thrown a fresh one by an enlightened advisor, mentor or department chair. There are a few corners of academe that have put all the feminist theory of the past thirty years into some kind of practice and support actual women (and their children). There are small institutions that place a community value on families and children and the well-rounded well being of professors.
Those places are still too few and far between, however. It is still not as easy as those outside academic life assume it would be to have kids and a job with "summers off." (I am always having to correct people about that. "Summers unscheduled" is a better way to think about it, but there is always work and always pressure, in academe.) How could this be?
Lisa Harper's essay "In Theory/In Practice" explains that she found the academic community not to value pregnancy or parenting and asks why: "Is it because academics tend to deny the life of the body for the life of the mind? Or because we often seek a rarified community, one unsullied by the practical concerns that can muddy daily life? Or because parenting is not considered a rigorous (enough) intellectual activity?" Well, yes to all of these, I think. But also, I think it is obvious that the academy is still the domain of men and still runs more like a corporation (in fact, more and more so, these days) than a "community" of any kind. "Parenting" is still women's work, even if we must use the p.c. gender-neutral term as our academic training has taught us. Women's work is still not considered intellectual or rigorous or valuable in much of any way besides to reproduce the very structures that keep it devalued.
But there's the Marxist theorist coming out in me. Once an academic, always an academic, I suppose.
As a commenter at ARP pointed out, yes, this is obviously a reading list and a literary approach to the issue of race (Black/white race issues, mostly) in the U.S.. I have posted elsewhere about more hands-on, lived ways to jump into the topic and perhaps I'll post yet more of that soon, since I'm kind of in this zone right now.
Some of the things commenters are adding to the list have me thinking a bit more about why I chose these particular things (and not others) for my introductory "must reads."
First of all, I'm a good post-post-structuralist and therefore not a big believer in The Canon, but I do believe in multiple canons for various purposes and this is mine for a slim slice of the race story in America from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth.
It's the "slim slice" part that is key for a transracial adopter to grasp. There is way too much out there on transracial adoption that posits (or just assumes) a "Black Experience" or a "Black Family" or "Black Culture" and the fact is, there are many more than one of each of these. My list is focused on my interests and concerns. It is quite largely generated from my graduate work in American literature, so heck, it's very much just my tiny facet of a multi-faceted story.
And yet, I feel comfortable offering it to you, because it's as good as any other facet for a starting place. If you start with my list (or 75% or 50% of my list) you will get a sense of what you care most about and what you want to read more of.
But here's why I like my particular list and would defend it against one that starts with Tatum or MacIntosh (both of whom I also really like and think are fabulous and useful to the topic). The goal of my list is not to teach white people that there is racism. The goal of my list is to plunge white readers into Black experience (albeit, literary experience). Rather than offer a bridge between contemporary white experience and contemporary Black experience (which Tatum and MacIntosh do excellently), in the back of my mind (and I only consciously realize it now) I was thinking about the literary equivalent of moving into a Black neighborhood and sinking or swimming.
That plunge--literary though it may be--asks a reader to figure out the world from a Black perspective through direct engagement with that world. And that's something I think is an invaluable feature of reading. It gives a person a chance to have this direct engagement yet at a "safe" remove that allows her to think it through, to come up with "dumb" questions and seek out the answers before risking the scarier personal engagement on her feet that many transracial adopters fear so much that they never go there.
Reading can be a sort of dress rehearsal for walking into that non-white space and having at least some kind of touch stone for what is happening-a touchstone one might call "double-consciousness."
So that's one thing I've been thinking about.
There are others that I will continue to mull before posting. This is a good chance for me to chew on my "syllabus" idea, because to let you in on my as-yet-unformed plans for the future, I do hope to start some kind of reading group for transracial adopters in "real life" once we are settled in Chicago.
Another quick point: yes this is also completely focused on the Black/white thing in the U.S. But I do think a good basic understanding of that is also good background for the whole race thing altogether. It can give you one substructure for white supremacy from which to leap when looking at the nitty-gritty specifics of the experiences of not-Black-not-white people in U.S. history. That said, unless someone knows already of a similar list re: Asian Americans, I'll come up with four or five starter books on that in the next few days, okay?
After the Donaldson Institute's report on MEPA came out, I was asked (even more than usual) "well, then, what should prospective (or current) transracial adopters do to learn how to parent their kids to honor the importance of race in their lives?"
Here's my answer: You should take a class in African American Studies 101 at the nearest post-secondary institution offering such a thing.
I don't think most of the Transracial Adoption Books are all that great. And when you tell me that people have to start somewhere, and these books are good introductions, I will disagree in the strongest terms. Because books that give you tips for handling public curiosity, or tips on styling a Black child's hair are not the places to start. They are the last details, not the beginning steps.
Before you start polishing your clever one-liners to throw at curious strangers, you need to hone your double-consciousness and find out what exactly those strangers are really asking when they want to know whether your American-born Black child is from a foreign country (ie: "That's not one of those crack babies, is it?").
Before you learn to style hair you need to know the history of Black women in the United States, the way they have been viewed by white culture, the sexual exploitation they have been subjected to, the basic history of their ownership--or not--of their bodies and how that has affected actual lived lives. Then you need to know how hair has been woven throughout this history. You need to know A) that certain hairstyles have socio-political meanings and B) what those meanings are before you settle on a 'do and start learning how to do it. That book is the icing, not the cake.
I have a few books I've put up here and there. You can find them by sorting through the on the bedside table category to the right over there. But I want to post a nice list here, of Books Shannon Thinks Every White Adoptive Parent of a Black Child Must Read at Some Point. So if you can't take that class at the local community college in African American Studies, here is what I'd assign if I was teaching "Transracial Adoption 101."
1. When and Where I Enter by Paula Giddings, will give you a nice overview of U.S. history through the lens of Black women's experience. It is quite readable and a great place to discover who and what you might like to learn more about.
2. The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom by Herbert Gutman is a good background on the effects of race relations on Black families throughout U.S. history. It's one of many places where you begin to see the groundwork for the breaking of Black families in the present day, but it's also a complex, thoughtful response to the knee-jerk, racist analysis of the infamous Moynihan Report.
3. So with some historical knowledge under your belt, you can move on to some contemporary work on Black families and the effect of living within white supremacy. A great place to begin is Dorothy Roberts. There are two books you should read that are pertinent to this topic, but if you read only one, Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare is the one to choose, as it relates most directly to the social welfare system and adoption. The other is Killing the Black Body.
4. For more detail on how the criminal justice system specifically harms Black mothers and their children, read War on the Family: Mothers in Prison and the Families They Leave Behind by Renny Golden.
There are two adoption agencies in Chicago that do many of the transracial placements all over the country. Roberts' and Golden's work is in large part focused on Chicago, giving many transracial adopters an excellent opportunity to learn quite a bit about the specific forces at play in their children's mothers' lives that brought them to place (or have their children removed) for adoption.
5. Two transracial-adoption-specific books I do like are the narratives from adoptees themselves found in Birthmarks: Transracial Adoption in Contemporary America by Sandra Patton and
6. In Their Own Voices: Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories by Rita Simon and Rhonda Roorda.
One thing that disappoints me about these books is that they draw on narratives from adult adoptees who are about my age--born between 1968 and 1972 or so--and they stop the interview process when these folks are in their early to mid-twenties.
Considering the historical moment in which these adoptions occurred, the white parents were really pretty clueless about what they were doing. They were well-intentioned white liberals who thought that if they didn't mind raising a Black child, all was well. In other words, it was all about them and their colorblindness, rather than what a child might need or experience or feel about the situation. That was integrationist race politics the late 60's and early 70's.
Then, the interviewees are between about 20 and 26 when the interviews happen and their attitudes say as much about middle-class developmental patterns and how college kids feel about their families of origin as they do about transracial adoption. I'd be very interested to hear what these people would say now. I know my attitudes about my childhood have changed a lot in the last 10-15 years. How about these folks?
Read with these grains of salt, however, I find the narratives to be incredibly useful for formulating Do and Don't lists as well as lists of things not to worry too much about because kids will be kids and they'll hate us for something no matter how much we bend over backwards to be perfect. And that's a good lesson for parenting under any circumstances.
So there you have six books for a core curriculum in a 12 week class on transracial adoption. In the second 12 weeks of the class, I'd have you read the following:
1.-2. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs, read back-to-back with Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, will position you to note some interesting differences in a white woman's made-up story of an enslaved mother on the run and a real, enslaved, Black woman's true version of same. Now just imagine that this phenomenon of a well-meaning white person's view of racism and a the view of person actually experiencing racism persists throughout U.S. history to this very day. It explains a lot about reactions to various Incidents in the Campaign of Barack Obama.
3. A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is a key text in any African American literature class. It's a classic and Douglass is one of the most important figures in 19th century U.S. history. But again, note the difference in his experience of slavery and freeing himself, and a woman's experience of same in Jacobs' account, which you've of course, already read. Get your hands on a good collection of Douglass's other writings/speeches too. He was a strong supporter of votes for women and Stanton and Anthony's right-hand man until they realized that white supremacists would support them if they used racist fear-mongering, and dropped Douglass like a hot rock.
4. The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois is another classic. I'd say Du Bois is one of the foremost American philosophers, depending on your definition of philosophy. (Mine is, admittedly, unconventional.) The introduction to this book gives us both the concept of double-consciousness and the famous quote that the problem of the twentieth century will be the problem of the color line. It was and is fast becoming the twenty-first century's problem too, or still, as the case may be. Du Bois was speaking about a global color line in his book and that part of it is certainly with us today in ways Du Bois, sadly wouldn't have predicted, hoping as he did for a solution within a hundred years' time.
5. Contending Forces by Pauline Hopkins is an incredible reworking, reclaiming and redemption of the "tragic mulatto" story. The tragic mulatto in this novel pulls herself up with her own brains, reinvents herself, catches a fine, upstanding, Black man, reunites with her displaced child and sails into the sunset to save the world. Plus, the heroine's name is Sappho and there are some lovely, sublimated homoerotic scenes (albeit Victorian-style ones) in spite of the canned marriage-plot outcome.
6. I am Ida B. Wells's biggest fan. (Selina's middle name is Wells. I wanted to name Nat "Ida" but Cole was having none of it. I couldn't even talk her into "Iola.") I have already put a book by Paula Giddings at the very top of this list. So imagine my delight to find a signed, first edition of Giddings's new biography, Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching. I am about one-third of the way through it right now and loving it! If you want to understand African American history, you must understand lynching. Lynching wasn't the only thing Wells fought, but it made her name and reputation (not always for the better) and this biography will introduce you not only to my favorite dead person of all time, but to the circumstances of her moment and how they have trickled down to ours.
If I were to bolster my reading requirements with a little film, I'd choose, Sankofa, Daughters of the Dust and Amistad (now that you are skilled at spotting white liberal back-patting and critiquing it against actual Black experience). For fun, I'd throw in The Wiz (who said musical theatre couldn't be educational?).
Now you know enough to move on by yourself. Like fiction? Read everything Toni Morrison ever wrote. My favorite is probably Beloved but it's hard to say. I just adore her. Science fiction/fantasy geeks will enjoy Octavia Butler's Kindred. William Faulkner can be read after reading Morrison, but not before! Folks adore Their Eyes were watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, but I like her more straight-up anthropology work, like Mules and Men.
You'll notice that my "moving on" list is completely biased in favor of women writers and women's stories. It's slanted towards the Post-Reconstruction, which is "my" period of specialization. And I know nothing about film. I'm sure there are many more great ones besides the tiny handful I mentioned. This list is all about me, me, me. And it is far from exhaustive, even with those caveats. So by all means, decide what you like and read liberally. The key, really, is to keep learning forever.
Please leave your own favorites and recommendations in the comments!
I am still unwell. Today makes a solid two weeks. I used to get these flu-cold-sinus-respiratory things every winter that would last pretty much all winter and then I got a bit older, gained some weight, learned to deal with my depression better, started getting lots of exercise and eating better and I stopped getting those awful things. For a few years, I was more like a normal person, with a normal immune system and when I caught a cold, I was down for a day or two, then okay again.
Then I had kids.
Bad eating habits (namely, skipping meals due to forgetting to eat in the middle of a busy day), lack of sleep (to understate the matter in the extreme) and no exercise but unhealthy lifting habits have rendered me sickly again, it would seem (though I haven't lost the weight I put on initially--a good thing). I get these hang-on-forever illnesses. And I don't have time for long illnesses. I have children!
Yesterday, I was feeling hungry, tired, sore-throated, feverish and grouchy. At one point, I looked up and Nat was doing something under the dining room table and Selina was fussing and looking somewhat victimized, but I couldn't tell exactly what was going on.
"Nat!" I snapped, crossing the room in a small fury. But, finding nothing but two kids on the floor picking up the morning's breakfast crumbs for a mid-morning snack (yuck), I stopped in my tracks and went "oh."
Nat looked at me rather seriously and said "what, Mama Shannon? You're angry?"
"No, I'm not angry, Nat," I told her.
Nat didn't believe me and insisted "but you said: " and here she made the scowlingest scowl I ever saw, wrinkling her forehead and grimacing in frustration.
I assured Nat that I indeed "said" that, but everything was fine now.
I really need to get over this stupid thing.
While bedridden, I have become addicted to LibraryThing. I started by entering just the books in the immediate bedside vicinity (well, actually just the ones I've read most recently), but today I entered my favorite cookbooks and the books on the easiest bookshelf to see from the office desktop computer. Then I took the laptop back to bed and entered tags and whatnot for all of those books.
I am also seriously considering getting the LibraryThing scanner that you plug into your computer and use to read the barcode to enter your books. It's not that hard to type in the titles but often a zillion books will come up and it would be nice to do it by ISBN without having to type in the ISBN, which would entail reading teeny numbers and typing them in slowly (if you're me) and wrong half the time (if you're me).
So! 42 books down, probably about 1500 to go! I will be busy for some time on this new little time-suck. It's a geek's dream come true. Do join me.
Oh, and Nat's first review is up!
I think Good Reads got more votes, but after a little googling for comparisons, I decided Library Thing will suit our needs best. Then I tried to open an account for myself there, only to find someone had taken the name "lilysea." Turns out I joined a long time ago but never added any books. I don't know yet how to "friend" people (or whatever) on there, but if you want to show me, I'm lilysea, and Nat is "MyNat." I just put up my most recently read books and a couple of Nat's favorite authors. But my plan is to get Nat to choose the books she wants to write about and have her dictate reviews to me. We haven't done that yet, so her library is empty so far.