Book Review: Sex for One

Masturbation is a primary form of sexual expression. It’s not just for kids or for those in-between lovers or for old people who end up alone. Masturbation is the ongoing love affair that each of us has with ourselves throughout our lifetime.

I chose to read Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving by Betty Dodson specifically for the Women Unbound reading challenge. I hadn’t actually heard of the book before, so when I saw that Susan over at Black-Eyed Susan’s said it should be required reading in Women’s Studies classes, I had to check it out. Since, you know, it was certainly never mentioned in any of the Women’s Studies classes I took throughout college or graduate school.

Betty Dodson is a sexologist (her Ph.D. is in sexology). She also has a very current website (Warning: Not Safe for Work) to answer questions about sex, masturbation, and orgasm.

I think the book is very important. Dodson completely demystifies masturbation and celebrates it as a way to build self-esteem, encourage body knowledge, and improve partner sex. She is pro-masturbation as a way to combat sexual repression, especially for women. What power women would have if they understood their own genitals and their own orgasms. How great for our teenage girls and young women to know they can have sexual release without the fear of pregnancy or STDs–that they are their own greatest lovers. That it’s okay to please themselves sexually and that it’s not just about the boys and their pleasure. (Think about girls who feel pressured to perform oral sex on boys while getting nothing in return–except damaged reputations.)

If girls and women know their own bodies and know how to please themselves, then they are empowered.

That doesn’t mean Dodson ignores men in her book because she doesn’t. Masturbation without shame is just as important for men as women in the battle against repression.

Dodson does all of this while also offering this book up as a memoir of sorts. It operates as a chronicle of her journey to being more sex positive and pro-masturbation. From her childhood to her first awesome lover to the opening up of her relationship with her mother to her development of her art to her bodysex groups, she details how all of these things came about and their impact on her thinking about gender, sex, and sexuality. And masturbation plays a part in all of these events.

While the book does contain erotic art and detailed descriptions, I didn’t find it to be pornographic at all. The point is to educate, not titillate. And I walked away from the book feeling way more knowledgeable than before.

I wish I would’ve read this book sooner.

Thanks to Susan for suggesting it as a must-read for the Women Unbound Challenge. I would encourage others to read it as well.

Women Unbound: 7/8

Book Review: Scarlett Fever

The questions that Scarlett was asking herself at the moment weren’t quite that dramatic. They weren’t even that specific. What was going through her head was a querulous vibration with a questiony flavor…a general “What the hell is going on?”

Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson picks up where Suite Scarlett left off:  the closing of the Hamlet show Scarlett Martin’s brother’s theater troupe has put on in the family hotel.

What I Liked

– The book is immensely readable. I don’t know if it’s the prose or what, but I found myself constantly picking it up even when I didn’t have a particular urgency to find out what would happen next. I just enjoyed being lost in the world of the story.

– Mrs. Amberson is a fantastic character. She certainly has joie de vivre.

– Interesting things happened with the characters that definitely make me want to pick up the third book. I’m thinking specifically of the developments with Lola and Spencer (her older sister and brother, respectively).

What I Didn’t Like

– Unfortunately, I don’t really care about Scarlett’s plight for the next book. It involves boys and a love triangle. Blah. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just not the note I would’ve liked to end on for this book. Too many WB/CW shows in my past perhaps?)

– Scarlett has a best friend named Dakota. Dakota is awesome. Dakota is also absent for large chunks of the book.

– Scarlett spends too much time alone being mopey. In fact, the first quarter of the book is her being alone and mopey. This is only okay when people make fun of you for being ridiculous when you’re mopey over a (stupid) boy, which her friends did when they showed up, but then…well, see previous item.

– This book is trying really hard to be about class, but it doesn’t really succeed as a comment on class. This is probably because Scarlett is the point of view character and her attitude and experiences seem much more lackadaisical than if the book were from Lola or Spencer’s point of view. Both of their access to and denial of/from wealth seem much more immediate and visceral. To be effectively about class, the book would have to be from either of their points of view instead.

– This is the second book in a trilogy and it has that feel about it–things are being put in place for the next book, so while stuff happens, it mainly feels like set up for what’s coming next.

In conclusion: I’m looking forward to the third book. For one thing, Scarlett won’t be mopey.  That should help a lot. Plus, I do enjoy the characters and their world, especially the kind of positive chaos Mrs. Amberson creates.

YA Reading Challenge: 23/75

Book Review: A Wrinkle in Time

“No, Meg. Don’t hope it was a dream. I don’t understand it any more than you do, but one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to understand things for them to be.”

I never read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle while growing up. I wasn’t big into fantasy so it completely slipped by me. I don’t think I ever properly heard of until I was an adult.

My point is that I am kind of sad I didn’t read it as a child because I kind of love it a lot. A LOT.

The basic story is that Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and a classmate named Calvin go on a search through time and space to bring Meg and Charles Wallace’s missing father home.

But it is so much more than that. So much more.

It’s hard to talk about what happens in the book because I don’t want to give anything away for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. Plus, I think it can be read in several different and unique ways depending on individual experience, so I’ll just say I loved the focus on strengths and faults of the characters, the use of mystical/alien beings, the way the story seems to be resolved when it isn’t yet the real resolution is heartbreaking and positively optimistic all at once. And that love conquers all, the end.

I was surprised by how overtly Christian the book is, especially because it still manages to be such an effective allegory.

I also love that the book is pro-individuality, Christian positive, and anti-censorship all at once. It manages to be realistic fiction, science fiction, fantasy, dystopic fiction. L’Engle just does so much and does it all so well. It’s kind of amazing.

This, THIS is the kind of book that makes me want to be a writer.

Two things I didn’t like:  I hate that the one brother’s name is Dennys, which is another spelling of Dennis, because I kept pronouncing it Denny’s in my head. Also, the main baddie is named IT (it), but because it’s 2010, I kept reading it as I.T. as in IT support.

But, really, those are nothing in the grand scheme of things.  Awesome book.  Absolutely awesome.

YA Reading Challenge: 22/75

Book Review: Diary of a Fairy Godmother

Mama took the lead and went on about how I’m first in charm school and how “she’ll be the wickedest witch wherever the four winds blow.” Doesn’t Mama know it’s bad luck to brag?

Diary of a Fairy GodmotherOh, and what bad luck it is. Diary of a Fairy Godmother by Esmé Raji Codell is about Hunky Dory, a witch who is studying wickedness but ends up wanting to go the other way and become a dreaded F. G. Fairy godmother, that is.

What I Liked

– The book is very clever. The idea of being a wicked witch as a family career path that is desired is great. The use of familiar fairytales to explore the other sides of the story–that of the bad guys–is well-handled.

– I loved the use of the textbook within the text, Be the One with the Wand. I especially loved the little life lessons it provides. Great info for any kid reading it. One of my favorites is “The first step to accomplishing amazing things is setting unrealistic goals.”

– The book is so female positive and independence positive. The focus is on the girls making life work for them and finding what they’re passionate about. They’re encouraged to be themselves, even if they go the absolute wrong way (like being a fairy godmother), but even then, there’s pride amongst the group that Hunky has the guts to do what she wants.

– Her Auntie is great. I don’t want to ruin the story, but…yeah. Great character.

– I like the way the romantic interest is handled.

What I Didn’t Like

– The book lacks some internal consistency. The rules of the world need more clarification. Otherwise, the book comes off as too clever for its own good. For example, rudeness and evilness are prized and despised at the same time.

– Nothing really happens. By which I mean, stuff happens, but it’s all mostly tell with no show so the story and characters feel flat.

– I would have liked to see the characters and their relationships (especially the ones Hunky has with her mother and Rumpelstiltskin) developed further.

In conclusion: Very cute and clever premise with an unfortunately flat execution. It’s just okay when it could have been great.

Book Review: I, Tina

The fact is, I had no love from my mother or my father from the beginning, from birth. But I survived. To tell the truth, I haven’t received a real love almost ever in my life, believe it or not. People look at me now and think what a hot life I must’ve lived–ha! I never found a real, lasting love. But I have survived.

I, TinaI, Tina: My Life Story is definitely a survival story. It details Tina Turner‘s life story in her own words (with some narrative help from Kurt Loder. Yes, that Kurt Loder), focusing on her youth in Tennessee, her rise to fame as part of Ike Turner’s revue, their terribly abusive marriage, her fall from fame, and then her career as a solo artist, which culminated in her being the oldest female artist to have a #1 hit.

The style of the book is certainly different. Unlike most memoirs, Tina’s is written in the third person with first person sections in Tina’s voice or her colleagues’ voices. And (surprise!) even Ike’s voice. So even though it’s definitely her story, it’s not exactly a memoir/autobiography the way I’ve experienced either before. The approach makes for interesting–and fuller–reading.

Before I move onto the content of the book, let me just say up front that it’s impossible for me to think about Tina Turner’s autobiography separately from the movie What’s Love Got to Do with It?. In college, my friends and I watched it practically every weekend, so much so that we knew the words to the movie and songs by heart. It had a profound effect on how I read the book and also how I’ll watch the movie in the future. So much left out! Some stuff that’s really, really important even.  So my review of the book will be tempered by the knowledge I have of the movie, focusing on what’s different.

Mainly, all I can say about the differences is that her life in the movie was bad, but her life in reality was much, much, MUCH worse.  It was basically terror-filled hell.

Here’s what I learned:

– Tina’s mother didn’t take her sister and leave Tina behind. Both she and her sister were left in the care of relatives until they each decided to join their mom in St. Louis at different times in their lives. (Tina, in fact, had several siblings, but she and Alline were closest in age.)

– Ike was not Tina’s first and only romantic relationship. She had a high school sweetheart, Harry Taylor, that she L O V E D and lost her virginity to.

– Tina was involved with someone else in the band (Raymond Wilson) before she and Ike ever got involved. In fact, Tina got pregnant by Raymond and they had a son.

– Ike and Tina were more like brother and sister when they started performing together. The first time she slept with him was more out of obligation than anything. (Ike initiated it, and she went along to get along. Definitely a sign of what was to come.) Both of them described the experience as weird/icky.

– Before they got involved he paid her for singing with the band, but after they got a record deal, he told her that he would pay her rent and keep the money for himself. They were romantically involved by this point and she was pregnant by him.

– Ike beat Tina before they ever got married. The first time he beat her was with a shoe stretcher in his office when she told him she wanted to go back to just being friends but would continue to work with him. She was pregnant by him at the time (he was still married, btw). He also made her have sex with him immediately after.

– Ike was involved with several of the women in Tina’s life. He would pick Ikettes based on who he wanted to sleep with. Once the women became involved with him, he would beat them as well.

– It was nearly impossible for almost anybody–male or female–to get away from Ike. He would threaten people and hunt them down if they tried to leave. He also carried a pistol at all times and had a reputation for pistol-whipping people. It was easier for him to control women, though, so most of the people who worked for him were women, including one of his ex-wives.

– He lost several band members because of his treatment of Tina.

– It took Tina a long, long time to fall out of love with Ike.

– After the drug use started, she says he became even more erratic and unstable, and the constant fear was even more constant. Where he used to do a slow burn and she could have days between beatings, she started to endure several a day.

– Tina’s closest friends were the other women in the group, most of whom were sleeping with Ike. How messed up is that?  Because her whole life was being on tour (Ike had them performing every night, basically), they were the only women she knew, and, because they were involved with Ike, they understood her situation very well.

– He stalked her terribly after she left him.

– Here is the one thing I am absolutely APPALLED that they left out of the movie, and that I think should have been addressed.  When Tina left Ike, she had to start over from scratch. That much is clear. What the movie doesn’t tell us is that Tina was responsible for paying back all of the no-show fees to the venues and promoters because she was the talent listed on the bill and who everybody was coming to see.  And she owed over $200,000 dollars.  So when she was doing the disco/cabaret performances, it wasn’t just to rebuild her image or jump start her career.  It was because she owed so much money, and she had to pay it all.  ALL OF IT.  Ike was not liable; she was.

– It took her over five years to re-establish herself as a viable artist. And she didn’t write “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”; someone else did.  But it was written FOR her to sing by someone not even aware of her situation.  And she was totally against it!  But they convinced her to sing it, and history was made.  So basically Tina Turner + “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” = MFEO.

Tina’s tale is a survivor’s tale. She talks about her transition from taking care of everyone else to realizing she needed to take care of herself.

The most surprising thing about the book is the humor. I’ve had the experience before of listening to women speak of their pasts, horrible though they may be, and laughing about it. My grandmother is a woman who does it. Tina is, too. She never makes light of her situation, but she’s able to see the ridiculous moments and find the hope there. Even when she talks about being depressed, she’s able to focus on the things, small though they might have been, that kept her going.

Though the book is hard to read at times, it’s a very satisfying read. I’m glad I read it.

Women Unbound: 6/8; POC Challenge: 16/15