Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is an aggravating collection by a tough-minded thinker, who quite accurately describes herself as having "a compulsion to hold forth." Kaminer (I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional) holds forth on such topics as sex, feminism, politics, gun control, divorce laws, freedom of speech and Hillary Clinton's lack of charisma. She has a gift for the pithy phrase ("Publishing activity, like premarital sex, begins early these days") and an unerring eye for both sides of a question. She has no tolerance for feminist scholars who indulge in language abuse, e.g., Sally Cline: "Women who opt for celibacy should have their positive choice in the direction of personal independence and political empowerment validated and approved." But Kaminer herself uses words like "inapt" and "inartful," and she claims that opinion polls may "adumbrate unarticulated ambivalence." People in glass houses? What gets in the reader's way here is that the pieces are undated and unattributed (they appear to range in time from the early 1980s to the present). Knowing where an essay or a review appeared is important. It identifies the intellectual context. Worse is the fact that the numerous reviews often fail to identify fully the book under discussion. Kaminer's ideas are challenging and interesting enough to merit a better showcase. (Apr.)
Taking its title from its opening essay on the premarital chastity movement for teens, this book of social commentary and criticism follows Kaminer's I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional (LJ 6/1/92), which skewered the self-help movement. The pieces in this collection, some of which first appeared in the Atlantic, the New York Times, and the Village Voice, among others, address such issues as the feminist "backlash," gun control, criminal justice, and gender roles. Their unifying theme, in the author's words, is a plea for "independent thought and individual autonomy." Kaminer, who is a lawyer/journalist/social critic, covers a wide range of topics in her reviews and essays. A well-reasoned and thought-provoking collection, although not likely to spark the controversy engendered by her earlier book.-Pamela R. Daubenspeck, Warren-Trumbull Cty. P.L., Ohio
Kaminer's "I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional" (1992) challenged the recovery movement's simplistic, apolitical solutions to Americans' problems; in "It's All the Rage" , she considered crime, culture, and capital punishment. This collection of unpublished pieces and essays and reviews from "The Atlantic" (where she's a contributing editor), "The New York Times", "The Village Voice", and other publications focuses on feminism, sex, and feminism-and-sex, but crime and punishment, free speech and gun ownership, and "The Shrunken Reality of Lives in Therapy" draw her attention here, too. As an "old-fashioned liberal" and equal rights (not difference) feminist, Kaminer is surprised she is sometimes now seen as a conservative but blames TV for a polarized political debate in which "Camille Paglia's success has demonstrated, what is most marketable is absolutism and attitude undiluted by thought." Difference feminists like Carol Gilligan and Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin's antipornography crusade also draw criticism from Kaminer, who consistently finds women's strengths, accomplishments, and variations more interesting than their vulnerabilities, victimization, and imputed essence. Lively, challenging essays.
An acerbic, witty, and common-sensical collection of essays on feminism, crime, and pop psychology.
Because she has never been tentative about disagreeing with other feminists, whether in the Atlantic or the Village Voice, Kaminer (It's All the Rage, 1995) sometimes endears herself to those least likely to share her concerns. This collection opens with an amusingly confused conversation between Kaminer and an editor at the National Review in which Kaminer tries to explain that she isn't a suitable writer for his publication: Despite her writing on individual responsibility, she is a liberal. She tells him that for what he proposes to pay her ($225) she could write for the Nation, but she knows that isn't "quite true. The Nation hasn't called. They probably think I'm too conservative." Indeed, reading these pieces, one is struck by how oddly fresh traditional liberalism soundsindicative of how rare it is in today's political context. Kaminer is smart and judicious. In her discussions of gun control, self-help, violence against women, the death penalty, and religious freedom she consistently tries hard to understand and do justice to those with whom she disagrees. Even ideas she finds ridiculous or vacantcommunitarians' notion that feminism's emphasis on rights is selfish, Michael Lerner's "politics of meaning"are given a reasoned hearing. Kaminer can be predictable; the answer to most political problems is, in the end, that people should have more rights and take more responsibility. Sometimes she oversimplifies and perpetuates unfortunate myths, stating, for instance, that a belief in the possibility of benign heterosexual relationships is what distinguishes liberal from radical feminists. Actually, many radical feminists are happily heterosexual; the disagreement is about the existing system's potential to bring about social change.
Despite such rhetorical excesses, Kaminer adds balance, intellectual integrity, and pragmatism to some debates that badly need it.