Saturday, January 29, 2011

Kate's Harper Updates: Fresh New Titles

Unprotected Texts
Bible scholar Jennifer Wright Knust addresses the big questions that dominate today's discussions and debates when it comes to sex and the Bible: Is premarital sex a sin? When, and in what contexts, is sexual desire appropriate? With whom can I legitimately have sex? Are same-sex relations permissible? In an era where the phrases, "the Bible says," and "God says," are so often exploited, it is time to consider what the Bible actually does—or does not—say about monogamy, polygamy, homosexuality, gender roles, and sex.

Unprotected Texts directly and pointedly takes on widely shared misconceptions about sex, arguing that the Bible cannot—and should not—serve as a rulebook for sexual morality, despite popular claims to the contrary. From the Song of Songs' lyrical eroticism to the rigid sexual rules of Leviticus—and everything in between—Knust parses the Bible's contradictory, often surprising messages.

Skillfully revealing the latest insights from critical scholarship, Knust provides a compassionate and liberating model for navigating these deeply personal issues that affect us all.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter
Pink and pretty or predatory and hardened, sexualized girlhood influences our daughters from infancy onward, telling them that how a girl looks matters more than who she is. Somewhere between the exhilarating rise of Girl Power in the 1990s and today, the pursuit of physical perfection has been recast as a source—the source—of female empowerment. And commercialization has spread the message faster and farther, reaching girls at ever-younger ages.

But, realistically, how many times can you say no when your daughter begs for a pint-size wedding gown or the latest Hannah Montana CD? And how dangerous is pink and pretty anyway—especially given girls' successes in the classroom and on the playing field? Being a princess is just make-believe, after all; eventually they grow out of it. Or do they? Does playing Cinderella shield girls from early sexualization—or prime them for it? Could today's little princess become tomorrow's sexting teen? And what if she does? Would that make her in charge of her sexuality—or an unwitting captive to it?

Those questions hit home with Peggy Orenstein, so she went sleuthing. She visited Disneyland and the international toy fair, trolled American Girl Place and Pottery Barn Kids, and met beauty pageant parents with preschoolers tricked out like Vegas showgirls. She dissected the science, created an online avatar, and parsed the original fairy tales. The stakes turn out to be higher than she—or we—ever imagined: nothing less than the health, development, and futures of our girls. From premature sexualization to the risk of depression to rising rates of narcissism, the potential negative impact of this new girlie-girl culture is undeniable—yet armed with awareness and recognition, parents can effectively counterbalance its influence in their daughters' lives.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter is a must-read for anyone who cares about girls, and for parents helping their daughters navigate the rocky road to adulthood.

Ugly Beauty
Helena Rubinstein and L'Oréal's Eugène Schueller both started out in the beauty business during the first years of the twentieth century, and, by the time World War II broke out, had come to dominate it. However, their motivations could not have been more different. Rubinstein, a Polish Jew, claimed the world of paid work for women, and working women's enthusiasm for her products made her the first self-made female millionaire. Schueller, a French conservative in the Henry Ford mold, thought women belonged in the home, and during the Nazi Occupation he used his company as a source of cash to buy economic and political influence.

Schueller eventually won the long fight for supremacy: in 1988 his company swallowed Rubinstein's. But the victory cost him his reputation when, in the wake of the takeover, he was exposed as a Nazi collaborator. Deepening the scandal, his wartime activities were shown to have been abetted and condoned by a cadre of young men who, by the time the news broke, had scaled the peaks of wealth and power in postwar France.

By then Schueller and Rubinstein were both long dead. But cultural historian and biographer Ruth Brandon argues that the battle they began continues to this day. She examines their conflict to ask important contemporary questions about beauty standards and the often murky intersection of individual political aims and the role of business. Filled with remarkable twists, turns, and larger-than-life characters, Ugly Beauty is a riveting true story about what lies beneath the flawless exterior of the cosmetics industry.

The Anatomy of Ghosts

1786, England. John Holdsworth, a bookseller, is approached by a man with an odd commission: Lady Anne’s husband has passed away, and Holdsworth is needed to catalogue his extensive library. But Lady Anne unexpectedly has to deal with more pressing issues, and she asks Holdsworth to instead go to Jerusalem College in Cambridge and learn why her son Frank is unwell.

Once in Cambridge, Holdsworth finds Frank in a manic state that is somehow connected with the mysterious death of Sylvia, the wife of another man. But as Holdsworth tries to help Frank and is drawn deeper into the Cambridge community, he’s not prepared for the truth behind Sylvia’s death and a secret society that meets within the college’s walls.
Andrew Taylor delivers his most suspenseful thriller yet with fascinating characters, twists and turns, and a surprising, but fully satisfying, ending.

The Headhunter's Daughter

The Headhunter’s Daughter begins with the kidnapping of an infant, a white Belgian girl in the Belgian Congo, deep in the heart of Africa in 1945. The child’s governess agrees to give her over at a location in the jungle, next to the spring-fed gravel pits where the Whites come to swim.

Unfortunately the governess needs to relieve herself and leaves the baby in the clearing while she ducks into the bushes. There she is bitten by a mamba, a species of deadly snake, and her body temporarily goes unnoticed.

A youth of the Bashilele tribe is on his quest to kill a man so that he may take his place amongst the men of the tribe, and have his skull from which to drink his palm wine. He accidentally comes across this clearing, and is at first puzzled by the presence of a white infant in a baby carriage—thinking it might be some demonic spirit. But then he acts out of instinct and compassion. His mother has just given birth to a still-born baby and is grieving. When the youth realizes that this is a human baby, he takes it and begins to run back to his village.

The girl grows up without any knowledge of the white man’s ways, as this Bashilele village is remote, and as many of them were at that time hostile to outsiders. In 1953, when the girl is thirteen, and just as her parents are about to find a suitor for her, news of her existence reaches the outside world by a missionary school teacher named Dorcas. Although it may be just a rumor, (there have been others like it,) she reports it to the police chief at Belle Vue.

Captain Pierre Jardin, along with young American and budding love interest Amanda Brown, and the quick-witted Cripple as translator, set out to this distant village to check out the rumor. The girl, whose name is Ugly Eyes, because they are blue, not brown, is stunningly beautiful, and like most Bashilele girls, extremely well poised. But she is terrified of the Whites and of technology, including the truck she must ride in when they take her back with them to “civilization.”

But as the secret of who the girl’s real father is revealed, it puts Amanda, the young girl, the translator, and Pierre in more danger than they ever expected...

Situated in Ohio, a free territory before the Civil War, Tawawa House is an idyllic retreat for Southern white men who vacation there every summer with their enslaved black mistresses. It’s their open secret. Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet are regulars at the resort, building strong friendships over the years. But when Mawu, as fearless as she is assured, comes along and starts talking of running away, things change. To run is to leave everything behind, and for some it also means escaping from the emotional and psychological bonds that bind them to their masters. When a fire on the resort sets off a string of tragedies, the women of Tawawa House soon learn that triumph and dehumanization are inseparable and that love exists even in the most inhuman, brutal of circumstances— all while they bear witness to the end of an era.

An engaging, page-turning, and wholly original novel, Wench explores, with an unflinching eye, the moral complexities of slavery.

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