News & Resources: Book reviews

ERIC BERKOWITZ’S Dangerous Ideas: A History of Censorship in the West offers readers important background for understanding the millennia-old lust felt by powers-that-be to suppress ideas and images, especially those that that threaten (or just criticize) their status – and often, in the process, to ruin the writers, artists, and thinkers who produce such Wrongthink. Curiously, Berkowitz completely ignores the most vigorous censorship efforts in the West today that, in the U.S., have sent tens of thousands to prison and destroyed their lives. Read a review here


JUST WHEN SEXUAL-IDENTITY POLITICS has become hegemonic in the West’s media discourse and its institutional firmament, young people in their teens and twenties are pushing back against its ingrained ideological rigidity – and pointing the way toward what’s perhaps a “post-identitarian” era that recognizes the polymorphous complexity of individual personality and self-fashioning. Over two decades, Cornell developmental psychologist Ritch Savin-Williams has produced a series of important books on gay teenagers and their experiences of negotiating sexual self-actualization. In Bi: Bisexual, Pansexual, Fluid, and Nonbinary Youth (New York University Press, 2021), he surveys a “post-identitarian” era millennials are trailblazing. Read a review here.


Debauched Genius TchaikovskyD.H. GUTZMAN’S novel, Debauched Genius: The Loves of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Amazon, 2021) is a vodka-drenched romp through the life and mind of one of the world’s most renowned composers. Extensively researched, and closely adhering to the biographical facts insomuch as they are known, Debauched Genius resurrects Tchaikovsky as a restless but brilliant soul, constantly teetering between fear and love. Read a review here.


tales of idolized boysTHE CHIGO SYSTEM during Japan’s Heian period (794–1185) was an aspect of how society’s power centers – the aristocracy, shogunate (military), and religious institutions – formed mutually beneficial alliances. Boys from middle- and upper-class families would be sent to Buddhist monasteries as acolytes. In these monasteries chigos would receive an education, network with people in high society, and learn skills such as dancing or flute-playing, all while unambiguously being at the center of monks’ and laymens’ desires. Sachi Schmidt-Hori’s Tales of Idolized Boys: Male-Male Love in Medieval Japanese Buddhist Narratives (University of Hawaii Press, 2021) explores a popular literary genre that emerged at this time centered on these relationships that offers a window on contemporaneous sensibilities around romance, eroticism, and the divine. Read a review here.


AIMING TO PEN “an anti-carceral feminist Foucauldian approach to sex crimes,” Canadian scholar Chloë Taylor draws together Foucault’s critiques of prison, psychiatry, and discourses on sexuality, placing them alongside more recent work emerging out of critical disability, queer, and decolonial studies literature to argue for non-punitive responses to sex crime. Does Foucault, Feminism, & Sex Crimes: An Anti-Carceral Analysis succeed in its ambitions? Read a review here.

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THAT EVEN SEXUAL MORES held as self-evident articles of faith admit of historical and cultural variance is what Canadian academic Rachel Hope Cleves (University of Victoria) grapples with in her deep dive into the life and loves of (formerly) world-famous Austrian-British writer Norman Douglas, who died in 1952. In Unspeakable: A Life Beyond Sexual Morality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020), Cleves explores how Douglas’s many erotic relationship with youngsters, boys and girls, as well as women, didn’t faze writerly friends such as Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, or Elizabeth David – nor, the evidence shows, most of the youths themselves. How well does Cleves navigate the evidence on a topic that is a contemporary minefield? Click here for a review.


books_angelides_fear_of_child_sexualitySTEVEN ANGELIDES’S The Fear of Child Sexuality: Young People, Sex, and Agency (University of Chicago Press, 2019) is a must-read for anyone who recalls themselves growing up sexually during their teenage years. Professor at Australia’s La Trobe University, Angelides offers a perfect introduction to anyone wishing to think critically about the topic of youth sexuality in the anglophone context. Click here for a review.


JOANN WYPIJEWSKI’S What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About #MeToo: Essays on Sex, Authority, & the Mess of Life (Verso, 2020) is a highly readable collection that brings together and updates some of the best journalism of former Nation editor JoAnn Wypijewski (pronounced “Vipichevsky”) over three decades, including essays relating to various sex panics, obsessions, and scandals that have gripped American media from 1992 to 2018. What most of these stories share is a rush to construct villains, typically but not always male, to act as scapegoats for the more complex, but unacknowledged social maladies that lie concealed underneath the media’s facile narratives of angelic innocence violated by incarnated evil … Click here for the full review.


    • Paying for sex in a digital agePaying for Sex in a Digital Age: US and UK Perspectives differs from most scholarship on sex work in focusing not on experiences of sex workers but the consumers who pay for sex. Much feminist and social conservative rhetoric demeans this group as men who exemplify the worst aspects of “toxic masculinity”: a desire for dominance and control, indifference to relationships and emotional intimacy, neglect of family, compulsive hypersexuality, misogyny, and violent abuse. Here British and US scholars Teela Sanders, Barbara G. Brents, and Chris Wakefield offer a much more nuanced and humane view, based on two separate surveys the authors conducted in the UK (1,206 participants) and the US (687 participants), recruited from users of online sexual services platforms. Click here for a review.

 


DRAWING ON interviews, extensive research, reportage, and history, authors Judith Levine & Erica R. Meiners in The Feminist and the Sex Offender: Confronting Harm, Ending State Violence (Verso, 2020) develop an intersectional feminist approach to ending sexual violence. They map in detail the unjust sex offender regime while highlighting urgently needed alternatives. Click here for a review.


Paul M Renfro Stranger Danger Oxford University Press 2020How the “Stranger Danger” Panic of the 1980s Helped Give Rise to Mass Incarceration – A review essay from Jacobin magazine by Meaghan Day on Paul Renfro’s book Stranger Danger: Family Values, Childhood, and the American Carceral State (Oxford University Press, 2020)

 

 

 


In American Secession: The Looming Threat of a National Breakup, legal scholar F.H. Buckley (George Mason University) makes the case for smaller, more responsive national government … and presents the arguments for regional secession as a solution to the current quagmire of U.S. corruption and stalemate. Even if, by the end, Buckley lacks the courage of his convictions, his arguments raise fascinating questions – informed by deep immersion in Western political thought – about a polity’s size, ideological homogeneity, and egalitarianism in relation to citizen control and happiness. Read a review here.


MANY PEOPLE change their attitude on a subject and become activists not so much by rational argument but by what their friends think and do. Having a supportive friend is a great motivator. People are influenced most by their friends and family. This is why it has been so important for the gay rights movement that LGBT people come out openly. Then their relatives and friends see them as individuals they love and respect, so they will often change their attitude about the subject in general. Troy H. Campbell explores fine-grained detail how minds change in his meaty article “Building Better Activists” (Skeptical Inquirer, July 2019, pp. 34-39). Read the original … and look at this précis and review of Campbell’s ideas.


LESLIE R. CRUTCHFIELD’S How Change Happens: Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don’t is a model for groups striving to make big changes in societal attitudes and practices. Some organizations seeking change have been effective and some have not. This book tells what approaches to do, and what to avoid. Crutchfield deals with big issues that are daunting and which seem beyond hope for change. But huge changes are possible, this study shows. Read more …

 


WHAT SURPRISING things do the classic 20th-century dystopian novels Brave New World (Aldous Huxley) and 1984 (George Orwell) have to say about sexual regulation in the West today? Here’s a compilation of quotations and scenes from these works that show the centrality of sexual control to these imaginings of life without freedom. Read more …

 


Twitter and Tear Gas: The power and fragility of networked protest, by Zeynep Tufekei (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018), looks at what social media has and hasn’t changed about making political change happen. Read more here.


What hurdles do ex-prisoners face in the first year back in freedom? Harvard sociologist Bruce Western’s Homeward: Life in the Year After Prison (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2018) raises questions about the ethics of punishment of the sort that occurs in American prisons, when punishment ends, and how a convict’s debt to society is extinguished. His goal is to “imagine a better path to justice.” Click here for a review.

 


sex at dawn ryan jethaWas human prehistory a period of polyamory, of free and easy human sexuality? That’s the controversial premise of Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships (New York: Harper Collins, 2010). Authors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha muster the evidence for this view, which has implications for how we regard monogamy, parenthood, and youth sexuality today. Read a review here.


cole_engines_of_libertyWHAT MAKES some social movements – with poor prospects when they begin –  eventually triumph? Using the example of same-sex marriage, which faced obstacle after failure after setback in the U.S. until it finally won the day –  David Cole, ACLU attorney, in Engines of Liberty: How Citizen Movements Succeed (New York: Basic Books, 2016) discusses the strategies and tactics that can help seemingly impossible causes gain traction. Read a review here.


VETERAN GAY SCHOLAR Martin Duberman’s Has the Gay Movement Failed? (University of California, 2018) looks at the ways in which sexual identity movements have come up short despite winning victory after victory.


LILLIAN FADERMAN’S new biography on gay pioneering activist and martyr Harvey Milk (Yale, 2018) offers surprising insights into his take on political tactics and matters of the heart.


What University of Michigan gay scholar David Halperin calls the “War on Sex” is generating more and more critical analysis. Read a review of this important book here: https://wapercyfoundation.org/?page_id=441