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    The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

    Gabrielle Zevin 9781616203214

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4 Beaverton Gender Studies- Womens Studies
1 Burnside Gender Studies- General

Woman: An Intimate Geography

by

Woman: An Intimate Geography Cover

ISBN13: 9780385498418
ISBN10: 0385498411
Condition: Standard
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Excerpt

UNSCRAMBLING THE EGG

IT BEGINS WITH ONE PERFECT SOLAR CELL

Put a few adults in a room with a sweet-tempered infant, and you may as well leave a tub of butter sitting out in the midday sun. Within moments of crowding around the crib, their grown-up bones begin to soften and their spines to bend. Their eyes mist over with cataracts of pleasure. They misplace intellect and discover new vocal ranges--countertenor, soprano, piglet. And when they happen on the baby's hands, prepare for a variant on the ancient Ode to the Fingernail. Nothing so focuses adult adoration as a newborn's fingernail, its lovely condensed precocity. See the tiny cuticle below, the white eyebrow of keratin on top, the curved buff of the nail body, the irresistible businesslike quality of the whole: it looks like it really works! We love the infant fingernail for its capacity to flatter, its miniature yet faithful recreation of our own form. More than in the thigh or the eye or even the springy nautilus shell of the ear, in the baby's nail sits the homunculus, the adult in preview. And so, we are reminded, the future is assured.

Myself, I prefer eggs.

At some point midway through my pregnancy, when I knew I was carrying a daughter, I began to think of myself as standing in a room with two facing mirrors, so that looking into one mirror you see the other mirror reflecting it, and you, off into something approaching an infinity of images. At twenty weeks' gestation, my girl held within her nine-ounce, banana-sized body, in a position spatially equivalent to where she floated in me, the tangled grapevines of my genomic future. Halfway through her fetal tenure, she already had all the eggs she would ever have, packed into ovaries no bigger than the letters ova you just passed. My daughter's eggs are silver points of potential energy, the light at the beginning of the tunnel, a near-life experience. Boys don't make sperm--their proud "seed"--until they reach puberty. But my daughter's sex cells, our seed, are already settled upon prenatally, the chromosomes sorted, the potsherds of her parents' histories packed into their little phospholipid baggies.

The image of the nested Russian dolls is used too often. I see it everywhere, particularly in descriptions of scientific mysteries (you open one mystery, you encounter another). But if there were ever an appropriate time to dust off the simile, it's here, to describe the nested nature of the matriline. Consider, if you will, the ovoid shape of the doll and the compelling unpredictability and fluidity of dynasty. Open the ovoid mother and find the ovoid girl; open the child and the next egg grins up its invitation to crack it. You can never tell a priori how many iterations await you; you hope they continue forever. My daughter, my matryoshka.

I said a moment ago that my daughter had all her eggs in midfetushood. In fact she was goosed up way beyond capacity, a fatly subsidized poultry farm. She had all her eggs and many more, and she will lose the great majority of those glittering germ cells before she begins to menstruate. At twenty weeks' gestation, the peak of a female's oogonial load, the fetus holds 6 to 7 million eggs. In the next twenty weeks of wombing, 4 million of those eggs will die, and by puberty all but 400,000 will have taken to the wing, without a squabble, without a peep.

The attrition continues, though at a more sedate pace, throughout a woman's youth and early middle age. At most, 450 of her eggs will be solicited for ovulation, and far fewer than that if she spends a lot of time being pregnant and thus not ovulating. Yet by menopause, few if any eggs remain in the ovaries. The rest have vanished. The body has reclaimed them.

This is a basic principle of living organisms. Life is profligate; life is a spendthrift; life can persist only by living beyond its means. You make things in extravagant abundance, and then you shave back, throw away, kill off the excess. Through extensive cell death the brain is molded, transformed from a teeming pudding of primitive, overpopulous neurons into an organized structure of convolutions and connections, recognizable lobes and nuclei; by the time the human brain has finished developing, in infancy, 90 percent of its original cell number has died, leaving the privileged few to sustain the hard work of dwelling on mortality. This is also how limbs are built. At some point in embryogenesis, the fingers and toes must be relieved of their interdigital webbing, or we would emerge from our amniotic aquarium with flippers and fins. And this too is how the future is laid down.  

The millions of eggs that we women begin with are cleanly destroyed through an innate cell program called apoptosis. The eggs do not simply die--they commit suicide. Their membranes ruffle up like petticoats whipped by the wind and they break into pieces, thence to be absorbed bit by bit into the hearts of neighboring cells. By graciously if melodramatically getting out of the way, the sacrificial eggs leave their sisters plenty of hatching room. I love the word apoptosis, the onomatopoeia of it: a-POP-tosis. The eggs pop apart like poked soap bubbles, a brief flash of taut, refracted light and then, ka-ping! And while my girl grew toward completion inside me, her fresh little eggs popped by the tens of thousands each day. By the time she is born, I thought, her eggs will be the rarest cells in her body.

Scientists have made much of apoptosis in the past few years. They have sought to link every disease known to granting agencies, whether cancer, Alzheimer's, or AIDS, to a breakdown in the body's ability to control when pieces of itself must die. Just as a pregnant woman sees nothing but a sea of swollen bellies all around her, so scientists see apoptosis gone awry in every ill person or sickly white mouse they examine, and they promise grand paybacks in cures and amelioratives if they ever master apoptosis. For our purposes, let us think not of disease or dysfunction; let us instead praise the dying hordes, and lubricate their departure with tears of gratitude. Yes, it's wasteful, yes, it seems stupid to make so much and then immediately destroy nearly all of it, but would nature get anywhere if she were stingy? Would we expect to see her flagrant diversity, her blowsy sequins and feather boas, if she weren't simply and reliably too much? Think of it this way: without the unchosen, there can be no choosing. Unless we break eggs, there can be no souffle. The eggs that survive the streamlining process could well be the tastiest ones in the nest.

And so, from an eggy perspective, we may not be such random, sorry creatures after all, such products of contingency or freak odds as many of us glumly decided during our days of adolescent sky-punching (Why me, oh Lord? How did that outrageous accident happen?). The chances of any of us being, rather than not being, may not be so outrageous, considering how much was winnowed out before we ever arrived at the possibility of being. I used to wonder why life works as well as it does, why humans and other animals generally emerge from incubation in such beautiful condition--why there aren't more developmental horrors. We all know about the high rate of spontaneous miscarriages during the first trimester of pregnancy, and we have all heard that the majority of those miscarriages are blessed expulsions, eliminating embryos with chromosomes too distorted for being. Yet long before that point, when imperfect egg has met bad sperm, came the vast sweeps of the apoptotic broom, the vigorous judgment of no, no, no. Not you, not you, and most definitely not you. Through cell suicide, we at last get to yes--a rare word, but beautiful in its rarity.

We are all yeses.  we are worthy enough, we passed inspection, we survived the great fetal oocyte extinctions.  In that sense, at least--call it a mechanospiritual sense--we are meant to be.  We are good eggs, every one of us.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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pamjcam, August 4, 2012 (view all comments by pamjcam)
Angier makes learning about the sciences of the female body refreshing and exciting. As someone who doesnt have a science background, I was dreading the Science class I had to take. However Angier's book made motivated and more importantly helped me thoroughly, and colorfully understand the complexities of the female body.
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KJ, June 9, 2010 (view all comments by KJ)
I'm not really one for non-fiction but I really enjoyed this book. It offers great insight into our own biology and why things are the way they are. She presented it in a way that really made sense to me. I think it's a great read.
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nicole_wilson1, December 14, 2009 (view all comments by nicole_wilson1)
An incredible achievement. A must read for women. It allowed me to tap into my own unknown feminine wisdom and has given me the vocabulary, honor and inspiration to pass down that wisdom to my daughter.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780385498418
Author:
Angier, Natalie
Publisher:
Anchor Books
Location:
New York :
Subject:
Women
Subject:
Women's Studies
Subject:
Women's Health - General
Subject:
Psychology
Subject:
Human Physiology
Subject:
Sex differences
Subject:
Life Sciences - Human Anatomy & Physiology
Subject:
Women's Studies - General
Subject:
Women -- Psychology.
Subject:
Women's Health.
Subject:
Health and Medicine-Anatomy and Physiology
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series Volume:
145
Publication Date:
20000231
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
512
Dimensions:
8 x 5.31 in 1 lb

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Related Subjects


Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » Anatomy and Physiology
Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » Womens Health
History and Social Science » Feminist Studies » General
History and Social Science » Gender Studies » General
History and Social Science » Gender Studies » Womens Studies
Science and Mathematics » Biology » General
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Woman: An Intimate Geography Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$7.95 In Stock
Product details 512 pages Anchor Books - English 9780385498418 Reviews:
"Review" by , "It's a book not just for women. With its massive data on the working biology of both sexes, skepticism of dominant theories about dominant males, and candor about the speculative quality of its own feminist hypotheses, it stands as a benchmark in male-female relations in the late 20th century."
"Review" by , "A treasure chest of did-you-knows...hits the bull's-eye every time."
"Review" by , "A tantalizing, witty journey through female biology, debunking many entrenched stereotypes and myths and a lot of questionable science."
"Review" by , "Natalie Angier has that rare dual talent: a true passion for science combined with a poet's linguistic flair. In this lively dissection of womanhood, she places everything from estrogen to the politics of motherhood beneath her flawlessly focused microscope, offering innumerable tidbits both surprising and fascinating."
"Review" by , "Intimate and idiosyncratic...dismantles the misogynist mythologies once advanced as the scientific gospel of the female body...Angier's brilliant and witty fantasia will inspire women to believe in their powers."
"Review" by , "Natalie Angier's dazzling new book calls upon biology and evolution to celebrate the female body. Its upbeat message. . . is supported by rigorous scientific underpinnings."
"Review" by , "A tour de force, a wonderful, entertaining and informative book."
"Review" by , "Angier's Woman is as good as it gets."
"Review" by , "If Our Bodies, Ourselves has become the bible of women's bodies, let Woman: An Intimate Geography be our Shakespeare."
"Review" by , "The chief manifesto of the new 'femaleist' thinking."
"Synopsis" by , A new and updated edition of Natalie Angier's best-selling tour of the female body, published for its fifteen-year anniversary.
"Synopsis" by ,
With clarity, insight, and panache, Natalie Angier explores that most enigmatic of evolutionary masterpieces, the female body. Incorporating new material on the latest science and changes in our understanding of evolutionary psychology, Angier guides readers through everything from organs to orgasm, hormones to hysterectomies.

In Woman, Angier shows how cultural biases have influenced evolutionary psychology and led to dubious conclusions about “female nature,” such as the idea that women are innately monogamous while men are philanderers. But she doesnt just point fingers; with enlightened subversiveness, she offers a joyful, fresh vision of womanhood. Woman is an essential read for anyone interested in how biology affects who we are—as women, as men, and as human beings.

"Synopsis" by , With the clarity, insight, and sheer exuberance of language that make her one of The New York Times's premier stylists, Pulitzer Prize-winner Natalie Angier lifts the veil of secrecy from that most enigmatic of evolutionary masterpieces, the female body. Angier takes readers on a mesmerizing tour of female anatomy and physiology that explores everything from organs to orgasm, and delves into topics such as exercise, menopause, and the mysterious properties of breast milk.

A self-proclaimed "scientific fantasia of womanhood." Woman ultimately challenges widely accepted Darwinian-based gender stereotypes. Angier shows how cultural biases have influenced research in evolutionary psychology (the study of the biological bases of behavior) and consequently lead to dubious conclusions about "female nature." such as the idea that women are innately monogamous while men are natural philanderers.

But Angier doesn't just point fingers; she offers optimistic alternatives and transcends feminist polemics with an enlightened subversiveness that makes for a joyful, fresh vision of womanhood. Woman is a seminal work that will endure as an essential read for anyone intersted in how biology affects who we are?as women, as men, and as human beings.

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