Book Review: #Notyourprincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy & Mary Beth Leatherdale (2017)

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

“We aren’t historic figures; we are modern women.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for allusions to violence against women, suicidal ideation, genocide, and racism and sexism.)

It’s strange to me how people always want me to be an “authentic Indian.” When I say I’m Haudenosaunee, they want me to look a certain way. Act a certain way. They’re disappointed when what they get is . . . just me. White-faced, red-haired. They spent hundreds of years trying to assimilate my ancestors, trying to create Indians who could blend in like me. But now they don’t want me either. I’m not Indian enough. They can’t make up their minds. They want buckskin and war paint, drumming, songs in languages they can’t understand recorded for them, but with English subtitles of course. They want educated, well-spoken, but not too smart. Christian, well-behaved, never questioning. They want to learn the history of the people, but not the ones who are here now, waving signs in their faces, asking them for clean drinking water, asking them why their women are going missing, asking them why their land is being ruined. They want fantastical stories of the Indians that used to roam this land. They want my culture behind glass in a museum. But they don’t want me. I’m not Indian enough.

(“The Invisible Indians,” Shelby Lisk)

Because history moves like a fevered heat down through the arteries of generations
Because PTSD to the family tree is like an ax Because colonization is the ghosts of buffalos with broken backs
Because today only burning flags could be found at the ghost dance of my people

(“Stereotype This,” Melanie Fey)

I feel like I should begin this review with a word of caution: If you see any complaints about formatting problems ahead of the pub date, disregard them. The Kindle version of this ARC is indeed a hot mess, but this is par for the course when it comes to books with a heavy graphic element. The acsm file, read on Adobe Digital Editions (which I loathe, but happily suffered for this book!), gives a much clearer picture of what the finished, physical copy is meant to look like. And, if Amazon’s listing is any indication, #Notyourprincess: Voices of Native American Women will only be released in print.

That said, #Notyourprincess is fierce, vibrant, and nicely organized. It feels a lot like an experimental art project, and I mean that in the best way possible. Within these here pages you’ll find an eclectic mix of personal essays, poems, quotes, photographs, line art, watercolors, comics, portraits of activists and athletes, and interviews with Native women. #LittleSalmonWoman (Lianne Charlie) even adopts the format of an Instagram page, while “More Than Meets the Eye” (Kelly Edzerza-Babty and Claire Anderson) profiles ReMatriate, which shares images of modern Native women on social media in order to reclaim their identities and broaden our ideas of what a “real” Native American woman looks like. (The quote in my review’s title comes from Claire Anderson, a founding member of ReMatriate.)

The topics touched upon run the gamut: genocide, colonization, forced assimilation, cultural appropriation, kidnapping, rape, domestic violence, mass incarceration, mental illness, sexuality, addiction, street harassment, homelessness, and intergenerational trauma.

(More below the fold…)

Mini-Review: My Rad Life: A Journal by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl (2017)

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

This is the journal you’ve been waiting for!

five out of five stars

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

— 4.5 stars —

I was lucky enough to snag a review copy of Rad Women Worldwide, part of Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl’s “rad women” series, which began with 2015’s Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future! From concept to execution, I adored Rad Women Worldwide, and was over the moon with excitement when I saw that they’d be releasing a journal based on the books.

My Rad Life is (almost!) everything I’d hoped for: fun, stylish, interactive, and diverse af. Miriam Klein Stahl’s artwork is bold and arresting; her simple yet elegant black and white portraits of badass women – from Gloria Steinem to Beyoncé, bell hooks to Shirley Chisholm – provide a lovely and inspirational backdrop for journaling. The art is accompanied by thought-provoking quotes, many of which are used as a jumping-off point for prompts to get the creative juices flowing.

The format is a nice mix of guided and free-form pages: some pages are completely blank; others feature funky, hand-drawn lines (way more interesting than college-ruled spacing!);

and many include a blend of portraits, quotes, and prompts, leaving enough space for scribbling, writing, or drawing.

Unlike the rad women books, My Rad Life: A Journal is softcover. Though it’s lovely, with an embossed logo and everything, I do find myself missing the hardcover from Rad Women Worldwide, which was all kinds of gorgeous (and also more durable). I’d also love it if the journal had that special “lay flat” binding, to make it easier to write in the book. My handwriting is messy enough without having to struggle against the journal. :)

This would make an excellent give for tweens and young adults, particularly those with a budding interest in feminism and women’s history (package it with Rad American Women A-Z and Rad Women Worldwide to make an awesome little gift set). That said, it’s suitable for humans of all ages and gender expressions; I’m barrelling towards forty and loved it just the same.

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

Rescue dogs, interspecies manifestos, and vegan pizza: An interview with Nicole J. Georges.

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

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(Photo © Amos Mac.)

 

Nicole J. Georges is a professor, writer, and illustrator who has been publishing her own zines and comics for twenty years. Her first book, Invincible Summer: An Anthology, published by Tugboat Press in 2004, is a collection of her autobiographic comic Invincible Summer. Since then, she has published several additional books, including Invincible Summer: An Anthology, Volume Two; the Lambda Award-winning graphic memoir Calling Dr. Laura; and Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home, out today from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Her work has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Food & Booze, Baby Remember My Name, and It’s So You. Her custom pet portraits grace the homes of many lucky animal people. (I’M NOT JEALOUS YOU’RE JEALOUS.) Georges lives in Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles, California.

Equal parts coming of age memoir and love letter to a four-legged best friend, Fetch chronicles Georges’s sixteen-year relationship with Beija, a shar pei-doxy mix who Georges adopted at the tender age of sixteen. Meant as a gift for her then-boyfriend Tom, Georges ended up keeping Beija: first when Tom’s step-father wouldn’t allow the exchange; again when multiple attempts at rehoming didn’t pan out; and finally, for good, after her relationship with Tom imploded. Through unhealthy relationships, personal and professional upheavals, kitchen fires and living room concerts, Beija was there. Barking at strangers and friends alike, peeing on the carpet, and chasing down children; Beija was the so-called “bad dog” who helped Georges grow up.

I was lucky enough to receive an early copy of Fetch for review (spoiler alert: it is gushy and oh-so-fangirly) – and to interview Nicole about rescue dogs, interspecies manifestos, and vegan pizza, among other things.

 

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Twenty-nine pages in, I texted my sister a photo of Fetch: “I think you’d like this book Fetch. She’s part Corgi, and the book opens with her attacking two kids at her 15th birthday party.” She’s a dog person; she gets it.

 

Nicole, I’ve been a fan since I first saw your artwork in Bitch Magazine (longtime subscriber here!). As a self-described “heathen vegan feminist,” I often find that my support for women’s rights and animal rights are intertwined. I especially love how you drew this connection with Beija’s manifesto, “I am not a stuffed animal.” How would you say that your veganism has influenced your feminism, or vice versa?

I think I became a vegan and a feminist at the same time. At first it was about finding my voice and taking up space, speaking for myself and other women. I felt like this was also my obligation with animal issues.

I had this dog, Beija, who was actually a very reasonable animal (coming from a rough puppyhood, she needed a certain level of familiarity with people to trust them enough to be pet by them) , but since she did not perform the function of “friendly, pettable cute thing” for people, they didn’t see her value. It felt like objectification, which felt familiar, and I wanted to write her manifesto to clarify that she still had intrinsic value anyway, as we all do, as beings on this Earth. We don’t need to perform submission and likability to have worth.

One of my mission statements in life has been self empowerment through representation. I try to offer tools to people to share their stories and take up space.

Obviously animals can’t do this (self publish), so I try to represent their stories and intricacies whenever I can.

You draw parallels between your own “feral” nature and Beija’s many behavioral issues. Did your own dysfunctional upbringing make it easier or more difficult to relate to Beija and handle her hangups?

I could relate to her. She just needed patience, and so did I, and I tried my best to give her what I both had and wanted growing up.

I grew up in a very makeshift and scrappy way. I would white knuckle through anything, and make do with whatever I had in front of me. I idolized the Boxcar Children in this way.

I think if I hadn’t grown up with this as the bar, I may not have had the patience and fortitude it took to keep a special needs rescue dog for as long as I did. She barked incessantly, picked fights, peed on the floor religiously, and jumped at strangers and children. I just moved my life around her. I don’t regret it at all. We grew up together and at the end of the day, she was an extension of me.

If adult Nicole could offer teenage Nicole one piece of advice, what would it be?

Go take some figure drawing classes, and start publishing comics immediately. Send your work to small publishers and people you like, but ask for feedback this time.

Also, consider letting your very stable sister adopt Beija when she offers to do so. It will give you more freedom of movement growing up.

If teenage Nicole could offer adult Nicole one piece of advice for surviving a Trump presidency, what would it be?

I would somehow quote both Nina Simone and Shirley Chisolm (which would be extraordinary to hear a teenager do):

It’s the responsibility of the artist to reflect the times we’re living in. -NS

Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this Earth. -SC

Keep making art, keep doing service. Keep your head down and do your own thing, it will be over soon.

I just have to know: What’s with the water bottle Beija’s dragging around on page 179?

OMG GOOD QUESTION. That drawing is based on a polaroid I have of Beija’s leash tied to a giant empty water bottle at a yard sale. It was to slow her down if she tried to run away or run at a dog walking down the street.

Like I said, I really made do with the resources available to me!

If there’s one thing – a lesson, a feeling, an impulse, whatever – you hope that readers take away from this book, what would it be?

I hope that people can cultivate empathy for animals, even ones who are too complicated to pet.

Portland or LA: which city has the best vegan pizza?

I’m sticking with Portland. Because you can walk into Sizzle Pie and buy a slice, get an entire OUTRAGEOUSLY DELICIOUS cornmeal crust pizza at Dove Vivi, or go to Via Chicago and get your own Chicago deep dish.

If Los Angeles has equivalents to these that are within 20 minute drives of each other, I’d like to see them.

Book Review: Feminist Fables for the Twenty-First Century: The F Word Project by Maureen Burdock (2015)

Friday, June 30th, 2017

To quote Trina Robbins in the Forward: Let’s start a movement!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher, McFarland. Trigger warning for violence against girls and women, including rape.)

— 4.5 stars —

There are so many words that come to mind when I think of Maureen Burdock’s Feminist Fables for the Twenty-First Century – and, yes, many of them are f-words: Fierce, fiery, and fun. Fabulous. Force, as in one to be reckoned with. Feminist, naturally. But also intersectional and inclusive. In the spirit of solidarity and sisterhood. With music in the cafés at night/And revolution in the air. (Borrowing from yet another folk singer.)

Beginning with the Author’s Note, Feminist Fables sent chills dancing up and down my arms.

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The five stories contained within its pages show women – of all ages, ethnicities, religions, sizes, and classes – working to combat misogyny in their communities and make the world a better place. In “Marta & the Missing,” a karate instructor named Marta decides to do what the police (including her own father) will not: hunt down the perpetrators of femicide in Juárez.

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“Maisa & the Most Daring Muslim Women” features a djinn who uses her culinary skills to save her daughter Lale from an honor killing. But once the young woman is made invisible, Maisa faces a new challenge: how to help her daughter be seen again.

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The heroine of “Mona and the Little Smile” is just a child – one who uses her art to transform her reality, and those of other children like her: namely, victims of rape.

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Meanwhile, Mumbi trains her literal butt off in order to score an upset at the Berlin marathon in “Mumbi & the Long Run.” Not for fame or glory, but for the cash prize – which she hopes will save her cousin Esther from female genital mutilation/cutting.

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The collection ends with a personal story written by Halima Mohamed Abdel Rahman, a woman who was subjected to FGM at the age of six – and went on to attend college and become a freelance journalist and activist.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Bitch Planet, Volume 2: President Bitch by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Taki Soma, & Valentine De Landro

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

“Lean in, can you hear it?”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic galley for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for plot points involving rape, misogyny, and transphobia.)

About a month ago Goodreads started sending me emails every time I marked a book read: “You finished Heart-Shaped Box. What’s next?” Usually I just send them to the trash without a second thought; just another gimmick to increase engagement, you know? But the one for Bitch Planet? Kind of gave me pause.

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What comes next after that dope ass ending? I NEED TO KNOW! As for ideas on what we can do in the meantime? I’m down (though I somehow doubt that, say, volunteering as a clinic escort or showing up to your state capitol building in full Handmaid regalia will make Goodreads’ top ten suggestions).

So I really dug the first volume, Extraordinary Machine, when it came out in October 2015. I think I even pre-ordered it, something I rarely do, on the strength of DeConnick’s Pretty Deadly (which was released earlier that year, and I cannot recommend strongly enough). It was smart and unapologetic and feminist as fuck, with a diverse and believable cast of characters. (Black women are incarcerated at four times the rate of white women – a disparity that’s only like to worsen under the Protectorate.)

When I reread Extraordinary Machine prior to diving into the second volume, my love for it only grew*: in today’s political climate, wherein nearly 63 million of my fellow citizens voted a reality tv buffoon and admitted sexual assailant into the White House (due in no small part to a backlash against the first black President in addition to sexism and misogyny), dystopias like Bitch Planet seem more trenchant than ever.

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And President Bitch? Well, it’s even better than its predecessor. (With a name like that, was there any doubt?) Fittingly, the volume starts off with fallen hero Meiko’s backstory – which spans a full issue and includes a prominent trigger warning for rape. Equal parts heart-rending and amazing, it left me in awe of the entire Maki clan – father Makoto in particular.

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The narrative then picks up more or less where Extraordinary Machine left off, only shit doesn’t go down quite how you’d expect. Kam finds who/what she’s looking for (how did I miss that foreshadowing in Volume 1!?), the N.C.s realize they’re not the only “auxiliary compliance outpost” on their ship, and we meet President Bitch – a black woman who’s been labeled a terrorist by the (largely white, all-male) Protectorate. Naturally.

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Things go sideways before you can say “Illegitimi non carborundum,” and Volume 2 ends with a challenge, and a promise: as long as the women of earth and space have each other’s backs, the resistance lives. All hail President Bitch!

(More below the fold…)

Mini-Review: There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, Morgan Parker (2017)

Monday, February 13th, 2017

“It’s mostly about machine tits”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

This is for all the grown women out there
Whose countries hate them and their brothers
Who carry knives in their purses down the street
Maybe they will not get out alive
Maybe they will turn into air or news or brown flower petals
There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé:
Lavender, education, becoming other people,
The fucking sky

(“Please Wait (Or, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé)”)

I don’t read a ton of poetry, since it mostly tends to go over my head. There are the rare exceptions, of course: stories written in verse, and the occasional feminist title; see, e.g. The Princess Saves Herself in this One. But mostly I shy away from it, since it makes me feel … not the sharpest tool in the shed.

That said, between the title and the cover, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé proved pretty much impossible to pass up. While I’m sure I missed out on many of the cultural references – I’m white, and this is a collection of poetry about black womanhood – and didn’t pick up all the varied and more veiled messages that Parker was putting down, I enjoyed it all the same. I read it cover-to-cover three times in two days, and with each successive reading, discovered something new. Parker’s poetry sparkles and shines and cuts more deeply, the more time you spend with it.

It’s hard to play favorites, since each piece has at least one or two especially memorable lines. (To wit: “At school they learned that Black people happened.”) But among the poems that really stood out to me are Hottentot Venus; Beyoncé On The Line for Gaga; Afro; These Are Dangerous Times, Man; RoboBeyoncé; 13 Ways of Looking at a Black Girl; The Gospel According to Her; The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife; White Beyoncé; What Beyoncé Won’t Say on a Shrink’s Couch; It’s Getting Hot In Here So Take Off All Your Clothes; The Book of Revelation; 99 Problems; and the titular Please Wait (Or, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé).

There are forty-two poems total, twenty-five of which have previously been published elsewhere. For those keeping count at home, thirteen have Beyoncé in the title. The Beyoncé/Lady Gaga mashups are fun, if only because I enjoy imagining them hanging together – or swapping bodies in a Freaky Friday twist.

I feel like I should say more but idk how to read poetry, let alone review it. There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé is a fierce, funny, and subversive collection of poetry. You don’t need to be a member of the Bey Hive to love it (but it sure doesn’t hurt). It’s earned a permanent spot on my Kindle so I can return to it as needed over the next four to eight (please dog no) years.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Wintersong, S. Jae-Jones (2017)

Monday, February 6th, 2017

“Such sensuous enjoyment.”

four out of five stars

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

I surveyed my kingdom. Chaos. Cruelty. Abandon. I had always been holding back. Always been restrained. I wanted to be bigger, brighter, better; I wanted to be capricious, malicious, sly. Until now, I had not known the intoxicating sweetness of attention. In the world above, it had always been Käthe or Josef who captivated people’s eyes and hearts—Käthe with her beauty, Josef with his talent. I was forgotten, overlooked, ignored—the plain, drab, practical, talentless sister. But here in the Underground, I was the sun around which their world spun, the axis around which their maelstrom twirled. Liesl the girl had been dull, drab, and obedient; Elisabeth the woman was a queen.

“I may be just a maiden, mein Herr,” I whispered. “But I am a brave maiden.”

When Liesl’s younger sister Käthe is claimed by the Goblin King and kidnapped to the Underground, it’s up to Liesl to rescue her. After all, it’s Liesl and her mother who keep the family together and the inn running. Plain, drab, boring Liesl, who lacks Käthe’s voluptuous beauty, or her brother Josef’s virtuosity with the violin. Liesl, who composes her wild and untamed music only under the cloak of night; the music Josef polishes and performs to accolades, but for which Liesl seeks neither praise nor recognition. Like legions of unremarkable girls before her, Liesl labors in the background, her accomplishments usurped or denigrated by the men around her, depending on the circumstances.

Yet the Goblin King – Der Erlkönig, Lord of Mischief – sees Liesl for who she truly is: a unique talent, full of beauty and grace. A soul brimming with passion and wonder – and, yes, even anger and lust. A worthy opponent. The girl with whom he once sang and danced in Goblin Grove, all those years ago. The girl who forgot him – and her promise to him – once she traded in their silly childhood games for a mop and bucket and likely spinsterhood.

Liesl descends into the Underground on a sacrifice of sheet music, only to find that her mission to rescue Käthe is just the opening round of her game with Der Erlkönig. Once a mortal man, the Goblin King sacrificed his soul to bring peace to the world above. Now he is forever confined to the Underground, where he rules over the goblins and fae who once wreaked havoc on earth. But in order to turn the seasons, he requires a spark. Passion. A wife. Yet Der Erlkönig’s brave maidens do not survive long in the Underground – and, should Liesl succeed in freeing Käthe, he will need a replacement if spring is to come.

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Book Review: The One Hundred Nights of Hero, Isabel Greenberg (2016)

Friday, January 20th, 2017

Quite possibly the most beautiful graphic novel I’ve ever read. ALL THE STARS AND MOONS.

five out of five stars

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

They luxuriated sinfully in that most beautiful of all things: The written word.

All those stories you have told, all those wonderful stories…
They are nothing to OUR STORY. People will tell it in years to come…
And they will say, that was a story about Love.
And about two brave girls who wouldn’t take shit from anyone.

Lesson: Men are false. And they can get away with it.
Also, don’t murder your sister, even by accident. Sisters are important.

Once upon a time, thousands of years ago, in a land called Early Earth, there lived two star-crossed lovers: Cherry, a fair and lovely young woman from the Empire of Migdal Bavel, and her maid, Hero.

Despite her vaguely masculine name, Hero was a young woman as well – and a servant and runaway, at that – both conditions which conspired against their love. Cherry’s father insisted she marry a man who could provide for her; and so, after dodging his demands for one blissful summer (spent in the arms of Hero, of course), Cherry finally acquiesced. Luckily, Hero was able to accompany Cherry to the castle of her new husband, Jerome, where she stayed on as Cherry’s maid – and her secret lover. Like many of the men in Migdal Bavel, Jerome was a rather dim-witted and arrogant misogynist, you see, so Hero and Cherry were able to outwit him with minimal effort.

And then one day Jerome made a foolish bet with his friend Manfred, a man a little less stupid but a whole lot crueler than himself.

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If Manfred could seduce his ‘obedient and faithful’ (*snort!*) wife Cherry, then Manfred would win Jerome’s castle. If not, Manfred’s castle would become Jerome’s. Jerome would feign a business trip, giving Manfred a full one hundred days to execute his fiendish plot.

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Book Review: The Meaning of Michelle: 16 Writers on the Iconic First Lady and How Her Journey Inspires Our Own, Veronica Chambers, ed. (2017)

Friday, January 13th, 2017

A bittersweet love letter to the outgoing FLOTUS.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for discussions of racism and misogyny.)

Barack and Michelle Obama served this country for two terms as President and First Lady of the United States of America. Imagine that. America shaped in the image of a black man—with a black woman by his side. Even after eight years of watching them daily in the press, the fact that the most powerful man in the world is a Black man is still breathtaking to me. The fact that he goes home to a tight-knit, loving family headed by a Black woman is soul-stirring. That woman is Michelle. Michelle! That name now carries a whole world of meaning. And a whole world of memory. And a whole world of a magic.

(“Preface,” Ava Duvernay)

Thank you, Michelle, for showing a generation of women, including me and my daughter, what it means to dwell in possibility.

(“Acknowledgements,” Veronica Chambers)

For all of my adult life – the entire time I’ve been paying attention to politics, really – I’ve vastly preferred our president’s wives over their husbands: Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and now Michelle Obama. (The same will probably hold true of Melania, but it’s an impossibly low bar, okay.) No matter their political allegiances, the FLOTUSes (FLOTI?) tend to be a least a shade more progressive than their men, especially when it comes to “women’s issues” like reproductive freedom. Not that they’re allowed to voice these views: American prefers its First Ladies be seen, not heard, functioning as little more than their husbands’ appendages or cheerleaders. “Stepford Wives-in-Chief,” Tiffany Dufu puts it. Remember how viciously then-FLOTUS Hillary was shot down for daring to advance health care reform?

Michelle Obama is in a league of her own, though. Like many Americans, I was captivated with her from Day 1. I loved that she refused to play the role of the bland, devoted wife; a blank canvas onto which Americans/voters could project their versions of ideal femininity. She spoke of Barack like he was a regular guy, rather than an up-and-coming rockstar politician. Yet it was evident that these two crazy kids were deeply in love. She (and her family) was a lightning rod for every bit of racist and sexist excrement the right could throw at her, yet Michelle handled it with grace and finesse. We watched as Lady O. – and her style – evolved from first to second term; she went from high-power lawyer to high-fashion mom, as described by Tanisha C. Ford (“She Slays”). She had fun, was comfortable in her skin, and was perfectly imperfect.

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Book Review: Difficult Women, Roxane Gay (2017)

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Stories about survival; stories we need now more than ever.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Netgalley. Trigger warning for domestic violence, child abuse, and rape.)

There once was a man. There is always some man.

You too have always been popular. I have seen the evidence in your childhood bedroom, meticulously preserved by your mother. Even now, you have packs of men following you, willing to make you their strange god. That is the only thing about you that scares me.

“I want a boy who will bring me a baby arm.”

“Honey, you’re not crazy. You’re a woman.”

Difficult Women brings together twenty-one short stories by Roxane Gay, all of which have previously been published elsewhere (or multiple elsewheres), most in slightly different forms and some under different titles. (I included the TOC at the bottom of this review; alternate titles are listed last, in parentheses.) However, the publications are so varied that it’s unlikely that you’ve seen, read, and/or own them all.

This is actually rather surprising to me, since the stories – published over a span of ~5 years – gel so well together. It really feels like each one was written specifically with this anthology in mind. The collection’s namesake, “Difficult Women,” perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the whole. Like the short story, this is book about loose women and frigid women; difficult women and crazy women; mothers and wives, daughters and dead girls. Women who have faced the unspeakable – rape and sexual assault; miscarriages or the death of a child; abuse and self-harm; alcoholism and alienation – and come out the other side. Not unscathed, but alive. These are stories of survival.

Usually I find anthologies to be somewhat uneven, but not so here. Every story grabs you by the heart and threatens to squeeze until it pops, right there in your chest cavity. Gay’s writing is raw and naked; grim, yet somehow, impossibly, imbued with hope. While some are straight-up contemporary, other tales are a strange, surreal mix of the real and unreal: In “I Am a Knife,” a woman fantasizes about cutting her twin’s fetus out of her body and transferring it to her own, the way she once did with the heart of a drunk driver who collided with their car, nearly killing her sister.

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Book Review: The Supergirls: Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines (Revised and Updated), Mike Madrid (2016)

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Wonder Woman for President

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC through Edelweiss and a finished copy through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program.)

After The Supergirls came out, something interesting happened. I got emails from readers who had no idea that there had been female superheroes in the 1960s, much less in the 1940s.

This is a difficult book for me to review. I’m rather new to the world of comic books, having only gotten into them in the past five years or so. With the exception of Brian Azzarello’s New 52 Wonder Woman, I’ve mostly avoided the long-running superhero titles; the sheer volume is just overwhelming! Like, where to start?

(Incidentally, The Supergirls has convinced me to avoid anything not published in this millennium – again with the exception of Wonder Woman, or at least Wonder Woman as written by William Moulton Marston. The early stuff is almost comically sexist and not worth my time. Well, except for the occasionally bizarro plotline, like when Supergirl falls for her horse Comet. Tina Belcher would approve.)

Instead I mostly gravitate toward more recently created series (Saga, Sex Criminals, Pretty Deadly, Bitch Planet, Monstress) and those based on stories I know and love from other mediums (Firefly/Serenity, Orphan Black, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stephen King’s The Stand and The Dark Tower; I’m damn near jumping out of my skin waiting for Octavia Butler’s Kindred!). My knowledge of most superheroes and villains stems primarily from the big and little screen adaptations; Fox’s animated X-Men series is a childhood favorite.

That said, from my neophyte perspective, The Supergirls seems thorough, meticulously researched, and well-thought out. Madrid’s writing is fun and engaging, though The Supergirls is best digested in small bites: the scope of the topic can be overwhelming at times.

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Book Review: Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing, Lauren Beukes (2016)

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

“I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for violence against women.)

a is for algebra

“It’s all equations,” she says. “It’s all explainable.” Like we could break down the whole universe into factors and exponents and multiples of x. Like there is no mystery to anything at all.

“Okay, what about love?” I shoot back, irritated at her practicality.

And she ripostes with: “Fine. xx + xy = xxx.”

She has to explain the bit about chromosomes. This is her idea of a dirty joke. Later, I wonder if this was also her idea of a come-on.

(“Alegbra”)

Don’t worry, she repeats, her back to him, laying out things with serrated edges and conducting pads and blunt wrenching teeth. You can’t dehumanize something that isn’t human.

(“Unaccounted”)

Pearl looks back at the protestors. One of the handwritten banners stays with her. “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” it reads.

(“Slipping”)

I love Lauren Beukes, and I generally dig short stories – especially those belonging to the SF/dystopia genre. So I was pretty psyched to get my hands on an early copy of Slipping, Beukes’s very first collection of short fiction and non-fiction essays. (There’s also 2014’s Pop Tarts and Other Stories, which I’m not counting since it’s comprised of just three short stories – all of which appear here.)

Slipping starts off a little meh; not meh-bad, but meh-disappointing for a writer of this caliber. The titular “Slipping,” told from the POV of a sixteen-year-old girl who was recruited by investors and remade into a bio-engineered athlete after losing both legs in an accident, boasts some wonderful world-building – but the story’s religious aspects ultimately turned me off. Much to my relief, things start to pick up with the fourth story, “Branded” (corporate-sponsored nanotech) and mostly just get better from there.

The fiction generally has a science fiction/dystopian bent, with a few fantasy and contemporary pieces mixed in. There’s even a fairy tale of sorts: a modern-day retelling of “The Princess of the Pea” that’s both a critique of celebrity culture and an ode to female masturbation that (spoiler alert!) is all kinds of awesome. While all are unique and imaginative, a few themes are common across many of the stories: transhumanism, e.g. through technological advancements in prosthetics, nanotech, neuroanatomy, etc.; an erosion of privacy/the rise in the surveillance state; and a rise in corporate control, most notably over our bodies and selves.

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Book Review: Haters: Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online, Bailey Poland (2016)

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

“THE PERSONAL COMPUTER IS THE POLITICAL COMPUTER”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for discussions of sexism, misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, harassment, and death and rape threats.)

When dealing with things like cybersexist abuse, it cannot be said often enough that there is no way to solve a problem without understanding it.

[I]t is worth noting that nearly every technological advancement throughout history has been seen as too liberating for women— and therefore dangerous.

Like many women who dare to voice an opinion online, Bailey Poland has first-hand experience with cyber-harassment and abuse. She typically gets a few dozen abusive tweets every night; when she briefly became the latest target of Gamergate, that number jumped to several hundred. She monitors the Twitter profiles and Facebook pages of past harassers on the daily, looking for signs that another wave of abuse is imminent. She and her activist friends have a sort of informal arrangement, where they tip each other off to possible threats. Dealing with the daily onslaught of abuse is tedious, demoralizing, and exhausting – and that’s kind of the point, from the harasser’s perspective.

One particularly dedicated misogynist harassed Poland for over a year, periodically sending her rape and death threats via Twitter. She finally decided to file a police report – and was lucky enough to get an officer who took her concerns seriously and was reasonably knowledgeable about the internet. (Either one is rare, but both together? Like an invisible pink unicorn!) Even so, nothing came of it; the department couldn’t even be bothered to keep Poland updated on its progress. And this represents a best-case scenario: the vast majority of victims don’t even get this far.

But Poland didn’t stop there: rather, she decided to make online harassment and abuse the topic of her first book. In Haters: Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online, Poland explores the odious and often scary landscape of cybersexism. This encompasses not just the most egregious abuses: death and rape threats, doxxing and swatting, Gamergate and MRAs (and, now, the alt-right), but also more subtle forms of sexism and sexist microaggressions, such as mansplaining, talking over women, and dominating conversations. Even the very design of the internet – with its anything goes, Wild West type attitude – ignores women’s experiences and prioritizes men’s “freedom of speech” and self-expression over that of women and other marginalized groups.

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Mini-Review: Rad Women Worldwide, Kate Schatz & Miriam Klein Stahl (2016)

Saturday, November 5th, 2016

Kicking butt and taking names.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free book for review through Blogging for Books.)

When Kalpana Chawla’s math professor explained the concept of a “null set,” she used the example of a female Indian astronaut. There had never been one, so it was a classic case of a category that simply did not exist. “Who knows?” Kalpana exclaimed to her class. “One day this set may exist!” The other students laughed – they had no idea that their outspoken classmate would one day make history.

After the hate-fueled dumpster fire that has been the 2016 election cycle, a book like this is just what the psychologist ordered. In Rad Women Worldwide, Kate Schatz (pronounced ‘Shots’) profiles forty BAMF (you might say ‘nasty’) women, past and present, who have left their mark around the globe. They are mothers, daughters, and wives; activists, scientists, scholars, athletes, artists, and – yes! – pirates; women of all ages, races, nationalities, religions, and social classes; women who are every bit diverse as their accomplishments.

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A follow-up to 2015’s Rad American Women A-Z, Rad Women Worldwide deliberately takes a more international approach, as the title suggests. As soon as you open the book up, you’re treated to a map of the journey that’s to come. The trail hops from North to South America, Africa to Europe, Asia to Australia – and don’t forget Antarctica, too! You can follow the suggested route, or blaze your own path.

2016-10-26 - Rad Women Worldwide - 0011 [flickr]

Each woman (or group of women, such as the Guerilla Girls and the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo) receives a brief, one- or two-page write up. There are quite a few names I recognized off the bat (Venus and Serena Williams, Malala Yousafzai, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie) as well as some that are new-to-me (Marta, Junko Tabei), and those that are familiar yet still unexpected (Emma Goldman, Poly Styrene). I especially loved the entry on Birute Mary Galdikas, since I was kind of obsessed with “Leakey’s Angels” as a teenager.

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Schatz’s biographies are accompanied by full-page illustrations by Miriam Klein Stahl. Stahl’s artwork is simple yet striking, consisting of stark, black and white portraits set against a single-color background, which really makes the portraits pop. Among my favorite images are those of Frida Kahlo and Bastardilla, which actually breaks with the overall style by focusing on the anonymous street artist’s graffiti rather than the artist herself.

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Though the writing feels geared toward a slightly younger audience – say, middle grade/junior high – I enjoyed the book immensely. Okay, that’s an understatement. Some of the entries legit had me in tears. (I blame my raw emotional state on the election, fwiw.) This is a book that parents will LOVE sharing with their kids.

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Also, can we talk about the cover? Not only is it bright and vibrant, but the embossed artwork on the hardcover adds extra texture and interest. I mean, it’s basically a written invitation to touch, handle, and caress. I also love that there’s no dust jacket, because I tend to rip or lose those things. Between this and the thick paper stock, you know they designed this book with younger readers in mind.

The synopsis for Rad American Women A-Z features a Lemony Snicket quote that works just as well here: “This is not a book. This is a guest list for a party of my heroes. Thank you for inviting us.”

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Book Review: Yesternight, Cat Winters (2016)

Friday, October 14th, 2016

Supernatural horror + timeless misogyny = a compelling creepshow.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

Dreamt I to-day the dream of yesternight,
Sleep ever feigning one evolving theme,
— Of my two lives which should I call the dream?

—George Santayana, “Sonnet V,” 1896

Alice Lind,
Alice Lind,
Took a stick and beat her friend.
Should she die?
Should she live?
How many beatings did she give?

If I hadn’t been a psychologist—if I didn’t find the idea of reincarnation so absurd—I would have wanted Violet Sunday to exist.

A female mathematical genius.

A Victorian female mathematical genius.

What an absolutely delicious idea.

A school psychologist, Alice Lind spends her days traversing the western United States, administering psychological and intelligence tests to children and advising the Department of Education how it can better help students who are being under-served in their communities. While the work certainly goes to Alice’s desire to help kids – especially troubled ones like her younger self – too often she feels trapped, suffocated, and bored.

After obtaining her Master’s degree, Alice applied to multiple doctoral programs, with the hope of one day studying human memory – and its malleability and resilience, particularly where repressed memories are concerned. Despite her obvious skill and passion, Alice was rebuffed at every turn, only to watch her less qualified peers move on to bigger and better things. The year is 1925, you see, a time when higher education for women was considered a quirky anomaly at best – and a sinful rejection of one’s “God given” role as a woman at worst.

Our first glimpse of Miss Lind comes as she steps off the train and into her latest two-week placement at Gordon Bay, Oregon – by the special request of the schoolteacher, Miss Simpkin. Among her pupils is a precocious seven-year-old named Janie O’Daire (to whom Miss Simpkin is also known as “Aunt Tillie”), an exceptionally bright student and apparent math prodigy, who seems to experience memories of another life. A past life.

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Book Review: Daughters Unto Devils, Amy Lukavics (2015)

Monday, September 26th, 2016

Psychological Tension Like Whoah

four out of five stars

When sixteen-year-old Amanda Verner’s family decides to move from their small mountain cabin to the vast prairie, she hopes it is her chance for a fresh start. She can leave behind the memory of the past winter; of her sickly ma giving birth to a baby sister who cries endlessly; of the terrifying visions she saw as her sanity began to slip, the victim of cabin fever; and most of all, the memories of the boy she has been secretly meeting with as a distraction from her pain. The boy whose baby she now carries.

When the Verners arrive at their new home, a large cabin abandoned by its previous owners, they discover the inside covered in blood. And as the days pass, it is obvious to Amanda that something isn’t right on the prairie. She’s heard stories of lands being tainted by evil, of men losing their minds and killing their families, and there is something strange about the doctor and his son who live in the woods on the edge of the prairie. But with the guilt and shame of her sins weighing on her, Amanda can’t be sure if the true evil lies in the land, or deep within her soul.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

— 4.5 stars —

The Lord works in mysterious ways, all right. Wish a baby dead, get another one in return as punishment. This is my reckoning.

Cat Winters nails it in the cover blurb: Daughters Unto Devils is what Stephen King’s take on Little House on the Prairie might look like. Faced with the prospect of riding out yet another harsh winter in their tiny, remote mountain cabin, the Verner family – Susan and Edmund (Ma and pa), and their children Hannah, Joanna, Charles, Emily, and Amanda – decide to strike out for the prairie. (Actually it’s less of a collective decision than a mandate from the patriarch, but wev.) Rumor has it that there a bunch of abandoned homesteads ripe for the picking. Recovering from a mental breakdown/possible demonic possession and newly pregnant thanks to an illicit affair with the postal boy, eldest child Amanda welcomes the fresh start. But it seems that the devil has followed their humble little caravan….either that, or the prairie is home to its own breed of evil.

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Book Review: Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape, Jessica Luther (2016)

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

A Fan’s Take on the Intersection of Rape Culture, Racism, and Capitalism in College Football

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received an electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for discussions of rape and violence against women, obviously.)

So I am not what you’d call a sports fan. Occasionally I enjoy playing baseball, basketball, or tennis for funsies or fitness, but that’s about the extent of it. I ran out of fucks to give as a spectator when my youngest brother aged out of Little League.

Jessica Luther, on the other hand, “was born with garnet and gold blood.” Her parents graduated from Florida State University; she spent her autumns rooting for the Seminoles religiously; and, when it came time to go off to college, she only applied to one school. Once at FSU, she had her ass planted firmly in the bleachers for every home game, rain or shine, humidity and frost be damned:

I learned early on how to be a fan. There are rules and rituals the fans of a sports team follow and do, a kind of collective performance before and during games that show the love for our school and team. The playbook for fans consists of memorizing chants, wearing the right colors, painting our faces, and always singing along whenever you hear the school’s fight song. The most important play, though, is the one where you give your team your love and devotion, and you trust in the players and coaches even when they play badly and even if you have to ignore what they do when they are off the field and out of uniform. This, the fan playbook prescribes, is what good fans do. I used to be a really good FSU fan.

That is, until the 2012 rape allegations against Jameis Winston forced her to confront some of the more problematic aspects of the sport she so loves.

Let me stop right here and say that it’s not that you have to be a fan of something in order to earn the right to critique its more problematic aspects; far from it. But the particularities of fan identity vis–à–vis sports – Luther cites studies which show that many fans’ self-esteem is linked to their team’s performance – certainly encourage suspicion and hostility towards outsiders, as do structural barriers against women in sports, not to mention larger cultural narratives surrounding rape and violence against women. To the football fans in the audience, Luther wants you to know that she’s one of you, and her interrogation of that which you hold most dear comes from a place of love: both for victims/survivors, and for the sport itself. The wake up call is coming from inside the house, okay.

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Book Review: Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World, Rachel Ignotofsky (2016)

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

From Ada Lovelace to Wang Zhenyi: A Celebration of Women Scientists

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free book for review through Blogging for Books.)

It’s made to believe
Women are the same as men;
Are you not convinced
Daughters can also be heroic?

– Wang Zhenyi

Nothing says trouble like a woman in pants.

If there’s a girl in your life who’s into science – be it astronomy, psychology, or paleontology; even just a little! we’re talking the teeniest, tiniest bit! – you need to introduce her to the work of Rachel Ignotofsky. A graphic artist/illustrator, Ignotofsky uses her art to “make learning exciting.” Her first book, Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World, is a mashup of her many passions: art, history, science, and feminism – namely, celebrating the many contributions (many of them overlooked by and even erased from history) women have made to their respective scientific fields. The result is a smart, inspirational book that’s both informative and lovely.

Ada Lovelace. Elizabeth Blackwell. Marie Curie. Rachel Carson. Jane Goodall. Some of the women profiled here have managed, against all odds, to claim their rightful places as household names. But have you heard of Wang Zhenyi, 18th century astronomer, mathematician, and poet? How about Mamie Pipps Clark, a psychologist and civil rights activist who, along with her husband, conducted the infamous (and devastating) Doll Experiment, thus helping to end segregation in public schools? Or Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the Irish astrophysicist who discovered pulsars at the age of 24?

As if these achievements aren’t impressive enough on their own, consider that many of these women did so even when they were barred from higher education, prohibited from publishing papers, or even expected to obey their fathers and husbands, no matter the cost. (Prior to 1974, women couldn’t apply for a line of credit; abortion was not legalized until 1973, and even today it can be difficult for low-income women to access; and marital rape wasn’t recognized as a crime federally until 1993.)

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Book Review: In My Humble Opinion: My So-Called Life, Soraya Roberts (2016)

Friday, August 5th, 2016

“Red is the color of revolution.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review from ECW Press.)

“When I think about My So-Called Life,” WB regular Greg Berlanti told Entertainment Weekly, “I think about that line in Star Wars, when Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Darth Vader, ‘If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.’ That’s exactly what happened here.”

My So-Called Life hit the airwaves on August 25, 1994 – just weeks before I started my junior year of high school. From the first frame – “Go, now, go!” – I was hooked. I still remember the excitement of watching the pilot, on the ancient, staticky hand-me-down tv propped atop my sister’s dresser. (We shared a room. It was literal hell.) It was like someone had scrabbled through my brain, gathered all the best bits, and stitched them into the unlikeliest script ever. I knew, without a doubt, that I couldn’t be the only kid watching who felt this way. This was something new, something special. Something downright revolutionary. Like, what was ABC thinking?

I wanted to be wild like Rayanne, yet quiet and introspective like Angela. I dyed my hair red and took to toting around a ginormous purse stuffed with all sorts of ephemera and random clutter. I skipped school, drank liquor spiked with Kool-aid, and wore the most outlandish outfits I could come up with: forest green corduroy pants and a vintage mint green polyester top one day; a slip as a skirt or a camisole as a shirt the next. A weird mix of hippie chick and slutty goth. I lusted after Jordan, even though I had my own version (but not, like, really) IRL.

Though it only lasted one season, My So-Called Life stayed with me forever. It’s one of a handful of shows from my childhood that’s held up over time gotten better with age. Now I’m thirty-eight – much closer in age to Patty than Angela – and I think I appreciate it more than ever. Or at least understand it on a different level. The opening credits still make my heart skip a beat, anyway.

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Book Review: American Girls, Alison Umminger (2016)

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

Explores some interesting ideas, but the story never really clicked for me.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received an electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for allusions to rape.)

Backstage, Olivia Taylor had removed her moon boots and was curled cat-like against Karl Marx. He rubbed his hand up her leg, almost into her crotch, and she opened a mirror and lined her lips silver-blue while he talked.

“It’s all waste,” he said, his accent as perfectly beautiful as it sounded in the interviews I’d watched. “Waste and filth. Even these women, these perfect creatures.”

These children that come at you with knives, they are your children. —Charles Manson

As a teenager, I devoured true crime books. They were a guilty pleasure, if only because some of the adults around me made me feel like a borderline psychopath for my choice of reading materials. (JEEZ UNCLE GARY, MAYBE I WANT TO BE A FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST WHEN I GROW UP! DID YOU EVER THINK OF THAT?) My favorite sub-genre was cults, hands down; there was something about the mix of sociopathy and religion that I found especially compelling. In college, I was lucky enough to talk my way into a sociology project on Jonestown (though I struck out when trying to do something similar for an honors course called “The Psychology of Health & Wellness.” You can’t have wellness without sickness, I argued. Two sides of the same coin! Eventually the prof was forced to pick my topic for me: hardiness. Ugh. I still nailed it.)

So it’s an understatement to say that I was looking forward to Alison Umminger’s American Girls – one of two Manson-inspired books coming out in June. (The other? The Girls by Emma Cline, which I cannot recommend highly enough.) I’ve been humming the Tom Petty tune for going on a month now.

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