Emma Watson’s Book Club: All About Love

Emma Watson’s book club selection for March was All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks. I had been hearing fantastic things about Ms hooks and I was super pumped to jump into this book!

In the first discussion thread, Emma posted an interview she recently had with bell. One of my favorite quotes from bell is:

I look at how to bring that whole self out. I’m interested in fashion, too. I’m particularly interested in fashions that are comfortable and beautiful. I have an overall obsession in my life with beauty. I’m always wanting to surround myself with the kind of beauty that uplifts you, that runs counter to some of the stereotypes of feminist women.

I was drawn to this for obvious reasons– I too am drawn to and interested in this idea of beauty and I loved how she kind of called for a challenge to the stereotypes that might come to mind when we imagine a feminist.

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Emma and bell! (Picture from @bellhooksinst via Twitter)

 

After announcing the book, several discussion threads were quickly started.

The most popular by far was Not Feeling It.

NotFeelingIt

I really wanted to love this book, after hearing such great things about the author. But, alas, something just did not click. Turns out, I was not alone. Here are some laments from the Not Feeling It crowd:

  • Several members thought the book was too “self-helpy” for them. Though it was largely based on personal experience and filled with opinions like a self-help book, the lack of practical advice makes it a tough fit for the self-help shelf.
  • Many folks, myself included, were put off by some blanket statements that seemed to be presented as well-known facts. For example, when discussing Nicole Simpson, hooks states that Nicole “kept herself and her children in a dangerous, life-threatening environment in part because she was not willing to sacrifice her attachment to a superficially glamorous lifestyle among the rich and famous…” (p. 112, emphasis added). Now, had bell talked to Nicole? Had Nicole expressed this to hooks? We don’t know for sure, but this is just one example of an opinion that seems to be presented as a truth, but is not supported with any “evidence.”
  • hooks is an advocate of love as a powerful force, but this idea came across to some readers as a bit extreme. More than one book club member expressed discomfort with the idea that any one solution can be applied to all problems.

My biggest struggle with the book came in the connection that was made a few times between being abused in youth and therefore being unable to love in adulthood.

Not too long ago I stumbled upon something online (a video? an illustration?) that was very touching. It was done by an adult who had been abused as a child. The individual remembers seeing and hearing this idea that all abused children grow up to be abusers. This only galvanized his feelings of shame and depression. He was horrified at this idea that he would have no choice– he would grow up to be an abuser BECAUSE someone had abused him.

It is tragically un-empathetic and unloving to continue to make such claims. Certainly, folks who were abused as children have a tougher task learning what healthy relationships look like, but to say things like “…the parents who came from unloving homes have never learned how to love and cannot create loving home environments…” (page 27) is truly hurtful. It makes me ache for the folks who have been through hell and work everyday to make sure that their children, or children they know, don’t know what abuse feels like.
I also have to take issue with her ideas that spirituality and religion are the key to being loving. On page 74 hooks writes, “Imagine how different our lives would be if all the individuals who claim to be Christians, or who claim to be religious, were setting an example for everyone by being loving.” As a non-religious person, I feel I am not off the hook when it comes to being an example of love. So let’s re-work this a bit: “Imagine how different our lives would be if all the individuals who claim to be humans were setting an example for everyone by being loving.” Ahhh. That’s better.

Lessons learned from All About Love

 

Though the criticism were many, I think that the overall message of the book is an important one. And there were some points that really jumped out at me:

I loved her discussion of “cathexis,” a word I had never seen before. Apparently, it cathexisrefers to the emotional investment we make in another person which is often mistaken for love. Very intriguing!

I loved her definition of love as an action. Borrowing from M. Scott Peck, hooks defines love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth” and as a combination of care, commitment, trust, knowledge, responsibility, and respect. Her words rang true when she wrote: “Undoubtedly, many of us are more comfortable with the notion that love can mean anything to anybody precisely because when we define it with precision and clarity it brings us face to face with our lacks–with terrible alienation.” (cue mic drop)

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Don’t get along with your co-worker? Here, let me shove you into the same t-shirt. Not cool for adults = not cool for kids. (Image from BuzzFeed)

“Care and affirmation, the opposite of abuse and humiliation, are the foundation of love.” I can’t help but think of those terrible pictures floating around the internet of crying kids sharing an over-sized t-shirt with the words “This is our Get Along shirt” scrawled across the front. Or videos posted on social media with the sole purpose of humiliating a child who mis-behaved. What if we did this to adults? Have a co-worker you just can’t seem to get along with? You get to share a shirt for an hour and I will post pictures online! We wouldn’t stand for it. So let’s not do it to our kiddos, mmk? Humiliation is not the answer. We can do better than that.

 

 

Discussing TV shows geared towards families, hooks laments that they often favorably represent  kids who are overindulgent, disrespectful, or acting out. I could not agree more! Though the book was published a decade and a half ago, this is still the norm. Shows like Lab Rats teach us that dads are self-centered and arrogant, and that children should be ridiculed for their appearance (I swear, if I have to hear about how Chase is ‘too short’ or Leo is ‘too skinny’ one more time…!).

“When we hear another person’s thoughts, beliefs, and feelings, it is more difficult towhen we hear project on to them our perceptions of who they are.” Yes! YES! YES!! Please, for the love of all things good and beautiful, listen to people! Learn about who they are and why they understand things the way they do. And don’t be a jerk.

Quoting Richard Foster, hooks writes “Greed has a way of severing the cords of compassion.” Though an often repeated idea– that greed and money are ultimately hurtful– I liked this reminder that compassion is a necessity that can be overlooked if we find ourselves becoming focused on “getting more.”

“The more genuine our romantic loves the more we do not feel called upon to weaken or sever ties with friends in order to strengthen ties with romantic partners.” I wish I had heard this when I started dating!


I have to admit, this one was a bit of a tough read for me. But I remain hopeful that some of bell’s other works will make this one shrink from my memory and help me better see her as the incredible force she is known to be.

All About Love did make me think, which is the whole point, right?

AllAboutLove

If you are curious, next month’s book has been announced.

In April, Our Shared Shelf will be reading How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.

 

 

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Emma Watson’s Book Club: What you’re missing

In January Emma Watson started a virtual feminist book club. And it is kind of a big deal. With over 100,000 members, it is undoubtedly the largest group on Goodreads. So far the group has explored Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road (in January) and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (February’s book). For those of you who are curious, but just don’t have the time, here is a synopsis of what is happening in the club:

The Color Purple

In January Emma Watson started a virtual feminist book club. And it is kind of a big deal. With over 100,000 members, it is undoubtedly the largest group on Goodreads. So far the group has explored Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road (in January) and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (February’s book). For those of you who are curious, but just don’t have the time, here is a synopsis of what is happening in the club:

goodreads

The Discussion Topics range from the super popular and super broad “Finished the Book” to the virtually ignored “Shrinking Evil.” There are a few of my favorite threads:

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The book for February was The Color Purple

Discussion Topic: Finished the Book

The most popular discussion is “Finished the Book” which was started by over-achiever Amy, who read the entire book in one night and opened up a thread for other speed readers to discuss their thoughts without having to worry about us slow-pokes getting upset about spoilers. Most commenters loved the format of the book, and pretty much everyone struggled at first with the dialect in which the book is written, but got used to it. One commenter mentioned that the subject matter, especially in the beginning, was like a “punch in the face.” I have to agree. I had no idea what I was getting into, and the first couple of pages had me reeling. I was hooked, though, by what another commenter described as a “horrific and beautiful” novel.

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Discussion Topic: Book vs Film

This discussion opens with a link to a review of the film adaptation of The Color Purple. Apparently when the movie was released in 1985, there was a backlash from males in the black community who resented that the film depicted them in a negative light. Commenters in this thread largely found that to be a bit short-sighted and thought such views kind of missed the point of the book/movie. As commenter Jackie put it, “I’ve always read it as the story of an undereducated, abused woman coming into her own with the help of other strong and supportive women.” And group member Iluminada agrees, “To me, it seemed the book was trying to convey the loss in a man’s life, white or black, when he can’t see women as human beings.”

The thread goes on to discuss some of the differences, good bad or indifferent, between the book and the movie:

  • The relationship between Shug and Celie: though some thought it was not as well portrayed in the movie as it was in the book, commenter Jackie argued, “I actually thought that the Celie/Shug relationship and the Celie/Nettie Relationships were the only ones that transferred well in the film.”
  • The character of Mary Agnes/Squeak is not explored enough in the film.
  • The redemption of Mr ____ is left out of the movie version.
  • The time sequence (sooooo many readers had an issue with the time sequence) is different in the film.
  • Shug singing is a powerful addition to the movie that we were not able to get in the book.

Another important point that this thread brought up was the incredible jobs Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, and Danny Glover did in the film. Group member Kressel noted, “Wow. IMBD says 11 nominations and not one win. It makes me think differently about the boycott on the Oscars this year, which I was skeptical about until now.” This is just one of the ways that this book seems to transcend time (more about that below).

Discussion Thread: Indifference

This thread was largely and woefully overlooked. It touched on the indifference that the native tribe in Africa, the Olinka, had towards missionaries in the book. Though the thread was started out of what seems to be a super personal experience, I think it touched on a very important issue. As one group moderator noted: “Missionaries are often unwelcome, and native populations are under no obligation to welcome their teachings.” The Color Purple touches on so frickin’ many issues it is unreal. And, as I mentioned above, it completely transcends time as every issue is still being discussed today.

I hadn’t given much thought to missionaries until I was an Anthropology minor in college. Let me be clear that I am speaking to religious missions, not humanitarian aid. The two are very different, though I know that modern missionaries have endeavored to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of the people they are traveling so far to help. The problem for me is the underlying idea that these people need spiritual help in the first place. Generally, a missionary’s understanding is that the group to whom they are proselytizing have an inherently WRONG understanding of the world and must therefore be saved. Missionaries tend to go into their mission field with the understanding that their own story is correct and worth sharing, while the stories of the people whose homes they are entering is wrong and needs to be changed. This is tragic to me because it misses the beauty and richness that has lived and thrived in the native culture. The so-obvious-it-really-shouldn’t-need-to-be-said-but-I-will-say-it-anyway exception to this is any tradition or custom that infringes on basic human rights, like child brides and female genital mutilation. That shiz needs to be changed.

Discussion Thread: Other Aspects of the Book

Being a feminist book club, this thread was started in order to touch on other issues (besides the growth and empowerment of the female characters) the book brings up, like colonialism/missionaries and sexuality. These issues are what make Purple so timeless. The book was written in the 1980s, but these issues are nowhere near outdated. Some issues that were not mentioned in this thread, but are also vital to the book are the concept of faith (this is touched on in another thread, though) and how the image of god changes through the course of the book, and the human relationship factor– the growth of each individual character and how that personal “coming of age” impacts the relationships the characters foster.


 

This is my first time being involved in a book club of any sort, and I have absolutely loved it so far. A couple of things I especially love about this group is the sense of community that has already grown within it. For example, last month the book was VERY difficult to get a hold of. For some, it was a money thing– $16 for the e-book just wasn’t in the budget. For others, the book was simply not yet available in their part of the world or in their language. One member responded by putting the entire book on her OneDrive and then sharing it with the whole group!

Another awesome thing that is happening is meet-ups. From Belgium to Los Angeles folks are getting together and talking about these books, which I think is pretty darn cool.

I also love the diversity of this group. There are entire discussion boards in Spanish and French. I just wish I spoke those languages!

And one more thing I love about the group– Emma has been great about interacting with authors. Shortly after we started reading Gloria Steinem’s book, she announced that she was going to have the pleasure of interviewing the author at an event in London and opened up a discussion thread for members to suggest questions for Ms Steinem. For The Color Purple, Emma talked to Alice Walker over the phone and shared some insights from the author herself. And Emma just announced the book for March, All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks. Again, Emma has a connection with bell, as bell recently interviewed Emma for Paper Magazine.

I love that this group is a thing. And I love that I get to share it with you!

 


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