Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Booknote: Furry Nation

Joe Strike, Furry Nation: the True Story of America's Most Misunderstood Subculture. Jersey City, NJ: Cleis Press, 2017.  ISBN: 9781627782326.

Find it in a library near you via WorldCat.
Buy directly from the publisher.
Or you can buy at that giant online retailer everyone loves to hate (but uses anyhow).

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: subcultures, pop culture, furry, cosplay, history, memoir
Format: e-book
Source: Provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

The book argues that furry fandom may be new, but the concept of anthropomorphizing animals has been with us for a very long time; it is part of who we are. From ancient native rituals and shamans to Looney Tunes cartoons, anthros have been with us. They continue to live with us in cartoons, furry cosplayers, and sports mascots among others. Joe Strike sets out to tell these stories to the world, and in the process, he strives to dispel myths and stereotypes.

The author opens in the preface by telling us this will be a book "about people: the people who birthed the community, wear the costumes, create the art, attend the conventions-- and maybe enjoy a furry kink or two" (viii). The book is also the author's story. This approach has advantages and disadvantages. An advantage and strength is the presentation of the furry experience's diversity. You do not have to wear a suit to be a furry. The furry experience involves art, media, literature, and other experiences. You can be very overt about it or as private as you wish, especially now with  the Internet. The author strives to display this great diversity through stories and examples. Odds are good many readers may read this book and come to realize they  are a furry too.

A disadvantage is that the book does have a lot of passages that boil down to minutiae. So and so went to this event or that, this newsletter published this or that, then died off, came back, so on. Those small details often read like a dry timetable, yet they do serve to document the experience. What the author has done is document a cultural phenomenon that is not well known outside of insider circles and done his best to make it accessible. It may not the most interesting reading at times, but you can sense the importance. I get the impression that, even with some faults, this is a book that many will read and consult down the road to learn more about the furry experience.

Today, the furry experience has gone mainstream for the most part. Conventions and cosplay get regular press coverage. Comics and graphic novels regularly feature furries, and they are more than just furry funny animals. And there are plenty of furry communities online for enthusiasts at all levels as well as for kinksters and fetishists. As the author writes,

"In an age of a million fandoms and mainstream kinks, weirdness is no longer so weird. Perhaps weird is even the new normal: cool, different, and challenging" (326).

The author has taken us on a journey from humble beginnings to furry culture today. These are times when even your local friendly librarian may well be furry.

Overall, I liked the book. Some parts are more interesting than others, but this is still a labor of love as well as an important book of preserving a history and experience. It is not an academic book, but I have a feeling many academics down the road may be taking a look at it. I'd say this is a good addition for public libraries. Academic libraries with strong pop culture programs will want to add this one.

3 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Some additional reading notes:

Goal of a fursona:

"Every culture has an artistic form of self-expression. And that's the true goal of a fursona: creating an animal-based counterpart to your own true inner being" (23). 

What furry is:

"Furry is, by its very nature, a gathering of people who have a strong identification or fascination with animals, an 'alternative'  to conventional attitudes, and as such, welcoming to folks whose attitudes and values differ from the population at large" (43). 

Where most furry activity actually takes place:

"Furry was birthed by cartoon and 'funny animal' comics fans and artists. The majority of furry activity still takes place on paper, and increasingly on computer screens. Fursuiters standing outside the convention hotel are easy to spot, but the buying, selling, and creation of furry art going on inside (or online) is where the real action take place" (80). 

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