Book Review: Comics for Choice by Hazel Newlevant, Whit Taylor, and Ø.K. Fox

Comics for Choice by Hazel Newlevant, Whit Taylor, and Ø.K. Fox
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 2017
Source: Borrowed

Comics for Choice is anthology of comics about abortion. As this fundamental reproductive right continues to be stigmatized and jeopardized, over sixty artists and writers have created comics that boldly share their own experiences, and educate readers on the history of abortion, current political struggles, activism, and more. Lawyers, activists, medical professionals, historians, and abortion fund volunteers have teamed up with cartoonists and illustrators to share their knowledge in accessible comics form.

Comics for Choice is edited by Hazel Newlevant, Whit Taylor, and Ø.K. Fox, and contains comics from exciting cartoonists like Sophia Foster-Dimino (Sex Fantasy), Leah Hayes (Not Funny Ha-Ha), Anna Bongiovanni (Grease Bats), Jennifer Camper (Rude Girls and Dangerous Women), Ally Shwed (Sex Bomb Strikes Again) and Kat Fajardo (Gringa!, La Raza Anthology), and reproductive justice scholars like Rickie Solinger, (Reproductive Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know) Renee Bracey Sherman (Program Director, We Testify), and Dr. Cynthia Greenlee (Senior Editor, Rewire).


I didn’t really know what to expect when I checked this anthology out from the library. All I really knew was that it was a ton of abortion stories and that it would probably make me very, very sad. The thing is, while I can’t see myself ever getting an abortion (except in a very extreme case), I don’t think it’s my place to tell anyone else what they can or cannot do with their life and their body. That means that I’m very firmly on the pro-choice side of the debate. I thought it might be a good idea to expand my horizons a little bit and learn more about abortion.

Turns out that this book was possibly not the right place to go for that. First of all, there are a ton of stories here. A ton. Most of them are very, very short, and most of them feel like they were put together very quickly. There are a lot of misspellings and a lot of grammatical issues. A few of the stories looked more like drafts than finished art. It’s not the end of the world, I guess, but this is a book that’s been put out into the world for people to purchase. I expected more from it.

As for the stories, some of them hit me very hard. I can’t imagine being in the situation that a lot of these women were in and I can’t imagine how difficult the choice to get an abortion must be. I also found the stories from the abortion doulas and clinic escorts very interesting. I hadn’t even known that abortion doulas were a thing before I picked this book up! But some of the stories seemed to be there just to prove a point or push an agenda, which is something I don’t really appreciate, even when it’s a point or an agenda that I can get behind.

When this anthology was good, it was good. But when it wasn’t good, it was just disappointing. Overall, I think two stars is probably the best I can do here.

Have you read Comics for Choice? Do you have any recommendations for feminist nonfiction?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: The Mental Load by Emma

The Mental Load by Emma
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 26, 2018
Source: Borrowed

In her first book of comic strips, French artist Emma reflects on social and feminist issues by means of simple line drawings, dissecting the mental load, ie all that invisible and unpaid organizing, list-making and planning women do to manage their lives, and the lives of their family members. Most of us carry some form of mental load – about our work, household responsibilities, financial obligations and personal life; but what makes up that burden and how it’s distributed within households and understood in offices is not always equal or fair. 

In her strips Emma deals with themes ranging from maternity leave (it is not a vacation!), domestic violence, the clitoris, the violence of the medical world on women during childbirth, and other feminist issues, and she does so in a straightforward way that is both hilarious and deadly serious. If you’re not laughing, you’re probably crying in recognition. Emma’s comics also address the everyday outrages and absurdities of immigrant rights, income equality, and police violence. 

I guess I should start off this review by saying that before I stumbled upon this book in a local bookstore, I had never heard of Emma or her blog. I think this will be a fairly short review because I don’t have a ton of thoughts about this book — I appreciate what it’s aiming to do, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a groundbreaking piece of work.

The thing is, the people that are going to pick up this book are likely people who already agree with the author. I can’t imagine many people who are anti-feminist picking up a book that literally says “a feminist comic” on the front cover. I didn’t find much in this book that was new to me, despite the fact that I don’t necessarily consider myself well-read when it comes to feminist theory.

I think my favorite section of this book, and the one that was most interesting to me, was the one titled “You Should Have Asked.” This is where Emma brings up the mental load — the extra work that women in heterosexual relationships stereotypically have to do. I found myself nodding along as I read, recognizing behavior from past relationships and finally realizing what had been wrong that I hadn’t been able to put into words.

Aside from that, the book is mostly a collection of the author’s thoughts on several highly political topics. I agreed with some and disagreed with others. I wasn’t really pulled in by the art style and the font could be pretty hard to read at times, so I got distracted a lot while reading about the topics that I wasn’t terribly interested in.

Still, if you’re looking for an accessible primer for feminism, this graphic novel would be a great place to start.


Have you read The Mental Load? Can you recommend any good books dealing with feminism?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: The Secret Language of Cats by Susanne Schotz

The Secret Language of Cats by Susanne Schotz
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: November 6, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Have you ever wondered what your cat is saying?

Cats do not meow randomly, nor do they growl or hiss because they have nothing better to do. Cat sounds have a purpose, and they can carry important messages, whether for us or other cats.

Susanne Schotz is hard at work on breaking the cat code. She is a professor at Lund University in Sweden, where a long-standing research program is proving that cats do actually use vocal communication–with each other and with their human caretakers. Understanding the vocal strategies used in human-cat communication will have profound implications for how we communicate with our pets, and has the potential to improve the relationship between animals and humans within several fields, including animal therapy, veterinary medicine and animal sheltering.

In The Secret Language of Cats, Schotz offers a crash course in the phonetic study of cat sounds. She introduces us to the full range of feline vocalizations and explains what they can mean in different situations, and she gives practical tips to help us understand our cats better.
 

I’ll be honest here and say that the only reason I checked this out from the library was that cute kitten on the cover. I mean, I do have an interest in linguistics (I did major in it in college, after all) and I do love cats, but nonfiction about felines isn’t really my thing. Quite honestly, after I picked this up and remarked on the cuteness of the cover, I should have just put it back down, because this book was some nonsense.

The thing is, if you’ve owned cats for any portion of your life, or been close with anyone who has owned cats, or even just spent like two minutes with a cat one time, nothing in this book will come as a surprise to you. I mean, was it fun to see the various noises a cat can make transcribed using IPA? Sure, I guess. Was I happy that cats weren’t hooked up to any crazy machinery to make this book happen? Yes. But was there a point to this book? Not really.

Because aside from the transcription of cat noises into IPA, the majority of this book is just the author saying, “My cat makes this noise in this context and if you want to go to my blog, you can listen to a recording.” The book is also incredibly repetitive, stating over and over and over and over that cats make hissing and growling noises when they’re mad and chirps and purrs when they’re happy.

Overall, the book feels more like observances that will be common sense to any cat owner mixed with a lot of phonetic observations. I’d hardly call any of this a revelation, and I’d hardly call anything that the author discusses in this book a “language” since it has no known rules. For a nonfiction book, this was at least a rather quick read, but more than anything else, I’m just disappointed.

#ps19: a book by an author whose first and last names start with the same letter


Have you read The Secret Language of Cats? What’s the last book that seriously disappointed you? Let’s talk in the comments!

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ARC Review: No Ivy League by Hazel Newlevant

No Ivy League by Hazel Newlevant
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 20, 2019
Source: ARC from BookCon

When 17-year-old Hazel Newlevant takes a summer job clearing ivy from the forest in her home town of Portland, Oregon, her only expectation is to earn a little money. Homeschooled, affluent, and sheltered, Hazel soon finds her job working side by side with at-risk teens to be an initiation into a new world that she has no skill in navigating. This uncomfortable and compelling memoir is an important story of a girl’s awakening to the racial insularity of her life, the power of white privilege, and the hidden story of segregation in Portland.

If you’d pitched this book to me anywhere other than BookCon, I probably would have passed. But the Lion Forge booth was doing an ARC signing and I got a ticket and this book sounded interesting, so I decided to go for it. All things considered, I think it was a good decision.

I think the first thing I want to say is that I loved the art style. The majority of the ARC is in black and white and I can easily imagine the pages being stunning in full color. I think that the graphic novel format helped this book a lot. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it nearly as much as a standard memoir.

The next thing I want to say is that there’s a lot going on in this book. Hazel is homeschooled, sheltered, and privileged. When they take a summer job pulling ivy, they encounter the first real diversity of their life and have to come to terms with their parents’ prejudice and the realization that racism still exists in our daily lives. Hazel also in a relationship with a younger guy, which causes some conflict with their new coworkers, and flirts with a guy who’s fifteen years older, which makes for some really uncomfortable scenes.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, but I think I would have liked it more if it had taken a deeper look at the themes of white privilege and the inherent racism in homeschooling that’s just briefly addressed. I understand that this is a graphic memoir and what happens is what happened, but I felt like something was missing to make this a complete story. Still, I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a good starting point when it comes to white privilege.


Have you read No Ivy League? Do you like to read graphic memoirs?
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Book review: Wordcrime by John Olsson

Wordcrime by John Olsson
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 1, 2009
Source: Borrowed

Tell kids not to worry. sorting my life out. be in touch to get some things.

Instead of being a simple SMS message, this text turned out to be crucial and chilling evidence in convicting the deceptive killer of a mother of two. Sent from her phone, after her death, tell tale signs announce themselves to a forensic linguist. Rarely is a crime committed without there being some evidence in the form of language. Wordcrime features a series of chapters where gripping cases are described – involving murder, sexual assault, hate mail, suspicious death, code deciphering, arson and even genocide. Olsson describes the evidence he gave in each one. In approachable and clear prose, he details how forensic linguistics helps the law beat the criminals. This is fascinating reading for anyone interested in true crime, in modern, cutting-edge criminology and also where the study of language meets the law.

In case you didn’t know, I majored in Linguistics in college. I love words, and especially how we use words to get a point across. A book like this, that takes a look at the seemingly simple variations in the way a text, diary entry, or letter is constructed, and what that says about its author, is right up my alley.

In this book, Olsson describes a number of cases that he’s worked on throughout the years. I’m not going to get into all of the cases in this book. The book is far too long for that and I don’t have that kind of time on my hands. What I do want to talk about is a couple cases that I thought were particularly interesting and one that made me very, very angry.

I think my favorite case was the one about how The Da Vinci Code was possibly plagiarized from three books by Lew Perdue. I found it fascinating that I had not only never heard of this case before, but that the judge ruled that The Da Vinci Code was not plagiarized when there were so many uncanny similarities between the two books!

Another case that I found particularly interesting was the one about a man who had written diary entries confessing to a crime that then stated that the entries were fabricated after the details of the case came out. The way that Olsson was able to prove the time period during which the diary entries were written was fascinating!

However, there was one case that made me very angry. As someone with a background in Linguistics that now works in a medical office, I feel that I have enough of a background to adequately comment on the “case of medical disinformation.”

Basically, in this case, a man sued a hospital because they failed to provide the records that he wanted. It sounds terrible, right? As patients, we’re entitled to copies of our medical information and doctors and healthcare systems are not allowed to deny reasonable requests. Any hospital you visit will have a form that you need to complete and sign if you want your records. Most private offices will have one too. This protects the doctor by making it very clear what exactly you want, because HIPAA is not something that doctors want to mess around with. There are hefty fines involved if you violate a patient’s privacy, and, depending on the kind of violation, jail time isn’t out of the question. There’s not really room for interpretation on a records request form. The hospital or doctor will release exactly what you tell them to, because doing anything else puts them at risk for a lawsuit.

In this case, the man request a copy of his chart notes. He received a copy of his chart notes. He believed his request should have given him access to his entire medical record, but here I am, from both a linguistics and medical administration standpoint, to tell you what exactly is wrong with this mindset.

Let’s start with some definitions.

Your chart notes are usually narrative paragraphs describing what was done to you at your visit. For example, I work in dermatology and our chart notes will be something like “Patient presents with 0.6 cm lesion on the left upper back, present for many years with recent change in color. Plan: Biopsy today — skin prepped with rubbing alcohol, biopsy performed by shave method, hemostasis via aluminum chloride, ointment and nonstick dressing applied. Wound care instructions given. Follow up pending pathology results.” If you request your chart notes, that’s what you’ll receive. It’s all very boring and not usually what people are expecting when they request chart notes, but we have to provide it if you want it.

Your complete medical record is much more detailed. In addition to chart notes, this includes the actual lab results, information we’ve sent to (or received from) other doctors relating to your care, copies of letters we’ve sent you, your prescription history, summaries of all your conditions, clinical photos… basically anything and everything you could ever think a doctor might keep on file. Even for people who’ve only been seen once, a complete medical record can easily be twenty or more pages.

In this case, the man wanted his complete medical record and believed the hospital should have understood that. However, if you have any understanding of HIPAA or privacy practices, you can see why the hospital would err on the side of caution and not provide more than what was explicitly requested. It’s really very sad, but hospitals and doctors get sued so frequently that they can’t take any chances. If they had given him his entire medical record when all he wanted was chart notes, it’s possible that he could have sued them for releasing his information without his consent.

So when the author of this book claims that the hospital should have been able to infer what the patient wanted when he requested the information, I just have to say… no. There’s a difference between having a degree in Linguistics and understanding the inner workings of the medical field. As my boss likes to say, “from a medical-legal standpoint…” what a patient intends to put on a records request is irrelevant. The only relevant information is what the patient actually signed for.

There’s also a very odd section in this case about how the man requested copies of videos from staff meetings because he thought his case might have been discussed. First of all, I can tell you that no sane doctor keeps videos of their staff meetings. It’s too much of a liability. But even if they did, sharing those videos with a patient would be a huge violation of HIPAA, subject to crazy fines, because I can almost guarantee that his was not the only case discussed. You’re not entitled to view discussions of other peoples’ medical information just because you think the doctor might have also talked about you. It’s absolutely outrageous that this man not only thought he was entitled to this, but also that the author of this book defended this as a reasonable request.

One of my biggest pet peeves is people who have no idea how the medical field works trying to make assertions about the way things should be done. It’s possible that there’s more to this case than the author let on, but based on just the language of the request alone, I can’t say that there was some huge conspiracy here. The hospital did what the hospital had to do, and I’m sorry that this man was confused about how records requests work, but that doesn’t mean that the hospital should break the law for him.

Anyway. That rant is over, and all in all, this book was fine. Olsson had some interesting things to say, but he could have used a good editor and, as illustrated in the records request case, sometimes just didn’t know what he was talking about. I think forensic linguistics is a very interesting field, but I’m sure there are better books about it than this one.

#mmd19: a book about a topic that fascinates you


Have you read Wordcrime? Are you interested in linguistics?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley

How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 4, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Fascist politics are running rampant in America today–and spreading around the world. A Yale philosopher identifies the ten pillars of fascist politics, and charts their horrifying rise and deep history.

As the child of refugees of World War II Europe and a renowned philosopher and scholar of propaganda, Jason Stanley has a deep understanding of how democratic societies can be vulnerable to fascism: Nations don’t have to be fascist to suffer from fascist politics. In fact, fascism’s roots have been present in the United States for more than a century. Alarmed by the pervasive rise of fascist tactics both at home and around the globe, Stanley focuses here on the structures that unite them, laying out and analyzing the ten pillars of fascist politics–the language and beliefs that separate people into an “us” and a “them.” He knits together reflections on history, philosophy, sociology, and critical race theory with stories from contemporary Hungary, Poland, India, Myanmar, and the United States, among other nations. He makes clear the immense danger of underestimating the cumulative power of these tactics, which include exploiting a mythic version of a nation’s past; propaganda that twists the language of democratic ideals against themselves; anti-intellectualism directed against universities and experts; law and order politics predicated on the assumption that members of minority groups are criminals; and fierce attacks on labor groups and welfare. These mechanisms all build on one another, creating and reinforcing divisions and shaping a society vulnerable to the appeals of authoritarian leadership.

By uncovering disturbing patterns that are as prevalent today as ever, Stanley reveals that the stuff of politics–charged by rhetoric and myth–can quickly become policy and reality. Only by recognizing fascists politics, he argues, may we resist its most harmful effects and return to democratic ideals.

If I’m being completely honest, I have absolutely no idea how to review this book. I added it to my library wish list — where I track books I want to read, just not immediately — shortly after it came out. I happened to be scrolling through Overdrive one day when I saw it was available as an audiobook, so I figured I might as well listen.

And the book is fine. Really, it is.

But is it good?

I’m not sure.

As I was listening, I was reminded of both Madeleine Albright’s Fascism: A Warning and Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die, both of which I read last year. I even thought of Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen, which touches on the same topics (sort of), but in a much more engaging way. What I’m getting at, I guess, is that this book wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before.

As a primer for fascist politics, it’s fine, if a little… dramatic. I understand what Stanley is getting at, but it seems that any political ideology that he doesn’t agree with could be considered “fascist,” and although I am in agreement with his politics, it still didn’t sit right with me. I don’t think that conservative politics are inherently fascist. They’re just conservative.

In the end, if you want a pretty basic introduction to fascism, check out this book. If you’re looking for something deeper, you can probably give it a pass.

Have you read How Fascism Works? Do you like political nonfiction?
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Book review: 7 Miles a Second by David Wojnarowicz

7 Miles a Second by David Wojnarowicz
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Original Publication Date: May 1, 1996
Source: Borrowed

7 Miles a Second is the story of legendary artist David Wojnarowicz, written during the last years before his AIDS-related death in 1992, and drawn by James Romberger with colors by Marguerite Van Cook. The graphic novel depicts Wojnarowicz’s childhood of prostitution and drugs on the streets of Manhattan, through his adulthood living with AIDS, and his anger at the indifference of government and health agencies.

Originally published as a comic book in 1996 by DC’s Vertigo Comics, an imprint best-known for horror and fantasy material such as The Sandman7 Miles a Second was an instant critical success, but struggled to find an audience amongst the typical Vertigo readership. It has become a cult classic amongst fans of literary and art comics, just as Wojnarowicz’s influence and reputation have widened in the larger art world. Romberger and Van Cook’s visuals give stunning life to Wojnarowicz’s words, blending the gritty naturalism of Lower East Side street life with a hallucinatory, psychedelic imagination that takes perfect advantage of the comics medium.

This new edition will finally present the artwork as it was intended: oversized, and with Van Cook’s elegant watercolors restored. It also includes several new pages created for this edition.

I think I first heard about 7 Miles a Second when I was scrolling through a Goodreads list of highly-rated graphic novels. It’s definitely not a book that I would have picked up on my own — neither the plot or the art style really grabbed me — but it was surprisingly good.

This book might be short (it’s only 68 pages!) but it packs a big punch. It’s a whirlwind of emotions as the author describes his childhood (be prepared for graphic scenes of prostitution and abuse) and eventual diagnosis of AIDS. It’s an uncomfortable read, but an important one.

I think it would be wrong to say that I enjoyed this since mostly it just made me want to cry. Even so, I have to recognize the sheer amount of emotion the author made me feel in so few pages. This book won’t be for everyone, but if you’re interested in the subject matter and you’re okay with being pushed out of your comfort zone, it’s definitely a worthy read.

#ps19: a book published posthumously


Have you read 7 Miles a Second? Is it on your TBR?
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