Here’s what I’ve been reading over the past few months since the last book list post.
1. Artistic Impressions: Figure Skating, Masculinity, and the Limits of Sport by Mary Louise Adams
Queens University Kinesiologist Mary Louise Adams presents historical context and contemporary analysis of gender dynamics in figure skating. I recommend the book for skaters, skating fans or anyone interested in the gender dynamics of sport. I interviewed Adams on her book last month and you can find that post here.
If you’ve read past book lists here it’ll be no surprise that I snapped up a copy of Mary Roach’s latest book, Packing for Mars. Roach continues her exploration of scientific research, this time looking at research conducted around space travel. As usual, her book manages to give you a whole bunch of information on topics you probably never considered, like whether or not astronauts’ condom-like urine collection devices are vanity-sized (they are), the best way to have sex in space, or how the monkeys who traveled in space and have since died are memorialized. In addition to the urine collection devices, Packing for Mars mentions some other issues with space travel gender dynamics that made the read additionally interesting for me as a feminist blogger.
This was another unsurprising reading choice for me, since basically all my paperback reading is in the form of Swedish mystery novels. But I hadn’t tried Lackberg before, and I was glad I did. While I’ve written before about appreciating Swedish mystery writers like Henning Mankell and Ake Edwardson for writing main characters that challenge conventional detective novel masculinity, Lackberg’s book (3rd in a series) not only does this but leaves them in the dust in terms of creativity. Lackberg’s series is set in a small Swedish town and her narrative jumps between many of its residents, giving you a sense of the insularity of small town life and also giving several red-herrings for those of us trying to figure out who did it.
After reading The Stone Cutter I decided to go back to the beginning of the series. In some ways I enjoyed The Ice Princess even more, since the majority of the book is from the point-of-view of Erica, a strong-willed writer who ends up dating Patrik, the detective who becomes the protagonist of The Stone Cutter. A subplot revolves around Erica helping her sister and sister’s children escape an abusive husband. Another little thing but one I really appreciated is that when Lackberg mentions Erica’s worried about her weight, she gives the weight at 73 kg (around 160 lbs). By my calculations that’s still healthy but it’s 50 lbs more than Bridget Jones is when she starts stressing in Bridget Jones’ Diary (my evaluation point for annoying dieting references in novels). More importantly, she’s described as confident and beautiful, despite subscribing to fairly realistic human proportions.
Factory Girls is the product of years of research in China by former Wall Street Journal reporter Leslie T. Chang. Though she spends a fair amount of time discussing her own family’s history in China, her main focus and purpose is to illuminate the experience of migrant women working in Chinese factories in Dongguan, a city in the Pearl River Delta. Through time spent with two driven and motivated young women, Min and Chunming, Chang helps us realize the labour that goes into the goods and gadgets we use every day. While Chang points out the widespread corruption and exploitative conditions many women work under in these factories, her book also helps to cast the women as not entirely victims of rural poverty and a dysfunctional global economy, showing instead a complex situation with push and pull factors including the desire to explore the world and break out of older rural ways of life.
6. Look, I Made a Hat by Stephen Sondheim
I read the first part of Stephen Sondheim’s collected lyrics (“with attendant comments, principles, heresies, grudges, whines and anecdotes”) about a year ago and eagerly awaited this second (planned to be concluding) volume. Like the first book, you won’t get much out of this unless you’re a fan of musical theatre or poetry/lyric writing. I found it difficult to make myself read through lyrics of shows I hadn’t seen, but I really enjoyed reading Sondheim’s sometimes cutting but always insightful views on theatre critics, awards, and Broadway culture.
7. The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg
Clearly I went on a bit of a Lackberg kick over the holidays. This was book 2 and I won’t go much into it given that I’ve already outlined books 1 and 3. Suffice it to say it was also excellent and I found the ending surprising – always a good trait in a mystery.
8. Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, edited by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. A collection of essays, comics, poems, and narratives from “today’s transpeople, genderqueers, and other sex/gender radicals”, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation is a reminder of the diversity among and within trans/queer communities. Bornstein and Bergman have done an exceptional job putting together a collection that addresses lived experiences as well as the intersections of gender and sexual identity with family, class, race, and religion. I think it’d also be very helpful for people who want to better understand the lives of trans/queer people – the struggles they face and the ways in which they celebrate their identities and experiences.
What did you read/have you been reading this winter?