Saturday, January 31, 2004

I am feeling so high tech today. After much travail (I didn't have the right size screwdriver and had to make a trip to the hardware store) I installed the airport card in my Powerbook this morning. Then my dearly beloved and I spent about 45 minutes on the phone with a very nice man from Apple Support because while all of the pieces were working on their own, they weren't talking to one another. After taking this poor man to the brink, he finally suggested we restart everything. Once all devices were back up they decided to recognize each other and our support guy's sanity was saved. And now I am happy because I have wireless internet. Woo hoo! I know this isn't officially about books, but it is my Powerbook I am talking about so technically... You may have heard about Bookcrossing on NPR or seen something about it on television, but if you're like me you thought "wow that's cool." You had a brief fantasy about finding one of the released books on a park bench and then forgot about the whole thing. But then I was flipping through the pages of mental _floss and lo and behold there was a full page ad for bookcrossing. So now I had no excuse not to go check them out. In case you haven't heard of bookcrossing, it is a website and community development program that encourages people to release books into the "wild." You register the book you are going to release, write the bookcrossing URL and registered id number in the book, and leave the book somewhere for someone to find. The person who finds it is then supposed to register their find on the website, read the book, and release it. It's kind of like a message in a bottle or the old postcard in a balloon experiment from elementary school. Currently, bookcrossing has over 200,000 members and more than 800,000 registered books. One of the niftiest things on the site is the ability to see the number of books registered in your city. You even have the opportunity to "hunt" for a book that has been released. Now, instead of hoping to find a book, I'm trying to figure out what book I'd be willing to give away.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

The Joy of Lists

There are two kinds of people in this world, those who love lists and those who don't. I am one who loves lists--to do lists, wish lists, grocery lists--you name it I've probably made it into a list. I don't know why I have such an attachment to lists. There is something so satisfying about them, so clean and clutter-free and organized. When it comes to books my lists get out of control. I have a list of books to look for when I am at the used books store. I have book wishlists divided into fiction, nonfiction and poetry. And I keep a list of books I have read and have been doing so since 1995. I started doing this when I realized halfway through a new book that I had read it three years before. It wouldn't be so bad if it was a good book, but as I cast back in my mind I had thought it "okay" after the first reading. A book has to be better than okay to get a second reading. So my book list was born. However, my personal book list is nothing compared to my hankering for books of book lists. I will never come close to reading all those books and I don't want to try (okay so I'm lying there. I would like to try. I would like to die trying). When I buy book list books I do it for a couple of reasons. First, I am looking for good books I may never have heard of before. And second, I like to tick off all the books I have read on the list and give myself half credit for books that are on my shelves and a quarter credit if I have heard of the book and considered reading it at one time. This can make me feel really smart if I have read a large number of the books, or really dumb if I have read only a few of the books. Of course, if I end up feeling really dumb then I immediately turn it around and blame the list for being too narrow, too stupid, too elitist, too anything. And as a consequence end up feeling, if not really smart, at least superior. It's a win-win situation. If you are not a list person, stop here and have a nice day. Thanks for stopping by. come back again soon. If you are a list person, read on for a list of good book list books.

And while not strictly books of book lists these still have some good book lists in them: There is also the Lifetime Reading Plan and the New Lifetime Reading Plan, neither of which I currently own. They always tempt me though and I know one of these days I am going to see one of them for $1 at the used book store and I will have to buy it. I think I have enough lists to hold me over for a little while at least.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

This and That

It's -7 outside, yes, that's seven degrees below zero. That's too cold to even think. The news just flashed "It's so cold you can freeze an egg on the pavement." Best to stay inside and read a book in front of the fireplace. Anyone know where I can get a fireplace? I sometimes ask myself how I could have bought a house in this fine state and not have a fireplace. What were the husband and I thinking? It's great reading weather but I haven't felt much like reading. That happens sometimes and it is always a little distressing even though I know it will pass in a few days. So instead of reading I've been doing mindless things like playing computer games or watching American Idol on television. I sure hope the need to read returns fast. A few things of note on the web. The Village Voice Word Salad feature has a funny short, Title Bouts, about the increasing length of book titles. A coworker of mine told me today about SASE: The Write Place, a small nonprofit that provides writing "classes" to all level of writers, both adults and kids but particularly at risk youth. They also have a writing program, Write On!, on the local radio station every week. The site has a link to the radio station where you can listen to the show on the internet. They talk about writing but they also interview authors and talk books. I've caught the show by accident a time or two but I'm generally at work when it's on. But now that I know it's on the internet I can listen after the fact. The World Wide Web is a grand thing.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Recipe for Reading in Bed

"Reading in bed, like other gentle customs of the pre-Tension Age, may be on the way out. Yet it is a minor art we should not willingly let die." So begins Clifton Fadiman's (1904-1999) essay, "Pillow Books." One can consider reading in bed a minor art. It is also a joyful and luxurious pleasure. I was never one of the guilty children who read books by flashlight under the covers at night. I didn't have to be. I had my own room and since I contrived to be a mostly good child, my parents didn't come check on me at night. This left me the freedom to sit up properly in bed with a little light shining down from over my shoulder to illuminate the page in front of me. It is a pleasure I still cultivate today. I look forward to Saturday nights, my designated stay up late and read in bed night. While the young and single crowd is out whooping it up, I am snuggled in bed with a good book. My Bookman is generally working on Saturday nights so I usually go it alone. For those of you who think reading a book alone is the only way to read, well, I say there is a deep companionship in sitting in bed with a good book in my hand and my dearly beloved doing the same thing beside me. Last night I was particularly eager to read in bed, not just because it had been a long week and I was looking forward to my escape, but because it was supposed to snow. Reading in bed is enough of a pleasure by itself, but add to it a note of inclement weather and the joy is heightened even more. There I'd be, warm and snug as a bug while outside the snow fell and the cold wind blew. I thought about this all day, anticipated it even. I began looking longingly outside around 6. At 8 I started to worry. At 9, the appointed reading in bed time, it was only cloudy and there was not even a flurry. But at least the thermometer on my deck said it was 10 degrees. I didn't have snow, but I had cold and that, while disappointing, was good enough (it is always cold in Minnesota in the winter, so it is a stretch to say the temperature was anything special). Of course, there always arises the problem of what to read. Fadiman suggests that for him

the best bed books are those that deny the existence of tomorrow. To read in bed is to draw around us invisible, noiseless curtains. Then at last we are in a room of our own and are ready to burrow back, back, back to the private life of the imagination we all led as children and to whose secret satisfactions so many of us have mislaid the key.
I find that I don't want to read anything that requires I pay close attention, nor do I want something that will put me to sleep. I am in the middle of reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac for book group and am finding it to be a rather frantic book, not good bed reading material. I looked at my bedside piles, first checking out the books that had bookmarkers stuck in them. None of them appealed. What I finally picked up was Book Lust by Nancy Pearl, a book of lists of books. I love books of book lists, I'm not sure why. But I spent an enjoyable evening reading about books most of which I haven't read and the majority of which I will never read. Nonetheless, for a little while, the intrusions of daily life and the world were far away. And that, above all, is the point. If you are one who has not been cultivating the art of reading in bed, or if it has been a very long time, allow me to offer the following recipe: Ingredients:
  • 1 comfortable bed
  • 1-2 pillows, or to taste
  • 1 pair cozy pajamas
  • 1 good source of light
  • 1 drink (hot chocolate or mint tea are particularly good in winter, iced tea or water in summer)
  • 1 good book
  • a dash of bad weather (optional)
Mix together slowly until the proper comfort and mood is obtained. Let sit at least 1-2 hours before sleeping. Variations: You may wish to add many blankets and quilts in the winter. In summer this recipe goes well with an open window, a cool breeze and crickets (the latter should preferably be outside). At any time of year, particularly the winter, a cat on the lap and a dog on the feet are excellent additions. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 24, 2004

The Art of Writing

When I first saw Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing, I thought "Oh no! Not him too?" I feared that not only had Bradbury jumped on the "how to be a writer" bandwagon but also the "Zen of..." bandwagon as well. This is not to say that the spate of books by well known writers about how to write is a bad thing. I will be first to admit the guilty pleasure of buying many of them myself. It just seems like it has been an avalanche. And the whole Zen thing, well, what activity doesn't have its own Zen book? I'm not sure what this phenomena is about. Is attaching Zen to something supposed to make it more exotic, more esoteric? Is it supposed to impart a meditative and spiritual authority to something? But even in my dread that Bradbury had been sucked up into the vortex, I bought the book anyway because it was Ray Bradbury. Once I'd gotten the book home and opened the cover, it turned out to be a collection of essays and introductions that Bradbury had written through the years about writing, particularly his writing, and was first published in 1990 before the how to write craze. As for the Zen title, it was taken from one of the essays that was written in 1973. In the titular essay, Bradbury says he chose to use Zen not because he knew anything about it, but because he had wanted to get people's attention. Bradbury proved, once again to be ahead of the curve. As for the essays themselves, if you are looking for a lesson in how to write, don't bother. The essays are interesting and the reader is given a glimpse into how Bradbury writes, where he gets his ideas and what his personal theory of art is. But as a primer, better to read Natalie Goldberg. From a writer's perspective I found the most interesting essay to be "How to Keep and Feed a Muse." In it Bradbury rightly insists:

Do not, for money, turn away from all the stuff you have collected in a lifetime. Do not, for the vanity of intellectual publications, turn away from what you are--the material within you which makes you individual, and therefore indispensable to others.
This is a far cry from what most of the writing magazines encourage their readers to do with articles about finding an unexploited niche in the market and writing for what the market wants. It is a good standard by which to both write and live life. Because the book is made up of collected essays written over several decades, there tends to be quite a bit of repetition. Sometimes I found myself saying, "yeah, yeah you said that already, say something new." But of course the essays were never written with a plan to collect them, so there is nothing to be done but to breeze past those parts until something new comes up. The best essays in the book are the ones in which he talks about writing his books. My favorite one is "Investing Dimes: Fahrenheit 451" in which he talks about how he wrote the book in the typing room at the UCLA library where you could rent a typewriter for a dime per half-hour. He'd drop in his carefully saved dime and start typing like a maniac. He was poor and had a family and a dime was a lot of money, he had to make it go a long way. It cost him $9.80 to write the first draft of the book. Worth every dime in my opinion. Bradbury fans will enjoy this little book. If you aren't a fan, best to skip it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

This Book's for You

Ever read author interviews and hear the author say something like, "yeah, I based the main character on my friend Joe"? And did you then wish you had an author friend who would write a book in which you were the main character? Well, if you did, you're in luck. Turns out if you have cash you don't need to have an author friend. Of course, the book you are going to be starring in is a romance novel from Your, but hey authorless friends can't be picky. You can choose from a number of different plots and whether you want the wild or the mild version of the romance. According to the website most people pick wild. But of course, who wants to be the star of a mild romance?

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Garden Variety Porn

They started arriving in my mailbox before Christmas, unsolicited, filled with photos that couldn't possibly be real. There is Bibi Maizoon on the same page as Tamora, so perky and perfect that I know they can't be real. They must have been touched by an expert with an airbrush. On another page is Arnold Promise, standing firm in spite of the obvious cold. And the glory of a two-page spread of the Green Giant, fast growing and magnificent. If that's not bad enough, it gets even more obscene. There is Grandma's favorite, Kentucky Wonder. The Atlantic Giant, described as "eye-popping" is only a page away from Big Chili with his "mammoth size" and "mild flavor." And don't forget the jumbo melons of Athena. If small is more to your liking there is Jack-Be-Little and Thumbelina. If you like them young, there is Bell Boy and Baby Boo. If you like a multicultural touch there is the Eastern Prince, General Sikorski and Jeanne LaJoie. And if you like things on the wild side, there are the Seven Sisters and Midnight Showers. There is something for everyone and I cannot resist. I started folding pages and making stars next to those who tempted me the most. I've had my eye on Adam's Needle for some time now and this year he is 40% off! And how can you go wrong with a few Caribbean Cocktails and Harry Lauder's Walking Stick? Even though the walking stick is on sale, it's still out of my price range, but it is good to dream big. Every year I bite off more than I can chew. I go crazy, I order too much and can't even plant it all. I look out at the snow and imagine a tropical paradise. But I will never have a tropical paradise in Minnesota. Looking at the catalogs makes me feverish and instills in me an incurable zone envy. I moon over the luscious greenery and the exotic flowers. But in the end I turn toward the hardy, the ones that can withstand subzero temperatures. This is not to say that these plants are not beautiful, they are. But they are also so--practical. Even the names are practical--Robusta, Reliance and Carefree Wonder. Not exactly names that inspire. There is one thing you will never find in my garden or on my wish list--the George Bush. No amount of fancy exotics will ever be able to make that eyesore presentable. To the compost pile!

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Brought to You by the Letter G

Remember Sesame Street? Remember Grover, the cute blue fuzzy monster? You can read a candid telling of his life at Grover is Bitter. Learn about his humble beginnings as Grovski Carbuncle, shoeshine monster. Hear about his friendship with and betrayal by Fozzie Bear. Remember his glory days on Sesame Street and learn how Kermit overlooked him for a role on The Muppet Show and how this sent Grover into a downward spiral of drugs and alcohol until an intervention by Ernie and his Street co-workers. Grover is now retired, forced out by Elmo. But Grover, though bitter, is doing okay. You go Grover! We'll never forget you.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

On Libraries Not My Own

I just want to take a moment to mourn the drastic reduction in operating hours of my neighborhood library. At the turn of the new year, the big bad budget cuts went into effect. Instead of closing down two or three city libraries, the library board decided to reduce the hours of all city libraries. So my little library went from being open six days a week to only three days each week. Of course I would rather sacrifice hours from all of the libraries in order to keep them all open, but part of me can't help worry about next year. I'm trying not to be cynical about the whole thing, but it's terribly hard. Republican conspiracy theories keep barging into my brain as if by magic. First we will use the PATRIOT Act to try and scare people out of libraries. Since that didn't work we'll go for economy stimulating tax cuts to rich people. (Of course the economy is still in the tank and the state has a huge deficit because our fine governor refuses to raise taxes on rich people's income.) So we'll keep people out of the libraries by cutting their operating budgets, forcing them to drastically reduce their hours. We don't want people to have access to important information. We don't want people to think and question what this great government is doing, besides who needs to know anything other than what's on Fox News, fair and balanced, right? (So do the hours get cut back next year when we still have a deficit? And the next and next until there are no hours left to cut and the only thing left is to close all of the libraries?) On a less mournful note, there is this fab group called Sabre. The folks there started a Book Donation Program many years back. The Program

strives to increase access to information resources in developing and transitional societies through large-scale distribution of in-kind donations of new books and other educational materials. Working closely with overseas non-profit partner organizations in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Africa and select other regions of the world, Sabre has to date shipped new books, journals, CD-ROMS and early learning materials to more than 60 countries.
Currently they are working with groups in Cuba, Ukraine, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Algeria. This group also sent thousands of books to Bosnia after Sarajevo and it's libraries were destroyed. They are a group that clearly understands the value of books and information.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

The Library

It took us a few days of talking about it but my Bookman and I finally made it down to our library to shelve 6+ months of books that had accumulated in messy piles. Because our library is in the basement it is very easy to take a new book or a just finished book downstairs and lay it on the floor in front of the packed shelf to which it belongs. Close enough to the shelf, out of sight, out of mind. But when the piles start to migrate out of the library and end up in other rooms of the house--the spare bedroom, the living room--and when they start to trip anyone on the way to the basement laundry room, well it's time to do something. This being winter in Minneapolis coupled with the fact that there is no heating vent in the library, means it is cold in there. So James, thinking ahead, plugged in the space heater before dinner the other night and cranked it up to high. By the time we got down there to attend to the books, it was almost warm. We do not have a huge library by any stretch of the imagination. The library is a 12x10 room (give or take a foot) with five-shelf bookcases around the entire perimeter. In the center of the room are two four-shelf double-sided bookcases. Fiction around the edges, poetry on two bookcases on the shortest wall and nonfiction on the bookcases in the middle of the room. Anthologies go at the beginning of each section and everything is alphabetized by author or editor last name unless it is a biography in which case it gets shelved according to the subject's name. We have a few "special" shelves that are "owned" by one author. There is the Virginia Woolf section, the Adrienne Rich section, a Dickens section and in a weird shelf in the tiny closet James has all of the Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman books. Earlier in the day, James had stacked all of the unshelved books in the house in the hall outside the library. We probably had somewhere around 60-80 books to put away. Lots to do so we got to work. It was slow going, not because there were so many books, but because I had to keep stopping and looking at them all. "Oh, I forgot I had this one!" Or "Oh we already have this one!" Followed by a keep or sell pow-wow. Or "I've been wanting to read this one forever." Or "I haven't seen this book before." Followed by me reading the back. Followed by me exclaiming "This sounds good!" Followed by me deciding to take it upstairs with me instead of putting it on the shelf. Followed by a vision of the teetering piles next to the bed. Followed by me caressing the book lovingly and promising it and myself that I would come back for it soon. Followed immediately by a pang of guilt because I knew I wouldn't come back soon. After two hours of this conflicted delight, the shelves were stuffed to bursting. We switched off the space heater and turned off the light and promised each other that we would be back down soon to start the Cataloging Project. We started the Cataloging Project about 13 years ago. We keep killing hard drives and losing data so have never finished, haven't even come close. Finally last year we decided instead of getting rid of our old blueberry iBook, we'd use it as the catalog. I created a simple searchable database on it and we started the Catalog Project--again. We managed to enter something like 30 books before we stalled. Since we are caught up on our shelving--at least for now--we have no excuse. I'm sure we'll manage to come up with at least one good one until the book piles are once again out of control and we have to shelve books instead of catalog them. Before you go, zip over to Mother Jones and read the article about Trina Magi, a librarian who is fighting the PATRIOT Act.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Mired in Mediocrity

Curtis White in The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don't Think for Themselves has a lot to complain about. The American imagination has been highjacked by the military, capitalism and the media. We have become a culture where how entertaining something is determines whether or not it is worthwhile. We have become a country that allows our institutions to do our thinking for us and those institutions don't have our best interests in mind. We have become a people of the status quo, mired in mediocrity, comfortable with the Middle Mind. According to White you can see the Middle Mind at work everywhere. The Middle Mind wants to save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and buys an SUV in order to drive there and see it. The Middle Mind even vaguely understands the contradiction in this thinking. The Middle Mind is also at work in Terry Gross' NPR show, Fresh Air. White says that interviewing classical musicians and "banal pop musicians" like Barry Manilow and "novelistic innovators" and "hack realists" and treating them all as if they were of equal cultural importance and value is a Middle Mind strategy. And while interviewing those individuals focusing on questions about their personal life and not their work "purveys entertainment as art and thought." The Middle Mind encourages creativity but it is a creativity in service to capitalism and corporations. It is creativity as commodity and as such it is without bite. It is a creativity that encourages scientists to find new ways of killing people for the military machine but disconnects it from all ethical and moral discussion. It's your job and it has nothing to do with your life outside of work. For the Middle Mind, creativity reinforces the status quo. Art does not question and critique social structures, does not disturb our thinking, but is meant to be consumed and enjoyed as entertainment. With other people doing the thinking and imagining for us, we become passive consumers unable to imagine and think for ourselves; unable to imagine and think of anything different than the life, culture and society that we have. This may sound like a vast conspiracy but it isn't; it is something that has crept up on us. For White the 1960s was the pinnacle of imagination and the beginning of the failure of the imagination. I think White is right about some things: there is a distinct lack of social imagination in mainstream America and people don't think in depth about much these days. Unfortunately, he doesn't take the time to examine what the underlying political and economic causes of Middle Mind thinking might be. Issues like class and race have no place in White's imagination. I can't say that I blame people for not thinking. I mean, it's kind of hard to spend 8-12 hours a day at work and come home and pay the bills and take care of the kids and then turn your imagination and thoughts to how to change the world. Maybe if we weren't all so tired from making ends meet, we'd be less likely to sit down and turn on the latest Fox Reality show. As a solution to the Middle Mind White calls for a new kind of rationalism; Aristotle and Kant tempered with Hegel, Derrida and Adorno. White likes clear cut distinctions and dualistic thinking. But as a socialist feminist who thinks poststructuralism has some really interesting things to say, I see nothing wrong with a lack of clear distinctions and fluid boundaries. And, I see a lot wrong with dualistic thinking. White, an English professor at Illinois State University, spends a chapter of energy on the academy, the humanities, English departments, Cultural Studies and Feminism. I was tickled when he ripped apart the pompous ass, Harold Bloom and the whole idea of a literary canon. I wasn't so tickled when he accused Feminism and Cultural Studies as failures that have led to identity politics and a stultifying "Political Correctness." I see nothing wrong with thoughtful political correctness or thoughtful identity politics. I think until we have a just and egalitarian society such things are necessary. When PC and identity politics become rigid and an end instead of the means to an end, that's when I have a problem. And yes, this rigidity has happened in some instances, but I see no sense in throwing out the baby with the bathwater and calling the whole thing a failure. White is witty and often scathingly sarcastic and funny. I enjoyed reading him even though I disagreed with him half the time. Still, I was left with a vague feeling at the end that White is sexist. All but about one, maybe two, of his examples of imaginative thinkers are men. After his criticism of Cultural Studies and Feminism I shouldn't be surprised. But I can't help thinking that White, having left out more than half the human race, suffers from a lack of imagination himself. If you want to read a published critique of White and his idea of the Middle Mind, visit The Village Voice and read Howard Hampton's recent essay. Hampton doesn't much like White. And read the Middle Mind too. Even if you disagree with everything White says, it will make you think. And that, in the end, is the point.

Friday, January 09, 2004

I'm Thinking of a Word...

Looking for just the right word? Try The Visual Thesaurus. Type in a word like say, "smart," and it displays this pulsating, mesmerizing mobile of words that are related to "smart." Click on the one you want to delve into, say "intelligent," and the display changes to show all of the words related to "intelligent." It even provides definitions and uses the word in a sentence. What more could any word buff or buffy want? I won't be throwing out my Roget's yet, but I can already feel it gathering dust.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

They're Here

Woo-hoo! They've finally come! The books I ordered from Barnes and with the $25 gift certificate from my dearest sis arrived on my doorstep today. I managed to feed the cat, dog and myself, take the dog outside and give the cat his insulin injection before I opened the box. My dear doggie always thinks that every package arriving at the house is for him. So when I sat down on the floor with the box and scissors, it was hard to know who was more excited to open the box, the dog or me. As soon as I had the box flaps open, the dog's head disappeared inside. When he pulled it back out a moment later he looked at me as if to say, "Well, what's the hold up, take those things out!" He couldn't care less about the books, he wanted the stuffing. He loves bubblewrap but this box had those blown up plastic balloon things. Three of them. The dog gleefully ripped each one to shreds as I pulled them out of the box. When he realized there weren't anymore to be had from the box, he revisited the already torn ones and tore them up some more. That's fine. It kept him occupied while I fondled my new books. They are all books of heft; each at least two inches thick. The Emerson looks great and the cover has a pretty picture of an old tree on it. Tristram Shandy also looks good. It's the Everyman Library edition and from a brief flip through and what I know of the book, it appears that they have kept Sterne's unusual formatting. Vanity Fair I'm a little disappointed with. The description when I ordered it said it had all of Thackeray's line drawings in it. I flipped through it and saw not a one. Well, actually there is one, a copy of the original cover drawing. A corner of the front cover also has a bit of a crease in it. I am very particular about the condition of the books I buy. I will search through a stack of books and compare covers to find the most perfect one. I guess it's a game of chance when one buys books on the internet. But overall I am very pleased with my new books. I have added them to the pile next to the bed. The pile is teetering with all the books I've gotten since Solstice. They are piled next to the books from last year that I meant to get to but didn't. The pile is beginning to be dangerous and I will soon either have to learn how to lightly and gracefully leap over James to get in and out of bed, or make a decision about what to keep in a radically reduced pile and what to take to the library downstairs. I am putting this off as long as I can because once a book goes on the shelf I forget I have it. Last year I tried to help my memory by making a list of books I wanted to read but couldn't keep in the pile. Somewhere around Valentine's Day I misplaced the list. It resurfaced in August but by that time it was too late. So this year I am not going to bother with a list even though I love lists with an unexplainable passion. That means I had better start leaping practice. At least I'll have lots to read if I break my leg.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Woman Hating

Misogyny: The Male Malady by David D. Gilmore was a difficult read. The difficulty came not from this scholarly book being too academic or intellectual or "hard." The difficulty came from the subject matter. As a woman and a life long feminist (okay, when I was a kid I didn't know what feminism was but always believed that girls could do anything boys could do and then some so I think I can count "attitude"), reading a book about misogyny knowing that what is being discussed is what the majority of the world's male population thinks about me, well it was difficult. I read the book as part of my ongoing research for a novel I hope to write some day. I've read quite a few takes on misogyny written by women and reading something by a man seemed like a worthwhile endeavor. And it was. Gilmore is an anthropologist and approached the topic from that point of view. He examines the worldwide phenomenon of misogyny from a cross-cultural perspective through time. He looks at religion, literature, philosophy, politics and psychology. What men fear about women is multiple, but according to Gilmore what it boils down to is that men fear

that women, circumventing man's domination through deceit and seduction, would make short shrift of civilization and reduce men to servitude, obliterating their chance at salvation; that is, left to their own devices, dangerous female creatures would change the nature of the world as we know it.
When I read that I thought, well they're probably right. This world could use a few changes, a good house cleaning so to speak. I don't know that we'd reduce men to servitude, though it would be tempting. I'd like to think that women would make the world better, civilization more civilized. Without all the macho BS, wouldn't things be automatically better? But, I digress. I found Gilmore to be very thorough and methodical in laying out his argument and his supporting proof. He tells you in the introduction what his thesis is and how he plans on proving it. What might that thesis be? Gilmore concludes
Misogyny stems from man's basic discomfort about his passionate desire for woman in all her guises: not just as sexual object, but also as the fantasized generous, loving mother, the brimming breast, the selfless comforter, the indispensable omnipotent goddess who nurtures boy and man. The result of men's irreconcilable inner conflict is the proliferation of misogynistic institutions, beliefs, and practices..."
Or to put it another way, men have unresolved pyschological issues, among them castration anxiety and Oedipal anxieties, that conflict with their sexual desire and their awe of the procreative powers of women's bodies. There is more depth to it than my pithy summary, but that is it in a nutshell. I found myself having daydreams of walking up to men on the street and giving them a good slap in the face and telling them to get over it. Of course, nothing is that simple or easy. Gilmore is nice enough to say that it is possible that misogyny could lessen to the point of insignificance. It is not likely to disappear completely, however. Gilmore postulates that perhaps with men taking more responsibility for childrearing Oedipal and differentiation issues will be more likely to be resolved. This will take a long time. And while Gilmore doesn't say it, it will be up to women to make sure men help in raising children. It will also be up to us to continue pushing for a society that is more just and supportive of such a family structure. As always, a woman's work is never done.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Not So Splendid

I had started on this post yesterday when I was interrupted by a phone call from my mom and my sister in California. Mom got a cell phone from sis and so had to learn how to use it, and since they called we chatted. And chatted. And chatted. My dear Bookman commented that I sure do give a lot of "A's" to the books I read. I noticed that. I want to say that it is because I am so selective, only reading books that are good. But how can I know what book is good before I read it? Do I not read books that are "risky" in some way, ie experimental or from an unknown author or on an unknown subject? Or maybe I am too lenient in grading the books I do read? I must admit I am reluctant to give a book an "F," even a "D." Maybe I am just lucky in the choice of my reading material? I am unable, at this time, to reach a conclusion. I will turn instead to a not so splendid book. It all began a number of years ago when I checked out A Gentle Madness by Nicholas Basbanes from my public library. A wonderful book about bibliomaniacs and book collecting. It made my own "gentle madness" pale in comparison. Then in 2002, Basbanes came out with Patience and Fortitude, also about book people but with more of a focus on libraries. It wasn't as good as the first book, but enjoyable nonetheless. And then in 2003, Basbanes concluded his series on book people with A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World. I had been looking forward to Splendor since Basbanes mentioned it his introduction of Patience and Fortitude. I am fascinated and a little worried by the debate over books and whether or not they are on their way out to be replaced by handheld e-books. I wanted to know what Basbanes had to say on the matter. Did he think books were really going electronic and if so, how was that going to affect the world of book collectors and libraries? He interviews people who are in the thick of the debate, ones who think the book as we know is in its death throes, ones who are trying to preserve the fragile books printed on acid paper, and ones who are creating the software and devices for e-books. It is an interesting debate and well presented in the book. It also took a long time to get there. Splendor could have benefited from an introduction. Instead it just leaps in and I was left wondering what the point of it was. The first half of the book is about books and scrolls and clay tablets from hundreds of years ago that have been unearthed and preserved. There is a history of the Rosetta Stone, a discussion of Linear A and Linear B and Etruscan. Good historical information, but what was the point? It wasn't until about half way through the book when Basbanes turned to modern day destruction of books--The National Library in Bosnia, the Museum in Iraq, Nazi Germany, Tibet, Pol Pot--that I understood what the first half of the book was about. It was almost as though the first half of the book were added on because the second half wasn't long enough. When we finally get to the people who are involved with the books, collecting, preserving, considering their future, the pace finally picks up. These quirky people are why I wanted to read the book in the first place. We have preservationists who think that mircofilming a book is good enough preservation, you have a picture of it, why do you need the original? We have others who have created plans for digging out the inside of a mountain and storing our most precious books there. And perhaps the most extreme, there are some who think we should create an archive on the moon, it being a good place to preserve things and centrally located for when we spread out into space and begin to colonize other planets. I can just imagine, "Oh honey, since you'll be in the area, can you drop my library book off at the moon and pick up the other one I have on hold there?" What would happen though if a meteor hit the moon? So much for the library. And then we finally get to The Debate. Basbanes points out to many of the people who are predicting the demise of the book that the books they have written about it are all printed on paper. Well of course, they say, they realize the irony of this, but you have to print the information in the format that people are reading. It does not appear that the book is about to disappear any time soon. It is interesting though that the people who are creating the e-book that is sure to take over from the traditional book are creating a book with thin pages made of computer screens so people can still turn pages. The books can be bound in leather or cloth and will have about 400 "pages." The biggest difference being that you can have you entire personal library in one book. While the technology is improving this device is still a long way from being usable. Splendor wasn't so splendid, but it was still enjoyable. I wouldn't recommend it, however, unless you like reading about the topic. As a casual read, it just doesn't work.

Friday, January 02, 2004

The List

I was feeling pretty good until I read that Sir William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), a member of the British Parliament for 63 years and four-term Prime Minister under Queen Victoria, read 20,000 books over the course of his lifetime. We know this because he kept a diary from the age of 16 and recorded every book he read. How does a person do this without spending every waking hour reading? Perhaps he was one of those speed readers who can read a book like War and Peace in four hours. I'm not taking up speed reading so I guess I should be happy with my 52 books a year. And so, to the list. I like to give the books I read a grade, it isn't very scientific and is often an emotional, gut feeling kind of grade, but when has any book review ever been objective and scientific? In case you're wondering what the grading guidelines are, an "A" means excellent, "B" pretty darn good, "C" nothing special, "D" terrible, "F" not worth the paper it was printed on. I was planning on linking every book title to Barnes and Noble, but that would take too darn long, so I'm only linking the books I feel most attached to. If any of the other books look interesting to you, I'm sure you can figure out how to look them up yourself. I also linked the books I have mentioned in a so many books post to the posting in which they were mentioned. Those links I attached to the grade. Drum roll please...

  • Patience & Fortitude: A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Culture by Nicholas Basbanes. Nonfiction. A-
  • Dorothy Parker's Elbow: Tattoos on Writers, Writers on Tattoos Edited by Kim Addonizio and Cheryl Dumesnil. Anthology. A (especially good if you have your own tattoos)
  • Virginia Woolf by Mary Ann Caws. Nonfiction. A
  • Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. Fiction. A (this was a really fun book)
  • Knit Lit: Sweaters and Their Stories...And Other Writing About Knitting Edited by Linda Roghaar and Molly Wolf. Nonfiction essays. B+
  • Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego, and the Death of Enron by Robert Bryce with in introduction by Molly Ivins. Nonfiction. A-
  • Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn. Fiction. A
  • Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda, translated by W.S. Merwin. Poetry. B+
  • Lost Classics: Writers on Books Loved and Lost, Overlooked, Underread, Stolen, Extinct or Otherwise Out of Commission Edited by Michaels Ondaatje, Michael Redhill, Esta Spalding and Linda Spalding. Nonfiction essays. A (a dangerous book if you already have a too long reading list)
  • A Whistling Woman by A.S. Byatt. Fiction. A (the cover is really cool)
  • Colors Passing Through Us by Marge Piercy. Poetry. A
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Fiction. A+(one of the strangest, most interesting books I've read in a long time)
  • Hunger by Elise Blackwell. Fiction. A
  • Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth by Alice Walker. Poetry. D+(can you say refrigerator poetry?)
  • Nonrequired Reading by Wislawa Szymborska. Nonfiction essays. A
  • The Reformation by Will Durant. Nonfiction. B (I'm not really a history buff, this was for research for a book I'm writing)
  • A History of Handknitting by Richard Rutt. Nonfiction. A (this is because I like knitting and I'm weird, just ask my sister)
  • Sources by Adreinne Rich. Poetry. A+ (a re-reading of my favorite poet on the face of the earth)
  • Shaman of Obertsdorf: Conrad Stoeckhlin and the Phantoms of the Night by Wolfgang Behringer, translated by H.C. Midelfort. Nonfiction. A (this too was research but much more interesting than the Reformation)
  • Planet on the Table: Poets on the Reading Life edited by Sharon Bryan and William Olsen. Nonfiction essays. A
  • Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters. Fiction. C (Recommended by my husband. He liked it much more than I did)
  • Sixpence House, Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins. Nonfiction. A (It'd be a dream come true to live in Hay-on-Wye, Wales)
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. Fiction. A
  • War Talk by Arundhati Roy. Nonfiction. A+
  • The Secret History by Donna Tart. Fiction. A (Yeah, I know she had a new book out this year, but I hadn't gotten around to reading this one yet)
  • Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser. Nonfiction. A (makes me glad I'm vegan)
  • Cemetery Nights by Stephen Dobyns. Poetry. A (this has the best poem ever written about chickens in it)
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling. Fiction. A+
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran, a Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi. Nonfiction. B+
  • Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster. Nonfiction. A
  • What Do We Know, Poems and Prose Poems by Mary Oliver. Poetry. A-
  • Swann's Way by Marcel Proust. Fiction. A (difficult but well worth the time)
  • Carlyle's house and Other Sketches by Virginia Woolf, edited by David Bradshaw. Nonfiction essays. A
  • How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton. Nonfiction. A
  • On Histories and Stories, Selected Essays by A.S. Byatt. Nonfiction essays. A+ (an excellent and interesting read)
  • If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino. Fiction. A (a must read for anyone who loves books)
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Fiction. B-
  • Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett. Fantasy fiction. A (gotta love that British humor!)
  • Appetites: Why Women Want by Caroline Knapp. Nonfiction. A
  • The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Fiction. A+ (I couldn't put this down, it was that good)
  • Blogging: Genius Strategies for Instant Web Content by Biz Stone. Nonfiction. A
  • Bushwhacked by Molly Ivins. Nonfiction. A
  • So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson. Nonfiction.A-
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry. Fiction. A
  • The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera. Nonfiction. B
  • Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood. Nonfiction essays. A
  • The Weblog Handbook by Rebecca Blood. Nonfiction. B
  • Dude, Where's My Country? by Michael Moore. Nonfiction. A
  • Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right by Al Franken. Nonfiction. B+
  • Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time by Paul Rogat Loeb. Nonfiction. B+
  • K, the Art of Love by Hong Ying. Fiction. C-
  • Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer, 1943-1954 by Steven Mullhauser. Fiction. C
  • I'm going for another 52 books in 2004. I'm not Gladstone, but maybe if I win the lottery this year I can quit my job and read more. It's good to have goals.

    Thursday, January 01, 2004

    Happy New Year!

    Feeling lazy today. I stayed up last night watching the extended edition of the Two Towers with director and writer commentary. It was all interesting but especially when Fran and Phillipa were talking about the writing and how they adapted it from the book. It helped me forgive them for some of the larger deviations from the text (Elves at Helms Deep? Faramir tempted by the ring?). I know you all have been waiting for my annual list of books I read over the past year and what I thought about them, but you'll have to wait until tomorrow to see it. I will reveal however, that there are 52 books on the list. Some, no doubt will be kept up tonight wondering how I could possibly have read 52 books in a year. Others will sleep snug and smug because they read 53. Either way I hope your New Year is healthy and happy and filled with good books!