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.
After announcing the book, several discussion threads were quickly started.
The most popular by far was Not Feeling It.
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.
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 refers 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)
“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 to 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?
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.