Book Review: We Are All His Creatures: Tales of P. T. Barnum, the Greatest Showman by Deborah Noyes (2020)

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020

This could have been spectacular.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Netgalley.)

“Never is the joke on you, my boy. Remember that. The power is yours. Count your worth in coins.”

As an afterthought, he added, “Your parents certainly do.”

“We have very few pictures of any of us.” She lifted one of the many cabinet cards of General Tom Thumb. “Papa always liked them better.”

The subtitle of We Are All His Creatures: Tales of P. T. Barnum, the Greatest Showman is a bit misleading, as the eleven loosely connected short stories gathered in these pages are only marginally about PT Barnum. Rather, Noyes concerns herself with the people trapped in Barnum’s orbit, and imagines how his actions might have affected them.

Naturally, this is a pretty complicated subject: while Barnum arguably created gainful (and even profitable) means of employment for disabled folks who, in some cases, were considered “burdens” on their families, his exhibits leaned into racist, sexist, and albeist tropes, thus perpetuating the bigotry that drove many of Barnum’s performers into his arms. Though he was an outspoken abolitionist later in life, Barnum quite literally built his career on the back of Joice Heth, an elderly African-American slave who Barnum purchased and exhibited as “the 161-year-old nursing mammy of George Washington.” He even exploited Heth in death, offering her body up for a public, for-pay autopsy to “prove” her age and authenticity.

Given this, I expected that Noyes would elevate the voices of the performers who both prospered and suffered under Barnum’s thumb. Instead, there’s a mix of perspectives here: while some stories are told from the POV of performers (or their friends and family), the majority of the narrators – 6/11 – are Barnum’s female family members. The stories cross a nearly fifty-year time span and often occur at crucial (and tragic) moments in Barnum’s timeline:

The Mermaid (1842)
Caroline, the eldest of the Barnum girls, is itching to see her father’s newest acquisition: the Feejee mermaid, being displayed several floors above the family’s living quarters in the American Museum. Since daddy has precious little time for her, she’s determined to take matters into her own hands.

The Mysterious Arm (1842)
Young Charlie Stratton, who will eventually come to be known as General Tom Thumb, has just been recruited by PT Barnum. As he stays at the Museum, training for his upcoming European tour, Charlie befriends the Barnum sisters – including baby Frances and her older sister Helen.

Returning a Bloom to Its Bud (1845)
Charity Barnum, long-suffering wife of PT Barnum, pregnant with her fourth child and grieving the loss of her third, reflects on her life as she sets sail for the States after eight months spent touring Europe with her husband and his performers.

Beside Myself (1851)
When young Josephine agreed to tour the county with her childhood friend Jenny Lind, aka the “Swedish Nightingale,” she had no idea that it would mean losing herself – or the man that she loves.

We Will Always Be Sisters (1852)
Helen, now a young woman living on her father’s estate in Connecticut (Iranistan), is haunted by the ghost of her baby sister Frances – and by her older sister Caroline’s upcoming nuptials.

The Fairy Wedding (1863)
Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, inadvertently finds that his visit to the White House is set to coincide with the visit of Charles Stratton and Lavinia Warren Stratton, as part of their three-year “honeymoon” tour, stopping in DC at Mary Todd’s request. Angry with his parents’ insistence that he not take up arms against the Confederacy, and still grieving the loss of his younger brother Willie, Robert’s disgust with the affair forces him to confront his relationship with his parents, as well as his own humanity (or lack thereof).

An Extraordinary Specimen of Magnified Humanity (1865)
It’s just another day for Anna Swan, a giantess from Nova Scotia who left her job as a teacher to join Barnum’s troupe: brunch with her friend Lavinia Warren Stratton, a lecture or two, and bedtime. And then a fire ravages the American Museum, killing most of Barnum’s nonhuman menagerie, nearly trapping Anna in its flames, and displacing them all.

The Bearded Lady’s Son (1868)
Sixteen-year-old Jack is the illegitimate son of a bearded lady who just landed a spot in Barnum’s roster. Trouble is, they’ve got to keep his existence a secret – Barnum can’t risk any whiff of impropriety in a show that struggles to avoid the margins. So Jack spends his days sketching the animals in Barnum’s menagerie…animals who, once again, are about to stoke the (literal) fire of Barnum’s vanity.

It’s Not Humbug If You Believe It (1869)
On the eve of William Mumler’s trial for fraud – at which her own father, none other than PT Barnum, is set to testify for the prosecution – Pauline commissions Mumler to take a spirit self-portrait of her. She hides it in a book in her father’s library, where it will sit for more than twenty years.

All Elephants Are Tragic (1889)
As the family gathers at the Barnum property in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to witness the demolition of the Waveport cottage to make way for the Marina house – Barnum’s gift to his second, much-younger wife Nancy – the newest, arguably most vilified member of the Barnums reflects on her fifteen years with PT Barnum, his daughters, and their children.

What Makes You Think We Want You Here? (1891)
Told from the perspective of Barnie – really named Helen after her mother, and then renamed by Barnum once he became estranged from Helen the elder – the Barnums have gathered at the deathbed of the family’s larger-than-life patriarch: to say goodbye, and to reminisce.

While the writing is skilled enough, and some of the stories engaging (the recurring theme of fire is especially compelling), the overall result just fell flat for me. I feel like this is something I should have enjoyed, thoroughly, and yet…and yet. With few exceptions, it’s weirdly boring and lacking in emotion.

I was disappointed that Noyes didn’t focus exclusively on the performers, even though not all of their narratives proved all that memorable.

Centering the women in Barnum’s life might also have worked out well, but mostly it felt like the stories didn’t go much of anywhere.

Honestly, I think the most eloquent writing manifests in Noyes’s narratives surrounding the nonhuman exhibits who suffered and died agonizing deaths in the multiple fires that destroyed Barnum’s museums over the years. For example, in “An Extraordinary Specimen of Magnified Humanity” Anna Swan bears witness to the deaths of countless animals – snakes, cats, moneys – even as she fights to overcome her shock-induced paralysis and save herself:

She sailed and swayed over the sea of hats in the street, yet another audience, a uniform mass applauding with joy, it seemed, such joy — as much because some kind soul had released the birds from the aviary upstairs, and almost as one they burst from a corresponding window, a wheeling, feathered blur: parrots, cockatoos, mockingbirds, hummingbirds, vultures, and eagles, even the great, stiff, clumsy condor. The crowd in the street seemed to sway with them as they flapped free, and for the instant Anna floated on air as her rescue crew paused to take in the sight, and for the merest instant she felt it, too, swaying there, the beauty of the moment.

Also heart wrenching is the tale of Jumbo the elephant, purchased from the London Zoo to tour in the Barnum & Bailey Circus, who sacrificed himself in a railway collision to save the life of a young calf. For his heroics, his corpse is dismembered and put on display by Barnum, exploited as a commodity even in death as “the Double Jumbo.” (Talk about a callback!) In “All Elephants Are Tragic,” second wife and “interloper” Nancy Fish considers her husband’s oh so brief mourning period and his shameful treatment of a “friend”:

As another of her husband’s British “acquisitions,” Nancy identified with Jumbo. […]

A year after the loss of Jumbo, the circus’s Winter Quarters in Bridgeport, the biggest animal training ground in the world, was leveled by fire, killing most of the animals. All Nancy remembered of that night was that poor Gracie the elephant had tried to swim to safety … making it all the way to the lighthouse before she sank under the waves. All elephants were tragic, it seemed to Nancy, captives stolen from their homes and made to perform against their wild natures.

THIS. This is the content I came here for. Immerse me in a chapter written from the perspective of one of Barnum’s nonhuman performers, the most long-suffering of them all. The fishes and monkeys forcibly joined to make the Feejee Mermaid (posthumously, obvs) perhaps, or the white whales boiled to death in their tank. Maybe Helen’s cranky old cat, banished to the Museum by Charity, never to be seen again.

Give me an act of nonhuman rebellion, or a whisper of feminist solidarity between h. sapiens and the furred and feathered creatures: for we are all their (read: the capitalist patriarchy’s) creatures.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Fury (Menagerie #3) by Rachel Vincent (2018)

Tuesday, January 7th, 2020

The series that started with a roar goes out with a weak, acquiescent whimper.

two out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for violence, including rape and forced abortion, pregnancy, and birth. This review contains clearly marked spoilers.)

“I cry foul. Humankind doesn’t deserve a sword and shield. Or even a plastic spork. Not after everything they’ve done to us. You should be fighting for us.”

If Menagerie – the first book in this trilogy – was a 2020 Democratic Presidential hopeful, it would be Bernie Sanders. Fury, on the other hand? More of a Joe Biden. Pete Buttigieg, at best.

Look. I absolutely loved, cherished, and adored Menagerie. Reading it was a rapturous moment for me, and for reasons that something like 97% of my fellow readers just won’t get. While the plight of the cryptids in this parallel universe created by Rachel Vincent has several obvious and unmistakable corollaries in our world – the treatment of Muslims in post-9/11 America, the demonization of brown immigrants, especially (but not exclusively!) under a Drumpf presidency – at the time I argued that the most obvious one was also the most apt: simply put, “Menagerie reads like a thinly veiled animal rights revenge fantasy.” Was that Vincent’s intention? Probably not, especially given how the later books played out. Like Oreos, Menagerie was accidentally vegan. But that doesn’t make it any less delicious.

My main gripe with its follow-up, Spectacle, wasn’t that Vincent walked back the animal-friendly undertones, but rather that she failed to tread any new ground. By swapping the site of Delilah’s enslavement and oppression from Metzger’s Menagerie (a struggling traveling circus) to the Savage Spectacle (a place where cryptids are rented out for basically anything, from canned hunts to rape), it seemed like she meant to up the stakes:

Establishments like the Savage Spectacle were whispered about in hushed, fearful tones from behind the bars of Metzger’s Menagerie. They were the boogie men that Metzger used to keep his captives in line: act up, and you’ll end up at a place even worse than here. But is it? Really?

While rape in the form of sexual trafficking is rampant at the Spectacle, rape also occurred at Metzger’s: he forced “exhibits” to breed so that he could sell their offspring. Instead of forced abortion, as at Spectacle, Metzger’s had forced pregnancy and birth. Captives were not intentionally murdered at the carnival, but they were neglected and sometimes shipped off to places where they would be killed, such as research institutions or game preserves.

Is it really possible to rank oppressions?

I feel like Spectacle is Vincent’s attempt to up the ante, to create a world more shocking and appalling than even Metzger’s. And I don’t think that’s possible, because again: how do you compare atrocities? It’s all terrible and horrifying and makes anyone with an ounce of humanity not want to live on this planet anymore.

Fury, on the other hand, represents a serious (and seriously disappointing) deviation from the much more radical and subversive Menagerie. Also, very little happens. Something like 75% of the book involves the main characters hiding out in a remote cabin, or sitting in their cars drinking slushees for the free incognito wifi. I shit you not.

Fury picks up nine months after Delilah & Co.’s escape from the Savage Spectacle. After they disabled Vandekamp’s ability-inhibiting shock collars and high-tailed it out of there, the government bombed the facility. The unlucky cryptids and abusive guards trapped inside were written off as collateral damage. On the upside, they have no idea how many cryptids survived – and escaped. They do suspect that Delilah and Gallagher are out there, BUT they remain blissfully unaware of Delilah’s pregnancy. Which is pushing ten months and might end with her demise at the chubby little hands of a fear dearg baby.

Delilah, Gallagher, Lenore, Zyanya, Claudio, Genni, Rommily, and Eryx are all hiding out in an off-grid cabin in the deep woods outside of DC. Lenore sirens people into giving them cash monies to survive, and she and Delilah – the most human-looking of the group – go into town once a week to check the news feeds. They mean to be searching for the missing members of their group – Lenore’s husband, Rommily’s sisters, Zyanya’s brother and children – but it’s hard to get anything done when you’re a notorious fugitive.

And then a spate of mass murders whips everyone into a frenzy. Teachers kill students, nurses kill patients, police kill civilians, soldiers kill everything that moves. Some begin to fear that this is the beginning of a second reaping. Cryptids are scapegoated all over again. Though it seems that things can’t get worse for nonhumans, the bottom drops even lower: checkpoints are set up, with orders to shoot loose cryptids on sight.

And then things really go off the rails when Delilah wakes up one morning covered in blood and grime. It seems she killed someone in her sleep; but with two badasses taking up space in her body – the furiae and her fetus – it’s anyone’s guess who the murderer is…or why the victims’ faces all look eerily similar in death. One thing we do know: she can’t stop won’t stop.

All this plays out against the backdrop of the first Reaping in 1986, as told from the POV of fourteen-year-old Rebecca Essig, one of the few kids who was lucky enough to survive the mass slaughter by virtue of having other plans that night. She was at a slumber party, only to skip out early and find two of her three younger siblings dead, and her parents covered in blood. Eventually, the government would take her six-year-old sister Erica – really a changeling, or surrogate – into custody, never to be seen again. Rebecca’s story centers on her search for the real Erica, and converges with Delilah’s in unexpected (and often confusing) ways.

*** So here is where the book goes terribly wrong (and where the SPOILERS start). ***

It turns out that, of the hundreds of thousands of surrogates that the government rounded up in 1986, five or six thousand survived. They have been kept in a Guantanamo-like facility, under the control of Vandekamp’s collars, presumably for research and interrogation. However, when Delilah and her friends disabled the collars, they disabled the whole lot of them, allowing the surrogates to escape.

Now in their mid-thirties, the surrogates aim to kickstart a second Reaping, this time by turning authority figures against the very people they should be protecting and serving. Hence: teachers vs. students, nurses vs. patients, cops and soldiers vs. civilians. I think – hope! – you can see where I’m going with this.

This plot like leads to some pretty cringe-worthy exchanges between the MCs. To wit:

“Authority figures.” My voice hardly carried any sound. “Instead of parents. The surrogates could be using authority figures this time. Anyone we’re supposed to be able to trust to protect us.”

“And now—maybe—they’ve found a new way to get to us,” Lenore said. “To make us suspicious of the people we should trust the most.”

and:

“They’ll keep feasting on our pain and chaos for as long as possible. They’ll keep turning teacher against student, nurse against patient, soldier against civilian. Stealing trust and security from us. Making us fear the very people who should protect us.”

Soldiers and cops, really? “People we should trust the most”? You can tell that a white person wrote this, the privilege is blinding. And in a story that’s ostensibly about the othering and oppression of marginalized communities, to boot. Like, I’m a middle-class white lady and even I get nervous around people with guns who can use them with near impunity. Crazy, that.

Put another way: anyone who’s paying even the slightest bit attention is already suspicious of militarized authority figures like soldiers and the police.

The ending, though? OMG, the ending. I can’t even with this appeasing centrist bullshit.

Because Delilah is tangentially responsible for the escape of the surrogates, the furiae has taken it upon herself to send out a sort of homing signal, luring all the escapees to Delilah’s doorstep. Once they meet, the furiae assumes control of Delilah’s body and straight-up slays them; there is no self-inflicted poetic justice here. (Hence the sleep-killing.) But killing them one at a time is a slow process, so Delilah hatches a plan to get thousands of them in one place and induce mass slaughter – with a human audience, so that they can see that we’re all on the same team. Gross, vomit, no want.

“I cry foul. Humankind doesn’t deserve a sword and shield. Or even a plastic spork. Not after everything they’ve done to us. You should be fighting for us.”

“Lenore, I’m not choosing humankind over cryptids. This isn’t us versus them. The surrogates are the enemy. And the only way humankind will ever understand that is if we show them that the rest of us are all on the same side.”

Uh, but you’re not. And this won’t work. Let me tell you why.

In the wake of 9/11, many Muslims denounced the actions of the hijackers; 6,024 self-identified American Muslims fought in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, fourteen of whom were killed overseas. Yet none of this has stopped countless right-wing politicians and commentators from condemning, vilifying, and marginalizing all 1.8 billion Muslims in the world because of the actions of a few. (Meanwhile, domestic terrorism largely remains the purview of white men, and yet you rarely hear calls for white men everywhere to disavow John Timothy Earnest or James Alex Fields Jr., lest they be guilty by association.)

Immigrants have a lower incarceration rate than natural-born citizens, yet the facts don’t stop 45 from saying things like “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Hell, some immigrants even put their bodies on the line by serving in the military, only to be deported once they return home. “Same team” my ass.

I could go on but this is depressing.

Bigotry is born of fear, sure; and this fear is often misplaced. But this assumes that people are open to education and growth, and often it’s just the opposite (deplorables in the house!). Bigotry is stubborn and entrenched, y’all. Sometimes people are just fucking horrible. Also consider that oppression is profitable. We’re not afraid of most nonhuman animals, yet we continue to exploit them; and, in this AU, cryptids are a big busine$$. Circuses and carnivals, research facilities, controlled hunts, unpaid labor, rape and forced birth, exotic meats, the military-industrial complex. Political capital and mobilizing the base. Humans have so very much to gain by keeping this system of dehumanization and oppression going.

Delilah’s sacrifice, the denouement of this story, is more tragic than noble. Menagerie had me hoping for total animal liberation: nothing more, nothing less. What we got was some half-assed, “hearts and minds,” if we cut off a limb for them, maybe they will deign to acknowledge the basic humanity in us, bullshit.

As far as I’m concerned, her story begins and ends with Menagerie. Spectacle is just kind of meh, while Fury is legit a slap in the face to everyone who rooted for Delilah and her adopted family of cryptids (and, by extension, the marginalized populations they represent in our own world).

Additional quibbles:

Gallagher’s only method of communication seems to be growling.

I do not like that he and Delilah hooked up; it feels like a really gross and icky taboo violation, and besides, can’t men and women ever “just” be friends (or champion and cause, as it were)?

Finally, Eryx. Oh, poor sweet Eryx. You and Rommily deserved so much better. We all did.

/rant

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Spectacle (Menagerie #2) by Rachel Vincent (2017)

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

Missing that certain indefinable something that made MENAGERIE so special.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for violence, including rape and forced abortion.)

“This one isn’t like the others,” the woman—his wife?—said, and the sharp edge in her voice could have cut glass.

“I’m like them in every way that matters,” I insisted.

I frowned, studying the dryad. She looked different from when they’d taken her the afternoon before, but I couldn’t…

Her hair. She’d had several beautiful whitish blooms blossoming in her hair.

Now those blossoms were gone.

One of the other ladies knelt next to her and laid a hand on Magnolia’s shoulder, but the nymph turned on her, teeth gnashing. Mossy-green eyes flashed beneath the tiny woody tendrils growing in place of her eyelashes.

“Oh…” Simra breathed, and I turned to her with a questioning look. “They got rid of it.”

“It?”

“The baby.”

“She was pregnant?” I whispered, horrified. “Vandekamp ended it?”

“His wife. She won’t let the ‘monsters’ breed.”

The only thing I could imagine worse than being forced to end the pregnancy was how Magnolia might have gotten pregnant in the first place.

When Menagerie debuted in 2015, I devoured an early copy faster and with more passion than a piping hot bowl of Daiya cheese sauce. It alternately had me squealing in delight, pumping my fist in the air, and squirming in my seat as if a whole mess of fire ants had set up residence there. More than anything, Menagerie inspired a jaw-dropping sense of disbelief: am I really reading what I think I’m reading here? I then went on to spend most of the next five days writing one of my most epic reviews ever. (Rivaled only by my treatise on The Female of The Species.)

Since then, I’ve read it several more times, including on audiobook, which incidentally spawned one of my favorite video recordings of one of my favorite rescue dogs, Mags (she of The Hunger Games fame; her son’s name is Finnick).

When the sequel was finally (!) released into the wild, I promptly requested an ARC on NetGalley…and then proceeded to sit on it for more than a year. I was just so scared to touch the damn thing! While Menagerie was most likely meant as an allegory for the treatment of Muslims (and brown people as a whole) after 9/11, it was impossible for me not to read it as a story about animal rights, however unintentional. (In the vegan community, we call this “accidentally vegan,” like Oreos. Yum!)

Every mistreatment of the cryptids in Delilah’s world – both the humanoid and more “bestial” ones – has an obvious and devastating corollary here in the real world, in our interactions with nonhuman animals. From forced impregnation to the separation of parents and children; the exhibition of animals in zoos and circuses; vivisection, including for the most trivial of reasons, like developing new household cleaners; physical punishment under the guise of training; and even crush videos and bestiality. And while we dismiss these atrocities since they’re “only animals,” Vincent nails the crux of the issue in Menagerie: it’s not intelligence that counts, or DNA, or one’s physical approximation to humans. The only thing that matters is sentience: a being’s ability to feel pain (or joy) and suffer.

The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? – Jeremy Bentham

The cryptids in Menagerie are indeed sentient – as are the billions of nonhuman animals we enslave, torture, and kill every year. It’s impossible not to draw parallels.

And yet. Given that I’m 99.9% positive these parallels were unplanned, I worried that Vincent would walk them back in the sequel; undo some of the amazing arguments put forth in Menagerie. And so I hemmed and hawed and put Spectacle on the back burner until I could stand the suspense no further.

The good news is that my fears were largely unfounded. While the moral and philosophical underpinnings of Delilah’s furiae – so eloquently (though not imperfectly) laid out in Menagerie – remain mostly unstated in Spectacle, they are not challenged in any way. Delilah and her compatriots are the victims: victims of a cruel and inhumane society that dehumanizes, objectifies, and others them. Because humans are afraid. Because it elevates them. Because they can. Because there is a profit to be made by doing so.

The bad news? Spectacle is just an okay book. Entertaining enough, sure, but nowhere near as revolutionary as Menagerie.

(More below the fold…)

DNF Review: Night of the Animals, Bill Broun (2016)

Friday, July 15th, 2016

 

In this imaginative debut, the tale of Noah’s Ark is brilliantly recast as a story of fate and family, set in a near-future London.

Over the course of a single night in 2052, a homeless man named Cuthbert Handley sets out on an astonishing quest: to release the animals of the London Zoo. As a young boy, Cuthbert’s grandmother had told him he inherited a magical ability to communicate with the animal world—a gift she called the Wonderments. Ever since his older brother’s death in childhood, Cuthbert has heard voices. These maddening whispers must be the Wonderments, he believes, and recently they have promised to reunite him with his lost brother and bring about the coming of a Lord of Animals . . . if he fulfills this curious request.

Cuthbert flickers in and out of awareness throughout his desperate pursuit. But his grand plan is not the only thing that threatens to disturb the collective unease of the city. Around him is greater turmoil, as the rest of the world anxiously anticipates the rise of a suicide cult set on destroying the world’s animals along with themselves. Meanwhile, Cuthbert doggedly roams the zoo, cutting open the enclosures, while pressing the animals for information about his brother.

Just as this unlikely yet loveable hero begins to release the animals, the cult’s members flood the city’s streets. Has Cuthbert succeeded in harnessing the power of the Wonderments, or has he only added to the chaos—and sealed these innocent animals’ fates? Night of the Animals is an enchanting and inventive tale that explores the boundaries of reality, the ghosts of love and trauma, and the power of redemption.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

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Book Review: Menagerie, Rachel Vincent (2015)

Monday, September 28th, 2015

“I deal in morality, not in law.”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for rape and other forms of violence.)

“She won’t serve her dish cold,” the oracle mumbled, almost giddy with joy as chill bumps rose all over her skin. “And two graves won’t be near enough…”

What was I, if I had no name, no friends, no family, no job, no home, no belongings, and no authority over my own body? What could I be?

In a sudden surreal moment of epiphany, I realized I was incubating not a child, but a cause.

The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? – Jeremy Bentham

I have a curious affinity for circus stories: tales that unfold under the Big Top, or books starring carnival performers. Thus far 2015 has been a great year to be a fan of such stories. Kirsty Logan imagines a world vastly transformed by climate change in The Gracekeepers. After her parents were mauled to death by the captive bear featured in their act, North was forced to take up their show, alone – save for the bear’s cub, North’s only companion. Two orphans, traveling the world with the floating circus troupe known as Excalibur. Leslie Parry’s Church of Marvels follows Coney Island sideshow performer Odile Church as she travels to Manhattan in search of her sister, who fled The Church of Marvels when it burned to the ground, taking the sisters’ mother – and their livelihood – with them. In The Book of Speculation, Erika Swyler weaves an imaginative tale about a librarian named Simon who comes into possession of an old book – a circus ledger dating back to the 1700s. Only by unraveling its secrets can he lift the curse that’s plagued his family for generations. And then there’s Anna-Marie McLemore’s The Weight of Feathers – which I’m currently a quarter of the way into – a retelling of Romeo & Juliet featuring two rival families of performers, the Palomas (mermaids) and Corbeaus (tightrope walkers/tree climbers). There’s also The Wanderers, by Kate Ormand, which I didn’t enjoy nearly as much (I DNF’ed at 41%), but I’ll get to that one in a moment.

(More below the fold…)

DNF Book Review: The Wanderers, Kate Ormand (2015)

Monday, September 7th, 2015

 

A Unique Twist on Shape-Shifters with Fast-Paced Action, Thrilling Adventure, Mystery, and a Bit of Romance

Flo lives an eccentric life—she travels with a popular circus in which the main acts star orphaned children with secret shape-shifting abilities. Once Flo turns sixteen, she must perform, but she’s not ready. While practicing jumping a flaming hurdle in a clearing beside the circus, she spots a dark figure in the trees and fears he saw her shift. The news sends the circus into a panic.

In Flo’s world, shifters are unknown to humans with the exception of a secret organization—the EOS, referred to as “hunters.” Hunters capture and kill. They send some shifters to labs for observation and testing—testing they don’t often survive—and deem others useless, a danger to society, and eliminate them. To avoid discovery, shifters travel in packs, constantly moving and keeping themselves hidden. Up until now, the circus was the perfect disguise.

Believing she has brought attention to the group, Flo feels dread and anxiety, causing her to make a mistake during her performance in front of the audience—a mistake that triggers a violent attack from the hunters.

Flo manages to flee the torched circus grounds with Jett, the bear shifter who loves her; the annoying elephant triplets; and a bratty tiger named Pru. Together they begin a new journey, alone in a world they don’t understand and don’t know how to navigate. On the run, they unravel secrets and lies that surround the circus and their lives—secrets and lies that all point to the unthinkable: Have they been betrayed by the people they trusted most?

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

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Book Review: Strays: A Novel, Jennifer Caloyeras (2015)

Friday, June 5th, 2015

Team Roman

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program.)

I wondered if the dogs were thinking the same thing about us – that we were all a bunch of strays.

[E]tched on the inside of the collar, where no one else could see, were the words I am loved.

Sixteen-year-old Iris Moody is what you might call a “troubled” kid. After her mother was killed by a drunk driver, her father beat a hasty retreat from Los Angeles, packing them up and relocating to a smaller, unfamiliar place in Santa Cruz – all without consulting Iris. Two years on and she still hasn’t quite come to grips with her mother’s death and her new surroundings. Dad is unhelpful at best, consumed as he is with his new job at a juice company; he seems completely oblivious to Iris’s feelings, including her mounting anger management issues.

When Iris is arrested (in a true “well that escalated quickly” moment) for making death threats and assaulting her English teacher during final exams, she’s sentenced to six weeks of community service and mandatory therapy – along with summer school, of course. Her court-appointed lawyer thinks he’s doing Iris a favor when he scores her a coveted volunteer spot, working with rescue dogs at Ruff Rehabilitation. The only problem is, Iris inherited her mother’s fear of dogs.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Gracekeepers: A Novel, Kirsty Logan (2015)

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

Positively Enchanting

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher.)

Alone in their coracle, they were not performers, not burdens, not dangers, not weapons, not food. They were family.

Her whole life she had been afraid of the sea, terrified that it wanted to swallow her whole. And here she was, and it held her.

What’s the use of a clown who doesn’t subvert? What do they bring to the crowd? Everyone has sadness, and rage, and frustration – and so everyone needs a clown.

Callanish Sand will always remember the bear.

She was just a little girl when the Circus Excalibur visited her island, North-East 19 archipelago – home of the sacred World Tree – docking only long enough to put on a night show for the landlockers’ amusement. (And some food and provisions, gods willing.) Everything was going swimmingly (pun intended); the acrobats, fire-breather, and equestrians performed to the audience’s delight. And then the show reached its climax: a veritable bloodbath.

Two adults, a man and a woman, performing a courtship waltz with a giant bear, when something went tragically (yet predictably) awry. Even today, Callanish isn’t exactly sure of the what or the why, shielded as she was from the fray by her mother’s steady arms. Before she was carried away, Callanish saw three fallen bodies: those of the man, the woman, and the eviscerated bear. “And in the center of it all, […] two figures: one draped in white, one furred black; both with eyes open moon-round and empty. A small girl and a small bear, hands and paws still linked.” The children of the dead, left to pick up the pieces.

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Book Review: Church of Marvels: A Novel, Leslie Parry (2015)

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

“I have witnessed the sublime in the mundane…”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review from the publisher.)

But this story, in truth, is not about me. I am only a small part of it. I could try to forget it, perhaps. I could try to put it behind me. But sometimes I dream that I’ll still return to the pageantry of the sideshow, hide myself beneath costumes and powder and paint, grow willingly deaf among the opiating roar of the audience and the bellow of the old brass band. It will be like the old days – when Mother was ferocious and alive, before the Church of Marvels burned to the sand. But how can I return now, having seen what I have seen? For I’ve found that here in this city, the lights burn ever brighter, but they cast the darkest shadows I know.

Why, he wondered, did he have to peddle his difference for their amusement, and yet at the same time temper it, suppress it, make it suitably benign?

How would it feel to know there were people who’d chosen to live as they felt, not as they appeared, and never looked back? Could she bear their happiness, as shunned as they were? Was she brave enough?

She had seen it done. Wherever they glittered in the afterlife – flying among the high rafters of heaven, swimming with her mother in an undersea cave – she hoped the tigers had known it, and roared.

For the first time in her seventeen years, Odile Church is alone. Her mother’s sideshow carnival, the Church of Marvels, burned to ash in the spring, the casualty of a freak fire. With it went her mother, many of her friends, and the only life she knew. Her twin sister, Isabelle Church, was spared – only to run off to Manhattan not long after. That was three months ago; three months without a word.

And then Odile receives a cryptic, ominous letter from Belle: “If for some reason this is the last letter I should write to you, please know that I love you.” Armed with little more than an old map of her mother’s and Belle’s letter, Odile hops the next ferry to Manhattan in search of her sister.

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Book Review: The Sunken (Engine Ward Book 1), S.C. Green (2014)

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

“By Great Conductor’s steam-driven testicles!”

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program. Also, trigger warning for rape. I summarize some of the plot points below, but try to avoid any major spoilers.)

Set in London in 1820 and 1830, The Sunken imagines an alternate history in which dragons thrive in the swamps surrounding London; King George III is a vampire/cannibal/madman; and traditional, god-fearing religions have been abolished in favor of those that worship science. In this new old England, engineers, physicians, scholars, artists, and poets lead their own churches and sects, sermonizing on their latest theories and inventions.

The Sunken follows four childhood friends in boyhood (in 1820, they are fifteen years of age and on the cusp of going their separate ways) and adulthood (in 1830, they reunite in a London destined for radical change). The son of a Lord, Nicholas Rose is about to depart with the Royal Navy on a post bought and paid for by his cruel father – as is his adventure-seeking comrade, James Holman. Meanwhile, Isambard Kingdom Brunel is to continue studying engineering under the tutelage of his father Marc. Ditto: Henry Williams, who – as the descendant of the great dragon hunter Aaron Williams Senior – occupies one of the top social rungs among the lowly Stokers, the laborers who keep the great machines under London running. The day before Nicholas and James are to set sail, there’s an accident in Marc’s school which claims the life of Henry; Marc is tried for negligence and banished to Van Diem’s Land, leaving Isambard in the care of his abusive mother.

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Mini-Review: Destiny, K.C. Maguire (2012)

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Boy Buys Girl, Girl Evolves

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this story for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program. Also, the last paragraph contains a vague spoiler.)

“What’s the point of a new generation if we can live forever?” And there it is. My whole problem with the Transition. Truthfully, I always wanted kids. But Tara didn’t…and Destiny can’t. So what’s the point?

When Joe’s wife Tara leaves him after more than a decade of marriage, he does what many middle-aged, newly-single men of the future do: he buys a companionship android. At first glance, the T-26 known as Destiny might seem to be at odds with Joe’s longstanding resistance to the Transition – in which one’s consciousness is downloaded into a synthetic version of one’s body; everybody’s doing it! – but Destiny is a true android: preprogrammed with a variety of factory settings (Erotic, Housewife), she lacks any humanity of her own. Whereas Joe’s Transitioned friends are constant reminders of the crumbling wall between “human” and “machine,” Destiny is 100%, honest to goodness not-human.

Much like his plasma screen tv and toaster oven, Destiny is just another one of Joe’s toys. Until the day she isn’t. Destiny begins to learn. Evolve. Becomes sentient.

As Joe finds himself falling in love with an android, he must decide what’s more important to him: his humanity, increasingly rare these days – or eternal love.

Smart and full of heart, Destiny is a fun and quick read – a little too quick, if you ask me. I’d love to see this story expanded in novel form. The Habitat Facility is a nice touch, and it’s interesting to observe how Joe’s behavior parallels that of some nonhuman animals kept in confinement (pandas, for example, are notoriously reluctant to mate in zoos, leading to the rise of panda porn).

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: We Animals, Jo-Anne McArthur (2013)

Monday, February 17th, 2014

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“It will change the world, for the better, for us all.”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free pdf copy of this book for review.)

“What you see on these pages may surprise or disturb you. My aim is not to turn you away but to draw you in, bring you closer, make you a participant. I want my photographs to be beautiful and evocative as well as truthful and compelling. I hope you’ll take the time not just to look but to see — if only as a mark of respect for the billions of animals whose lives and deaths we don’t notice. To look at this book is to bear witness with me, which means also that we confront cruelty and our complicity in it. As a species, we have to learn new behaviours and attitudes and unlearn the old ones.” (page 9)

Photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur has spent the last decade and a half traveling the world – both on her own and in the company of animal activists – documenting our complicated relationships with nonhuman animals. Relationships that so often boil down to objectification, exploitation, and consumption. If you’ve been involved with animal advocacy for any length of time, no doubt you’re familiar with some of McArthur’s images. She’s photographed open rescues conducted by Animal Equality; documented the affecting actions of Toronto Pig Save; and set sail with the crew of the Sea Shepherd. McArthur bears witness through the lens of her camera, exposing atrocities that many of us would prefer remain invisible.

Recently featured in Liz Marshall’s The Ghosts In Our Machine, We Animals features 100 of McArthur’s photos – some taken for the film, others on behalf of various animal advocacy organizations, and the rest during the artist’s travels. The result is a stunning portfolio that’s as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. From the Calgary Stampede to the Tam Dao Bear Sanctuary in Vietnam, McArthur brings us examples of unimaginable cruelty – and selfless compassion.

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Book Review: Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering, Mark Hawthorne (2013)

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

They Shoot Narwhals, Don’t They?

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review at the author’s invitation. Also, trigger warning for discussions of violence, including that of a sexual nature.)

“Hierarchies feed oppression because it allows for valuation: those at the top are more valued than those at the bottom. Oppressors like hierarchies that keep animals at the bottom because then you can do to humans what you do to animals if you say that the humans are like the animals. So it feeds oppression to have animal objectification.” – Carol J. Adams (page 492)

“Change is hard, but not changing is just as hard.” – Carol J. Adams (page 487)

“Now I can look at you in peace; I don’t eat you any more.” – Franz Kafka (quoted on page 490)

In Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering, author-activist and longtime vegan Mark Hawthorne examines some of the effects of these human hierarchies, which universally place nonhuman animals – an estimated three to thirty million species, comprised of trillions upon trillions of individuals – at the bottom of the proverbial shit pile. (That such categories even exist – human animals, and all the “others” – is itself a testament to the self-centeredness of the human species.)

While I was expecting an encyclopedic, A-to-Z look at animal suffering, Bleating Hearts is something much different; Hawthorne shines a light on practices that, for whatever reason, don’t garner as much attention in animal activist circles: Balut eggs, an Asian delicacy that involves boiling developing duck embryos alive. The plight of the ever-popular slow lorises (please don’t forward those YouTube videos, people, no matter how cute they seem!). Dolphin-assisted therapy (cruel, and a scam). Horse fighting (which often ends in the serial rape of a mare, positioned in the ring to induce the stallions to compete). Rogue taxidermy. If you think you know all there is to know about animal exploitation, think again. Even the most seasoned activist will discover something new within these pages.

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Book Review: Women of the American Circus, 1880-1940, Katherine H. Adams & Michael L. Keene (2012)

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Challenging Gender Roles from inside the Big Top

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

From 1880 through 1940, the circus was the main form of entertainment in America, and the most common live form of entertainment. The circus brought the exotic and transgressive to big cities and small towns alike, exposing Americans to the strange, unusual, and death-defying: trapeze artists and tightrope walkers, equestrians and lion tamers, clowns and magicians, strong men and tattoo artists – and scores of women who challenged gender roles on multiple fronts. Sometimes these subversive acts proved as simple as displaying one’s “freakish” body in public; other times they involved highly skilled and dangerous stunts which required years of training to perfect.

Bearded women, tall women, fat ladies, and other “born freaks” challenged traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity, while daredevil performers such as female equestrians, sharpshooters, animal trainers, hot rod tricksters, and human cannonballs claimed masculine realms as their own. Likewise, skeletal and short men – particularly when paired with their feminine opposites – also toyed with viewers’ perceptions of masculinity. “Manly” women were sometimes presented as the logical conclusion of feminism (i.e., women with facial hair are the next step in the evolution of the New Woman).

As women began to make up more and more of the circus audience after the Civil War, their roles in the circus changed, becoming more frequent, visible, and varied. Unlike actors, circus performers lived their roles; it was who they were. Women often got to “play the hero” – a role not usually open to them in the larger world. In many ways, a life in the circus afforded women greater independence and more opportunities for self-expression than women could find in the outside world. By 1910, women made up 1/3 to 1/2 of circus acts; as early as 1880, female aerialists earned more on average than men. Many of these were family affairs, with family acts immigrating to the U.S. to join more prestigious outfits. In this way, the circus was truly a microcosm of the “American Dream.”

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Book Review: The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga, Richard Gray III, ed. (2012)

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Deconstructing the Fame Monster

three out of five stars

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.

In just a few short years, Lady Gaga has built a large body of work ripe for critical analysis. The sixteen authors and academics who contributed to The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga: Critical Essays clearly agree. The thirteen essays in this anthology address the spectacle that is Lady Gaga from a multitude of perspectives: sociology, politics, psychology and psychoanalysis, LGBTQ rights, gender studies and feminism, camp, Surrealism, Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, and “post-racism” and white privilege – examining her in relation to those she has parodied, as well as those who have parodied her: most obviously Madonna, as well as Judy Garland and The Wizard of Oz, Thelma & Louise, Kill Bill, sexploitation/blaxsploitation/“women in prison” B movies, David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Rammstein, and “Weird Al” Yankovic, to name but a few – all with an eye on performance art and identity.

The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga is obviously written by and for academics. While some essays are more accessible than others, all are filled with jargon and $20 words. I was able to muddle through with the occasional help of Google, yet some of the essays (the early ones, in particular) proved so dry that they threatened to lull me to sleep. This definitely isn’t a book for the lay monsters in the audience.

That said, a working knowledge of Lady Gaga’s oeuvre – not just the obvious song lyrics and music videos, but also concert tours, album art, costuming, speeches, interviews, and photo shoots – is an essential prerequisite for The Performance Identities of Lady Gaga. While the authors do a decent enough job of explaining the performances they’re dissecting, a certain level of prior knowledge is assumed.

I requested a copy of this book through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program not because I’m a Lady Gaga fan, but because I enjoy pop culture analysis. Nor am I an anti-fan (to borrow a term used frequently in the book); rather, I’m not really into dance/pop and thus know very little about Lady Gaga outside of her activism on behalf of the LGBTQ community. My understanding of the essays definitely could have benefited from a greater knowledge of the source material.

Perhaps owing to my love of fairy tales, I found Jennifer M. Woolston’s “Lady Gaga and the Wolf: ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ The Fame Monster and Female Sexuality” especially readable, even if most of the connections are stretched well past credulity. Also enjoyable is editor Richard J. Gray III’s contribution, “Surrrealism, the Theatre of Cruelty and Lady Gaga” – surprisingly so, since I didn’t know anything about Surrealism beforehand. Gray does an excellent job of introducing the reader to the material (without watering down the discussion for those already in the know) and then illustrating how Lady Gaga’s work clearly fits within the Surrealist tradition. Rebecca M. Lush’s “The Appropriation of the Madonna Aesthetic,” Matthew R. Turner’s “Performing Pop: Lady Gaga, ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’ and Parodied Performance,” and “Whiteness and the Politics of ‘Post-Racial’ America by Laura Gray-Rosendale, Stephanie Capaldo, Sherri Craig, and Emily Davalos are all highly engaging and interesting as well.

Not wishing to penalize the authors for my own ignorance, I struggled with weather I should give this book a 3- or 4-star review. That is, until I came to Karley Adney’s “’I Hope When I’m Dead I’ll Be Considered an Icon’: Shock Performance and Human Rights.” One of just a few pieces written from an overtly feminist perspective, I was both surprised and not a little offended when, in the course of her Lady Gaga apologism, Adney excuses and reinforces the stereotype that feminists are misandrists.

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Everyday Ironies: Equality for…Some

Friday, August 26th, 2011

Wyoming State Quarter

Here we have the Wyoming state quarter, which on the back features its state motto – “The Equality State” – and, to its left, is the silhouette of a “cowboy” riding a bucking horse.

The website TheUS50 explains:

The bucking horse and rider symbolize Wyoming’s Wild West heritage. “Buffalo Bill” Cody personified this in his traveling Wild West show. First settled by fur trappers, Fort Laramie, Wyoming, later became a popular destination for pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail.

Wyoming was nicknamed the “Equality State” because of its historical role in establishing equal voting rights for women. Wyoming was the first territory to grant “female suffrage” and became the first state in the Nation to allow women to vote, serve on juries and hold public office. In 1924, Nellie Tayloe Ross became the first woman elected Governor of Wyoming. In 1933, Ross became the first woman appointed as the Director of the United States Mint.

As per usual, “equality” by default applies only to human animals; the irony of choosing to feature an image of animal exploitation alongside the state’s nickname was apparently lost on the US Mint. This is hardly surprising, given the speciesist world in which we live. So ubiquitous is our oppression of animals that it’s rendered mostly invisible; like water to a fish. Try as we might, sometimes it can be difficult to recognize it all.

Although this particular quarter was released in 2007, I didn’t catch on to the irony until last winter.* The husband, having taken the dogs walking in a nearby park, accidentally left the car’s lights on, thus draining the batteries. Long story short, I ended up stuck behind the wheel for a half hour while we jumped the battery. Bored to tears, I started rummaging through the car’s various cubbies and compartments and found a few state quarters. Though I’d probably glanced at a Wyoming state quarter countless times by then, for some reason the contradiction struck me; equality for whom? Certainly not the horses imprisoned, enslaved, raped, abused, maimed and killed in rodeos (not to mention other horse-related industries). But nonhumans – much like women before them – simply aren’t deemed worthy of our consideration. I can only hope that history will once again prove us wrong.

* Yes, this is on average how long my posts languish in draft purgatory. Bad blogger, bad.

"Aussie club to race hotties like horses" *

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Bayer Rintal - Whore

In this completely unrelated advertisement for Bayer Rintal, a stereotypically “slutty” looking woman – a sex worker, perhaps? – clings to a horse’s back. Though she seems to be nibbling on his (her?) neck, the horse remains unperturbed; calmly, he continues to nom on a field of green grass. A logo for Bayer Rintal sits in the lower left-hand corner of the image; to the far right, a green star burst on which is superimposed the ad’s copy: “Eliminates all kind of Parasites.”

Hmmm. Not-so-curiously, I find myself wishing that I’d followed my initial impulse to decorate this post with a fuzzy cute goat photo instead…
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Presented without commentary:

Aussie horse club to race women in bikinis

An Australian horse racing club will lock bikini-clad women in barrier stalls and run them down the racecourse as part of a controversial new novelty event, the Gold Coast Bulletin reported Tuesday.

The Gold Coast Turf Club in the state of Queensland launched the event, which is planned to become an annual fixture at the club’s first race meeting of the summer season.

Some believe this will take the popular tourist destination to a new tacky low. In a Gold Coast Bulletin poll, 39 percent of respondents said the gimmick was degrading — while 61 percent disagreed.

Up to 150 women, who must wear bikinis and running shoes, will compete through a knockout system for a first prize of AU$5,000 (US$4,800).

The event was copied from America’s famed Hollywood Park racecourse, which holds a similar event annually.

Turf Club chief executive Grant Sheather acknowledged some may see the event as degrading, but said it would be done in “good taste.”

”When people say ‘Gold Coast’ you think of beach, you think of girls and you think of bikinis; it’s a marketing ploy to build racing,” he said.

I wonder: if a participant trips and breaks a leg, will she be put down?

* A notice under the byline states that the article was updated on September 28, but no update is noted in the actual body of the article. Methinks it was the title of the article that was “updated” – changed, that is, from “Aussie club to race hotties like horses” (which is what appeared on FB when I shared the link) to the tamer (and arguably less accurate à la its misogyny) “Aussie horse club to race women in bikinis.” In either case, IBTK.

h/t, Katrina Fox

Reclaiming the F-Word, Expanding the V-Word

Friday, June 11th, 2010

I can’t see the point in women being equal to men if men are not equal to each other. *

Yes!

And also:

I can’t see the point in nonhuman animals being equal to humans if humans are not equal to each other.

Think about it.

Redtape Shoes and Apparels - Fishtank

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Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 19: Brain Food (Vegan, Natch!)

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Vegan Brain Food

“Vegan Brain Food”: A mashup of book covers related to this latest edition of “Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs.” Clockwise from the upper-left: Sistah Vegan: Food, Identity, Health, and Society: Black Female Vegans Speak by A. Breeze Harper, ed. (2010); Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?: Reflections on the Liberation of Animals by Anthony J. Nocella II and Steven Best, eds. (2004); Sisterhood Is Forever: The Women’s Anthology for a New Millennium by Robin Morgan, ed. (2003); The Pornography of Meat by Carol Adams (2004); The Year of the Flood: A Novel by Margaret Atwood (2009); Penelope by Marilyn Kaye (2007); Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism by Melanie Joy (2009); and VegNews, March+April 2010.
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Sistah Vegan Book: Win a Free Copy!

Editor Breeze Harper is giving away a free, signed copy of her upcoming anthology, Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health & Society. The catch? You have to answer a short essay question, which will (hopefully) get you thinking about issues of food, race, gender, and/or nonhuman animals in new (and fruitful!) way. The deadline is April 1st, so don’t delay!

Let Live Foundation: Food Justice w/ lauren Ornelas (3/21)

I’m so terribly jealous of all you vegan folks living on the east and west coasts; y’all always throw the coolest conferences and lectures! (There’s a reason I titled this link roundup “Brain Food,” yo!) This Sunday, March 21st, Let Live Foundation will be hosting speaker lauren Ornelas of the Food Empowerment Project. On the menu?: Food justice, veganism, and the intersections of human and animal exploitation. If you happen to find yourself in Portland this weekend, attend, take notes, and report back, mkay? (Pretty please? With an organic, raw, fair trade cherry on top?)

The Washington Times: Food For Life Global Is Coming Through Big In Haiti

Who says animal advocates only care about nonhumans, hmmm? Check out this nice writeup Food For Life Global received in The Washington Times, and then hop on over to Disaster Relief in Haiti: Animal Rescue & Vegan/Animal-Friendly Resources to see how else you can help with disaster relief efforts in Haiti (and Chile).

The Voracious Vegan: International Women’s Day: Why Feminism? and “Until We Are All Free”: International Women’s Day (@ Choosing Raw)

In honor of International Women’s Day (which took place on March 8th), the Voracious Vegan penned not one, but two posts. The first includes a short film that, in Tasha’s words explains why “women’s rights and feminism are still relevant and necessary in this day and age.” Additionally, in a guest post at Choosing Raw, Tasha discusses the intersections of feminism and veganism, including the shared ideologies and social systems which allow human, animal and environmental exploitation to thrive. It’s a lengthy piece but well worth it – she touches upon a number of salient points, including the objectification of women’s and animals’s bodies; the state’s (and businesses’) attempts to control the reproductive systems of females, human and nonhuman alike; food and environmental justice; and public safety and human health concerns.

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The Rodeo/Horse Slaughter Connection, Bullfighting & More: Recent Action Alerts from SHARK

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

In cleaning out my inbox, I found the following action alerts from SHARK; I’m including them all here for simplicity’s sake (and because I cannot find them to link to on SHARK’s website). These are all from the group’s most recent enewsletter, dated October 14, 2009.

Rodeos Send Their Horses to Slaughter

Love is a Slaughter Line???!!!

Rodeos claim to care about their animals, so why do many of their worn-out bucking horses suffer the horror of a slaughterhouse? SHARK’s 141st YouTube video is one of the most graphic we have released, making the connection between rodeo and horse slaughter. We didn’t do it to sicken people. We did it to let people know just how cruel rodeo is, and how much rodeo animal victims are suffering. It brings into focus even more sharply the role of corporate sponsors such as Coca-Cola.
 
I hope you will watch this video, and then call Coke (800-438-2653/800-Get-Coke) and let the company know just what you think. It is because of big money from corporate sponsors like Coke that rodeo stock contractors are breaking their horses down, as well as overbreeding, and then casting the foals who don’t make the cut into the clutches of the horrific slaughter industry.
 
Foreign companies are killing America’s horses — many of them rodeo horses — to be sent abroad for human consumption.

Call your legislators and ask them to vote Yes on HR503 and S727 – Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2009. For more information on what you can do, go to: http://HorseKillers.com

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