Review of All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
All About Love: New Visions
by bell hooks
Where do I start? Do I lament sheepishly how I’ve slept on bell hooks my entire adult life, and it is only now, at thirty-three, now that she has passed, that I’ve made time to read even one of her books? Do I confess that this was a revelation, that it was exactly the book I needed here and now? This review will be purely encomium, for that is what I feel about All About Love: New Visions. I loved it, every word.
A great deal of what hooks writes about certainly pertains to romantic love, yet from the very beginning she makes it clear that she is writing about all kinds of love. As I have shared in many of my previous reviews, I am asexual and aromantic. I have no desire to have or intention of having a partner in the traditional, romantic sense of the word. Yet my platonic relationships are still incredibly important to me—if not more important, consequently—and are loving. So to hear this noted feminist writer who didn’t identify as asexual or aromantic come right out of the gate and frame love in such a diverse and inclusive way? Wow. Powerful.
Now, I don’t want to erase what came before. Indeed, something I loved about All About Love is the way that hooks consistently cites her sources. She frequently dropped the name of a book title that I knew I should look up. She is not the first person to write about love this way, nor will she be the last, and her careful acknowledgement of those who came before her reminds us not to read a writer in a vacuum. She is responding to these texts and ideas, building upon them, or considering them and then rebutting them.
As you might expect, hooks approaches frameworks of love from a feminist lens. She is rightfully critical of books like Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus—yet she is also perhaps more tolerant, or at least more understanding, of them than I have been, for she has lived longer and loved more than I have so far. This is one of the endearing teachings of All About Love: our society shapes our conception of what love can be and our perception of how we can give or receive it. That was why a book by another Black woman, Refusing Compulsory Sexuality, was so important to me. Sherronda J. Brown’s scholarship around asexuality dovetails with what bell hooks shares in these essays: when we get wrapped up in privileging romantic and sexual love above other types of love, we end up leaving ourselves open to toxic situations and less capable of receiving love from others who would give it to us.
So many parts of this book demanded that I record them for posterity. In her second essay, “Justice,” hooks talks about how we love our children and notes
There can be no love without justice. Until we live in a culture that not only respects but also upholds basic civil rights for children, most children will not know love
going on to connect this to ideas of corporal punishment being unjust. But it made me think of how the rising tide of anti-trans sentiments in the States (and here in Canada) is metamorphosing into a “parents’ rights” movement of sorts, claiming that what’s happening here is an oppression of parents by the state. This framing makes me deeply uncomfortable, not only for its intersections with the transphobia that is materially threatening both my liberty and my existence, but also because it ignores, as hooks points out, the rights of the child. I am not a parent, and I know I don’t fully understand the emotions a parent will experience as they watch their children grow, mature, endure hardships, etc. But I do know that there is something very unhealthy with the way many parents discuss their children as if they are possessions or extensions of their own person. And this is what hooks is trying to teach us.
In math, we have the concept of something being finite yet unbounded (such as the surface of a sphere—finite area, but no boundary) or infinite yet bounded (such as the set of all real numbers between 0 and 1). Love is the latter. We are capable of infinite expressions and depths of love, yet boundaries are necessary for love to flourish. When we lack boundaries—when we see love as something we are owed or something we are duty-bound to give, we twist love. (There’s probably a “Tainted Love” pun very close by but I don’t have the heart to make it.)
Later, in her essay on “Values,” hooks remark on the importance of living by our values. She uses the example of domestic violence:
… almost everyone will insist that they do not support male violence against women, that they believe it to be morally and ethically wrong. However, if you then explain that we can only end male violence against women by challenging patriarchy … that is when the agreement stops. There is a gap between the values they claim to hold and their willingness to do the work of connecting thought and action, theory and practice to realize these values and thus create a more just society.
Can I just … give bell hooks a standing ovation right here in my review? Yes, so much this.
Again, relating it to current events and my own values and fight for social justice … I see this all the time when people talk about trans issues. A lot of cis people are very happy to say that they support “the LGBTQ+” community or say things like, “Trans women are women.” Cool. But what are you actually doing about it? Are you lobbying for gender-neutral bathrooms? Are you standing up to the transphobes running for our school board? Are you challenging the gender binary and cissexism as it manifests at your workplace, your school, your social club? The above passage is hooks’s succinct way of reminding us that there is a gulf between allyship and complicity.
Though this book is deeply personal and vulnerable, it is also with every paragraph political and polemical. Taking aim at patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy, hooks demonstrates to me why she is such a revered figure in the arena of social justice. I get it now. I mean, I didn’t doubt, given the little snippets I had read here and there, the thoughts attributed back to her that others have shared … but it’s something else entirely to mainline it. On that note, it took me over a week to read this book (which is a long time for me for such a short book). I was savouring it. I was also aware that I needed time to process each essay. This is very rare for me; even for a collection, I typically read it through in a few short sittings. But I could tell hooks needed my time, needed me to let each essay unpack itself in my mind.
That level of care and thoughtfulness for each essay is reflected in her skill as a writer too. Something that jumped out at me, almost from the beginning? Her diction. Her sentence structure. She has a propensity simple sentences and often short sentences. Even her longer sentences, however, tend not to be complex (in the grammatical sense). The result is prose that feels deceptively simple until you actually start parsing it for meaning. I could learn a lot from her style. As you have noticed, my sentences are often as meandering and weighed down by thoughts as the brain behind them!
All of this is to say … wow. I need to buy a copy of this book. (I borrowed this copy from my bestie.) I need to buy the other two books in her trilogy on love. I need to read the rest that she wrote—not to consume her, as I know white people often do with Black writers, but to appreciate her. To love her, the mark she left on our world, by being brave enough to write to us. She does here, with her simple sentences, more than I’ve managed to do in nearly two thousand book reviews. Unparalleled.