Nine Pints

by Rose George
First sentence: “There is a TV but I watch my blood.”
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Content: There are some mild swear words, and some frank talk about sex and sexually transmitted diseases. It’s in the science section of the bookstore.

This one, kind of obviously, is all about blood: what it does in the body, sure, but more about the business of blood, about donating and transfusions, about the history of bloodletting and leeches, and about the diseases that are transmitted by blood. It’s also about the stigma that surrounds blood: we like it when it’s in our body, but not so much when it’s not. It’s a fascinating look through the world of medicine and science surrounding blood.

I liked some chapters better than others. The chapter on donating reminded me that it’s been a while since I’ve donated, though I know they probably don’t use my blood and plasma for transfusions (something about hormones in a woman). I didn’t like the leeches chapter (it made my skin crawl!). I found the chapters about HIV and menstruation to be the most powerful. George focused on the stigma behind both in third-world countries (though we are not without it here) which I found fascinating.

Then again, I do like these pop-science books. George is much like Mary Roach, picking a topic and delving deep and making it interesting and accessible to those of use who are not scientists. It’s a fascinating book.

Invisible Women

by Caroline Criado Perez
First sentence: “Most of recorded human history is one big data gap.”
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Content: There is some harsh facts about women’s health and some mild swearing. It’s in the sociology section of the bookstore.

An old high school friend of mine invited me to read this book as part of a book club she started on Facebook. She said she needed a sounding board to go off on as she read this book, and after finishing it, I can see why. Perez’s thesis is that women have not been included in studies — medical, transportation, housing, government, you name it — because the “typical human” is a 30-something, average height, white male. And since women — and I think this includes trans women, though Perez doesn’t talk about that — have different needs, patterns, biological responses, that means the lack of data is literally killing women. It’s an extreme position, but I think she has the data to back it up.

I found the book to be enlightening — while this is a first world problem, it’s more of a dire issue in places like Bangledesh and India, where assistance from first world organizations (often run by men) don’t think about the how the needs of women in those places differ from the needs of women in the first world, not to mention how the are vastly different from men. It makes me want to respond to this problem somehow, but I’m not entirely sure. Give to organizations that give assistance that are run by women? (That was an awkward sentence…) Vote for women, definitely. But: how do you change thousands of years of men being the “norm”? It’s disheartening. I suppose the least I can do is some of the small things: make sure I’m not defaulting male in my speech, in my thinking (I’ve already had to stop myself a few times) to be more inclusive. Because inclusivity is good. And making sure that women are represented is important.

The Power

by Naomi Alderman
First sentence: “Dear Naomi, I’ve finished the bloody book.”
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Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, some sex, and a few graphic rape scenes. It’s also incredibly violent. It’s in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore.

The basic premise of this book is that one day, suddenly, all women in the world get a power — the ability to channel electricity — that gives them the ability to “fight back” against men of the world. It starts with teenagers, but eventually spreads to most women. The narrative follows four people: a mayor of a New England town, a girl in the foster system, a daughter of a British mob boss, and a young Nigerian man. The change affects all their lives: the mayor becomes governor and then senator, creating for-profit training camps for girls to learn to better control and use their power; the girl kills her foster father (who was raping her) and runs away and eventually starts a new religion, becoming Mother Eve; the daughter of a mob boss ends up taking over the whole operation; and the young man becomes a news reporter, going where the stories — of rebellion, of resistance, of control — are.

It was, for me, a tough book to swallow, and it wasn’t until the end when I realized what Alderman was doing. It’s best to remember that science fiction is more about the present than the future; and Alderman is shining a light on violence against women by turning the tables. The women in this book, once they get the power, become very… well… masculine. They embrace and abuse power, they torture and rape and kill men solely because they are weak. They create laws that restrict men’s movements, and in the end, blow the whole system up.

It’s also a critique of the nature of power, I think. I feel like Alderman is saying that power over another person corrupts anyone, male or female. That there is no “better nature” that will, inherently, make a woman better at leading. That power is, at it’s heart, an violent act of controlling another person.

It’s not an enjoyable read, but it is an interesting one, and has given me much to think about.

Equal Rites

by Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “This is a story about magic and where it goes and perhaps more importantly where it comes from and why, although it doesn’t pretend to answer all or any of those questions.”
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Content: It’s short, but there is small print and no chapters, which might throw some kids off. It’s in the adult science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore, but there’s nothing inappropriate for a kid.

I’ve been meaning to read more Discworld books for ages and ages… well, since the Tiffany Aching arc finished, really. And for some reason — it may have been rereading Good Omens in preparation for the show — I decided that THIS year was the year I was going to get to Granny Weatherwax (at the very least) and the witch books in Discworld.

I did some Googling and found out that this one was a good place to start. Unfortunately, the library doesn’t have it, so I was forced (boo hoo!) to buy it. To be honest, I’m surprised it’s still in print! This is the story of a wizard who goes to bestow his magic on the eighth son of an eighth son, except for that kid ends up being a daughter. The magic gets bestowed upon Esk anyway, and it’s up to Granny Weatherwax, who is the witch in the town of Bad Ass (*giggle*) to figure things out. She initially resists: girls are witches and boys are wizards after all, and that’s just the Way Things Are. But, as Esk grows, Granny realizes that she has something Different, and that maybe going to the Unseen university is a Good Thing, even if she is a girl.

Unfortunately, the wizards have the same views as Granny originally did: Girls Can NOT be Wizards. But, Things Happen, and it’s plain to everyone that Esk is, actually, a wizard and they just better deal with it or there will be Dire Consequences.

On the one hand, this kind of felt like a pre-Tiffany Aching book. It was written in the late 80s, way before Pratchett made up Tiffany in all her practical wonderfulness. And if I had read this before Tiffany Aching, I might have had a different opinion of it. As it was, I felt like this story had already been told (which, of course, it hadn’t. I had just read them out of order.)

That said, it was quite funny. I loved the way Pratchett personified the wizard staff, and Granny Weatherwax’s bull-headedness, and even Esk’s determination to learn something that everyone was telling her she couldn’t. I could see the bones of other books in there, and I loved it for that.

And now, on to the next one!

#NotYourPrincess

edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale
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Content: It’s tough content, talking about abuse and rape. It’s in the Teen Issues (Non-Fiction) section of the bookstore.

This is not the sort of thing I usually pick up: a book of art and poetry and essays. But, my biggest take-away from the Multicultural Literature class I just finished was that 1) there isn’t a whole lot of Native literature out there and 2) I don’t read any of it. So, I decided that I need to try and fix that. At least to some extent. I remembered that this one had recently come out (I had ordered it in for the store), but didn’t know anything about it. So I checked it out.

It’s a compilation from Native women artists, all from different nations, who are expressing themselves. From connections to their past and future, and what their heritage means to to them; to the challenges of being a Native woman today. It covers all of North America, so there are voices from Canadian indigenous women as well as those here in the U. S. It’s sometimes harsh reading, especially for an outsider looking in, but it’s ultimately uplifting and empowering. I’m incredibly glad a collection like this exists, and I’m glad I was compelled into picking it up.

The Lost Girl

by Anne Ursu
First sentence: “Once upon a time, there were two sisters, alike in every way, except for all the ways they were different.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some scary moments. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Iris and Lark are identical twins. And they’ve always been together, from the very start. They’re stronger together, and even though they are different, they help each other out. That is, until this year, their 5th grade year, when their parents (darn them!) decide that it would be better if Iris and Lark are in two different classes. That shakes both girls to their core, but Iris, who’s nominally our main character, is really having a tough time of it. And things get a lot more complicated when she starts frequenting a strange new antique store in town with an odd owner who says there is magic in the world.

I swear I read a tweet by Anne Ursu (who, if you don’t follow on Twitter, you should!) that this book was about girls and friendships and smashing the patriarchy, and I am totally here for all of that. It’s a seriously good book; the parents create conflict by being good parents (which is incredibly unusual) and by trying to stretch their twins in new ways. And it’s uncomfortable (do I really listen to my kids the way they want to be listened to?) and challenging and amazing and wonderful all at the same time. I adored Iris’s loud strength and courage and prickliness and Lark’s whimsical nature and quiet strength. But what I really loved was the way the girls banded together to overcome the conflict. Seriously. Usually in middle grade fiction, it’s the main character Facing the Challenge and Overcoming (maybe with a little help), but very rarely is it a group of kids who work together and are Awesome. Don’t underestimate the power of kids working together.

It’s such a fantastic, wonderful, gorgeous middle grade book.

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

by Mackenzi Lee
First sentence: “I have just taken an overly large bite of iced bun when Callum slices his finger off.”
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Others in the series: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Content: There was some mild swearing and some frank depictions of 18th century medicine. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, because that’s where Gentleman’s Guide is.

First off: you don’t have to read Gentleman’s Guide before reading this one, though it will probably help with some small references, and with knowing who the characters are.

It’s been a while since Felicity has come back from her “tour” with her brother and his now-boyfriend, Percy. She decided that instead of going back to her parents, she would rather try her hand at getting into a medical school in Edinburgh. However, that didn’t go well. At all. For all the reasons you can guess: she’s a woman, women are inferior, why don’t you go play with the midwives, honey? So when this man she has befriended, the Callum of the opening sentence, proposes, Felicity panics and heads back to London. Where, through a series of chance encounters (and some standing up for herself), she ends up on a trip to Stuttgart in the company of a less-than-trustworthy woman, to attend the wedding of her former best friend.

Of course, adventures ensue. Felicity and the other women — Sim, who turns out to be a pirate princess, and Johanna, the daughter of a naturalist — have to fight (both literally and figuratively) for their right to be heard, to be understood, to be listened to. And, along they way they learn a bit about themselves.

I adored this one (as much as Gentleman’s Guide, which means it wasn’t all the narrator with that one). I loved that Lee got in many different kinds of women, and several different feminist points (you can, in fact, loves clothes AND science!). I loved that Felicity was asexual, and was okay with that. She thought maybe she worked differently from other people, but that was okay with her. I loved that the girls all ended up as friends (even though Sim has a bit of a crush on Felicity), and that there wasn’t a romance in the plot. I loved that Lee gave us some feisty and fierce historical girls, who were willing to blaze paths and be unapologetic about making the world a better place.

A very excellent read.