Review: Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly

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Review for "Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly" by Jim DeRogatis (2019)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ok so I read this. It isn’t a happy read, nor is it something that I would recommend by shouting to all while standing at the corner of two streets during rush hour. However, this book is necessary reading, particularly if you know anything about Robert Kelly, a.k.a R. Kelly, the notorious R&B star with a string of music hits from the 90’s and early 2000’s who has been in the news and in court for sexually abusing women, mostly his young Black female fans.

This book starts at the beginning, with R Kelly’s childhood, his high school years, and his subsequent appearance on the R&B scene as the front man of the group The Public Announcement. It details his marriage to a 15-year-old singer Aaliyah (he was 27 at the time) and how it was downplayed by pretty much everyone (the record company, her family, his reps, etc). The book continues with interviews from many of R Kelly’s victims detailing his physical and sexual abuse, his continued fame, and yes, the infamous video. There is also detailed analysis of his first trial in 2001 over the contents of that videotape, in which Kelly filmed himself raping an underaged girl. Last, there’s details of what has been labeled as his “sex cult,” a group of young women who currently live and travel with him and he supposedly refuses to let contact their families. After over 20 years and 200 pages, you notice a pattern: many blinded eyes, an abundance of willful ignorance, and epic fails at every level. It’s sickening.

I found this book to be well written and researched. Jim DeRogatis, a reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times, has been following R. Kelly’s case as it has unfolded for the last 20 years. He was the one who received the infamous tape at his news desk. He was also the one who first interviewed several of R Kelly’s victims, years before anyone took any of the abuse allegations seriously. Information on the case was up-to-date, timely, and relevant, with the latest information on R Kelly’s case as of spring 2019.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone, especially R Kelly’s fans. Despite the OVERWHELMING evidence of his guilt, I imagine that even 100 books on this subject could not convince them otherwise. But to those who believe his victims and want to see justice for them, this book is all you need

Review: No Visible Bruises

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Review for "No Visible Bruises: What We Don't Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us" by Rachel Louise Snyder

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

There’s not many books that do a decent job of discussing a very complex social issue. This book does an excellent job of not only breaking down the many facets of domestic violence, but providing ways that society could be doing a better job to combat it.

The statistics on domestic violence are staggering. I won’t repeat them here, other than to say that domestic violence (i.e., intimate partner violence, intimate terrorism, etc) truly touches every race, class, income level, gender, sexual orientation, and age group. It also impacts other social issues–homelessness, income inequality, mass incarceration, substance abuse, immigration, mental health. Snyder talks about how domestic violence is often linked to many of the mass shootings in today’s news. What do the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting and the Orlando nightclub attack have in common? Both began first in the homes of the offenders as domestic violence.

“No Visible Bruises” also talks about how many of the responses that society has for domestic violence are woefully inadequate. People still look upon the victims of domestic violence and blame them for their victimization, asking why they didn’t leave first. Police are no better, looking for ‘visible’ bruises when they respond to a DM call, when many forms of violence may or may not leave physical marks. Battered women’s shelters do offer a temporary solution to the problem, but often leave a woman and her children homeless in the long run, which may ultimately lead them back to an abuser.

There is also a lengthy chapter in this book dedicated to a program that attempts to change men’s abusive behavior. One of the hallmarks of domestic violence apologists is that abusers cannot be reformed. Snyder shows that with the right therapy and support, they can. And they do.

I cannot recommend this book enough. Please read it to gain insight into a very complex problem.

Review: The Love Prison Made and Unmade

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Review for "The Love Prison Made and Unmade" by Ebony Roberts (2019)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Curiosity drove me to this book, particularly after reading the author’s former partner, Shaka Senghor’s book “Writing My Wrongs.” From Senghor, we learn the story of a troubled young Black man growing up in inner city Detroit in the 1980’s, eventually becoming a drug dealer to earn a living. At barely 19 years old, he turns to violence and ends up on the criminal end of a murder case. For his crime, Senghor earns himself a lengthy prison sentence. While on the inside, he begins to correspond with a brilliant young scholar by the name of Ebony. They fall in love through letters and visits, and continue their relationship for several years after Senghor is released.

“The Love that Prison Made” is Ebony’s side of the story, beginning from her childhood. After witnessing domestic abuse in her childhood, she tells her narrative of meeting Senghor behind bars and falling in love with him. The narrative continues after he is released, when all doesn’t go as planned and the couple is confronted with cold realities and real problems.

I really liked this. There is a lot of focus on the couple’s courtship through letters, which makes up most of this book. Although Senghor is not released until about 75% in, you immediately know early on that this pair is not going to make it. Although she is careful not to generalize about the fate of all prison relationships, I appreciate Ms. Roberts’ choice to be transparent about why her prison romance failed. All too often we hear about the ‘happily ever after’ and the happy couple life of inmates and persons on the outside. What about the people who do the same and it doesn’t work out perfectly? Hmm.

This story is also important from a social justice perspective. Due to the mass incarceration rates of Black people, the question becomes one of how to interact with these men and women. Large numbers of the prison population will eventually get out one day, and not only will they need employment and support, they will seek emotional attachments as well. What is to be expected? What is inevitable? These are questions to consider.

Four solid stars.

Review: The Apology

Hey lovelies! Happy Labor Day! Pardon my latest absence, I’ve been busy with a few things: preparing my dissertation defense (later this month!), my own classes for the semester, the two classes I’m teaching. I’ve still been reading feverishly, however, so I’ve got a bunch of reviews lined up for the next couple weeks.

Anywho, on to the review…

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Review for "The Apology" by Eve Ensler (2019)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In this book, Eve Ensler, author of the famous “The Vagina Monologues” writes the apology from her abusive father that she imagines she would have received, had he been alive to do so. Sexually abused beginning from age 5, Eve’s dad also physically abused her. Though she finally escapes him as a young woman, his influence continues throughout her life through bad choices and her pick of abusive partners.

This is not an easy book to read. There are very detailed accounts of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Though it falls at under less than 120 pages, it took me days to get through it. I had to stop at times to catch my breath and far more than once I had to just walk away and scrub my brain of what I had read. Though I’m glad I read this, I would not read this again. No way.

On a final note, I have to say that I disagree with the premise of this book. Writing an entire treatise to an abuser as disgusting as Ensler’s father does little to disempower him and more to magnify his actions. However, if Ensler found healing from this act, I can’t let my disagreement cloud my review of this book, so I didn’t.

Four stars. Trigger warnings abound, so take caution.

Review: Body Leaping Backward

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Review for "Body Leaping Backward: Memoir of a Delinquent Girlhood" by Maureen Stanton (2019)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

“Body Leaping Backward” is a memoir of Maureen Stanton’s life growing up in the mid-70’s in a working class family in Walpole, Massachusetts. Throughout the book, the shadow of the maximum security prison in the area looms large, in both the author’s mind and in the warnings her mother gives her to behave herself, lest she end up on the inside of the gates.

For the first several years of her life, Stanton grows up in a happy home with her six siblings. Around 11 or 12, her parents divorce amicably and thus begins the family’s slide toward poverty, dysfunction, drugs, and criminal behavior. Stanton’s mother, left with 7 children to raise, begins to steal food from local grocery stores. Maureen becomes depressed, the confusion of which leads her into taking drugs, mostly angel dust. A significant amount of the book details her drug use, which come to an end right around the time she finishes high school. Although she commits many petty crimes during this period, Stanton never actually spends time in Walpole Prison. She credits her turn away from a destructive life to counseling and positive friendships with non-drug users.

This book has some interesting parts. In addition to details about her childhood, Stanton writes extensively about what the suburban drug culture was like in 70’s-era Massachusetts and feeds in informational tidbits about the War on Drugs, Walpole prison and its famous inmates, and other things. There are also her personal diary entries throughout the narrative, which read like some angry girl manifesto. Unfortunately, none of this ever really gels into a cohesive, consistent narrative. The overall pacing is slow, and the sections where I wanted details there were few (i.e., like where her parents were during all this drug use) and where I didn’t want details there were many (i.e., the family’s installation of backyard pool). Also absent from this book was any kind of discussion about the external forces that really kept Stanton and her family out of prison–namely, their socioeconomic status and race. She lists all the “crimes committed” during the time period in the appendix, yet fails to mention the obvious fact that had she been a few shades darker and living within the Boston inner-city limits, she would have undoubtedly served time in jail and/or prison. It would have been inevitable.

All in all, this book is just ok for me.

[Note: Thanks to Edelweiss for a digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: The Man They Wanted Me to Be

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Review for "The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and Forging Another Way for Men" by Jared Yates Sexton (2019)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This book should be essential reading for all men, especially in today’s times.

In “The Man They Wanted Me to Be,” Jared Yates Sexton writes about his and his family’s experiences throughout a lifetime legacy of toxic masculinity. Much of the first section focuses on the personal experience of the author and the negative consequences of sexism and violence, which he witnessed through his abusive father. Jared, a sensitive child raised by a single mother in rural Indiana, eventually develops a tough emotional shell and becomes suicidal after years of abuse and bad role models due to his mother’s choices of men. He discusses the way in which the ‘ideal’ masculinity is essentially unattainable and not a real way of living but a lie. He also discusses the socialization of boys–the way in which parents and society train boys not to cry, to repress emotion, to hate all things ‘feminine’ and to express themselves through physicality and violence. The second section is about Jared’s relationship with his father and how they eventually reconcile after years of estrangement.

The third and the last section concerns itself with the ways in which toxic masculinity has given rise of the alt-right and the election of the current president. It is focused squarely on White men, who, let’s face it, need to do better. He discusses the toxic culture in this group that wraps itself in privilege and white supremacist ideas, in addition to sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic views against ‘them’ (namely minorities, women, LGBTQ individuals, and immigrants).

The only thing I wished this book would have touched on more is how sexism traps men of color as well as queer men. However, I realize that that discussion is a completely different animal. Although we’re still talking about bad masculinity, we know that there’s history, race, class, and other socioeconomic factors that change the flavor of the topic. I would like to read Sexton’s opinions on other aspects of this conversation, however.

Definitely do pick up this book. While I would not describe anything in here as particularly new or shocking, it is necessary reading to begin to undo much of the damage due to toxic masculinity.

Review: We Speak for Ourselves

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Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Review for "We Speak for Ourselves: A Word from Forgotten Black America" by D. Watkins (2019)

As with “The Cook Up” and “The Beast Side,” D. Watkins continues to share his account of growing up in an impoverished Black community in East Baltimore. The message behind his book is simple: in today’s age, poor Black people do not want or need to spoken for by White liberals or Black middle and upper class intellectuals. Watkins occupies a unique position in that he can easily maneuver among top thought leaders on CNN and the academic crowd, yet he’s hood at the core, never quite too far gone from the steps of his East Baltimore rowhouse. He writes about his days as a drug dealer with the same familiarity as the school to prison pipeline.

Here, he breaks down a lot of things that he wishes the world knew about Black culture: why poor people will always hate the cops, the reasons why education in urban areas will never be equal to the suburbs, etc. I gave this three stars because although it’s good writing and the message is clear for the audience he’s intending to reach, I found this book a bit too plain for me. Perhaps it’s because I’m not the intended audience–I’m pretty well versed in the issues he’s speaking of. Still, I don’t want to rate this too low because I like this book as well as the purpose behind it. I follow D. Watkins on social media and I’ll always support his efforts.