A Quick Reading Roundup
(sent from the winter bug sickbed)
Everyone in the house has been sick, and I had the worst of it most recently. So, before Other Feminisms is back in full swing, I thought I’d send around a few excellent things I read over the holidays.
Clare Coffey, on Mary in It’s a Wonderful Life:
It is certainly pleasant but not unduly extraordinary to be a popular and beautiful woman who can marry a rich and popular man if she chooses. It is less ordinary to see, with Mary’s perfect clarity and uncanny certainty, the life and man you want, and to choose it in the teeth of discouragement with all its disadvantages apparent, to persist single-mindedly in the face of hardship. It’s a Wonderful Life is, in part, the story of someone becoming, kicking and screaming, against all intentions and desires, a big man. Mary sees the big man in George from the first, because she is a big woman.
She is, as much as George, a profoundly unusual person laboring under her own personal destiny. In the world where George does not exist, she has not married not because she couldn’t, but because she does not want to. There is not a Mary-sized man in town, and Mary Hatch does not do anything just because it’s what might be expected of her. Her story in this counterfactual is a sad one, but it is not one of passive submission to circumstance.
Caitrin Keiper, on the interweaving of natality and mortality:
A developing baby’s heartbeat flutters very fast, well over one hundred beats per minute. Until just a hot second ago, historically, these hearts fluttered in secret, known only to the baby and to God. But thanks to the use of sonography in obstetrics over the last few decades, we in the outside world can now eavesdrop on this activity.
That spring I had listened in awe to my son’s heartbeat. I thought, No human ear has heard this sound before, this sound that was not being made in any way just a few weeks ago, but now it is, and I just heard it for the first time. God willing, it will continue on unbroken for the next eighty or even a hundred years. And then . . . ?
Eve Tushnet, in praise of buses:
This is how the bus brings people together. When I interviewed the urbanist writer Addison Del Mastro for an article in America magazine, he speculated that perhaps “what we think of as good urbanism is just an accident of having been poor.” When we have a choice, people usually choose privacy, control, and comfort—and then we’re shocked when we wind up lonely. We put up “privacy fences,” and then complain about how nobody knows their neighbors anymore. But communal bonds have always been tightened by necessity.
Look, I love the bus because I love being an ironic observer. The bus is the stage on which I watch the human comedy. But if you forced me to develop a bus philosophy, maybe it would be this: Real communities are made of the duties you accept toward the people you wouldn’t have chosen to live with.
Finally, I’ve put together my 2023 reading list. You can read the full list here, but these are the books I expect to be most relevant to the Other Feminisms project.
Motherhood, A Confession by Natalie Carnes
The Autonomy Myth: A Theory Of Dependency by Martha Albertson Fineman
Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace by Sara Ruddick
Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do about It by Richard V. Reeves
Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion by Caroline Walker Bynum
What is on your reading list for the new year?
I love that line from Eve: “Real communities are made of the duties you accept toward the people you wouldn’t have chosen to live with.” We’ve had a big blizzard here in the Twin Cities, and it’s a beautiful thing how neighbors have helped neighbors. I almost cried coming back from the hospital with the kiddo when I saw our neighbor across the alley had plowed out our garage!
That sense of community is also why I’ve always wanted to move back here. I think it’s very hard to disentangle great family policy (including tons of playgrounds, good schools, a penchant for long term thinking) and a thriving civic society (highest voter turnout, tons of democratic associations) from a strong ever present sense of genuine love for your neighbor. And vice versa!
On my reading list this year:
We Do This Till We Free Us by Mariame Kaba
America is Not The Heart by Elaine Castillo
Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels and Black Power by Amy Sonnie
Time to Parent by Julie Morgenstern
Stray City by Chelsey Johnson
Nine Days by Paul Kendrick
Yes, I loved those first two essays! And I have truly enjoyed many of Addison Del Mastro (mentioned in the bus essay)'s posts on his Deleted Scenes substack. It reminded me of this related piece over at Strong Towns (where he has also written):
"There's a class dimension here. Public life is a leveler, but it's also a divider between those who can choose to opt out of it and those who cannot. It's no coincidence to me that on a sunny Saturday afternoon in my city's poorest neighborhood, you will see dozens of people hanging out on streets and sidewalks, front porches and patios and stoops. In my city's richest neighborhood on a similar day, you'll be lucky to run into five people."