Friday, February 6, 2009

Spring Books

Some good friends are publishing some great books this spring. As it happens, they're all about bodies, dead, alive, or yet to be born.

I blurbed Peter Manseau's Rag and Bone: “Dry bones dance in Rag and Bone, as Peter Manseau brings death to life through his fascinating exploration of religious relics: the skull fragments, detached digits, and ashes of the holy. This is a book that might have been written in the 15th century just as easily as now, but we're lucky to have here the unique 21st century voice of Manseau--a Yiddish-speaking, Buddha-curious son of a Catholic priest and a nun--and one of the most peculiar and most entertaining travelogues in years.”

I also contributed a jacket blurb for Kathryn Joyce's Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement:"'Prairie muffins,' hayrides, and babies -- lots of babies -- don't sound like the stuff of fanaticism, but in Quiverfull Kathryn Joyce brings us the news from the most militant frontier of fundamentalism -- a 'patriarchy movement’ of right-wing women who embrace a caricature of 19th century womanhood as a strategy for culture war. At turns funny, terrifying, and heartbreaking, Quiverfull is a necessary book, an empathetic and brilliant analysis of how this small group of believers shape mainstream ideas about motherhood, marriage, sex and gender.”

Then there's Ilana Stanger-Ross's Sima's Undergarments for Women. I've heard and read little bits and pieces of it over the years, but I'm eagerly waiting for my copy like everyone else before I can say anything substantive about it. In the meantime, though, I'm happy to report that Entertainment Weekly gives Sima an A-.

Here's Michelle Goldberg's second book, The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World. I know Michelle through her reporting on Christian fundamentalism, so I was glad for the opportunity to read an advance copy of her new work, which, as the subtitle suggests, is big in scope. Here's the blurb I contributed: The Means of Reproduction is a bold and vital book, a story about life and those who twist that word to front for agendas of sexual control around the world. We're lucky that we have Michelle Goldberg, a brilliant and clear-eyed journalist, to bring us news of how the struggle over reproductive rights has gone global, as the American Right teams up with reactionary forces abroad. Goldberg calls it one of the most important fights of our time; after you read The Means of Reproduction, you will, too. A landmark book."

I notice I used "brings the news," a cliche to begin with, in two different blurbs. Don't hold that against the books.

Last, latest, and, admittedly, least, is Believer, Beware: First Person Dispatches from the Margins of Faith, selected by the editors of -- that is, me, Manseau, Paul Morris, Laurel Snyder, Meera Subramanian, Ashley Makar, and Marissa Dennis. I say least only because this is an anthology as opposed to a new piece of work, although there are several new essays in it. The book began one night when I was avoiding work on my most recent book, The Family. Instead of pushing through to a deadline, I stayed up til dawn reading through the hundreds of essays published on since Peter and I founded it with designer Jeremy Brothers back in 2000. I came up with a rough draft of a manuscript, then let it sit for months -- until a new crop of editors -- Meera, Ashley, Marissa, and now Nathan Schneider -- resurrected the webmagazine and grabbed hold of the manuscript's first draft, ready to make it real. To round out the book -- which includes terrific work by established writers such as Bia Lowe, Timothy Tyson, Rebecca Donner, and Steve Prothero, and new stars such as Irina Reyn, Danielle Trussoni, and Laurel Snyder -- we rounded up several new essays -- including Meera's "Banana Slug Psalm," Jeff Wilson's "Barbershop Dharma," Mark Dery's "Jesus is Just Allright," my "The Apocalypse is Always Now," Manseau's "Revelation Road," and, my most favorite of all, Quince Mountain's "Cowboy for Christ," a tale of transgendered Bible camp. Here's a sample:

Just like the cowbois in the more interesting queer porn mags, I wore leather chaps and carried a rope everywhere I went. These should have been clues, but I was oblivious to my slant. Perhaps many otherwise curious adults are too horrified to partake in such pleasures, are not ready to see in themselves what they’ve been told is perverted. I know I was spared for a long time from self-effacement or self-denial largely because of my ignorance of such terms as flogging, caning, BDSM, power play, FemDom, and the like. I didn’t know a schoolboy scene from a shoe fetish, and was thus free to engage in all manner of erotic indulgence.

Until the one of the deacons caught me lavishing Whitney’s bare and salty beltline as she leaned back against a pile of sweaty saddle blankets polishing leather in the tack room, I was quite free, indeed. During the ensuing interrogations, I publicly denied any kind of sexual interest in girls (What?! She’s like a sister to me—my sister in Christ!). I recounted my devotion, my service, their lack of solid evidence. The director, who called me out on the back barn porch and addressed me with his arms crossed, could hardly prove a longstanding sexual relationship. Still, my welcome at Bible camp was clearly limited to the end of the summer at best.

Privately, I had to agree with the director. I held up my desires to the holy light of God’s word and, yes, they were out of line with His will. I may have failed as a camp wrangler, but I could get right with God.

When Whit and I left the camp without plans to return, we didn’t tell our friends we’d been caught getting it on in the barn. We cited frustration with transient staff and milky sermons. We said we wanted community; we craved meat and potatoes. So the following summer—after I finished high school and Whit dropped out of missionary school—we moved to Whit’s hometown, where we joined an even more conservative church. That’s what I needed in order to be the God-fearing woman I was meant to be: more rigidity...