Globe review of In the Flesh

Great review for In the Flesh in the Globe,  good illustrations, PDF here: flesh globe review

 

Text only:

  •  In the Flesh
  • Twenty Writers Explore the Body
  • Author Kathy Page, Lynne Van Luven
  • Genre nonFiction
  • Publisher Brindle & Glass
  • Pages 231
  • Price $24.95

The body: We can’t live without it.

It is as wondrous as it is terrifying, as ridiculous as it is sacred, as familiar as it is ever-changing. Our relationship with our bodies could not be more intimate, and yet most of its everyday, ordinary functions remain deeply mysterious to us. We feel in control of our bodies, until suddenly we don’t.

In their anthology, In the Flesh, Kathy Page and Lynne Van Luven gather together personal meditations on the body. “We had desperately wanted to create an enormous, encyclopedic book that encompassed even the toenail and the appendix,” write the editors, who took their original inspiration from Klaus Theweleit’s observation in his book Male Fantasies: “Historians have never been interested in what has really happened to human bodies – what bodies have felt.”

What do bodies feel? Though we are made in common, each of our bodies constituted of matching parts, it is a question infinitely complicated by the uniqueness of individual experience. In the end, Page and Van Luven settle on 20 essays by 20 diverse writers, each addressing a different body part.

From hair to heart to hands, from breasts to blood to brain, the essays deliver personality along with tidbits of information. “The average human head holds 120,000 strands of hair,” writes Caroline Adderson, but she knows that the real emotion is contained in the particularities of her own experiences: “A heart-shaped chocolate box, paisley-patterned in hot pink. Very 1970s.” The reader cannot wait to lift the lid: “Three long, coppery brown hanks, each secured by an ordinary elastic. … Even now, decades later, the smell of Clairol Herbal Essence is heady.

These essays are at their best when the body part is fleshed out in story. Memorable images linger. Dede Crane writes about her feet bloodied in pointe shoes. Stephen Gauer stares at an image on a computer screen: “My kidneys looked beautiful.” In Susan Olding’s essay on blood, her alcoholic, dying father asks her to open the curtain around his hospital bed: “How tempting to read this as a metaphor – to see it as a sign that he had finally found a way to loosen his tourniquet of shame.”

Olding makes creative use of the many blood images that inhabit our vocabulary, but not every essayist is so skilled. Tedious to read, though compelling to reflect on, are the lists that crop up in many of these essays – of words related to the body part under scrutiny. It seems as if our language is composed of the body itself, though not all parts command respect. Words related to the penis and the breasts are mainly euphemisms for the parts themselves, while other parts are so woven into our language we don’t even notice. Can you give me a hand with this? Don’t get your back up. No, really, I don’t mind.

The most brilliant essay in the book skillfully combines facts, narrative and the language of the body. Lorna Crozier’s poetical meditation on the brain contains images that shock and wordplay that delights, and finishes with a story you won’t forget. Its depth and imagination reveal the weaknesses in a few of the other offerings, those that feel more purpose-written than necessary.

Nevertheless, the book’s overall effect is powerful, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, and, more often than not, deeply moving. We humans are vain, we decorate our bodies and we strive to alter them with diet and exercise and cosmetics. There’s poignancy in this effort. Our bodies, after all, are not made to last. This is the simple fact of life, the pact we enter into quite unwittingly at birth. There is no life without death.

Despite this – or perhaps because of it – the pleasure we take from our bodies, and in them, can feel utterly transcendent. Effortless as breathing. Try capturing that in a history book.

Carrie Snyder’s second book, The Juliet Stories, was published in March. As a runner and a mother, she is all too aware of her body’s limitations. She lives in Waterloo, Ont., and blogs as Obscure CanLit Mama.

Buy In the Flesh:

In Canada:  Munro’s Books     Amazon.ca

In the UK: W H Smith Amazon.co.uk

In the USA:  Amazon.com

Telegraph-Journal Review of In the Flesh

Telegraph-Journal, New Brunswick, Saturday May 5th, 2012

In the Flesh“In the Flesh, edited by Kathy Page and Lynne Van Luven,  Brindle and Glass, 240 pp

In this collection, 20 essayists explore complicated relationships with their bodies. Each writer focuses on a different part of the body and, in so doing, intimately reveals what’s inside and behind it.

The narratives are deeply personal. Sue Thomas rolls her gall- stones around in her hand as she thinks about her pancreas. Stephen Gauer explores organ donation through his own experience of donating a kidney to his granddaughter. In his meditation on skin, Taiaiake Alfred writes of his place in a racist hierarchy. Caroline Adderson considers the centrality of hair to our sense of ourselves, painfully illustrated by her visit to Auschwitz and its room of full of stolen hair.

This collection is not for the squeamish. Margaret Thompson’s reflection on the ear is clever and visceral with a description of someone with a beetle in his ear who “tried to flush the insect out with melted butter.” Trevor Cole’s Eyes is put together perfectly, every word where it should be, as when he describes his young allergic eyes: “The whites were a sickly yellow and bulging out grotesquely, surrounding the irises like rising bread dough.” Eww.

A story about the vagina is written by a man (André Alexis), while Merilyn Simonds writes of the penis, and this switch is an editorial choice that not all readers will agree with. This reader would have liked to read a woman’s perspective on her vagina, as in Lynne Van Luven’s funny and honest account of her conflicted relationship with her breasts.

In all, this collection is a thorough and provocative look at the body, broken down into its messy, beautiful and complicated parts.”

Rebecca Higgins for the Telegraph-Journal

Buy In the Flesh:

In Canada:  Munro’s Books     Amazon.ca

In the UK:  Amazon.co.uk  W H Smith

In the USA:  Amazon.com

In the Flesh on Air & Elsewhere

In the FleshLink to CBC North by Northwest  interview  about In the Flesh with Sheryl Mackay, Kathy Page, Lynne Van Luven and Juliann Gunn

“…powerful, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, and, more often than not, deeply moving.”    Globe & Mail  review by Carrie Snyder

“The collection, published by Brindle & Glass, is anecdotal and educational, witty and at times heart-breaking. Its finely crafted writing serves to underline the strange truths of how we inhabit and make sense of our forms, which are created both by nature and culture….” Review in the Gulf Islands Driftwood

“A thorough and provocative look at the body, broken down into its messy, beautiful and complicated parts….” Review in the Telegrpah-Journal

“An amazing approach to memoir through the lens of the miracles of the body…” Story Circle review

Lynne Van Luven introduces the book on Youtube

 

Buy In the Flesh:

In Canada:  Munro’s Books     Amazon.ca

In the UK: W H Smith

In the USA:  Amazon.com

In the Flesh launches: 29 April in Victoria and 6th May on Salt Spring Island

Victoria

29th April, 2:30 PM at the Yoga Den, 1311 Gladstone Ave, Victoria, BC.

Readers include Dede Crane, Kathy Page,  Taiaiake Alfred,  Margaret Thompson, Julian Gunn and Lynne Van Luven.

Salt Spring Island

6th May, 7 PM in Artspring Theatre, 100 Jackson Avenue, Ganges. Sponsored by Salt Spring Books.  Readers include Brian Brett, Margaret Thompson, Lynne Van Luven, Richard Steel,  and Julian Gunn.

All welcome. Free. Please visit our Facebook page:

http://www.facebook.com/InTheFleshTwentyWritersExploreTheBody

IN THE FLESH is an intelligent, witty, and provocative look at how we think about—and live within—our bodies. The editors and writers in this collection describe, in many voices, what human bodies feel now. Each author’s candid essay focuses on one part of the body, and explores its function, its meanings, and the role it has played in his or her life.

With original essays by Caroline Adderson, André Alexis, Taiaiake Alfred, Brian Brett, Trevor Cole, Dede Crane, Lorna Crozier, Candace Fertile, Stephen Gauer, Julian Gunn, Heather Kuttai, Susan Olding, Kathy Page, Kate Pullinger, Merilyn Simonds, Richard Steel, Madeleine Thien, Sue Thomas, Margaret Thompson, and Lynne Van Luven.

 

Buy In the Flesh:

In Canada:  Munro’s Books     Amazon.ca

In the UK: W H Smith

In the USA:  Amazon.com

In the Flesh

 In the Flesh: Twenty Writers Explore the Body.  The idea for a book of writing about the body first came to me over ten years ago, and I worked for a while on it with my friend Sue Thomas. It went through various metamorphoses, lay dormant for a while and then, in collaboration with another friend, Lynne Van Luven, it was distilled into its current form and taken up by Brindle & Glass.

Each writer was invited to choose (or, in some cases, gently steered towards!)  a particular body part and asked to write a candid personal essay exploring that part and their relationship with it. The assumption was that writers  had to possess (or have possessed) a particular part in order to write about it. However, we abandoned this rule in the case of two very significant parts, as you will see below.

The twenty essays that resulted from our invitations are fascinating and utterly distinctive in content and tone.  Witty, sad, quirky, passionate: each one reads beautifully alone; put together, they create a fascinating, multi-dimensional portrait of the human body and our experience of living within it.

 

Buy In the Flesh:

In Canada:  Munro’s Books     Amazon.ca

In the UK:   Amazon for paperback and Kindle   W H Smith

In the USA:  Amazon.com

Reviews & Comment

Here’s the contents page: Continue reading “In the Flesh”