Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier (Brief Thoughts)

This is the kind of book that I don’t like to review (because I didn’t really like it and many others in the blogosphere do), so I’ll keep this post short.

I liked bits of Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier (1999), and then the author started really irritating me. My main issue was a misunderstanding of what Ms Angier hoped to accomplish in her volume. When I began reading, I thought I was picking up a pop science book about the majesty of woman’s body, scientifically examined. That is not what this is. After a hundred pages, I realized that this is a personal view of women as written by a journalist with a background in science.

In the introduction, Natalie Angier calls this her “fantasia” on women.  One definition of “fantasia” on M-W.com is “a work in which the author’s fancy roves unrestricted.” This is what Ms. Angier does in her tome about womanhood, so given her self-description I should not have been surprised by the non-scientific tone. From chapters on the organs specific to women (some of which garnered double chapters) to the hormones that function in the background, Woman certainly does cover a lot of ground. I didn’t want an incredibly scientific tone – pop science does appeal to me. But Woman became far more political and opinionated than I had anticipated.

I consider myself middle of the road politically – conservative on some issues, liberal on others. But this liberal author became irritatingly overbearing as she discussed some issues1 Especially her later chapters felt like opinion and not fact, and it was a major turn off as I continued reading.

I was incredibly disappointed, since I had hoped for a more fact-based look at that majesty of my womanly body. If you don’t mind opinion mixed in with scientific facts, then this may be just the pop science/journalism book that you want to read about women.

For a positive “must read” post about this book, see Eva’s blog.

  1. I choose not to go in to the specifics that annoyed me.

Short Story Friday, Nigerian Edition: “Cell One” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Tomorrow is Nigerian Independence Day, and to celebrate, Amy Reads has challenged us to read and post about literature by a Nigerian born author (or an author of Nigerian heritage).

The story I chose to read for this project was “Cell One,” the first story in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s collection The Thing Around Your Neck. In some respects, this was an unfortunately sad story for this project, for the view of Nigerian politics is rather drear. On the other hand, because it was so well done, I had to force myself to not read any more of Adichie’s collection (and I desperately wanted to) because I’ve been promising myself I’m going to read the collection of stories slowly, despite my inclination to breeze through it. (Since I’ve already read Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun, these twelve stories are all I have left until something new is published. Of course, Half of a Yellow Sun is in need of a reread, so we’ll see…)

“Cell One” focuses on the out-of-control crime and the corrupt policing situation in Nigeria by telling the story of one (probably innocent) boy’s stay in jail. Gangs (called “cults”) of violence surrounded Nsukka University campus. Adichie’s story makes campus shootings and stabbings (!) sound like a routine fear for those seeking a higher education. Given the police’s inability to gain control of the violent situation, when someone is taken in to custody, the police want to make an example of them. Unfortunately, the narrator’s brother, Nnamabia, was one of those taken in as “guilty,” with no proof and essentially no reasoning.

From my privileged middle-class American perspective, the bribery and the corruption, the filth and the inequalities in the prison system was rather shocking. And yet, I realized that Adichie was writing in a sincere voice. I hope (but doubt) many of the issues with the police system have been resolved since this stories creation. And yet, Adichie manages to infuse the entire discouraging situation with a degree of hope in the character of Nnamabia. Because this is a rather short story, I don’t want to reveal the end and the ways in which she does this.

Just know that once again, Adichie rises to the occasion. Although like her other novels “Cell One” is painful to read, it is powerful in its effect on the reader. As when I read Half of a Yellow Sun, I finished reading with a better understanding of the challenges to Nigeria as well as degree of hope the goodness of human nature. Now I want to read the rest of the volume! Must. Hold. Out.

I had hoped to reread Things Fall Apart for this Nigerian project. I last read it in July when I was not feeling well enough to post on the blog coherently. I didn’t have time for that. At any rate, next week I hope to return to the my RIP short story regular — I may have to do more than one story a week to catch up with the RIP season!

(Kids Corner) Favorite Picture Books: September 2011 edition

Because Saturday begins the Cybils nomination process, I’m scrambling to try to get up my picture book thoughts from this month up before I’m deluged with new picture books to read! This month, as always, we found some rather fun books.

My Heart is Like a Zoo by Michael Hall (Greenwillow Books, 2009) became an interactive picture book for us. Graphic Designer Michael Hall has designed a zoo full of animals, each one created by hearts. The text provides similes comparing ones’ heart to the animals (such as “eager as a beaver”). Raisin loved counting the hearts one each page, and given the interactive back cover (which shows just how Mr Hall created the heart lion), Raisin insisted on making his own heart animals. Because I’m not very good at cutting out hearts, our animals looked rather sorry in the end. But Raisin loved the project. It involved his favorite things: a book, scissors, and glue. His favorite page in the book is the hippos drinking apple juice.

Raisin’s favorite in-the-car game is “I spy” which usually ends up being “something green” (grass and trees). Needless to say, then, when I spied I Spy with My Little Eye by Edward Gibbs (Templar, 2011) on the new books shelf at the library, I had to check it out. Using bright colors and a perfect eye-sized die cut circle to the next page, Gibbs gives us animals that are different colors. “I spy… something blue” reveals a small circle of a blue whale’s back, and the next page shows the entire whale. To add to the fun and help the kids learn about the animals, Gibbs also has a “clue” on the “I spy” page to help the child learn some fact about the colorful animal that is on the next page. Raisin loved the game, and we reread many times, despite the fact that we of course knew already what the animals would be. The last page gives a die-cut circle through the back cover, asking what we, the readers, spy. Raisin loved looking around the room for something new to spy, and it made the end of the game different every time. As an adult, I loved the illustrations, my favorite one being the majestic lion.

Good Night, Baby Ruby by Rohan Henry (Abrams Books, 2009) tells of a young baby’s bedtime routine. Since Raisin is eager to become a big brother, he enjoyed helping put the young girl to bed by reading this story and giggling over her escape from her parents. I love the simple illustrations of the curly haired little girl. This is a great example of the ways in which white space adds to the strength of simple illustrations.

And finally, The Goodnight Train by June Sobel and illustrated by Laura Heiliska-Beith (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2006) is a perfect goodnight book for the train lover in our house. With bright detailed paintings on each page, there are plenty of amusing tidbits to observe. Raisin loved the cookie coal and we pretended to eat it. The steam from the train made clever shapes in the night time sky, and the silly skunk was often doing something amusing. The gentle rhymes of the text made the story pleasant to read (and reread) aloud many times. Although this was a library book, I wouldn’t mind keeping it for future enjoyment. It was a winner for both parent and child.

What picture books have you been reading this month? Don’t forget to nominate your favorite 2011 books for the Cybils, starting Saturday!

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

I was surprised by Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson (published 1916). I thought it would be an Our Town-esque view of life in a small town. It was very similar in its setting to Thornton Wilder’s play in that it focused on people in a small community. But Sherwood Anderson’s collection of stories was remarkably deep, conveying realistic emotions on a level beyond those explored in the comparatively basic Our Town (which I love for its perspective on family, relationships, and life; thoughts here).

In deceptively simple modernistic prose, Anderson captured the loneliness of people and the secrets all hold inside. Each story captures the intimate thoughts on worries of a different person in Winesburg, with the entire volume creating a silhouette of the small town’s makeup. Although everyone is nosy about one other in a town of less than 2,000 people, no one really knew each other at all.

How universal this seemed to be; it extends to today. We may be less nosy about our neighbors, but we certainly don’t know each other any better!Continue Reading