Smartly written, socio-cultural vignettes that speak to everyone, loud and clear.

BITCHFEST

TEN YEARS OF CULTURAL CRITICISM FROM THE PAGES OF BITCH MAGAZINE

Feminist-energized pop-culture essays that appeal to a wide array of tastes and reading preferences as they celebrate Bitch’s tenth anniversary.

Margaret Cho doesn’t mind being called a bitch, she quips in the introduction: “I have taken it as a compliment.” So have many of the 43 writers assembled here, all equally frustrated by the force-feeding of mass-media values and the lack of motivational role models. Jervis and Zeisler founded the ’zine to eschew the complacent postfeminist viewpoint. Among the inspiring and the outspoken are features on young-adult novelist Norma Klein (“Stormin’ Norma”); “the trials of female adolescence” via horror film (“Bloodletting”); the empowering androgyny of ’80s music videos (“Amazon Women on the Moon”); the atrocity of rape (“The Collapsible Woman”); and current hot topics gay parenting (“Queer and Pleasant Danger”) and cosmetic reconstruction (“Plastic Passion,” “Vulva Goldmine”). Many of these pieces are spirited with a unique feminine bravado, but the editors don’t leave out the male point of view; there are terrific essays on the emasculating effects of male bonding (“Holy Fratrimony”) and the notion of the fading usefulness of men (“Dead Man Walking”). Less engrossing offerings include discourses on speech tics (“The, Like, Downfall of the English Language,” “On Language”), the art of peeing (“Urinalysis”), “humilitainment” (“XXX Offender”) and the “tragedy” of lesbians who sexually desire men (“What Happens to a Dyke Deferred?”). Pieces that make room for humor are stronger than the indignant, alarmist entries; some of the strongest works get right to the awful truth: Martha Stewart is man-less because “she doesn’t seem to exude that warmth and caring nature men enjoy” (“The Paradox of Martha Stewart”); both Jane Magazine (“Pratt-fall”) and Carnie Wilson (“Your Stomach’s the Size…”) should just go away. By volume’s end, alas, feminism fatigue definitely sets in and deep, anti-conspiratorially cleansing breaths are in order for all warrior princesses.

Smartly written, socio-cultural vignettes that speak to everyone, loud and clear.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2006

ISBN: 0-374-11343-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2006

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

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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