Two books

From the NYT Book Review of last Sunday (May 10th), bits from two reviews that caught my eye: Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts reviewed by Jennifer Szalai; and Speak Now by Kenji Yoshino (a memoir combined with analysis of the same-sex marriage case) reviewed by Lincoln Caplan. I haven’t read either book (though I’ve read and posted about other things by Yoshino). But I was intrigued by the reviewers’ comments.

Szalai on Nelson:

To become a mother is to learn, among many other things, that mothers are treated as both central and peripheral to American culture. “The most important job in the world” is such a sentimental truism that even women who don’t want to have children report having to explain themselves to incredulous busybodies. Yet actual mothering is accorded little social or economic value beyond hazy reverence and pious declarations. Mothers are allowed some authority when it comes to their homes, their children and their bodies; their domain is one of domestic necessity, which is supposed to stand in mute contrast to the wider world of work, of ideas, of rationality, of free will.

That, at least, is the traditional binary, though the assumptions behind it are pervasive even among those who otherwise stand in opposition to the traditional and the mainstream.

Caplan on Yoshino:

At weddings these days, it’s rare to hear the warning “Speak now or forever hold your peace” directed at anyone who can show “just cause” why the couple shouldn’t be married. When [legal scholar] Kenji Yoshino and his husband were married in 2009, however, they asked the judge who officiated to include the line in the ceremony. It was a reminder, Yoshino says in his new book, that many Americans feel they have just cause to object to any marriage between two people of the same sex.

The overarching point of “Speak Now” is that they don’t. The evidence is in the transcript of Hollingsworth v. Perry, what Yoshino calls “one of the most powerful civil rights trials in American history.” That’s the case in which, two years ago, the Supreme Court chose not to decide whether states must allow same-sex couples to marry. The trial phase gave objectors the chance to say why states must not. To the trial judge, none of the causes they presented — “moral disapproval, animus or merely that opposite-sex relationships are ‘inherently better’ ” — was “a proper basis” for a ban by law.

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