Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018, part 9: Nancy Jane Moore

Books and Experiences
by Nancy Jane Moore

A book I read early in the year (and reviewed for the Cascadia Subduction Zone ), Her Own Hero: The Origins of the Women’s Self-Defense Movement, ending up defining 2018 for me. I stumbled across this book by historian and martial artist Wendy L. Rouse in a Facebook post by Yudit Sidikman, a self-defense teacher and fourth degree black belt in judo who has established ESD Global, an international organization aimed at teaching empowerment self-defense to everyone. In August, I went to ESD Global’s teacher training.

In November, I taught a self defense class for International Women’s Self Defense Day. For years I have been doing presentations on self defense at WisCon and other conventions, but this was a class that combined the concepts I’ve been discussing with physical training, games, and play. I’m planning more classes. While Professor Rouse’s book did not introduce me to self defense – I’ve trained in martial arts for close to forty years now – it did give me the detailed history of how learning how to fight back figured into the suffragist movement of the early twentieth century in both the United States and in Britain. I knew some suffragists trained, but I had no idea how widespread such classes were, even though I was well-aware of feminist self-defense and martial arts training from second wave feminism in the 1970s. This is an important part of feminist history, particularly at this time when many still try to argue that women are not physically capable of taking care of themselves.

The ESD camp left me with the feeling that I’d found another place where I belong in the universe – a community of women, many of them also martial artists, committed to helping others recognize their power. The training we do is not just about teaching others useful skills so that they can protect themselves from violence, but also about empowering them to go out in the world and do the things they want to do and need to do with their lives. One of the best things about the empowerment approach is that addresses the complexity of violence against women – the systemic misogyny, the fact that women are at more risk from people they know than from strangers, the belief many people have that women can’t take care of themselves – in a direct manner that incorporates it into the training.

Here’s another recommendation growing out of the empowerment self defense work: the documentary Beauty Bites Beast, a film by Ellen Snortland that provides an excellent introduction into the concepts.

I did read some other things this year. Despite being somewhat older than the target middle-grade audience, I loved Ellen Klages’s Out of Left Field, which provided a history of professional women baseball players alongside a story about a girl who wants to play Little League. Now there’s a book showing a girl willing to take risks and do.

I also finished up Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti trilogy with Binti: The Night Masquerade. I loved this imaginative tale that incorporated aliens, complex human cultures, and creative technology. Binti: The Complete Trilogy is coming out in February. I also just got the first issue of her new comic, LaGuardia, which is equally wonderful.

I seem to be hooked on serial novellas, because I also got into the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. I read the first one, All Systems Red, earlier this year and just finished the second, Artificial Conditions. These stories, told from the point of view of a security unit, are great adventures that make the reader think about how artificial intelligence might work as well as the kind of misdeeds and stupidity that often come with human structures. I’ve started a lot of books and not finished them this year. With fiction, that rarely had to do with the quality of the book, but rather with the feeling that the story was going to be too painful and difficult for me to handle right now. Apparently part of my reaction to the political morass and its ongoing horrors is an inability to get deep into fictional tragedy after seeing so much news about it in real life.

In the case of nonfiction, I usually stopped reading because I was disappointed in the books. I did like Rebecca Solnit’s latest collection of essays, Call Them by Their True Names. I find her realistic optimism to be a guiding light in these troubled times. Another book I reviewed for the CSZ, Kate Manne’s Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, could not be called optimistic, but provided a useful and original structure for addressing our misogynistic culture.

Nell Painter’s Old in Art School, which chronicles her experience of starting formal art study in her sixties after a distinguished career as an historian, was also revealing. I loved it partly because it was about someone who isn’t young going after a new creative career with passion, and perhaps even more because it showed the extra difficulties of doing that when one also has elderly parents, another important career, and is African American. And she does not neglect to discuss the fact that she had a supportive spouse and the financial resources to do this properly.

Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”, a book neglected during her lifetime, was issued this year. This report of those on the last slave ship from Africa to come to the United States, an event that happened just before the Civil War and fifty years after such trade had been outlawed, and their post-Civil-War settlement of Africatown, Alabama, which is now part of Mobile, provides a stunning oral history that complements much of the historical work being done on slavery and racism these days.

Right now I am finishing Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics and discussing it in a local book group. This book re-envisions economics. No, we don’t need doughnuts, but the shape of that pastry gives us a more reasonable look at how we should create our economic systems. The doughnut itself represents the “safe and just space for humanity.” It is bordered on the outside by the ecological ceiling and on the inside by social foundation. The idea is an economic system based on what people need and what the limits are to good life on Earth. In the face of climate change and severe income inequality, changing our economic system is primary.

I was a little surprised when I finished this piece and discovered that I hadn’t mentioned one book by a male author. While I didn’t intend this result, and, indeed, suspect I read several good books by men last year, I’m going to leave this list as it is. There’s plenty of good reading on it.

Nancy Jane Moore’s science fiction novel The Weave came out from Aqueduct in 2015. She recently finished writing a novel inspired by binge reading Alexandre Dumas. Her book reviews and fiction have appeared most recently in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. She has trained in martial arts for close to forty years and holds a fourth degree black belt in Oakland. A native Texan who spend many years in Washington, DC, she now lives in Oakland, California.

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