Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Review: Canadian Women's Issues Volume I

[Ruth Roach Pierson, Marjorie Griffin Cohen, Paula Bourne, and Philinda Masters. Canadian Women's Issues Volume I: Strong Voices: Twenty-Five Years of Women's Activism in English Canada. Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, 1993.]

This is, I'm afraid, going to be another short review. In this instance it is not because I am pressed for time, but it is rather a product of how my reading is focused right now, what I seek to do with the reviews I write on this site, and how I experienced my encounter with this book.

First the book: I vaguely remember the cover from years ago, I think from my time slinging text books in a university bookstore in the late '90s. Lorimer does tend to publish for the educational market and it is structured much like a textbook. The first of two volumes, its content is six essays of modest length focusing on different aspects of women's oppression and organizing in Canada in the second wave of the women's movement, each followed by longer stretches of reprints or excerpts of primary documents on related topics from the period in question. The chapters in this volume are: The Canadian Women's Movement; The Politics of the Body; The Mainstream Women's Movement and the Politics of Difference; Social Policy and Social Services; Women, Law and the Justice System; and, Women, Culture and Communications. The essays are, as far as I can tell, useful surveys of all of these issues. The reprinted documents are quite varied but do combine with the essays to paint an interesting picture of the feel of various spaces both within and beyond the women's movement over this expanse of time -- I especially enjoyed coming across signs of how the world has changed since the documents were originally written, such as the advice in a piece from the '70s on how to run a consciousness raising group which suggested that one useful rule was to permit only one person at a time to smoke.

In the process of reading this book -- much of which happened on the deck of a cottage looking over a lake just outside of Algonquin Park -- I had cause to reflect quite a bit on the "me" side of the encounters between person and text that result in reviews on this web site. In particular, I was thinking about how where I am coming from as I approach a text shapes what ends up in any review I might write about it. This is particularly important given how I approach writing reviews -- that is, I try to use my experience of reading and my reactions to the text as the grounding for what I write, rather than purely some sort of external, supposedly objective landscape.

In this case, I have little to say about the book, largely because I am not its intended audience. My main learnings from this book were feel and scattered detail -- both things that are useful for my current writing and which motivated me to read the book, but neither of which are particularly likely to result in an interesting review. This is intended as a survey and an introductory text, and the overall shape of the history and the basic ideas contained in the book reflect that. I suppose it was useful to have some of my previous impressions about the shape of the history confirmed, but I was not looking to discover anything new in those two areas, and I didn't. This meant that my experience of reading was of engagement at fairly low levels of intensity and excitement, and it also meant that my attention was not focused on the things that might make the most useful review.

The fact that I read this, then, is obviously a consequence of the fact that much of my reading these days is focused not by interest alone, not by new-to-meness alone, not by its priority for my ongoing political education alone -- the main focus for my reading choices is my work.

This is not necessarily a problem...if it results in reviews that are less than exciting and less than useful now and again, well, that's okay, this is a blog, after all, and flexibility and responsiveness to its owner's interests and personal journey is an assumed part of the medium. And I definitely appreciate the way that it encourages me to read in some depth in particular areas. But I wonder if, in some instances, I'm losing out -- if the utilitarian approach this grounding encourages at least sometimes produces a relationship to the text that means I do not benefit personally quite as fully as I could.

I don't think it's an issue with this book, but it is something to think about.

[For a list of all book reviews on this site, click here.]

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