Family & Relationships. Sociology. Nonfiction. HTML: A New York Times bestseller and enduring classic, All About Love is the acclaimed first volume in feminist icon bell hooks' "Love Song to the Nation" trilogy. All About Love reveals what causes a polarized society, and how to heal the divisions that cause suffering. Here is the truth about love, and inspiration to help us instill caring, compassion, and strength in our homes, schools, and workplaces. "The word 'love' is most often defined as a noun, yet we would all love better if we used it as a verb," writes bell hooks as she comes out fighting and on fire in All About Love. Here, at her most provocative and intensely personal, renowned scholar, cultural critic and feminist bell hooks offers a proactive new ethic for a society bereft with lovelessnessâ??not the lack of romance, but the lack of care, compassion, and unity. People are divided, she declares, by society's failure to provide a model for learning to love. As bell hooks uses her incisive mind to explore the question "What is love?" her answers strike at both the mind and heart. Razing the cultural paradigm that the ideal love is infused with sex and desire, she provides a new path to love that is sacred, redemptive, and healing for individuals and for a nation. The Utne Reader declared bell hooks one of the "100 Visionaries Who Can Change Your Life." All About Love is a powerful, timely affirmation of just how profoundly her revelations can change hearts and minds for the better.
I connected deeply with hooks's definition of love as a verb, as generous action. It mirrored my own experience of relationships in which people truly nurture one another, how much work that is and also how rewarding. I also liked the way in which her definition of love explicitly excludes abusive relationships - there can be no nurturing of anyone's spiritual growth in a situation where abuse is happening. hooks astutely points out that while abusive or neglectful relationships can, at times, involve care, they can never be truly loving in the larger sense. This considerably narrows the field of relationships which can be called "loving," but I think such a narrowing is useful. So often we're exposed to the idea that abuse or neglect can coexist with love, and I like hooks's distinction between care - a precious aspect of human relationships in its own right, and one she clearly values - and the larger, mutually nourishing set of actions and feelings that make up genuine love. Although I don't read many social theory or self-help books, the first few pages of her opening chapter were enough to convince me to buy All About Love that very day.
I had no idea, though, how much the book as a whole would challenge my thinking. When I picked it up again, I started with hooks's preface, in which she talks about our society's simultaneous obsession with and discomfort around love. She references many books in the self-help tradition, as well as other authors writing about love. I was feeling an intangible discomfort as I read, and I hadn't thought to examine it until I ran smack up against this passage:
Yet whenever a single woman over forty brings up the topic of love, again and again the assumption, rooted in sexist thinking, is that she is "desperate" for a man. No one thinks she is simply passionately intellectually interested in the subject matter. No one thinks she is rigorously engaged in a philosophical undertaking wherein she is endeavoring to understand the metaphysical meaning of love in everyday life. No, she is just seen as on the road to "fatal attraction."
I was thunderstruck to realize that, despite my professed feminism and attempts to reject sexism, the discomfort hooks describes here is exactly what I was feeling as I read. I was made uncomfortable by references to self-help books and admissions of lovelessness, because I associate them with a traditionally feminine lack of intellectual rigor, the stuff of "chick lit" and daytime television. Do I believe, intellectually, that the philosophical examination of love is less worthwhile than an exploration of, for example, violence? Of course not. Do I believe that the traditionally feminine should be shunned? No. But so pervasive is internalized sexism, that I do apparently carry around these beliefs on a subconscious, emotional level. Throughout my reading of the rest of hooks's book, I had to keep reminding myself of this realization, and thinking carefully about what underlay my reactions. It was a very valuable, if uncomfortable, exercise.
All About Love's chapter on honesty also forced me to think about the practice of lying in new ways. I've become pretty inured to to idea of telling a plethora of "little white lies" throughout the day; I think introverts in our society are especially encouraged to do this. I construct a falsely outgoing self, which I present in most casual interactions throughout the day. Instead of declining invitations on the grounds that I need more alone time (the truth), I sometimes invent "other plans" that keep me from accepting, out of a fear of hurting my friends' feelings. As hooks points out, we expect all people to do this to some extent:
Lies are told about the most insignificant aspects of daily life. When many of us are asked basic questions, like How are you today? a lie is substituted for the truth. Much of the lying people do in everyday life is done either to avoid conflict or to spare someone's feelings. Hence, if you are asked to come to dinner with someone whom you do not particularly like, you do not tell the truth or simply decline, you make up a story. You tell a lie. In such a situation it should be appropriate to simply decline if stating one's reasons for declining might unnecessarily hurt someone.
I was initially hostile to the idea that this kind of everyday lying is harmful to our ability to love. I do believe, despite the general truth that "honesty is the best policy," that there are times when lying is the most appropriate and generous - yes, loving - course of action. But when I press myself, I realize that these times are in the tiny minority, and mostly involve death-bed scenarios. And when I think about the most satisfying, validating interactions I've had, even with strangers, they've often involved the choice to be honest rather than invent an excuse. I'm specifically remembering a time when I was traveling alone in England, and was asked out on a date by a stranger. I knew I didn't want to go, and a series of excuses immediately presented themselves: I had a ticket to a sold-out show, I was really tired, I was going to meet friends, my boyfriend was the jealous type, and so on. But instead, I responded simply, just as hooks suggests: I smiled and said "Oh, no thank you. But thanks for asking." I think my smile and directness sent a clear message while still seeming kind. He wasn't compelled to ask "Well, what about tomorrow night?" or any other follow-up question, and he seemed disarmed by my directness. We parted on friendly terms, and I could enjoy my solitary wanderings with a sense of empowerment, rather than guilt. Memories like this make me wonder how lying has come to seem like the only option to so many people, myself included.
And, as hooks points out, the detrimental effects of widespread duplicity are much more serious than this. Messages in the mass media and popular culture (particularly TV, movies, and "romance guildes" like The Rules) teach us that women are expected to be manipulative and deceitful in order to "snare Mr. Right," whereas men are expected to be untruthful in their denial of a need for love and affection. Such behavior becomes normalized: just part of the mass of small, "natural" lies we're expected to tell in the course of a day. Of course such socialization impedes peoples' ability to connect honestly with one another. Seen in this larger context, and despite the fact that my primary relationships are already very open, honest and loving, hooks has convinced me to take a long, hard look at my impulses toward dishonesty for the sake of ease or social comfort.
Not every chapter in All About Love was as mind-blowing for me as the first few. There were places I disagreed with her, and a few distracting generalizations that made me wonder about the research backing her up. She claims, for example, that "most" American adults did not have genuine love modeled for them in their families of origin, but instead received a dysfunctional combination of care and abuse or neglect (which was apparently the case in her own family). Having grown up one of the lucky ones, raised by parents who modeled constructive, truly loving practices for me and taught me self-love, boundary-setting, and the need to take responsibility for my actions, I wonder what the statistics are on how many people get what I had as a kid. I'm ready to believe hooks's claim that a majority go without, but since I would have guessed differently, I'd like to see some figures confirming it.
Nevertheless, All About Love was thoughtful, well-written, and provocative. It gave me a solid framework in which to think about the act of loving, and even changed my behavior, which I can't say about many books, even fantastic ones. I'm sure I'll be returning to hooks's thoughts on love frequently in the future.
Here are two quotes: "Psycholanalysts...critique the idea that we fall in love, (but) we continue to invest in the fantasy of effortless
"'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.'" (p. 172)
Here's the second quote:
"Committed love relationships are far more likely to become codependent when we cut off all our ties with friends to give theses bonds we consider primary our exclusive attention. I have felt especially devastated when close friends who were single fell in love and simultaneously fell away from our friendship....The more genuine our romantic loves the more we do not feel called upon to weaken or sever ties with friends in order to strengthen ties with romantic partners. Trust is the heartbeat of genuine love. And we trust that the attention our partners give friends, or vice versa, does not take anything away from us--we are not diminished." (p. 135)
Childhood Love Lessons
Definitely worth reading.
It's not much of a surprise to me that hooks would write a book such as this. Knowing her and Cornel West as a reader, I expect them to deal with essential questions of love. I'm not sure that I agree with their approach, however. And quite honestly, I much prefer the way such ethical issues are handled by two other great writers, the Dalai Lama and Stephen L. Carter.
Nevertheless, hooks is quite instructive in her own provocative way, and if nothing else, does justice to my own gut revulsion against 'Mars & Venus'. hooks gets a little too referential, quoting this author and giving credit to that article. It spares her from writing a bit more fluidly and expansively, but that's better than footnotes.
I'll keep the book on the shelf and maybe come back around to it after a while, but I won't use it as a primary source, and I certainly won't push it on other folks, especially not the wife.
Thoughts I had while reading this book:
â€˘This could have been an article or an essay.
â€˘I would have preferred this to have been approached in a more scientific (specifically hard sciences) way.
â€˘A lot of this is common sense.
In conclusion, I wasn't a huge fan of this. I didn't hate it but I don't think I'll be seeking this author out for any more of her books in the future. You win some, you lose some. *shrugs*
I did like the chapter on loss and grieving, where she talked about how mourning long and hard is an appropriate reflection of the love you felt for someone. I absolutely believe that, but it's always good to hear the sentiment from someone else. She had some interesting stuff to say about love and power, also, but againâ€”wrong book for me just now. I just wasn't in the mood.
I was a bit disappointed because this one was less about feminism per se and started out feeling more like a self-help book. I do understand, though, that learning how to love
Lots of food for thought, here. I ended up reading several chapters more than once and think I should revisit parts of it periodically as a sort of meditation.
Not everyone's cup of tea, but I'll give it four stars.
I particularly liked how hooks discussed love
I did have a few issues with the book however, such as the occasional reliance on gender binaries and heteronormativity which reveals the bookâ€™s age. Furthermore I found some of what could be considered hooksâ€™ advice to be too abstract and not entirely realistic or plausible. She had great ideas for what the world could look like but this vision was somewhat vague and seemingly unachievable. Finally, there were things like her mention of her multiple residences or her characterization of who I assume to be Monica Lewinsky which slightly bothered me but luckily werenâ€™t overpowering enough to give me an overall negative impression of the book or itâ€™s author.
I was not as enamored of the reflections on culture and love, where she often says something along the lines of "nowadays we are too greedy to love" or some such sentiment. I really don't think human nature has changed that much over the centuries. I think the rich always strive to maintain power and the poor struggle to survive. The expressions of greed or security may have shifted, but in a book on a subject as timeless as love, I think the focus should be a bit wider than the current infatuation with violent media (for example).
There is a lot of biblical rhetoric in here, which I am very familiar with. And while I still subscribe to Love=God and take comfort in scripture, I am curious to know what her full background in religion is, and if she untangled the racism and patriarchy espoused by the same churches that preached those scriptures. I find that many get it backwards, taking what they can construct of God from scripture to be what love is, while we should be learning to love and be loved to find who God is. It seems like hooks is on the right side of that, but it feels like a piece missing from the narrative once biblical references are introduced.