With her buddies on the bowling league she enjoyed the rough and rewarding embrace of male camaraderie undetectable to an outsider. A stint in a high-octane sales job taught her the gut-wrenching pressures endured by men who would do anything to succeed. She frequented sex clubs, dated women hungry for love but bitter about men, and infiltrated all-male communities as hermetically sealed as a men's therapy group, and even a monastery.
Narrated in her utterly captivating prose style and with exquisite insight, humor, empathy, nuance, and at great personal cost, Norah uses her intimate firsthand experience to explore the many remarkable mysteries of gender identity as well as who men are apart from and in relation to women. Far from becoming bitter or outraged, Vincent ended her journey astounded, and exhausted, by the rigid codes and rituals of masculinity. Having gone where no woman (who wasn't an aspiring or actual transsexual) has gone for any significant length of time, let alone 18 months, Norah Vincent's surprising account is an enthralling audio experience and a revelatory piece of anecdotally based gender analysis that is sure to spark fierce and fascinating conversation.
©2006 Norah Vincent; (P)2006 Penguin Audio
"For fans of Nickel and Dimed style immersion reporting, this book is a sure bet." (Publishers Weekly)
I have to admit that even a year ago if I had come upon a book written by a lesbian New York literary figure who spent time in the world dressed like a man, I would have dismissed it and moved on. More blue state pretention, and I can almost write the conclusions myself. "Men are pigs, and it's great to be a lesbian. More women should try it... and a few did with me." Having rounded a corner so to speak in my wanderings in this skin, being not so reliably red state in my response to my blue neighbors, I decided to download Norah Vincent's Self-Made Man, stick it on my iPod, and give it a listen on my drive from LA to Phoenix.
I'm really glad that I did. Far from being a man-hating screed, this is a tender, insightful treatment of men from what might otherwise be an unlikely source. And Vincent openly admits of the predictable liberal/lesbian/feminist presuppositions she carried around about men--before she decided, on a lark, to live like one. And so "Ned" Vincent was born.
As Ned, Norah joined a bowling league, went to strip joints, spent time in a men's group, participated in a drum-beating masculine discovery retreat, dated women, and ultimately broke down under the strain of living a double life.
Throughout the recounting, as I listened to her candid observations about men and their patterns of speech, their bonding rituals, their troubles and triumphs, their wisdom and their banality I came to deeply respect what this woman had accomplished. Far from being an expose about how dull and brutish men really are, Self-Made Man is a work of true compassion. We celebrate Jesus for living among the alienated in society, but Norah Vincent became the very creature she wanted to understand. Can there be anything more compassionate?
I'm a 66 year old woman and it's taken me all this time to learn what "Ned" learned in her crash course. Her compassion is wonderful. Her reading voice is NOT monotonous. It's matter-of-fact and without the phoney "drama" of so many readers. This is a deep and generally meaningful (all young girls should read it) and still instensely personal story.
The book is masterful and compelling. Also, one of those that is enhanced, especially given the book's premise, at least x2 because it is read by the auther.
Now, to be frank, I had seen the author interviewed on the Colbert Report--and Steve Colbert dominated the [interview] to the point that one couldn't get an idea what the book was about.
What the book is about is a woman turning herself in to a man for a *year and a half*. Incredible. I've read Black Like Me (masterpiece) , Nickel And Dimed In America (the most keen social commentary on the "living wage" for middle aged people entering a new field around). Ok--take the premise of Nickel & Dimed--a strange person trying to get a job out of nowhere (freelance writing) in their 40s. *Now add* the element of the woman looking for the job--and taking a series of "Red Bull" jobs, not only turning herself male--the author went with a beard, deep voice, men's glasses, proper handshake--*and* date and recite a sharp analysis of modern gender issues.
The author joins a Robert Bly-esque group--then, takes us as far as a Robert Bly-esque retreat.
My prejudice was shattered: I thought this would be a male bashing tantrum. Quite the contrary. The book is written with the most keen empathetic compassion for people in general, no matter the gender---and then highlighting with a honed precision what is really going on. Not to give away the end of a non-fiction book, I must say that after the 18 months the author says: *I'd rather be a woman!* Understatement.
Severely highly recommended.
This is not an interesting book to listen to on audio. The subject matter, while interesting, does not lend itself to captive listening. It does not help that the reader has a monotone voice with no inflections or excitement.
Another over opinionated mammal
I immediately found the idea of the book in interesting, but approached it defensively. I was expecting a judgmental hash of the short comings of men.
Instead I found a shockingly even handed, and review of the difference societies that men and women coexist in, and the roles that we play in them. The contrasting roles, rules, and dynamics found provided me with invaluable incites in our gender roles and within my self.
This is a fascinating and somwtimes frustrating read. You know the story, surely - Norah Vincent goes underground as a man named Ned, with some great makeup, expert coaching, and oversized glasses.
There's a lot of complex interaction in this book, well told. There's the one between woman as man with men; woman as woman with men; woman as man with women; Naroh as man and Ned as woman;woman as lesbian with both men and women. And there's the interaction between any male reader and Norah as woman as man.
Anyone who reads this book will have a lot to chew on about gender relations. Much of what Norah observes about men is spot on. The great service of this book is that Norah can say what men can't - male insecurity, the humiliation of the dating chase, the conflicting demands women make on men, the stifling cultural cues, and much more.
The book starts with Ned joining a bowling team. Norah keenly observes male bonding rituals that women simply don't pick up on. Much is good about men in this section. By the end of the book, however, the early part seems long forgotten and men are made to seem to be a bundle of irronciliable pathologies to be rescued from. Hey - we got our own row to hoe just like the ladies do.
That's a little frustrating, but still - read this book, gents and ladies. It's a doozy.
Glad I got over being too snobby to listen to audio books!
I feel like I would like to sit down and (since I don't partake of alcohol) at least share a soda with Norah Vincent. She had a very funny and refreshing insight on the male of the species as well as class issues in America. Very down to earth but without "dumbing it down" either. I just wished the audio book had been a little longer.
Despite having an extensive library, I rarely ever write a book review. Even less frequently do I read a book that is not a science or technical book.
Yet I couldn't help but feel a strong compulsion to describe just how brilliant and eye-opening I found Norah Vincent's adventure. Vincent takes us on a journey to another world, as though she were a martian visiting earth and wearing the guise of a man in order to understand what their world is all about. Her fresh perspective on age old questions and observations gives the reader a chance to see things from an angle that simply cannot be reproduced by reading academic papers, novels, or experts on the matter. Everyone, whatever the gender, political position, or disposition, will learn a great deal about both halves of the human species by reading this masterpiece.
And to top it all off, she's an excellent writer as well.
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