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Book Marks

In My Power: Letter Writing and Communications in Early America. Racism goes only so far in explaining the extraordinary violence committed against African slaves and Native Americans in the American colonies and the early United States, writes Indiana University professor Konstantin Dierks. Equally important, he argues, was the social myopia that came with the spread of letter writing and the "ideology of agency" that it provided for the white middle class. Dierks, a faculty member in the Department of History at IU Bloomington, is the author of In My Power: Letter Writing and Communications in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press 2009). "Ultimately," he writes, "the history of letter writing in the eighteenth century is about the construction of a powerful myopia: not obliviousness to a future that people in the past could not possibly predict, but blindness to an accumulation of social and cultural power far beyond their intentions or recognitions at the time." In an era of bewildering social, geographic and economic change, Dierks writes, the extraordinary spread of letter writing -- not only to adult males but to women and children -- gave middle-class Britons and American colonists a sense of their own ability to live purposeful lives. Like today's digital divide, there was in that era an "epistolary divide" that played a role in blinding whites to the terms of their social power. Everyday letter writing demonstrated the social skills that assured the middle class of their social merit. "It was the great accomplishment of the middle class to accrue significant power over the course of the eighteenth century," he writes, "and it was its great privilege to do so without recognizing the full terms of that power."

Because it Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction. On the back cover of Debby Herbenick's new book, Because it Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction (Rodale 2009), Herbenick is described as "The kind of confidante every woman longs for -- a sex advisor who is as approachable as a girlfriend and as knowledgeable as a sex education professor. At the core of her advice is the belief that sex should be fun, satisfying, and intimate -- but first and foremost, it should simply feel good." Herbenick is associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. She also is a sexual health educator for the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. A prolific writer, Herbenick writes about sexual health and sexuality regularly for such publications as Men's Health and Time Out Chicago magazines and has contributed to the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Marie Claire and other publications. A sexual health expert tapped by such radio and TV shows as the Today Show, Discovery Health and the Tyra Banks Show, Herbenick also maintains a blog, She combines these various roles -- researcher, educator, and writer -- in Because it Feels Good, providing women with engaging and practical insights into every aspect of their sexual function and how they can enjoy their sex lives. Topics range from desire discrepancies to mental engagement and anatomy lessons to orgasm advice. Herbenick includes pop quizzes, homework assignments and exercises to help readers put her advice into action. "I wrote Because It Feels Good because I firmly believe that the science of sex can be used to help people improve their lives," Herbenick said. "I've tried to translate the results of my own research and that of my colleagues into concrete tips that women and men can use to have more pleasurable, connecting, satisfying sex."

Catholic Women of Congo-Brazzaville: Mothers and Sisters in Troubled Times. In this book published by Indiana University Press, Phyllis M. Martin, professor emeritus of history at Indiana University Bloomington, explores the changing relationship between women and the Catholic Church from the establishment of the first missions in the 1880s to the present. "Congolese women," she concludes, "like their American counterparts, want a meaningful religion that relates to their problems: family, home life, social relations, immiseration, childbirth, sickness, and ensuring a decent death." Focusing on Congo-Brazzaville, a small country in west-central Africa (and not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo), Martin writes about women's early rejection of missionary overtures and their later embrace of church-sponsored education and their formation of church-based fraternities. Drawing together as mothers and sisters, women affirmed their place as an active majority in the male-dominated institution of the church, if not in broader Congo-Brazzaville society. Martin describes a 1998 peace march attended by tens of thousands of church women and mothers, followed by a condescending reception from President Debus Sassou-Nguesso. For the women, she writes, motherhood was "a basis for moral outrage and a platform for action, but for the president and other men like him, motherhood was primarily about domesticity at home or in the service of the state."

Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America is a timely and groundbreaking study of sexuality and gender, new media, youth culture, and the meaning of identity and social movements in a digital age. From Wal-Mart drag parties to renegade Homemaker's Clubs, Out in the Country (NYU Press 2009) offers an unprecedented contemporary account of the lives of today's rural queer youth. Mary L. Gray, assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Culture in Indiana University Bloomington's College of Arts and Sciences, maps out the experiences of young people living in small towns across rural Kentucky and along its desolate Appalachian borders, offering readers a fascinating and often surprising look at the contours of gay life beyond the big city. Gray illustrates that, against a backdrop of an increasingly impoverished and privatized rural America, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual youth and their allies visibly -- and often vibrantly -- work the boundaries of the public spaces available to them, whether in their high schools, public libraries, town hall meetings, churches, or through websites. Gray's research interests include the sociology of youth and public culture. For this book, she spent 19 months talking and interacting with rural youth in Kentucky and along its Appalachian borders, allowing her to combine ethnographic insight with incisive cultural critique. Out in the Country shows that, in addition to the spaces of Main Street, rural LGBT youth explore and carve out online spaces to fashion their emerging queer identities. Their triumphs and travails defy clear distinctions often drawn between online and offline experiences of identity, fundamentally redefining our understanding of the term 'queer visibility' and its political stakes.