Our Shared Shelf March book review: “All About Love: New Visions”

bellhooks

Welcome back to my monthly coverage of Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf book club! Last month’s pick was “The Color Purple,” and this month, Ms. Watson has chosen “All About Love: New Visions” by bell hooks.

“All About Love: New Visions” official Goodreads synopsis:

“‘All About Love offers radical new ways to think about love by showing its interconnectedness in our private and public lives. In 11 concise chapters, hooks explains how our everyday notions of what it means to give and receive love often fail us, and how these ideals are established in early childhood. She offers a rethinking of self-love (without narcissism) that will bring peace and compassion to our personal and professional lives, and asserts the place of love to end struggles between individuals, in communities and among societies. Moving from the cultural to the intimate, hooks notes the ties between love and loss and challenges the prevailing notion that romantic love is the most important love of all.

Visionary and original, hooks shows how love heals the wounds we bear as individuals and as a nation, for it is the cornerstone of compassion and forgiveness and holds the power to overcome shame.

For readers who have found ongoing delight and wisdom in bell hooks’s life and work, and for those who are just now discovering her, ‘All About Love’ is essential reading and a brilliant book that will change how we think about love, our culture and one another.”

Disliking a book written by a well-known and largely well-admired and well-intentioned feminist feels like somewhat of a betrayal. And if betrayal is the charge, just call me Brutus, or even Judas. “All About Love: New Visions” was not, on a very base level, an awful book. But it wasn’t a good book, either. Granted, there were bits that were insightful, but they were few, far between and short-lived.

As many other Our Shared Shelf members pointed out, the book began with a bang. I dove in with genuine excitement, believing hooks’s work to be something special. I had hopes it would be a three-peat allaboutlovetriumph for the book club, each work as good or better than the last. I was proven wrong as I progressed in my reading of March’s pick.

Past some of the admittedly wonderful thoughts on love in childhood and her definitions of love itself, I couldn’t tell if bell hooks was talking down to me or attempting (but not succeeding) to lift me up. Her words rode a rickety line between self-help and societal criticism, embellished with a tone that felt more pressing than sincere. The majority of “All About Love: New Visions” felt like a stern talking-to from an aunt or grandmother who never has and never will fully understand you, your way of thinking or the personal position from which you are coming. She assumes an authoritative position, making wide generalization and placing herself above the current generation, placing an emphasis on the so-called self-obsessive and greedy nature of the present. In those moments, I didn’t feel like I was reading the works of an influential intersectional feminist; I felt like I was reading an essay written by someone who thinks millennials are entitled and narcissistic.

“All About Love” was frustrating to read – I both expected more from bell hooks and felt a bizarre sense of offense toward it all, especially the later chapters in the book. I was wholly disappointed in this month’s pick and felt a wave of dissatisfaction that grew larger and more intense with each turn of the page. Her early comments that abuse and love can never co-exist were great, but her victim-blaming comments regarding Nicole Brown Simpson made my stomach sour. A similar series of events occurred when she discussed Monica Lewinsky with a markedly misogynistic tone. As it carried on, hooks’s book became overwhelmingly one-sided, with heavy attention toward the Christian faith (fit with many-a-biblical reference and the notion that if you are not religious, you cannot know or show love) and heteronormative relationships. Hardly the kind of intersectional, inclusive and understanding mindset I would expect from hooks.

As aforementioned, “All About Love: New Visions” is not worst-book-I’ve-ever-read terrible, but even when taking into account its (very few) merits, I simply cannot rate it higher than what I have. It’s clear that this book was not written with everyone in mind – especially not for me nor people even slightly like me – which made the overall reading experience an uncomfortable one.

Rating: ★★★ (3/10)

If you haven’t already, you can become a member of Our Shared Shelf now! Head on over to Goodreads and click “join group.” Be sure to check back here at TYF each month to see my reviews.

Emma’s pick for April is “How to Be a Woman” by Caitlin Moran. 

Until May, happy reading!

AJ Caulfield is a 22-year-old writer, pun lover, massive goofball, first-year English graduate student, and quite possibly Leslie Knope's long-lost twin. She's a big fan of 80's rock music, female-directed films, and Mad Men.