The Week in Books #92

2/14 ✅

The week in books! I started a new stack this week, plus a couple extras. I’m really looking forward to this pile, it’s got quite a few titles that I’ve been really excited to get to! Here we go.

1. Closer: Notes from the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality by Sarah Barmak. This is a great little book about female sexuality from journalist Sarah Barmak. I find this topic really fascinating, especially the push to redefine “normal” when it comes to healthy sex habits for women. Well researched and very inclusive.

We think of the modern woman as sexually liberated – if anything, we’re told we’re oversexed. Yet a striking number of women are dissatisfied with their sex lives. Over half of women report having a sexual complaint, whether that’s lack of desire or difficulty reaching orgasm. But this issue doesn’t get much press; the urge is to ignore or medicalize it (witness the quest for ‘pink Viagra’). If so many ordinary women suffer from sexual frustration, then perhaps the problem isn’t one that can be addressed by a pharmaceutical fix – or isn’t a problem. Maybe we need to get hot and bothered about a broader cultural cure: a reorienting of our current male-focused approach to sex and pleasure, and a rethinking of what’s ‘normal.’

Using a blend of reportage, interview and first-person reflection, journalist Sarah Barmak explores the cutting-edge science and grassroots cultural trends that are getting us closer to truth of women’s sexuality. Closer reveals how women are reshaping their sexuality today in wild, irrepressible ways: nude meetings, how-to apps, trans-friendly porn, therapeutic vulva massage, hour-long orgasms and public clit-rubbing demonstrations – and redefining female sexuality on its own terms.

Coach House Books

2. The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West. Lindy is hilarious and I definitely need more comedy in my life, especially when it comes to consuming American politics (which BTW I think I am pretty burned out on at the moment). She covers a lot of topics in this collection from Trump to Adam Sandler, abortion to the #metoo movement, and all in easy to swallow essays filled with very on point cultural critique but also humour. An enjoyable read, even if I am sick to death of reading about sweaty, perverted garbage humans like Trump and Harvey Weinstein.

From the moment powerful men started falling to the #MeToo movement, the lamentations began: this is feminism gone too far, this is injustice, this is a witch hunt. In The Witches Are Coming, firebrand author of the New York Times bestselling memoir and now critically acclaimed Hulu TV series Shrill, Lindy West, turns that refrain on its head. You think this is a witch hunt? Fine. You’ve got one.

In a laugh-out-loud, incisive cultural critique, West extolls the world-changing magic of truth, urging readers to reckon with dark lies in the heart of the American mythos, and unpacking the complicated, and sometimes tragic, politics of not being a white man in the twenty-first century. She tracks the misogyny and propaganda hidden (or not so hidden) in the media she and her peers devoured growing up, a buffet of distortions, delusions, prejudice, and outright bullsh*t that has allowed white male mediocrity to maintain a death grip on American culture and politics-and that delivered us to this precarious, disorienting moment in history.

West writes, “We were just a hair’s breadth from electing America’s first female president to succeed America’s first black president. We weren’t done, but we were doing it. And then, true to form—like the Balrog’s whip catching Gandalf by his little gray bootie, like the husband in a Lifetime movie hissing, ‘If I can’t have you, no one can’—white American voters shoved an incompetent, racist con man into the White House.”

We cannot understand how we got here‚—how the land of the free became Trump’s America—without examining the chasm between who we are and who we think we are, without fact-checking the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and each other. The truth can transform us; there is witchcraft in it. Lindy West turns on the light.

Hatchette Books

3. The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey. The blurb for this book is a bit of a different tone than the writing of this science fiction novel; “Now the cheating bastard is dead…” hahaha so cheesy! In reading the book I found it a much more interesting concept than expressed on the back, though there were some pretty big things missing for me. As we already know, Evelyn is an award winning scientist in the field of cloning and her husband has left her for a clone of herself. Then he dies (I won’t say how). So Evelyn and her clone clean everything up and start working on a permanent solution… but no one seems at all suspicious that this man has disappeared! There are no investigators, no parents wondering where their son has gone, no friends or siblings or coworkers asking Evelyn if they’ve seen or heard from him… it was just way too easy. Gailey missed out on a huge opportunity to add some tension to the story by having someone hot on the heels of the women trying to conceal his death. It was such a huuuuge oversight for me that I struggled to enjoy the story and in the end felt it was a little… pointless. I did tear through it though and I enjoyed the writing, though seriously. Prominent member of society vanishes for months and no one has anything to say about that? Not believable in the slightest.

Martine is a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning research. She’s patient and gentle and obedient. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never be.

And she’s having an affair with Evelyn’s husband.

Now, the cheating bastard is dead, and both Caldwell wives have a mess to clean up.

Good thing Evelyn Caldwell is used to getting her hands dirty.

Macmillan Publishers

4. Lakewood by Megan Giddings. This was a very readable semi-sci-fi story that did remind me a lot of Get Out, as the quote on the front promises. Lena signs up to a secret medical research program to earn money to pay her mother’s bills after the death of their matriarch grandmother. What follows is a series of tests and trials Lena endures to earn a pay check, though she has no idea what is being tested or what the outcomes are meant to be. She just follows orders, even when the medications make her super sick. The longer she stays in the study the more she hears about POC being used for medical testing by secret government agencies and starts looking for a way to expose them despite the NDA she signed. The writing was fairly engaging, though the character development was weak (to be fair, Lena was not meant to know anything about her coworkers so maybe neither were we). The ending also felt a bit abrupt for me, I think I was hoping for a more dramatic climax, though overall I did enjoy it and blasted through it pretty fast.

A startling debut about class and race, Lakewood evokes a terrifying world of medical experimentation—part The Handmaid’s Tale, part The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

When Lena Johnson’s beloved grandmother dies, and the full extent of the family debt is revealed, the black millennial drops out of college to support her family and takes a job in the mysterious and remote town of Lakewood, Michigan.

On paper, her new job is too good to be true. High paying. No out of pocket medical expenses. A free place to live. All Lena has to do is participate in a secret program—and lie to her friends and family about the research being done in Lakewood. An eye drop that makes brown eyes blue, a medication that could be a cure for dementia, golden pills promised to make all bad thoughts go away.

The discoveries made in Lakewood, Lena is told, will change the world—but the consequences for the subjects involved could be devastating. As the truths of the program reveal themselves, Lena learns how much she’s willing to sacrifice for the sake of her family.

Provocative and thrilling, Lakewood is a breathtaking novel that takes an unflinching look at the moral dilemmas many working-class families face, and the horror that has been forced on black bodies in the name of science.

Harper Collins

It was a good week for books, and this week I’m starting on Trickster Drift, finally! I also have reached my goal of 104 books read in 2021 which is pretty awesome. I wasn’t sure if I would make it (and earlier than expected) and I haven’t read this much in several years. Woo hoo!

What is everyone else reading for the rest of the year?

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