Whores and Other Feminists: An interesting anthology, but profoundly marred by its inclusion of only relatively privileged sex workers. More essayists worked at a single San Francisco peep show, the Lusty Lady, than did street sex work. While many contributors were queer, there was no discussion of intersections of sex work with addiction, abuse, or immigration, and the contributors of color were safely cordoned off in their own section. Interesting essays include those by sex work feminist foremothers Annie Sprinkle and Nina Hartley, as well as an interview with a butch lesbian second-wave feminist who accidentally got a substantial fraction of her local second-wave lesbian feminist community to work at an erotic massage parlor. Also, I am as disappointed as anyone that dapper butch escort for lesbians is not a profitable profession.
Even among this group of relatively privileged sex workers, all of them acknowledge that sex work is not “empowering” but instead just a job– and often a crappy one at that. (The one exception is a New Agey sex worker who identifies as a sacred whore. This is a very San Franciscan book.) It’s just that, as crappy as their jobs are, the situation won’t be improved by making it illegal. Hopefully this will put to bed the straw man that sex workers’ rights activists think that sex work should be legal because of how ~empowering~ it is.
Conquering GRE Math: A very complete review of the math that’s on the GRE. It concentrates more on computation than on the mathematical reasoning that the GRE mostly tests.
The Unschooling Handbook: Probably the best unschooling book I’ve read so far. Instead of endlessly discussing the principles of unschooling and children’s natural desire to learn, the unschooling handbook focuses on what it’s like to unschool, including three chapters that describe weeks in the life of three different unschooling families and an extensive list of resources.
The Unschooling Handbook is fairly old, so its discussion of the Internet is hilariously out of date. (“We have the Internet at our library, but we only use it to check our email– there are so many books to read!”) I continue to be suspicious of claims about the educational value of video games and television.
To unschool reading: read to your children, have an environment full of text, play pre-reading games, and guide them to books that match their interests. To unschool writing: offer opportunities to write stories, poetry, and essays; reluctant writers may enjoy having a pen pal. To unschool math: play math games and do math puzzles; look for math in everyday life, such as cooking and allowances; have math manipulatives such as tangrams and Cuisenaire rods; play games that involve a math element, such as most card games (probability); read books about math and watch math videos. To unschool science: encourage experimentation; read books about science and watch science videos; take trips to museums, parks, and zoos; have scientific tools such as a microscope and a telescope. To unschool history: maintain a timeline; read history books, especially biographies; study genealogy; go to living history events; read and watch historical fiction and critique the inaccuracies; travel. To unschool the arts: let children experiment with music, painting, sculpture, and acting; buy nice art supplies, which allow children to produce higher-quality and more satisfying art. In each subject, follow the child’s interests: it’s okay if they learn all about the rainforest but never quite get to learning about Pluto.
[content warning: child abuse]
The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption: Learn from my mistakes: Don’t read this book when you have a newborn baby or you will start crying while clutching your baby and demanding reassurance that no one will steal him from you.
A fascinating work of investigative journalism about Georgia Tann, one of the women who popularized adoption in the twentieth century. Tann was a piece of work. She took children from their parents who loved them and wanted them, often justifying it because the parents were poor. Some children, taken for adoption at age four or six, lived for decades without knowing whether their parents or siblings were alive. Tann would lie to parents that their children had died and then take the child for adoption. Tann ran ads with adorable pictures of adoptable babies, encouraging people to adopt a child for Christmas as if they were a puppy. She did only the most cursory screening of adoptive parents; many adoptees were abused or treated as slaves. One adoptive parent even screamed at her child that if she had known he would be such a disappointment she wouldn’t have paid so much for him. Tann was neglectful of the children she took for adoption; in fact, her neglectfulness managed to raise the Memphis infant mortality rate to the point that the US government investigated.
Tann was also a lesbian. I guess it’s… nice?… to have LGBT representation among totally evil people.
Sensate Focus in Sex Therapy: An Illustrated Manual: A clearly written explanation of sensate focus, intended for clinicians.
Sensate focus is the Swiss army knife of sex therapy interventions, useful for everything from premature ejaculation to sexual trauma. At its core, sensate focus is very similar to mindfulness: you touch your partner, focusing only on the physical sensations of touch, such as soft/hard, hot/cold, or smooth/rough. You touch the parts of your partner’s body you find interesting to touch. Arousal may happen, but it is not expected; sensate focus has no particular goal other than exploring your partner’s body. Over the course of a few months, a couple undergoing sensate focus passes through several stages: alternating touching, with breasts and genitals off limits; alternating touching with breasts and genitals allowed; simultaneous touching; touching genitals to genitals; PIV without movement; PIV with movement.
The book has a useful chapter about adapting sensate focus for different problems: for example, a patient with hypoactive sexual desire may need to be coached in developing a sexual fantasy life and encouraged to read or view erotic literature. The book has a much less useful chapter about adapting sensate focus for sexual minority groups (LGBT people, kinky people, poly people), which mostly says that they can do sensate focus like anyone else. It would be interesting if they had talked about, say, whether one could use pain play during sensate focus or the common trans experience of dissociating during sex.
Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest To Make Doctors Believe In Women’s Pain: A harrowing and engrossing memoir about one woman’s experience with endometriosis. Full of interesting facts about endometriosis: did you know that some female fetuses have endometriosis? Norman experienced a depressing amount of medical sexism, such as a doctor whose primary goal was not preventing her pain but saving her fertility (despite the fact that she wasn’t sure whether she wanted children and was in so much pain she was incapable of enjoying PIV). I think people who have never had a uterus should read this memoir so that they can feel properly grateful.
[Spoilers for the Octavian Nothing series.]
The Pox Party: I adored the premise of this book. On the eve of the Revolution, a teenage slave who believes he is an African prince is being educated by a set of eccentric Enlightenment philosophers intent on discovering whether black people have the same intellectual capacity as white people.
Unfortunately, the sequel was far less engrossing due to replacing the eccentric Enlightenment philosophers with assorted Loyalist soldiers, and I quit halfway through.
I am confused about the definition of YA. Does it just mean “has a teenage protagonist”? Because there were multiple gruesome torture scenes in this book and while I support teenagers reading whatever they want I think some adults might have objections.
Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom: I read this book to gain more insight into the social conservative point of view.
I think what Anderson calls the consent-based and the conjugal views of marriage are both coherent. The consent-based view holds that marriage is a private matter between people who love each other. The purpose of legal marriage is to provide certain benefits people usually want to give to people they love, such as hospital visitation and inheritance rights. Socially, if we don’t recognize a couple as married, we’re implicitly saying that they don’t love each other.
The conjugal view, however, views marriage as primarily a vehicle for the production of children. Anderson tries to spiritualize it, but I think for most of the past this was primarily an economic arrangement. Children are not any different from any other economic value husbands and wives provided for each other, from clothes to agriculture. (It’s important to note that only relatively recently did children become a net economic drain on their parents.) Gay marriage, premarital sex, divorce, and adultery can all be coherently forbidden from this point of view. However, I think it has implications that social conservatives don’t particularly like: most notably, that love between the couple is also irrelevant. It’s nice if it happens, but if you’re vaguely fond of each other and you have an economically productive household, that is an entirely successful marriage. (Notably, many marriages in a conjugal model are arranged.)
“Love is irrelevant to marriage, you should be happy to marry someone who’s nice but whom you have no particular romantic feelings for and then have lots of babies” is a hard pill for straight people to swallow, and I don’t blame Anderson for trying to get around it. But I don’t think you can. If you accept love as a valid basis for marriage, gay marriage, no-fault divorce, and the rest come along with it.
I found Anderson’s religious freedom arguments often unconvincing. If the state requires that all adoption agencies give children to gay couples, and then the adoption agencies refuse and close, it’s not really a violation of their religious freedom. You don’t have a religious-freedom right to run an adoption agency. Similarly, if the state required that all doctors provide actual medicine, and you are a Christian scientist doctor who believes you should never treat any illness with anything except prayer, I do not think it would be a violation of religious freedom for them to revoke your medical license. You have a right to believe whatever you like and to practice your faith freely, but you don’t have a right to have special exceptions to religion-neutral rules.
You also don’t have a religious-freedom right for other people not to boycott your business. Like, really, this is not a right that exists at all. I am sympathetic to the desires of assorted wedding-cake bakers not to bake cakes for gay weddings, but it is a bit much to say that not only should you have the legal right to refuse service to gay weddings but you should also have the right not to face any consequences of your actions whatsoever.
I thought it was very amusing how Anderson would advocate for traditional marriage and then pull out slippery-slope arguments about polygamy. A man marrying multiple wives is very traditional.
Uniquely Human: A Different Way Of Seeing Autism: This is the single book that most eloquently expressed how my own autism works. Prizant emphasizes the role of anxiety in autism. Much autistic behavior– from the emphasis on routines, to stimming, to meltdowns, to infodumps–. can be understood as a way of trying to cope with an overwhelming world. He emphasizes that both sensory issues and social problems can create a world that causes anxiety for autistic people, and it makes sense that we would want to maintain a sense of control. He discusses the importance of understanding echolalia as a form of communication, not as meaningless parroting. He explains that enthusiasms– whether it’s an interest in space, car license plates, or the way your fingers look when you draw them across your face– should be encouraged and used as a tool to help educate autistic people, not eliminated. It may be necessary to teach autistic children to take turns in conversation and infodump consensually, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t ever infodump at all. Prizant says that there is no autistic behavior, even the “severest”, that is without parallel in allistic people; I think that is likely to be accurate.
Unfortunately, Prizant focuses consistently on parents of autistic children. Even when he discusses autistic adults, it is to encourage the parents of autistic children by telling them that their children might be happy someday. I don’t resent parents of autistic children having books at all. But if a book is entitled “A Different Way of Seeing Autism” instead of “A Different Way For Parents To See Their Autistic Children,” I expect it to discuss autistic adults (who, after all, are more common than autistic children) and to target both autistic people ourselves and our non-parental loved ones.
Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (And Why We Don’t Talk About It): One thing I absolutely loved about this book is that after Anderson wraps up her main argument there are three essays by other experts disagreeing with her. That is amazing. Every nonfiction book should do this.
Anderson’s argument is that employers can be productively understood as “private governments”; specifically, they are typically centrally planned authoritarian dictatorships. Employers often have minute control over every detail of their employees’ working lives, from dress to speech; workers have minimal right to privacy and other protections. Employers often extend their dominance into the employees’ private lives: most famously, employees from across the political spectrum have been fired for their off-duty speech. Unless the employee is in a protected group, they have no recourse. Certainly, employees can leave, but “you can always quit” is an argument much like “we don’t need democracy, you can always emigrate.” Many people do not have another country or corporation that wants to take them.
Anderson claims that we don’t notice the government-like nature of the workplace because of our ideologies of the free market. Adam Smith and other original creators of the free-market ideal believed that in a free market most people would own their own small businesses. Whatever the advantages of most people working for pay– ranging from economies of scale to lower risk for employees– if most people are employees, corporate governance becomes an issue.
Anderson suggests that, in addition to making it easier for people to leave their jobs, we should use the public government (the state) to limit employers’ rights, perhaps by forbidding employers firing employees for their off-duty speech or behavior. She also argues that employees should be given a voice in corporate governance, perhaps by reserving some seats on the board of directors for employee-elected people.
If nothing else, highly recommended because you get to read Anderson telling Tyler Cowan to check his privilege.