“Here We Are: 44 Voices Write, Draw, and Speak About Feminism for the Real World” is a progressive antidote to the ancient teen health textbooks that mull over the dry basics of teen identity.
Kelly Jensen here assembles a stellar collection of writings — prose, illustrated pieces and poetry — that showcase contemporary expressions of feminism: what it is, what it isn’t and what it can be, as defined by each writer. Representing a diverse demographic, contributing authors include Roxane Gay, Anne Thériault, Malinda Lo, Daniel José Older, Ashley Hope Pérez and Alida Nugent. Prominent authors and performers share space with bloggers and young people, and voices span a range of gender expressions.
Characteristic of the quality on offer is a priceless, heartfelt comic by Wendy Xu that explores the bumpy road of a teen romance that ultimately moves her to affirm her Asian identity. The mix of approaches and the brevity of the pieces make this a book that can easily act as a text for any high school class wanting to engage with the topic of feminism. The collection deconstructs stereotypical notions of feminism, teaching readers that feminism is more than just transcending gender norms. Through the multiplicity of stories, readers learn that feminism is a personal statement that expresses itself differently for each individual. With its thoughtful, scrapbooklike design and variety of socio-economic and cultural perspectives, the book invites young readers to engage in this roundtable discussion.
An embarrassment of riches. (Anthology. 12-18)
(Kelly Jensen will speak and sign copies of her book starting at 5 p.m. Sunday, April 9, at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd. She will be in conversation with Rebecca Sexton, Allison Peyton Steger and Jessica Luther. Free to attend; only books purchased at BookPeople are eligible for signing. Information: bookpeople.com.)
Revisiting a classic
This review was first published in Kirkus in 1985. A series based on the Margaret Atwood book premieres April 26 on Hulu, and the book is the subject of BookPeople’s Required Reading book meeting at 4 p.m. Sunday (details at bookpeople.com).
The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US’s spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive “monotheocracy” calling itself the Republic of Gilead — a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who’ve ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.
Thus are drafted a whole class of “handmaids,” whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood’s dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred (“of” plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred’s “ceremony” must be successful — if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband — dead — and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt).
One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master’s chauffeur — something that’s balanced more than offset, though, by the master’s hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master’s), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid’s (read Everywoman’s) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred (“We are two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices”).
Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable nightmare. The book is short on characterization — this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest — and long on cynicism — it has none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy’s “Love In The Ruins.” But the scariness is visceral, a world that’s like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence. Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.
For animal lovers
Can new kinds of animals be brought into being outside of DNA tinkering and Frankensteining? Most certainly, as a long-running Russian experiment reveals in “How to Tame a Fox (And Build a Dog): Visionary Scientists and a Siberian Tale of Jump-Started Evolution” by Lee Alan Dugatkin and Lyudmila Trut.
Humans have been living among domesticated animals for many thousands of years. The first to be domesticated, paleontologists have long believed, was the dog, bred from the wolf. Enter Dmitry Belyaev, a Russian geneticist who “had become fascinated by the question of how an animal as naturally averse to human contact and as potentially aggressive as a wolf had evolved over tens of thousands of years into the lovable, loyal dog.”
Roughly 40 years ago, as Dugatkin chronicles, Belyaev and Dugatkin’s co-author, Trut, moved to a Siberian farm where foxes were bred for their fur. There, they began a far-reaching series of experiments that yielded “the perfect dog” — however, the perfect dog, or at least something like the wolf-descended dog, was a fox, its evolution from one biological form to another having occupied just a blink of an eye in evolutionary time. Their experiment, note the authors, is one of the most revealing ever conducted in the sphere of evolution and animal behavior. The narrative includes a wealth of asides on how science is conducted under totalitarian regimes — Belyaev began his career under the shadow of Stalin and the charlatan Lysenko — but is at its most fascinating when it centers on the business of how an animal is in fact tamed. What qualities would be favored? Gentleness and playfulness, to be sure, but also a certain kind of transcendental calmness (“fox pups are serenely calm when they’re first born, but as they age, foxes typically become quite high-strung”) and youthfulness. The science is profound, but the authors write accessibly and engagingly — and their vulpine subjects are awfully cute, too.
Of compelling interest to any animal lover and especially to devotees of canids of all kinds.
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