This blog is currently on hiatus. It may return later, it may not. Though reviews won’t be posted, I will update the challenges to reflect books I’m reading. That’s all folks.

Story of O

Written by Pauline Réage

Peel: A fictional novel following the female protagonist in her submission to her lover.

Throughout the novel, O’s consent is asked for, though there are situations of potentially dubious consent featuring other characters. The reader sees O blindfolded, whipped, chained, pierced, branded, masked, and trained to always be available for any type of intercourse with anyone approved by her lover. Additionally, the reader sees O proudly showing off her welts, branding, and piercings to her female lover.

Trained at the chateau of Roissy by a group of upper-class men, O did not know what her lover had or had not done when she was whipped and taken as was frequently blindfolded or partnered with men wearing masks. At the end of this training, her lover gives her to a more dominant master: Sir Stephen. Her lover claims that it is very important for O to learn how to serve someone she does not love, and who does not love her. However, as the training progresses, O falls in love with Sir Stephen, and she is under the impression that he loves her as well. O chooses to remain with Sir Stephen instead of her lover, and is branded and pierced with his initials and crest.

There has been some feminist backlash against this novel. Dworkin, for example, argues that having the protagonist’s name shortened to O represents her being zero, empty, and nothing more than an orifice. It has also been argued that the novel is just about the ultimate objectification of the female, and that it glorifies the abuse of women.

In this light, the character of O does delineate being submissive as a person from being submissive in a sexual context. We do, however briefly, see her life in the outside world as a successful photographer. Furthermore, I think it is useful to keep in mind that Réage wrote this as a series of fantasy letters to her lover, a de Sade fan.

I would not recommend this to anyone uncomfortable with mixing pain and pleasure; otherwise, it’s an interesting fantasy.

Nibble: “And yet all she was aiming for was to make the silks, the furs, and the laces more beautiful by that sudden beauty of an elfin creature surprised by her reflection in the mirror, which Jacqueline became in the simplest blouse, as she did in the most elegant mink.”

Rating: 7 out of 10 rouged red apples

I borrowed a paper copy from the CSPH library; cross-posted on their website here.

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Athos in America

Written and drawn by Jason

Peel: A graphic novel composed of six short stories.

This was a lovely collection. The stories all had different characters, but had similar tones and ideas, which made for a cohesive collection. This collection was on the angrier side of things. As usual, Jason did an amazing job at conveying lots of emotion through simple anthropomorphic drawings.

I found all of the stories, except the title story, to be very strong and rather intense. One story has amusing scene of Jason doing a reading, quoting passages from one of his excellent mostly silent books- Hey, Wait…. Another story, Athos in America, didn’t come off as very strong to me, however it was supposed to be a prequel to another of his books “The Last Musketeer”, which I have yet to read. As a note this is one of Jason’s wordier pieces, which may not be to some fans’ taste.

I would recommend this to anyone who has really enjoyed Jason’s previous work or wants an introduction to graphic novels.

Nibble: “Go out and get me a body! Someone young this time…not some old wreck!”

My Rating: 9 out of 10 flat flavorful apples

Jason’s Blog

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The Imperfectionists

Written by Tom Rachman

Peel: A collection of overlapping vignettes focused on a failing newspaper.

Each chapter is from a different character’s point of view, and inserted between chapters is the italicized history of the paper. The book reads much more like a collection of stories than a novel. Though the characters appear rather different at first glance, they’re all alienated, cliches, and a bit dysfunctional. All the women characters are irredeemable with some form of neurosis, self-esteem issues, and/or a need for men. The prose itself wasn’t that great, and worsens as the novel continues. There are some amusing moments and lovely scenery, but the chapter titles/headlines tended to oversell the chapters.

The book is focused on people struggling with themselves, rather than the paper struggling to exist in an internet age. The brief bits of the paper’s history were rather dull.

Nibble: “This wins a ringing endorsement and a fast-dying chuckle- they don’t like to laugh at each other’s jokes.”

I would recommend this to someone as a quick and light read.

My Rating: 4 out of 10 incomplete apples

Tom Rachman’s Site

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Miss Abernathy’s Concise Slave Training Manual

Written by Christina Abernathy

Peel: A very concise and straightforward piece on training or being a slave.

This is a rather quick read focusing on consensual slave and master relationships. This is not a Story of O, this is more of a how to have a m/s relationship in real life. There are details on service, punishment and reward, preparation, ownership, address, contracts, and the like. She also includes a further readings list at the end, and other resources that are a shade dated now. Abernathy emphasizes how much the slave reflects on the owner, and how much work a slave still is for the dominant. Abernathy tends to switch genders around for different roles, unless the role specifies one. The writing is on the warm and witty side, and the attitude leans towards Victorian.

Nibble: “Courtly love, although it is the source of many of our modern notions of romantic love, diverges sharply from its contemporary counterpart in that love is explicitly defined in terms of the lover’s service to his lady.”

I would recommend this as a practical book to anyone interested in m/s relationships.

My Rating: 7 out of 10 red apple scenes

I borrowed a paper copy from the CSPH library.

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Why Is Sex Fun?

Written by Jared Diamond

Peel: A book looking into how human sex differs so much from other animals, and how it may have evolved to get there.

Diamond looks at many oddities of human nature when trying to answer his grand question- why is sex fun? Some things he examines are: lack of lactation in males, menopause, concealed ovulation, and how humans tend to have sex in private. Diamond’s writing style is rather witty and easy to read. This book only contains theoretical answers to the questions it poses, which makes it far more interesting to ponder.

As a note Diamond is just examining heterosexual sex. Also, interestingly Diamond does not touch on any sensual or emotional aspects of why sex might be fun. This is a smaller book, so he doesn’t go deep into any supporting information.

Nibble: “Men have no reliable means of detecting when their partners can be fertilized, nor did women in traditional societies.”

I would recommend this as a quick and fun popular science book.

My Rating: 9 out of 10 hidden green apples

I borrowed a paper copy from the CSPH library.

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Sex for One

Written by Betty Dodson

Peel: A book focused on taking the shame out of masturbation.

One of Dodson’s fantasies is that everyone will be joyfully masturbating on New Years Eve for world peace. So the book may come across as a bit dated in how sex positive times are now. However sex positivity doesn’t necessarily include masturbation positivity. Dodson combats ideas such as ‘well masturbation’s fine and all, but it’s no substitution for the real thing‘. Dodson includes some of her own nude drawings, which were okay; the most interesting were of sixteen very different looking vulvas. Dodson’s writing tends on the autobiographical side, and is rather humorous. This is not primarily a how-to orgasm or masturbate better book. This is more of a why not masturbate, and how to feel comfortable, instead of guilty, doing so. The book also focuses on sexual fulfillment without relying on your partner and how masturbation is the safest sex.

As a warning, Dodson does tend to write in a cis-normative way.

Nibble: “When I was with a lover, I avoided heavy breathing, barely moved my body, and never broke out in a sweat. In order to have “ladylike orgasms,” I always held back because, basically, I was embarrassed about sex.”

I would recommend this to anyone who is not masturbation positive.

My Rating: 8 out of 10 polished red apples

I borrowed a paper copy from the CSPH library.

Betty Dodson’s Blog

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The Beauty Myth

Written by Naomi Wolf

Peel: A rather modern academic book examining how beauty keeps women restrained in relation to: work, culture, religion, sex, hunger and violence.

I found this a great book to read with a grain of salt. The book presents much more of how the beauty myth operates rather than why, or examining the causality behind the beauty myth. In general much of the book reads as intuitively plausible, minus the quasi-conspiracy theory parts. A few generalizations seemed over the top, such as make-up sellers using cult practices to maximally promote their product. There are notes in the back of the book, but I would have found footnotes much more helpful to know while reading where the information is coming from. The strongest chapters were work, hunger, and sex.

On the other hand, Wolf does tend to beat a dead horse with repeating some of her ideas, especially in the beginning. Wolf also very quickly shuts down any argument with measures of beauty correlating to evolution. But it seems that a tiny bit of beauty reasoning might be found here, since cross culturally similar waist to hip ratios are preferred.

All in all this was a powerful read, showing many cases of brutality and unfairness against women. The book is very thought provoking as to what feminism means, and how to try and promote it without backlash.

If a second edition of this book were produced, it would be interesting to examine how stupidity has been eroticised, how the beauty myth has spread further to males, how gender presentation affects the beauty myth, and looking at the beauty myth with respect to queer people. If the beauty myth does exist, beyond the products existing, then I would like to see the causality and how it was created intentionally to keep women out of power explored more. The current version of The Beauty Myth is written and caters to a very straight, middle-class, white, and cis audience.

Nibble: “Having no fat means having no breasts, thighs, hips, or ass, which for once means not having asked for it.”

I would recommend this to any woman who wants to examine their concept of beauty, and any person who wants to think more about this issue.

My Rating: 8 out of 10 nonconventional blue apples

I borrowed a paper copy from the CSPH library.

Naomi Wolf’s Site

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The Universal Mirror

Written by Gwen Perkins

Peel: Set in a fantasy country, where magicians are forbidden to leave or cast, harmful or helpful, magic on people.

This was an interesting read as it seesawed between being high-action and quickly paced to dramatic dialogs. The book is composed of four parts, and in the third, the plot became much more interesting and I became more sympathetic to the characters. The book did promote interesting ethical questions including how much a life is worth, and the value of knowledge. Perkins creates some interesting characters, though I would have liked to see more about the side characters. Perkins certainly set up a universe that’s very open to future novels. Personally, I would like to read more about Felix.

On the other hand, there are quite a few typos and occasionally Perkins over-explains an idea.

Nibble: “I used to catch frogs and let them loose on her head, and she never screamed, not once. In fact, she used to put spiders in my tea when her mother called on mine.”

I would recommend this book to lovers of fantasy.

My Rating: 7 out of 10 magical red apples

I received a free electronic copy from the author.

Gwen Perkins’s Site

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Written by Laurie Halse Anderson

Peel: After busting a summer party, no one at school wants to be friends with Melinda. So she’s stuck alone in her mind, and even there has become threatening.

This was a very difficult, but gripping, book to read, as every step of the way you want to be there for Melinda. Melinda’s character is remarkably realistic and sympathetic. The book is written as Melissa in a very close first person, and one gets to hear her darkly humorous take on high school. The prose is on the weaker side, many other characters are flat, and at times the symbolism is heavy handed; but given that the narrator was a freshman in high school, this made her more believable and affective.

There is a rather worrying message that the author seems to be conveying in her ending- that one should be hopeful for retribution. The ending itself felt too quick for me, and lost the realistic feel that Anderson had in the rest of the novel.

Nibble: “May is finally here and it has stopped raining. Good thing, too- the mayor of Syracuse was about to put out a call for a guy named Noah.”

I would recommend this to everyone.

My Rating: 9 out of 10 growing apple trees

I borrowed a paper copy from the CSPH library; click here to read the extended version.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Site

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