A simultaneously funny and informative memoir about the wonder of the human body.




A journalist/author explores the whys and hows of the female body as she confronts the “volatile and apprehensive relationship” she has with her own body parts.

Altman (Thanks for Coming: One Young Woman's Quest for an Orgasm, 2009, etc.) grew up with two hippie parents who eschewed all bodily enhancements. Her mother “never wore any image-altering materials” and never shaved; her father “turned his nose up at anything he deemed unnatural,” including perfume. This led to the author’s hyperawareness of corporeal expectations for women and the nagging sense that she was somehow a misfit. Drawing on research and interviews, Altman considers everything about the female body that society often shames women into hiding. In “The Top Half,” the author discusses some of her favorite top-of-the-body fixations, such as body hair and its removal. Her investigations did nothing to cure her of her own depilatory compulsions, but at the same time, they revealed that the reasons behind shaving, waxing, and tweezing were rooted in everything from cultural/patriarchal norms (which equated hairlessness to sensuality) to biology (which equated hairiness to age and infertility). Altman then goes on to ponder other personal issues—e.g., hairy nipples, overactive sweat glands, protruding belly buttons, head lice, and the inability to vocalize sexual pleasure—with which she has struggled. In the second section of the book, “The Bottom Half,” Altman considers what inevitably draws dogs to the human vulva, why buttocks, the site of the grossest of all bodily functions, are also “one of the most sexualized parts of the human body,” and why society too often maligns features of the female body like labial lips (the so-called “camel toe”) and menstruation. By turns neurotically perverse and hilarious, Altman’s doodle-illustrated book is not just a memoir of her own quest to embrace physical imperfection. It is also an endearingly outrageous attempt to demystify the female body while shedding light on the causes of female corporeal insecurities.

A simultaneously funny and informative memoir about the wonder of the human body.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-57483-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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