MedHum Monday Book Review: Not Gay

DailyDose_PosterWelcome back to the Daily Dose and MedHum Mondays! Today we review of a new book investigating and exploring the complexities of human sexuality.

NOT GAY: Sex Between Straight White Men
Jane Ward, New York University Press, 2015
Review Editor: Anna J Clutterbuck-Cook

Jane Ward’s new book, Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men (New York University Press, 2015), begins with two observations: first, that same-sex sexual intimacy between straight, white men is commonplace, and second, that this sexual intimacy is consistently dismissed as meaningful by everyone from its participants to politicians to social science experts. Whether it’s military hazing, fraternity notgay_coverpartying, roommates jerking off side-by-side to porn, “situational” homosexuality in prison, or straight men seeking one another for sex on craigslist, we seem united in understanding these activities in one of two ways: either as proof of the individual’s true identity as a gay man, or as something other than sexual behavior. Ward suggests a third possibility: that these sexual activities are, in fact, integral to the creation of a straight, white heterosexual identity. She argues that same-sex intimacies between straight-identified white men, rather than being an aberration to be explained away, are foundational to heternormative maleness. By performing acts that would render lesser men queer, yet remaining straight themselves, the white men Ward describes solidify their privileged place in the social order.

Not Gay is a brief two hundred pages yet manages to cover a great deal of historical, social, and theoretical ground in clear, economical prose. Beginning her exploration of sexual intimacy between straight, white men in the late nineteenth century, Ward relies on the excellent work done by historians of sexuality to document the invention of sexual orientation — principally homosexuality and heterosexuality — as first diagnostic and later social categories. She then examines the popular science of sexual fluidity, a notion of human sexual behavior principally attributed to women while experts and lay individuals of all stripes continue to imbue male sexuality with a rigid simplicity that demands two narrow, supposedly self-explanatory categories (straight or gay). With this contemporary backdrop outlined, Ward then details the variety of sexual intimacies between straight, white men in our era, and the strategies used to render these intimacies non-threatening or, indeed, illustrative of heteronormative masculinity.

Not Gay challenges us to reconfigure our understanding of identities and sexualities in two ways. On one level, Not Gay encourages us to examine the most invisible, supposedly self-evident category of sexual identity: white heterosexual masculinity. Throughout the long twentieth century, straight white men have been held out as the normative gold standard of human sexuality. As is so often the case with such unmarked identities, male heterosexuality has been rendered self-evident, resistant to scrutiny or critique. While book-length explorations of “what women want” are commonplace, the supposed pathology of men of color regularly put under the sociological microscope, and queer men of all colors and gender identities the focus of much cultural scrutiny, the sexual selves of straight white men remain obscured. We believe we already know what straight men desire, assume the landscape of their erotic imaginations is made obvious through mainstream porn, and understand the relationship between their desires and physical responses and actions to be highly concordant.

Not Gay demands that we see all that this narrative does not capture about straight men’s erotic lives. More damning still, Ward points out how deeply our cultural narratives of straight (white) male sexuality are intertwined with feelings of revulsion and violence — not just toward women, but also toward other men and toward individual actors’ own erotic desires and vulnerabilities. The “nexus of sexual desire, disdain, and repulsion [experienced, for example, in the context of hazing rituals] is arguably a mainstay of heterosexuality itself,” Ward observes (166). The erotics of heteronormative masculinity, she suggests, has been built upon and within the context of a white supremacist, patriarchal social order, and therefore often reinforce these inequalities through sexual intimacies.

It bears highlighting at this point that normative identities are not synonymous with individuals. White men whose sexual desires are expressed predominantly or exclusively toward women are not, somehow, innately violent human beings whose sexual lives trend toward the erotics of disgust. Part of Ward’s point is, in fact, the ways in which the straightjacket of white heteronormative masculinity fails to account for the wide variety of sexual desire and expression found among men who desire and partner with women.

This brings me to the second level of cultural critique Not Gay brings to bear on our contemporary understanding of human sexuality and sexual identities. Coming from a queer theoretical perspective, and speaking as a woman who identifies as queer, Ward argues forcefully against the contemporary reliance on biology-based understandings of sexual motivation. As recently as the 1970s, gay liberation activists and lesbian feminists spoke of sexual desire, identity, and behavior as a matter of sexual freedom and choice. However, over the last fifty years researchers and activists alike have relied upon notions of innate sexual orientation that are, themselves, dependent upon theories of gender difference for which there is little scientific evidence.

One of the reasons that sexual intimacy between straight men has been occluded or explained away is our collective investment in an innate sexual orientation which is both biologically knowable and fixed: that regardless of what we do sexually, our true identities are inscribed somewhere deep within ourselves, authentic and free of social influence or change over time. This is particularly true of our stories about male sexuality, straight or otherwise, as evidenced in the way — to give but one example — we believe that genital arousal to be a more authentic indicator of a man’s “true” desires than their self-reported feelings.

In contrast, Ward suggests that a person’s sexual identity or sexual orientation may be less about our specific sexual desires or even our sexual partners — but instead about where the individual feels most comfortable in relation to sexual norms. Within this schema, a self-identified “straight dude” who jerks off with his fraternity brothers while watching porn, eats food out of a colleague’s ass, or kisses another man at a bar, remains straight not because these acts are non-sexual but because he is invested in performing and maintaining normative heterosexual identity. Early on in the book, Ward argues that

I conceptualize heterosexual [identity] not by lack of homosexual sex or desire, but by an enduring investment in heteronormativity, or in the forces that construct heterosexuality as natural, normal, and right and that disavow association with abnormal, or queer, sexual expressions. This investment in heteronormativity is itself a bodily desire; in fact, I believe it is the embodied heterosexual desire, more powerful than, say, a woman’s yearning for male torsos or penises or a man’s longing for vaginas or breasts. It is the desire to be sexually unmarked and normatively gendered (35).

This, then, is the deeper challenge of Not Gay — a challenge to back away from our investment in human sexuality as something innately dependent upon a forced gender binary that allows the hetero- and homo- sexualities to make sense, and instead to consider our sexual orientations as socially-contingent upon our “desire to be sexually unmarked and normatively gendered” by the rubric of our particular time and place.

Not Gay is a well-researched, wide-ranging examination of sexual intimacy between straight white male that has much deeper implications for the ways we think and speak about sexual identities and behaviors. As a queer, white woman, my own experience is in many ways far removed from the experience of the men who appear in Not Gay. And yet Ward’s account of sexual identity resonated with my own journey from an ill-fitting heteronormative culture to a more comfortable home within the realm of queer sociality. This book is a timely reminder that even as some (primarily heteronormative-looking) queer identities are increasingly accepted by mainstream, our culture continues to be deeply uncomfortable with the rich complexity of our sexual lives.

Posted in Book Review, MedHum Monday | Leave a comment

A Reprise on Physics: Quantum Mechanics and the God of Probability

DailyDose_PosterI spent yesterday reading a book published by John’s Hopkins University Press: Einstein’s Jewish Science. In one of those lovely and rare moments, something I am working on for my non-fiction/Dittrick-related projects overlapped with a concept I’m working through in fiction. That is: what are the intersections between religion and science, between belief in God and belief in the universe? For Einstein (and forgive the oversimplification), the universe was God. Rather than a supreme rule-giver, he saw the many mysterious filaments of space and time as the outreaching principle of “god”ness. This idea comes, in many ways, from Spinoza–accused of heresy by Jews and Christians alike, Spinoza’s concept of ultimate logic binds the idea of God into creation, creation and God are one and the same. I spent time with Spinoza in my dissertation, so again, this is a generalization of what’s really far more complex. But that is the point really; it’s all far more complicated than we have words to capture. And for Einstein, it was the mystery of that which spurred humanity. We are always on the edge of knowing, the edge of seeing, the edge of something bigger than our minds can fathom. It put me in mind of a blog post written a few years ago, when I got my first dose of quantum entanglement. 


[REPOST] Last night, I spent an hour watching NOVA’s Fabric of the Cosmos. I then spent several additional hours researching quantum mechanics and “spooky action.” Why? Well, for starters, this is what passes for big fun on a Monday night in the Schillace household. But it is also true that I’ve maintained a fascination for physics since my youth. I was even lucky enough to teach with Dr. Philip Taylor of Case Western Reserve University–and though I was “co-teaching” I think I learned as much as or more than the students. That class concerned energy resources, but I am particularly interested in quantum mechanics, probability, and the extremely improbable (and yet testable) actions of very small things: Quantum Entanglement.

Hang in there, though! I promise this foray is very much for the uninitiated novice–since I am one myself. Physics need not be unapproachable; for me, it is a useful lamp enlightening my understanding of self, of reality, and of God: the Big God of very small things.

File:Niels Bohr Albert Einstein3 by Ehrenfest.jpg

Bohr & Einstein, Public Domain

Quantum Problems
The bizarre nature of Quantum Entanglement spurred a famous debate between Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. Bohr’s theory–which I am not remotely qualified to explain, though I will try–suggested that: 1) two particles could become interrelated or entangled and 2) after which, they could interact even at astronomical distances, without any visible connection. This alone is not so wild a notion. But there is more. The location and action of very small particles, electrons, let’s say, can only be predicted in terms of probability waves. We can’t fix an electron until we have measured it. We can’t even tell if it is spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise until we have measured it…and here is the mind-blowing part–the act of measuring it determines both its spin and its location.

Two dice in space

Wellcome Image, Creative Commons

Let me try to break that down a bit better. If I measure Electron A, I have just “forced” it to have a specific location and spin. And, somewhere out there, Electron B (which is entangled with A), has also been “fixed” because of my measuring. What? That makes no sense. That’s what Einstein said, too, and he compared it to playing dice with the Universe: “I’d like to think the moon is still there, even when I’m not looking at it.” Wise words. And yet, again and again, physics has proven that this entanglement–what Einstein attacked as “spooky action”–exists. It’s weird. It’s as though by the mere act of looking, we make reality–we make things exist. To Einstein, that flew in the face of certainty and–in a sense–of a God-ordered universe. But does it? This question leads me to my own fascination with Quantum Mechanics: for me, the flex of all particles, the nature of probability and the fact that we can influence that probability by “fixing” reality enlarges (rather than threatens) my picture of God and my understanding of the world.

The Power of Words
Should it be so strange to us that “looking” makes reality? Isn’t that true of so many of our experiences? What is “gender” or “race” but a word that we have used to define things which are, in fact, in-determinant, always changing, individually distinct and never truly fixed? I was nearly five years old before discovering that I was “female” and so different from my “male” playmates, with different expectations (and some unfair limitations). The day previous, I was a child, free to do as I liked. The day after, a fixed entity that would either conform or resist–but in either case, conform to or resist against a “thing” that had been suddenly created in my world. As an electron, I had been pinned. This has been part of a sad history in our culture, one of naming so as to exclude–but mightn’t it also be a force for good? For change? Mary Wollstonecraft, Francis Power Cobbe, Josephine Butler, Martin Luther King Jr. and more would say yes.

We use words to make reality, and words–like the mathematics described by Bohr–are really systems of measurement. We speak things into being. We talk ourselves into the labels and roles and even feelings that make up who we are at some fixed point. We do not “be”–we “become.” To Einstein, at the quantum level, this looked too much like a universe ruled by chance. However, if we step back–back to the Word, the Logos, the speaking of worlds into being–then it seems much more like a universe wherein we are all, constantly, effecting change through seeing, through entangling, through speaking. Multiple worlds may exist at any one moment, determined on waves of probability and fixed only when we name them. Word is powerful. Word has been creative and destructive. And it is a power left in our finite hands. This does challenge my view of the cosmos and so also of God–but only because my picture of God was too small, too limited. How wonderfully freeing to think there is a realm, somewhere on the other side of the Big Bang, where Life, the Universe and Everything (to quote Douglas Adams) is just on the verge of being born, on the crest of a probability wave of becoming.

I do not know if Dr. Bohr would necessarily follow my reasoning here; there are many physicists who probably don’t equate this quantum view with an expansive notion of a creative God. Some of them might even argue that what I am weighing in my mind are two entirely different things, even mutually exclusive things. But to demand that we settle on one or the other–or to imagine that somehow a change on the one side could not affect change on the other–would negate, in a sense, the principles of Quantum Mechanics itself.  “God does not play dice with the Universe,” Einstein claimed… But to this, Bohr supposedly replied: “don’t tell God what to do.”

All things are possible; we are only limited by the parameters of our own system of measurement. Why should we limit ourselves to a godless universe, when infinity itself beckons?

Posted in Medical Humanities, Medical History, The Daily Dose | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Friday Fiction Feature

fictionreboot2Hello and welcome back to the much-delayed Friday Fiction Feature! Tabatha is back again (see, I got here eventually) to bring you yet another installment of new, old, popular, and obscure fiction. Today I’m here to highlight a great friend of the expat reader, the e-book. Normally a stolid fan of real paper and glue books, I have found my personal library horribly limited by the confines of my suitcases, and the even more inflexible airline weight restrictions. As such, I have had to take refuge in the digital library, and so today’s selection will serve to highlight, in some small portion, the vast stores available to those bereft of real old-book-smell.

The World of Poo by Terry Pratchett 

No list of e-books would be complete without a contribution by Terry Pratchett, whose collected (and uncollected) works litter every online “recommended reads” list I have ever seen. However, as I have already included Good Omens, and a random assortment of Discworld novels, the only way left to include one, is the top of my “Recommended Reads” list for today (though I shudder to know why), Pratchett’s bestselling children’s book full of interesting facts for the young and old, The World of Poo.

A charming tale for people of all ages (but especially for young Sam Vimes) from the pen of Miss Felicity Beedle, Discworld’s premier children’s author.
From Snuff: ‘Vimes’ prompt arrival got a nod of approval from Sybil, who gingerly handed him a new book to read to Young Sam. Vimes looked at the cover. The title was The World of Poo. When his wife was out of eyeshot he carefully leafed through it. Well, okay, you had to accept that the world had moved on and these days fairy stories were probably not going to be about twinkly little things with wings. As he turned page after page, it dawned on him that whoever had written this book, they certainly knew what would make kids like Young Sam laugh until they were nearly sick. The bit about sailing down the river almost made him smile. But interspersed with the scatology was actually quite interesting stuff about septic tanks and dunnakin divers and gongfermors and how dog muck helped make the very best leather, and other things that you never thought you would need to know, but once heard somehow lodged in your mind.’

X (Kinsey Millhone Book 24) by Sue Grafton

Mostly this book is here to remind you that e-books do not limit you fair readers to the obscure reaches of the library I tend to haunt, and the new best-sellers are easily within reach. So have no fear, those edging into the pool of e-books, you can get all the same novels you would find in a bookstore, only the endings are more surprising because it’s harder to tell how many pages you have left.

*Also, as a foreign language teacher, I can definitely confirm the trickiness of the innocuous letter X–really, I challenge you, think of 3 words off the top of your head you can use to easily show a room of 3-year-olds how to pronounce x (and “in a box” doesn’t count!)

X:  The number ten. An unknown quantity. A mistake. A cross. A kiss.
X:  The shortest entry in Webster’s Unabridged. Derived from Greek and Latin and commonly found in science, medicine, and religion. The most graphically dramatic letter. Notoriously tricky to pronounce: think xylophone.
X:  The twenty-fourth letter in the English alphabet.
Sue Grafton’s X: Perhaps her darkest and most chilling novel, it features a remorseless serial killer who leaves no trace of his crimes. Once again breaking the rules and establishing new paths, Grafton wastes little time identifying this sociopath. The test is whether Kinsey can prove her case against him before she becomes his next victim.

The Girl on the Train: A Novel by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train sounds like a Good Hitchcockian tale–something like Rear Window except it replaces the obsessive binocular vigils of an immobile man with the casual creepiness of the bored commuter, casually making up stories in the lives of strangers who forgot to close their curtains.

A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people’s lives.
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?
Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut.

Mystic Mayhem (Mystic Isle Mysteries Book 1) by Sally J. Smith & Jean Steffens 

Mystic Mayhem is an unusual kind of mystery, not because this seems to be another cozy mystery (Cozy Mystery: a genre characterized by grisly murders, numerous dangerous suspects, some variety of baked goods, and cute romance, all wrapped up inside a pastel-colored cover), but because this time the mystery and magic seems to involve some rather hectic interviews with the murderee himself. I do wonder what kind of problems the ghost causes to manage to show up and still not solve the mystery…

From the acclaimed writing team of Sally J. Smith & Jean Steffens comes a hilarious first book in a brand new mystery series that will keep you guessing until the end…
Melanie Hamilton is not your average artist. She brings home the bacon by inking tattoos at New Orleans’s Mansion at Mystic Isle, a resort in the middle of the bayou that caters to fans of the peculiar and paranormal, but her true passion comes alive when she volunteers restoring Katrina-ravaged landmarks. Between her day job, her restoration work, and selling her paintings in Jackson Square, Mel’s life is more hectic than Bourbon Street on Fat Tuesday. But when a guest of the resort, a millionaire’s widow, is poisoned, and Melanie’s close friend is arrested for the murder, things go from hectic to downright dangerous.
Mel joins forces with the resort’s delish manager, Jack Stockton, to prove her friend’s innocence. Soon they find themselves dealing with séances, secret passages, the ghost of the millionaire himself, gators, swamp rats, and a sinister killer who proves that not everything is what it seems in the Louisiana bayou.
Come on along, and get your creep on.

Leave it to Jeeves and Other Works by P.G. Wodehouse (Unexpurgated Edition) by P.G. Wodehouse 

Now that you’re firmly convinced you can get the newest and hottest books around, it’s time to bring in some of the oldest and coolest. My personal favorite this last week or so has been…really anything by P.G. Wodehouse. These books offer the lexical challenge of decoding outdated slang (which is almost comforting to those of us who can’t decipher new slang), but mostly, it provides very witty writing, with very clever plots, all of which are about absolute morons (who will cheerfully admit that they are such).

Arguably P.G. Wodehouse’s most endearing character, Reginald Jeeves is a “gentleman’s personal gentleman” (a valet) to the foppish Bertie Wooster. Subtle and clever, Jeeves carefully oversees Wooster’s life, often coming up with complicated plans to extricate young Wooster from the latest calamity in his life, be it legal, social, or womanly.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Act of Becoming: History and Process

DailyDose_PosterAs I have been researching for the Dittrick Museum’s NEH funded How Medicine Became Modern project, one thing continues to rise, like persistent smoke over a not-dead fire: We are all becoming.

If you take a slice of time, section it out from history, and reproduce it, you necessarily remove it from its social, economic, cultural, and medical context. We might compare this to other dissections; if you were to remove an organ from the body with the object of “preserving it,” you would cut the vessels and arteries, sever the nerves. You would preserve a moment in time, cut off from the living, constantly changing organism in which it once flourished. Our bodies, our systems, our governance, our societies, are in a constant state of flux.

Some call this entropy. In thermodynamics, entropy is the measure of disorder–of decay. In ecology, however, entropy is the measure of biodiversity–of life itself. Change is the indicator of life, or living, and of have-lived. We are change.

IMAGE_2In the history of medicine, this sense of change shows up as very non-linear progress. A quick case study: germ theory offered a true paradigm shift, a huge leap forward in understanding the cause and consequence of disease. But the implementation of the theory went in several directions; living in the moment, you could not have predicted its course. The carbolic acid sprayer represents one way forward; you could spray down the surgery, the surgeons, and everything else with the caustic stuff and kill the germs that were there. It saved lives! But it was, itself, short lived. Why? Because aseptic medicine (gloves, gowns, sterilization, etc) made it possible to keep the germs from getting in to begin with–no need to hose down the hospital room. The latest innovation gets relegated to the museum in short order, and that, for a successful device! Imagine those unsuccessful ones, the attempts, the trials. “What was 19th century medicine like?” There isn’t a single answer. And someday, when the same question is posed about our modern medicine, it will be just the same.

Looking at a slice can be useful–as useful as examining a preserved organ. But it can be misleading, too. Slate carried a response today to the Vox Victorians, the couple (Sarah Chrisman ad her husband) who claim to live “just like” the Victorians. The criticism: you cannot. Because this is not the Victorian Age. That era has passed, and along with it, many of the diseases and public health problems that plagued its people and dirtied its cities. Sarah Chrisman herself suggests that historians make this error all the time, misinterpreting the past. Of course, as historians, we are often very cognizant of our limitations (and usually list those very biases in the research). But Chrisman’s attempt at recapturing the past is likewise flawed. Just as the Victorians were in their own process of becoming–driven by the thrush and thump of a nation’s heartbeat, fed by its food, circulated by its air, debilitated by its diseases–so too is she (and all the rest of us). We cannot escape our moment in time, though we trail the spiderwebs of by-gone eras, and grasp at the starry field of yet-unfolded tomorrows.

It is a privilege to look into history from so healthy and unencumbered a vantage point. I know I am enriched by the discoveries and progress of my forebears, even while I inherit a still-ailing world. I say frequently that you can’t know where you are going without understanding where you have been; I think, though, the inverse is also true. You cannot really know the past without a recognition of your present, and of your hopeful contribution to the future.

And it is something I continue to be mindful of, even as we seek to share: How Medicine Became Modern.

Posted in Medical History, Medical Humanities, The Daily Dose | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Swedish Massage: what is it good for?


In that past weeks, we did a series of posts on chronic pain management, body communication, human-centered healing, and manual therapy. Today, I invite you to read a post by Joseph Watts, LMT, where he addresses some of the misconceptions about manual therapy–namely, assuming all MT is alike.

FROM THE WattsIntegraiveMT BLOG:

A lot of misinformation gets passed around when it comes to massage. Let’s embark on a journey of discovery and clarification. In the coming weeks, I will explain the benefits and uses of the different types of massage. Massage modalities are seemingly infinite, so in these next handful of posts I will stick with the most common forms we typically see in our culture. Today, I’ll focus on Swedish massage: what it is, what it’s great for, what it’s “ok” for, and what it isn’t meant to do (or when it isn’t the best choice). Let’s dive in! [Read More]

Source: Swedish Massage: what is it good for?

Posted in Medical Humanities, The Daily Dose | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

MedHum Mondays Book Review: Orphan Number Eight

DailyDose_PosterGood morning and welcome back to MedHum Mondays on the Daily Dose! Today, Review editor Anna Clutterbuck-Cook reporting on a novel that seeks to strike a balance between history, medicine, and fiction: Orphan Number Eight by Kim Alkemade.


Iorphan_number_eight_cvrn her debut novel, Orphan Number Eight, essayist Kim van Alkemade (Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania) seeks to offer readers a glimpse into the multiply-marginalized life of Rachel Rabinowitz. Orphaned in 1919 by the quasi-accidental homicide of her mother by her father, four-year-old Rachel is separated from her older brother and sent to an infant’s home. There, she is enrolled as a human subject in a number of medical experiments, including a radiology experiment conceived and conducted by ambitious medical resident Mildred Solomon. The prolonged exposure to radiation leaves Rachel hairless, a condition that makes her a target of bullying in the Home, and continues into adulthood causing her a great deal of body shame. Decades later, working as a nurse in a home for the elderly, Rachel finds herself caring for the now cancer-ridden and dying Dr. Solomon. The seemingly-fateful encounter prompts Rachel to  seek out a more complete picture of the medical “treatments” she endured as a child. What she discovers shocks and angers Rachel to such an extent she finds herself contemplating revenge.

Orphan Number Eight is written with a great deal of passionate anger about the complex and often ugly history of twentieth century medical ethics — a history that reveals a great deal of what, today, we would consider human rights violations. As an institutionalized child, the fictional Rachel had countless real-world counterparts — orphans, the mentally ill, the imprisoned, the poor — whose socially vulnerable, othered bodies became a testing ground for medical research under circumstances that precluded informed consent. van Alkemade seeks to explore this history and its human cost through the fictionalized account of one such survivor. This decision to use the medium of fiction could have been a powerful narrative choice, yet despite its triumphs, as a reader I came away ultimately unsatisfied.

Warning: plot spoilers after the jump. Continue reading

Posted in Book Review, MedHum Monday, Medical Humanities | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Interview with Jessie Ann Foley

fictionreboot2Fiction Reboot Author Interview: Jessie Ann Foley

Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot (with blogger/contributor Keri Heath)! Today we present another author feature: Jessie Ann Foley, whose debut novel, The Carnival at Bray, was named a Printz honor book by the American Library Association. In addition, the novel was named a Best Teen Book of 2014 by Kirkus Reviews, and was shortlisted for YALSA’s 2015 William C. Morris Award. She has had fiction appear in a variety of journals such as The Madison Review, Midwestern Gothic, The Chicago Reader, Great Lakes Cultural Review, and McSweeney’s. She is a native Chicagoan and teaches English at a public school in the city.

Author Bio:

Jessie Ann Foley has loved and lived in Chicago sinceJessie_Ann_Foley-1 she was little. She studied English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and got a Master’s in Secondary Education from University of Illinois at Chicago. A few years later, she attended Columbia College Chicago to earn an MFA in Fiction Writing. During that time, she started teaching English and now teaches at the Chicago public schools. She also freelances and has had work published in several magazines. She lives with her husband in two young children in Chicago, and loves being a mom.

To learn more about Foley, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter at @JAFoleyNWside.

Interview with Jessie

  1. You mention on your website that you always wanted to be a writer. How did you know that this was the path for you?

I think it’s because I’ve always been a reader. Ever since I was six years old and read Little thHouse on the Prairie, I knew this was what I wanted to do. As the Italian writer Carlo Levi said and Cheryl Strayed reiterated in her amazing advice piece for The Rumpus, “the future has an ancient heart.” In deciding what I wanted to do with my life, I chose to do what I’ve always done since I was a kid.

  1. Do you have a writing routine of any kind?

Well, right now my daughters are two months and fifteen months old, so all I can do for now is write when I can. It’s hard, but if I go more than a week without writing, I get rusty, and then a difficult thing becomes even more difficult. That’s why, even if I only have fifteen minutes when both kids are sleeping, I’ll try to at least look at the piece I’m working on. I do a lot of dictating ideas into my phone so that I can come back to them later when I have time. I’ve learned the hard way that I have to write down my ideas as soon as they come to me or they’re gone. I have a terrible memory.

  1. What draws you to YA literature?

I’ve been a high school English teacher for ten years, and I think being surrounded by kids all day helps you, to some extent, never forget what it’s like to be young. I certainly wouldn’t want to go back to those years, but I still think it’s such a cool age. When you’re fifteen, everything is new and fresh; so much life happens. You really feel the possibilities of your life ahead of you. The process of growing up has inherent drama; it lends itself to good stories.

  1. Your most recent book, The Carnival at Bray, is set in Ireland. Why did you decide to set a novel in this country?

The Carnival at Bray was originally a short story that I published in the Chicago Reader after visiting a forlorn carnival fairground in County Wicklow in 2010. I’m Irish-American, but as Maggie learns in the first chapter of the book, that identity can have very little to do with what it means to be actually Irish, and if I had known then that I was setting myself up for the task of expanding it into an entire novel set in Ireland, I might have made things easier for myself and kept Maggie in Chicago. Luckily, my husband Denis, who is from County Kerry, was a huge help. While I was writing the novel I tortured him with constant, nitpicky questions relating to word choice, slang, and authentic details: What do you call those bales of hale covered in plastic? What is the hurling equivalent of a quarterback? What kind of beverage would a young Irish kid drink if his father took him to the pub? Things like that. If there was a passage that contained lots of dialogue-Eoin’s long monologue about his mother comes to mind-my husband would read it aloud and help me figure out what needed tweaking. I was so nervous for him to read the first draft of the book, because I knew I was going to make ridiculous mistakes. But he was polite enough not to make fun of me.

Thanks to Jessie Ann Foley for taking the time to speak with “Fiction Reboot.”

Keri Heath is a writer and journalist from Austin, Texas. She has written professionally for Austin Fit, Totally Dublin, Austin Woman, and ATX Man magazines. She has also seen her creative work published in NEAT and Straylight magazines, among others. When she isn’t writing, she loves to read, run, and play mandolin. You can view Keri’s work at or by following her @HeathKeri.

Posted in Author Interview, Friday Fiction Feature, Reboot Review, The Fiction Reboot | Leave a comment