Tuesday, October 30, 2012

22. Last Exit To Brooklyn

By Hubert Selby, Jr.

This was my first Hubert Selby Jr book and, man, it was pretty intense. I watched the 1989 film many years ago so had a good idea of the subject matter I’d be encountering. Still, it has taken me several months to finish reading Last Exit To Brooklyn as I'd read bits of it at a time when in between other novels (and pregnancy books!). There was only so much I can take looking inside the wretched lives of lower class Brooklynites in the 1950’s.

Each of the six chapters focuses on a character and their personal turmoil with usually the same recurring characters in each story. The Queen Is Dead section featured the most pathetic portrayal of unrequited love I have ever read. Georgette, a transvestite hooker so lacking in self-awareness and introspection, that her irrational longing for macho douchebag Vinnie and her child-like internal monologue made me think of her as an adolescent chimpanzee.

The most notorious story of all was probably Tralala, in which the title character, a foul-mouthed prostitute and thief, falls into a self-destructive bender and voluntarily gets gang-raped. This was without doubt the most intense portrayal of pure, unadulterated female rage and self-hatred I have ever encountered.

And then there was Strike. All the characters in Last Exit to Brooklyn so far have been pathetic, unlikable losers in their own way, but Harry, a closeted homosexual and wife-beater, really took the cake. As a barely competent machinist and union rep, he gained temporary status and importance when his factory went on a several months long strike. I found him to be the most detestable creature in LEtB, a real nasty piece of work. The only bright side to Harry’s chapter was that it featured some of the more darkly funny passages in the book:

His stomach knotted, a slight nausea starting. He went into the living room. Mary dressed the baby and put him in the crib. Harry heard her jostling the crib. Heard the baby sucking on his bottle. The muscles and nerves of Harrys body twisted and vibrated. He wished to krist he could take the sounds and shove them up her ass. Take the goddamn kid and jam it back up her snatch.


All of the characters lacked any shred of insight into their own interior lives (let alone other people’s) that you wondered if they even had a soul. That and Selby’s unique stream-of-consciousness style made me think of the first-person narration of an adolescent chimpanzee from Carl Sagan’s Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. I guess Selby had this exact thing in mind when he wrote Landsend where a group of women on a bench were giggling and grooming each other, actually looking for nits in each other’s hair!

Last Exit To Brooklyn was not exactly a pleasant trip, and it won't be easy to forget its raw, emotional energy.

Friday, October 19, 2012

21. Your Pregnancy Week By Week (6th Edition)

By Glade B. Curtis, M.D., M.P.H. and Judith Schuler, M.S.

 The great thing about borrowing a bunch of pregnancy books is that you can return them after your bun’s out of the oven… and then replace them with child-rearing books!

This was an informative week by week guide to pregnancy, and every weekend, I would read a new chapter up until Week 38 when my baby decided to arrive a week before her due date!

The weekly chapters include illustrations of how both mother and fetus are changing and growing, descriptions of fetus' growth and developmental milestones, information about a mother's average weight gain and what she might be feeling or becoming aware of, the medical testing that corresponds to the week in question, and helpful tips on nutrition, lifestyle and prenatal exercises.

Friday, October 12, 2012

20. HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method

By Marie F. Mongan

The Wikipedia sums up the theory of HypnoBirthing as follows:

Hypnotherapy during childbirth is based on the theory that to experience an easy and comfortable birth, women need to have an understanding of the way in which the uterus functions naturally during normal childbirth when unencumbered by fear, along with the ill-effects of the fear-tension-pain cycle on the birthing process. Birthing women and their support partners are taught non-pharmcological strategies, such as relaxation, meditation and visualisation, that allow the body to birth normally without restrictions to assist in pain free, easier, more comfortable birthing. 

What I found most interesting was how Mongan looked at the history of birth, drawing from historical sources like Childbirth Without Fear published in 1942 by obstetricians Grantly Dick-Read and Michel Odent.  In the past it was midwives who were responsible for helping the laboring woman give birth. At some point in the post-Industrial Revolution, the role of midwives were taken over by men and eventually became medicalized.

During this transformation, much valuable knowledge was lost or overlooked, and pregnancy and childbirth became a medical condition, mostly due to the belief that women’s bodies were imperfect. Worse, pain during childbirth was regarded to be normal and expected, and thus, the fear of childbirth was born. This becomes a self-fulfulling cycle since if you’re afraid, you’ll naturally tense up, which then greatly impedes the birthing process.

As much as I found HypnoBirthing fascinating, I did not read the later chapters which explains how to practice the breathing exercises and relaxation techniques.  It is just as well because now having experienced my own labour and birth, there was no way I was going to transcend the blinding pain that I went through!  Though I ended up having a medicated, non-natural birth, I did not feel cheated out of my expectations and had a positive experience, thanks to the top-notch care and attention I received at my hospital, which was already up on the latest trends, like recognizing the importance of skin-on-skin contact and breastfeeding your newborn as soon as possible.  It was just eye-opening to know that there are alternatives for expectant mothers out there.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

19. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth

By Ina May Gaskin   

 A friend lent me this book as well as the following two books.   Before I ever conceived of the idea of becoming pregnant, my views on pregnancy was pretty typical of many modern woman of my generation who’s never given birth before:  that giving birth would be extremely painful and that the best way to deal with it was to be medicated.  Ina May and Marie Mongan helped open my mind to the idea that it is possible to have an unmedicated birth and transcend the pain of childbirth.  They helped me to view the female body in a positive light and the incredible physiological changes our bodies go through in order to bring about new life. 

In Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, May draws from her experiences as America's leading midwife and provides many anecdotes about the many labouring women she has helped at The Farm over the decades.  Some of stories she shares involve women who faced psychological, emotional and physical challenges during labour and managed to overcome them.  I found her theory about the mind/body connection and Sphincter Law very helpful and fascinating.  May also provides evidence that her techniques help women achieve better rates of success compared to general population figures found at hospitals, such as decreased average length of labour, lower episiotomy and cesarean section rates, and better emotional satisfaction from mothers who have given birth.

My doula is also a big fan of Ina May and I was looking forward to practicing some of the techniques and exercises described by May during my labour.  Unfortunately, my birth did not exactly go as planned, which wasn’t a bad thing, but I’m still glad I was able to read this very fascinating book.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

18. The Mother of All Pregnancy Books

An All-Canadian Guide to Conception, Birth and Everything In Between

By Ann Douglas

 I've been reading various pregnancy and birth-related books the past several months and finished them in a cluster shortly after giving birth to my dear baby girl. When I say "finished", though I did read these books from front to back, I only focused on sections which I found pertinent to my particular situation, skimming through sections that did not apply to me.

With The Mother of All Pregnancy Books, I received the latest edition non gratis as part of my company’s Employee Assistance Program for expectant parents. It turned out to be a highly informative book, especially due it being geared toward expectant Canadian parents, a rare commodity since the majority of pregnancy books out there are American.

I quickly skimmed through the conception part, focusing on the pregnancy and birth sections which were looked at from various perspectives, medical and alternative. The info and data were also very nicely organized and laid out. Douglas also interviews new and experienced mothers and provides many relatable “sound-bites”, as well as various Dad Tips and Facts & Figures, all thoughtfully scattered throughout the chapters.