Book Review: The Whip

I’d like to say that I’m no expert of the Western genre–in fact, this is the first novel I’ve read based in specifically this location and this time. I am, however, a big fan of historical fiction, though, again, I am not familiar with much of the history of the American West.

A summary of the book:

“The Whip is inspired by the true story of Charlotte “Charley” Parkhurst (1812-1879) who lived most of her extraordinary life as a man in the old west. As a young woman in Rhode Island, she fell in love with a runaway slave and had his child.  He was lynched, her baby killed. The destruction of her family drove her west to California, dressed as a man, to track the killer. Charley became a renowned stagecoach driver for Wells Fargo. She killed a famous outlaw, had a secret love affair, and lived with a housekeeper who, unaware of her true sex, fell in love with her. Charley was the first woman to vote in America in 1868 (as a man). Her grave lies in Watsonville, California.”

Note: Spoilers will be in italics. You’ve been warned!

The book begins near the end of the story, when Charley is nearing the end of his life–then flashes back to the very beginning of her life–as an infant. This is a popular timeline to use, but it’s not one that appeals to me, personally. I prefer my stories to be laid out linearly, from beginning to end. I believe here, it wasn’t the best timeline–knowledge of Charley’s struggles with her two identities: Charlotte, and Charley, her losses, her achievements would have made the conclusion of her story, of her life, that much more moving, and her actions before her death more understandable for the reader.

The characters are complex–several, including Lee, Anna, and Edmund remind me of thus: “Pure is impure. Impure is pure. Good is evil. Evil is good.” Or something like that. Lee Colton is, in the beginning of the story, Charlotte’s protector, caretaker, and best friend. He cradles baby Charlotte on her first night in the orphanage, provides her with companionship, and protects her from the abusive headmistress and other children. However, he slowly morphs into a possessive and abusive man, murdering her family, and raping her. What was good, is now evil.

Anna, the sometimes actress, sometimes con woman, sometimes thief, initially takes advantage of Charley for a free ride, and temporary shelter in his home. However, she evolves into Charley’s companion of sorts, as well as his caretaker, morphing his cabin into a home. Impure is pure.

Edmund is a fascinating sort of character, as he moves back and forth along the so-called binary of good and evil. He begins as a gambler, and the first who guesses Charley’s secret, evolves into Charlotte’s secret lover, then into Sugarfoot, the notorious robber (unknowingly to Charley), back to Charlotte’s lover, and back again to Sugarfoot. He alternatively puts Charley at risk for exposure, then provides the sanctuary and intimate companionship Charlotte needs, and risks Charley’s life. Pure is impure. Impure is pure. Good is evil. Evil is good.

Kondazian rarely pulls punches, either. She doesn’t hesitate to show the nitty-gritty details of Charley’s life–for instance, one scene depicts Charley sneaking off to take a piss away from prying eyes. The book shows Charlotte’s struggle to transform into Charley–on her journey west, she does a lot of philosophizing on gender and gender presentation. It’s a refreshing addition to the woman-becomes-a-man-by-dressing-like-one trope in literature, making it less a “trope” and more of the essence of Charlotte’s journey. LBGTQI people may well find it familiar.

One thing that was difficult for me to read was the scenes where Lee Colton sexually assaulted Charlotte. I wondered why novels with a female protagonist always seem to have the female lead sexually assaulted. In every novel with a female protagonist that I have read, off the top of my head, does this. Why? In this book, Charlotte sort-of checks out during her assaults. They don’t factor in her desire for revenge, and after they’re over, they never come up again. Why are they there?

All in all, I loved this book. It’s so good to read about a strong, historical woman–to read about someone like me. Charley Parkhurst is a historical figure, but Kondazian takes this larger-than-life figure and makes her real. Charlotte is not supporting someone else’s enlightenment, nor serves as support for someone else’s (a man’s) journey, but stands on her own, chases after what she wants. She drifts, stumbles along something that she wants, takes it, loses it, and then sets off to reclaim her own life, her own power, and does it all on her own.

The book ended before I was ready. Partly because it was only 280 pages, and partly because of the end-beginning-middle timeline chosen.

If I had to rate this book (and I don’t like rating books–they’re too complex to be reduced to such a simple measure, but some people find them useful, alas.) I would give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Socialize The Whip, the team promoting the book, and the same that offered me a copy of the book, and asked if I would review it, is offering a free copy to one of my readers. (I’m not getting paid to do this, nor did I get paid to review the book. Ah, well. Maybe one day, eh?)

So, if you’d like a free book (who doesn’t?) leave a comment on this post before Friday at 2:00pm EST, and I’ll choose one of you randomly!

On Being Naive

Recently, I’ve been called an “idealist,” in a scoffing, “you’re so naive about the way the world works” sort of way, in addition to being accused of having a “skewed view of the world” by several different people, in discussions of a few different topics.

Perhaps I am an idealist, but I certainly don’t have any “skewed” view of the world.

Rather, I expect more. I have high standards, for myself, and for others.

I don’t believe I should accept the world as is, because “that’s how it is.” That is because I believe in doing the right thing. I believe in conducting my life with integrity. I believe in respect. I believe in paying forward all the things that my mentors have taught me.

I have had a multitude of experiences that have taught me the importance of empathy, compassion, integrity, respect, activism, and recognizing that nothing is simple.

I give to others exactly what I’d want for myself–including a verbal smackdown if I fucked up.

I am not perfect, but I always strive to be better.

There is always a story. Much of what I’ve learned has a story behind it–personal experiences that have radically changed me. Truly awful experiences that have convinced me to change something–my views, my behavior, or something about the “way the world is.” I’ve met, worked with, befriended, or was taught by so many amazing people, and they have changed me, too. I’ve had amazing experiences that have changed me as well. I am indebted to all of those people, and all of these things.

The people who scoff at my supposed naivete are vastly underestimating me. And, you know? That’s alright. They haven’t gotten to know me, for the most part. Once they do, if they do, they’ll change their minds. Many people have changed their minds about me–and some of the people who, in the past, thought I was mean, or rude, or ignorant, are some of my closest friends today. We learned from one another–even if we don’t agree. And that’s fine. My friends are precious to me, and I’m so glad we took the time to look past our differing views of the world. I’m glad we took the time to understand one another, because now? We know better-we’ve learned, not just about “the other side” but also that behind the politics, we’re good people. I’ve changed minds; they’ve changed mine.

I’m a better person for it all–and you know what? I still have high standards. I still have boundaries. I still have deal-breakers.

If that means, to you, that my worldview is skewed–that doesn’t say a whole lot about me.

Pro-Choice in Kentucky

I am pro-choice. I am a resident of Kentucky.

Being pro-choice in a state that is widely regarded as a lost cause is not easy.

Kentucky isn’t a lost cause. Considering it one is losing half the battle.

Pro-choice Kentuckians are perpetually on the defensive–trying to stop restrictive legislation, stop funding from being cut, stop anti-choicers from harassing patients outside of clinics, stop the hatred and vitriol directed toward reproductive rights, and the people who believe in them.

Simply being openly pro-choice in Kentucky is activism. After all, anti-choicers have long held the pulpit here, painting caricatures of baby-hating, cold, anti-life, anti-woman  “pro-choicers.” I am none of those things–by being openly pro-choice, I am showing everyone around me that those caricatures are lies. I’m opening the door.

I talk about being pro-choice. People ask questions; I answer them. I give my friends, classmates, acquaintances, and neighbors a different perspective–describing reproductive rights by framing it in a way that’s relevant, in language that they will respond to. For instance, I often say that abortion is a form of self-defense–it is an action women may take in order to protect their bodies from the multitude of harms that may come from pregnancy. I say that only I can decide what happens to my body–nobody can use it without my permission, just like no one may break into my home even if they need shelter.

I write to my representatives–even the infamous Mitch McConnell. He doesn’t agree with me, and he won’t vote the way I want him to, but I still write. He needs to know that I exist, that I care, and that his ideology is abhorrent to me. I will oppose them. In other words, I’m watching. I’m voting. Think about that.

I write and reply to pro-choicers outside of Kentucky–I appeal, I plead, I rant, and I call for support. Stop dismissing Kentucky. Help us. Rally with us. Support pro-choice Kentuckians in our fight. It’s not hopeless. We help you–it’s time to help us. Don’t wait for some really abhorrent, anti-choice legislation to jump in. Let’s work together to keep it from ever getting to that point. Let’s change minds. Let’s change budgets. Let’s change laws.

I am a feminist. I am pro-choice. I am a Kentuckian.

Fun on Youtube: Saturday Night Edition

I laughed my ass off watching this video:

I was an RA for a year in college, so if you’re curious: yep. This is exactly how it is. And in my experience, especially the parts at 1:06 and 1:26.

To Those Who Don’t Understand the Decision Regarding Birth Control

Because I read HuffPo and Facebook comments, even though they drive me up the wall:

So, here’s how this new rule requiring full coverage of birth control works:

1. Insurance policies for all employers, save churches, must provide full coverage for birth control.

2. This is not violating religious freedom, or “keeping organizations from practicing there [sic] beliefs.” Women employed by a Catholic hospital, or a Baptist university aren’t there to “practice their beliefs.” They are working. For a paycheck. Also! For the benefits.

2a. An organization cannot be religious, or have beliefs–people have religious beliefs. Women that work at a Catholic hospital are just as free to practice their beliefs as before–they can take or not take birth control as they see fit. Many employees of these types of religious organizations do not have the same religious beliefs–it would be discriminatory to force a Baptist woman, for example, to follow the rules of Catholicism (to use my aunt as an example).

3. These religious organizations are not paying for the birth control–the employees pay for their own policies.

4. Let’s put this in a more abstract way–companies do not get to dictate the health care of their employees. Google cannot tell one of their programmers that they’re not going to offer an insurance plan that would cover surgeries. Zappo’s cannot decide that they’re not going to provide insurance policies that cover prescriptions. In short, employers do not, by and large, get to pick and choose which aspects of health care that their insurance policies will or will not cover.

5. Churches are exempt. Churches are exempt. CHURCHES ARE EXEMPT.

6. Employers have no goddamn business in the exam room with an employee and their doctor. Per-i-od.

 

Update: Tuscon Unified School District Bans Books

I’ve been spending some time today reading up on ARS 15-111/15-112, the law that has banned ethnic studies in Arizona, from whence the book ban came, and the people that are fighting it.

I had an idea in my last post, to send copies of the banned books to the students in the Tucson Unified School District, and a lot of people really like the idea. I plan to reach out, to see if this is a doable thing, but first, I want to do some reading. I want to find out what the people of Tucson are doing, what they want done, before I jump in, going all White Knight. I want to be a good ally, not some obnoxious fool jumping in to drain resources. (and I hope you do, too.)

I know you’re itching for some action, though (who isn’t?) so here’s what I’ve found so far:

SaveEthnicStudies.org has a petition on their site for you to sign. Here’s the text of the petition:

“We the undersigned support the effort to save ethnic studies in the Tucson Unified School District. The Mexican American Studies program poses no threat to the state of Arizona or its education system. On the contrary, it provides a proven-effective method to educate students and motivate them to stay in school and become productive leaders in their community.

We stand in opposition to State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal’s attempt to withhold $15 million of state funding from the school district. This action is completely unwarranted given the results of the independent audit commissioned by the state, which found the program to be fully in compliance with Arizona’s ethnic studies ban. In fact, the audit recommended that the program be maintained as part of the core curriculum for high schools in the district.

The Mexican American Studies program should be applauded and replicated for its success, not destroyed by a pointless ban.”

So go sign it!

SaveEthnicStudies.org also has a ton of information: court documents, a background, a nice list of all the important players, news links, and other items of interest. If you’re an academic, journalist, or just a fan of primary documents, this is the place to go. Some pages, like the news page, haven’t been updated for a while, but the information is still very valuable for catching up on the background of this issue, especially if you’re not familiar with what’s been going on.

For discussion and links, check out the Save Ethnic Studies in Arizona Facebook page.

The National Council of La Raza is “the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States—works to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans.  Through its network of nearly 300 affiliated community-based organizations, NCLR reaches millions of Hispanics each year in 41 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.  To achieve its mission, NCLR conducts applied research, policy analysis, and advocacy, providing a Latino perspective in five key areas—assets/investments, civil rights/immigration, education, employment and economic status, and health. In addition, it provides capacity-building assistance to its Affiliates who work at the state and local level to advance opportunities for individuals and families.” Just glancing over, I can’t find a whole lot about the book ban in particular, but they’re the ones hosting the petition for SaveEthnicStudies.org, so it’s worth checking them out.

Occupy Tucson–look here for information on direct action, new items, and ways to support the community as it fights for itself.

Tucson Unified School District Bans Books

Remember when Arizona banned ethnic studies in the state’s schools?

Well.

The Tucson Unified school district has succumbed, deciding against fighting the measure, and has complied a list of books that are banned from the district’s classrooms.

from Brenda Norrell:

“Students said the banned books were seized from their classrooms and out of their hands, after Tucson schools banned Mexican American Studies, including a book of photos of Mexico. Crying, students said it was like Nazi Germany, and they were unable to sleep since it happened.”

This is unacceptable. Banning books is banning knowledge–just what is it that Tucson and Arizona officials do not want schoolchildren in Arizona to know?

Here is a shortlist of the books banned:

Pedagogy of the Oppressed by  Paolo Freire

Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuña

Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson

The Tempest by William Shakespeare

Chicano!: The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement by Arturo Rosales

500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures by Elizabeth Martinez

Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic

Evidently, anything where “race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes.”

The Tucson Citizen reports that OccupyTUSD will be holding a daily protest from 4-6pm at the school district headquarters.

I plan to add these books to my reading list–anything that John Huppenthal, the Tea Partier that was elected in 2010 to Arizona’s statewide superintendent of public instruction post, is so afraid of. (And really? Who the fuck elects a Tea Partier to an education post? Apparently Arizona. Come on, Arizona. What. The. Fuck.)

You know what I’d like to do, though? I’d like to send copies of these books to the students that had theirs snatched away from them. Let’s do that. Would anybody else like to do that?