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ME, MY HAIR, AND I

TWENTY-SEVEN WOMEN UNTANGLE AN OBSESSION

Surprisingly engaging reading.

A distinguished novelist gathers together essays that attempt to untangle the complicated relationship of females to their hair.

The book contains 27 thoughtful essays from a diverse group of women writers who offer insight into why hair matters. Benedict introduces the topic by observing, “for women, hair is an entire library of information,” about everything from self-image and sexuality to cultural values and interpersonal relationships. Writer and philosopher Rebecca Goldstein follows up by showing how the different colors and lengths she has worn her hair have revealed her struggles as, among other things, “a freethinker trapped within Orthodox Judaism” and an artist trapped within academia. In her essay on black female hair, Marita Golden suggests a woman’s ethnicity can make hair inextricably bound to issues of “race, politics, history and pride.” The way women treat the hair that grows on other parts of their bodies can also reveal a great deal about what passes for beauty and desirability, as Alex Kuczynzki shows in her comparison of the depilatory practices of Muslim cultures and the increasingly sex-obsessed culture of the West. Hair can also play a role in familial relationships. Linguist Deborah Tannen suggests that hair is one of the elements that mothers and daughters fixate on in each other because each regards the other as a mirror image and therefore worthy of “scrutiny that they otherwise reserve for themselves.” For Anne Kreamer, hair—and in particular, graying hair—is a barometer of mortality that is either to be praised for the way it reminds wearers of “the passage of time” or boldly colored as a fighting statement against mortality. This collection is not only unique for the subject matter it addresses. It also provides cultural commentary that is by turns insightful, humorous, and moving. Other contributors include Jane Smiley, Anne Lamott, Siri Hustvedt, Myra Goldberg, Honor Moore, and Adriana Trigiani.

Surprisingly engaging reading.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61620-411-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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