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Sunday, February 4, 2024

Three Book Reviews: Folklore 101, Fairytale 101, Sex Education 101

Today I wanted to do a combined review of three books by the same author, dr Jeana Jorgensen, because while the topics vary the wider purpose of each book is the same, to offer a solid basic introduction to a complicated topic. This goal is admirable and one I share myself, because I think that its important to have material that can bridge the gap between layperson and academic, and can offer a way for people to either get a basic grasp of a subject or offer a starting point for those seeking to study something more deeply. Dr Jorgensen's books succeed marvelously at this goal.

Folklore 101: An Accessible Introduction to Folklore Studies. 
   Folklore is one of those subjects that can seem simple on the surface but which has surprising depth and breadth to it, and this book serves as a perfect, easy introduction to that complexity. Folklore 101 begins by explaining what folklore is and why folklore is important then segues into a section containing 13 basic folklore concepts which form an important basis for understanding the wider subject. Following this is a shorter section discussing three "big categories" of folklore: verbal, customary, and material culture. Then the author offers 27 specific folklore genres, clearly explaining each one and providing examples. This is followed by a section on special topics, discussing 11 types from women's folklore, disability and folklore, and the intersection of folklore and literature. The book wraps up with a conclusion that looks at how folklore can and does effect all of our lives and how the information in the book can be used on a personal level. 
   Dr Jorgensen masterfully presents the academia of folklore in a way that is approachable and the book is structured so that it builds of off itself, making it easy to move from one section to another, and simultaneously deeper into the subject. I also really appreciated that the author didn't shy away from tackling more difficult issues within folklore, including the concept of 'American' which is often used as shorthand for mainstream white US culture. For many people who have a narrow idea of folklore as story this book will be an eye opening read; you may particularly enjoy the sections of folk speech and jokes. 

Fairy Tales 101: An Accessible Introduction to Fairy Tales
   If you ask most people what a fairy tale is they will probably respond with an example like Cinderella or Snow White, but if pressed to describe what a fairy tale actually is will probably be unable to give a clear explanation; fairy tales are a core part of culture but are somewhat ephemeral. Fairy Tale 101 embraces this ephemeral nature and rather than trying to fit it into a small box, explores the range of concepts and stories that make up fairy tales across history, beginning with the author's description of what makes a fairy tale what it is. The opening section includes 10 topics that help establish an understanding of the fairy tale and ground readers in the wider concepts involved with them. This is followed by a section containing 10 articles or blogs that dig deeper into issues that frame fairy tales, from 'original' versions to tale types to why which translation you use matters. The next section is academic articles by dr Jorgensen, including two papers about the intersection of female agency/femininity in fairy tales and one on masculinity. The book wraps up with a section on resources, which is invaluable for those seeking to move forward and learn more. 
   Fairy Tale 101 is more academic in tone than Folk Lore 101, but still stands as a great introduction in my opinion. It helps readers navigate the often confusing, sometimes genuinely baffling, genre of Fairy Tales, and the way the book is set up as a series of, in effect, short articles, makes reading it and absorbing the material easier than it would be in a book using a more typical chapter structure. This is my go-to recommendation for anyone interested in learning more about fairy tales, whether that's out of personal interest or academic interest. It offers all of the need to know basics as well as a bit more depth in some areas, and sets a reader up with a great foundation to go forward from. 

Sex Education 101: Approachable Essays on Folklore, Culture & History
      I had been eagerly awaiting this book since I first found out about it, and it did not disappoint. I should probably preface this by saying that my own degree is in psychology but I am active in the folklore field, I am a long time advocate of comprehensive sex ed, and a fan of dr Jorgensen's other books, so I went into this with high expectations - and I was not disappointed. 
     Sex Education 101 is not another book focused on the how-to's or anatomy of sex, but rather is a comprehensive look at the beliefs that we have and forward about sex, how those influence and shape us, and the way that story and belief affect our understanding of and relationship to sex. The introduction outlines what the book is and isn't and the author's intentions, then the book moves into sections on the folklore of sex, how sex actually works, the history of sex ed, taboo topics, and the case for sex ed. Each of these sections is broken up into various shorter articles which makes the text both easy to get into and also perfect for both referencing and reading one article at a time. Articles are clearly titled and each one works on its own and within the wider flow of the book. 
   I appreciated that Sex Education 101 took an honest look at the US history of the subject, from Kellogg and Graham's obsession with anti-masturbation foods to conversion therapy, and how that has impacted generations of people. It worked to both define and debunk common misconceptions that are perpetuated through both formal and informal channels, and explored the history of sex education and the ways that various cultural factors shaped it. All in all this book is essential not only to gain a better understanding of how we culturally understand sex but also why, and the way that 'facts' can be shaped by belief. highly recommended to anyone who wants to understand sex, beliefs around sex, or get a glimpse of cultural history on the subject. 

Ultimately I think all three of these books are essential reading, and each helps clarify a confusing and complex subject. 

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