All About Love: New Visions (CBR8 #26 – Half Cannonball!)

I came to All About Love: New Visions via The Shared Shelf group over on Goodreads (its Emma Watson’s Feminist book club). I didn’t read the February selection, but I thought this one, the March selection, sounded like a good idea. Written in 1999, All About Love is a series of interconnected non-fiction essays by bell hooks where she endeavors to explain how our everyday understandings of giving and receiving love often fail us.

I’ll admit, I was left cold in the first few chapters. I feel that’s probably because I’ve already done a lot of work (not that there isn’t always more to do) about not accepting that which is not love, and choosing to live my life in the act of providing love to others, which hooks covers in her first three chapters. Hooks also writes about how the ideals surrounding what love is, and what we accept as love, are established in early childhood. For many, this might be the single most important take away from the book:  that abuse and love cannot coexist. It’s simultaneously a beautiful and heartbreaking statement, and the crux of much that comes after.

The chapters which most affected me most personally were in the middle of the book Chapters 8-10 provided the most moments for me to chew on. Whether it be how research is indicating that small, nuclear, patriarchal family units are unhealthy (I would love to find some follow up research to that idea 15 years out), or how so-called self-help texts of the era really just normalized a certain amount of sexism, I couldn’t help but feel that hooks was continuing to unpack big ideas, but sometimes her authorial voice wavered. When she was on, her voice felt like a revelation. But when her authorial voice is off, when she’s perhaps leaning too heavily on the works of others that have influenced her path of self-actualization, that’s when the book can feel sermon-like, and occasionally hard to swallow.

What I found really profound, and perhaps reaffirming of my own life, is that hooks challenges the prevailing notion that romantic love is the most important love of all. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t cover romantic love, there are a couple chapters which deal with it head on, but this work is about more than partnered love. However, her insights on that topic are also worth having a look at.

 “Few of us enter romantic relationships able to receive love.” (169)

“Love is an act of will – namely, both an intention and action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” (172)

“Wounded hearts turn away from love because they do not want to do the work of healing necessary to sustain and nurture love.” (187)

Being that hooks set up her work to follow love through the process of life, it is natural that her book ends with chapters about loss and destiny. I have suffered the loss of many people in my life, including my father, so the chapters at the end of the book dealing with loss and healing were areas that didn’t resonate as strongly for me, since I was past or had gone through much of what hooks was discussing.

This book was read and reviewed as a part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Catching Fire (CBR5 #28)

You probably already know the plot of the book. By now, with the movie out, it’s well-known.

What I think I’d like to talk about in my review is the theme of love. I wrote a blog post almost two years ago about what I like to think of as pure love, and I think Katniss and her various relationships can explore that quite easily. Most, if not all, of her decisions are based on love.

One of my chief complaints about the movies (although I enjoyed the second so much more than the first) is that they don’t really get into Katniss’s difficulty with emotions.  They do a great job dealing with her fears for everyone’s safety, and that is evident on Jennifer Lawrence’s face every time her character has to think about those who are in peril thanks to her actions in the Games. But JLaw’s Katniss is not the emotionally unavailable Katniss I read in the books.

So let’s talk about the conversation that my group of friends of having, and I’m sure lots of groups are having right now too: Is this really a love triangle? I vote no.

I’ve always been firmly in the camp that Katniss does love Peeta from somewhere in Book 1 (sometime between training camp and finding him in the arena), but that it scares her. Because she had already decided that she would never marry and never have kids and Peeta is the kind of guy who is all about the marrying and the kids. I also agree that while she loves Gale it’s more like the love she has for her family. Katniss is fiercely loyal and loving of her family, as seen by the extent that she loves Prim. And even though their relationship is strained from her mother’s weakness following her father’s death that is still an incredibly strong bond of love. This is where her love for Gale fits, she loves him the way she loves her family. But because Katniss does not have the language to sort out these emotional differences, she sees it as a conflict to the love she feels for Peeta, which is the love that dominates most of her actions.

And because she is so unused to her own emotions she doesn’t know how to process them even as they are influencing every choice she makes. So, she makes herself content to put Peeta off to the side because 1) they share terrible memories and 2) she doesn’t want to hurt him any more than she already has. She goes back to Gale for reassurance and to ‘run’ because he’s the partner she knows in her normal life. But it’s all very complicated because Gale has the feels for her. It’s predominately one-sided.

So, not really a triangle, just a brilliantly complex layered look at love.

Moving on from that, my other complaints about the movie adaptation of the book include that there is no plant book interlude with Peeta, and that really robes some great character development from both of them. And, it’s criminal that the movies cut Madge, because that storyline, and the layers it adds to Haymitch, are some of my favorite stuff in the book.

Also, a growing part of me wishes these books were from Peeta’s POV.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

on pure love

Last weekend I had a bit of a movie kick. Really, it’s been all month-long. February tends to bring out the melancholy in me. I lost my dad over eight years ago, and the day of the year that I miss him the most is Valentine’s Day.                                                                                 

In my gloomy state I decided to rent a few of the movies that I couldn’t wait to watch on cable, and since I don’t have a Netflix account I hit up the Red Box. In the course of three nights I watched Crazy Stupid Love, 50/50, and Midnight in Paris. These movies have quite a bit in common, and perhaps even more that’s dissonant, but the overall theme that rang true for me, and which I was apparently looking for, was pure love.

Pure love is different from romantic love which was also present in all of these movies. Pure love, as I use the term, reflects the way we open our hearts to the people around us. It is my belief, and the way I live my life, that we are meant to open our hearts to each other. This may not be the first thing you think about when you think about the movie where Ryan Gosling’s abs look photo shopped, that cancer movie with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the one where Owen Wilson wanders his way into 1920s Paris. But it is what I think of when I reflect on them.

Crazy Stupid Love focuses on the unraveling life of Cal Weaver. The crux of this move is the love, perhaps the crazy, stupid love he feels for his family and the lengths he will go to in order to protect that family. The audience can also see the effects of his love in the actions undertaken by his children. Yes, there is a romantic love story here as well, several actually, but what stood out to me was the selflessness of the love Cal had for his family and the lengths he was willing to go for them. In 50/50 a similar dynamic is enacted, but in a very different arena.

When we meet Adam he is in a relationship that is already in decline, and by the end of the movie he is starting a new romantic relationship with Katherine, his former therapist-in-training.  But the most important arc in the story of Adam’s battle against cancer is perhaps that of Adam and Kyle his best friend, played by Seth Rogan with the insight which only having lived through a similar situation can provide. Kyle is loyal to Adam in ways that not many friends would be given the situation, and even though he doesn’t always show it, he loves Adam as if he was himself, and does what he can to protect him and care for him through the course of the cancer treatment. This is what true friendship based on a pure love for another looks like, even when it doesn’t always look pretty.

So how does Midnight in Paris line up with these other two? Midnight in Paris is the story of an American writer, Gil, disillusioned by the formulaic writing he has been producing for the movie industry and wants to write a novel, to create true art. It is his love affair with Paris, especially in the rain, and the mystic journey he takes back in time to his idea of the best time inParis’ history, the 1920s, that the audience witnesses the pure love he has for the artists of the day and the inspiration he draws from the exchanges he is allowed each night. Again, there is a romantic love arc, where Owen Wilson’s Gil falls head over heels for Marion Cotillard’s Adriana, but her infatuation with the grand epoch shows Gil that his own fascination with the roaring twenties and the ex-pat community cannot last, and that he must return to his own life, and go back to loving these artists from afar.

So what does it all mean? I don’t know. I know that depictions of pure love: love of family, the love of true friends, the love of art and culture and the desire to create are all great things and their value should not be overlooked. Especially in a world which is overly focused on romantic love.