Quick Review: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

So for a book that is about Witches, their familiars and the Pendle Hill Witch trial all of those things don’t really play much a roll in the main narrative. Yes, the witch trails plays in the background of the story as woman are starting to be rounded up and arrested but it’s a minor plot point that doesn’t really come into place into the very end of the book. It’s really about the limited roles that women have. Fleetwood may be the mistress of her house but if she can’t produce an heir she could see herself without a home and husband. She is the money and privilege but is very limited in her choices. When she finds a letter from her doctor to her husband that says that 1 more pregnancy will most likely kill her she is devastated because she is pregnant and had lost her previous 3 pregnancies. She goes for a ride and runs into Alice in the woods she is convinced she is the only midwife that can save her. Alice is a poor single woman who works as a midwife and a barmaid to support herself and her father. When Alice helps Fleetwood after she fell off her horse she is convinced that Alice is the only midwife that can help her deliver a healthy child and keep her alive. Things get complicated when Alice is named as part of the Pendle Hill witches and Fleetwood must try to save her. Now Fleetwood Shuttleworth and Alice Grey are real people. Fleetwood was indeed the mistress of a noble house in Lancanster. Alice Grey was accused of witchcraft but was the only one acquitted. This I don’t think is a spoiler since anyone with google could have found that out. There is no historical document that links them to each other so the story is entirely fiction. Anyway, over the course of the book the two women bond and find that even though they come from different backgrounds, they really aren’t that different. They lives are completely controlled by their circumstances and they are pretty much powerless to do anything about it. Which is definitely frustrating. It is never fully explicit that Alice is a witch though she does seem to have a familiar as a fox. Again, that really doesn’t play much in the story. While the book is interesting and has some important things to say about the limited roles of women in our society I feel like it’s a missed opportunity. I wish the story would have been from Alice’s point of view instead of Fleetwood. So we could have gotten more with the witches and witch hunt. Also I didn’t really think Fleetwood was all that interesting. Sure, I felt sorry for her. She was married at 14 and at 19 and living with the pressure of producing an heir. Something that she had a failed to do for 5 years. Her husband at first seems supportive but well, I’m not sure how we are supposed to feel about Richard Shuttleworth. He dotes on Fleetwood but is constantly travels. We find out later she has a mistress who is also pregnant. Fleetwood tries to get him to help her with Richard and he only really does it when her life on the line. In the end, they seem to live happily ever after as if nothing in the book mattered at all. It’s weird. I feel like this book could have been better.

So that ends my Pop Culture homework assignment. It was interesting to read different interpretations on the witch myth. While witchcraft probably exists but for the most part witches are not evil. Most of those who were accused of witchcraft were not witches but women who dared to want or live above their stations. All the novels dealt with idea that witches needed to hide who they were because discovery would be dangerous for us. As a woman, I identify with that. I think all women do. We all have been taught how to act in public to not draw attention to ourselves or to draw attention to ourselves when need be. Who we are at work, with friends and at home are often different because we have to be different for the environment we are in. In that way we are all witches. Welcome to the coven ladies.

Review of Witches, Midwives and Nurses by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English

I feel the best way to express how I feel about this book and it’s content can best be summed up by this gif.

The way that women have been excluded in not just the medical fields but been excluded from the own knowledge about our own bodies is pretty disheartening and infuriating. How much knowledge have we lost because men didn’t like that woman were doing something that they could not or not willing to do themselves. Instead of learning from or trying to understand their knowledge they pushed them out completely. They accused them of witchcraft, they called them unnatural. They made people who would have benefited from their expertise afraid to use them. And for what? To keep power? It’s true that a lot has changed since when women were being burned for witchcraft and even more from when this book was originally published. However it’s 2019 and women are still not fully in charge of our own bodies. Every day a new law is passed that regulates our bodies and limit our medical resources. Lies about our bodies are shared as facts and all because men didn’t want to share space with women. We live in turbulent times but I have faith that the women today have learned from the women from the past and we have no interest going back and will not be excluded from the discussion again.

Quick Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

You know how often the book is so much better than the movie? Well this was exception to the rule because I have to say I like the movie better. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen the movie multiple times and am fans of Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. I don’t know but the book was kind of blah. A lot of descriptions with not a lot happening. No wonder they made so many changes to the movie. They both follow sisters, Sally and Gillian Owens who both have had some bad luck in love. Sally is widowed early on in the book just like in the movie. She is also focused on being normal even though everyone else in her family are okay with being themselves. Gillian is still the wild spirit that runs away from home and ends up in an abusive relationship with Jimmy who ends up dead but that’s kinda of where the the similarities end. The book takes place primarily in Long Island then in their Aunt’s house in Massachusetts. Maybe that’s what I didn’t like it as much because the Aunt’s were not in it as much as they are in the book. Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing are kinda the best part of the movie and without them the book is kind of lacking. The urgency that is felt with the dealing the spirit of Jimmy isn’t there. There is no build up of the romance between Sally and Gary Hallet. He doesn’t even appear until the last 50 pages of the book. As for a book about witches there really isn’t much witchcraft going on. I was a little disappointed in it but at least I can always watch the movie.

Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

I’ve really dragged my feet on writing this review because I loved this book so much that I wasn’t quite sure what to say about it. It is the story of Circe, the famous witch from the Odyssey. ONLY SHE IS SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT! This book follows Circe’s life from its beginning to its end and through it we are introduced to so many other stories in Greek mythology. I liked the writing. I liked Circe’s voice. I liked that this character, who I knew from someone else’s story as a minor character, is given her own voice and her own agency and is put at the center of her own narrative. I want more of that in stories. Where are these stories? Send me more of these stories please.

This was so good. Just so good. Ugh. I might actually re-read it again soon, that’s how much a liked it.

This Month in Reality: Witches, Midwives and Nurses! Oh, My!

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2016 has really started off with a bang. You could maybe tell by my lack of posting? I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. But, I have managed to get a little reading done (just not a lot of review writing. I have been writing, but that’s another story.)

The bang 2016 started out with was a family member in the hospital. (They’re fine now.) While they were in the hospital, I tried to do my best and not panic. If I’m calm, they had no reason to not be calm, right? They had to be taken out of the room for various tests (Again, they’re fine now) and to occupy myself while they were out of the room I read a book on my phone. I read Witches, Midwives, and Healers by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English.

I thought that was an appropriate thing to read in a hospital.

This is a short pamphlet of a book written in the 1970s. It discussed midwifery, the rise of medical professionals (as opposed to healers), the popular health movement of the 1830s and 40s, and feminism and the need for women in medicine today. This was a really short book; it was only 59 pages, but I learned a lot from it. I didn’t know about the popular health movement. Or, I knew about it tangentially because I know a little bit about patent medicine from visiting the Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta. (And, even though there was probably a lot wrong with some of the ideas the popular health movement was spreading, there was also probably a lot right about it.) Ehrenreich and English tell us a story about the movement pushing the equivalent of know-your-body courses (still a good idea) and also supporting a lot of self-advocating amongst patients. (The movement is described as espousing the virtues of frequent bathing, loose-fitting clothing for women, temperance and eating whole grain cereals. Any of that sound familiar?) The movement they describe also seems to have been initially supportive of women and minorities and in line with the cause of civil rights. While some of the professional societies out right banned women and minorities from their ranks, schools in the popular health movement did not do so (at least with the same frequency.) Unfortunately, from the description that Ehrenreich and English give, it would also seem that women threw other minorities under the bus in order to gain legitimacy and when favor to their causes. No cool, bros. So, I learned a little about the insidious underbelly of the history of the women’s rights movement.

What I found most interesting about this book (and also incredibly sad) were the conclusions. They conclude that the medical profession isn’t just an institution that discriminates against women, it is one that has been designed to exclude them. That was probably true in the 70s and it is still true today. Last year I reviewed the book the First Twenty Minutes and one of the things I found hardest to swallow about that book was the amount of research the author presented that was done only on male bodies. Women and men are different! There is a fairly large amount of scientific evidence to support that! (Also, there’s probably not just men and women! Gender as a binary is probably not a real thing!) Just as examples from recent news: women have different heart attack symptoms than men (and new research shows women aren’t aware of this) and women with ADHD present differently than men. They also conclude that we have become mystified by science and don’t know how to argue for what we need in the face of a scientific (or scientific sounding) argument. (Recent blow ups of twitter about whether or not the Earth is round seems to show that we still have a lack of scientific literacy.) They suggest that there needs to be an opening of the medical profession so that all women can have access to medical expertise when they need it. I still think that’s true.

So, this was a good read and a quick read. Not a bad way to start out the year in reality!