It’s Here! A Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast

“This unusual encyclopedia focusing on the female breast is scholarly and exhaustive, yet pleasurable to read. It should find its place among one’s favorite reference books. “

–Marilyn Yalom, Stanford University; author of A History of the Breast

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Yesterday, my husband and I visited our younger daughter and her boyfriend in their new apartment. They live about an hour and half away from us in Reading, Pennsylvania. We had a lovely visit and a delicious dinner prepared by my daughter. We talked and their dog and cat entertained us, as pets do. When my husband and I got home—well past my usual bedtime—my husband discovered that my author copies of my new book, A Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast, had been delivered to our house while we were away. What a perfect end to my Saturday!

I don’t care how many books you write—it’s always exciting to see and hold the new one. And if it isn’t, you probably shouldn’t be a writer.

I realize that this book is not the type of book most people will rush out to buy for their personal libraries–although I would be pleased if you do! However, if you think it is a book that might be useful for any businesses you know of, or schools, or libraries, please do recommend it. I wrote several of the entries, and I compiled and edited the entire volume, but I also had the help of scholars from all over the world, including the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, Poland, Romania, Argentina, and Nigeria. The book covers nearly everything you could want to know about breasts—breast anatomy, breast cancer, breast augmentation and reduction, breasts in art, literature, movies, and pop culture, breasts in fashion, topless protests, breasts in history, and more. Come on, you know you want to flip through it now, don’t you? Really now, don’t you?

One of my assistants

One of my assistants

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He finds the box more interesting than the books.

My Summer of Breasts and Revolution

 

I’ve been busy this summer with professional projects and personal issues and events. Unfortunately, this has left me little time to post to my blog or visit the blogs of others. I apologize and hope to have more time later in the fall.

 

In July I reviewed the page proofs for my forthcoming book, Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast. It covers everything you always wanted to know about breasts in history, art, fashion, literature, movies, popular culture, and science. It should be out in October, or perhaps even before that. Grazia De Michele reviewed it for the Breast Cancer Consortium. You can read the review here:

 

I’ve also been working on my next book, another encyclopedia, titled World of the American Revolution (ABC-CLIO). As the deadline approaches (GULP!), I am scrambling to write numerous entries on a wide variety of topics. Let me just say there have been ISSUES. Contributors dropping out; contributors not coming through with acceptable articles; contributors who plagiarize. . .But I have also had some wonderful articles submitted. So it goes.

 

In addition research, editing, and writing entries for my books, I’ve been writing many test items this summer—after all, I have a daughter getting married and there are a few expenses to be covered. The bridal shower has past and the wedding will soon be here. I can’t believe that something that seemed so far away is now almost here! There will be more on that topic in the future.

 

With so much going on, my husband and I did not even attempt to make vacation plans, but we have taken a few hours here and there to visit places in the area. Following my theme of “revolutions,” we went to Eastern State Penitentiary for the “Bastille Day” Celebration as envisioned by the Bearded Ladies theatre troup. My husband and I stood for free with the mob. We cheered and jeered as Edith Piaf introduced celebrated figures from the past to help bring about revolution. Or something. Well, we all know from Les Miz that revolutions need songs. And apparently they need line dances, too. Because this is Philadelphia, Marie Antoinette—joined by Tonya Harding—threw TastyKakes from the top of the prison with the cry, “Let them eat Tastykakes!” It is true Philadelphia craziness that has to be experienced to be believed. You can see more about it here.

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After the “execution,” my husband and I went on an after hours tour of the prison. If you are ever in Philadelphia, visit this museum. It is fascinating. The prison opened in 1829 and was considered a model prison with each prisoner kept in a solitary cell. The prison was in use until it closed in 1971.

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On another day, in lovely summer weather, we walked through the famed Philadelphia Museum of Art. We saw an exhibit of proposed architectural changes to the museum. The alterations, if they happen, will be done in stages, and will take decades to complete. The proposal that has met with the most discussion is one that would change the famed “Rocky” steps.

 

After visiting the Medieval and European galleries, we went outside to have a picnic lunch and walk. It was a beautiful day to walk by Boathouse Row and along the Schuylkill River. When looking walking along the river, it is easy to imagine the nineteenth-century city of Philadelphia.

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Looking at the Philadelphia Museum from the Waterworks

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A solitary rower on the Schuylkill River

 

We have also managed to make two brief trips to the beach (down the shore, as we say here), as well as some trips to local wineries.

 

So this is my summer of breasts and revolutions–and a soon to be wedding. It’s been brightened by family and friends, sunny skies, stress-busting trips to the gym, and some glasses of wine. Chocolate, too, of course. I hope all of you are having a good summer! Back to work for me.

 

Visions of May

“Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what is wrong
Was I unwise to leave them open for so long”

–Jackson Browne

 

“And a bird overhead sang Follow,
And a bird to the right sang Here;
And the arch of the leaves was hollow,
And the meaning of May was clear.”

–Algernon Charles Swinburne

 Yesterday morning I sat in the waiting room of the surgical center, and I waited—of course. It was May first, May Day, the day of flowers and revolution, parades and Maypoles. In our region, torrential April showers the night before left flooded streets and hopes that now giant May blooms will spring forth. In any case, I waited. I edited three entries for my next book, checked Facebook, read part of a novel, and waited some more. My husband was having cataract surgery done. This was his second surgery; he’d had the first eye done a few weeks ago. He is fine (except for some extra pressure in his eye right now), and so thrilled to be able to see well. “I can read that!” he exclaims about words that appear on the screen when we watch TV.

         I marvel that surgery such as this—removing the lens from an eye and replacing it with a new lens is now “routine surgery.” Yes, I know every surgery carries risks, and I know that some people have had problems with cataract surgery—and probably every type of surgery—but still, I marvel.

         For the past week or so, I’ve been immersed in eighteenth-century medicine. I’ve read about Washington’s teeth—there was a man with some dental problems! I’ve thought about what women and doctors said about menstruation–and tried to imagine coping with that before disposable pads, tampons, or running water. I’ve examined documents about eighteenth-century epidemics and medical techniques. And so, though I long for the non-invasive medical techniques practiced by Dr. McCoy and Dr. Crusher on Star Trek in their respective Enterprise sick bays, I still marvel at how medicine has advanced from the eighteenth-century.

         All types of revolutions took place in the eighteenth-century. There was the revolution that gave my country, the United States of America, its independence. There was a revolution in France a few years later that toppled its monarchy, at least for a time. The revolution in Haiti ended slavery there and sent French masters to the new United States. But, there were also revolutions in science and scientific thinking, as men—and women—sought, as they have throughout time, to explain the world around them.

The changes to “scientific practices” were not always beneficial. For example, in the late eighteenth-century, Martha Ballard, a midwife in Maine, delivered nearly 1,000 babies without any mother dying during delivery, and only five mothers died during the “lying-in” period. These rates were much lower than that of her contemporary physicians. Ballard, was a particularly skilled and conscientious mid-wife; some of the physicians who delivered babies did not have her skill or experience. In addition, physicians sometimes attended laboring mothers after they had examined seriously ill patients. Since this was before doctors and the lay public understood how diseases were spread or about the need for sanitary practices and sterilization (some people still don’t understand—like those people who don’t wash their hands in public restrooms. Ewwwww!), “advancement” in obstetrical techniques practiced by physicians sometimes led to more deaths of mothers than the traditional birthing procedures practiced by midwives.*

Still, I marvel. While working on my forthcoming Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast, I read several gruesome accounts of women undergoing mastectomies without anesthesia. The over diagnoses and treatment of breast cancer is a debate to have at another time, but I think all would agree that surgery without anesthesia, X-rays, and other modern surgical tools is not something we would want to experience.

I get so peeved when I hear people talk about the good old days that never really existed. There have always been wars, murders, rapes, stealing, and child molestation. Since ancient times, art, music, and storytelling have also existed. Humans have invented better and more efficient ways to kill, but we’ve always invented better ways to heal. We are complex, creative creatures, and sometimes also amazingly simple and stupid.

Some revolutions have brought death, but they have also brought freedom. Some revolutions have brought new ideas. Who know what this month of May will bring? I’m hoping for bright new visions—and flowers, of course.

 

 

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Longwood Gardens

* Further reading on eighteenth-century midwives and childbirth:

Leavitt, Judith Walzer. 1986. Brought to Bed: Childbearing in America, 1750 to 1950. New York: Oxford University Press.

Scholten, Catherine M. 1985. Childbearing in American Society: 1650-1850. New York: New York University Press.

Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. 1990. A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812. New York: Knopf.

 

A Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast

About two weeks ago I received a UPS delivery. It looked like books, and I wondered how I could have forgotten that I ordered some. I was surprised to find it was a box of brochures for my forthcoming book a Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast!

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The brochures are beautiful. I can’t wait to see the actual book!

Please recommend the book to your local and college libraries–and to anyone and everyone who might be interested! There are nearly 150 entries on a variety of breast-related topics, including Amazons, Beauty Ideals, Breast Cancer, Breastfeeding, Corsets, Dance, Eating Disorders, Pin-Up Girls, the Virgin Mary, and the Women’s Movement. The entries were written by a group of international scholars (including me!) with expertise in various disciplines and edited by yours truly.

The books should be out in August 2014, but there is a special promo code offering 25% off for pre-orders of the print copy by June 30, 2014.

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Order online at http://www.rowman.com

Email orders@rowman.com

Phone: 1-800-462-6420 or local 717-794-3800

Fax: 1-800-338-4550 or local 717-794-3803

Thanks so much for reading!

Merril