Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Year of Meats - by Ruth Ozeki

Jane is a documentary filmmaker who lives in New York City. Akiko is a housewife in Tokyo. Both are being abused by the same man: Joichi "John" Ueno who is Akiko's husband and Jane's boss. Jane is working with John on a television program for the Japanese market called My American Wife! which features a different wife preparing a different meat-based recipe each week. John insists that Jane only scout out "wholesome" white families, and insists that Akiko make each "recipe of the week". As Jane learns more about the beef industry (the sponsor of the show) she begins to subvert the message. The diverse families she showcases also provide Akiko with some new ideas for changing her own life.

The story takes place in 1991, a time before the internet, or e-mail. Communication was done by telephone or fax, and research was done at the library. Jane speaks of going to her hometown public library as a child to research her perfect mate. As the daughter of a Japanese mother and a white father she wanted to produce an offspring who "embodied the United Nations"
In my early teens when Polly and the the other girls were assembling ideal boyfriends from the body parts of teen movie idols and lead guitarists, I was conjuring a mate along very different lines. The way I figured it, I had the chance to make a baby who could one day be King of the World...I went to the Quam (Minnesota) Public Library and looked up "The Races of Men" in an old Frye's geography book
The passages she goes on to describe, written in 1902, are certainly racist by today's standards, which is one reason she feels justified in removing Frye's book from the same library when she returns as an adult.
Call it censorship, but on that trip home to visit Ma after the Bukowsky show, I stole Frye's Grammar School Geography from the public library. It was the least I could do for the children of Quam.
Ah, the rallying cry of the censor! 'I must protect others from this book from which I, myself, do not need protection. I have the knowledge and the critical thinking abilities to handle this work, but alas others do not.'

She continues with her other reason for taking the book
But to be perfectly honest, I wanted the book, and it's not the kind of thing you can easily pick up at a Barnes & Nobel superstore. It felt like antique pornography to me, with its musty old text, quaint etchings, and poisonous thoughts. From time to time I still pore over its stained chamois-soft pages, satisfying my documentarian's prurient interest in the primary sources of the past.
She has no concern for other researchers who might also want the book for the same reasons she does. My advice to those who question what a particular book is doing in a library is to ask a librarian about it.  It might be that the the horribly understaffed library has not been able to take on a "weeding" project to remove outdated materials, or that books are still available as primary sources for researchers. Perhaps a case could be made that Frye's work no longer belonged in the children's department, but that does not necessarily mean that it should be removed from the library entirely, perhaps it should simply be moved to the archives.

Grammar School Geography by Alexis Everett Frye is a real book. You can read the whole thing here.

This was a good read, with a lot of disturbing information about the beef industry, feedlots, and hormones. Ozeki skillfully weaves many different themes together, as well as several story lines.

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